The comedy of errors continues: Carlisle and Windermere

June 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Where was I last night? The night before? I am losing track.  I’m also losing track of where I’ll be on various future nights, and it’s all getting a bit confusing.  Lots of long days in a row seem to have taken their toll on my sanity tonight, as evidenced by some really wacky emails sent to family and friends. I’ll try to keep the crazy to a minimum here…

Yesterday was Carlisle.  As you know, I spent much of the afternoon huddled inside a cafe and hoping the rain would let up.  It did eventually turn into just a light drizzle, which I spent a bit of time walking around in.  I made my way to the cathedral, hoping to get in before it closed for the night (advertised as open to the public until 6:15pm – open to visitors, not for guided tours).  I got there well before 6, and the doors were shut tight.  I had to satisfy myself by wandering around the grounds and taking pictures, but, sadly, it wasn’t much to look at.

I went back to my hotel in the hopes of going to bed early so that I could get up early to go see the castle.   Instead, I stayed up moderately late watching more atrocious British TV (if ever you really want to rot your brain – as in, instant liquidation – try Come Dine with Me) and fretting over my travel plans.

When I got up this morning, I experienced my first English Breakfast, although I left out the bacon and beans and tomato… so basically I had eggs and sausage and toast, which is just a regular, non-country-specific breakfast, I’m pretty sure.  It was the first real breakfast I’d had, though, and it didn’t disappoint.  Upon finishing my breakfast, the delightful proprietor requested that I vacate my room immediately (despite having a full hour left before check-out), because the sooner I left the sooner his cleaning staff could leave, and couldn’t I see how that would save him money?  Yeah, ass, I can see how that will save you money… money that I paid you for that hour!  So, I took my sweet time packing up my things and headed off to see the castle.  The castle was, of course, closed to visitors because it is Sunday, but I had anticipated this and only intended to take pictures from the grounds.  The grounds, I discovered, were closed, too.  So, the best I could do was look at it from across the street… and as it turns out, it’s one ugly lump of a castle.  So ugly that I didn’t take a single picture, and that’s saying something.

I was not sad to say goodbye to Carlisle when the train departed.  Do not add Carlisle to your list of must-see places in England, unless the criteria for your “must see” list includes boredom, rudeness, and irritation.

After a couple of short hours, I alighted in Windermere, a lovely little town near Lake Windermere in the Lake District of England.  I’ve wanted to visit the Lake District for years, and I was completely thrilled to be able to include it in my itinerary for this trip.  The sky was cloudy but not menacing as I walked to my hotel, and the proprietor was friendly, helpful, and very nice as I checked in.  When I left again shortly after, he made a point of asking me what I was planning to do, so that if I never came back he’d know to be concerned – THAT’S what I call hospitality, folks.

I checked my guide book, checked the time, and decided the best thing to do would be to hit the road immediately to head down to Bowness-on-Windermere, the town right on the lake that’s about a mile and a half from the town of Windermere where I’m staying.  I chose to get a hotel up in Windermere rather than Bowness because I figured I’d be happier not having to lug my backpack for those extra miles to and from the train station.  Not to mention that the trip from Windermere to Bowness is straight downhill… which would make getting back to the train station absolute torture with that 1,000 lb pack.

I was hoping to do four things today: visit Beatrix Potter’s home, see a castle (a good one this time), take a cruise around Lake Windermere, and take a scenic walk along a portion of the lake.  Before leaving for these adventures, I thought it best that I eat something for lunch, so I had a handful of dried fruit and a protein bar, thanking my nasty host in Carlisle for at least providing a decent breakfast.  Somewhere between the beginning and the end of the protein bar, it started to rain.  So, I put on my raincoat, stuck my umbrella in my bag, and vowed not to let it stop me.

After the mile and a half into Bowness, I was soaked through in that utterly useless jacket.  If I come across a likely retailer, I’ll probably replace it with something more effective.  When I got to the lake shore, I immediately approached the big booth with a sign that read “TICKETS” and asked about the shuttle across the lake to Beatrix Potter’s house.  The clerk at the ticket booth told me to proceed to a shack farther along the shore labeled only with a big #3.  She emphasized that it should be #3 by both shouting it repeatedly and holding up 3 fingers.  Because Americans are deaf and can’t count, obviously.  I did as I was told, only to find that it was boarded up tight. No ticket for me.  So, thinking that perhaps it was closed temporarily (maybe they closed it up for a while between shuttle runs, or something like that), I bought a ticket for a 45 minute cruise around the middle of the lake.  A few minutes later, I boarded the boat, happy to finally be under cover from the rain.

