Covid strikes!

LOCATION:  Ramada Inn in Telford, England
WEATHER:  Beautiful fall weather.  Sunny.  High 64

Our hotel last night in Shrewsbury included free breakfast.  On George’s England “must-do” list is to eat a full, proper English breakfast.  So, that is what he ordered…

In included:  back bacon, sausages, black pudding, poached egg, herbed potatoes, homemade baked beans, toasted homemade focaccia, confit tomatoes, and mushrooms.  A lot of food!

I ordered the ratatouille with a fried egg on top.  I must say that I have never eaten ratatouille for breafast before, but it was good – lots of zucchini (corgette) and eggplant (aubergine)  in a thick tomato sauce with homemade bread on the side.

While we were eating, we watched the delivery man bring 7 big beer kegs that he had to lug down to the basement.  A lot of work for beer!

Once again, we are happy that we travel light.  It was quite an ordeal climbing up and down these steps in our hotel. 

We took the bus to Telford, about a 30-minute ride.  The reason we went to Telford is to get our Covid test for our upcoming cruise.  A pharmacy here was the only place where we could get an appointment today. 

Telford is an unusual city, all new from the 1990s.  Everything is well-planned to include wide roads, nice bikepaths and walkways,  all new shopping centers, and all new houses/apartments. 

Once we dropped off our luggage at the motel, we started the 3.5 mile walk to the suburb where the pharmacy is located.  It was a perfect day for a walk, and we needed to walk off those big breafasts!  Unlike the USA, there was a nice paved sidewalk all the way, including a long pedestrian walking path over a 6-lane highway.

Part of the walk was through a city park, and then through lots of suburbs, including this one that George liked…

We got our tests and were expecting the magic piece of paper saying that we tested negative.  To our complete surprise, we tested positive for Covid!  We have no symptoms, so it was a real shock!  So, no cruise for us tomorrow!!!

We went back to the hotel, somewhat in a daze.  I spent about 2 hours searching for flights back – with all kinds of possibilities – flying out of Birmingham, Manchester, or London, and arriving in McAllen or even Austin, Texas (to include a 5-hour drive).  Everything was very expensive with horrible layovers through JFK.  What to do? 

Meanwhile, I contacted VacationsToGo (the discount website we use for cruises) to notify them.  Much to my surprise, the agent said we would get a full refund!

While I was on that site, I happened to look to see if there are any other upcoming Transatlantic cruises coming up.  We found another one in about a week that we will take.  About half of what the airfare would have been.  By then, we should be testing negative.  In the meanwhile, we will find somewhere to hunker down and take it easy.

DINNER:  Not too hungry, we just ate at the Ramada bar.  George had a slice of liver pate’ and I had a salad. Not too exciting. 

Sorry to end this housesitting assignment

LOCATION:  The Alb Hotel in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England
WEATHER:  Another unbelievably sunny day.  High 62

This afternoon the homeowners return, so I was was busy cleaning and washing the linens.  I gave Pepper one last good walk.  A beautiful male pheasant flew up right in front of us.  (Full disclosure – this is not my photo, but it looked just like this!)

We took the bus into Shrewsbury and got settled in our hotel.  It is old – from the 1800s, but has recently been restored and renovated.

We walked around the beautiful old city of Shrewsbury.  The train station is one of the nicest in England.

A lot of the buildings are higgley-piggley, hanging over the sidewalk – looking like they will fall down!

We found a few pubs to check out (surprise, surprise).  On George’s “must-do” in England was to have a beer at a Wetherspoons.  It is a franchise all over the UK and is known for its extensive bar with inexpensive food and drink.  Found one!

DINNER:  Wanting something different, we found this cute little Nepalese/Indian restaurant (aptly named).

We started with a pompodaam served with various sauces and pickled vegetables.

As an appetizer, we shared some Himalayan dumplings.  Yum!  The main course was a spicy lamb curry, a la vindaloo (means hot).  It was very tasty.  The service was great and the atmosphere cozy.  Reasonable prices, too. 

Final English country pub

LOCATION:  Housesitting outside of Shawbury, England
WEATHER:  We’ve been lucky with “English” weather….Sunny.  High 62

Since today is our last full day of housesitting here, I wanted to get the laundry done.  I can’t chance the possibility of rainy weather to dry our clothes on a day that we are leaving.  It was windy and sunny, so the clothes were happy.

