Words of wisdom

Words of wisdom

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Godmanchester (Cambridge), Brighton & Eastbourne

On October 3rd, I said goodbye to the warmth and sun on the Isle of Man and ferried to Liverpool on a damp, gray day, hopped in a cab to Liverpool Station where I then took a train to Godmanchester, an ancient Roman village in Cambridgeshire to housesit for the next 10 days.

The Coleman family was heading to the sun (where temps in the 100's) on the Canary Islands while I stayed in their lovely home with Crumble, the cat, and Darby, an adorable and blind Lhasa Apso.  They also gave me carte blanche to help myself to their fully-stocked fridge and freezer - yippee!

Their home was in walking distance to a great pub, a very convenient Co-Op, and the village's lovely common area where the River Great Ouse meanders through.  Buses to Huntingdon were nearby as well as the ones the Cambridge and London.

Peaceful Godmanchester
The White Hart - my neighborhood pub & a 5-minute walk
My 'home' for the week
I choose my 'housesits' based on areas of the country I want to explore and specific places I want to visit.  The Godmanchester sit was a very last-minute replacement when my confirmed sit in Wales was canceled.  But it worked out perfectly.  Both time-wise and putting me a short bus-ride away from the historic town of Cambridge,  a 'must' on my must-see list.

As I am sure you all know, Cambridge and Oxford are the most well-known university towns in England and are in constant competition with each other. Cambridge was founded in 1209 and is the 2nd-oldest university in the English-speaking world and the 4th-oldest surviving university.

Famous alumni include Issac Newton,  Charles Darwin,  John Oliver, Jane Goodall, John Cleese, Adrianna Huffington, Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking...and many, many more. So they have every right to brag about the success of their student population.

I was so thrilled that my friend Jan Dengis, a fellow member of International Women Associates of Chicago, and now a resident of London, could join me for the day of exploration.

We started with a 2-hour walking tour lead by an extremely knowledgeable Cambridge 'local.'  Our lovely guide not only took us to the most note-worthy and well-known spots, giving us the history and the architectural importance of the building we saw, but also 'snuck us in' to areas that were normally forbidden to tour groups.  I was thrilled to learn that the glorious King's College Chapel was open that day for viewing.

I could write for hours on the history of Cambridge University and it's colleges, but I will only take a moment to explain that 'a college' at an English university is what we in the States would call an expanded residential college dormitory.  Take King's College for example.
You can only walk on the grass if you are a member of  Kings

The two photo's above are only part of King's College.  Here students live, eat their meals in a large dining hall (think Harry Potter), have access to their own libraries, meet in the rooms of King's professors, participate in sporting events - all aspects of college life while here.  They attend classes at university - they live in the colleges.

Each college chooses which students, after an extraordinarily hard-won application to Cambridge University has been earned, they want to join their ranks.  It's based on their major focus of study (math, chemistry, etc. as each college has its specialty), their family background (this IS England) and of course, their ability to pay, though we learned that the yearly fee to attend an English University is quite cheap in comparison to the States and Cambridge is well-known for its scholarship program.  It's the cost of the college that can be steep - though they too offer scholarships to gifted students.

Here are just a few photos I took during our morning walk.  Just click on them to see larger copies.



After a great lunch at the famous Eagle Pub (1607), the sun came out of hiding and we decided it wouldn't really be a tour of Cambridge unless we went punting on the River Cam.



The views of the town, University, and colleges from the river were amazing and floating slowly down the river with your guide 'poling' you along, was a great way to end a wonderful day.

The Coleman's returned all tanned and rested and I was off to catch a bus to London (not the thing to do in morning rush-hour!)  I was over an hour late and thought for sure I would miss my train to Brighton.  But phew!  Made it just in time and soon I was being greeted by my good friend Carole Kabel, who I worked with at Wrigley Field all last season.

