Episode 7/11…wherein I discover an old friend in a faraway land

Thursday afternoon, April 7th, 2022

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“Bobbie, what a lovely surprise!”

Michael motioned to the chair beside him. We chatted for a moment, then I noticed the other members of my group gathering at the café exit, preparing to begin the hour-long tour of the Library itself.

“Michael, do you have time for a little chat? ” I said. “If not, I understand of course, but if so, I should go make some quick arrangements.”

He said yes, so I walked over to the group leader, explained my situation, and asked if I could be excused from group activities for the second time in the same day. She agreed, and I promised to be ready and waiting at the coaches by 2:30 pm.

Taking a seat with Michael, we smiled and shook our heads, pleased at how natural it felt to be chatting in person. It was familiar because we had  ‘seen’ each other a couple times a week for several years now, ever since September 2017 when I joined his private online Creativity Circle group. His website, Go Gently, explains much of the very interesting back-story.

In the years that our international group of friends met, I discovered what had been missing from my life: a creative community of like-minded people, folks who know it’s not easy to have a creative habit, to go to the drafting board, or the typewriter, or the music studio every single day, especially if your health presents an additional layer of challenge. Thanks to Michael I learned I can set a timer for 20 minutes, and thereby, as he says, “take one small step each day to move my creative project on a little.” 

When the original incarnation of the Creative Circle was disbanded due to Michael’s health concerns, he found a way, creative as ever, to continue to produce content on his Patreon page so that it would be fulfilling for his supporters, while at the same time being less taxing on Michael’s limited energy resources. It has been a win-win for all of us.

Knowing all this, I was pleased and still a bit surprised to see him here in the café, away from his hillside cottage, having a ‘tiny adventure’ that I was lucky enough to stumble across. We had our sketchbooks with us (of course), so we enjoyed a little ‘show and tell’ time, sharing our drawings and telling tales. At one point we both looked up at the clock and simultaneously said, “What now?” That brought on a laugh, and I got to hear his rippling chuckle in person, what a treat.

“Here are the options,” Michael said. “We still have 45 minutes or so before you need to catch your bus. We can indulge in a fresh pot of tea between us, share a plate of Welsh cakes for dessert, and carry on talking. Or, we can take a quick jaunt in my car, down past the town to the sea where I recorded a few of the videos you have seen. I would happily show you my place if I could, to see in person the Horizontal Oaks, and meet the chickens and Ounce [Michael’s famous cat], but that would take far too long and a lot more energy than I have available as you know. What do you say?”

I would have been happy with either choice, but the thought of a ride in his bright yellow car to a favorite quiet place won out easily. We drank our last drops of tea, left the Library, and strolled into the full sun of midday, easily spotting his car amongst all the grey and white and black ones. Off we went!

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A few minutes later we found ourselves at a good stopping place by the sea wall, and clambered over it to get to the rocky shoreline. There, to our left, was the old cement-and-stone breakwater that ran down into the sea. It gave us a place to sit, to take deep gulps of salty air, and to simply ponder for a while. I loved the sound of the water burbling through the smooth stones as the waves ran back out to sea. It was haunting, like wooden wind-chimes, only with rocks and water instead. Absolutely lyrical, and once you have heard it, you never forget it. The air was fairly calm, so all we heard was the gentle pulse of the waves stroking the sea-stones over and over.

To be on the safe side we headed back early, and sat in the car park near the coaches, waiting until my gang of fellow travelers started drifting out of the Library in groups of twos and threes. Michael and I got out of his car, hugged, and smiled as we said goodbye for now. I will see him again in a couple weeks of course, online, in one of our monthly live chats on Patreon. For now though, I cherish the lingering taste of the salt breeze, and the small round stone that somehow made its way into my pocket.

Our coaches got back on the A487 and headed south again, with over 70 miles still to go, about two more hours before reaching our final destination of Lamphey. We took a brief detour through Aberaeron, a small town of about 1,500. The multi-colored Georgian houses along the quay were charming, and we learned the harbor had supported fishing and shipbuilding industries in the 19th century. Nowadays, curiously, it is also known for its production and sale of honey.  Dylan Thomas, the poet and writer, had links to this handsome town as well.

As we rode along, I noticed the change in rhythm that happens in our group about 4 o’clock on most days. About that time there is a palpable shift: people are suddenly a bit weary and are restless to get ‘home’. That was very true today, and we were relieved to hear that in a short time we would be arriving at our hotel, the Best Western Lamphey Court. That last hour in the coach offered scenic views to a quieter-than-usual bunch of folks, at least that was true on the “Introverts Coach” which has been my refuge for most of the trip.

