Eltham Palace, a Medieval Festival and NEON!

I spent a rather varied day yesterday. I discovered a medieval tournament was going to happen not too far away so I caught a train, then light rail, then a bus, and arrived at Eltham (pronounced elt-am) Palace just after the event started. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that the thing was going to be held in a field so I only ended up staying for two hours (hay fever) but they were very enjoyable!

Tickets to the tournament also entitled everyone to wander around the buildings.

Eltham was originally a church, then a royal residence for one of the Henrys, then fell into disrepair. At the beginning of the 20th century it was bought by a very wealthy couple who restored it and built on a stunning art deco house.

They were keen entertainers and everyone from politicians and royalty to movie stars came here to get away from it all. The ceiling in the photo above was my favourite part – not lights, it’s a glass and cement dome.

However much of it was damaged in the Second World War and the owners moved away. Eventually it was taken on by the National Trust and is used today for a range of events including weddings.

The tournament was happening in a field out the back and so I had a wander around, watched the falconry show, and chatted to the guys in the beer tent who told me that rubbing nettles on myself might cure my hay fever. Nice try, I said, and didn’t.

I drank some rhubarb cider…

And ate a traditional medieval burger…

And listened to some story-telling…

Then it was time for the main event! The jousting!

The jousting was an entirely authentic experience (well, as much as could be). The four men and horses who performed the jousts were professional jousters, which I didn’t realise was a thing, and I learned ( in the beer tent) that each horse cost a thousand pounds to insure for the day.

The jousting, once the talking-it-up and the make-the-crowd-hoarse-with-cheering bit was over, was quite fast paced and very impressive. The rules were explained and everyone in the crowd got right into it.

If my eyes hadn’t been filled with pollen or grass seed or whatever I would’ve stayed all day.

Before I left I had a walk around the interactive tent-displays and chatted to various stall holders about how they got into doing what they were doing and historical accuracy and the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism, a global medieval revival group that I was once part of) which is not very big in the UK, since they probably had all their historical recreation stuff in full swing before the SCA got going in America.

After leaving Eltham I caught a dizzying array of public transport to Walthamstowe. Even though I had to change buses and trains a bunch of times the longest I had to wait was 10 minutes and having Google maps to direct me at every stage made the whole thing so painless I couldn’t help but reflect on what a difference technology has made to travel in the last two decades.

I was in Walthamstowe because I’d read there was a neon store that was Instagram-tastic.

And there was.

God’s Own Junkyard was terrific.

It was glorious. I love lights and colour and this place immediately lifted the spirits.

I think I heard someone say all the signs were for sale!

When I win the lottery I will come back.

There was also a craft brewer and a gin place next door. If you have time and you’re in east London on a weekend I highly recommend making the trip and trying the apple pie, which I feel goes well with something as all-American as neon.

The Museums and Galleries Of London

I have been to so many museums in the last week or two that I hardly know where to begin. I had no idea London had so many and I didn’t even make it to all the ones I wanted to go to – I haven’t yet been to the Garden Museum and I saw a poster for a Goscinny and Uderzo (who created Astrix and Obelix) exhibition at the Jewish Museum and I didn’t make it to the Geology Museum or the Foundling Museum either.

I’ve already written about the London Museum and the Natural History Museum (both worthwhile and both free entry) so here are the others.

The Wallace Collection (fine art and armoury)

The WC (an unfortunate abbreviation) is an excellent collection in an outstanding building and, if you like design, worth a visit for the wallpaper alone. Check these rooms out!

It is home to some very famous artworks, my favourite was The Swing. When I was little we had one large book in our house on the history of art and I loved this painting most of all. To come upon it unexpectedly made me very happy.

Although the building isn’t huge it is like a jewellery box, fully of shiny and delightful things.

I could’ve posted a dozen photos but this entry is going to be long enough as is. Just trust me, if you like fine art get to this gallery!

The Wellcome Museum (medical history)

This museum is just over the road from Euston Station and free to enter so if you’re interested in medical history I’d recommend going, just be warned that despite being in a big building the displays aren’t huge, possibly because the Science Museum is about to open a big medical exhibition using items from the WM collection. Either way, the real draw of the Wellcome is the gift shop, which has a fun range of quirky things I haven’t seen elsewhere.

