Shrewsbury to Wolverhampton to Stafford to London Euston to London Bridge to Hove (as in Cove, not Love)

There is no greater blessing in a peripatetic existence than to have a convoluted travel day go off without a hitch…

Puppy and I went to bed early last night so I could be up early and finish preparing the house for my host since just washing the sheets would need 90 minutes and she was coming in “around 10:00” and wanted them to be drying by that point.

Well… I had no sooner fallen asleep that the neighbour slammed his door and woke me right up. My heard was pounding so hard it took almost three hours of tossing and turning to fall back asleep and then I slept fitfully because he was being loud. So I basically got no sleep and I was equal parts annoyed and disappointed by that!

Puppy knew I was leaving and stuck close all morning. She did something she’s never done before: drag something of mine into her crate to curl up around it! My heart almost shattered at that. When everything that needed doing was done and I plopped myself into an armchair to read for a bit, she was immediately in my lap.

10:00 passed and before I knew it, it was almost 11:30, with my train being at 1:30. I knew my host was driving straight from the airport and likely knackered, so I wasn’t too worried. Sure enough, she eventually turned up. I did the handover and while Puppy was obviously happy to see her mom, she wanted last minute cuddles with me too. Oh, she’s such a sweet soul and I will miss her. I feel truly blessed that I got to spend with her the time I did.

I finally left around 12:40. My host offered several times to drive me to the train station, but it’s not far nor a difficult walk and I wanted to spare her even such a small chore at the end of a journey around the world. I made it to the station at about one and collected my ticket, which didn’t look complete. So I went to an attendant and she confirmed that I had everything. I then asked her what would happen if I missed my connections and she rolled her eyes and said to take it up with the train operator as that had nothing to do with her. I need to add “customer service, or lack thereof” to my getting around the UK with public transportation post, for which I have a rough draft.

As I reached the platform, I realised that I was ravenous! I’d had breakfast around seven, so it was no wonder. There was a Starbucks on the platform and I decided to get food there even if their food is crap. Well, their food is crap in North America. My warm ham and cheese baguette with creamy Dijon (not Dijonnaise) was fantastic! I paired it with a hibiscus lemonade and was very pleased with my impromptu lunch that I ate on the train before we pulled out.

Shrewsbury station

It was a quick ride to Wolverhampton, with the platform to Stafford being right by my arrival. So even though I only had a 10-minute layover, it was enough and there was even enough time to use the bathroom. The ride to Stafford was only about 10 minutes and, get this, I got upgraded to first class! I got leg room and a HUGE window for that. I wish the pauper seats had windows like that.

I only had eight minutes in Stafford and it’s a bigger station, but I also made my connection, phew! I was not happy with my seat for the hour-long ride since I couldn’t see out the window on my side. But on the other side, I could just see sky and I don’t know what was going on with the clouds today, but what a show! It was like watching deity dance and it was absolutely mesmerising.

About midway through our journey, I started regretting not getting a tea in Stafford. I’ve been drinking a lot of tea since I got to the UK! Well, there was a drinks cart! I knew I’d pay a train premium, but didn’t care. Well, the guy went right by me without offering me anything. I called out, “I’d like a tea please!” and the guy jumped as if I had materialised out of thin air. We got quite a chuckle out of it. Tea cost exactly what I expected, £2, but there is a twist to this story…

Best tea ever. I’m not kidding. I have to remember this brand! I’ve been drinking Tetley and PG Tips and find them both a bit flat, but this “Eros” was full bodied and very rich, more like drinking a coffee. It actually tasted like what I would have expected a £2 cuppa to taste like.

We pulled into London Euston right on time and I had an hour to get to London Bridge. A friend of mine who likes “Sherlock” asked me, if I had time, to go take for her some pictures of the building used as the façade of 221B Baker Street since it’s so close to London Euston and I had been before. So I walked the block from the station to do that for her and after much debate, decided that delicious as they are, I would regret having a cappuccino from Speedy’s Cafe at that hour, plus I didn’t want to juggle a hot cup and all my luggage.

Pictures taken, I returned to Euston station and followed the signs to the Underground entrance, where there was barely a lineup for purchasing tickets. I’d cancelled my Oyster card, so I bought a paper single, which cost me twice what the fare would have been with Oyster (almost £5), but I knew that so it wasn’t a shock. I also knew I had to take the Northern line southbound, which has a split in it. So I followed the signs for the Northern line until I got to signage that told me which of the two lines I needed to take for London Bridge and arrived at the platform just as the train was taking off. We were getting close to rush hour, so I suspected I wouldn’t have long to wait for the next one and I was right. I could still hear the first when the second one pulled in. I had about five stops to make and had to stand the whole way, positioning myself on the doors opposite the side I’d boarded. As it turned out, I had to get off on that side. Couldn’t have planned it any better!