After arriving at the hotel, collecting our suitcases, and being given our room keys, we were happy to learn that dinner would be delayed until 7pm. Plenty of time to find our rooms, flop on our beds, and grab a quick horizontal rest before our next meal. We will be here in Lamphey for three nights, and because we are having a later-than-usual start tomorrow (9 am departure), there is ample time tonight to unpack, settle in, and still get a very good night’s rest.

Posted in Fake Journal 2020- To Wales and England, Pen and Ink, Sketchbooks, Storytelling & Pondering, Watercolor | Tagged | 11 Comments

Episode 6/11…wherein it takes 2 episodes to capture this very full day!

Thursday morning, April 7th, 2022

Such a busy day today, it is hard to believe that a week ago right now I was in New Hampshire, in my apartment, so eager to finally get on a bus, to go to an airport, to fly to Manchester England. Now it feels like the most natural thing in the world to be here in Wales, with these two dozen travelers I now consider my friends.

Sadly, this morning it was time to leave the Royal Oak Hotel and Betws-y-Coed, and travel to our next new ‘home.’ With Road Scholar though, ‘travel days’ (when we transfer to a new hotel) are never simply travel days, because there are things to explore all along the way.

Ellen and I had our bags fully packed last night, and only needed to add our nightgowns and toothbrushes to our suitcases this morning. I made sure I had all my art-kit supplies easily accessible in my green backpack when I loaded up for the day– it is amazing how convenience and simplicity are the two deciding factors on whether a sketch is attempted, or if I just settle for cellphone pictures. (Do people still use the word ‘snapshots’?)

The coaches pulled out of the hotel parking lot on this clear, crisp morning, and headed west-southwest through Snowdonia National Park one more time, to our first destination of Beddgelert.

The story behind the name of this town (which translate to “Gelert’s Grave”) is pretty grim. As the tale goes, Llywelyn the Great was out one day, and when he returned home, the cradle where his infant child should have been was empty, and his hound Gelert had blood all over his muzzle. The master, in a fit of rage, pulled out his sword and killed the dog. As the dog yelped in pain, a sound was heard from the shadows; it was the cries of the unharmed baby. Then to his horror, LLywelyn also saw the dead wolf that his faithful dog had killed while protecting the child. According to legend, LLywelyn never smiled again to the end of his days.  I had to tell you the story of course, but golly, how do I segue from that to something cheerful?

We heard this story as we were pulling into the parking area at the edge of town. I knew a walking tour through the village was planned, so after quickly getting permission from our Study Leader, I was able to stay behind alone, miss the village tour entirely, and park myself to paint, listening to the River Colwyn and sketching/painting the oh-so-photogenic double-arched bridge.

This bridge is at the heart of the village, just above where the River Colwyn merges with the River Glaslyn. Seeing how accessible the river’s edge was, I walked down and filled my water pot directly from the river instead of using the water in my thermos. It pleases me now to think that the painting you see below was done using water from that self-same river. I get to take the river home with me, literally!

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The bridge at Beddgelert, Wales.

After everyone returned from the village tour, we were off to Machynlleth (or ‘Mach’ for short…I can see why!) at the south end of Snowdonia National Park. It is a market town with a vast square, dominated by an impressive clock tower at its center. The town’s history is documented as far back as 1291. Our Study Guide did a wonderful job of distilling the history of land wars between feudal states and fiefdoms, not to mention the ongoing struggles between English landowners and Welsh natives. It was interesting, but as I tried to follow the ‘who, what, and when’, I found myself down many rabbit-holes, and the chronology got quite mixed up. I also saw myself taking sides (!), trying to figure out who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. Of course there are no such things, except in old Hollywood movies. At times like this I can feel very simple-minded.

We left the town of ‘Mach’ behind, and got on our coach headed for our next stop in the central west coast region. At the seaside town of Aberystwyth, the plan was to enjoy a light lunch at the National Library of Wales, followed by a tour of their collection: over 6.5 million books and periodicals, as well as other records of Wales’ long cultural heritage.

Well, that was the plan at least. I did stay with my group through lunch at the Caffi Pen Dinas, the Library’s café. Everything was going along just fine until I decided there was time for a second cup of tea.

