Thursday, September 11, 2014

Welcome from Somerset, England.  Kay and I are now nearly 2 weeks into our European holiday and are resting before our sendoff barbecue outing with the Rotary Club of Yeovil, but first let's back up to the start of our adventure.
Kay and I caught a non-stop flight from Seatac to Heathrow, London arriving at 6:30 AM on Friday August 29th.  We figured out train and underground to our hotel and dropped our luggage off before roaming around Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park while awaiting our room at 2 PM.  We birded the park, had lunch at the garden cafe and generally tried to stay awake and enjoy ourselves before getting back to our room for a nap.  That evening we just went to dinner and crashed for a wonderful 12 hour sleep.

Saturday was an art day visiting the Saatchi Gallery in the morning and enjoying an incredible outdoor food market in the square near there and then off to the Tate Modern in the afternoon.   At the Saatchi we found spectacular modern art shows and a wonderful space. At the Tate we saw two shows and the permanent collection there; the Mattise Cutout show was good but Malevich show was more impressive.  In room were hundreds of sculptures of ants made of two casts of human skulls and wooden twigs.

Sunday we relaxed before catching an EasyJet (misnamed not really easy at all) to Nice, France and were met at the airport by Martyn Hammond, an English friend from Boston, England we met on our last Rotary Friendship Exchange (RFE). Martyn and Lesley have a vacation place in Biot just a few miles from Cannes and Nice on the Cote d'Azur. Our stay there was spectacular.

Rather than explain day by day I'll outline a typical day.   Up late between 9-11 AM.  A relaxed breakfast at home then off to explore a nearby spot (Nice, Cannes, etc.) where we usually had a walk around, lunch with wine and great food, then a bit more exploration.  Returning home by 4-5 PM we had a swim in the pool, laid out on pool-side lounges with a gin & tonic, and read or napped for a couple of hours. Next was a long relaxed dinner at home. This was often a "light" dinner by our hosts description, but included "nibbles" (homemade croutons with olive spread, hummus and vegetables) and the local wine specialty (pronounced spe-see-al-i-tee) Rose. Then we would have salad with yummy local ingredients and a spread of meats.  Later we'd have cheese and bread followed by "pudding" (any type of desert) then espresso. Wine was consumed throughout the courses. Dinner usually finished sometime after 10:30-11PM and we got off to bed about midnight. Repeat day after day. Exceptions were a wonderful evening meal out at an upscale restaurant for my birthday dinner and a larger fish meal made from a locally caught fish donated by the motorcycle driver who crashed into our car the day prior.  Overall it would  be hard to have a more enjoyable or more relaxing stay on the French riviera.
EasyJet back to England early Saturday and we went to a comedy Jeeves and Wooster Sat night, the National Gallery on Sunday, and drinks and snacks with Ashley and Aaron Sunday evening before meeting our RFE group Sunday night. We enjoyed the Saturday excitement at both Picadilly and Trafalgar squares Sunday afternoon.

Monday we caught a train to Yeovil Station and have been on our RFE for 3 days now.  On a RFE five Rotary Clubs from one district host several couples from different clubs in another district for 3 days each then later the exchange reverses.  Our exchange is with Rotary District 1200 in Somerset County England.  Their contingency visited District 5020 on Vancouver Island and South Puget Sound area in June.  We are visiting them now.
Monday the Yeovil Club host families met us with US and Canadian flags of welcome at the train station and we went to Lanes for a drink on the garden lawn and a traditional English fish & chips lunch.  We went home with Mike and Sue Philips to rest at their stone village farmhouse before joining hour host club at The Lord Nelson Pub at Norton-sub-Hamdon for a skittles match and dinner.

Skittles in Somerset County is a local favorite pub game a sort of bowling with three imperfectly round wooden bowling balls, 9 heavy wooden pins aligned in a diamond shape so that it is very possible to roll the ball in slots between the pins without hitting any at all.  We made two teams of about 13 members each and each turn consisted of three balls bowled at the pins.  Although theoretically possible to get a score of 27 with 9 each ball a score of >5 was good.  A score of 0 was more common than a score of 9.  Spouses were put on opposite teams and Kay's team did not  win.  :.)
Tuesday we traveled to Lyme Regis on the Dorset Coast. This is a popular summer beach spot where we walked on the "Cobb" and I got to do a bit of birding.  We enjoyed the beach-side town, the shops, and lunch at the Pilot House. Tuesday night we attended a weekly Rotary Club of Yeovil meeting with spouses and gave our first power-point presentation about ourselves and our clubs to our hosts.  It went pretty well and it was nice to meet many of our host club members.
Wednesday we visited a small village Ilminser after leaving a bit early for an extra visit with our host family to Ham Hill.  Ham Hill is where the quarry that supplies all the "hamstone" for local building is mined.  The mine is owned by a Royal family member and leased by a mining company.  The ocre colored limestone from this mine is the default stone for building in Somerset, and is considered both especially attractive and easy to work with for building. We met for lunch at Montacute House and did a house tour of this large country Elizabethan era (1500's) home and gardens.  After a short rest we met the club for dinner at the farm of Patrick Palmer to visit his family farm, Bower Hinton Farm, for a hayride and barbecue.  This was a great last night with  the Yeovil club and a last chance to see some of the members.  The deserts were especially spectacular.
Tomorrow we are off to meet our next host family from the Frome Selwood Rotary Club  at Stourhead Inn where we will have lunch and tour the inn in the afternoon.
Hope all is well back home.  We are having a great trip so  far.  Expect it to continue to be terrific.

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