Saturday, October 30, 2010

Flannel = Fancy?

I just spent EIGHTEEN EURO for one meter of ugly* flannel fabric at the Pfaff shop, where I will never shop again. (Seriously - they sell remnants outside the shop and don't even put a discount on them. Half yard of remnant cotton = NINE EURO.)

Are you kidding me? We used to wear flannel shirts in high school because they were so cheap. I didn't even think to check the price so it was already cut when I found out. A cursory look online shows ugly flannel to be around $5 a yard in the US.

This is just to remind myself that there are some things which are fancy here and not fancy there. Yeesh.

* I bought it for a quilt for someone else and although I just wanted solid white they only had prints, and I figured this one that was mostly solid was "good enough" for the project. Of course I would not have thought that if I'd known the price. The baby I'm making this for had better love it forever and take it to college with them and build a shrine to it and stuff. Jeez.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cornwall: Bodmin Moor!

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Every day this vacation is receding further from my mind, seemingly at a faster and faster pace. I've got to hurry and post about it or I might never!

Bedknobs Bed & Breakfast in Bodmin

All three of us stayed in a two-bedroom apartment at Bedknobs Bed & Breakfast. We arrived a bit late but both of the proprietors greeted us and spent plenty of time with us showing us everything and suggesting things to do the next day. They also helped us find a place to eat since we arrived right before most places stopped serving food, and called in for us to get a table! The apartment was really fantastic. The first bedroom was enormous - probably the size of our whole living room - but the second bedroom was even twice that! The living room was also huge and there were two TVs, one in the living room and another in the bigger bedroom. The bathroom didn't have a standing shower (they're going to add one soon) but it DID have a BATHTUB!! I enjoyed it thoroughly. They also have some really nice soap, lotion, shampoo and conditioner in the rooms. (And you can buy some of it too.) Breakfast was fantastic. I was already getting sick of the full English breakfast by then so I tried the porridge with brown sugar and clotted cream. I ended up getting that the second day too. Also, the first night I slept the best I have in ages.

They gave us an Ordnance Survey map for the area with a route showing tons of old rocks and things and reviewed it all with us so we could plan out our day. With that, we were off!

Some cool stuff we saw at Bodmin Moor

We made our way through the moor toward a town with the amusing name of Minions, stopped a couple of times on the way to see some old crosses. At Minions, there's a nice little walk from the town past three stone circles called the Hurlers, toward a hill with some crazy natural rock formations and the remains of an old fortification. Along the way you also have views of other standing stones and mining ruins. (Tin and copper were mined in Cornwall.) There are also great views of the moor from the hill, and you can see south to the ocean. It was a beautiful weekend day so there were plenty of people out, but not enough to make it feel fake and weird.

Bodmin Moor & More Okt 10

After the walk we stopped at the Minions Tea Rooms for a snack and tea. The weather was so nice that we actually got too hot sitting in the sun. Did I mention October is supposed to be the rainiest month in Cornwall? We really lucked out! We then continued on to St. Cleer, where we checked out their holy well and church, and then drove a little ways outside of St. Cleer to see Trethevy Quoit, a dolmen. I wasn't expecting such a nice one! It was at least as impressive as Poulnabrone, but without all the damn tour buses pulling up. In fact we had it all to ourselves.

This marked the end of the tour the B&B laid out for us on the map, but I noticed another holy well in St. Neot nearby so we went over there to check that out. It was more interesting than the one in St. Cleer, and they also had a more interesting church, so I'm glad we stopped there. The first time I saw a holy well, we just stumbled upon it in Ireland and I thought it was really cool, checking out all the things people left behind there. I wanted to see a bunch when we came to Cornwall, but there just wasn't time for very many.

Tintagel Castle

My friend wanted to see Tintagel, purported to be "King Arthur's Castle" and we really had to hightail it up there after St. Neot because we wanted to get there before dark. Unfortunately the quickest way to get there was closed down and we had no warning until we were actually at the roundabout to turn off, so we wasted a few minutes trying to get turned back around. I'd been reading the map all day in the car and was starting to get really nauseous so we had a map hand-off to my friend as well, and it takes a little time to reorient there. We ended up making it to Tintagel just as the sun was setting. It was officially closed already, but the part we got to (up on a hill rather than down by the shore) was wide open to stroll into, so we just went in. There isn't much there except a bunch of stone walls (I'm really getting jaded about castles - don't need to see any more of them unless they are really special), but the location is fantastic. It was a great place to watch the sun go down. The town of Tintagel itself seemed to be mostly closed down. It had some cute old buildings but you had to dodge some cheesy tourist bits.

