Not sure what kind of nutcase plans a post pandemic road trip amidst a fuel crisis & general world chaos but when you get the travel itch all i can say in my defence is that it needed scratching.
When it came to transport it was definitely a ‘Goldilocks’ decision as I determined we needed a van that was neither too big nor too small but one that was ‘just right’. Copious googling turned up the Kuga Hi-top from Travellers Autobarn that seemed at least on paper to meet all the requirements. The only snag was that all their depots were located on the West Coast & we wanted to catch up with people one of whom lived on the West Coast.
Some of you may have picked up on the fact that route planning for me is actually part of the journey so it was that I set about mapping out the shape of the ‘trip of two halves’ as the first section would be with my daughter & the return with my husband. It would be quite a circular journey with a van pick up / drop off in Las Vegas.
On the evening we checked in to the Hotel Excalibur (think Disney like castle with a magical lift system that seemed to deliver you to different places each time) the most we managed was a quick walk to the Hello Kitty Cafe & the M&M shop before sinking into a comatose state.
Next day we arrived at the depot to pick up the van which was a much longer and slower process than previously experienced but eventually Morrison was ours to drive away. The delay stemmed from the fact the van was undergoing ‘routine service’ which included the fitting of a complete set of new tyres. Sams Town is now possibly my favourite KOA site I’ve been there so many times it feels like a second home & its so undeniably convenient for wagon provisioning with a supermarket across the road.
As neither of us had been to the ‘old downtown’ we headed for the Freemantle area to compare it to the more modern ‘Vegas strip’. On a whim we decided to go on the zip wire that whizzes yo over the heads of the hordes of people that are busy visiting the shops & bars below it. The Fremantle Experience at 40mph was for me a little on the tame side compared to Velocity II in Wales but it still was fun & afterwards we rounded the evening off with a beer in a local bar.
Next morning with the fridge full of white claw & salad plus a tyre warning light winking at us we set off the next day for Phoenix.
I was once asked why I exercised & I flippantly replied ‘so I can eat all the cake I want with out worrying too much’! I also like to travel so when it’s possible to combine the two things then its definitely a win for me.
Its hard to think back to March 2020 but there I was sat in a Fort Lauderdale hotel eating this cup cake & trying to take in the fact that the trip to join daughter for shore leave at Disney World was now in total abort mode.
Trying to maintain a sense of calm eating cake was certainly one way of coping with cancelled flights & being marooned in the USA.
It was a case of ‘every woman for herself’ as events unfolded at an alarming pace it was clear meeting up was not an option. I found myself confined to the vicinity of the hotel trying to bag a seat on any flight home.
I have to confess to succumbing to thoughts of several potential ‘escape’ options that saw me apply for a Canadian visa & google how far it was to drive to the border! It’s true I love a road trip but honestly with hindsight this idea seems a tad crazy now but at the time the rising fear of being marooned away from home engendered a sense of panic I had not experienced before.
As it turned out a nice lady from American airlines secured me a place on one of the last flights out of Miami while I tucked into a slice of key lime pie.
As the plane touched down it occurred to me that essentially I had travelled ‘there & back again’ to buy a guitar book that whilst useful ordering via Amazon might have worked out a cheaper.
Confined to barracks as we were & the introduction of what seemed to be onerous travel rules its been over two years since I have taken an international flight. The lockdowns certainly redefined many things for me one of which was the realisation how important the small things that give you pleasure can be. With domestic travel restricted & cake shops closed being forced to stay indoors the only option was to bake at home so below are a few examples of cakes made by daughter & me.
Ever creative & tiring of home made cakes daughter & I realised that we could visit local garden centres & suddenly the ones with cafes become destination venues.
By June following weeks of lockdown collecting a drain cover from Swindon now constituted a road trip & the prospect of stopping at a Starbucks drive through never more welcoming even if cake options were limited.
It was August before the restrictions lifted enough to allow a jaunt on the motorbike to Monmouth in Wales. This was no mean feat as Wales now operating as a separate entity to England meant the rules were slightly different. However the weather was good & we managed to get a seat on the pavement outside in the sunshine which felt like we were on holiday for a brief moment or two.
The local ‘cakery’ of choice has to be the Vintage Birdcage which serves an alarming array of delicious cakes but if on a venture to London then a visit is not complete without a visit to a branch of Peggy Porschen.
As the restrictions waxed and waned the desire to get out increased and so it was hubby & I ventured out on the motorbike again. When it comes to scones my Cornish genes prevail & I am definitely a jam before clotted cream person regardless of location and choice. If visiting UK definitely add this tea time treat to your ‘to do’ list.
As a child I remember being sent to collect this from the local shop where the lady broke the crust of a large tray with a big spoon to add to the container I brought. Now days it comes in repacked pots from the supermarket. If taking scones anywhere don’t settle for whipped, pouring or synthetic ‘squirty’ cream as you will not be getting the authentic experience in my view. Ideally with tea served in a teapot & china crockery too.
Although a fully paid up cakeaholic it has to be said I’m not especially drawn to lemon based cooked items unless they are exceptional. The lemon Earl Grey combo in Rhayader was certainly an example of one.
