Getting Around England

Going into my trip I was a little worried about getting around England. Which I admit is a little silly since most people there speak English, as I do, thus getting lost and needing to ask for help is significantly less of an issue. But evidently logic was not at play, and I was nervous all the same. We chose to not rent a car, and it turns out getting around England without a car is incredibly easy to do. Driving We chose not to drive the entire week we were in England. And if you are planning on doing so then that is awesome, you are braver then me. England is one of the few countries in the world that drives on the opposite side of the road (compared to the USA and all other European nations). So I chickened out and decided to do an immense amout of research to make sure we could get to where we wanted to go without trying to handle a car that operates directly opposite of what I am used to. Hired Tour We did however choose to ride along with a couple other intrepid travelers on a tour of the Cotswolds. I am not always the biggest fan of tours, often times they shuffle you around to large touristy places and never give you the chance to properly explore. But in light of not want to drive and there being no other public transportation option through the Costwolds we found a tour and wound up thoroughly enjoying ourselves. If you find yourself in a similar situation don’t discount the option. While it might not be your number of favorite way to get around, it can be nice to take a break from having to mange the entire day. Just sit back, relax and let someone else do all the work for you. Bus Buses are a very viable option for getting around, particularly when speaking of the express buses to and from the airport. When looking for ways to get from Heathrow to some towns across the country, all train options first put us on the underground to get to a train station and then often required switching trains mid way through the trip. One such route had us spending close to 6 hours getting from Heathrow to Bath. Rather the National Express provides somewhat direct bus lines from the airport right out to these smaller towns. We were out of the airport and disembarking in Bath in under two hours. Plus the buses are really very nice, with wifi to boot. Trains Trains are incredibly convenient in most places in Europe, at least in comparison to the US where they are mostly not even an option, unless of course you have a lot of time to spare and an endless supply of books to read while on board. One of my favorite things about trains that I discovered while we were there actually is that the ticket master can book you connections through his system. So we managed to get a single ticket that took us from Bath to Paddington Station to Kings Cross via the underground, then from Kings Cross all the way to Dover. Single ticket, all booked and times plotted out for you. And they even gave us enough time to get lost, which we didn’t because while it can be very intimidating to make exchanges at stations, everything is very well marked and easy to navigate through. Other added bonuses to traveling by train in England, they are quick, clean, they have food on board and wifi so you can keep in contact with your family or just post on social media about how cool the trains are. By Bike Biking is also a very great way to get around towns, or even get from town to town. Everywhere we visited had bikes for rent and even some of the places we stayed had bikes that could be used while staying there. Trains and buses also have rack options so that if you wanted to get from one town to another and then continue to explore by bike you could do so. Additionally a lot of the English Countryside has national trust trails specifically for biking and walking. Open fully tended paths ready and waiting for anyone willing to take a nice day trip with a picnic and even a bottle of wine out for a little explore. On Foot Lets not forget the cheapest method of getting around of all, on foot. While this might not be the most viable option when trying to cover a large distance in one day. It is a great way to explore a town. Slow travel is becoming more and more popular these days. A method of travel which doesn’t allow you to see all the big sights in a large area, but allows you to really experience a place as a true local. See the local shops, eat at the local restaurants, visit the local sights. Most people can walk about 8 miles over the course of a day without feeling it. So get out there and use those feet! Also don’t forget about trekking trips. I took one last summer in Ireland and it was one of my favorite trips of all times. England has loads of similar options like walking the Cotswolds Way. This allows you to really get off the main path and see some really incredible things that would be missed if you are busily popping from big tourist attraction to the next. You get to see locals, farms, country side and really connect back with nature. Added bonus, a lot of these trekking tours go from inn to inn so you don’t have to get THAT cozy with nature if you didn’t want to. In summary, getting around England is incredibly easy to do. And it is often easier without a car as you don’t have to worry about parking, gas or you know driving on the other side of the road. You can relax during the getting there phase of your trip and often stay connected or even plan the next stages of your trip. Public transport options also add an air of adventure and excitement, and of course it is much easier on the environment overall.
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The Floating Harbor in Bristol England