That is when I spotted a man sitting alone reading, drinking tea, wearing a red, grey, and black striped beanie and a brown jacket. “No, it couldn’t be,” I thought to myself. “But that hat, it must be…”

“Michael?” I said quietly as I approached.

He turned, adjusted his glasses, then smiled.

“Bobbie? From America? It can’t be.”

But it was. I was! And from there the afternoon took an entirely different and wonderful turn.

Posted in Fake Journal 2020- To Wales and England, Pen and Ink, Sketchbooks, Storytelling & Pondering, Watercolor | Tagged | 12 Comments

Episode 5/11…wherein learning and note-taking surpass, for once, the urge to sketch

Wednesday, April 6th, 2022- 10:45pm & still writing!

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Our last full day based at the Royal Oak Hotel in Betws-y-Coed

I took notes throughout the day today, and am compiling them this evening in my bedroom as usual. The difference tonight is that I don’t need to allow extra space for sketches because today they just didn’t happen. I frequently wish I could write and draw at the same time, and since I draw and write with the same pens (my trusty Lamy Safari fountain pen, the Pilot G-2-10 Bold, or fat Bic Cristal), it’s not usually hard to tuck a sketch into the middle of a sentence. Sometimes though, the tour is moving along so fast, or the information is so interesting, that the ‘add a visual image too’ button in my brain never gets touched. So today, I have only word images.

We started out this morning after breakfast with a short talk on the history of the slate industry in Wales, from the mining to the often-challenging transport of slate to far-off places. Soon we boarded our motor-coaches (which now feel like second homes!)  and headed off toward the southwest, to the heart of Snowdonia National Park. (I am so glad we had time to enjoy the scenery on prior days, because today was our first consistently misty-rainy day. Another reason I didn’t feel like doing outdoor sketching!)

Our first stop was at the Ffestiniog railway, originally built to transport slate from the mine to the coast. I was fascinated by the descriptor “narrow-gauge railway”— what on earth could that mean? As it turned out, I had seen them before, and I bet you have too. Picture an old-time movie showing coal miners working deep underground, pushing carts of coal on rail cars. The tracks are, by necessity, narrow to fit through the small tunnels and negotiate the relatively tight curves.

I learned that the parallel tracks of standard commercial railways are usually 56.5 inches apart. The tracks of narrow-gauge railways can be anywhere from 24 inches to 42 inches apart. The rails themselves are often made of lighter gauge metal, so these railways are less expensive to build. These narrow-gauge railways are used today throughout the world, especially where narrow mountain passes necessitate relatively tight curves in the rail bed. Who knew? I’ll never look at a set of tracks the same way again.

The trains we saw today were not just for admiring, they were for our next adventure as well. We boarded our train in  Blaenau Ffestiniog (I want to show you a map every time I mention a place name!), and headed  northwest, disembarking an hour later at the Llanberis Slate Museum. After all that time on the coaches and on the train, it felt so good to stretch our legs and move about a bit. Luckily the rain had stopped momentarily, so several of us took our Road-Scholar-supplied bag lunches and clustered ourselves outdoors to enjoy our sandwiches before moving on to the Museum tour.

Margaret and her husband Paul, a very nice couple from Fair Haven, Vermont, joined us for lunch. Ellen and I soon learned that Fair Haven is also famous for its slate quarries, and Paul had a wealth of knowledge because he had worked his entire life managing the main quarry there before he retired. Both Paul and Margaret were typical examples of the kind, curious, and intelligent people you meet on RS tours. Our network of friends gets woven tighter every day.

Those of us ‘think-ahead scout-types’ (including Paul, Margaret, Ellen, and myself) pulled out our waterproof cushions so we could sit comfortably on wet benches and stones walls while eating our lunches. (The ‘sit-upon’ I carry in my art-supply bag is as simple as it gets: it’s a blue and white plastic bubble-wrap Amazon shipping envelope. Cost me nothing, and if I ever leave it behind, it is quickly returned to me because my name and address are still on it!) We laughed when the four of us each pulled out our own version of a ‘keep-your-butt-dry’ cushion. Margaret said, “Is this a Girl Scout thing or a New England thing?” and suddenly we realized the four of us were from three contiguous states in America’s northeast corner. Takes one to know one!