I have really enjoyed taking care of Pepper, the dog.  The ownerr has all the food containers marked for her various meals – including “Tea”! 

We took Pepper for a walk on one of the public footpaths. 

The path went right by a farmer’s beautiful garden…..

Then, in the afternoon, we caught our trusty bus into the town of Shawbury where we had spotted this interesting-looking country pub.

We had a drink and lounged in their sunny pub.  The English have some strange words.  Not sure what faggots are?

DINNER:  Chicken fried rice, a good way to use up almost all of the food I have left in the refrigerator:  chicken thighs, leftover rice, frozen peas, mushrooms, onion, and ginger.  I made an extra batch for the homeowners’ dinner tomorrow when they return.  Always a nice touch.

Sheep and pubs in the English countryside

LOCATION:  Housesitting outside of Shawbury, England
WEATHER:  Mostly sunny in AM.  Cool and slight rain in late PM

I took Pepper the dog for a 2-mile walk down to the pub that we had checked out the other day – the one that is part of a garden center.  I noticed that in the back of the pub about 12 caravans (what they call RVs here) were parked overnight.  It is like Harvest Hosts!

After a quiet day, we walked to a pub about one mile away.  It is open at noon on weekends and does a big business with Sunday “roast”.  It was full with local families.  We heard that the chef is very well-known.  Food in pubs has sure come a long way.  Here is the appetizer menu.  (I had to look up the word goujons…..strips)

Most people were getting the beef with Yorkshire Pudding or the lamb…

Of course, one has to end the meal with sticky pudding!

It was quite cozy inside and of course people brought in their dogs…

The village is very small – just the pub and a few houses.

And…a library…

As we walked home we passed a farm with some unusual sheep.  The owner was in the field moving the sheep from one pasture to another.

He finally got them to cross the road!  We helped by watching  for traffic

In another field were more “normal”-looking sheep – very bucolic

DINNER:  I bought this nifty tikka misala kit – a package of herbs, the cooking sauce, and the tikka sauce.  I served it with sauteed chicken and broccoli.  Equally good would be vegan – with a nice squash instead of chicken.  It is was a brilliant packaging idea.  Perfect for 2

A visit to a country market town

LOCATION:  Housesitting outside of Shawbury, England
WEATHER:  Very autumn-like.  High 55

We are about halfway between the small cities of Shrewsbury and Market Drayton.  We don’t have a car here, so depend on the bus.  Today we flagged down the bus at the end of our road to check out Market Drayton.

After about a 30-minute bus ride through beautiful countryside, we arrived in downtown Market Drayton.  It is famous for a few things – the biggest yogurt maker company in England, the origin of the gingerbread cookie, and home of one of England’s oldest breweries. 

We walked around downtown and found Joule’s Brewery, founded by monks many centuries ago.  It was quite cozy. 

After taking our order, the bartender tended the fire….

We shared a halloumi and mushroom burger.  Halloumi is a fried cheese that is very popular here.

We strolled around the town and found the canal with a lot of long boats.

It reminded us of our 3-day long-boat cruise a few years ago with our daughter Alexis.

Back in town, we did some shopping at thrift shops to find a dress shirt for George to wear on our upcoming cruise.  Found one – nice and cheap!

We caught the bus back to our house, just asking the driver to stop at our road, as it is not an official stop.

DINNER:  Corned beef sandwiches with sides of fried potato wedges and cabbage.  Yum!

Friday Farm Chores

LOCATION:  Housesitting outside of Shawbury, England
WEATHER;  Sun in AM; cloudy and light rain in PM.  High 57

Today was our day to do additional chores for the sheep and ducks.  George did most of the work – cleaning the sheds, laying out new hay, putting out new water.  I provided moral support!  🙂

We were lucky with the weather, as it was nice when we were out doing all of that.  This is the first assignment where we have taken care of ducks and sheep.  The homeowner left excellent instructions and gave George a tutorial before they left.  Something to add to our housesitting resume! 

My bit was to fill up the ducks’ swimming pool with clean water where they drink, then soon dirty it up walking hrough with their dirty feet. 

We had planned to walk to a pub for a drink before dinner, but it started to rain.  So, a quiet day indoors, other than a walk with Pepper.

DINNER:  Open-faced hamburgers.  I cooked hamburgers on the stove with onions.  I served them on a toasted baguette.  I topped with cheddar cheese (good English cheese!), and popped in the microwave for a minute to melt.  Served with English mustard and red onions.  Side was English steamed green peas.  All quite good!

