Friday, May 14, 2010

Part IV - 1st Time European Travel - Impressions

Monday morning came along and we found ourselves heading by taxi, to Paddington Station to catch our First Great Western, Penzance bound train.

I'm not sure I've mentioned this before, but do try and tip your taxi cab driver. It's best to start figuring out how much your going to give him ahead of time, then to wait at the last minute. These folks do a hell of a job and considering the cost of living in this gigantic city, they can use every spare pound you have.

Paddinton Station was as I remembered it from our arrival in England the first day, a glorified albeit gigantic, Quonset hut full of very large trains. It's organized, efficient, crowded, and not at all what I'd expected...I mean, where the hell was the train to Hogwarts? got the wrong station...that was King's Cross.

Oh crap, are you back again?

Sorry, I'm just all...

Yeah what ever!

While I had flat out refused to shell out the extra coin for the flight to England, I had decided that it would be great fun to travel first class to Penzance, especially since the price was within my budget and it was a five and a half hour ride.

It was a great way to see a big chunk of England, and a memorable way to enter the part of it that gave birth to the single greatest King that ever lived, Aurthur of course! The countryside sped by at a dizzying pace and honestly, I don't know what happened but I never once thought to take pictures. I guarantee you that it looked something like this though. :)

We had a lot less blue sky out of London, but the closer we got to our destination, the better the weather and the sun finally came out.

It was gorgeous, and it was pretty much everything I'd expected it to be. Rolling hills, bordered fields of farmland, and patches of trees.

It's a long ride, and though the scenery is pretty, be sure to bring a book or something to listen to. I chose an audio book for my trip, James Patterson's, "The Lake House". It's a passable story, the villain is truly diabolical, and the story was extremely well narrated by Hope Davis (a favorite actress of mine) and Stephan Lang most recently of Avatar fame. I wont say I wasn't just a little disappointed with the end of the book, the characters seem to get overwhelmed by a sudden case of stupidity. Sort of like how the heroin in so many movies always seems to stumble and fall while being chased, man I hate it when they do that!

Anyway it entertained while I watched the scenery pass by, soon enough the coast came into view and we were heading across the Royal Albert Bridge in Plymouth.

It's a grand bridge with a fantastic view of the River Tamar and it's boats. I loved the ride over and was thrilled to know that I had officially left the county of Devon and had entered Kernow, in the lost Cornish language, now more commonly referred to as Cornwall.

Yes, before me lay the birthplace of Arthurian legend! Here was the land I had read about in so many grand stories from my childhood. From the classic's like T.H. White's "The Once & Future King", to Susan Cooper's, "The Dark is Rising" series, and of course my recent favorite, "The Little Country" by Charles de'Lint. Granted, the last story contains no reference to the mythical King, but it is a lovely story, wrapped in Celtic legend and lore. To those of you wondering why I made no mention of, "The Mists of Avalon"...sorry ladies, while I know you enjoyed this admirable work by Marion Zimmer Bradley, we manly men could find no use for it. Oh yeah,
even now I can hear the cry's of disgust from my female friends.

Hooray, the sign...not this one mind you - because somebody was neglecting to take pictures, but one very similar, welcomed me like an old friend. It's odd, but I did feel sort of like I'd been on a long journey and was in fact coming home. My actual family lineage has Welsh, and Irish roots, so there's definitely some Celtic heritage. I'm not sure if any of the family ever came directly out of or ever lived in Cornwall, but I wouldn't find it surprising.

I was so thrilled to see that we were nearly within sight of the Atlantic, only to be teased as the tracks lead us away toward more very charming countryside... :(

I noticed there were a lot of fields that had recently been harvested, what I saw remaining was the odd stray flower. Apparently Devon and Cornwall grow vast fields of daffodils and we'd probably missed the harvest by a week or so. After stopping at Bodmin Station, the train finally made it's final turn towards the sea.

And there it was Carlyon Bay, and the Atlantic beyond...We were so close to our goal now! I could see the the tip of Lizard Point (not really) the tip of the peninsula that shelters Mounts Bay.

