Unless I can drive and take my dogs I almost never go anywhere. By choice. It’s true. At my age I figure the few places I have left that I want to see I can either get to by car or train.
Except for family trips.
Most mornings I walk husky-mix rescue dog Lily and terrier-mix rescue Lulu with a small group and their dogs. On some days combined we likely appear to be a formidable pack, upwards of a dozen multi-sized and aged dogs with 4 or 5 persons in tow. So it isn’t unusual to have another walker move to the side of the trail with his/her dog/s to let us pass, though our dogs are very friendly, which the person/s who moved aside soon learn. But we must appear somewhat impassable I suppose.
So on this morning’s walk we were discussing our Christmas travel plans, or I was since I appear to be the only one having to go out of town. I am going to visit family in Texas for literally a Christmas visit. I will go tomorrow, Christmas Eve, and come back home Monday, the 26th. Not even 48 hours. But enough so they won’t (I hope) be sick of me and we will look forward to our annual August beach trip together.
But the length, or brevity of this visit reminded me of a truly spontaneous thing I did about 25 years ago.
US Air and other airlines had something called SuperSaver fares. You had to buy the ticket in an alarmingly close to departure date period of time and it could only be 3 days and had to include a Saturday night. This was how they filled surplus empty seats and got money for it. The fares were incredibly cheap for an international flight, so I bought one. To Manchester, UK.
I know no one in the United Kingdom, then or now. I packed a few changes of underwear, my passport and a credit card. That’s it.
So I took the first leg from Charlotte to Philadelphia. On schedule, everything’s fine. Then there is an announcement our flight to England is delayed. Half an hour later it’s cancelled. I schlepped over with all our other passengers to the res desk to see what I could get, if anything.
“Well, I can get you to Frankfurt, then to Manchester?” a weary but kind agent explained.
“Hmmm, ok, this was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing for me, I have 3 days.” I looked at her hopefully.
She thought a moment, then, “Well, I can leave you in Frankfurt?”
Knowing no German and willing to await an opening to Manchester I thanked her and accepted the next option out, to Frankfurt and connecting on to Manchester.
So began an adventure that, only 60-hours or so, I will never forget.
The night before I left a friend from church had called and I explained what I was doing. Did I know anyone over there? he asked. No, I replied, why? Well, in case you get into any trouble here’s my cousin’s number (–forget where cousin lived–), oh, and you will want to visit Chester, not far from Manchester. OK, thanks, I say. We hung up.
So on arrival (finally) I found the “i”desk my friend had also mentioned — i for information, which was truly wonderful. I learned prefacing anything I said with “I’m an American ” helped prepare them for: accent, ignorance, many questions, some small amount of expressed fear, copious thanks. And consequently the interchange went much easier.
I was instructed to go to currency exchange, then bus stop, which bus, the name of a pub in Chester which lodged visitors. Everything was just as I had been told and I wandered the streets of Chester (which was having some sort of festival at the time) enjoying the shops and savory smells of different kinds of food. I found the pub, was assured of a room and went out again with camera to capture this lovely gingerbread town nestled into the hills of northwest England.
This being a Saturday the pub was pretty busy and knowing I needed to find my way to Manchester the next morning I turned in early but nobody else did. Once the pub finally closed revelers continued the party outside, singing just below my window. Exhaustion won out so I did get sleep and found the train station easily in the subdued quiet of Sunday morning.
At Manchester I found another i booth and let them know what I needed. A brief phone call later I was told to wait outside the station for a couple who would pick me up in a gray Range Rover shortly. I did, and they did, to bring me to their bed-and-breakfast. The couple and their children were attending a sort of reverse July 4th celebration, one where England celebrated being rid of the mischief-makers. As it happened I had bought a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer which headlined the 225th celebration of our independence from tyrannic British rule, would they like to have it? Oh yes! And they were only too happy to drive me to the train station so I might do some more exploring, they recommended a nearby town called Wilmslow they thought I’d enjoy, but I would need to be on my own going back. Fine, I agreed.
At the train station I carefully pored over a map of stops and distance, the time it would take, allowing for my not-too-far walk back to their B&B. While at Wilmslow I stopped in a bakery which had some delicious looking finger foods and pastries, I purchased some and went outside to enjoy, al fresco.
On my walk back a slow drizzle began and even though it was mid-summer it became chilly. I buttoned my grey sweater and braced for a cool but brisk walk. A car approaching from in front of me slowed to a stop and the window rolled down. A gentleman popped his head out and looked at me, so I stopped.
“Do you know how far ‘ -unintelligible name of a town I wouldn’t have known anyway’ is?”
“Oh! I am very flattered but I’m an American visiting, I’m sorry I don’t know.”
He laughed so hard I thought I’d committed some sort of horrible international faux pas. Finally he recovered and said, “Typical! I’m a Scot, I would ask an American for directions!” We both laughed heartily at that.
So I returned to the B&B which had been a mews of a larger estate hundreds of years ago. Built of stone my cozy room was in the loft. Very comfortable, but since this was July and England is at a latitude that allows for some of that midnight sun it never quite got dark. Still, the thrill of what I accomplished afforded me sleep, and I woke bright and early for the day of my return home.
I appeared at the main house for breakfast, a full English breakfast with fried bread, bacon rashers, fresh fruit, fried tomatoes, eggs and coffee. A golf team had also stopped for breakfast before arriving at the course for their tournament. Someone mentioned an American was in their midst which was exciting news for them.
“Do you know Tiger Woods?” they asked.
My safe return home was a wonderful feeling, though I’d had a memorable time in merry old England.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays and Happy 2017 y’all.