BOOK:  “Comforts of a Muddy Saturday” by Alelxander McCall Smith.  Such a nice book to turn to on a day like today.  Another in his Isabel Dalhousie series about a philosopher in Edinburgh, Scotland.  5 stars out of 5

We found PBS America TV channel.  We watched a documentary about wildlife in Wales and a show about Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of “Little House on the Prairie” books.  Interesting

Exploring Shrewsbury

LOCATION:  Housesitting outside of Shrewsbury, England
WEATHER:  Quite pleasant.  Mostly sun.  High 56

There was a heavy fog this morning.  George is out in the fog (out there somewhere!) doing the sheep/duck morning duties…

Mid-morning, we flagged down the bus at the end of our road and hopped on to go to Shrewsbury.

  It is a major city in this area and is very historic.  This was one of the original gates to the city..

There are hundreds of timbered buildings that they call “wonky” – leaning a bit, and very old. 

Most have cafes or shops on the first floor.  Good to see that they are in use.

The River Severn circles the city, acting like a moat.  We followed the river footpath around the city, along with a lot of locals enjoying the beautiful autumn day.

Boat tours around the city are popular….

We stopped at The Boathouse, a pub right on the river.  They were doing a good business, mostly local young people.

We shared a superb lunch – roasted red pepper soup, a half sausage sandwich, and some chips.  The soup was to die for..

The bus brought us back, about a 30-minute ride, and we did afternoon chores on the farm.  I took Pepper, the dog, for a 2-mile walk to another nearby village, Stanton.  The only thing there are some beautiful homes and one pub (which we hope to try). 

DINNER:  Grilled salmon fillets, steamed rice, and stir-fried Asian cabbage.  Really tasty.

Evening – lots of good, old British TV shows – Waiting for God, All Creatures Great and Small, Last of the Summer Wine. 

Quiet Day on the Farm

LOCATION:  Housesitting outside of Shawbury, England – about 10 miles from the Wales border
WEATHER:  Cool.  Some slight rain.  High 58

I am recuperating from a little cold, and I’m afraid I gave it to George who felt under the weather today.  So, we didn’t do much of anything.

For breakfast we had one of the duck eggs, scrambled.  It had a huge, bright yellow yolk.  Very tasty!

I spent a very stressful morning trying to figure out how to get a Covid 19 test for our upcoming cruise.  I should have had a test kit (the video proctored type)  sent to this address a long time ago, but didn’t realize that was an option.  Now it is too late to get a kit sent to us and/or to get the results back in time.  All of the local testing sites are booked through November.  Timing is an issue, too….we have to have the test within 48 hours of departure.  I finally got something figured out.  We will leave here on the 19th, travel to a nearby town whose pharmacy had some appointments, stay there overnight, and then take the train to Southampton on the 20th for a departure later that day.  Cutting it really close! 

Lunch was oxtail soup.  When we did our grocery shopping the other day, I thought soup would be on the menu quite often for lunch.  I have never seen oxtail soup in a can in the USA, so we thought we would try it.  It had a nice flavor, but there was not much meat. 

The homeowners have a land-line telephone with unlimited minutes, so I called our cruise company to pay the balance of a cruise we are taking in Argentina/Brazil in January.  I was on hold for 35 minutes – very frustrating.  But, it was a relief to get this done.  When we travel, these little details are annoying.  One more thing on my to-do list is to print the cruise tickets for our upcoming cruise.  I sure don’t understand why they need a paper copy.  We will go into town one day and look for something like a Staples.

I gave Pepper the dog a nice walk while George napped in the afternoon. 

What a small world… of our friends in Texas is actually from Shropshire.  We got in touch with his brother who lives just a few miles from us, and will try to get together this week. 

The name of our house is Swallow Barn.  The other two houses, all a part of an original farmhouse and farm, have their names, too.

DINNER:  When we went to the store the other day, I had only about 2 minutes to plan a menu and write up a grocery list.  So, I am inventing as we go.  Tonight’s dinner turned out quite tasty – sauteed chicken thighs with sauteed onions and mushrooms.  To that I added boiled potato slices and steamed broccoli, then a little cream cheese and English cheddar cheese. 

We are living in a pig-sty!