The exhibitions that were on while I was there included one on …

It was kind of gross but interesting.

… and weird. Pretty weird.

There was also a small display about obesity and an art exhibition. I couldn’t tell you what the theme of it was, but one room had giant pictures of cows wearing artwork woven out of insemination straws. I’m not kidding.

Another room had a display on HIV and gay culture. I liked the wallpaper. The art was mainly messy paintings that didn’t really appeal to me.

If I had to pick two themes of my photography in the last fortnight I’d go with stairwells and wallpaper, which is not what I would’ve expected on arriving in London, but there you go.

The last Wellcome exhibition piece was a group of films by a woman who learned to free-dive and each film was a single dive. It was very atmospheric and doesn’t translate well to photography but if you’re reading this and in London, it might be up your alley. I liked it but it felt quite claustrophobic after a while.

Anyhow, go browse the gift shop!

The British Museum (ancient history)

I’m doing these all out of order – the BM was the second last museum I visited. Another great piece of architecture but it didn’t take me long to wander through and recall why I didn’t spend long here when I visited last time. I love ancient history but I have almost zero interest in sculpture or historical relics. I read through the displays in the Alexander room and that was about it.

Going to all these museums has really made me think about what interests me and what is worth my time. Admittedly I’ve had heaps of time in London thanks to my hay fever but if I only had a few days I’d think really hard about what I wanted to see because there is an almost endless variety.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (um… everything?)

I was a bit blurgh on the day I went to the V&A and the thing I liked best was putting my feet in the pool. The V&A is a weird museum, it has a bit of everything and I think I would’ve had a better visit if I’d researched and gone to see a specific thing. I did admire the William Morris dining room but otherwise I wasn’t terribly inspired. I’d certainly give it another go when I felt a bit more energetic.

The Science Museum

I wandered in here on the same day I did the V&A and therefore wasn’t probably in the best frame of mind. However I can see the SM would be an amazing place to take kids and there’s something there for almost anyone.

I didn’t even take many photos in the SM. it was certainly deserving of more attention than I gave it.

Tate Britain (art through history, excepting whatever goes into the Tate Modern I suppose).

This was the first place I visited on this trip and I loved it. LOVED IT. I love fine art and the TB (another bad acronym) has a large Pre-Raphaelite collection. It was like a ‘greatest hits’ parade of romantic paintings.

There were lots of people sketching artworks and it made the gallery feel very lived-in… if that makes sense.

The thing that tickled me most in the TB was the entry hall installation. The artist had covered the entry in tiles…

And scattered sculptures around but also had a person dressed as a squash lounging around, just stretching and wandering.

Watching people watching this person-vegetable was terrific. People smiled, made eye contact with strangers, wondered out loud what it could possibly mean.

The TB, while not as outrageously fabulous as the Natural History Museum, had its own architectural beauty.

The John Soane Museum (architecture and Victorian life)

The JSM is an unusual museum on several levels – literal and metaphorical. It is the collection of one man and displayed in his house. John Soane was an architect and I wish I’d learned a bit more about him before going to his house because there aren’t labels on anything, to help preserve the feel of the experience. Photography is not allowed in the building, however I did take this sneaky shot in the toilets.

First time I’d used an original!

There were a lot of staff around who were happy to explain things but I wasn’t feeling talkative that day. Plus most of the collection is sculpture so not entirely my thing. The house itself was quite interesting with much of the original furniture in place.

The Cartoon Museum

The very last museum I visited! Almost over the road from the British Museum, the Cartoon Museum is quite small and costs £7 to enter. However if you are interested in cartoons I’d recommend dropping in.

Danger Mouse! One of my childhood favourites.

Some of the displays were familiar, some new. Some were one page of a book or series, some were one-off pieces.

The Saatchi Gallery

More like an Australian art gallery than any of the others, the SG has big white rooms and big artworks. When I went there were four or five exhibitions. I particularly liked one by a collage artist who did huge works on photographed backgrounds.

So my advice, if you want to see museums and galleries in London, is to do some research and think about what you like. Don’t waste time on a big name if you don’t actually like that style or period – for example I think the Tate Modern is outstanding, but don’t go unless you like modern art or you’ll waste half a day and walk five kilometres around the gallery for nothing. I’ve learned not to bother with miles of rooms of statues.

