Palm Springs and Idyllwild, CA

Palm Springs and Idyllwild, CA

Paul and I continued on our road trip via Route 66 from Arizona to California.  Although I was raised in Southern CA, I’d never been to Palm Springs or Idyllwild.  Paul was in charge of the itinerary, and both towns sounded interesting to me, so he found us two entirely different places to stay.  The man really should consider a second career in the travel industry.

Giant Statue of Marilyn in Palm Springs

26 Foot Statue of Marilyn in Palm Springs, CA.

Our first stop was Palm Springs.  I have very few pictures to share with you, owing to the fact that we stayed at a clothing optional resort.  It was a great place; we met friendly people and really enjoyed ourselves.  We’d gone to places with clothing optional pools/hot tubs before, but never  an actual resort.  I don’t think we have even stayed anywhere with the word “resort” in the title before.  Since we spent most of our time there in or around the water, it felt natural.  It was a small, independently owned place with a forties and up crowd.  Clothing optional isn’t my thing (I have a hard enough time being seen in a bathing suit and I have some seriously weird germ issues) but I was fine with it after the first few minutes.  Sometimes it is good to get out of your comfort zone.  In other news…

The giant painted bronze Marilyn Monroe Statue pictured above was an impressive sight.  It wasn’t easy getting a photo without someone standing under her, looking up her dress.  I guess it’s no worse than what I did to the Albert Einstein statue in D.C.  Anyway, she is slowly making her way across the country and will be in New Jersey next.

Entrance to Melvyn's

Entrance to Melvyn’s

Lunch at Lulu

Lunch at Lulu

Palm Springs was nice, but I didn’t feel like we really got to know the place.  I’m guessing that, even if we did, it wouldn’t really be our scene.  We had a couple of good meals (always a priority for us) but spent very little time in town.  Feel free to share in the comments section if we missed out on something great.  We enjoyed dining at both Melvin’s and Lulu.  Melvin’s has been around since the Rat Pack days and there were some fascinating characters at the bar.  I wasn’t impressed with the service – I think we needed to be locals or (better yet) famous in order to get any real attention.  People-watching was the highlight for me – lots of old-school and over the top glam combined with a little bit of grit.  Lulu is new and hip, with fresh food, a younger clientele and friendly, attentive waitstaff.  Two completely different experiences. We also enjoyed a nice, no-frills breakfast at Rick’s Restaurant and dinner at Ruben & Ozzy’s with new friends.

Federal Government Shutdown Blues

Federal Government Shutdown Blues

The first time we tried to visit Joshua Tree National Park, it was closed to all entry owing to the government shutdown.  Luckily, we tried again a couple of days later and were granted access.  This park is located in Twentynine Palms, which is less than an hour north of Palm Springs.

Our trusty 4Runner at Joshua Tree National Park

Our trusty, dusty 4Runner at Joshua Tree National Park

This is the Joshua Tree.

This is what a Joshua Tree looks like

 

Paul, enjoying the autumn sun.

Paul, enjoying the autumn sun.

We were prepared to miss out on any national park visits owing to the government shutdown,  so experiencing both the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree National Park during this trip left us feeling extra grateful.  I am more of a forest/seaside person, but I will never forget seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, and Joshua Tree National Park is awesome in its own desolate (to me) way.

After a few days in Palm Springs, we headed up to Idyllwild, a sweet little town in the San Jacinto Mountains.  We’d tossed around Idyllwild, Big Bear, or Catalina Island.  Idyllwild won out, mainly because it was the only place neither of us had been.

Welcome to Idyllwild

Welcome to Idyllwild

Idyllwild is an interesting mix of artists and musicians, hippies and bikers, rock-climbers and born again Christians.  Our cozy little cabin rental kept us hunkered in each night and we wandered around town by day.  We befriended a Palm Springs couple over drinks and live music at Jo’An’s one afternoon who were kind enough to drive us back up to the cabin.  We had walked down but it would have been quite the hike back and it hadn’t occurred to us that taxis are hard to come by there.

Our (temporary) cozy mountain home

Our (temporary) cozy mountain home

A backyard of boulders and trees

A backyard of boulders and trees

 

Enjoying the outdoor dining at Cafe Aroma

Enjoying the outdoor dining at Cafe Aroma

Bike Parking at Jo'An's

Bikers and Live Music at Jo’An’s

Perfect Pumpkin Pie Chai at the Coffee House

Perfect Pumpkin Pie Chai at the Coffee House

Of the two places, Idyllwild was definitely more our style.  I really enjoyed wandering around town by day and taking a hot bath, eating in, and keeping warm by the fire each night. From Idyllwild, we drove to LA to catch a flight to the Caribbean Island of Granada…yet another first for us!