The cruise did take me around to a number of beautiful spots, but the rain on the windows made it impossible to photograph anything.  I would still have enjoyed the sights, however, had I not been on the cruise with the most obnoxious family in the history of the world.  2 adults, 8 children.  And the 9 of us were the only passengers.  Perhaps, had the boat been full with more people, this family would have behaved differently… but, as they were practically alone, the kids ran rampant all over the boat, screaming and shouting along the length of it to each other.  The adults?  They just smiled.  The skipper repeatedly interrupted his narration to “remind the passengers” not to leave children unattended and to remain seated at all times.  No one acknowledged his announcements.  The family was so loud that I could only understand about half of the narration that the skipper was giving, and the kids’ total obnoxiousness drove me completely crazy.  I was not a happy camper.

Nor was the skipper, who pulled me aside at the end of the cruise and gave me a DVD and book about the lake for free, saying all the while that he knew it wouldn’t make up for it but he hoped it would help.  He’s right, it doesn’t make up for the ruined cruise, but it goes a long way toward making me not completely furious, and I appreciated his gesture and I certainly don’t hold the cruise operators responsible for the other passengers’ behavior.

After the cruise, I went back to check on the Potter house shuttle, but the booth was still boarded up.  Frustrated, I returned to the original ticket booth and read some of the information posted outside.  I realized that there was a bus to the house, too, so I approached the window and asked if I could please buy a bus ticket.  The clerk informed me that I could purchase a ticket for either the bus or the boat at booth #2.  It was the same clerk as before.  Which one of us was the one who couldn’t count?  You tell me.  I went to booth #2 and asked politely for a ticket on the ferry to Hill Top (the name of Miss Potter’s home).  I was told that I could purchase a 1-way ticket, but that the last return trip would be the same boat I rode over (and the last bus left at the same time).  My options were to go there and get stuck there or to go there, see the shore from the boat, and ride back.  Gee, super.  I’m still not clear on why that was, since Hill Top was open until 5, it was before 3:30, and the ferry was only supposed to take 15 minutes or so.  Why the last ferry (and bus) would leave well before 4 when the house was open until 5 is a mystery to me.

Feeling infinitely frustrated and sick of being soaking wet and cold, I found a little cafe where I got myself a coffee and a blueberry scone.  Scones are magical, and I left feeling much better (and warmer).  I decided to try for the castle, so I repeated my earlier endeavors with much the same result: it was too late to get to the castle and get back again (although the last ferry from the castle wasn’t until 6:15 and it was only 4 – I’m left assuming that the castle tours take a long time).

Feeling utterly disappointed, I huddled under my umbrella and wandered back along the road toward Windermere, stopping in shops and checking out souvenirs.  I managed to use up about 45 minutes doing that, but I did eventually run out of shops to go into.  It was too early for dinner (and I wasn’t hungry because of the scone), so I wandered back into Bowness just to kill time.  Around 5 I decided to get some takeaway somewhere and head back to my hotel, figuring that I could get in out of the rain and eat the food whenever I did get hungry.  The only likely place for this, however, was a fish and chips joint that, frankly, concerned me.  It wasn’t in the least appetizing.  So, away I wandered, yet again.

And then my umbrella broke, I kid you not.

At this point I was so irritated, cold, and wet that I really just wanted to sit down on the sidewalk and give up entirely.  I settled on sitting down in a diner and ordering a sandwich.  I stayed there for a while writing out some postcards (an excellent way to avoid feeling awkward when eating alone, by the way), and eventually gave up on trying to summon an appetite.  I climbed back to my hotel feeling totally dejected and cranky.

After much contemplation, I decided to skip my next destination (Wales) and stay in Windermere for another night.  It is supposed to rain again tomorrow, but I am going to give Beatrix and the castle another shot.  I might even work up the courage to do the lake walk if I can keep in mind the promise of a warm, dry hotel room upon its completion (or if I buy myself a better jacket).  I might even be a total wuss and take the shuttle bus from Windermere to Bowness to save up my rain tolerance.  Either way, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to see the things I’d been looking forward to, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to be staying in the same place for two nights.  I have yet to spend an entire 24 hours in one place, and this seems like a luxurious rest.  Not to mention that, because I don’t have to rush off to catch a train tomorrow, I get to sleep in.  Oh heck yes!  AND, the day after tomorrow I am going to my most anticipated destination.  I will give you a hint: neck ruffs.  That’s all I’m saying.  I’m feeling much happier and excited than I was earlier, and I’m hopeful that this absurd comedy of errors turns around.  Please cross your fingers for me!

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