Monday, December 25, 2023

Texas to Arizona

 Well as I predicted, this post is coming to you from sunny Arizona. 

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and then on Saturday we hit the road for the final 925 miles back to Tucson.   I broke the trip up into 3 roughly equal parts.   

 Day 1 to Fort Stockton, Texas was about 6 hrs.   We spent the night at the Hilltop RV Park just west of town.

Day 2 brought us to Las Cruces, New Mexico - about 5hrs.   We stayed at our old standby the Hacienda RV Resort.   

The 3rd day found us pulling in front of the shack around 2pm and just like that the trip was over except for the unloading.

Each time we've taken a big trip like this I've always thought of doing a sort of recap...  a retrospective of the trip.     So this time I'm going to try that and you can let me know what you think.

As I continue writing I'm realizing that this post is turning into an epic.   

Its hard to condense the past 8 months into a short blog so forgive the length of this post....  
It's long long long.    It took me almost a week to put together and I really tried to shorten it.   

Fortunately you have the ability to just close your browser if its too long, or too booring.    
I did include lots of pictures at least.

Arizona to New York.   April 5 to May 11

Since Gracie was unable to take longer walks anymore, we purchased a dog carriage that we could use to bring her along with us.

We also had a backpack for times that would make more sense

A few days before departure we gave Gracie and Lucy baths and haircuts.

The truck was packed, it was time to roll!

We left Az on April 5.  The Queen Mary2 was due to depart NYC on April 30.
Rolling east, we spent a day here and longer there.

Some of the places along the way were: 

Valley of Fires BLM in New Mexico

Valley of Fires BLM Site 17
Aux Arc BLM Park in Ozark, Arkansas

Aux Arc Site F-14

Natchez Trace State Park in Tennessee

Natchez Trace site 29

Some Glamping at Two Rivers Landing RV resort near Gatlinburg, Tn

The Motorcoach only sites are all pull-in,  facing the French Broad River and provided us with several days of nice sunsets.

We enjoyed the early spring dogwoods blooming in the Shenandoah Valley

Spent some time outside of Washington DC at Cherry Hill Park.

We continued north and east and finally on April 21 we arrived at Schodack Island State Park in New York.   Thais was to be our final stop in the US prior to boarding the QM2 but little did we know that the next few days was going to bring events that would change everything.

First we were notified by Cunard that our passage to England, scheduled to leave in 9 days had been cancelled.     Having already been to the Vet and gotten the dogs papework done, I scrambled to find alternatives to getting them across the pond.   I eventually settled on La Compagnie - a French airline where we could bring both dogs in the cabin.    We would fly to Paris and work our way back to the UK.

I booked our tickets and paid for a massive amount of extra baggage.

Then a few days after that we lost Gracie.

We'd been trying to get back to the UK since 2020.   Covid cancelled our 2020 and 2021 plans and my knee canceled our 2022 plans when we were halfway across the country on the way to NYC.    As emotionally drained as we now felt, I was not going to give up at this stage and head back to Az for another summer.

I pushed our flight back a bit to give us some breathing room, and we spent an extra 10 days in NY both at an Airbnb and with friends.    During this 10 day stretch I finalized all the details of getting from Paris to London, including updating the dogs paperwork for travel now thru the EU, and also managed to contact a breeder I had been following for a while and made arrangements to pick up our new pup Annie about 2 weeks after we arrived in the UK. 

New York to London (via Paris)   May 11 to May 21

A rental car from Upstate NY to NJ.   A night at the Marriot Hotel near Newark Airport, and soon the three of us were on the plane headed to Paris.     Lucy was a bit stressed being in the crate for takeoff, but as soon as we were airborne I took her out and she never was in that crate again.

I picked up a rental car at Orly Airport in Paris, and drove 3 1/2hrs to Calais, France.   Then after depositing Kate and Lucy at the Holiday Inn near the channel tunnel (we've stayed here before) I returned the rental car and made my way back to the hotel.

Kate and Lucy at Holiday Inn Calais

The next morning we were met bright and early by our "Pet Taxi" driver who would take us onto the train thru the channel tunnel and deposit us at our VRBO in London.    We would be starting our trip in the UK one week later than originally scheduled.

Kate and Lucy in the Pet Taxi

Once in London I started ordering all the puppy supplies that we were going to need.   We would now be making this trip, staying at lots of rental homes, with a brand new puppy.   OMG - what lies in store?

