Sunday, February 22, 2015

Meeting People on the Road: Hats for the Royal Family

Hats fit for Royalty:  Winchester, UK

Six Little Minster St, Winchester

Walking the cobbled lanes in Winchester, trying to see everything before I left for Southampton to catch a ship, I found Carol Darby's hat shop.   In the USA you often do not see hat shops any longer.  Yes specialty store in high tourist areas but years ago hats were common for Sunday's and to go to 'town'.  

So I had to smile when I saw Free Spirit, a compact corner store with windows full of HATS!   The owner Carol Darby was inside working on a fabric or felt hat that would become a treasured piece of 'art' for a special occasion.

I hesitated to enter and bother the owner late on a rainy afternoon, but if you don't speak to people on the road, you may as well stay home and read about other countries in a book.    I was warmly welcomed and soon learned that Carol has been creating hats and jewelry for more than 20 years.

No two hats in the shop were alike and Carol told me 'designs the hat to suit the wearer'.   There are many special events in the UK that require a hat.

Commissions include engagement, wedding, Ascot perhaps and for members of the Royal family.

Carol had some wonderful stories to tell and I took more of her time than was polite but it was hard to leave.     She shared with me that she didn't bother with face book or email but would check for my post when she visited a friend..................I hope to visit again and perhaps even try on a few of the most popular styles.

Travel is not only visiting museums, photographing monuments but also meeting the locals and learning about life in their town.    Oh and this is the best part of travel.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Eating Solo: Great Variety in Florence, Italy Food Court

Solo Travelers can find great meal choices 
at a new type of Food Court

Florence Mercato Centrale a great food hall for solo travelers, no more restaurants with only couples!

The San Lorenzo Market may be best know for the lively local market on the first floor:  meats, fish, cheese, fruits and vegetables.

The building dates from 1874  with soaring ceilings and windows with wrought iron.

After many solo trips to Italy I try to develop a list of restaurants I am comfortable eating solo.
Leonardos is one place I stop on every trip.

With the conversion of the second floor to a massive upscale 'food court' the Mercato Centrale has become my BEST SOLO dining location. 

Early in the day I could choose a coffee at a bar on the first floor where many of the vendors were stopping for a quick espresso or take a a cappuccino and cornetto on the second floor where there are many tables and no rush to vacate your seat.

Byafternoon the market slows before the dinner rush.  This is a good time to try beef at La Carne e Salumi, Il Pesce Fresco (fresh fish), La Mozzaella di Bugala, I formaggi (with a wide assortment of cheeses) and the tempting il Cioccolato and il gelato bar.

Ramondo Mendolia, La Pasta Frsca

La Pasta Fresca was my choice for an early dinner.  You choose from the selection of fresh pasta and a sauce.  the pasta is cooked while you wait and served with chees on top.
The owner Ramondo Mendolia, was working and kindly chatted with me while my pasta was cooking.  Having his own business had been his dream.   He is hands on and the hours are long, from lunch to the late closing 7 days a week.   When many restaurants close one or two days a week it is wonderful for the traveler to find a place where you can find a meal at any time of the day.  Pasta and sauce is available to take home and enjoy.  

Fresh breads, rolls and of course CAKE
Pizza by the slice with a variety of toppings.

Solo Lunch:  This is a much more crowded time of day and with limited Italian language skills I try to select something that is easy to pronounce or something I can point to.   There is a pasta outlet with featured fresh pastas offered each day.   Of course pizza, a vegetarian stand where you order fresh juices, soups and salads.  I sampled the assortment of fried vegetables and chicken.   I could not manage trying the fired rabbit........   So far the meals were all around $8 to $10 USA.

There is a cooking school in the market as well as several shops with kitchen products,
books and wine.

There is a large wine vendor where you can select a bottle or a glass.
The knowledgeable woman behind the counter knew exactly what to suggest to the man searching for a bottle. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Walking in the Cotswolds, UK, easy day trip from London

Even a rainy day in the UK did not prevent me from visiting the Cotswolds  

During many years of taking the short American vacation to London, I have visited the larger towns of Bath and Cheltenham since they are on a train route from London.  

The catalogue from HF Holidays* surprised me with additional towns I could reach without a car so off I went to Bourton-on-the-Water, Cotswolds in November.   

Taking the train from Paddington Station in London, to Oxford for a quick change to
the local train for Moreton in Marsh I had my first look at a Cotswolds village!   The train arrived late so I missed the hourly bus to my destination of Bourton-on-the-Water.   This gave me an hour to see Moreton in Marsh in the pouring rain.   

Rain does not stop the British nor the traveler with only one day to see everything!   A kind woman under the bus shelter suggested I go into town for tea while I waited for the next bus.   A short walk from the train station via narrow streets lined by 'charming stone buildings'  just what I love about Europe, brought met to the high (main) street of Moreton in Marsh.  Since I had not planned a stop in this village, I was not prepared, but I followed the 'T' signs to the local tourist office.  

I arrived just as the Tourist office was closing.   One of the reasons I try NOT to travel to busy tourist areas on a weekend:  open hours are limited and often the trains schedules are shortened. 

Arriving in the Cotswolds:
Taking the train from Paddington Station in London, to Oxford for a quick change to the local train for
Moreton in Marsh.  This was my first look at a Cotswolds village!   The train arrived late so I missed the hourly bus to my destination of Bourton-on-the-Water. 