She had married a gentleman from Brighton and has visited at least twice-a-year for over 40 years.  It's her second home, and after his passing and then his mother's just this past year, she and her son's decided to keep the large and excellently located family apartment.  When I told her I had 3 1/2 free days before my next housesit just south of her, she invited me to be her guest.  Did we ever have fun!

Brighton is about an hour's train ride from London,  has been a nearby seaside resort of choice for vacationing Londoners, Kings, Queens and noblemen and ladies since the late 1800's.

The architecture, the beach, The Lanes and especially The Dome and the Pavillion make this town, originally founded in 3500 BC - yes, that's BC, still a great place to visit - when it's off-season.  Not being a great fan of large masses of humanity, summer fills the streets and beaches with so many people that it is almost impossible to move!

I spent half a day taking a walking/audio tour of The Royal Pavillion and cannot tell you how disappointed I was when I learned I couldn't take photos of the inside. OMG - this extravagant building which the Prince Regent, later King Geroge IV, built is an Englishman's concept of what a Chinese palace would look like by someone who had never been to China!  It is so amazing and beautiful and totally over-the-top! The photos of the inside are not mine but from their official website. Click on the link to see much more of the insides.

The main dining room
The Music Room
The dragon that 'holds' the central chandelier in the dining room, which weighs over a ton!

The band gazebo on the beach
The beautiful row houses
A keyboard playing zebra?  Made my day!
The Lanes
Oldest pub in Brighton

The Lanes
Carole and I stayed up two nights in a row until 3 a.m. watching our computers to see our Cub win.  But soon it was time to say goodbye and head to Eastbourne for my last housesit in the UK.

Eastbourne is set right on the English Channel and is a vibrant, active town which has become known in recent years not only as a vacation location,  but the home of numerous English-language schools.  I'm sitting in a 100-year-old row home for a Jack Russel by the name of Bernie.

 We take long walks along the sea front or into town for a cup of tea - when it isn't raining - which it's been doing a lot!  So glad I bought a really light-weight 'puffer' down coat at TK Maxx in Brighton as I've certainly needed it to keep warm!  

Went to see 'The Martian' yesterday and highly recommend it.  First movie I've seen since I arrived in the UK on August 1st.  With just 10 days left, I'm starting to get excited about my upcoming 3-month stay in southern Portugal.  But first I'm going to spend 4 days in London, seeing the new exhibit at the V&A, attending an American Woman's Club meeting at the Royal Yacht Club and lunching with old friends.  

So until next time......

Saturday, October 10, 2015


Do you know where the Isle of Man is located?  Did you know that Douglas is the capital?  Did you know that the above photo is their national emblem?  Do you know what their world-famous TT is all about?  These were all questions I certainly didn't know the answers to when I accepted a 10-day house/pet sitting assignment there starting on September 24th.  

View of Douglas 
First - the Isle of Man is an island located half-way between Ireland and England (Dublin & Liverpool).  The island is 221 square miles of rugged coastline, castles, ancient standing stones, rural farmlands with big mountains in the middle. They have a very temperate climate year-round with warm summers and mild winters. But they get more rain per year than Ireland or Great Britain. The people of the island are called Manx and their language is from the Old Irish.   And of course, they drive on the wrong side of the road!  

The motto of their 3-legged symbol, which is on the Manx flag is "Whithersoever you throw it, it will stand."  In today's language, it would read,  ' Beware, if you shove us down, we'll get right back up!'  

The Isle of Man has had people living on it since 627 AD. It has been conquered by the Vikings, the Norse, the Scots and the English.  The Tynwald
Tynwald - The Manx House of Parliment
has been in existence since 979 AD, making it the oldest, continuously governing body in the world.  The United Kingdon is responsible for the island's defense and continuing good governance while the island's parliament and the government have complete control over all domestic matters.  The Isle of Man even has its own Manx money.

