Blackpool beside the sea

Blackpool Illuminations along the Promenade

Blackpool Illuminations along the Promenade

One of the places that brings back fond memories of childhood for my husband is the city of Blackpool on the northwest coast of England. Blackpool was and is a very popular place to take your family for a summer holiday, seaside towns being a big draw for the British. Blackpool has been a big attraction since the early Victorian era and really boomed once the trains came. There are miles of beaches and three piers were built out over the sea. The piers contain games, rides, market stalls where you can buy kitchy souvenirs and a bucket and spade for sand architecture. There are lots of food stalls as well.

Along the promenade, the road that follows the seafront, and in the general vicinity are hotels, guesthouses, bars and restaurants, exhibitions and Bingo halls, theatres, shops, and lots of other things for the average holiday maker to do and see. There’s a large theme park at the south end, called the Pleasure Beach. Trams traverse the coast back and forth, and on the beach, the kids can get donkey rides. It really can be quite a tourist trap, but I will admit there’s a lot of things to do as a family, there can be some really good entertainment featured as well and who doesn’t like the beach and the fresh, sea air?

Blackpool Tower on the Promenade, rife with attractions

Blackpool Tower on the Promenade, rife with attractions

I mentioned early in the summer that we were planning a day trip here on my recent visit to the UK. My husband’s family spent many a holiday week in Blackpool and he has fond memories of it. I have to confess, I find it a bit over the top and tacky but it does have it’s pluses, too. The Blackpool Tower is pretty neat and I always like to go up in towers and high places. It has a beautiful Victorian ballroom as well where you can still go for a cup of tea and a dance around the room, accompanied by a cheerful bloke playing a massive pipe organ.  If you like arcades or scary rides, (which I don’t!) then you will be oversaturated by choice. There’s also some world class theatres and venues where  you can attend shows, concerts and gigs.

Blackpool is only 60 miles from the Manchester area so it’s very easy to do a day trip there which is what we did early in September during my visit to the UK. One other thing that Blackpool has is the annual Illuminations and I really did fancy seeing those.  Blackpool city council erected what may have been the first electric street lighting in 1879. It was an event that nearly 100,000 people came to witness. In 1912, to mark a Royal visit to open a new section of the promenade, a display of lights was erected along the street. This was in May and it was so popular that they did it again in September. It was hugely popular and they did it again the next year but World War I put a halt to it until it was revived in the 1920s and aside from a 10 year break through WWII and post-war economics, it has been a yearly tradition, growing bigger and bolder every year. It stretches 6 miles along the Promenade.

Since we planned to stay late to see the lights, we didn’t head out until mid morning, arriving close to lunchtime so that was our first order of business. Food. I don’t know why we picked a pub on the Promenade because I’m sure there were probably much better ones away from the main “drag” where the food was better. This one, a Weatherspoon’s franchise, was very Meh and disappointing. We should have known better, restaurants in the thick of the tourist area generally aren’t the best places to eat. Mind you, most of Blackpool is a tourist area but I think venturing back from the main Promenade will give you better choice and quality. Lessons learned.

We walked behind the Tower (having been up there on one other previous visit) because I wanted to see the Victorian Winter Garden. The Winter Garden was built in 1878. It’s got several venues in it, with theatres, a ballroom, restaurants and exhibition space. We couldn’t go into the ballroom and there was an inside illuminations exhibit also going on which we didn’t visit. We walked through the lobby and up into the main concourse to see the glass roof and dome and peek into the Spanish section which is all done up like the interior of a Spanish pirate ship. It was very nice, what we did get to see of it. Outside, along one of the exterior, less decorated walls of the building were panels of street art which were all interesting to see. Not always sure what the artists were getting at but it was still neat.

From Blackpool Central Pier to the South Pier and Pleasure Beach rides

From Blackpool Central Pier to the South Pier and Pleasure Beach rides

We then walked down by the beach, watching the children get donkey rides and then went over onto the Central Pier to walk out to the end. School is back in so Blackpool was fairly quiet and most of the rides were still or only had one or two people on them. There were still quite a lot of people but not that many families or children. The pier is lined with a wooden bench built into the sides with old white painted wrought iron bench backs. They are often worn through and rusted and the wooden seats are in very bad repair and I’m sure can’t be very safe. I suppose it would cost a lot of money to restore all this.