London Bridge was shut down due to suspicious activity yesterday, but all appeared normal today. I followed the signs for the rail station. I love how easy it is to get around London! I finally got to the ticket barrier. You have to feed your paper ticket into the machine to be let on the platform. You then keep that ticket as proof of purchase and then feed it to a machine at your destination to be let off the platform.

Well, the barrier refused to accept my ticket, declaring it invalid! I had about 25 minutes left at this point and my heart sank. Based on my past experiences with customer service for issues like this, I wasn’t going to make my train without buying a new ticket. I decided to try the ticket again on another barrier, just in case. No good. And then, I heard the most magical words one can hear when dealing with UK public transportation customer service, “Let me see your ticket, love, so I can get you sorted.”

I showed my ticket and my “collection receipt” for it and the lady confirmed they were good, so she manually opened the gate for me. She then said that I needed to go to “platform 13, all the way to the right, just after the Costa.” What a wonderful woman! She got some very profuse thanks!

There were still 20 minutes left before the train would leave and it was already at the platform, so I got on and snagged a window seat. This turned out to be a commuter train and not only was there no designated space for oversize luggage, the train ended up being so full that many people had to stand. A fellow passenger helped me find a spot to stash my suitcase and my coat, food bag, and computer bag fit in a bin overhead while I held my purse in my lap.

The landscape as we headed to the Sussex coast alternated between urban enclaves and rolling farmland until it got too dark to see anything. With the train packed to the gills and my not being able to hear the stations being announced, I started to track our journey when we got to about 20 minutes of arrival so that I could get up ahead of time and get my luggage sorted. Which reminds me, my Jackery Bar paid for itself today! After my phone kept shutting off around the 80% charged mark, I just left it plugged in all day.

At the station before Hove, I told the guy next to me that I wanted to get to the aisle when we pulled away. He snootily replied that he was getting off at Hove, too, and he would move when he was ready. I explained my luggage situation and he rolled his eyes, finished whatever he was working on, packed up, and got out of the way. I had just enough time to sort myself out before it was time to get off. We arrived in Hove about four minutes late. That would have been disastrous earlier in the day!

My Airbnb host had sent me directions for getting to her place and while it wasn’t far, there were so many stairs! My arms are rather achey tonight. But I got there and she took about 30 minutes to explain the house to me and make sure I knew what my options were for dinner in terms of eating out tonight. I’m going to have very low food expenditures in the next weeks, so I’m giving myself permission this week to not do much cooking. I don’t intend to go out for pricey meals every day, but I think there will be a lot of ready meals and takeaways. But for tonight, I wanted a nice sit down meal with a beer.

The closest place to get that was Nando’s. Since I’d been less than impressed by their dry roasted chicken, I opted for a rather fancy chicken burger with a spicy-sweet chile sauce that I paired with that supergrain salad I fell in love with. Add in the Mozambique beer and my second Nando’s experience was a world apart from my first. It genuinely tasted gourmet.

Replete, I wearily retraced my steps all the way to the train station and just a ways past to get a few things at Tesco and then I was finally about to get in, have a hot shower, and start to decompress.

I thought I wasn’t going to have any work for the rest of the week, but some materialised while I was having dinner. My host is out most of tomorrow, so I’ll try to get the bulk of it done before going exploring. She said she has a lot of things to recommend to me and will help me maximize my time here. It’ll be nice to have that freedom to go exploring!

Well, it’s been a very long day and the internet here isn’t great, so I think I’ll hit post before my connection craps out again, then get some much needed sleep. It is going to be so strange not to get Puppy cuddles tomorrow morning, but yay for being able to have my first lie-in in weeks!

Recap of the Best Year of My Life

If I measure 2016 by the one yardstick that matters to me, how much I travelled, it was the best year of my life. That’s hard to reconcile with how horrible the year was to the world in general, but it’s my truth.

This was a rare year of my life where there was enough money to do what I wanted to do. I prioritised paying for the big stuff, like making sure I had a roof over my head, could get from point A to point B, and that I stayed healthy. I savoured the little stuff I could afford. I refused to be a glass half empty person and bemoan that I couldn’t do X, Y, or Z because of a tight budget and instead celebrated that I was wherever I was at that moment.

I covered so much ground this year that you might have forgotten where I started. So here’s my 2016 travel retrospective.

January started in Mazatlán, Mexico. It was the second year of my life starting there and the novelty hadn’t worn off! I spent many hours cantering on a beautiful tropical beach, a weekly ritual that made me feel like the richest and luckiest woman in the world.

The lagoon at the Isla de la Piedra botanical gardens.