We returned to Bodmin for dinner at a restaurant down the street from our B&B that came highly recommended, Steak and Thai. (Using the cached version because their site isn't working at all right now. Good job, guys.) It wasn't bad, but we all actually thought the Bodmin Jail was better, and this place was also more expensive. On the way out, we ran into a Thai woman working there and she was so excited to see my (Filipina) friend that I felt bad for her. I guess Bodmin probably isn't very diverse.

Monday: Two more wells pls?

That night after dinner and of course a wonderful bath I took out the Ordnance Survey map and studied it for any possible wells near our route back out the next morning, since we'd only seen two and one of them (St. Cleer) was kind of lame. (There wasn't anything left there or anything, and the water was under a grate you couldn't open.) I found a couple, so the next morning we tried to find them without having the map, which we of course had to return when we checked out. The first was in a village called Laneast. When we got there, there weren't any signs for it, so without a map to show which way to leave the village (there were a LOT of possibilities) and not that much time, we never found it. We went to the next village over, St. Clether, to try another one, and that was perfect! There were signs at the church pointing the way to the well. It's out in the country a ways and there's even a tiny chapel out there for it! (And, uh, people trying to sell things like pagany candles and walking sticks in it - they're not actually there, just some honesty boxes - but still.) So that was really worth going a little out of the way and I felt a bit better about seeing what I'd hoped for. Although a little bad too, because I'm sure my friend thought the wells were a bit of a drag. Traveling with friends can be hard. However, after our day on the moor, she told us that she was surprised, but she really liked it after all. What a relief after she asked in the car why anyone would want to go to a moor!! Now she wants to retire in Cornwall. :)

Song o' the Post!
Did you know Aphex Twin grew up in Cornwall? In a tiny place near Redruth, which I never previously realized was a town name rather than something he just made up.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Just FYI.....we interrupt the Chipper Vacation Recap to inform you that DHL totally sucks!

A package was sent to us while we were on vacation. It arrived the day after we got back while we were out. We missed it by five minutes - I even ran out in the street to see if we could see the truck down the street or anything, but no luck. I've bitched before about the ridiculous pickup location for packages. Trying to avoid dealing with that, on Thursday we called the number on the slip to arrange redelivery for Saturday. Then we stayed home almost the entire day waiting for it. We thought it would come in the morning, and called in the early afternoon to see what the deal was, because the tracking number they gave us didn't work. They said it was on the truck and should show up by 4 or 5pm. So, we waited until 6pm. Still no package. Called again. This time they said it never made it onto the truck at all. Massive biff. They said it would be redelivered on Monday.

Welcome to Monday. It's 1pm and still no package and I'm terrified to even pee for too long in case I miss it. We call in. Guess what!? They forgot to put it on the truck again! The woman on the phone said we could arrange Wednesday redelivery, but we had better just come pick it up, because regardless of our phone calls it is going to be sent back on Wednesday if not claimed. So if they forgot to put it on the truck again that time, we would be screwed.

I can't believe their incompetence in forgetting to redeliver the package twice. It's especially confounding because normally I find things run pretty competently here. WTF, DHL!? YOU COMPLETELY SUCK.

Grump grump grump.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cornwall: Not as close to Bristol as you might think

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Cornwall almost didn't happen on this trip.

We talked for a long time about going to Wales or Cornwall sometime. Later a friend moved to Bristol and we started to include her in these theoretical plans. As this trip actually started to take shape, three things were certain: we'd be renting a car, Wales would be involved, and our friend would join us for some part of the trip. The remaining bits were up for grabs.