As we got near the end of the pier, we noticed a guy running hell bent for leather across the vast expanse of beach to the water’s edge. Graham reckoned the beach was so wide he’d be exhausted by the time he actually reached the sea! About 10 feet before the edge, he stopped and stripped off his swimming trunks and charged into the water, completely naked! Graham shook his head mournfully and said “On behalf of the entire Northwest of England, I apologize”. The guy’s friends were running along behind him and one of them stopped and picked up his trunks, eliciting an angry response by the swimmer. What did he expect? He later came out, covering his bits with his hands, to join his group and no doubt, persuade them to give him back his swim gear.

We had a drink and sat in the sun for a bit and then decided to take the bus to the far northern end of the city, where the illuminations began. We thought we could hang out there for awhile, have our evening meal and then make our way back once the sun set, enjoying the lights, even if we hopped on and off the bus to go ahead a few stops at a time. We got there, and discovered there really isn’t much there to do. It’s all larger hotels, no shops or anything to look at. We had a drink in one pub we found and decided what we’d do is get the back all the way back to the Pleasure Beach where we’d parked the car. We could find somewhere there for our dinner and by that time, the sun would be going down. We would then drive the “strip” to see the lights from the car. All the traffic goes along there slowly so people can get a good look and we would be able to as well.

It’s all right, planning, but plans don’t always go the way you expect. We missed the last bus, which apparently stopped at 6. Doh! Never mind, the tram was still running but they won’t take our all day bus pass so we had to buy tickets. We found a little Indian curry house near where we parked. We were ready for it, too, and it was quickly getting chilly so we were glad of a warm place to sit! The food was good and cheap, what else can you ask for?

The slow drive along the Promenade, with the iPod hooked up to the car stereo for a soundtrack, was fun. There are a variety of light displays, more traditional bulbs, and LED lights, tableaux, signs and two of the old fashioned trams were decorated up elaborately, one like a ship and one like a train. Very good! The far north end had lots of scenes lit up either by spot lights or were made from the lights themselves. Four styles of a sun, Daleks and the Tardis, Alice in Wonderland, American Natives, Dancing girls, a haunted house and more. I think I liked this section the best. It was difficult to photograph from the car, though. I did get some good photos and I did some video clips as well. We enjoyed the ride so much we turned around and came back down the other way and then headed home.

Happy – The word of the week

Place Jacques Cartier, Montreal

Sue’s weekly word challenge this week is Happy.

I’m happy. I hesitate to say it out loud sometimes because I fear I could jinx things. There’s also that old adage “Be careful what you wish for” that might come into play as well. But I am.

I like my job and it provides me the means to do some traveling and gives me financial stability and a pension.

I have a great family, both immediate and extended. We all get along and we all like each other as well as love each other. That’s not always that common. There’s never been any family feuds. That’s amazing! I’m really looking forward to my niece’s wedding in August.

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I have great friends far and near. As one faraway friend said to me yesterday when we both confessed that we were not great in keeping in touch more often that we know our friendship doesn’t need daily feeding to be solid. So true.

I have a talented fiance who writes me a song every Christmas and draws awesome caricatures for my birthdays. We’re starting to put wedding plans together, too.

I really like where I get to live, near the ocean in a nice city that’s not too big and not too small.

This year’s Travel Happy includes a quick visit to Montreal to see my all time favourite band Queen and a road trip to New England in September.

When plans change

passport_leafOff to the UK on Friday night and I’m not looking forward to the flight. I do love to travel but the process of getting there is not a lot of fun. There’s small, cramped seats. I can’t afford to go business class and these days, what you get there is a little individual “pod” which doesn’t really look that comfortable, either, except it can recline and there’s nobody squashed up beside you. The width of them doesn’t look all that much wider than a standard seat. Before these came out, business class seats were like big comfy lazy-boy chairs!

And I’m getting a cold. I have the sniffly stuffed up nose stage at the moment. If the travel gods are with me, it might not get worse than that, but I doubt I’ll be that lucky. Flying with a head cold will be awful and I figure I’ll end up spreading the germs and making a number of other passengers ill too, even though I try to keep it to myself. All that recycled air, though, isn’t condusive to health.

The other reason is that my plans have changed. We have had to cancel Paris. My partner’s father is very ill and we really can’t be out of the country. We don’t know how much longer we’ll have him so every day counts. We might get to London on Easter weekend depending on how things go but as I’m due to fly back out of London, I will have to go. If he comes with me, at least he can be back in Manchester by train in a couple of hours if need be. That’s easier than trying to get home from Paris.