The Museum tour was interesting and thankfully brief because we had one more stop on the agenda for the day: a field trip to the Royal Town of Caernarfon, whose ‘skyscrapers’ are actually the towers of the Caernarfon Castle. The tour, of course, included much history of conflicts. From Edward I in 1283, to major battles in the early 1400s, to the English Civil War from 1642 to 1651, the castle was besieged over and over again. In the 19th century the castle itself was seen as a place worth preserving for posterity, so repairs and restoration efforts began in earnest. Now it is a designated World Heritage Site, and is also where the investiture of Charles, Prince of Wales, happened in 1969.

Any place with such a long history is going to have a long history of conflict. To give credit where credit is due though, our tour guides at every location were skilled at keeping all visitors engaged and interested, by explaining not only the political history, but also pointing out the challenges faced when the castle was being constructed, as well as the cultural history of the local region. They put it all into context, explaining how today the people of Wales proudly cherish and protect their national identity, while having a relatively peaceful coexistence with the English who now live among them in many parts of Wales.

There are so many lessons to be learned, and I can’t help but think back to 2020, when all the people of the entire planet were stopped in their tracks, literally, because of a virus that wanted to kill us all. That pandemic was far deeper than any skirmish between nations. It seems we humans naturally focus on our differences; that is, until an external force scares us enough to force us to work together, regardless of skin color, eye color, hair color, or species. This blue-green marble called home is astounding when we are still enough to notice it.

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I could stop here for today, and probably should because Ellen is drifting in and out of sleep, but this is our last night at the Royal Oak Hotel, and I promised myself I would look into the connection between this little town,and the English artists of the late 1700s to late 1800s, whom I  admire so much.

I learned today that during the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) it was impossible for artists to safely journey to places like the Alps in order to paint dramatic landscapes, so instead, English artists looked to the rugged mountains of England, Scotland, and Wales for inspiration. Northern Wales, especially the Snowdonia region, was particularly compelling. In 1790, even before European travel became difficult, the famous J.M.W. Turner visited the region to paint, and in the years to follow, artists such as David Cox were drawn specifically to Betws-y-Coed, the town where I sit at this very moment. Cox spent a great deal of time painting here, and inspired other artists to join him. After retirement he decided to spend each summer painting in Wales, and often stayed at the Royal Oak Hotel. He continued to produce and exhibit his Welsh watercolors every year thereafter, right up until his death in 1859.

In 2009 Welsh art historian Peter Lord wrote a book called, “The Betws-y-Coed Artists’ Colony, 1844-1914”.  A major exhibition and television series were also created, and together they inspired a great deal of interest worldwide. The book is in limited supply now and well beyond my budget unfortunately. Nevertheless it validates for me the fact that a single place of beauty, and one enthusiastic soul, can open the hearts of thousands.

I wonder how many other artists in the past, from David Cox’s time right up until today, have sat on that very embankment where I sat yesterday, sketching that same bridge, gazing at groups of other folks strolling along it on a similar springtime morning.

My watercolors and brushes are certainly coming out tomorrow!

Posted in Fake Journal 2020- To Wales and England, Sketchbooks, Storytelling & Pondering, Travel | 8 Comments

Episode 4/11…wherein we explore our own village and the island of Anglesey

Tuesday April 5th, 2022 in Betws-y-coed:

What a fascinating old town! I’m so glad we had this morning to explore, at our own pace, the grounds of the hotel, the village, and a bit of countryside beyond. Our group of 24 has coalescing (as it always does by Day 5 or so) into companionable clusters of friends. After breakfast we all left the hotel in bunches of twos and threes, with occasional solo trekkers. A few had shoulder bags like my sketching messenger bag, but theirs contain expensive DSLR cameras, extra lenses, and field notebooks. I have never gotten into formal ‘nature journaling’ because my eyesight just doesn’t allow it, but I love watching other people take notes and make quick diagrams to describe their experiences. The benefits of combining images with words are endless: as soon as I pick up a pen to sketch a scene, I am also ready to write about an unexpected bird call, or the sweet whiff of air from a nearby bakery, or comment on the softness of the moss on the rock beside me. I’m blissed out, can you tell?

I knew we might like a mid-morning snack, so at breakfast Ellen and I filled our thermoses (“flasks”) with tea, and used two cloth kerchiefs to pack up extra teacakes. Stashed-away ‘picnic food’ tastes so much better than food ordered out anyway, right? Of course I filled my water bottle too, essential for anyone armed with watercolors.