The lagoon in Mazatlán’s Bosque de la Ciudad.

February brought me to Mérida, in the Mexican state of Yucatán, on a scouting mission in anticipation of possibly moving there!

I saw ancient Mayan ruins!

The Mayan ruins at Uxmal.

The Mayan ruins at Uxmal.

March had me discovering the wonderful botanical gardens right in my backyard on Isla de la Piedra.

The lake at the heart of Isla de la Piedra's botanical gardens.

The lake at the heart of Isla de la Piedra’s botanical gardens.

April found me seeing Monument Valley

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

…and exploring Arches National Park

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

…and the town of Moab, Utah.

May took me to Cody, Wyoming

downtown Cody, WY

downtown Cody, WY

…with plenty of time to explore the Center of the West

Sacagawea at Center of the West

Sacagawea at Center of the West

… and a Japanese internment camp

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center

… before going home to Haven…

Sunset at Haven, May, 2016

Sunset at Haven, May, 2016

… before getting on a plane and technically visiting my last Canadian province.


So June took me to London, England (really!)…

London from the St. Paul's Cathedral

London from St. Paul’s Cathedral


… and to Bulgaria!

Malak Izvor, Bulgaria

Malak Izvor, Bulgaria


July took me on two trips to Sofia, Bulgaria.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

August took me to Plovdiv

Plovdiv from Nebet Hill

Plovdiv from Nebet Hill

… and across Bulgaria in a Chevy to Nessebar

Old Nessebar, Bulgaria

Old Nessebar, Bulgaria

…to Soviet ruins



Veliko Tarnovo

Tsaravets Fortress, Veliko Tarnovo

Tsaravets Fortress, Veliko Tarnovo

…the scenic town of Teteven



Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

…the Etropole Waterfall

Etropole Waterfall

Etropole Waterfall

…and a the magnificent 15th century Glozhene Monastery.

inside the Glozhene Monastery

inside the Glozhene Monastery

September saw me quit Bulgaria for Serbia and finish the month in Belgrade.

Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia

Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia

October found me in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo, BiH

Sarajevo, BiH

Kotor, Montenegro

Old Kotor, Montenegro

Old Kotor, Montenegro

…blipping through Albania

an Albanian fortress

an Albanian fortress

…staying out too late in Prizen, Kosovo

Prizren, Kosovo

Prizren, Kosovo

…not being impressed by Skopje, Macedonia

Archaeological Museum, Skopje

Archaeological Museum, Skopje


…ambling through Barcelona, Spain

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona


… then through Alicante

Alicante, Spain

Alicante, Spain

… before settling in Almería for seven weeks.

The port of Almería

The port of Almería

November was spent in lovely Almería learning to live in the real Spain.

Pedestrian street in downtown Almería

Pedestrian street in downtown Almería

December saw me in Málaga for a few days…

Málaga from the top of the itinerant Ferris wheel.


…before jetting off to end the year and ring in 2017 in Amsterdam, Netherlands!

Quintessential Amsterdam scene


What a journey 2016 was, from getting more and more comfortable in Mexico to becoming a seasoned European traveler!

But the most amazing thing that happened? I was offered my key to Mexico. So my 2017 is well plotted. But before I return to the blistering tropical heat of the Yucatán, England, Quebec, and Haven beckon. So clichéd as the saying is, the best really is yet to come.

Happy New Year to all of you lovely readers!

Balancing the Books

I just caught up on two months worth of bookkeeping, WHEW. The amazing thing is that I am so conscious of my spending that I balanced very nearly to the penny even though I did not have receipts for everything and I was juggling several currencies.

So this means that I finally have the cost of my hedonistic five days in London. I am not including airfare because I was going through London whether I stayed there or not. I think I did quite well considering how expensive the city is! My London trip costs, broken up by categories, with all expenses in CAD:

Accommodation: $222.00

Public Transportation (Oyster): $65

Attractions: $128 (thankfully, the British museum was free!)

Food (including afternoon tea at $55): $255

Souvenir (Moleskine notebook): $20

Total: $690 ($138 per day, counting my arrival and departure days as all expenses for those days were in London)

My first month in Bulgaria was extraordinarily cheap, even less expensive that Mexico, because I had no rent to pay here and no household setup costs since the house is so well equipped. I don’t feel that revealing my entire budget is relevant, but here were my Bulgaria costs for July, remembering that I live in a tiny village with few opportunities to spend money!

Food (including beer and my very few restaurant meals): $299

Public transportation (two round trips to Sofia, two taxi rides): $29

Household: $8 (this is just toilet paper and paper towels, which are extraordinarily cheap here!)

