Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Journey Through England

After spending nearly two weeks in England (and almost not making it home - see entry from Aug 25) I am convinced that it must be the best country on Earth.  I took far too many photos to share more than a small selection here, and saw so many wonderful sights that I missed capturing on film.

Above and beyond how beautiful everything is, I cannot say enough about how kind, generous, and open-hearted the British people are.  They happily share their history, their homes and their culture with foreigners, and one cannot remain a stranger for long. 

They think of others and take care of each other.  We noticed lots of charities and volunteers who did everything from restoring the canals for the narrow boats, to giving tours, caring for the elderly, raising funds for every cause, donating works of art for the public to enjoy, and maintaining historic monuments and buildings for everyone to enjoy for free.

The one thing we missed was the so-called famous British weather.  It was never hot, nor did it ever get cold - and it was sunny or dry straight through.  It rained on us once, for less than an hour while we were in the Cotswolds.  I was, after all the stories I had heard, expecting to get wet while we were there.  I like the rain!

On the way, at the gas station.
All loaded up and ready to go.  Yes, the trailer is mainly for girl things.  I'm so spoiled in my old age!  It's a single-wheel Freebird trailer, and rides so nicely that I forget it's behind us.

Waiting for the ferry on the non-freight lanes.

The main highway was closed after an accident, so we missed the ferry.   We were taking Transeuropa Ferries from Oostende, Belgium to Ramsgate, UK.  I can recommend Transeuropa as being the cheapest (only 40 Euros for 2 people plus a motorcycle), and very nice.  They had no problem switching us to another sailing, the next day - free of charge.   
The ship's passenger dining room.

They are primarily a freight ferry - only one other car joined us for our sailing.  The restaurant, lounge (with TV and DVDs), sun deck, and bar were just for us.  The truckers have their own section of the ship.  I felt like I was a VIP!
Ship's Captain!
The Captain was not just distinguished-looking, he was extremely nice, taking a few minutes to talk with us.  Sailing was smooth, the weather good, and I enjoyed meeting a real VIP.
The Port of Ramsgate.
Taken from the deck, you can see the white cliffs of Ramsgate.  The water is a pretty green-blue, which reminds me of the Caribbean.  JJ didn't have any trouble adjusting to driving on the left - he found it feels more logical to him.  There are also signs at every roundabout to indicate the direction.  I was shocked at how politely everyone drives in England!

Around the corner from our camp in Orcheston.
Our first stop was a cute little campground really close to Stonehenge.  The owners are a nice couple, extremely helpful, and we met a nice Dutch couple also staying at the Stonehenge Touring Park.  Free Wi-Fi throughout the park too! 
Polite English bird and cat.
Even the animals are well-mannered.  This was the owner's cat, I believe, who ate what he liked while the bird stood patiently behind him.  The cat left some food in the bowl, and strolled away without even a sniff at the bird.  Then the bird ate from the bowl as well, and no one disturbed either one.
Free to visit, and the ideal vantage point.
It's nearly eight pounds per person to visit Stonehenge, and you can only walk around the stones, not get right next to them.  If you're on a budget, it's free to go here - you can see more, and there's this lovely sign that explains all the details of what you're looking at.  My secret, just for you.
Mystical Stonehenge
If you have a good camera with a zoom lens, you can get as close as you like.  From the "secret" location (above) you can also clearly see the barrows, avoid all the crowds, and with the money you save you can enjoy a nice meal.
The Green Dragon in Market Lavington
If you only have one English breakfast in your life, have it here at the Green Dragon.  It's a short drive from Stonehenge, and incredibly delicious.  It's also the local pub and meeting place, and they have a B&B.  The people who work there are super, super nice - and everyone takes the time to chat with you.  They really know the meaning of making one feel welcome, and I haven't had a better breakfast in all the world.  Not yet, anyhow. 
Ancient rock in Avebury
Again, a short ride from breakfast (not far from Stonehenge) and you're in Avebury, a Neolithic henge circling a village - the largest stone circle in Europe, predating Stonehenge.  In between Stonehenge and Avebury is a very mysterious military installation with all kinds of activity - including air battle simulations with explosions, extremely low-flying radar planes, and unidentifiable lights in the sky.  
We found motorcycling through the countryside to be quite fun with the rolling hills and snaking roads, and the views across fields of gold and green was so beautiful.  You'd pop in and out of tiny villages, most seemingly remaining largely unchanged over the years.
High Street in Avebury, pop. 486 (in 2001)  
High Street (in the U.S. Main Street) with this horse and another behind him tied to the sign - all loaded with groceries and supplies. 
 Details on a house
Just riding by, saw this and thought the craftsmanship was cool.  Much of England, particularly outside of the larger cities, is breathtaking.  There is a lot of preservation and restoration that will keep the beauty available for future generations to enjoy as well.  So many buildings we visited were built well before my country existed as America!
I think I'm going to publish this entry and you'll have to wait for the second half of the journey.  I haven't been feeling well since I returned home, and at least you'll be able to see a little.  I will return to posting when I'm up to it.  In the meantime, be safe and well wherever you are...