Trip Planning

What I really wanted was to go to Cornwall. I always had a little bit of a thing for it after looking at a map and realizing that it was so small yet had (in the past, and is trying to again) its very own language. But after planning the first half of the trip and realizing how far Cornwall is from everything, I almost kicked it out. I considered going back to Wales, or going to Bath or Avebury or Salisbury, or going to Devon. For two days Cornwall wasn't in the plan at all, and I was looking into Devon quite seriously. Then I couldn't stand it. What if I never had another chance to see Cornwall? What if fate whisked us back to the US and we never had a dime or a day of vacation again in our lives? I put it back in, with the plan that we would not go out to the further points in Cornwall, but hang around in its eastern edges, making getting out there less of a car-y nightmare. I booked a place in Bodmin and planned to poke around Bodmin Moor and do some research for other things close to there.

I kept selfishly saying "I" there didn't I? I was the primary trip planner. But there were three people on this trip, and one wanted to go to St. Michael's Mount, waaaay out near Penzance. I wanted to include this for her, knowing that the desolation of moors that I love so much might not be her cup of tea, knowing that she likes landmarks with a little more impact. So, so much for keeping to the eastern edge of Cornwall - we were going whole hog.

It was a long, long ride from Bristol to Marazion, where St. Michael's Mount sits off the shore, accessible by foot only during low tide. I wanted to get it out of the way right away so we wouldn't feel rushed at the moor the next day. On the way we passed signs for the moors of Devon, Dartmoor and Exmoor, and I said I thought they looked really nice when I read about them. My friend said, "But why would anyone want to go to a moor? There's nothing there." Cue music of doom in my mind. We stopped for a mediocre lunch at the Victoria Inn and pressed onward.

St. Michael's Mount

Well, we should have planned a little better. When we arrived in Marazion, we discovered that everything on the island is closed on Saturdays. Cue some tense hemming and hawing about whether to go to the island if everything was going to be closed - because it wasn't low tide, and we couldn't cross by foot yet. We couldn't find a tide table anywhere in town to tell us how much longer it would be. Supposedly there are ferries to the island when the tide is high, but we couldn't find a schedule for any of those either, and we only thought we saw one making a crossing the whole time we were there. We walked around Marazion a bit, then had a drink at a crowded cafe on the water, waiting to see if the tide would go out. A lot of other people seemed to have the same idea. They waded out as far as they could, then came back, over and over. We didn't have any proper gear for wading across even if it got low enough to make that possible. It never got low enough to cross, and we gave up, wanting to salvage a little bit of the day.

St. Michael's Mount & Land's End Okt 10

Land's End

We figured we'd try to salvage it by heading out to Land's End as long as we were practically all the way out at the end of Cornwall anyway. Land's End is famous just for being the southwesternmost point on Britain. There is a hideous sort of amusement theme land or something out there now, but it's not that big and very easily avoided if you just want to check out the cliffs. We watched the sun set there (complete with sun dogs!) and it was fantastic. There were only 10 or so other people there, and none of them anywhere nearby. It was definitely worth it, even though it took us almost 2 more hours to get all the way back to our B&B in Bodmin (which I'll talk about a little more in the next post). Thus we ate dinner at Bodmin Jail - a restaurant built right into the former jail and supposedly haunted - well after 9pm. It was pretty good, by the way, including the brownie and bread and butter pudding desserts! (I'm ALL about the desserts in the UK, since Germany often falls flat for me in that regard.)

Song o' the Post!
Patrick Wolf has a song that mentions Land's End!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Adventures in the Very South of Wales!

W hile we were planning, multiple sources recommended that we check out the Gower Peninsula, which sticks off the southern coast of Wales near Swansea. Since we were meeting a friend in Bristol that night, we thought it was a good thing to fit in between there and Brecon Beacons, and headed south.


We wanted to avoid city driving, but unfortunately the main road out to the Gower Peninsula goes right through Swansea, and the signage had us going through neighborhoods and everything. At some point we almost got in a wreck at one of these "traffic circles" that is actually just a normal intersection with a circle painted in the center - NOT obvious if you're not familiar with it! Anyway, we made it out to Rhossili, at the end of the peninsula, physically unscathed. :)

Rhossili Okt 10

The town of Rhossili sits up on a cliff above a huge beach, which was nearly empty the day we were there. You can park at the church in town for a donation in an honesty box, or park in a (pay and display? I think) lot at the end of the road. We parked at the church and checked it out - they were selling postcards for 20p there and I bought a few. We knew we'd be going to a beach when we were in Cornwall so instead of walking down to the beach, we walked along the cliff and had great views of it. At the end of the cliff is a sort-of island called Worm's Head, which you can walk to at low tide. Unfortunately it was totally the wrong time of day so we couldn't go out there, but just having a look was really nice.