Kate tests Annies "corral" while Lucy sleeps in blissful ignorance

While in London, I took the train to Southampton to pick up our rental car.    When I got back with the car Kates Irish Passport had arrived.

Our friend Raina is a dual-citizen divides her time between the UK and US.   She was in London while wer were here and served as a tour guide.  We had a great time with her.

Kate and Raina waiting at the tube station

Having been in London a few months earlier, we had visited a lot of the main tourist sights, especially the ones that are not dog friendly.   This time we spent our time more low key, visiting parks, markets, and just inhaling the London Vibe.

Borough Market in London

Canterbury May 20 - May 26

Next on the list was a converted schoolhouse in Bridge, Uk.   A small village about 5 miles outside of Canturbury.    It had a great back yard for Lucy, and was centrally located for visiting both the coast and Canturbury.

Our VRBO in Bridge (Canturbury)

Every night we had a Pheasant come to visit and strut his stuff for about 20 minutes

While here we visited the parks in Canterbury

Spent a day visiting the massive Dover Castle that overlooks the English Channel

The impressive and beautiful Canterbury Cathedral.

We enjoyed a great Sunday roast and had another dinner at the local pub the Red Lion Inn.

On our last day in Bridge I was up at 0600 and took the Pet Taxi back onto the train and thru the tunnel to Calais where I met the driver bringing Annie from Barcelona.

Then back thru the tunnel...... 

Annie in the Pet Taxi
to introduce her to Kate....

 and Lucy.

So much lies ahead for this little pup....

Blakeney to Louth to Wales    May27 thru June 16

Annie got to rest only one night and she was on the road with us.  Our next stop was the Village of Blakeney on the coast is Norfolk.

Along the way... no rest for weary pups...   we visited Heaver Castle.   The childhood home of Anne Boleyn.

Heaver Castle

Annie met lots of people and dogs and was off to a good start on her new life

We arrived at our home for the next 7 nights.    A nice well equipped cottage in the great village of Blakeney.

Our place is in the middle to left of car

Lucy accepted Annie as a new member of the pack.   Even in spite of the greatly increased energy level over Gracie.

The Blakeney Waterfront

One of the fun things about travel is discovering new foods.   One of them was "Scotch Eggs"
I had no clue what to expect as they were these breaded and fried balls.   I thought perhaps they were soaked in Scotch??     Turns out to be simply a breaded and fried hard boiled egg.    Quite a yummy addition to the breakfast menu however.

Leaving Blakeney - it was north up the coast into Lincolnshire to visit our friends Craig & Vicki who live in Louth.    We stayed with them for 4 action packed nights and we sure packed a lot of visiting into that time.

Craig, Vicki, and Kate at Gunby Hall

And at Tattershall Castle

The Petwood Hotel

Finally, in Lincoln we visited Lincoln Cathedral and Lincoln Castle.    The jail inside the castle was used as the jail in Downton Abbey where Mr Bates was incarcerated.

Jail at Lincoln Castle

Lincoln Cathedral

Next on the itinerary was a week in a small village outside of Brecon Wales.   We stayed in a cute cottage located on a stream that ran behind it.   Across the stream we would watch the sheep come down for a drink.
Millhouse Cottage Pont-faen Wales

Situated just outside of the Brecon Beacons National Park, it was a cozy comfortable home in a quiet rural location.     A few miles down some really narrow winding one-lane roads brought us to the town of Brecon.

Our neighborhood in Pont-faen

Town of Brecon

The view out back of our cottage

I've often said the best thing about traveling are the people you meet along the way and this trip was no exception.   Our treasure this trip was meeting Hailey and Steve while we were out walking the dogs along the canal in Brecon.    After meeting them here, we kept in touch, got together later in the trip and have new friends that we will be seeing again next time.

Greg, Kate, Hailey, Steve

Boat canal in Brecon

After our week was up, we had a few days to spend in Fishguard, Wales.   Located right on the coast it is where our ferry to Ireland would depart.   I had scheduled a visit with a vet there to get our dogs paperwork to enter Ireland in order.

The Strumble Head Lighthouse behind the girls.

While we were getting the dogs paperwork in order we had the vet do a complete workup on Lucy.   She just had not been herself since Gracie died and we were trying to find out if anything was wrong.   She got a good bill of health and the vet pronounced "you have a healthy dog"   We still felt something was wrong.   This turned out to be a bit of a cloud that started to hang over our heads.