They also have an official 'fairy bridge' which I saw on my ride in from the airport.  I had learned while in Ireland that fairies are not the sweet, little Tinkerbell's Walt Disney wanted us to believe they were.  They are mischievous and sometimes down-right mean and are known from playing practical jokes.  So whenever you cross over the Fairy Bridge (please note that this is an official bridge with the Manx crest on the sign) you must always say hello to the fairies, thank them for anything good in your life, and wish them a pleasant day.  Believe me, I am not making this up.  Every single time I crossed the bridge, either with a bus full of locals or in a car with a local, each and every one of them  said hello to the fairies and wished them well!   

I was house/pet sitting for a lovely woman by the name of Mary Alexandra.  Her bungalow was a short distance from downtown Douglas, I had the care of Milo and Crystal, 2 adorable Shih Tzus.  

Mary picked me up at the airport upon arrival.  I had asked her to make me an appointment with her dentist, which she had done, and then she asked if I needed anything else while she was gone.  I said that a good haircut was in order and that's when I found out that that had been her profession for the past 45 years! She very generously gave me a great cut the next day before she and her good friend Brenda flew off for  their cruise of the Mediterranean. 

Mary also had put me on her insurance for the time I was there which meant once again I had access to a car to drive on the wrong side of the road.   I drove the ladies to the airport and was thrilled to see that the roads on the Isle of Man were SO much wider and straighter than those in Ireland.  Though it was great to have the car if I needed it, it was really much easier, and less stressful, to hop the bus that stopped at the corner whenever I wanted to go downtown.

I know Mary won't mind when I tell you that she very generously took me to Tesco for a big  'food shop' before she left.  But what she forgot to mention, and what I learned from her fabulous neighbors, is that Mary is not a cook.  It's something she very rarely does and therefore, her kitchen was minus a few things that make regular cooking easy.  There were no sharp knives (paring, carving). There were few pots and pans and no large bowls or food storage containers (Tupperware) with lids or a pitcher.  There wasn't even a can opener.  Thank you to Sue, Geraldine and Maureen who were kind enough to lend me everything I needed during the week so I could cook!! 

Across the street from Mary lived the nicest man by the name of Peter Bull. Upon retirement, Peter took up his hobby of photography and became so good that he is now a professional, doing weddings and special events, has his photos published regularly in the newspaper and the best thing, as far as he's concerned, is he is an official photographer for the TT.  

When I told Peter that I too loved photography, he very generously offered his time and we spent 2 days touring all around the island - and he drove!  

The first day Peter took me all around the 37-mile TT course.  This is the time to tell you just what the TT is, but instead of me rewriting everything about this annual event that brings over 200,000 attendees to this island of normally a population of 80,000,  let me just say it is one of the most well-known and popular motorcycle road races in the world.  Here is a link to the history of the TT on the Isle of Man where you read all about it.    

Two of Peter's photos from the 2015 TT

As we drove around the course, which of course, are just regular roads any other time of year except for 2 weeks in June, Peter explained how the island was divided into 4 areas known as The North, South, East, and West.  The course runs through all but The South part of the island.  Peter detoured off the course whenever he thought I would like to see certain points of interest, villages or castles. There are monuments to Manx riders who perished on the course and funny little lighthouses dotting the coastline, flower-laden seaside gardens and glorious views from the highest point of the course.  

Peel Castle

Our second day we did The South portion of the island.  Again, more beautiful vistas, castles, chapel ruins, a beautifully preserved, historical farming community, stately homes, waterfront battements and weird, 4-horned sheep.

St. Michael's Chapel
Castle Rushen


   The back end of a 4-horned Manx Loaghtan

My last day on the island,  Peter took me to The Braaid.  In a farmer's field they had discovered the complete ruins of a Vikings round and long house, and  that evening I took a tour of the completely restored Gaiety Theater, founded in the mid-1800's and today offering a location for major touring shows and local productions.

I had a wonderful time on the Isle of Man.  The weather was perfect for my entire stay and the people I met were so welcoming and generous of their time and their household goods!  Mary has asked me to return next June for 3 weeks while she explores Canada and I've said - YES!

But now I'm off to catch a ferry to Liverpool and a train to Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire, UK for my next house/pet sit!

Until next time....