I enjoy variety when I travel and I think I’ve had my fill of high culture for now – the next week is all about visiting family, Luke arriving (yay!) and then back to Andrew’s and a visit to Luke’s family before Lauren arrives and we’re off to sun ourselves on Croatian beaches.

But first I need to finish writing up what I’ve done in London. I hope you didn’t think this was it!

Horses, Horticulture and History: A Day Out In London.

I was up early and decided to walk some of the way towards Kew Gardens from my Airbnb room in Lambeth.

I was walking along Grosvenor St beside the Thames when I heard a great clattering noise behind me.

About fifty horses out being exercised! It was both a magnificent sight and sound. All the more special because I was virtually alone on the street when they went past. I daresay this is a regular occurrence so if you want to see them try going to the spot at about 8:30 on a Sunday morning.

Alternatively, you could also hang out at Sloane Square, where I saw them again ten minutes later.

I caught the tube from Sloane Square to Kew Gardens and then had to wait a short while to get in. I was glad I’d bought my ticket online as I walked straight through when 10am rolled around and by then quite a queue had formed at the ticket window.

Kew Gardens are huge.

A whopping 326 acres in which there are a wide variety of themes gardens, artworks, wide avenues and, most famously, architecture.

The structure above is the Palm House, the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world. I imagine it would be a treat to step inside on a cold, winter’s day. On a stunning 24 degree English summer day it was far too hot and steamy. Still interesting though.

I wandered all over the gardens and admired it all. My favourite aspects would have to be the wide grassy avenues…

The walled gardens…

and the absolute highlight was the rose garden behind the Palm House.

Obviously it looked outstanding but the magic was the scent. So many roses so close together on a hot, windless day – the perfume just hung in the air like a heavenly cloud. I cannot, in words, express how delightful it was – you’ll just have to go see for yourself.

As I left the gardens (it took me 3.5 hours to see nearly everything) many more people were coming in. The parts of the gardens round the entrances and cafes were heaving with people but it was easy to get away from them by walking only a few hundred metres.

Next stop was the British Natural History Museum, a weird but wonderful hybrid of Victorian Gothic and fanciful Egyptian architecture. I don’t know who designed it but I can tell they had a great time.

I didn’t really have anything I wanted to see, I just thought I’d wander around. Apparently the other half of London (who weren’t at Kew) had thought the same thing.

Lucky it’s a huge building! I first had a look at a display of shells. It reminded me of a conversation I’d recently seen on Facebook about political correctness and insulting people effectively. If you want to be creative try one of these on for size:

I wouldn’t be pleased if someone called me a ‘three knobbled conch’! Baffle your enemies by letting them know they’re a…

‘Distaff spindle’! That’ll really leave them worried. Or how about a ‘distorted anus shell’?

Maybe not.

There’s a lot to be learnt about self defence from our underwater friends.

All this was getting a bit HP Lovecraft so I went to have a look at rocks.

Now I’m hungry.

Two kilos!

The pyramid of little sparkly stones shows all the colours diamonds come in. Not too impressive in a photo but very interesting in reality. Also many glow under uv light!

There was also an interesting display of taxidermied pheasants (interesting to me and no one else probably) and apart from that I just wandered about trying not to run into people or get frustrated at all the slow walkers.

Eventually I exited through the gift shop and walked home via a pub for dinner.

All in all a great day out! Here’s a few more photos of Kew to finish with.

Lovely in both the macro and the micro.

Barrow-In-Furness

It’s not really fair to come to a town like Barrow-In-Furness after walking through the quiet sylvan dells and lofty, windswept heights of the Lake District. It’s not fair for the town and not fair for me either.

However I had problems to solve that sleepy coastal villages and emerald vales couldn’t help me with. Namely, my debit card wasn’t working, I was low on cash, and I was suffering crippling hay fever. I’d also checked my bank account and discovered that some scamming website was withdrawing $21 a month.

No problems that were insurmountable, but taken altogether I felt frazzled and anxious. It wasn’t pleasant.

Overlaying my genuine issues were the rather joyless surroundings I had unwittingly chosen. I could feel my mood darken as I wandered around town.

For example, look at this for a town theatre building and arts centre.