Perhaps the single verbal 'draw' for this area is the
Cotswold stone you see on all the buildings.                       
A warm golden color that is striking in the sunlight and there was a moment when the sky was cleared to take one photo.

golden limestone walls

Bourton-on-the-Water on the River Windrush


Even in November the green of the wolds (hills) was striking.   The many villages are crisscrossed  by water and bordered by the River Thames on the south and River Avon on the north.
Bourton on the Water is called the Venice of the Cotswolds. 

Even visiting during November there were many tourists in town but I did not see the ubiquitous   tour buses.  Along the main street there are a number of shops and even more teashops.   hops!  Perfect! Visitors must be a large part of the local economy. 
A chat with one of the locals confirmed that the crowds in the summer were much larger. 

I had a late lunch at one of the restaurants.   Later than a local would have a meal but there were a few other customers there.    Both Morton-in-Marsh and Bourton-on-the-Water offer great facilities for travelers with clean restrooms.  Thank you.

Other villages I wish to see next year:   Broadway, Chipping Campden, Stow-on-the-Wold, Burford, Stroud and Cirencester.

A very helpful clerk at the Paddington station 'future ticket' desk searched for a brochure that outlined a train route through the Cotswolds.  The Cotswolds Discoverer:  A  three day ticket allows you to use the connecting bus service to see many of the other villages in the Cotswolds.  You can also pay for a oneway or round trip bus ticket on the bus.

NOTE:   there are more trains Monday to Friday and the bus service does NOT run late into the evenings so plan ahead.     Of course if you have a car you can go to many

 A detailed story on my adventure with HF Holidays follows
Harrington House, Bourton-on-the-Cotswolds


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Eating with Strangers: What some solo travelers hate

I can not think of any restaurant in the USA that I have visited that strangers sit with each other.   Not even the local McDonald's.   NO ONE would think of sitting at a table occupied by someone else!

However on my 7 day adventure through gale force winds, I forced myself to join 7 other solo passengers (actually 2 were a couple, more on them later) with the usual first date jitters.

I always view the world from the outside.  You see a different perspective than most people if you just stand back.     The first night was very stiff with everyone trying to remember the other guests names.     Oscar actually did a list of 'names' and thankfully shared it with me.    I cant remember any names and if I don't have my laptop with me, I probably would not write to anyone.

Since my first adventure (2 yrs ago) at a solo table resulted in no one returning after the first night except a guest who did not choose to speak English, certainly damaged my self esteem.  But that story turned out well, since the replacement guests were far more fun than the originals:  Ralph, Norma, Horst and John.    

We played musical chairs during the week, trying to sit next to different people.   My first night I was shocked that Oscar stood up when I came to the table.   I don't think anyone has EVER done that before.  It was very lovely.  Thank you Oscar.

I did try to spread the 'pain' around and sit next to a different guest each night when possible.      After all I am not very interesting and no one should have to endure that night after night.    I know little history (compared to our British seat mates)   know NO TRIVIA (just ask Phillip who dumped me because I could not participate).         Thank you Robert for the kind complement that I was 'gentle'.......not a term often used to describe me!     And Kelly was truly the delight of the table.   I was doing a good job of  faking a comfort level I did not feel, since Kelly told me had no idea I had any dread or anxiety.   Perhaps she will do a video for this blog on 'How to speak to strangers'.

To keep everyone's privacy I will share some of the events that passed across the table last week as a story of fiction with some facts included.    If you see yourself as one of the guests, it may just be your imagination.

As the week progressed and the wine flowed, the stories became more personal and expanded.  I am not sure what was accurate and what was fiction but it made for great story telling.   Some of my favorites:

Cathy:   As you engaged in a conversation she was very attentive but always wanted to be sure you knew she had done the trip better, had a better apartment, a better camera etc.  It became very amusing to see what she could top next.  Had I been more caustic I would have made up a great adventure just to see how it could have been done better.   My favorite was when Dan described a trip to S. Africa (on business) and was immediately asked if he had taken the side trip to see the gorillas.

The BEST day was when she was asked how she could afford to travel non-stop on such exotic adventures.   She bristled and refused to answer.   Well, we can all make up the answer:  inherited a fortune, divorced money, owned oil wells, was famous but no one recognized her.           Another guest mentioned she was often dancing with a mature go girl.

Chris:  may have been the most creative person at the table.  I could learn a lot from Chris who had traveled extensively , been wealthy, been happy and was very knowledgeable.   We all enjoyed his tales of adventure and travel to exotic places.    Next trip I need to bring an atlas.  

Stories became more interesting as the week progressed.  Perhaps because you will never see these strangers again you can share information that you might never bring up with others.
Oscar had a good point, you tell a story so many times that you forget if it happened to you or if it is even correct!   Divorce, former lives, quite people who really 'love to talk', and sharing that you attended the friends of Dorthy meeting may have been the background for some of the guests.    Who are these strangers?   What do they really think?  What are their dreams, disappointments or goals?
NO ONE ever asks and perhaps there is no answer.    

Kelly and Oscar:  if they had not been at the table, I may have eaten in my room the entire trip.   Such engaging people and although a couple they fit in perfectly with solo travelers.   Solo is not necessarily single.  K and O felt it was far more interesting not to travel with other passengers from their own country.   They enjoyed exchanging ideas with travelers from other places.  Cathy would have had a hard time topping Oscars travel stories, but she may have tried.  

And two of my 'new friends' agreed to do mini interviews for my mature solo travel site, so stay tuned for more fun from the high seas.

And Kelly, please let us know if customs in NYC interrogated you AGAIN.

* more photos as others share