Yes I was in my own little euphoric high, finally the place I'd dreamed about seeing all these years was nearly within sight!

Penzance was just around that last bend, no..., no that bend..., or maybe that one? Dear god I had to get off that train! My butt was becoming one with the seat and my mind was all atwitter, and...I was very hungry. I began to imagine the seafood, oh the mountains of cod, the succulent fillets of soul, cooked in butter with shallots!

And so...many, many more miles of train track later we finally rounded that last proverbial bend and low and behold, there it was in all it's splendor, Mounts Bay and it's sentinel St. Michael's Mount!

Legend says that a mythical giant named Cormoran once lived on the Mount, and he used to wade ashore and steal cows and sheep from the villagers to feed his gargantuan appetite. One night, a local boy called Jack rowed out to the island and dug a deep pit while the giant was asleep. As the sun rose, Jack blew a horn to wake the angry giant who staggered down from the summit and – blinded by the sunlight – fell into the pit and died.

Definitely a place which we would have to try and see before our trip here was through, but first on to Penzance Station. After roughly five and a half hours from London's Paddinton Station, we had finally arrived and we were all anxious to get the heck off of the train.

With sore backsides, hunger pangs, and luggage in tow we made our way out of the cavernous confines of the station and into the brilliance of day light. We were met right off by a man whom we would come to know and love as Stuart, of Stuart's Taxis.

Of this fine Cornish gentleman, what can I say, but a better example of native Penzance hospitality, you would be hard presses to find. Recognizing our needs immediately, he stepped up and provided service par excellence! The trip was really not far from the train to our B&B, but it was enough time for the three of us to know that Stuart was a resource to be counted on during our stay.

The Warwick House is a very charming, small yet elegant bed & breakfast inn, championed by a very hospitable husband and wife team, who do their very best to make your stay cozy and memorable.

The rooms were fantastic, though a little chilly especially since the first night we all unknowingly slept with our windows wide open. The ladies had a very nice room, with a spectacular view of the bay.

The bathroom was oddly large and yet it contained a very small shower. The home had obviously been redesigned for a more low flow, or low water usage system. Penzance and neighboring Newlyn have to conserve water for the dryer summer months as human consumption during that time of year is in direct competition with that of local agriculture.

I applaud our host's convictions and though I found it challenging to take a shower, I appreciated the reasons for it.

My room was built for one person in mind and neatly stashed away under the stair case that took people up to the second floor. It had no view of the bay, but it made up for it with a sort of small ship sleeper cabin like feel, and I really loved it.

It had a small single bed, very comfy with an extra comforter, a nice little writing desk and a tiny tiny bathroom...or the loo as they say...when in Rome and all...:)

Having filled our breakfast cards out for the next morning, we were off on a mission of mercy... We needed water, snacks and dinner. Since I was traveling with two ladies, they determined the priorities, and as it turns out that was the order it went in. So we exited the Warwick House and wandered on down to the promenade, it was a singularly spectacular day to have arrived in Penzance.

We traveled north along the Western Promenade Road in search of our quarry.

There was a surprising amount of traffic for a mid March Monday, but we were determined. One of the ladies spotted the sign to Mousehole, the back drop to de'Lint's "The Little Country", while I of course was looking for more important food. :)

There were a lot of very nice looking restaurants along Promenade Road, but none looked better than Sophia's Cafe. So after finding a small cooperative grocery store, we returned to the quaint little eatery where we were met by Sophia upon entry. Oh my, I think the three of us just about died and gone to heaven as we dined on the most lovely Cornish delights. The ladies had chicken stuffed with Cornish brie and wrapped in bacon, while I of course had my Newlyn sole, cooked in a lovely lemon butter sauce with minted potatoes and veggies.
The decor of the place was light, warm and cozy, the meal was fantastic, the service slow but well worth the wait. The deserts were fabulous!

More to Cornish adventures to come...

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