Urgh. Also, despite a fairly usual number of rubbish bins this sort of scene was pretty common.

Just.. why?

However a chat online with Luke gave me a few ideas re money and I’d booked into a Wetherspoons hotel/pub so I could regroup and consider my options. I don’t generally use chains when I can avoid them but Wetherspoons, apart from having reasonably priced rooms, allows the use of an app for table ordering. This means I can use my credit card without needing the PIN, which didn’t arrive before I left home. It’s also a convenient way to order food from the table while avoiding bar queues and, as a solo traveller, it means not having to choose between leaving my bag unattended or dragging everything with me to the bar.

Anyhoo. I was in a slightly cranky mood and had perked myself up by deciding to walk around town and make a collage of all the most unappealing sights and then write a sarcastic post about the place.

Apart from just general grot there were some really obvious signs that town wasn’t booming.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a thorough boarding-up of a shop front on a main drag.

Believe it or not, the mall below contained actual, open shops. Not that I was willing to walk down and see what sort of shops they were. I assume gang supply stores or something. Speaking of which, when I googled Barrow the first news story that came up was about there having been 12 gang murders in one year and more expected in future. Shame, Barrow!

But at least the city centre was bustling on a Friday afternoon.

Just kidding.

Anyhow, that building on the left of the photo above was quite magnificent, so I thought I’d wander around and take a few photos of what turned out to be the town hall.

Here’s a weird panorama photo. The hourly peals from the clock tower were quite impressive.

Around the back (which turned out to be the front – a fact that I later learned was a source of frequent confusion) was a car park where people could park right up against the building. How convenient! And it doesn’t detract at all from the grandeur of the only grand building in town, either.

I noted stained glass in the upstairs windows and thought I’d go in, if possible, and have a look. I tried to open the doors but it was all locked up and it was at this point a security guard asked me what I was doing.

I explained that I was a tourist and had been curious about the stained glass and so he explained that the building was always kept locked because of people ‘kicking off’ when they came for their unemployment benefits etc (shame, Barrow!) but then, very kindly, he took me inside and arranged for one of the stewards, a lovely lady named Sue, to take me on a spontaneous guided tour!

Things had started looking up. There’s nothing I like more than doing something unexpected and this turned out to be brilliant.

For someone who hadn’t worked there very long, Sue knew a great deal about the place. She also gave me a leaflet at the end.

First stop was the little waiting area for visitors. I didn’t really hear any information about this but I like the austerity of the artwork. Also I imagine carved slate is difficult to damage if people ‘kick off’. Very practical.

Next the stained glass windows. They were very detailed and interesting. There were repeating motifs that represented the local toffs (the Cavendish family, represented, rather ominously, by a snake – also not the banana-growing Cavendishes as far as my ten seconds of googling can tell), the shipping industry and a delightful little visual reference to the actual name of the town – a bee and an arrow – B-arrow! It feels a bit like something you’d do if a town hadn’t much going for it but someone had, rather annoyingly, left a blank space in the middle of your new civic emblem and you thought it looked a bit bare.

The stained glass was in a space called The Queen’s Room.

I hesitate to say it looks like something out of Harry Potter because that’s really just ignorant tourist-speak now for anything that looks more than 100 years old … but it did. A bit.

The red-carpeted steps leading up were wide and shallow to accommodate the dresses of 19th century ladies, apparently.

I walked through several very grand rooms that were still used almost daily for a range of services including meetings of the local council, the coroner’s court, celebratory events and many other things.

It was all very grand and in the Victorian gothic style.

The job of the stewards seemed very varied. Taking tours (Tuesdays and Thursdays if you’re in the area and you’d get to go up the clock tower too), moving furniture, keeping an eye on council sessions – if the councillors get too rowdy the stewards may remove the mayor’s official mace and end the meeting! Sue seemed very hopeful of the prospect that she may one day get to wield such awesome power.

‘Semper sersum’ means ‘always aim high’ in Latin. An admirable sentiment that goes nicely with the arrow, if not the reality of the place.

That’s the snake, not a pretzel, in the arms under the ships.

Sue kindly took photos on me in a few spots and I walked away from the Barrow town hall feeling much better than when I’d walked in.