The morning was overcast, but reasonably warm. Ellen explored the village, while I found a comfy spot on the far side of the bridge, and did this sketch in ink first, then added the watercolor. I chuckled when I finished it, because the people crossing the bridge look like the ‘school’ of girls in the Madeline children’s books: the only things missing are their yellow hats!

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We enjoyed a tea-break about 10:30, then Ellen and I walked over to the Sappers Suspension Bridge. She stood at the middle of it for quite some time, getting hypnotized by the River Conwy flowing below her. I thought of starting another sketch, but decided against it, and just used the time to look around, noticing all the little things that you overlook when walking to get somewhere. Suddenly I smiled, “Oh-my-goodness, I am in Wales!”

Around 11:30 a.m. we headed back to the hotel to enjoy a welcome luncheon and a delicious cup of coffee. Such simple pleasures!

A quick after-lunch freshening up in our room, then off we went on our coach, up the A5 toward Bangor, then crossing the bridge over the Menai Strait to the Isle of Anglesey. Our itinerary led us first to Penmon, where we explored the ruins of the medieval priory. As Americans, it is hard to wrap our heads around dates like “the 12th century” in describing the church near the monastery. The original wooden building of the church was destroyed in 971 and was rebuilt using stone 150 years later. About 400 years after that, the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 was the death knell for these repositories of church wealth, and thus began the decay of the hundreds of monastic stone buildings, churches, and abbeys that dot the British landscape today. Penmon Priory experienced a decline in the number of its members even before the Dissolution. I was grateful there were still some tumbled-down stone buildings left to admire and sketch.

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From there it was a quick drive to the community of Beaumaris, and its very photogenic Beaumaris Castle. Edward I of England left his mark yet again by ordering the building of Beaumaris Castle in 1295, part of a chain of fortresses along the coast of Wales. Built on marsh land (not ideal I would think, but then again, look at Back Bay in Boston!), the name of the castle is derived from the French “beaux marais” or “beautiful marshes.” We also passed a sign for the famous tongue-twisting town spelled with 58 letters, the second longest place name in the world. Phew, glad I didn’t have to type that one. And in Welsh, it would have been hard to spot typos!

After about two and a half hours total on the coaches today, we were all glad to arrive back at the hotel and have a little bit of time to relax in our rooms before dinner. I used the time to add a bit of brown tint to my priory sketch above, and to take a very quick shower while Ellen went downstairs to visit with our travel-mates.

Tomorrow will be our last full day in this history-rich hotel, and I want to be sure to carve out time to learn what I can about it, as well as its connection to David Cox and the “Golden Age of English Watercolour.”

As usual, dinner was great (I must say, restaurants everywhere are getting much better at accommodating  us vegetarians.)  I spent the rest of the evening dashing off these notes, and heading for a very early bedtime. Another wonderful day completed.

Posted in Fake Journal 2020- To Wales and England, Pen and Ink, Sketchbooks, Storytelling & Pondering, Watercolor | 2 Comments

Episode 3/11…wherein we explore tramway heights and copper mine depths

Monday the 4th of April, 2022

I heard once that it takes one day for each hour of time-zone change to fully get over jet-lag. Since I am 5 zones away from home, and today is the 4th day here, I am well on my way to being acclimated. Now, can I do those first three days over again please, to really, really squeeze the most pleasure out of this trip? No? Oh well, I am still so happy to be here.

I am also glad I decided to record this trip both digitally and ‘analog-ly’ (which I doubt is a real word…). I have my trusty 60-page 6”x 8” (or 15cm x 20cm!) paper sketchbook with me at all times, taking notes and sketching as we go along each day. Then each evening I top it off by sitting with my tiny tablet computer in my room, tapping out the day’s story from the evening’s vantage point.

[FYI Back story: I grew up in a family of writers, and was utterly unaware of the fact at the time. It is like saying I grew up in a family of breathers, it was just that natural. Mom kept a daily diary that helped to validate the slow progress she made on her projects as an artist and housewife in the 1950s and 1960s, and later as an independent spirit right into her late 80s. Her diary was both her anchor and her North Star, and I get that now. A day without reflection is a day without perspective.

And what of Dad? If there is an afterlife, or if I get some sort of do-over, Dad is at the very top of the list of people I hope to see again. I never really knew him, adult to adult, because he died when I was quite young, but I know that he valued education and clarity of thinking over pretty much everything. As kids we used to joke about it, the edict seeming to be, “You can rape and you can pillage, but you will not use bad grammar!” He worked in publishing, in fact my parents met at Macmillan Publishing, where they both worked. Our literate fates were sealed for my brothers and me.]