 

Route 66 (New Mexico to California)

Route 66 (New Mexico to California)

Our year in Nambé, New Mexico flew by and we are now enjoying a three week vacation between sits.  I gave Paul carte blanche when it came to planning this trip and he has outdone himself so far…

 

Route 66 in Seligman, AZ

Route 66 in Seligman, AZ

 

The man has been fascinated with Route 66 ever since we moved to New Mexico (especially after seeing Billy Connolly’s Route 66 documentary), so two weeks of our trip has been dedicated to following the “Mother Road” from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Santa Monica, California.

I am embarrassed to admit that I actually fell in and out of sleep immediately upon heading down said road and missed taking pictures in Historic Old Town Albuquerque.  In my defense, there was so much to do up until the morning we left…I guess it all caught up with me.

 

Route 66 Casino Hotel

Route 66 Casino Hotel in Albuquerque, NM

 

Our first official night on the road was spent at Route 66 Casino Hotel in Albuquerque.  Paul picked this spot because it was convenient and had live music for him and a poker room for me.  Paul doesn’t gamble but I love to play Texas Hold ‘Em, so he told me to blow a few bucks on the table while he enjoyed the band a few bars over.  It was a great night!

 

Williams, Arizona

Williams, Arizona

 

From there, we drove to Williams, AZ.  Both of us had never been to the Grand Canyon and Paul booked us a train ride right from our digs at the Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel.  We were very fortunate in that the Grand Canyon had just re-opened (post Government Shutdown) the weekend we arrived.

 

Getting to the Grand Canyon in Style

Getting to the Grand Canyon in Style

 

Music, Stories, and Corny Jokes Courtesy of Clarence Clearwater

Music, Stories, and Corny Jokes Courtesy of Clarence Clearwater

 

Caboose Shot on the Way to the Grand Canyon

Caboose Shot on the Way to the Grand Canyon

 

Blown Away by the Grand Canyon

Blown Away by the Grand Canyon

 

An Old-Fashioned Train Robbery Courtesy of Grand Canyon Railway

An Old-Fashioned Train Robbery Courtesy of Grand Canyon Railway

 

We had a wonderful time in Williams, and I got a big ol’ lump in my throat upon seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.  A lot of vacationers, some who saved up for months and even years, missed out on this experience altogether while government employees (especially those that rely on tips) and indie shops and restaurants were hit hard by the lack of business.  A true shame.

 

Keepers of the Wild Nature Park

Keepers of the Wild Nature Park

 

Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in Valentine, AZ was a planned stop en route to our motel room in Kingman, AZ and it proved to be a highlight of our trip.  If you get out to this non profit sanctuary, be sure to take the tour as you will learn so much more about the animals and where they came from.  Most of these wild animals were rescued after having been abandoned and/or abused (mainly for entertainment purposes).  Please click on their link for more photos and to learn about how and why this park came to be ~ it is an interesting story that just might tug at your heart-strings.  Thank you for all that you do, Keepers of the Wild!

 

A Rescued Tiger at Keepers of the Wild

A Rescued Tiger at Keepers of the Wild

 

Curious Monkey at Keepers of the Wild

Curious Monkey at Keepers of the Wild

 

Room to Roam at Keepers of the Wild

Room to Roam at Keepers of the Wild

 

Route 66 boasted plenty of photo opps throughout Arizona and I will link to a post on our favorite road signs soon.  In the meantime, here are a few shots from the road…

 

Angel & Vilma's Route 66 Gift Shop in Seligman, AZ

Angel & Vilma’s Route 66 Gift Shop in Seligman, AZ.  Angel fought successfully to bring Route 66 back from obscurity.

 

Siesta Apartments & Kitchenettes in Kingman, AZ

Siesta Apartments & Kitchenettes in Kingman, AZ.  There are still plenty of dwellings for drifters along Route 66.

 

Mr. D's Route 66 Diner

Mr. D’s Route 66 Diner in Kingman, AZ

 

We would like to thank Sam at El Trovatore Motel for sharing a lot of Kingman, AZ history and fun facts with us.  We were given the choice of rooms to sleep in for our one night there, and Paul chose the Marilyn room (it was a tough choice between her and Audrey).