Although I’d seen barely anything of the city I felt I’d seen enough (and I didn’t have energy to walk around Walney Island or any of the actually nice spots not too far away) and retired to my room to plan my next move, deciding to go to London for a few days. There’s a branch of my bank there, I can avoid pollen, and there’s plenty of things I wouldn’t mind doing within a short distance.

I’ll leave you with my favourite photo from the day – my in the mayor’s seat, gavel in hand.

A Bit of Buttermere

I camped the night by the lake in Keswick and then caught the 77a bus to Buttermere via Honister Pass. Last time we were in the UK we risked death and drove Honister Pass ourselves in dark and misty weather. This time I wasn’t driving and it was broad sunshine. Far superior!

It is still one of the most dramatic roads I think I’ve ever been down (almost equal to Canada’s Icefields Parkway and certainly more hair-raising) – if you’re in the Lake District do yourself a favour and catch the bus and see for yourself.

Although I wasn’t driving I didn’t manage any decent photos through the bus windows so you’ll have to take my word for it and go.

The bus was packed and it was a relief to get off in Buttermere village, a tiny hamlet that sits between the two bodies of water that are Buttermere and Crummock Water. Naming towns and lakes the same thing is annoying and it happens a lot in Cumbria. There’s also about a dozen each of Angle Tarns, Castle Crags, Raven Crags and Blea Tarns, to mention but a few. Also you wouldn’t believe how many Grouse Butts I’ve found on the maps (tee hee).

The bus stops at the picturesque Fish Inn.

Buttermere has been recommended to me by many people and also features heavily on Lakeland Instagram communities but nothing really prepares you for the beauty of its steeps mountains and crystal waters.

First I walked up the side of the valley towards Bleaberry Tarn until the path became too steep (story of my life) then I did a lap around the lake.

The water was so inviting that I took off my shoes and socks and hobbled a little way along (some of the stones are a bit sharp) and was surprised at how warm the water was.

It was good 6km round and there was a man in a van selling ice creams halfway.

There were many people and many dogs all the way along, a great deal of whom seemed to want to speak in a shouting volume or walk in large groups across the path and at a glacial rate. Still, I was there, so I suppose I can’t really resent everyone else for wanting to be there as well. I just wish they’d all pipe down.

The bus back was even more packed than the bus there and we got to experience that classic moment when two large vehicles come around a bend and one has to reverse, with a stone wall on one side and cliff wall on the other.

I had complete faith in our driver as he reversed the bus about 20 metres back around a sharp corner so a truck could get by.

We all gave him a round of applause after, obviously. As the truck indicates, it was indeed pure Lake District;-)

Back in Keswick I felt in need of an early night but first had to take a few photos of the canada geese that had brought their goslings up the bank to ravage the grass.

On my Instagram and Facebook I’ve posted a video of the moment one of the geese took offence at my presence and I squealed and scurried away.

Into town for a bite of dinner and a couple of little bottles of gin and I was set to lie in my tent giggling away to PG Wodehouse’s ‘Joy in the Morning’, which is the best Wooster and Jeeves book I think I’ve read yet.

I’m not really achieving my reading goal for the year but it’s mainly because I’m so tired each evening – not a bad thing at all!

Goodbye Windermere

So that’s chapter one of my trip over. How quickly it goes! I thought I should record a last few snippets before closing the book on Cumbria – for now, anyway.

Auschwitz to Ambleside

While I was walking in Windermere I noticed the library had an exhibition that chronicled the lives of a group of Jewish children who had escaped Nazi Germany but also lost their parents and so were brought to Windermere to be rehabilitated before being sent to live with other families. The photos and videos were poignant and well-done. If you feel like a bit of a cry in a public space I highly recommend going.

All the children who had featured in the display had gone on to do well, one even representing England at the Melbourne Olympics.

Walking St Ravens Crags

My last big day of walking was initially well-planned. I’d decided to catch the bus up to the Kirkstone Pass, thereby cutting out some of the uphill, then walking around via St Ravens crags to the head of the Troutbeck valley then along the ridge that includes High Street and Ill Bell.

There weren’t too many people about and the day was very fair with hardly any wind.

I managed fine up to the descent down towards the pass at the top of Troutbeck. The path pretty much disappeared and I had to put my sticks away to use my hands to help lower myself down the rocks for a short way. The hillside in the photo below is the one I scrambled down.

