Archive for the 'travel' Category

River trip pictures

Head on over to my flickr account to see pictures from the river trip, as promised. I’ve had to edit out some truly inappropriate and incriminating ones…as we say, “what happens on the river stays on the river”. But never fear – there are still some gems in there.

On solid ground again

We’re back from our kayaking adventure.  I’m always surprised to find that though we were among the youngest there, I drink less, go to sleep earlier, and rally less well than most of the group.

This year I had a pretty clean run and only spilled twice.  The first was a run-of-the-mill flop when I went through a crested wave sideways; the other a spill in a hole where I was churned underneath for a few long seconds before I figured out which way was up and found the sun.

I did manage to surf a couple of waves this year – one backwards on Lower Whitehouse on purpose, and one forwards when I didn’t get the momentum to get over the large wave and stayed on top for 4 seconds or so which looked cool although it was completely by accident.

Really, riding down the river is much like a birth – it’s completely unpredictable.  Each time is different due to many different circumstances.  The level of the water, the placement of the rocks, the cresting of a wave in front of you, and the shifting of the breeze can make your ride scary or disappointing or thrilling from day to day or moment to moment.  You just never know which turns in the river from run to run will be give you a bigger ride or be smooth as glass.  Sometimes a strong headwind picks up unexpectedly over a slow moving stretch and you have to augment your progress by paddling hard for miles and miles.  At other times you might come across a stretch of frothy whitewater that spilled you last time and you, white as a sheet and nauseous, make it through clean with only fear, determination and pure adrenalin as your guide.  Sometimes you spill and an experienced arm yanks you out of the water and places you back into your boat.  At other times you spill and climb onto your boat all by yourself mid-rapid, picking up your gear confidently as it floats through the churning water.  At the end of the ride, no matter how easily you sailed over the waves or how many times you got your ass kicked, you have your stories to carry with you and share and embrace with pride.

I came home surprised and excited to find out that my client is, in fact, still pregnant.  She’s scheduled an induction for today at noon, although at the local hospital it is very likely it will get kicked back to later today or even tomorrow or the next day.  I’ll share her birth story, but not before de-briefing with the client.  She does read this blog and has given me permission to write about her, but I feel that it is important that she solidify the story in her own mind before I impression her memory from my side.  Wish her luck and a safe ride through the waves, whatever they are!

Pictures of the trip to come.  Just keep in mind that river water does not make good hair product.

Leaving for vacation tomorrow

I’ll be kayaking in Idaho for four days and will obviously not have access to my computer, much less my phone.

My doula client was aware of the vacation when she picked me, however I will feel pretty awful if she goes into labor on one of the five days that I’ll be gone.  Honestly, I’d rather stay and attend her labor than go on the river trip – I’ll be thinking and wondering about her constantly.  She declined the idea of a backup doula, but she does have a close friend who will be with her, and we had that little informal childbirth education session so she’s at least got a few tools on how to support her friend.  Mom and I have been talking and emailing a lot and I feel really confident that she’s in a great mental place to really “enjoy” her birth, although that may seem like a strange word for it.

In any case, I’ll be calling her the second I have cell phone access when we come out of the water on Sunday!  And yes, yes, I’ll enjoy the trip.  Last year we had a blast.

“See” you all on Monday!

Driving on the wrong other side of the road

While we wait for more definite news to confirm or deny our move to England, I’ll be posting some of the insights I gathered during our 2-week stay across the pond.  First up – how difficult is it to drive on the other side of the road?

First of all, don’t get all “ugly American” on me and to the UK and use the phrase “the wrong side of the road”.  The English are sensitive when foriegners come to their country and imply thtat their way of driving is “wrong”.  In fact, there are good reasons why 25% of the world drives on the left.  In feudal society, the entire world road their horses on the left.  This was to enable a swordsman to have his right arm closer to his opponent if he had to use his weapon while riding.  Yep, ancient drive-by shootings!  In France after the revolution, aristocrats began trying to blend in with the commoners by walking on the peasant’s side of the road – the right – and risk being recognized and losing their head.   And in the American British colonies, our ancestors primarily drove on the left like the mother country until we gained our independence from England and changed to right-sided driving.  Yep, the newly-formed USA had a bit of a ‘tude, even in its infancy.