 

El Trovatore Motel in Kingman, AZ

El Trovatore Motel in Kingman, AZ

 

El Trovatore at Night

El Trovatore at Night

 

Bathroom Window Love at El Trovatore Motel

Bathroom Window Love at El Trovatore Motel

 

Donkey in Oatman, AZ

Going Back in Time (With a Very Feisty Donkey) in Oatman, AZ

 

We are currently nestled in a small cabin in the woods of Idyllwild, California, doing laundry and re-organzing our luggage in preparation for our first visit to the Caribbean  tomorrow (we will be staying in Grenada for a week).

I will be sure to post California and Caribbean photos soon.  In the meantime, please leave any comments or questions you may have for us here on our blog and one of us will get back to you.  Thank you for following along with us on our adventures.  California marks our eighth state as Caretaking Couple and we love keeping in touch with you, wherever we go! XO,

Valynne & Paul

Creative Caretaking Ideas

Creative Caretaking Ideas

Next month marks our four-year anniversary as Caretaking Couple.  Last week we visited Evergreen, Colorado, where we met back in 2006 and moved away from in 2009.  Evergreen is a beautiful place.  I recently asked Paul if he was ever sorry for leaving it.  His answer was no.  It is always good to be back, but becoming Caretaking Couple was one of the best things we ever did.

Evergreen Lake House

Evergreen Lake House

Several of my blog posts here are in response to questions I receive from friends and strangers on a regular basis.  A lot of you want to know how we find those people or organizations that are looking for us and what it is we do, exactly, once we find them.

I have addressed this before (click on this link about finding house and pet sits for a good place to start), but it has been a while and I just want to reiterate that there are many ways to go about finding caretaking and/or house and pet sitting gigs and there are opportunities out there for just about everyone.

For us, caretaking is a lifestyle versus a paycheck.  We focus on long-term sits (6 months to a year) across the US and typically exchange our services for a lovely place to live.  For others, it is a career.  It is not unheard of to make six-figures in this field, but those positions usually require a longer-term commitment and more work-hours/expertise than we can provide at this point.

This may very well change once Paul retires.  Ideas we have tossed around include substitute innkeeping, staging and caring for homes for sale, cultivating organic farms/gardens, vineyard management, yacht-sitting, becoming tour guides for historic properties (lighthouses/museums, etc.), working for the National Park Service…

Tending the Community Garden (Run by Estrella Del Norte Vineyard) During our New Mexico Sit

Tending the Community Garden (Run by Estrella Del Norte Vineyard) During our New Mexico Sit

These are just off the top of my head, and every position I mentioned was inspired by a “help wanted” ad or a face-to-face conversation with someone in need of this type of service.  I would love to know what your experiences have been with creative caretaking, or what kinds of gigs you would be interested in if and when you decide to become a caretaker.

Feel free to leave us a comment here.  I respond to every comment and look forward to getting a conversation going!

 

 

 

Got any Route 66 and/or Grenada Recommendations?

Got any Route 66 and/or Grenada Recommendations?

Paul and an Arizona Saguaro on a 2010 Road Trip

Paul and an Arizona Saguaro on a 2010 Road Trip

October 1, 2013 marks our New Mexico departure date.  We are busy firming everything up and I can’t wait to share with you a couple of epic New Mexico blog posts I have in the works.  In the meantime, I have a question or two for you.

We will have a few weeks off between sits and you know what that means…ROAD TRIP…and some possible flights, as well.  Our road trip will start here on Route 66, which we will follow across Arizona and into California (our next sit destination).  From there, we are thinking about flying to Grenada for a week.

So, here are my questions to you…

Do you have a favorite place, either along Route 66 (in NM, AZ, or CA), or in Grenada?  And, if you haven’t been yet, are there any places you have been wanting to go to?  If so, what is it about those places that appeals to you?  We have all kinds of ideas to share, but I want to hear yours first.

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY to you and yours!

Paul’s Trip To England

Paul’s Trip To England

“Oh, to be in England now that April’s there,” so said Robert Browning in his poem, ‘Home Thoughts, from Abroad’.  The author clearly wasn’t taking into account the likely weather at that time of the year. T.S. Eliot was probably closer to the mark when he said about England, “April is the cruelest month”.

English Countryside Daffodils

English Countryside Daffodils

So, it was a pleasant surprise to arrive in London at the end of April to be greeted by beautiful weather. The primary purpose of the visit was an old friend’s wedding. It was also an overdue opportunity to catch up with friends and family, drink lots of ‘real ale’ and do some hiking in the Derbyshire Dales, my home ground.