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Almost Dead Again

So... Here's the story:
Yesterday was my birthday.  I'm 44 now, which seems like a good number to be.  I had the best present ever - a trip to England - and I'll blog about that later.  It was amazing. 

My partner and I rode around England on our motorcycle.  The journey was over a thousand kilometers, and we were pulling a little one-wheel trailer behind us.  Because of that, we took our time, driving on the highways and motorways at around 55 miles per hour.  Naturally, everyone else was faster, but we had no trouble at all until we returned to the Netherlands.

As you may know from reading my blog, I rarely have anything to complain about.  Overall, I feel safe here and find the Dutch to be peaceful, relaxed and down-to-Earth people.  One lady changed that when she deliberately and without regard for others used her car as a means to cut us off and push us out of her way. 

You're always more aware when riding a motorcycle, as simply a bump by a car can crush a leg or worse.  Since I sit behind on the bike, I can only see to the sides and the rear normally.  We were exiting the highway when the lady (term used loosely) came at us from the left, from the main road, pulling her vehicle suddenly beside us on the exit.  She was speeding, and slowed only for a second when her door was exactly next to my leg.  I screamed, my partner swerved, narrowly avoiding a collision with her car.  She slipped the car directly in front of us on the exit and sped off.

There's a traffic light at the end of the exit, and a line of vehicles was sitting there, waiting for a red to change.  She was stuck in that line when we caught up to her.  My partner is Dutch, so he was asking her if she was crazy and why was she was trying to kill us?  She didn't roll down her window, but was mouthing something back and making hand gestures at us, which included giving us the finger.  She was clearly unconcerned, and so calm that her dog, in the back seat, didn't even get excited or bark.

I was shaking, but had the presence of mind to snap photos of the entire event after she used her car as a weapon.  I also have a photo of her giving us the finger, and a clear shot of her license plate.  She started rummaging for something next to her on the floor.  I didn't know what she was going to pull out.  There is that moment where I look over and there's the entire side of a car, mere centimeters from me, frozen in my mind.  One second, and if anything else had been different, I might not be able to write this blog.

The light turned green and we took off.  I don't know what she was searching for next to her.  I also didn't know whether she would follow us and try to finish us off or not.  We paused the bike a little bit, as there is a roundabout after the traffic light, but she didn't follow.  I was in a bad way emotionally, and developed such a fierce headache that I took acetaminophen and went to bed early.  Happy birthday, and almost my death day.

With some assistance, I filed a police report today.  I don't know why this one lady didn't like bikers, or the motorcycle - maybe she has her own story to tell.  She thought the situation was funny.  I disagree.  Any bikers out here in the Netherlands, you can ask me for her photo and keep an eye out for her.  She doesn't care, and since I don't personally know her, I can only assume she'll try this with other motorcyclists as well.  Watch out, and remember to cherish each day that you have.