On our way out of town, we stopped at a visitor's center/gift shop on a whim and found the Ordnance Survey map of the peninsula. We weren't going to be there long enough to justify buying it, but we were very intrigued by the photo on the cover. It looked like some kind of old dwelling built into the side of a cliff! On the back it said the photo was of a place called the Culver Hole in Port Eynon. We set out to find it!

Port Eynon

Port Eynon is just a short drive from Rhossili. Instead of being on a cliff, it's down at sea level, and at this time of year is practically abandoned. We looked at a map in town that indicated the very general location where the Culver Hole could be found, so we set out in that direction. We never saw any more signs or markers indicating where it could be found! First we followed along the water, but the path ended so we went up on a cliff, and saw no markers there either. Finally after going down the cliff on the other side and going along a scary path above the water, we found it!!

Port Eynon Okt 10

Isn't that awesome?! They aren't sure what it was - it might be a pigeon breeding house, or a pirate headquarters! (I like the second theory better.) Apparently there are rooms and stairs and stuff inside but we didn't have any way to get in and it's supposedly pretty dangerous in there anyway. Just getting to the thing was scary enough for me.

We were pretty hungry after leaving Port Eynon, so we pulled in at a roadside cafe on our way back toward Swansea. There we found a guy who was super chatty and wanted to talk and talk about the US and how he wants to move either there or to New Zealand. "I want to move to the US" is something we virtually NEVER hear from Europeans. (Although it should be said that the British don't really put themselves in the same category as the rest of Europe!) It was particularly interesting to us because we're so torn about going back to the US. He spent a lot of time there during his time as an engineer in the Royal Air Force (so not like Lionel Mandrake, but close). He informed us that on just one particular air base in the US there are more of some kind of airplane weapon than there are in the entire UK Air Force (and admitted that there is no way we needed them all). He also said that on practice runs the American pilots always dropped all their bombs, while the English always came back with some. I guess this idea of having too much of everything and just throwing things away is appealing for him. It was really interesting. Anyway, he's selling his cafe in hopes of pursuing these dreams so if you're looking for a business venture on the Gower Peninsula, there you go! He told us that Rhossili gets 6 million visitors a year so there are plenty of potential customers going by!


After our snack break, we were back on the road through Swansea and on toward Monknash, which is near the coast sort of between Swansea and Cardiff. We wouldn't have ever gone there if not for the following recommendation from my husband's sort-of colleague (they know each other because of work but never actually worked together) who used to live in Cardiff:
There is a great fossil beach near the Plough and Harrow pub in Monknash
The pub has decent food but I go mainly for the great outdoors and the selection of beers from small wooden barrels. From the pub drive down the small road until a parking lot near a farm (lawn parking) and then walk downhill (through a little forest) until your reach the beach in about 15 mins - very spectacular).
By the time we arrived at the car park the sun was threatening to set very soon so we did this walk in a bit of a hurry since we didn't have flashlights or anything with us.

Monknash Okt 10

Coming out here was a little bit out of our way but it was absolutely worth it! The walk to the beach was short but gorgeous - after going a little further along a road through pasture, it turned into a little wooded valley with the ruins of an old mill and a bunch of little tiny waterfalls heading toward the shore. There it opened up to cliffs, rocks, sand, and a sort of interesting rock plateau where the creek went into the water. We didn't really see a lot of fossils, but with more time I'm sure we could have. I wish we could have stayed!