And can you imagine switching 25% of the world over to the other side of the road?  How would that go exactly?  With modern-day heavy traffic being what it is, the whole ordeal would have to be synchronized to the second.  And let’s not even think of the cost of the thing – road signs, replacing interchanges, and the necessary press to get the word out.

Not to mention the idiot drivers that might not take easily to the change.  Like…errr…me, for instance.

I wasn’t worried about driving until we were at the airport and I decided it would be a good idea to take advantage of PDX’s free wi-fi to check on UK driving laws, road signs and whatnot.  Sure, I know what a yellow light means.  But a yellow light at the same time as a red?  Intimidating.

I must admit, it was a bit harder to drive on the left side than I had envisioned.  Once the novelty of getting used to the steering wheel being on the “passenger side” of the car wore off, I noticed I was white-knuckling it.  First up, just getting your car to stay in your lane is harder than it seems.  It was easy to misjudge how wide my car was, especially on the left side, because I wasn’t used to sitting on the left-hand side of the car.  My left tires slid off the road a few times until I realized that I was trying to align the car by looking at the left painted stripe on the road.  That stripe would have marked the middle of the road back home, but here it was on the outside and far away from where I was sitting.  Once switched to aligning the car by looking at the center line, which was now on my right, I was golden.

Almost.

It didn’t take too long to get used to being on the left.  Since everything was the opposite side of what I was used to (steering wheel, road signs, etc.) my mind easily flipped the entire plane of driving existance around to be the mirror image of what I was used to dealing with.  The only problem?  When my brain did this, it also managed to flip-flop my right and left.  Therefore, when the GPS navigation voice told me to take a right turn, I’d turn left.  I had to resort to my grade-school trick of looking at which hand’s thumb and forefinger made an “L” to verify which was my left hand.

HedgerowI need to mention here that roads in England are narrow.  I’m talking no-thanks-I’ll-just-have-two-diet-pills-and-a-salad-leaf-for-lunch-then-purge-later skinny.  Often, at least in Somerset, there is a hedgerow or stone wall bordering one or both sides of the road.  There is no shoulder where you could pull over – just an occasional small dip in the mud every mile or so.  On an A-road (a primary 2-lane road), lanes are so skinny that there is only about a foot or two of extra space when two cars are side-by side.  And when two cars pass each other going opposite directions, as an American not used to such close traffic, my first instinct was to break and cringe, bracing for impact. 

There are good reasons, other than gas conservation, that British cars are so tiny.

And that is the MAIN ROAD.  On side streets, most are one-lane only.  This means that if you meet another car, one of you must a) pull over to let the other pass if you are lucky enough that there is room; or b) back up until you can find a spot to pull over. 

In Nether Stowey, a charming period village (read: very narrow, one lane streets flanked by historic stone walls on each side, designed for horses and not cars), I met a lorry (truck) coming my way.  Of course, I had been driving up a steep hill where the road had curved.  Since the truck was large, it was my job to find a place to turn out to let the driver pass.  My first instinct?  To back up looking over the wrong shoulder, making it near impossible to get a decent perspective.  After failing at that, I tried to turn into a driveway.  This meneuver required a good 30-point turn and its only effect was to lodge me almost sideways in the road.  After a good 5 minutes, the poor truck driver took pity on me, easily pulling over and letting me pass.  Our side mirrors had a bit of a handshake, then I was off again.