LOCATION:  Housesitting on a farm outside of Shawbury, England
WEATHER:  Sunny.  Cool.  High 56

The homeowners are very sweet.  They said they worried all night about our food situation.  We had told them that we could take the bus into town to buy groceries.  Instead, they offered to drive us before they took off for their holiday.  Much better than schlepping big grocery bags around on the bus.  We got stocked up for the week.

Then, they were off and we are set to take care of the animals and house for a week. The dog is a bit elderly (15) and mostly deaf.  She is super easy to take care of.  Very loving.

There are 3 sheep that George is in charge of.  The homeowner uses their fleece to spin wool and to make beautiful items.

Then, there are 6 runner ducks.  And they like to run!  The homeowners collect their eggs for cooking, but alas, the ducks are done laying for the fall/winter.  There is one egg left that we will scramble up one day for breakfast.

There are 3 houses along our lane that have been converted to very nice homes:  1) the farmhouse, 2) the barn and pig-sty, and 3) a cow barn.

I like watching the British TV show “Escape to the Country”, and this place reminds me of the neat houses found on that show.  Our house is in the middle.  It was a barn and pig-sty that have been converted to a beautiful, cozy home.

We had a lazy day, recuperating from the train trip yesterday.  We read in their “snug” while Pepper the dog dozed and snored.  Very relaxing!

We gave Pepper her daily walk, and then headed down their country road, past lots of farms, to a garden center that is also…(drum roll here)….a pub!

As soon as we open our mouths in pubs, people detect our accent and engage us in conversation.  They are fascinated with our travels.  This  pub was very unpretentious and friendly.

DINNER:  Chili and baguette.  I doctored up a can of chili with hamburger, mushrooms, and onions.  Served with a TakeNBake baguette.  Just what the doctor ordered on this cool evening!

BOOK:  “The Ambassador’s Daughter” by Pam Jenoff.  I’ve had this book checked out online for awhile, but didn’t have time on the river cruise to read it.  Today I finished it off.  I have read several WWII historical fiction books by this author.  This one is about Germans floundering between WWI and WWII.  4 stars out of 5

On towards Wales!

LOCATION:  On a farm outside of Shawbury, England – near Shrewsbury
WEATHER:  Very nice.  Sunny.  High 65

Since we travel light, we have flexibility to jump on trams, busses, and trains without having to lug big suitcases.  This small carry-on bag and a backpack will get me through the 3 months of this trip.  It was more challenging than usual packing, as we went  from hot weather in southern France to cool weather here in England.  Plus, I had to pack some dressy clothes for our two cruises.

With minimal luggage,  we climbed aboard a local bus that took us to a suburb of London where we caught a train to Birmingham. It was quite chaotic.  Double-decker busses are so cool.  This one is advertising the play “Book of Mormon” which we saw, and really enjoyed, in London a few years ago.

From there, we transferred and after a 1.5 hour train trip, we arrived in Shrewsbury.  While on the train, we bought a can of Tilting Ale with a note on the can saying that we can “tilt ourselves” to our next destination.  Love it!

We arrived two hours before our planned arrival, which we had communicated to our hosts.  So, we had 2 hours to stroll around Shrewsbury.  It is fantastic.  Buildings dating from the 1600s abound.  Everywhere you turn, there are beautiful, half-timbered houses, castles, and gates.

Of course, we found a pub to pop into.  Two guys were sitting out front and struck up a conversation.  They were amazed that we are from Texas. 

On our way back to the train station, George spotted another interesting pub (he has a keen sense for this).  We ducked into a really old, non-fancy, authentic pub.  The barman said it is the oldest in town, and dates back from the 1600s.


Indeed, it had a list of all the license holders, dating back from the 1700s.  One of the owners, back in 1936 was Mrs Janet Wright – the name of George’s sister!!! 

A Welsh couple came in and were delighted to chat with us.  They even bought us a beer.  We could have stayed talking with them for hours.  They were delightful.

The homeowners picked us up at the Shrewsbury train station and we headed to their home.  It is a restored barn with a big back yard for the sheep and ducks.  They have photos showing the house before the renovation, and it shows that the now kitchen and living room used to be a pig-sty!

They oriented us to our chores.  There are 3 sheep (a medieval breed from the Orkney Islands) and 6 runner ducks.  George will handle them while I take care of the house and older dog.  (Photos tomorrow) 

DINNER:  The homeowners had made us a nice chicken curry.  It was served over steamed rice and broccoli.