So, enough back story! Ellen Davies and I have gotten into a smooth rhythm of transitioning from strangers to roommates. The ideal bunk-mate for a single elder is another single elder, and since we are both from rural New England, it seems we have a ‘country code’ in common as well. After breakfast today we decided to travel together (mix and mingle is usually the best way to get the most out of these trips), and we also got on ‘the other coach’, just to shake things up. I noticed on a prior trip that a natural self-sorting happens when there are two coaches for a group of 20 or so travelers. The extroverts tend to gravitate together and the quiet ones do so as well. Our drivers are equipped with microphones and on the way to our destinations, they use that time to give a talk, explaining the countryside we are passing through and any relevant history. The folks on the chatty bus ask all sorts of questions as the driver is talking, turning it into a conversation. The introverts on the ‘quiet bus’ sit silently, some even taking notes like they would in a lecture hall, only murmuring quiet verbal applause as is appropriate without running the risk of interrupting. I find the yin and yang of these group dynamics very entertaining. I also know that after another day or so, if we tried to switch buses, we would be helpfully told by fellow travelers, “Sorry dear, but I think you might be getting on the wrong bus”, as if there really were such a thing. Aren’t people funny?

After breakfast today (4th April 2022) we set off back to the north, past Bodnant Garden and Conwy Castle to the Great Orme Tramway, in the village of LLandudno, located on the Creuddyn Peninsula, jutting north into the Irish Sea. The tram climbed a full mile up a mountainside, and at the top the view was stunning! It was a clear day, thank goodness, and the few clouds in the distant sky only added to the sense of depth as we looked toward the distant Isle of Man, Blackpool, and even my beloved Lake District!

I did this drawing of the tramway ride, shaky as it is, as we climbed the hillside, and added the tramcar later. The perspective is way off, but I still like it because I can smell the salty air and feel the breeze.

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Our next stop was the Great Orme Copper Mine. Honestly, I never in a million years thought I would be interested in this part of the trip, but leave it to Road Scholar and their collaborators at each site, it was absolutely fascinating.

How do you wrap your head around a date like “3,500-4,000 years ago…”? Mind-boggling. Apparently, the mine was most productive in the period between 1700 BC and 1400 BC (!), and wasn’t worked again until maybe the 1600s, finally being abandoned in 1881. A hundred years later, in 1987  a new excavation began, revealing  over 5 miles of tunnels, going down more than 230 feet below the surface. Claustrophobia anyone? The site was opened to the public as an historic / educational center in 1991, and the tours it offers continue to keep this rich part of Welsh history alive. I have to say, being there, actually standing where the miners stood, is nothing like reading about it in a book.

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We had lunch on our own in Llandudno (like Hullan-DID-no), and I realized again how awkward it is to travel where all of one’s pronunciations of written words will be wrong, wrong, wrong! Different members of my group have made attempts at trying to pronounce names right, and I’ve learned that there are easy ways to do homework ahead of time in the hotel (with wi-fi access) so there’s a chance of looking like we at least made the effort. Having traveled in Japan, Russia, and El Salvador, I really respect tour guides who are constantly, and I mean constantly, asked, “How do you say that?” and “What does that mean?” as if the guide were a walking Google app. At times like this I cringe at being a mono-lingual American tourist.

After lunch we all re-boarded the coaches and headed south, settling in for a lovely meandering ride back to our hotel, where we enjoyed two really informative lectures about the Celtic period of local history, and about the Roman invasion.

It reminded me of a UK gardens tour I took in 2016, which unfortunately is no longer offered because the one-of-a-kind tour guide retired, and no one since could fill her brilliant horticulturalist shoes. Anyway, on that tour we actually spent several hours in slide-show lectures each morning, before boarding the buses for on-site visits to the historic gardens we had just studied. It was amazing, the very best of a graduate school education combined with stimulating first-hand experience. Because I had had this combo of classroom-and-on-site Road Scholar learning before, I knew in my bones that it was well worth spending an afternoon indoors. And of course, the cream tea that was offered mid-afternoon made it all the more palatable, literally.

