travel

Britain’s Train Companies Working Together

The blue plastic case for my British National Rail Senior Card proudly proclaims: “Britain’s train companies working together.” Arriving at the Penzance train station with our Cross Country first-class tickets to Bristol, we learn that our nonstop train to Bristol has been cancelled and instead we will be taking a Great Western train to Plymouth and changing there for another Cross Country train to Bristol. A minor hassle, but so be it. We board the first-class carriage on the Great Western train only to discover that, according to the train manager, our first-class Cross Country tickets are not good for the first-class carriage on the Great Western train.

Waiting for the train

Waiting for the train

After paying an additional £20, we procure seats in the first-class carriage and decide to at least get a free Cappuccino and snacks for our trouble and expense. “Sorry, only regular coffee or tea is offered free to first-class passengers,” the nice young lady tells me. “OK, what do you have that is gluten free?” I ask. “Well, there are crisps (potato chips)," she tells me. “Fine. And you do offer water, I take it.” “Yes, water is available without charge to first-class passengers.”

By now, I am determined to be a difficult, disgruntled elderly passenger today, so I wave my National Rail card, with its incriminating slogan prominently displayed, at the train manager. He informs me that National Rail is yet another company and is different from Great Western. Welcome to public transportation in the UK!

I probably should not complain about this situation, which is the result of the privatization of the train services of Great Britain. After all, we in the US invented “privatization” as an excuse to provide less service at greater cost, and the UK is only following our lead. I can remember when the UK had a fine public transportation system. Many years ago, I was able to travel from one end of the country to the other with my BritRail pass, purchased at moderate cost in the USA. I could simply go down to the train station, see what was “on offer,” choose my destination, and take a seat in the first-class carriage. It would be first class because all BritRail Passes were for first-class carriages.

If I saw something interesting when the train pulled into a station, I would depart and take a look, confident that there would be another train along soon. I remember seeing Salisbury Cathedral’s dominating presence in its small village and disembarking to spend nearly a day enjoying its wonders. How I envied the Brits, who not only had a wonderful transportation system but a smashing history to boot. That, of course, was before American ingenuity came along.

Salisbury Cathedral from the train

Salisbury Cathedral from the train

Now we have a world that we (the US) largely created and it doesn’t work at all. The Brits, of course, still have that smashing history, but my further reading and study of British history has taken the luster off that as well. Oh well, this is just me being a difficult, disgruntled elderly passenger. Don't pay too much attention to my rantings today.

By the way, when we transferred to the Cross Country train at Plymouth, the train manager informed us that Great Western should indeed have honored our first-class tickets and not charged us. He was quite miffed since Cross Country has to honor first-class tickets from Great Western! He said we might be able to get reimbursed if we requested some forms at the train station and submitted our receipts. Privatization strikes again!

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Hill of Tara 

Hill of Tara 

The fame of the Hill of Tara (“The Hill of Kings”) spreads wide and deep through Irish history. In this post, Elyn and I discuss some of the legends and myths behind this powerful place and our own experiences there. 

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Healing at Saint Onenn's Holy Well, Brittany

Healing at Saint Onenn's Holy Well, Brittany

A serendipitous encounter in Paimpont, France, sets us off in search of a holy well in the nearby village of Tréhorenteuc and a very unexpected experience. 

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A Trip to San Andrés de Teixido

A Trip to San Andrés de Teixido

Elyn heads to the seashore sanctuary of San Andrés de Teixido in northwestern Spain on the trail of local Galician folklore about this hard-to-reach pilgrimage shrine, perched on a cliff on the Costa da Morte. 

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Misled on St Michael's Way

StMichaels
StMichaels

I invite you to read Elyn’s latest YourLifeIsATrip.com article, “Misled on St Michael’s Way.” St Michael’s Way is a foot trail in Cornwall, UK, that we recently finished walking. It only took us eleven years to walk the twelve miles! It is touted as a medieval pilgrimage route, but is it? She describes our journey on the Way—a journey in which we are misled, get misled, and mislead ourselves.

To read the post, go to the award-winning travel blog, YourLifeIsATrip.com (YLIAT) and please leave a comment at the end of the article. That way other people can read what you've written and it's better for the YLIAT website "presence."

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Escape to the Hostal Empúries

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You think a hostal is a cheap hotel for students? Well, not if it is the Hostal Spa Empúries. Located on the beach on the Costa Brava between l’Escala and Sant Martí d’Empúries, this 4-star accommodation boasts a gourmet restaurant and spa, next to some of the most important history in this history-laden region. With Girona’s Time of Flowers (Temps de Flors) [CLICK HERE] behind us and Elyn’s exhibit [CLICK HERE] taken down, we were in the mood for a complete change of scenery. Hostel Empúries was it.

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2015-05-18-19.08.02

The tiny village of Sant Martí was probably the site of the earliest Greek town on the Iberian peninsula. Founded in the 9th century BCE, the town of Paliapolis, as it was known then, was a major urban center overlooking the port where Greek and, later, Roman ships carried on trade across the Mediterranean to Italy. Now Sant Martí is a small village with a cluster of bars and restaurants around the square, and a few medieval buildings.

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2015-05-18-16.54.57

After checking into our hotel, we followed the boardwalk to Sant Martí along the forest path that would once have been the entrance to the port—now completely silted in. On the hillside to our left we could see the ancient Greek town of Empúries, which dates from 550 BCE and was known as Neapolis—the new city. This city and the Roman town higher up on the hill were long buried and nearly forgotten until the early 20th century. Archeologists began unearthing artifacts. and the dimensions of the two towns began to emerge. Hostel Empúries was built originally to house the scientists working on the project. Archeological work continues to this day, but enough of the ruins have been uncovered to make for an interesting visit, complete with a multi-lingual audio guide and an extensive museum.

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2015-05-18-16.24.45
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2015-05-18-16.14.23

This is a region covered with layer upon layer of history. Even our hotel contains within it the remains of that early 20th-century hostel. Although it is now an eco-award-winning spa-hotel, the walls of the older section are filled with photographs of the archeologists at their work, and some of the early floors and woodwork have been maintained.

We explored the ruins of Empúries. Elyn wanted to see the healing sanctuary and statue of Asclepius (impossible to miss) and the Temple of Serapis and Isis. At the gift shop, she asked for information about the Temple of Serapis and the clerk searched in vain. Suddenly Elyn heard the voice on the audio guide. The machine had turned itself on to #4—The Temple of Serapis—and she was hearing a detailed description. She wondered if the Spirit of the Place was at work, giving her the information she was seeking.

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2015-05-19-10.15.34
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2015-05-19-10.11.57

Still puzzling over this bizarre event, we checked out of the hotel and returned to Girona in time for our previously scheduled massages at an excellent holistic health center. Does all this make you hungry for an expat life? I promise to discuss the practicalities of doing just that in future posts.

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