My only regret was that I would be making the journey alone. I know how much Valynne loves what she has already seen of England, but caretaking and vineyard duties would have to take precedence, this time. I was instructed to take lots of photographs, which I did.

As I say, I got lucky with the weather. I knew it had been a miserable winter in England and spring had fared no better so far. Weather has always been a major talking point in England, probably because we get so much of it and most of it not good. Since I returned to the US, the weather back home has once again gone downhill, as we say.

I like to fly Virgin Atlantic when crossing the pond, but it’s a bit of a trek to get to the flight from Santa Fe. Train to Albuquerque, fly to Dallas, fly to New York, and fly to London. Leave Sunday afternoon and arrive Tuesday morning. There are easier routes, but New Mexico isn’t anyone’s hub.

On arriving in London I picked up a rental car and drove north for two hours to arrive at Stanshope Hall around four in the afternoon.  Prior to arriving I called into to see the groom (Phil) and we went for a couple of ‘pedis’…best beer in England to you uninitiated.  Ah, heaven. Then I called in for fish and chips in my old town of abode – Ashbourne.

Stanshope Hall

Stanshope Hall

Stanshope Hall is a private residence in the heart of the Derbyshire Dales within the Peak District National Park – the first national park in England in 1951 to be designated as such and covering 555 sq miles. Naomi has converted half of Stanshope into a bed & breakfast and with her family, lives in the other half. It was here I would be spending the next three nights in some of the most glorious countryside in the whole of England.  By Tuesday evening I was pretty tired as you might imagine, so after an early supper and a fine bottle of wine, I retired to bath and bed. Rupert would be arriving the next morning and we would set off on a day hike and go in search of more beer.

A full English breakfast to start the day – two pork sausages, three rashers of back bacon, grilled tomatoes, two fried eggs, Derbyshire oatcake, grilled mushrooms, toast and a pot of tea. Now you might say that you can have all of that, oatcake accepted, in the US. Yes, but it’s not the same. It’s like a pint of Guinness. Once you’ve had a pint of Guinness in Ireland, you realize that a pint of Guinness anywhere else is just not the same.  I had a good natter to Lynne, who prepared my fabulous breakfast and it turns out we both went to the same junior and high schools. Lynne was a little after me. And, her husband, Jez, worked at Rolls-Royce for 30 yrs, just like me, although we never met being in different areas of the business.

Rupert Arrives

Rupert

Rupert arrived at around 10 with a route already prepared. I last saw Rupert about 7 years ago when Valynne and I visited.  We go back a long way and used to do long distance walks together throughout England. Rupert worked for IBM and provided engineer support for the Rolls-Royce data center.

Public Footpath to Stanshope

Public Footpath to Stanshope

The hike begins right from the front door as you head over the fields and down into Hall Dale and eventually into Dove Dale, named after the beautiful river that flows through here and provides plenty of sport for Trout anglers.

Words can’t adequately describe the walk; you just had to be there, so you need to check out the pictures. Some of the highlights were the thousands of wild daffodils and the new and recently born lambs frolicking in the meadows.

Lamb Playing Peek-a-Boo

Lamb Playing Peek-a-Boo

For those of you not familiar with hiking in England I can thoroughly recommend it. England, and indeed the whole of Britain, is awash with ancient footpaths and bridleways that connect the many small towns and villages. These were the roadways of the day and are still wonderfully maintained by organizations like the National Trust. As you would expect, many of these paths cross private land, but access cannot be denied by law. Attempts have been made by landowners to block access, but with the occasional exception, all fail. It is more or less possible to walk the length of breadth of the UK without actually using a real roadway for anything other than immediate access to a town or village.

A Proper Pint at The George

A Proper Pint at The George

No responsible hiker, English anyway, would plan a route without a pub stop around lunchtime. The good news is that you are never that far away from a pub on all but the most remote of walks. So it was we arrived at the George Inn at Alstonefield. We sat outside and drank our ‘pedis’ and talked about old times, as old codgers do it seems. Rupert, living in the Derby area, maintains contact with a number of our old colleagues from R-R. The conversation was a little depressing and went something like this (names changed to protect the innocent). “How’s Frank doing” I began. “Oh, he’s dead”, replied Rupert. “How’s Geoff..…”he’s not well”. “What about Dave”…….”He committed suicide”. And so it went on.