As I was clambering down (which was actually quite fun) I had a good look at the opposite side, which I was planning to go up. It was another of those steep paths strewn with loose slate. Along the side though, I could see a man coming down the grassy slope, which seemed to be faster and easier. It was perhaps 3-400m of steep climbing to the top. I gave it a go but after 50 metres of climbing and looking back and looking up, I decided to turn back. I don’t know if I’d have done better with someone else there, or whether I’d have given up sooner. I don’t know if I’d pushed myself to get to the top whether I would’ve felt a great sense of accomplishment or just felt sick from vertigo and the adrenaline. I watched other people come down, sliding on the scree so, for better or worse, I decided to climb down the valley.

I passed a big group of men huffing and puffing their way up the slope and cheerfully pointed out that they were doing it the hard way then stopped for a chat for a moment while they caught their breath.

After I left them I didn’t see another person in the valley until I hit the farm at the end. If nothing else, the walk along the valley confirmed that my early exit and climb over the ridge a couple of days earlier had been the right move. The upper end of the valley was even more boggy than the lower end.

I felt a bit disheartened at giving up and having shoes filled with water and so decided to hurry to Troutbeck to catch a bus back to Windermere. Since the buses only ran every two hours, I had five km to go, and wasn’t sure where the bus stop was, I had to hurry. I started walking in straight lines through the sodden ground rather than picking my way around the edges, which eventually led me to putting my foot almost knee deep into actual mud (bogs are annoying but at least the water is clear). I half laughed and cursed. Fortunately it was right next to the river so I waded in and shook my foot around so at least I would be clean. In doing so I leant forward and my phone slipped out of my pocket and into the river.

At this point I hailed Past Me a hero for upgrading to the water resistant iPhone7.

Moments later I looked up to see a huge military plane swoop low over the valley ridges and pass right over my head, almost in slow motion, which really raised my spirits. I picked up speed, determined to make the bus, and emerged into the village with a good 40 minutes up my sleeve. Enough time for a pint and a bowl of chips.

Bless the ubiquity of English pubs.

When I got back to the Rum Doodle (tee hee) I discovered hot spots on my feet from all the sideways slipping and awkward walking I’d been doing for hours. My first foot issues – and on the day when I walked almost the shortest distance yet. Boo. So I had a bath, read The Ascent Of Rum Doodle and decided to spend the following day, my last in Windermere, doing not much at all so my feet could have a break. And why not enjoy my cosy attic room and claw-footed bath tub while I could?

Next: Cambridge!

A few more bluebells to tide you over😁

Why Travel Sucks And Is A Waste Of Time

A friend of mine asked me to write about the down sides of travel, and after the day I had yesterday it will be slightly less difficult than usual (I stepped in mud up to my knees, got my first blister and dropped my phone in a river). Please keep in mind I’m collecting all the negatives here in one place for entertainment and not because these items weigh heavily on me and are ruining my trip. I don’t need advice (unless it’s really innovative) about saving money on food or how to find cheap train tickets. Also, all the photos for this post have been taken in my bedroom, partly because I think it’s funny but mostly because my shoes are still soaking wet and I can’t go outside without putting my feet in my wet shoes, blurgh.

Money

I don’t like thinking about money all the time and I certainly don’t like spending money all the time. Travelling is like getting stuck with a pin 20 times a day. Every time you want to eat, sleep, see or do almost anything, your hand goes into your pocket. I have set myself a tentative budget of $100 a day but I know I’m going over it. I have enough savings to cover this trip but it is always a little stab when I check my bank balance or my envelope of currency and it has noticeably dropped. Obviously this is inevitable and there are ways to mitigate it (camping helps, so does being able to cook my own food) but after a while it gets oppressive.

Most of our accommodation in Europe and London has been booked and paid for already so I’m hoping that helps too. Also stuffing myself with a hearty B&B breakfast means not having to eat until early evening. Still, the money thing can be a big downer at times.

Food

Obviously food is a highlight of travel, but it can also be a real pain. After travelling for a few months I start to resent the amount of time it takes to find a decent place to eat, read the menu, wait for our order to be taken, worry if I forgot to ask an important question (for example: “sorry, when the menu says the steak comes with beans, do you mean green beans or baked beans?” – it turned out to be BAKED BEANS. What the heck), wait for the food, eat the food (the best part of the experience), wait for the bill, wait for the waiter to take the little plate with the money and bring back change and then collect your coats and bags (check under the table or you’ll be back in 30 minutes for your scarf or shopping) then finally leave.