When we got back to the town, where there had previously only been a couple of cars parked at the pub, there were now so many we had to park in overflow! Apparently it was happy hour! I was skeptical when we walked in and it was about 40'C in there and packed and I felt like an outsider, but then they started playing Caribou and I was swayed. Yay, the power of music. We just wanted to drop in for a drink, but the menu looked great and I wish we could have eaten there! I swore I was going to try spotted dick at some point on this trip and I never did, but it was on the menu there. They also had faggots and peas, which I was still wondering about at that point. While we waited for our drinks (and by the way, my cider was really excellent), some spots to sit opened up and we shared a table with a couple who live in the area. It turned out the woman was an American! Then the conversation got rolling on American foreign policy and living abroad, which was really fun. They also swear that Marmite is good. (Recommended Marmite recipe: toast with butter, marmite, tomato slice, and salt/pepper.) They were really nice and I so wish we could have had a few more drinks there. Who am I kidding, I'm ready to move to Wales RIGHT NOW PLS. Unfortunately we had already stayed too long and were super-late meeting our friend in Bristol! (Getting lost on the way into the city probably didn't help....)

Song o' the Post!
Some Caribou, just like in the Plough and Harrow!

Coming soon: We go to jail in Bodmin!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Brecon Beacons: Some like it desolate!

F rom Hay-on-Wye we made our way toward our next B&B. At this point I should mention that I had prepared a detailed itinerary which included all the contact information and complicated directions for all the places where we were staying. Then we forgot to print it out. Thankfully we had my husband's laptop with us and he had the file on there, so we had to pull that out and look everything up when needed!

Beili Helyg B&B

When I envisioned a place to stay near Brecon Beacons, I wanted something in a really tiny, remote place. I found a few options online, but one rose to the top pretty fast. I really wanted a place with a bathtub. I don't have one in my apartment and I miss baths so much, so I love to have one after a long day of wandering around on vacation. I wasn't sure from the website whether this place had them so I emailed them. The proprietor wrote back and said that they did not, and wrote, "If you need any help finding alternatives, just ask." I asked myself, is this guy so nice he's going to help me find a room with a competitor? Forget the bathtub! And booked it. (But swore to get a bathtub on the Cornwall leg of the trip.)

Anyway, we drove further and further from the highway down a single-lane road, and eventually found Beili Helyg up in a huge field. Our room was gorgeous and stocked with a new treat each day we were there. They also have a breakfast room with big Ordnance Survey maps on the wall (which I spent a lot of time staring at - how I love maps) and a fruit bowl and dishes you can use, and a great lounge with a fire in the fireplace every night, three couches, and a bookshelf full of books and games, including a lot of books about the area. Breakfast was also a really perfect size - not too big - and the sausages were amazing! Not only all this but they were SO helpful with personalized suggestions of where to go and what to do. We didn't take advantage of it, but you can also have dinner there. (One of our fellow guests did this - as we were leaving for the night we asked what he was having and he was clearly thrilled to report that he was going to have faggots & peas like it was the best thing in the whole world, and we had NO idea what that was....)

Hirwaun & Penderyn

After settling into our room and having a cup of tea, we set out to find a pub for dinner. The proprietor recommended a place in Hirwaun called Glancynon Inn and drew up a little map for us to find it, since it was a little complicated. The place didn't look particularly special but the food we had was actually really good, especially the desserts! The first night we had Merlyn & strawberry cheesecake and the second night, sticky toffee pudding. Neither of us had ever had that before and are now pretty sure it's the best thing ever. (Although my husband is reconsidering that fact since he discovered it contains dates.) Also, the first night, I am pretty sure there was a guy speaking half-English and half-Welsh with one of the staff. I was surprised we got a chance to hear Welsh in the wild, which I think is not so common!

After dinner we got in a bit of stargazing at the B&B since it was a clear night. The sky was almost as good as at my dad's house, but there is a little bit of light pollution on the horizons which I think was exacerbated by the mistiness. We saw a few falling stars! While we were out there, four bicyclists whizzed by on that tiny country road absolutely silently. Bad ass.

The next morning we stopped in the nearest town, Penderyn, to buy some whisky. We discovered that they make what is currently the only Welsh Whisky there. (It just now occurred to me that whisky is a really cool word.) It's the world's smallest whisky distillery! That's also where the Merlyn we had in our cheesecake comes from.

Ystradfellte & walking around!