Paul's Spot at The George

Paul’s Spot at The George

George Inn is a wonderful little pub, serving great beer and food and I was to have dinner here this evening and the next. The Innkeeper reserved my own little table in the corner by the fire. Say 10 years ago, the majority of pub fare was pretty basic, but tasty nevertheless…ploughman’s, sandwiches, pickled eggs, etc.  With the advent of much stricter drinking and driving laws and the cost of gasoline, trade declined and many pubs that didn’t have a thriving local trade, closed. Those that survived upgraded their menus and opened up for accommodation so that drivers, and indeed hikers, could stay overnight.

Paul's Old Stomping Grounds, the Derbyshire Dales

Paul’s Old Stomping Grounds, the Derbyshire Dales

Fast forward and I’m sadly checking out of Stanshope Hall and heading for Derby. On the way stopped in at Ashbourne to say Hi to Louise. Louise is the owner of Lou Lou’s in the high street – a very classy lingerie store and we’ve known each other for a while. Almost every time I’ve called in to see Louise she’s been on vacation. This time was no exception. The business must be doing well. I actually went back a few days later to buy something for Valynne, but they were closed due to the bank holiday.

The River Dove

The River Dove

Derby is a city of approximately 250,000 and its origins go back to the Romans, Saxons and Vikings. In my experience Derby has always lacked a choice of good hotels, but that’s changed in my absence. I checked into the Jury’s Inn in what is now called the Cathedral Quarter of Derby. It’s definitely the most preserved area with many old building and pubs and so a good location. I parked the car in the hotel car park and would leave it there for the next three days. The hotel was very nice, good room, good restaurant and bar, although I only did breakfast on one morning.

After checking in I set off on foot to wander and to see what had changed in my town of birth since my last visit. While driving into town I’d already found out that the road system had changed, again, so getting around was a new experience.  I decided to surprise my sister. Helen is a supervisor in one of the large department stores and I think she was a little surprised, and pleased, to see me coming down the escalator. We would meet up again later that evening with her husband, Merc, and have a few beers.

Derby has a wonderful indoor market at the Guildhall which has been open for 150 yrs. It was always busy and vibrant, so it was sad to see so many closed stalls and a general lack of activity. I thought all the shoppers had migrated to the much larger and newer market in the mall, but there were many closed stalls there too. A sign of the poor economy I guess.

Birds Confectioners Cake Box

Birds Confectioners Cake Box

Off to Birds. What’s that you may think? Birds Bakery has been in Derby since 1919 and they produce amazing cream cakes, scones, sausage rolls, pork pies and much more. There was always a queue when I went with my Mother and there still is. I’m happy to report that all my favorites are as I remember them.

A little shopping next. Valynne has been collecting Pandora beads since we first met and she has quite the collection. I’ve been trying to get a particular one for a while, but no luck in the US. I was expecting to have better luck in the UK and I did……a London bus with the British flag (Union Jack) on the top.

The Five Lamps

The Five Lamps

Now, time to head back to the hotel and get ready for a night out. Set out for the Five Lamps around 4:30 pm, which is just a short 10 min walk from the hotel. The Five Lamps has a terrific range of ‘real ale’ and according to my friends, is one of the best pubs in Derby right now. During the evening my sister and Merc arrived followed by my brother Mike, Rupert and his better half Vanessa and my best mate of 40 yrs or more, Tez.

Five Lamps

Five Lamps

Tez and I have had many adventures over the years and shared flats together. We’ve been on driving tours of Europe, hikes, and had girlfriends, wives and many nights at the pub along the way. I wish we could spend more time together. Tez is also one of the best letter writers. Just ask Valynne. After several pints and catching up on everything, Tez and I headed out to meet up with Heather, his girlfriend of quite a few years now, but first a couple of pints at the Dolphin – oldest pub in Derby and familiar to Valynne. We met up with Heather and her friends at the wine bar next door. Drank a couple of glasses of wine and I went back to the hotel for some zzzs.

Saturday morning and the day of Phil and Pauline’s wedding.  Phil and Pauline have been together for probably 20 yrs or thereabouts and make a great couple; although I was a little surprised they decided to take the plunge after all this time. Started the day off with a bacon ‘butty’ and a pot of tea at Jack Rabbits. Wonder if the owners are Pulp Fiction fans?  Wandered around town a little and noticed the heavy police presence close to a few well known pubs. It’s the last weekend of the regular football (soccer) season in England and Derby County are hosting Millwall. Millwall fans are notorious for causing trouble, but no sign yet. If the wedding had been later in the day or the match earlier, I would have gone. Not been to a game for many a year now.