Here are some basic tips I found useful for driving in the UK:

  • if you are an American, you can drive on your valid US driver’s license if you are 17.
  • familiarize yourself with road signs and markings before you leave by reading the Highway Code online.
  • fuel in the UK is expensive – about 87 pence a liter at present (that’s $6.45 per US gallon).  Public transportation is plentiful.  Check train, bus and tube schedules and prices.
  • don’t even bother attempting to drive in London.  There is a high tax to do so, and it is crazy scary.  Take the tube – it goes virtually everywhere.
  • on the motorway, there are usually three lanes.  The first is for going just above the speed limit.  The second is for going fast.  The third is designated reckless driver lane.  Read: 110 miles per hour or so)
  • to align your car to the center of your lane, “sight your car in” by aglining the center line of the road with your right windshield wiper’s pivot point.
  • roundabouts go clockwise in the UK – not counterclockwise as in America.
  • you do not have to stop at a roundabout unless there is traffic where you’ll be pulling out.
  • when approaching a roundabout where you’ll  be taking the first “exit”, signal left and get in the left lane.  If you won’t be taking the first exit, signal right and get in the right hand lane.
  • when in a roundabout, signal left when you are going to take your “exit”.
  • learn the art of backing before you go.
  • when on a one-lane road, pull over for oncoming traffic if there is a place to do so.  Chances are if you can then the other driver can’t.
  • look over your right shoulder to back up.
  • pay close attention to “right” and “left”.  Your brain might try and switch them on you amidst all the confusion.
  • rent the smallest car you can get away with.
  • it is a good idea to rent an automatic if at all possible.
  • rent a car with a GPS or buy a TomTom.  Roads are very curvy and your inner-compass will be off for a while.  You’ll have enough to think about and won’t want to be wrestling with a paper map.
  • before you get to the gas station, find out if your rental car is diesel or petrol.  Hint: Petrol is the green nozzle.  Just like in the US, a diesel nozzle will not fit into a petrol car.
  • you do not have to pre-pay at the gas stations in the UK.

And if you make a mistake, don’t sweat it.  English people may stare in a dignifed sort of way, but they rarely honk!  (I managed to earn a couple anyway.)

Damned Internets

I’ve been having trouble with the Internet connection in my hotel so I’m posting a quick update while it is working mainly to let you know we are still alive and well. 

Rich had the weekend off and Saturday and Sunday we were tourists for a change. 

Saturday I took Rich though Glastonbury town and the Abbey, and we walked up the Tor.  Then we hopped back in the car and drove into Wells, which is known as England’s smallest city as it has a Cathedral which was gorgeous.  Also good shopping and dining options here, though too far for a work night. 

Sunday we went up to Bath and walked through the Roman ruins and museum, then walked around the streets and shopping area there (amazing shopping!).

Enjoy the photos I’m uploading into Flickr – hopefully the gods will look favorably upon me and the internet connection and laptop battery will cooperate for a change.

Day 4

Today I accidently slept until 11 am or so – so although I’m getting a full night’s sleep, obviously the jet lag is still somewhat in effect.

After a shower I drove straight to the village of North Petherton – a large village right between Bridgwater (where Rich will be working) and Taunton (the largest town of Somerset).  It has a very highly rated infants’ school (ages 4-5 through 7-8) so I wanted to check it out and look at the local area especially since it would be so convenient for us.

I liked the school.  I don’t have anything to base it on seeing as it is the first one I’ve toured but I would be happy if Connor ended up here.  Although he will not be entering into full-time school for another year, I thought it was important that we check it out since chances are we’ll be here for longer than one year.

Afterwards, I went across the street to the childcare center – also highly rated – that has a preschool session.  I got the assurance that preschool is publicly funded for 3-4 year olds up to 16 hours a week.  Yippee – there goes 125 dollars from our monthly budget! (not that England isn’t expensive…)  The childcare center was a very nice place.  I really liked the school’s owner, and the ratios are very good.  However I get the feeling it is a little less structured than what Connor is used to and I have no idea if this is a British thing or just at this school.  Although it has sessions, it is also a full-time child care centre and I would prefer it be only open for preschool (or as they say, playgroup).  The school is very highly rated through Ofsted and it seems they follow themes and there was a lot of interaction with the teachers and students.  I think it is a good choice for Connor, however I need to look at a few more schools before I decide.  And who knows where a rental (letting) will be available for when we need it.