The only drawback for me is that any traditional study of ‘history’ tends to be about the history of conflict, and aggression, often by warring men, and I am always left to wonder, “Where are all the women in these stories?” Of course they were often hidden away, tending to terrified children and trying to keep what was left of their homes intact. I wonder how many millions of women have gone to all the bother of birthing children, raising them through difficult toddler-hoods and young adulthoods, just to see them conscripted to fight in battles over ancient grudges and pride as much as over limited resources, resources that actually might be adequate if creative cooperation were in our DNA as much as domination seems to be. (Phew, long sentence!) There are no easy answers to these questions, but sadly I wish they were asked more often.

The day has ended as always with a scrumptious dinner, and restful evening, knowing that we will have the entire morning tomorrow free to explore on foot our Royal Oak Hotel and the village of Betws-y-Coed, which I now can pronounce with ease!

Posted in Art-Making, Fake Journal 2020- To Wales and England, Sketchbooks, Storytelling & Pondering | 1 Comment

Episode 2/11…wherein I awaken in 2022, in Manchester, England

3rd April 2022

Today I learned a hard lesson: Never scrimp on paper, simply because you think you might run out!

We awoke early and eager today, had a quick breakfast together, all 24 of us plus two RS Leaders, and were able to identify our first contenders for the title of “Keep an Eye on So-and-So”. The last person on the bus is not necessarily a problem, unless their tardiness puts a real crimp in the tightly choreographed plans for the day. David, a charming, retired philosophy professor from Houston, was the first one to show potential. He was the last to get on my coach (we travel with two small coaches, much easier on the narrow roads). Suddenly, just as we were about to leave, David realized he had left his hat and walking stick on the chair next to him in the dining room. Yup, David has potential. We shall see….

We rode the coaches for about three hours today, which was no problem at all because it was broken up by a few stops and gorgeous scenery the entire way. I drew a tiny map in my sketchbook last night to help me picture the day (based on a Google map on my phone).  Unfortunately the map got a bit crowded out by not one but two other sketches I tried to cram in together. In the future I will use a lot more than a page a day. Live and learn…

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Our first stop was at Bodnant Garden, established in 1874. I walked around a little bit with the others, admiring how advanced their April gardens are compared to those where I live (in NH we still expect occasional snow for most of April!) Keeping a close eye on my watch, I decided to pause at a lovely bridge and waterfall scene for a quick sketch.

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We had our lunch at Bodnant Garden as well, and got to know each other a little better, quickly identifying the extroverts in the group.

After getting back on the coaches we traveled along the River Conwy toward our second destination, Conwy Castle, built in 1283-1289, under the unwelcome rule of English King Edward I. The struggles between the Welsh people and the rulers of England go way back. Unfortunately that is often the theme of any travel exploration focused on humankind: ‘history’ is often the history of conflict, if not all out war. I admit that regardless of the lessons being taught about struggles between warring cultures,  I continue to be on the lookout for beauty, or at least what I perceive to be beauty. That can include crumbling ruins, piles of slate surrounding slate mines, as well as pristine gardens. As usual, it is all in how you see things.

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Late in the afternoon, after a scenic ride along the northeastern side of Snowdonia National Park, we arrived in Betws-y-coed, and finally at our hotel, the Royal Oak. Stunningly beautiful, with a rich history of its own that I will be sure to explore during the days we are here.

After a delicious dinner (as always, we were unreasonably hungry for the tiny amount of exercise we had had all day!), we gathered in a small meeting room of the hotel for a lecture by our Study Leader, where we learned more of the back-story to the places we would be visiting in the week ahead.

It was a very full day, could easily have taken two days for all we covered, but of course I see a worthy-of-sketching vista around every corner. Lucky me!

(Humility Confession: This is what the whole page actually looks like…apparently I forgot all about the value of White Space!! )

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Posted in Fake Journal 2020- To Wales and England, Pen and Ink, Sketchbooks, Storytelling & Pondering | 4 Comments

Episode 1/11…wherein I escape the reality of 2020 quarantine and Travel Through Time and Space to 2022 Britain

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March 30th, 2022

What a crazy time it has been in the two years since that insane 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. It slapped the entire planet, sending it to its room for weeks, months on end. The rhythm of adjustment was curious: the panic, the fear, the exhaustion, the sadness, oh the deep sadness, the acceptance, the gratitude for the little things we had taken for granted our whole lives.

Coming out of it was just as surreal, but in a different way. Most of us were gun-shy, still seeing the outside world as a toxic place. And of course, we all had brand new skills, for cleaning our homes and ourselves ‘the right way’. And thankfully, for a long time, people continued to respect one another’s privacy and personal space, knowing that many of us were emotionally exhausted.