Toiletries: $8 (shampoo, body lotion, body wash (I only came with small carry on sizes), razors)

Telecom (SIM card, plus top up cards, of which I still have 20BGN outstanding!): $36

Hotel: $93 (for two nights)

Movie: $10

Tourism (two walking tours): $20

Total: $503

Trying to Figure Out London’s Oyster Card

One thing I remember from Scotland that has not improved in 20 years is that there are a lot of different transportation agencies in the UK and they don’t place nicely with each other. So it’s a miracle, really, that London has such good public transportation considering how many players are in the game. They all operate under the name Transport for London (TFL), but they are very much separate entities (including Underground, Overground, National Rail, but there are many more!).

All of these companies servicing London agree to use a payment method known as Oyster. It’s a prepaid electronic card that offers big savings over buying individual tickets. UK residents (and visitors from some other countries, depending on their banks) can use a contactless credit card instead and get the same rates. There are other ways to pay for transport, including daily travel cards, but going with Oyster made the most sense for my trip because it offers a daily cap. That means that after spending so much, you get unlimited travel. Once I got to my Airbnb, I would only be traveling between zones 1 and 2, with a daily cap of £6.50.  I downloaded my journey history and see that if you make at least three trips in a day, the daily cap offers a lot of value.

I bought my Oyster card at Gatwick train terminal, paying a refundable £5 deposit and adding £30 of credit. It would cost me £8 just to get to Central London, plus however much to get to Kensal Green. This first day wound up being very expensive, transportation-wise, because I went back to Central London in the late afternoon, with my travel costs for the day being £15. But if I had not gotten my Oyster card and had instead taken the much better advertised “Gatwick Express” train, I would have paid £20 just to get to Central London. So I think this illustrates the value of going with Oyster.

Here is my travel history and the fares:

Saturday, June 25th:

Gatwick to Kensal Green: £10.20

Kensal Green to Regent’s Park: £2.40

Baker Street to Kensal Green: £2.40

Total: £15

Note: I did not reach any caps on this day.

Sunday, June 25th:

Kensal Green to Westminster: £2.40

Knightsbridge to Baker Street: £2.40

Baker Street to Kensal Green: £1.70

Total: £6.50

Note: My last trip was capped. If I had, say, taken a bus from Kensal Green to home, the bus ride would have been free.

Monday, June 26th:

Kensal Green to Euston (on National Rail): £2.40

Russell Square to Kensal Green: £2.90

Total: £5.30

Note: This day offered me the least value since I didn’t reach my cap.

Tuesday, June 27th:

Kensal Green to London Bridge: £2.90

St. Paul’s to Green Park: £2.40

Piccadilly Circus to Kensal Green: £1.20

Total: £6.50

Note: This is a day that if I hadn’t had a card with a cap, I would have likely walked from St. Paul’s to The Wolseley to save the £1.40 I would have spent on a full fare ride…

Wednesday, June 29th:

Kensal Green to London Victoria: £2.40

Note: This is where I cashed out my Oyster card and got my £5 deposit back, but still got to keep the card and the little wallet with three slots they’d given me to go with it. I was rather happy with the latter item since I only brought a change purse with me and was worried that my cards will get scratched up in it. Now, I have a solid and slim place to store my cards safely.

Total spent on Oyster while in London (not counting the deposit): £35.70 or about 65CAD.

Topping up Oyster is where things got really messy. There are self-serve machines at all stations where you can top up. I tried three times in one day and while TFL took my money, none of the credit was applied to my Oyster card. I knew that I had to tap my card a second time for the top up to “take,” but I never got the prompt for that. When I called my bank, they had London Overground and Southern Rail (I think) as having taken my money, not TFL. When I called the Oyster helpline, they were absolutely useless, something that makes a lot more sense now that I understand that many different companies take payment for Oyster. I’m monitoring my credit card and none of the failed Oyster charges have actually posted. Once I catch up on my bookkeeping, I will be able to confirm if Oyster released my funds or not.

How I ended up successfully topping up was going to a newsagent (convenience store/dépanneur) in Kensal Green with an “Oyster Stop” poster in the front window. She was very patient and guided me through the steps, giving me a receipt as proof that I’d added £10 to my card. I recommend topping up this way even if it’s not as convenient.

One final Oyster tip, how to use it! For rail travel, you have to touch in and out at the start and end of your journey. For buses, which I did not use, you just have to tap in. If you forget to tap out, you will be charged the largest possible fare. Also, note there are very steep penalties if you cannot provide proof of payment and that fares for some zones differ based on the time of day! I wish I had known Sunday that’s not the case for zones 1 and 2 because I would have left earlier instead of waiting for the “off peak” time to save a few pounds.

Even after using Oyster for four days, it still leaves me a little bewildered. But it was really nice to be able to pass through the gates so quickly like a local!