Brecon Beacons Okt 10

We wanted to see some old rocks and found a walk that looked like it fit the bill in one of the books in the B&B lounge. In the morning we asked about it and they said it was nice (probably not as exciting as the waterfall walks that are more popular) and also pointed out an additional cool feature near there that we could add to our itinerary. We took their Ordnance Survey map with us.

We started in the tiny town of Ystradfellte, where we could park, and looked around there a little. It had a pub that didn't look open, an old church and churchyard, and a post office that also sold gum and candy and stuff.

The walk was listed as taking just 3 hours, but it took us more like 4.5 because we tend to meander and stop for EVERYTHING. Look, sheep! Look, moss! Look, a wizened tree! Look, a hole in the ground! Look, a pile of rocks! Look, according to the Ordnance Survey map that thing could be a cairn! Or...maybe the cairn is that thing! The maps are really just amazing. I've been reading Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island during and since the trip and related when he wrote:
"I am constantly impressed by the richness of detail on the OS 1:25,000 series. They include every wrinkle and divot on the landscape, every barn, milestone, wind pump, and tumulus . . . There's always some intriguing landmark just over the next contour line. You could spend your life moving from stone circle to Roman settlement (remains of) to ruined abbey and never see but a fraction of them even in a small area, particularly if, like me, you seldom actually find them."
I would love nothing more than to spend days and days with a stack of those maps looking for every gothic-font landmark noted on them!

Anyway, check out the photos to see what we saw on our walk! It was really beautiful in a very simple way. I was totally satisfied with it, and we saw almost nobody the whole time. The only major event was running into a hunting party (with about a zillion dogs) shooting pheasants. We waited for them to pass and they were actually shooting - in the other direction - but still, kind of unpleasant. Their dogs were cute, anyway. Afterward it was late afternoon and we were famished. The pub in Ystradfellte still showed no signs of life so we headed back toward Penderyn hoping for a convenience store or anything there, although we didn't remember having seen one earlier. On the way, we ran across a lay-by with a snack van parked in it. These things kept popping up in the most unlikely places, but we were thankful this time because we really needed some food. We ordered chips. They took forever and were nasty. Oops. Still, they did potentially spare us a lot of driving looking around for just a snack to tide us over until our next meal at Glancynon Inn. After dinner we sat around the warm lounge reading our books from Hay-on-Wye. Ahhh.

Song o' the Post!
Did you know that Los Campesinos! are Welsh? Okay, they formed in Wales. Still, that's cool.

Coming soon: We try not to fall off cliffs on the Gower peninsula!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The great joy of flying into London City - and the even greater joy of Hay-on-Wye

W e've just returned from a glorious week in the UK. If only we could have stayed longer! By the end we were feeling more like ourselves than we have in months. I'm pretty sure that if I had to limit all my future travels to one general destination, I would be happy making that destination the British Isles. Unfortunately we have a lot going on over here so a week was all we could manage.

London City Airport

We flew out of Frankfurt in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, and it was the most empty and pleasant I've ever seen it. When we went through security there were no lines and about five times as many staff as passengers coming through. Also, the second security check that we had to endure for previous flights to the UK and US has been removed! Hallelujah!

My cheapskate-y ways resulted in an itinerary where we flew into London City airport and out of Heathrow. I wouldn't do this again, but I'm glad I did it once. I didn't know anything about London City before, except that I saw on Google Maps that it was really in the city.

Our plane had a 2-2 seating arrangement but was still not all that small. It turned out to be probably the biggest plane London City can handle. The plane landed and the pilot immediately slammed on the brakes. Yeah, you always get a little bit of slammy on the brakes when you land, but not like this; it was drastic. We stopped in a very short distance, and when we came to a stop we found out why. The plane made a complete u-turn and we could see that not only were we already at the very end of the runway, the other end was extremely close, and there are no taxiways - the plane has to taxi on the runway! It's tiny! When we got to the terminal we could see out the windows that the airport is embedded directly in a little neighborhood of townhouses - they're just right across the street from the terminal. I think they built the airport in the smallest possible space in which you could fit one.

We went through passport control with some creepy-voiced guy who sounded like a serial killer in a movie and wanted to know way too much information about our trip, picked up our checked bag, put money on our Oyster cards, and headed for public transit.