During these last two years, I settled into a rhythm that would not have been possible without the stay-at-home order that lasted for months in 2020. I found a rhythm between writing, reading, drawing, and painting, my four favorite activities, and learned too that self-care need not include self-recrimination.

Now to my travel plans!

Happily, despite more vision loss and these old bones of mine, I am preparing to board a plane in two days, on my way to England and Wales for the entire month of April. So exciting! A great way to christen my sketchbook is to draw the art kit that I plan to take. Only artists will understand how difficult it is to commit to a finite set of art supplies for an entire month. I admire consistency, but apparently not enough to emulate it!  This is what I came up with.img_20200409_101824

31 March 2022- The Day before Lift-Off!

I have been creating and collecting PACKING LISTS since 2012, and before. Oddly enough though, I just realized there are TWO ways to think about it:

  • The Planning: What to Take (clothing, toiletries, footwear, art supplies, electronics, identification, misc)
  • The Actual Packing: How to Pack it (Wet vs. Dry, emergency access vs. deeply packed, TSA and plane access)

I’ll use my 14-day packing list for this 30-day trip. All I might add are the things I can’t easily purchase there: maybe an extra pen and paint palette, extra Rx prescriptions.

April 1, 2022: And We’re Off!

No need to set an alarm clock when the bus you need to catch leaves at 5pm! These red-eye flights to Europe always feel odd, to start a big adventure when you normally would be winding down for the day. I have learned I don’t do well with being awake for 30 hours straight, so here is my actual schedule for today:

Up at normal time in the morning, make sure everything is packed and travel clothes are laid out. ‘Act normal’ until noon.

Noon-3:30pm:          NAP with the help of Benadryl. (Set the alarm for 3:30pm!)

4pm:                           Beautiful day so walk to bus stop. Last exercise for a while

5:00-6:30pm:            Bus to Logan Airport, Boston

6:30-9:30pm:            Check-in at Virgin Atlantic, go through security

(Drink tons of water and pee often. Dehydration is the enemy of air travelers!)

9:30 Eastern Daylight Time/2:30am British Summer Time: Lift off!

Seven hours later…

9:15am local BST (4:15am ‘Body Time’): Landing at Manchester (UK) Airport, go through customs, stagger to find Road Scholar host/guide waiting to collect all of us—it is now April 2nd somehow….

2nd April—The Day of Daze

It’s always like this. No matter when you arrive at the hotel (usually mid-morning), the rooms are not available until 3pm so you end up sitting in a huge lobby full of tired folks in various stages of grumpiness. The seasoned travelers are quietly cheerful. The athletic Tiggers have found the concierge, checked their bags in the office, and are off exploring the area, with or without the dead-give-away trekking poles.

Thanks to the Benadryl nap at home followed by a second one on the plane, today I am lucky to be one of the silently contented folks. As soon as most of our group arrived (24 in total, one still missing), we were escorted into a private dining area of the Crowne Plaza Manchester Airport Hotel to enjoy a delicious jet-lag lunch and brief welcome speech from our Road Scholar hosts. Before we knew it, a member of the hotel staff joined us to announce that our rooms were ready. One by one we were given our room keys (they really have this down to a system for tour groups), and I headed up to my room. Knowing we would only be there for the one night, I had strategically packed all my overnight toiletries, as well as a fresh set of undergarments, socks, and a t-shirt, all in my green backpack. No need to open my real suitcase at all until tomorrow, when we arrive at our first ‘real’ hotel (we’ll be there four nights). Then I will totally unpack, an easy thing to do when you use packing cubes as I do.

5 o’clock and we met up again for a more detailed Group Orientation as well as introductions all around, followed by dinner. During dessert (about 7pm) our final group member arrived, tired but smiling, and we all cheered!  Ellen Davies, my soon-to-be roommate, is from Maine and had been forced to take a later flight due to traffic in the Callahan Tunnel in Boston, followed by a mix-up at the TSA security screening at Logan. What a trouper though! No complaints, just happy to finally be with us all. She is having her dinner now, and the guide hosts are keeping her company (the rest of us have gone back to our rooms.) I bet she’ll find me asleep when she finally gets to our room! Too tired to write much more just now. Eye drops, brush my teeth, and BED FINALLY!

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(Note: the pace picks up in the next episodes, I assure you!)

Posted in Fake Journal 2020- To Wales and England, Sketchbooks, Sketching tools, Storytelling & Pondering | 10 Comments