Again, though, that still depends on the situation. I may need to change my ticket and extend my time in Manchester. I did get cancellation and interruption on my flight to the UK so any costs incurred in changing should be covered by that, at least. I didn’t get insurance on anything else because I’ve been burned on the “pre-existing condition” clause before and even though his dad seemed to be stable when I booked the France part of the trip, he did have a “condition” and I more or less figured a doctor could cite that when filling out a form.

That’s what happened to me the last time I tried to recover the cost of a cancelled flight. The doctor said the patient (my father) was not stable at the time I booked the ticket. That was news to me! While he was recovering from major surgery, we all thought it was just a matter of time. Turns out it was, but not what we thought. Looking back, the doctor was right, and looking back, we can see it but at the time, we didn’t know any different. We thought he was just longer recovering than expected. So after that, I’ve been reluctant to trust buying the insurance. I did this time because everything seemed like things would be ok to get to the UK and back. And this time, if I have to use the insurance, it will only be about changing the return date and those costs associated.

Having said that, I did or will get 3/4 of the money back for the pre-paid hotel in Paris and that will cover the cost of the flight and Eurostar which were also prepaid. That’s a break-even there. There are a few other things that got cancelled that were non-refundable but they won’t add up to a lot. Extending the rental car in Manchester an extra week didn’t cost me double, either, which was a nice surprise, it’s only costing another 50% and that wasn’t prepaid.

This will be a vacation from work, and we’ll be spending our two weeks together which is important when you live 3000 miles apart for the moment. I hope we’ll be able to get out for a day trip or two just for a drive somewhere. We’ll need that to recharge our batteries.

It’s the way life is. We help each other, support each other, and get through it. Paris can wait.

Travel Theme: Romance

Given that we’ve sailed through Valentine’s Day, Where’s My Backpack has a travel theme of Romance this week. I had to think how I would relate this to travel. We do go to some romantic locations like Paris and Rome and we really enjoy exploring new places and making new memories. Our road trip to Cornwall was brilliant and we were going to do a road trip to Scotland last year but it got side lined.

What’s really romantic, though, is that my fella is an artist and for my birthday every year, he draws me a cariacature/cartoon and often it features our travel location from that past year.

Here’s a few of them:

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And the other romantic thing that he does is write and record me a song every year for Christmas. You can hear the “Lurve” album here.  Some of those mention travel and flights because ours is a long distance relationship.

A Word a Week Challenge – Old

A Word in Your Ear’s weekly challenge this week is “old”.

“Old” is a loaded word. People don’t like to be called “old” but they shouldn’t mind it. With age comes experience, respect and a better sense of who you are. You have stories to tell. You have seen and done a lot, made mistakes, hopefully learned from them and can pass on advice, whether it’s taken or not. Think of all the amazing things you’ve seen in your life and all the people you have touched and whose lives have touched yours.

Getting old isn’t for sissies, either. It takes stamina. Things don’t work the way they used to and it’s hard learning to depend on people. There can be a loss of independence. There’s a lot of loss, full stop as you start to lose loved ones.

Here are some portraits I’ve taken over the years of people I’ve known, met or just seen on the streets. They are people that have endured. Some are no longer with me. Some I remember with a smile and a tear. Some were complete strangers but their vitality and grace drew my camera their way.

Let’s start with family, first. You will notice the common denominator here is humour and laughter. We’re like that :)

My father. Enjoyed Christmas.

My mother. Chilly, in Leeds Castle, England

My aunt and uncle, siblings to my dad

My uncle, my dad’s twin

The following were strangers to me, people I’ve seen while people watching.

There’s a lot of life in the old dancing shoes yet

Old friends enjoy the summer sunshine

Father and son “down the pub” for a chat and a visit with friends.

I think of these men who could not walk the streets together, dressed like this, earlier in their lives. It makes me happy to see them be who they are in the face of the world.

The older generation make sure the traditions live on.

A Word A Week Photograph Challenge – Mother

A holler back to this blog, where the Word a Week photo challenge originates.

Mom was just a tad chilled.
Leeds Castle, 2008

Since my dad died nearly seven years ago, my mother and I have taken a few trips, mostly short road trips.  In 2008, I persuaded my mom to come to London with me for a 10 day trip. She’s been that far before, but only within Canada. We live on the east coast of Canada and the west coast is about as far away from here as England is in the other direction.  She’d never been over the ocean and isn’t a really confident flyer  but she decided she’d wear her big girl pants and just do it.

When I first proposed the trip, she wasn’t sure there would be a lot that she’d be interested in. London. Really? I lent her my lovely Eye Witness London guide, filled with lovely pictures. She emailed back a list of things she might like as long as my arm!