It exhausted me just typing all that.

Obviously you don’t need to eat in restaurants for every meal and Luke and I have streamlined our process by only eating two meals a day and staying in self-catering places when possible and we do buy sandwiches and eat them in parks etc, but restaurants can be a better option. They are a place indoors when they weather is bad, they usually have wifi and they often serve the kinds of national dishes (like pork knuckle in Germany or fondue in Switzerland) that you would have trouble eating on a park bench. Also the restaurant in itself can be a destination, like the Austrian cafe where Sacher-Tortes were invented. All I’m saying is that it doesn’t take long for me to miss my well-stocked kitchen and toasted-sandwich maker.

Accommodation

I love a fancy hotel as much as anyone but sadly I can’t afford to stay in luxury all the time. Even if I could there’s annoying things about all hotels, no matter how humble or Hilton-esque. Like light switches. Where in god’s name are they? You will find yourself asking this at least once a day. Also, how does the shower work? Where is the plug? Why is the sink hole closed and how do I open it? I have had a door handle fall off, trapping me in my room all night when I was up at 3am to go to the toilet. This was many years ago but the memory of my terror and desperation will never fade. I have been in hotel rooms where I can hear neighbours vomiting, where there are no windows, where the windows open onto an indoor pool, where the air conditioning is like a waterfall running onto the floor.

This is one of those tricky sinks. Took me a few minutes to work out that it spins, you have to press down on one side to open in.

Hotels are like those lucky dips you get at school fairs. Theoretically if you pay more you should get a better bag of treats but often paying more just means a bigger disappointment when you realise what you’ve got. I’m not saying this happens all the time, but I have learned not to get my hopes up after looking at the hotel website photos.

My current bath-in-room arrangement is very fancy looking but the water insists on coming out of both the tap and shower head at the same time.

Company

Well, I could get myself into trouble here so I won’t mention any names, thereby leaving everyone I’ve ever traveled with suspicious and offended. Don’t worry, I’m obviously not talking about you! You were great!

First, traveling alone. It’s been better than I expected but there are two times when I really want company. The first is when I’m looking at something amazing and want someone to appreciate it with me. The second is when I have a decision to make and I’m not sure what to choose. I’m not a particularly indecisive person but I like input from others and Luke is particularly good at looking at things in a different way and offering another perspective. I miss having him here but I also know he’d be miserable sleeping in a tent or walking through a bog. For something I didn’t really anticipate encountering, bogs have featured pretty prominently in my experiences here, but that should fall under a different heading I guess. Are bogs worth their own heading? Probably not.

Of course, traveling with other people can also be a real pain in the proverbial. When planning to travel with others there’s so much to take into consideration. Do you have similar budgets? Do you want to see similar things? Do you get up and go to bed at the same time? Do either of you snore? There’s no one in the world I’d rather travel with than Luke but we still had a few epic fights when we did our last really big trip. I learned a lot about myself through that. I need time by myself at least once every few days, even if it’s just a walk for an hour or two or an evening reading in bed. If I don’t get a bit of solo time I can rage out at the most unassuming and trivial things… it’s kind of like travel PMS or something. I’m not even sure why it happens.

I have traveled with all kinds of people on all sorts of budgets and with all sorts of interests. Sometimes I think traveling with a huge group is easier than with one or two people – a variety of people to talk to and possibilities for splitting into smaller groups to do different activities rather than feeling like you have to stick together – which leads to my least favourite thing about traveling with other people. Waiting. Waiting for people to pack, to find tickets, to finish eating, to arrive, to shop. I don’t mind waiting for people to arrive if a bus or plane is late, I mind waiting when people are disorganised and I hate waiting when it seems someone is going to make me late for anything. I am quick in the shower, quick to pack, quick to walk and quick to eat. Waiting for people who can’t get going in the morning until they’ve had their coffee/breakfast/whatever drives me crazy. I’m sure my impatience is just as unpleasant for them too but let’s be honest, it’s entirely their fault (and nothing you can say will convince me otherwise).