More biking this time to the North found us in Coldstream taking afternoon tea with friends in the Alice in Wonderland themed tea shop. The Biscoff based cupcake evoked memories of being in San Francisco on the pier & visiting the Biscoff shop.
The return to galavanting for gateaux in the company of friends or family has been at times a complex & drawn out procedure but most definitely worth the effort. As the weeks & months have gone by arrangements once again can be made to get out and do things & get back to a place which previously we all took for granted.
One of the great things has been getting back to eating out at pubs & restaurants and sampling the glorious puddings on offer. Below are a selection of the best I have had recently all for different reasons in terms of texture & flavour. None likely to be considered good for the waist line but definitely for the soul as they were part of the process of creating new memories with family & friends.
While the ‘mask on / mask off’ debate still lingers the future is starting to look a little brighter & the prospect of international travel without onerous difficulty has started to look like a realistic prospect once more.
But until next time all masks are off & I’m off to the pub – now menu please!
Bags strapped on & legs akimbo we triumphantly set off on the various long and winding roads to the land of free range haggis & whiskey.
Waiting with bated breath in case Nicola Sturgeon put a spanner in the works by changing any of the covid rules we cautiously packed, including the dog eared looking hotel voucher purchased over two years ago. Living in a state of sequential lockdowns has meant that booking anything with certainty is still challenging even with the promise of restrictions lifting.
Numb bums aside we made it fairly uneventfully to Ayr where the air was clear and the sky was a bright shade of blue. Yes I did say blue as all previous visits to Scotland have involved a sky that was various shades of grey (possibly 50 but I didn’t count!) & full of cloud. It was astonishingly warm & the sun glowed upon us making it rather warm in the thick layers of bike gear we had set off in.
A fab curry at a local restaurant with one of hubby’s former work mates was lovely & we woke to a chorus of seagulls who broadcast the arrival of dawn. I had signed up to take part in a literary experiment in conjunction with Bristol University to test memory & recall of Shakesperian sonnets. I have a memory like a sieve on the best of days but I think it was unfair of the universe to expect me to try memorising a poem while a dozen vintage scooters revved their engines before departing in a cloud of two stroke fumes whilst operating Zoom on a mobile.
From Ayr we headed north to through some truly awesome countryside that included the dice with death along a single track road along the side of Loch Awe to reach Portsonachan Hotel our base for a few days. Thanks to hubby’s excellent bike riding skills & quick reactions the attempts by the various lorries & vans pulling trailers travelling at immense speed towards us failed to dislodge us but only just. This is a plea from the heart for all drivers to please ‘think bike’ at all times as even at slow speed we most undoubtably would have come second.
Undeterred we checked into the lakeside venue & were rewarded with the most spectacular views of the mountains and lake. It amazed me how the light changing over the static view could alter it so dramatically. No wonder artists flock to such places as the source of inspiration would be potentially endless.
The next day we set out to roam around stopping for lunch in Fort William before heading out to Glenfinnan. The monument on the beach marks its connection with Bonnie Prince Charlie & start of the Jacobite rising in 1745. A little further back is the viaduct that is featured in various films including the Harry Potter movies in which the Hogwarts Express thunders across it. Just as we were marvelling at the number of visitors standing in awe of the impressive stone edifice an actual steam train rumbled across. Couldn’t have planned it better I thought recalling level of intricate planning that I’d had to do to catch a ride on the elusive Ghost Train, Ely, Nevada on a different road trip. Sometimes lady luck is on your side.
Inveraray turned out to have a tea shop that served the best Victoria sponge ever & we got to visit the goal & find out that you cant buy alcohol before 10am in Scotland!Thankfully I wasn’t the only one so we formed the ‘naughty queue’ in the corner for ten minutes until we could be served.
We had a great morning catching up with some more lovely people, before I indulged in some unashamed camper van & travel sized guitar envy before heading back to the hotel via Oban. We arrived at this quaint sea side town at a time that was too late for lunch & too early for dinner so fish & chips out of a packet on a bench was the obvious solution. It was fantastic to munch hot crispy battered fish & thick chips while watching the world go by. Again the weather was super warm and dry making for a very relaxing trip indeed.
Arriving in Coldstream ( yes where the Coldstream Guards originate from) a small border town that sits on the River Tweed we walked, took some snaps & feasted in the pub we were staying at. The next day found us heading to Berwick which was bathed in glorious sunshine that we soaked up while promenading along the waterfront. After a super lunch with more old friends we returned to walk about to create room to scoff more cake!
Travelling by bike on a hot day at the start of Scottish school holidays has its advantages because the carpark was full but we were allowed to squeeze in. A welcome break to admire the awesome Kelpies that involved a quick photo shoot & an ice cream which enabled us to be back on our ‘metal horse’ & heading for home.
Initial temptations to detour around the Lake District were thwarted by the weather forecast showing more than a 50% chance of rain. Waterproofs getting soaked twice came as no surprise but at least the wind dried us after the first downpour and we were near enough home by the second. Torrential rain aside the week away was really good and for moments you could almost forget the pandemic and associated trials & tribulations.
As we move closer to the 19th July it will be interesting to see how things progress & if more of the restrictions will be rescinded. In meantime take care & stay safe.