I wanted to make sure we’d stay somewhere central, easy for busses since she didn’t like the idea of going on the underground and I wanted to make sure it was a nice hotel, somewhere she’d remember. I decided on the Strand Palace and it was a good choice for us. We shared a twin room for the first 5 days and then over the Easter weekend, Graham joined us and she moved to a sunny single room down the hall from our double room.

But the trip had a rocky start, with a jolt that scared the wits out of me. We landed on a drizzly Sunday, St. Patrick’s day and after checking into the hotel, we went out walking around Covent Garden, stopping at an old pub for Sunday lunch. We arrived in Trafalgar Square which was packed out with party people. There was a big stage set up for concerts and the parade had just finished so there was a lot of people walking around in green silly hats, bow ties, scarves, you name it.

There was so much to look at and we headed down into Trafalgar square and the next thing I know, she’s on the ground in front of me across the shallow stair case! Oh my sweet god/dess I thought she’d broken a hip or knocked herself out!!! A couple of people helped me get her on her feet. No blood. No unconciousness. She was bruised and shaken but ok. Even her camera survived! I thought we should walk a bit more just to make sure she didn’t stiffen up but it was cold and damp so we walked back towards the hotel which wasn’t too far, got some hot tea and a snack at Starbucks and went to our room. After a hot shower we tucked up into bed for the evening to keep warm.

Mom was bruised  and a bit sore the next day but an Advil kept her going and she had her cane with her just in case so used that as well.  She was a trooper all week and we saw a lot. St. Paul’s, Kensington Palace, Harrod’s. We went to two West End shows, we shopped, we took the double decker bus tour so she could get an overview of the city.  We took a train to Brighton and shopping in the Lanes and were wowed by the Royal Pavillion. After Graham joined us, we three had a day trip booked to Leeds Castle and Canterbury Cathedral with a photo stop at the White Cliffs of Dover and an afternoon tea at a lovely country pub.

That day trip to Leeds Castle and Canterbury was the coldest day I’ve ever experienced while in the U.K. and I’ve been there over New Year’s in the past. It was cold, damp, with a bitter wind. It even snowed just a little at one point. The photo with this article shows Mom at Leeds Castle. As you can see by her lovely blue eyes, she’s full of fun and wasn’t about to let the weather keep her down! I think I whined more than she did about it! She and Graham stood on the harbour beach at Dover in the blustery wind singing “There’ll be Blue Birds over the White Cliffs of Dover” while I huddled in the tour bus!

I was going to post more photos relating to the challenge word but once I started writing, I decided this should be about us, my  mom and me.

Heritage traveling

Geneology is a hugely popular hobby, a lot of people love to trace their ancestry. While I’m not one of those that spends hours tracing back through various lines in my family, I have several cousins that do and I find it very interesting to read their discoveries.

Commemorating Edward Wightman, the last person in England to be burned for heresy.

Some time ago, my cousin uncovered a nine times great grandfather through my father’s mother’s line who was burned for heresy not once, but twice in England in the early 17th century! His name was Edward Wightman and he became a Puritan near the end of the rein of Elizabeth I. There’s more about him here on Wikipedia. In 1611 he ruffled a few too many feathers, was arrested and consigned to the flame for his heresy. He recanted and was pulled from the fire but a few weeks later, he started his blasphemous preaching again and this time, his words literally turned to ashes in his mouth.  He was also the last person in England to suffer death by fire for Heresy.

My cousin had discovered that there is a plaque dedicated to Wightman in the town square of Litchfield, England, a cathedral city near Warwick. That was the city where he came to his end and she always hoped that on one of my visits to the U.K. I could manage a stop there and take a photo of the plaque, mounted on the side of a little church which is now home to a market and community centre.

In 2001, I stayed with a friend in Redditch, near Birminham and we planned to go to Warwick castle. The morning was a bit rainy but he kindly drove into Litchfield so I could have a look for the plaque and take a photo!

That’s pretty much the only traveling I’ve ever done that had geneology at it’s roots though I did see some old gravestones in a cemetery in Moffat, Scotland with the same last name as mine. I do know there are some far reaching branches that are border Scots though my auntie says we mainly came from Northern Ireland.  I know a few people that have made visits to towns specifically to search records in the town halls and in churches or find long lost and distant relatives of their parents and grandparents.

My family has been  Canadian for quite a few generations now.  The most interesting thing my cousin, related to me through my father’s sister,  discovered is that her husband is related to me on my mother’s side and is my 7th or 8th cousin!