Pauline and Phil

Pauline and Phil

Caught a taxi around 1:00pm to get me to the Half Moon, which is a short walk to the event. Shortly joined by Phil and his best man Adam, Pauline’s son, and a few other guests. I didn’t arrange to see Phil at the pub, but I knew he would be there. I know him too well. He was resplendent in his Hugo Boss suit. Watched the soccer on TV and sank a couple of pints and headed out together.

Now I’m not a big wedding person, so short and sweet with as little formality as possible is what I like. I’m happy to report this weeding met my goals. Selfish I know given it’s not my wedding, but Phil and Pauline sure enjoyed the day, as did I. The whole event was held in a Masonic Lodge which you may find strange, but it was a good facility and with plenty of grassy areas for photos. Phil assured me prior to the event that guests would not have to roll one trouser leg up and receive funny handshakes. I’m happy to report that was the case. The highlights for me was seeing the happy couple just that, happy and catching up with friends and acquaintances I’d not seen for many a moon. Tez wasn’t able to be there, but Heather was, so I was on her table at dinner.  I was particularly pleased to see Dave Scotter.  Dave is a friend and colleague of mine from my Rolls-Royce days and we’d not met for many years.  Painful joints, a result of the running Dave used to do, means he’s not too mobile, but healthy nevertheless. I was relieved given my conversation with Rupert you will remember from earlier. Even old friends I didn’t expect to talk to me actually did, which was nice, but that’s another story as the saying goes. Didn’t stay all night as I was feeling pretty tired by around 11:00PM.

Pedigree & The Daily Mail

Pedigree & The Daily Telegraph

Sunday arrived and the weather was still good. Felt lucky after a good lie in, but wishing Valynne was here.  Went out and bought a lot of Sunday papers. I really miss English newspapers which I could sometimes get in the US until a few years back, but they’ve stopped importing them now. Online viewing has led to the end of that one. Bit of a lazy day reading and catching up with work emails. Headed out to the Jonty Farmer at 3:30 to meet up with Tez for yes, you guessed it, a few pints. We watched the ‘footy’ on TV and went on to visit a few old and familiar pubs. Namely, the Seven Stars, Five Lamps, Old Flowerpot, Dolphin, Vines and finally met up with Heather in a pub whose name I don’t recall, not surprising by then. It was new I remember and used to be the old Engineer’s club, which I do remember. Went for a curry, my first of the trip, and it was heaven. Tez and Heather’s treat. England is still the best place for a good curry. Well, we said our goodbyes and I headed back to the hotel, in perhaps not such a straight line as when I left.

Mick

Mic

Monday morning and I’m heading south with London the end destination. I promised Adam (Pauline’s son) that I would call in and see his Dad on the way. I last saw Mic about seven years ago and about a year ago he suffered a bad accident when he accidently swallow dived down the stairs at home, landing on his head. He was in hospital several weeks and the recovery was very slow. Adam said he was much better, but that he’s not fully the Mick I would remember. I’m happy to report he was much better than I expected. He was much like his old self, but perhaps not quite as crazy.  Mick, Tez, Phil and I used to play as a team in the Derbyshire pub quiz league for many years. We even had a little TV fame once upon a time. It was good to see him and I’m only sad I didn’t get to meet his partner Bev. She was away doing what I was doing last week…hiking. Hopefully both Valynne and I will see her next time.

Time to get back in the car and in a couple of hours I was in Shefford, Bedfordshire  and staying with Keith and Ali in their lovely cottage. Keith and I both used to live in barn conversions on a farm near Ashbourne and we both worked at Rolls-Royce. We became good friends and now Keith is a big wig at Tui the travel and Airline Company. In fact Keith is heading to Seattle soon to supervise receipt of the new Boeing Dreamliner and he will fly back with it. Keith and Ali have been together for about, and I’m guessing, 12 years and have a lovely daughter called Eve. Although Keith and Ali were both working, I spent a lovely two days with them.

Eve & Ali

Eve & Ali

Wednesday morning and up early for the drive down to London. Raining outside and the first rain I’d seen since arriving in the UK. The distance to Heathrow from Keith and Ali’s is about 40 miles at the most, but it took me three hours. Driving into London early morning is not recommended. Dropped the car off at the rental place and the shuttle driver dropped me at the nearest tube station rather than take me to the airport terminal, which was good of him. A good tip when picking up a rental car in the UK is to pay in advance and use Travel Supermarket. I got a great rate with collision damage waiver and theft protection included. I paid something like $200 for 8 days for a Ford Focus diesel from Avis.

