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Trip Report England and Wales by public transport

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For those who haven't "met" me here before, I'm a solo, senior, female traveler. This TR is for the first leg of a three and a half month trip: the first month I'll be in England, with a little bit of north Wales, and then I'm scheduled to spend a couple of nights in Istanbul on the way to Tashkent. The planning thread for this leg is here:

I'll also be blogging, so if you'd like pictures to go with the text, look here:

I grew up, and learned to drive (stick) in England, but it has been many years since I lived there, and over a decade since I last drove there. (And the last time I tried to drive stick, two decades ago, the gear box complained, and my knees complained.) I travel solo, so renting a car can be expensive, and I don't want to have to worry about where to park and when to overtake on narrow roads, even if a GPS might take care of the navigating for me. Recently I've spent most of my time in the UK either visiting family or in London, so the issue of how to get around didn't arise, but this trip I wanted to see more of the countryside, and so I'll be seeing how well that works just using public transport. I've already had an email from Southern Railways about strike action next week, but fortunately I won't need one of their trains until I go to Gatwick at the beginning of September.

The more I fly the less I enjoy it, especially in economy, and I began my planning for this trip by trading FF miles for first class flights home from Tokyo right before American Airlines put up the "price" of their award flights. That's also the only leg on which I have a connection. But my first flight was RDU-LHR in economy. At least I got TSA Pre-Check, which meant I basically walked straight through security, although since I had allowed for the lines I kept reading about I got to hang out at the airport for a couple of hours. With no free wifi...

The plane seemed incredibly old, with no seat back entertainment, only drop down screens showing some violent movie possibly of the Terminator genre, and the food was only marginally edible. Although I had an empty seat next to me, I gave up on trying to sleep after an hour or so. We arrived early, and it only took half an hour before I was pushing my checked bag into the arrivals hall, which gave me loads of time to eat breakfast and catch up on the net (yes, free wifi - and luggage carts - in LHR) before my National Express coach left for Bournemouth. The trek to the Central Bus Station seems longer every time I do it, and we spent the first 30 minutes of the trip visiting T3 and T4, although the coach was still only lightly loaded as we picked up speed and headed west on the M3.

August 4-5: Beginning in Bournemouth

The scenery along the motorway, was, as usual, not especially interesting, but I did notice that most of the vehicles were smaller than the behemoths my neighbors in (non-rural) North Carolina seem to find necessary. After we left the motorway we drove through the middle of the New Forest, which I was excited to see. Parts were more open - even agricultural - than I expected, but other areas were thick with dark and aged trees. We made one stop in a small but crowded village and then pulled into Bournemouth coach station. Since it was right across the road from the train station I bought my senior rail card and the train ticket for the next day before walking to my hotel.

The Derby Manor was very convenient for the coach and train stations, although not so much for the sea front. More expensive than the places I usually stay, it was glitzy enough (can't say I care much for crushed velvet and diamanté accents) but quite remarkably dysfunctional. For instance, the bathroom sink was only about four inches front to back, and as the tap took up much of that I was barely able to wash my hands. Still, they produced a good crayfish and rocket sandwich and I spent most of the afternoon asleep, my usual jet lag cure going east, which once again worked.

My smart phone kept working and then not working, but I was able to figure out the buses to get into the main part of town, where I enjoyed strolling through the public gardens. I made the trek up to West Cliff for some views, but didn't get as far as Alum Chine.

I spent the next morning at the Russell-Cotes house museum, which I thought was well worth the 6 GBP admission. Built right at the end of the Victorian era for the owners of the Royal Bath Hotel next door, avid travelers and collectors, it felt more Edwardian to me. The building was full of art, and although as usual I was more interested in the decoration and furniture, I appreciated some of the Pre-Raphaelite pictures. The rooms on the top floor boasted magnificent sea views - on a good day you could supposedly see the Needles off the Isle of Wight, although not when I was there.

One of the rooms held a temporary exhibition of masks and puppets, including shadow puppets from Asia, and masks from Asia and Africa. I had coffee in the conservatory and would have been happy to eat lunch there except I was still full from far too much breakfast. Instead I retrieved my bag from the Derby Manor and just caught the 13:25 train to Dorchester South - no thanks to the incredibly large tour group of Asian students who arrived just before me.

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