The company we don’t choose can also be a nightmare. Like the guy on the train who chews with his mouth open, the people with the screaming child in the breakfast room, or the lady who harrumphs and won’t stop talking. At least these people are usually easy to escape, even if you have to wait until morning.

Getting Lost

I don’t think I really have to elaborate here.

Living Out Of A Suitcase

I quite enjoy living out of a suitcase/backpack in the beginning. Fewer choices to make and I keep everything in small bags so my pack only takes a minute to pack and I know where everything is.

This lasts about a week until everything somehow gets rearranged and impossible to find. Then another week later I’m sick of my clothes. Another week in and all my leggings and undies have developed holes, which is what happens when a normal six months worth of wear happens in three weeks. Then one sock from every pair disappears, then I start looking like a hobo. Right now I’ve been away for three weeks and my shoes stink and look like they’ve been through a war, plus they are soaking wet from yesterday’s bog encounter. My two new pairs of leggings both have holes in them, the trousers I bought are so loose around the waist (but tight around the thighs, so no cause for celebration there) that I have to pull them up every few steps, and I am thoroughly sick of hand washing things. I rarely use laundromats because I have so few clothes that paying £3 to wash six items at a time hardly feels worthwhile, but if I don’t wash every three or four days it means I stink. Fine if I’m camping but not ideal when sitting in a breakfast room with polite families at a B&B.

Waiting

I always have a kindle, iPad and phone but waiting is inevitable if you’re like me and don’t enjoy the adrenaline rush of arriving at an airport or bus terminal with only moments to spare. If you are like me then you will spent at least 10% of any holiday waiting. A good reason to start a blog. There’s only one thing worse than extended periods of waiting, and that is missing your boat/bus/plane. This happened to me in Japan once and I hope I never again experience the sensation of running through an airport in tears, filled with adrenaline, dragging a heavy bag and barely being able to converse with the people at check in.

Weather

Depends on the type of holiday I suppose, but weather can make or break any holiday. I’ve been inordinately lucky this time around but walking any city or stretch of countryside in the rain isn’t huge amounts of fun. If you’re in the city then it means having to deal with raincoats and wet things every time you go in or out, your photos don’t look great (if you can take any at all) and you have to put up with ducking and weaving past other people’s umbrellas on narrow footpaths when you’re at the added disadvantage of not knowing where you’re going. Wet weather walking in the country just means a greater chance of bogs.

Sunny weather, as I’ve seen on this trip, also has its disadvantages. Namely, crowds. In a country where a sunny long weekend can be headline news, you can bet every scenic spot will be rammed with people if the temperature is over 14 degrees (balmy!). We’re heading to Italy, Croatia and the south of France in July and August and I’m already worried that we’ve made a terrible mistake as all of Europe will be on holiday at the same time. Plus I feel sapped of energy when it’s actually legitimately (+30C) hot, so I am a bit worried I won’t make the most of our time there. I was utterly useless at Angkor Watt years ago when it was 40 degrees and chucked in the temples for the hotel pool and bar. I still don’t regret it.

Coming Home

There are two main problems with coming home. The first is when no one expresses the slightest interest in anything you’ve been doing. My Dad is offender #1 in this department. I can write this because I know he doesn’t read this blog, only Mum does. (Thanks Mum! You’re the best!). The other main problem is when too many people express an interest and you get tired of relating the same stories over and over. The way to get around this is to write a blog so that the people who are interested can come along for the ride with you and then ask pertinent questions (not just ‘what was your favourite bit?’) when they see you in person. Or better yet, leave a comment on the blog. Hint hint.

Actually, coming home has many down sides. Returning to work, having to live in a space where someone else isn’t changing your bedsheets and towels every other day (let alone dusting… I am always appalled by the amount of dust in my house after I’ve been away… or any other time really), not eating out, having to do boring things like get your car serviced, pay bills and so on. All the things you don’t have to worry about on holidays. Oh and don’t forget that your bank balance has, at the very least, been halved.

On the other hand, it is nice to know where the light switch is when you get up in the middle of the night.

So this was my nowhere-near-complete list of Why Travel Sucks And Is A Waste Of Time. If you have any more reasons that I could add please list them in the comments, I’d love to read them!