Ok, so now I’m on the Piccadilly line heading to my B&B accommodation in Chiswick, West London.  I was staying at the Wellness Home just around the corner from Turnham Green tube station, so I only had to lug my suitcase a short distance. The Wellness Home is a very pleasant private home providing organic breakfasts of fruit and cereals, cheeses, etc. Not the traditional English breakfast I’d been wolfing down, but a pleasant change and closer to my breakfast back home. I do hate single beds though. I dropped my bags off and headed back to the station. Because public transport in London is so good, it makes sense to stay somewhere like Chiswick or similar and avoid paying the very expensive hotels rates in town. After one change I was in downtown in about 25 minutes.  You can also take the bus, but of course that takes much longer. If you buy a day pass, you are good for tube and bus services.

I’d no real big plans for London other than to check out a few old haunts and do a little shopping. First stop was the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery. They are next door to each other in Trafalgar Square and both are free to enter, although a small donation is always welcome. It’s fun and interesting to see all the famous faces from history. It’s often a challenge to see if you can guess the subject without referring to the guide. The National Gallery is much larger and one of my favorite places to visit and the collection is huge. I usually do the fast tour of my own design. I always like to check out the Van Gogh’s. When I look at a Van Gogh I can see something of the artist. The suffering and the anxiety that was a feature of his life seems to be reflected in the brush strokes somehow. By contrast, if you look at say a Canaletto, while technically brilliant, almost like a photograph, you don’t feel connected to the artist in the same way. One of my favorite paintings and Valynne has shared it with me, is Delaroche’s ‘Execution of Lady Jane Grey’. It’s a huge painting and portrays the moments preceding the death of Lady Jane Grey at the Tower of London in 1554. Jane was deposed by Mary only nine days after being proclaimed Queen in 1553. She was only 16 when executed. For reasons I can’t fully explain, I’m drawn to this painting. Check out the painting online, but it won’t replace the experience of seeing it for real.

It was now time for some refreshment so off to the French House in Soho. It may sound like a house of ill repute, but it’s actually a pub. They only serve half-pints, but mostly the patron’s drink wine. When living and working in or nearby London, I would always call at ‘the French’ as it’s known. The French was used during WWII as the headquarters of General De Gaulle and his ‘Free French” organization.  The French is also often frequented by actors and I once had the pleasure of standing at the bar, elbow to elbow with Peter O’Toole.

Next stop was Alfie’s Antique Market just off the Edgware Rd. I decided to walk and although a bit of a hike from the French, I do love walking around London. Soho used to be alive with strip clubs and the like, but while still in attendance, there is much less than say 10 to 15 years ago. It’s now the place to eat and be seen and to check out all the funky shops. I continued past Marlylebone station, which is one of about nine or 10 mainline railway stations in London and the one I used most frequently when travelling between home in Oxfordshire and London. There was a pang of regret when I walked past Lord’s Cricket Ground. My home team, Derbyshire, was playing there a couple of weeks earlier and I would have loved to have been there, but it wasn’t to be. You can actually take afternoon tea in the famous Long Room.  The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) founded in 1787 is the most famous cricket club in the world and one of the most exclusive clubs in the world, and its home is at Lord’s.

Alfie’s Antique Market is a huge collection of independent vendors under one roof and there is always something interesting to find and the prices are reasonable. I settled on small heart shaped porcelain Limoges trinket box. I thought Valynne would like it and she did.

I got back to the Wellness Home around five, showered, changed and headed out for dinner locally. Called at the George first to watch the footie and have a couple of pints. Went across the road to the local wine bar and for whatever reason I cannot remember what I had to eat. Perhaps it wasn’t that memorable.

The following morning I headed into the city again with my only real objective to have a good walk around, visit Borough Market for lunch and to do some last minute shopping.

I passed Stella McCartney’s shop and didn’t notice anything in the window that said wow. There was also an art gallery showing works by Ronnie Wood and he’s actually a very good artist.

Borough Market

Borough Market

Eventually found my way to Borough Market via the tube to London Bridge. I don’t know about you but I’m fascinated by markets and Borough is one of the best, nestled below the Victorian railway arches south of the river and in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral, which has been a place of worship for more than a 1,000 years.  The market is mainly selling organic produce, but with a section for arts and crafts, jewelry and the like. There are plenty of places to eat and drink and I was heading for Roast. The actual restaurant looks down on the market, but I was heading for their take-away stall in the market proper. There you can get a variety of roast meats in a bun and eat as you wander. I started with the rare roast beef with horseradish.