Getting from London City to Heathrow

We were renting a car for the trip but didn't want to drive in the city, so we arranged to rent a car at Heathrow. This means a loooong trip between the two airports. An online trip planner recommended that we take light rail/the Tube to Paddington and take the Heathrow Express from there. However, a friend living in London advised us that it wouldn't really save much time to do that and it would be easier and cheaper to just take the light rail/Tube the whole way, so we did that. There is a Docklands Light Rail stop right in the airport and it takes you on an interesting ride through the Docklands, then hooks right up with the Tube. It was a long, long trip to Heathrow. We landed at 4:30 or so but it was dark by the time we picked up our car at Heathrow.

Here are my friend's instructions for the trip from London City to Heathrow:
Sadly, getting from London City to Heathrow is no treat. What I would do: take the DLR to Canning Street, then get on the Jubilee and take that to Green Park. There, catch the Piccadilly line and take it all the way to Heathrow airport. That would at least remove a couple of steps from your process and you would avoid the added expense of the Heathrow Express, which is not all that fast, frankly.
Box Hedge Farm B&B

Knowing that it would be relatively late when we picked up the car, we didn't bother planning to try to get all the way to our first destination that night. I whipped out a map and looked for a place on the way to Wales that was 1.5-2 hours outside of London and near the motorway. That puts you near Bristol, where I saw something on the map adorably named Chipping Sodbury and started searching there. I ended up booking with Box Hedge Farm B&B, which actually has the slightly less cute address of Coalpit Heath, but which looked nice for a decent price. We got lost trying to find the place in the dark, but managed to find it without having to call in for help. Our room was very cute (bed was a little hard, but some people are into that) and our breakfast was huge, served in a little cubby next to a huge set of windows. We asked for help choosing a route to our destination. When the proprietor essentially just told us to use our map and follow the signs, I thought that was friendly enough, but it actually turned out to be about the least helpful person we ever asked for directions. It seemed every person we met was more helpful than the last. It was amazing.

Anyway, the next morning we headed out and chose poorly with regards to which junction to get back on the M4. We ended up lost in the Bristol morning commute. However, it didn't last too long because there was a 2+ lane with nobody in it. Cars with just one occupant were backed up for miles and we passed all of them handily, with no other car even visible before us in that lane. I guess carpooling hasn't really caught on in Bristol. By the way I saw a sign for a town called Pucklechurch. Man, I wish we had time to go there. I think I could read the index of a British atlas all day.


We escaped Bristol's gravitational field, crossed the Severn on an enormous bridge, crossed into Wales, and made our way up past Brecon Beacons toward Hay-on-Wye. The scenery was just incredible. The sun was shining, but there was a mist clinging to everything that never burned off. The fields were unbelievably green, and on the hills the green faded into yellow and red. Every once in a while we passed through a little town with lots of gray buildings, a square-steepled church, and a bright red mailbox. And once that town was named Three Cocks, which is funny when you have a totally juvenile sense of humor.

Hay-on-Wye (etc.) Okt 10

Finally we reached our destination: Hay-on-Wye. I don't know where I first read about this town, but it made the must-visit list right away. It sits on the border between England and Wales and somehow ended up being home to 25-30 used bookstores. Our usual access to cheap English-language books being what it is, it was like walking into paradise. We looked at books until we couldn't stand it anymore. Then we had a quick lunch (meh) and looked at even more books. Miraculously, we managed to come away with only 14 books. I was particularly looking for books for my name book collection, and had the best luck in this endeavor at the Hay Cinema Bookshop (scarily mazelike...I was afraid I'd never find my way out) and Hay-on-Wye Booksellers. Thus these two were my personal favorites. I also loved Addyman Books for its awesome shelving built from pieces from an old church. Really, every bookstore we visited was worthwhile and the 14 we got came from at least seven different places. I would love to go back!

Song O' The Post!
I was going to link to a relevant song on YouTube for each post of the trip but can't find this song there. Try it here - click the play icon next to the song "Lliwiau Llachar"! We listened to it many times in the car - it's by the Welsh band Super Furry Animals and is in Welsh, so you can get a taste of how it sounds.

Coming soon: We try not to get shot in Brecon Beacons!