The Floating Harbor in Bristol England is a really nice day out, and very family friendly. We had a couple locations in mind we wanted to visit but didn’t realize going in exactly how expansive the area was or how fascinating the history. The area has been important to humans and prehuman people since the Neolithic era. It was founded as a permanent settlement in 1000 the port was developed in the 11th century and continued to play an important role in England’s economy through the exploration and immigration to the America all the way up to today where it continues to play a role in a variety of economic industries. The name Floating Harbor comes from the lock system that allowed the tidal section of the Avon River to remain full and thus allow the large sailing ships afloat even at low tide. Sailing ships as apposed to steam powered ships have a terribly deep keel and were often made of wood at the time. So if a ship came to port in Bristol at the time and the tide went out, the keel would get stuck in the mud, the ship would tip, often snapping keep, mast or simply crush itself ruining both ship and shipment. MShed The harbor today is still very active though less in shipping capacity and more in a tourist capacity. The MShed is a free museum right on the water front that hosts a variety of exhibits, including a section of a hull of a boat painted by Banksy, allegedly of  the rather unpleasant harbor master at the time. The museam focuses on Bristol, providing information about the history of the area, the maritime traditions, people, life and places significant to the area. There are also a number of ships that one can tour right outside the doors of the museum. Banksy To various degrees it seems that it has been confirmed that the famous graffiti artist Banksy was raised in Bristol. Most of the earliest work attributed to the artists exists in the area and there is a walking tour outlined that can help show you around if you are interested in viewing all his works in the area. I most wanted to see the Girl with the Pearl Earring, so locating that particular site was my main focus. It can be difficult to find given it is down a short ally way and you don’t really see it until you are right on top of it. But find it we did and I was very happy to see it in person. SS Great Britain Another family friendly activity on the harbor is touring the SS Great Britain. The SS Great Britain was designed by Isambard Burnel who was very significant to the area and to Britian. He combined a number of modern ship building methods and wound up with the first every steam ship to cross the Atlantic to America, which it did in just 14 days. The area around the ship is set up as it would be at the time with fun faux shipping containers, food, animals and all sorts of other things that would have been packed aboard for the voyage. It looked very fun, but we were short on time so we decided to pass. Underfall Yard Underfall Yard was probably the highlight of our time in Bristol. It is a working boat yard that you can walk around, it is also home to the original hydraulic system that operated the lock system. We met a very nice volunteer with the yard named Richard who used to teach history and told us all about the area, the history of the hydraulic system, the harbor, Bristol and all sorts of other things. We probably sat with him for at least an hour and loved every minuet of it. We walked away with a backpack full of information, a tshirt and two buttons. It was a blast. We also spent a good deal of time sitting outside watching two young brothers, who must have been a part of a sailing club, fight, shout, shove and nearly knock one another into the water more than once. It does appear that there are a variety of boat rentals in the area from the aforementioned sailing lessons to a water taxi that can take you up and down the harbor for very little cost. For those less interest in boating type things, the yard also hosts a couple cafe’s with outdoor seating and a wonder view of the harbor. Swivel Bridge and Clifton Suspension Bridge Toward the end of the harbor near the locks are two bridges of a very different sort designed by the same man, Isambard Brunel. When he was 23 he was appointed the project engineer, it took 33 years to complete but the Clifton Suspension Bridge is quite the marvel. We didn’t have time to walk up and cross it but the gorge that it dares to span (especially given it was built in the 1800s) is massive. The Swivel bridge was built in 1844 and designed by the same man. It is a large hulking mass of wrought iron and not nearly as elegant as the suspension bridge but it is a technical masterpiece. It is in terrible disrepair and money has been pouring in to study, evaluate and repair it. I found it interesting that the bridges were being built around the same time, by the same man, to solve different problems and look so very different. It was very cool to see in person. We sat at the edge of the harbor and had some snacks while we plotted our next move. We knew we wanted to make our way up to a few locations on the mainland portion of the Bristol but it took some serious examination of the map to figure out a way over all the bridges and roads safely. We did eventually manage it and wound up popping back down on the other side of the Bristol Harbor more than once throughout the day. So if you enjoy maritime type activities I would highly suggest spending the day at the floating harbor in Bristol England.
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Venice: Exploring the Canal Capital of Northern Italy