After the school tours, I went for a little walk around North Petherton.  I saw several new neighborhoods and young families, which is a huge plus for us.  The houses looked nice, and there was a big field with some playground equipment like a slide, etc. in the middle of it.  I’ve included pictures of the schools, neighborhood and park below.

My growing muffin toppers and thighs are thanking me that tonight we went to dinner somewhere else.  The Plough is a nice pub right down the road from our inn.  The proprietor was a Canadian and we were at a table full of Rich’s American workmates – all very nice people.  There was one Scottish fellow and no, I didn’t tell him his accent was “thick”.  Lots of stories were told and we had a great time.  I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of these folks in the (weeks?/months?/years?) ahead.

Day Three

Last night we had dinner and spoke with a very nice middle-aged English couple which was fun.  The conversation turned into after-dinner coffee.  I managed to have my first American English vs. English English misunderstanding.  Apparently if you refer to Scots as having a “thick accent” it doesn’t mean the same thing as in the states – “thick” apparently means “stupid”, as in thick-skulled.  Oops.  Thankfully they weren’t Scottish!

I slept very well last night although Rich tells me he was awake in the middle of the night for 45 minutes or so.  Hopefully tonight will be the lucky night for him.

In the morning, Rich hooked up with Roy, his workmate, and bummed a ride off of him.  That meant that I had the car to myself all day.  Yippee – the open road!

But first I had myself a short walk.  I hiked up the hill behind our inn and down the historic road and had a look around.  It was truly beautiful, and I was kicking myself that I forgot my camera.  Hopefully soon I’ll repeat the trip (although the mud did a number on my brand new tennies) and I’ll take some pictures to share with you.

I first went up to Minehead, a coastal resort town.  Apparently most coastal resort towns in England have a bit of a shoddy reputation, so I wasn’t expecting much.  But it was a very nice place!  However the population there seemed a bit older and the services were more in line for the tourist vs. a resident, so I doubt it would be a good place to call home.

I moved on to Glastonbury/Street, which is a nice area.  Glastonbury is an important place in several religions including paganism and christianity, and is a pilgrimage site for both.  Along the main streets are many organic/vegetarian resturaunts and hippie clothes, etc.  It is a fun place and reminds me a bit of the Seattle U-District, or maybe parts of Portland, so I was comfortable there.  Street (a suburb of Glastonbury) is much more mainstream and is home of Clarks Shoes and the neighborhoods there felt comfortable.  It has an excellent school.  I really like the area but on a no-traffic day it took me 25 minutes to get there from Bridgwater (plus it has no railway -a necessity for England).  I’m thinking it might be a great place for us to visit and dine (fresh organic veggies!) but probably out of the way for us to live.

I had some extra time in Glastonbury and went to the famous Glastonbury Abbey.  It is an old pagan site, and legend has it that Joseph of Arithmea (I’m sure I butchered that spelling) who was Jesus’s Great-Uncle made Glastonbury the first Christian church in England right here.  It later became an important abbey and was burned down in the 1500s.  Glastonbury is also famous in King Arthur legend.  Find out more in the Flickr photos I hastily took before it started to rain.  I wanted to climb the Tor (the famous pagan/christian hill) but I was too cold and wet.  The Tor will have to wait for another day.

After Glastonbury I made my way back to the Inn and had a chance to relax before Rich came back from work.  It sounds like his day was fairly productive and they are making him useful already.  The BNG offices are very nice and he did a wide range of things.  He says to say that he is feeling the way you would expect him to feel for anyone starting a new job – a little overwhelmed with how much there is to learn – but he is enjoying it.  And he also says to say that he is missing American food (I have to interject here that this might be because we’ve eaten at our inn for the last 3 nights in a row and need to branch out a bit.  And that I am suprisingly not minding British food in the least.  Our chef at the Inn is fabulous and the food here is really first-rate.)

Check out the photos.  Hopefully more tomorrow!


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