The places you go, the people you meet

I wasn’t just gone to foreign lands the last three weeks; it felt like I was in a different world altogether. In those three weeks I read two newspapers, both of them English tabloids I picked up from chairs in airport waiting areas. Except for two nights in Ireland when the girls watched “X Factor” (an “American Idol” type of competition) we never turned a television on. Occasionally in pubs or restaurants I could see a big screen tv showing sports highlights that looked very ESPN-like, except that the highlights were soccer, rugby or cricket. When I was able to get internet access I spent most of the time uploading posts to my own blog and couldn’t browse around to find out what people were talking about.

And yet somehow the world kept turning, despite my ignorance — and inability to comment. Despite that I did learn that the world can be a pretty friendly place. Aside from our professionally friendly (and always helpful) hosts at the various B&Bs we stayed at, I was regularly approached by others throughout the trip who struck up conversations, including the fellow in Ireland I mentioned earlier who had once lived just a few blocks from my house in South St. Paul.

During our last couple of days on the farm in Tuscany I met Leonhard who arrived with a group of Swedes for a week of sunshine. I met him when he and his wife were touring the grounds and came across me in the laundry cave. In a short time we had exchanged the details of our respective trips, other trips we’d been on and points of interest in the area. Leonhard also seemed very happy to have gotten a rather severe looking sunburn on his chest and face in just one afternoon, and found my trips back and forth the washing machine amusing. At one point he asked me why I didn’t just throw the dirty clothes away and buy new ones. I told him that in America that’s what we always do but when I travel I like to try and live like the common people we visit. He had a large laugh over that one.

Laundry also brought me into contact with some other nice people. It was in Carlisle, near the Scottish border where we were staying at a B&B that was more like a hotel. We had driven all day from the Cotswalds in stop and go traffic to get there and I still needed to find a laundromat or else fashion kilts from bath towels for everyone the next day. The lodge graciously allowed me to use their washing machine and dryer, which was in a little room next to its lounge. It had been a long, frustrating day and I still had a few hours of laundry to do, but this situation was significantly improved by discovering that the lounge had a very fine collection of single malt whiskeys, including a fine Isle of Jura that was more than old enough to be out that late.

After I got the first load of clothes started I treated myself to a wee dram of this golden elixir with just two small icecubes, but first I positioned myself on a comfy couch, plugged my laptop in and got it started, and then, drawing out the suspense, took that first, slow sip, letting it amble warmly over my tongue. I must have even closed my eyes because I was startled when a voice near me said, “I bet you rather enjoyed that.”

Looking up I saw a couple named David and Jan beaming at me from their own comfy chairs. I admitted that, yes indeed, I had enjoyed that very much. They were from Wales and David was on his way to meet with a group of friends to play golf around Scotland, including a tee-time at St. Andrews, but at the New Course (which was just laid down in the 1800s). “Oh yes,” I said, “The New Course. I hear it will be very nice when it finally grows in.”

It was fun to talk to another golf enthusiast, though I told them I didn’t know much about Wales outside of some Max Boyce “Live at Treorchy” rugby songs and the movie “Zulu.” Turns out they also have that album and like that movie, though David can’t abide the song “Men of Harlech” that the Welshmen sing during the movie. Still, it was appropriate for us to caterwaul our way through a short chorus of Boyce’s “The Scottish Trip” (since that’s what we all were on). This was remarkably easy for me to do because the Jura was bestowing magical properties and because David may well be the only Welshman who cannot sing. A couple of days later my family and I bumped into Jan while touring Stirling castle. We were surprised to see each other again, and she commented on it being a small world. “Well, it certainly is a small island, at any rate!” I replied.

The whole family also enjoyed a pleasant evening in the Cotswalds when we had dinner at the Lygon Arms in the town of Chipping Campden. We sat down to eat at about the same time as a family next to us which consisted of husband, wife, daughter and two in-laws. A little ways into our meal the husband struck up a conversation and our families discussed our trips. They were visiting the Cotswalds on their way to a vacation in Portugal, and I said we were on our way to Carlisle and then to Scotland. It turned out that his family was all from the Carlisle area and they gave us some good tips on where to stay. During dessert he asked if he could buy us a drink and we said we’d enjoy a coffee with our dessert, which he happily took care of. When I asked the waitress later for our check she said our entire bill had already been settled by the gentleman at the next table.

We were very surprised and appreciative, but he shrugged it off saying, “It cost a lot less to feed you than my lot, believe me.” I asked if I could know his name and he said it was Edward Stobart. As we were leaving his father-in-law said we’d see that name a lot the next day, especially as we got near Carlisle. “About every third lorrie you see on the motorway will say ‘Eddie Stobart’ on it,” he said. It turns out that Eddie Stobart, LTD is not only the U.K.’s largest independent logistics company, it has its own fan club of people who watch for the distinctively liveried trucks, with each cab named bearing a woman’s name. To us, however, they were just a down-to-earth family that we enjoyed talking to about kids, movies, scenery and traffic. (And I ordered a model of one their trucks from the Stobart web-site as a souvenir.)

I also greatly enjoyed talking to our host in Italy, Francesco; the McDougals – a lovely older couple in Inverness who were right out of Brigadoon; Christopher and Vreni at Bran Mill Cottage B&B in the Cotswalds; and of course John and Maire Daly in Ireland who I mentioned in an earlier post.

All in all I’d have to say that even though I didn’t have much access to the media while we traveled, I was far from being disconnected.

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