I have been to Venice twice, the first time was in college. I was studying aboard in a neighboring country and a group of us set off for a long weekend in Venice.  It was the first time I had traveled (other then getting to my study aboard local) without an adult. Which is funny because I was technically an adult but I still didn’t really feel like it at the time. And traveling without supervision still felt strange.
We had taken the train all the way onto the island and when we left the station the only transport option to our hotel was a boat (there are no cars on Venice) which was more than any of us wanted to spend. So we decided to walk, it’s an island how lost can you get? Turns out very. We walked for at least three hours around curving narrow streets over countless foot bridges. Every thing looked the same and there were no street signs. Well there were, just not the kind we were looking for, they are are all painted on the corners of buildings. When we finally by chance stumbled onto St. Mark’s square   I remember nearly crying when I saw the Basilica for the first time. It wasn’t the first time I had seen an amazing church, nor was it one I was particularly obsessed with but it was there and it was beautiful. And it also meant we weren’t lost anymore.

The second time I went was post college and it was slightly less dramatic. We had left our camp site in the middle of the day and had taken our little rattly trolley up to Naples. The trolley went through a several mile long tunnel on the way back up to Naples, we had been though it several times in the last couple days, but of course on the day we had a train to catch the darn thing stalled out. I will add we were traveling with large backpacks rather than suit cases and the train was standing room only and it was about 105 degrees if not more. We probably stood in the dark in the sweltering train crammed in like sardines for at least 45 min listening to the driver try to turn the engine over on the trolley. We did make it out, and we made our train but neither of us were terribly happy about it.

We took an overnight train up to Venice. If you are up for the adventure and looking to save a few dollars this is a really great way to travel longer distances. You can sleep while you are moving to your next destination and it is usually cheaper than a hotel. Though depending on the train (because they are all different) you may not get a private sleeping car, there were several times we were bunking up with strangers.
When we arrived in Venice it was still quite early, so we headed out from the train station on foot. At least this time I knew where to find the street signs. We made our way over to the area of our hotel for the first night and then found a coffee shop that was open. We consumed an ungodly amount of espresso and palmier cookies. And then when it seemed as though we had stayed as long as socially acceptable we found a bench and watched the boats move around the canals until we could check into our hotel.

The first hotel we stayed at was a pretty typical lower cost hotel. Clean, two twin beds, plain white walls and giant windows that over looked the canals. The second night we stayed at a hotel that I had stayed at previously in college. When I visited in college it was being renovated so we got a discount rate and they stuck us up in an attic room. We loved it, four girls crammed into a small room overlooking the roof tops of Venice. Our bathroom had no separate shower so you had to wipe down the toilet and sink after you were done. And we had to take what felt like an ancient servants staircase to get to the dining room for breakfast. When I went back three years later the renovations were complete and the Hotel all’Angelo was a glorious four star stay. The bathtub was big enough to drown in and everything was gold and marble.
While we we were there we toured San Mark’s and the Doges Palace. We saw the Bridge of Sighs and saw where Giacomo Casanova was imprisoned for “affront to religion and common decency” which he later escaped from. And we shopped along the Rialto Bridge.

I really love Venice but there isn’t actually a lot to do on the island itself. There are some small museums and the Dodges Palace that you can explore. There is a lot of shopping, plenty of classical concerts that you can attend. Which I urge you to do if you get the chance, most are held in churches around the city and the acoustics are like nothing you have ever experienced.  I attended one in college, we got all dressed up to walk over to it. Then when we got outside we realized it was pouring rain and high tide so the square was flooded. We waded our way over to it arrived late and soaking wet but still had a glorious time.
You can also take a boat over to Murano to tour the glass blowing studios or over to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore which you can see from San Mark’s. Someday I will make my over to those other islands.

But personally I like that there isn’t a laundry list of must see places. The city is beautiful and unique and to me the best way to experience is to just live it. Wander the streets aimlessly, pop into random shops, talk to locals, eat everything that sounds good and just sit and watch life go by on the canals. The most vivid memories I have of the place is the hardware store we found and the little dog named Luna that we found snoozing outside of it. The sheer volume of pizza and gelato we consumed from street vendors while watching people deliver food to restaurants and homes via narrow canals and even narrower boats. And watching all the couples in love dance in the middle of the street from music that seems to always be present and always lovely.

We left Venice as we arrived in the dark on a night train to Austria. I haven’t been back but I do want to return one day. It is a really great city for an extended relaxing stay or even just a night. Either way the experience is most certainly worth the trip.

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