Roast Menu

Roast Menu

About two hours later I couldn’t resist and went back for the roast pork with crackling and apple sauce and it was heaven. If you are looking for something unique in London I thoroughly recommend you pay a visit, but the full market is only open Thurs-Sat. There are plenty of other attractions about to make a visit to this less well known area of London a real pleasure. For example, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, where standing in the pit to take in the performance is always a fun experience. Close by is the Anchor which is the pub from where Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London of 1666 and recorded the event in his diary. There is also the George Inn along Borough High St which is the last surviving galleried coaching inn in London and often frequented by Charles Dickens and Shakespeare himself. The pub is clearly marked as the ‘Gorge’ on a map of the area circa 1543. I was going to walk across London Bridge, but it was now starting to rain so I caught the tube. I could sense the weather was starting to change for the worse as I neared the end of my trip. I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been with the weather.

I called in at Covent Garden to find something for Valynne and I got a lovely pair of earrings.  As usual the area was buzzing with people and on reflection I’d not noticed any obvious impact of the economic issues that have been plaguing Europe, in London at least. After a brief visit to the ‘French’ I headed back to Chiswick. Back at the B&B I rested a little, checked in for tomorrow’s flight, showered and headed out for dinner. I could only manage a pint and an appetizer as those roast sandwiches from earlier were still very much with me.

After an early night and a good sleep I awoke refreshed. Had a good healthy breakfast and chatted with some of the other guests. This one guy, from Jackson Hole, was a chiropractor and a semi-professional magician would you believe. He and his wife were meeting at the Magic Circle that evening. Don’t think I’ve ever met a real magician before.

Although my flight was not for several hours, I decided to check out and head for the airport. Checked in my bag and purchased extra leg room for 35 GBP and with an empty seat next to me. Nice.

Heathrow Ladies

Heathrow Ladies

For lunch I called in at the seafood bar for smoked salmon and a glass of something nice.  After some duty free shopping (nice bottle of single malt) I headed for the bar. The only available seat was with a group of girls who were obviously having a good time. I asked if I could use the seat and they insisted I join them. They were off to Majorca for a few days of sun and fun, but their flight was delayed and they were working their way through several bottles of Prosecco. They certainly livened up my afternoon and while I was in the bathroom they took a bunch of photographs with my camera, which I only came across when I downloaded to my iPad.

After an uneventful, but relaxing flight I was back in New York and heading for an overnight stay at the Marriott at La Guardia followed by a 6:00am to Albuquerque and I was sure pleased to see Valynne waiting for me at the station in Santa Fe. I enjoyed my trip, but it was good to be home.

 

Pros and Cons of Caretaking or House and Pet Sitting

Pros and Cons of Caretaking or House and Pet Sitting

When Paul and I tell people that we have been taking care of properties and pets across the US since 2009, the response is oftentimes an enthusiastic one, followed by lots of questions.

Meet Sam and Pinto, Friends and Neighbors of Caretaking Couple.

Sam, curious to know if I have any more carrots for him.

One of the most popular questions is “What are some of the pros and cons of this lifestyle?”. Listed below are a few of my typical responses. These usually lead to a more in depth conversation, and I am happy to elaborate here if any of you would like more specifics (you can leave your questions in the comments section and I will reply).

PROS:

  • We get to experience new places in a way that most tourists don’t (we live like locals, if only temporarily).
  • We meet people from all walks of life and form beautiful friendships along the way.
  • We get to care for and enjoy a variety of pets, knowing that they will be just fine when it is time for us to move on.
  • Our living expenses are much less than that of the average homeowner/renter.
  • The possibilities are endless and pondering our next locale is part of the fun.

CONS:

  • Caring for someone else’s loved ones and belongings is a huge responsibility.  There will be stressors.
  • Some places and people (and pets!) are harder to leave than others.
  • Some people are harder to caretake, or sit for than others (we’ve learned to respectfully decline ridiculous requests).
  • Setting up house in a different state every few months to a year comes with it’s own complications.
  • Sometimes, there is “amazing opportunity” overlap and the decision making process can be tricky.

So, there they are, off the top of my head.  Again, if you have any questions, feel free to ask.  If you share a similar lifestyle, and have something to add to the list or comment on, we would love to hear from you as well!

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