Lucy has bandage from blood drawing

Ireland June 17 to July 16 

June 17  we were on the 1:30pm ferry to Ireland.   

As we left Wales behind the excitement of arriving in Ireland started to build.

Our first stop was a converted farm building on the Blackditch farm, a working farm in County Wicklow.

I knew the place was going to be nice. but it was even nicer than I expected.   It was in a beautiful location and the facility itself was finished to a very high standard.    I could certainly come back here for the summer.   Located in the "Sunny" part of Ireland, we had mostly good weather with just a rain shower now and then to keep things interesting.

Living room.   Bed & Bath down the hall.   Open to the kitchen to the left.

A view from the air.   Our quarters were in the bottom right corner.

A massive bedroom and equally large bath.

Some of our local sights

Back road in County Wicklow

Loch Tay aka Guiness Lake.   It was the filming location for the village Kattegat in the series "Vikings" now on Netflix.

Loch Tay

Just another mile or two further into the Wicklow Mountains you come to the bridge that was used in the parting scene in the movie "PS I love you"

PS I love you bridge

Our time in County Wicklow flew by and we headed next to the Hook Peninsula near Waterford (think Waterford Crystal).    On the way to our home we paid a visit to the JFK Arboretum.   The Irish are so nice and freindly.   Perhaps the nicest people we've met this far in our travels.    The man at the gate - hearing that Kate was a newly minted Irish Citizen, allowed us in for free!   First we stayed at the gate for at least 10 minutes and chatted about everything under the sun.

Kate at the JFK Arboretum

Heading to our next house we passed thru some scenic villages.

Our next place was a lovely small home with a nice glassed in conservatory.

While here we toured the local sights including:

Tintern Abbey
Tintern Abbey
The Hook Lighthouse

We were only here for 2 nights and then off to our next stop in Kinsale.
We took the ferry across the bay so that we could stop in Waterford for a few hours since it was along the way.

Waterford with pleasing pedestrian malls

After visiting Waterford we continued onward to Kinsale on the southern coast.

Kinsale Harbor

Colorful Kinsale

We also visited the Ringfinnan Garden of Remembrance - created to honor the firefighters lost on 911.

We took numerous drives along the beautiful Irish Coastline.     Much of it is mapped out as the Wild Atlantic Way, a plotted route along the coast, much on tiny roads.

Annie took us for a day trip to Cork.   Lucy has not seemed up to these long walks anymore (a recent development) so we let her take every other day off to rest.

More drives along the Wild Atlantic Way enroute to our home for the next week in Kenmare, County Kerry.

Along the way, searching for a scenic ride called Healey Pass, our GPS took us up a bad single lane road into the mountains.   Just about the time I found a spot to pull over and question our route a man came down the road on a 4-wheeler and confirmed our suspicions.   We retreated, re-grouped, and eventually found Healy Pass.   It was worth the trouble.

Healy Pass

Glanmore Lake from Healy Pass

Our home outside of Kenmare was great.  Down a quiet single lane road about 3 miles from town it was well appointed and a great location to explore the areas. 

Kenmare is a great town.   Smaller, but not far from Killarney should you need something not found here.

Downtown Kenmare, County Kerry

It is also on the outskirts of the beautiful Killarney National Park.   Our travels to and fro gave us the opportunity to detour thru the park several times during our week here.

Killarney National Park

Killarney National Park

Kates Grandmother came from county Kerry, so while here we traveled to where she was born and from where she emigrated to the states in 1910.    Enroute we took the scenic ring of Kerry drive.

Ring of Kerry Scenery

Below is where Kates Irish side is from.

Fenit/Churchill County Kerry

One day we spend enjoying Killarney and all the things this vibrant city has to offer

Downtown Killarney, County Kerry

And on the way home, detoured again thru Killarney National Park.

Killarney National Park

Our week in Kenmare done, we traveled next to Galway.    Stopping to visit the world famous Cliffs of Moher along the way.

Cliffs of Moher

We visited Galway City

Downtown Galway

And found the famous bridge from John Waynes movie: "The Quiet Man".

"The Quiet Man" Bridge

Visited more castles.

Dunguaire Castle Co. Galway

And the castle-home of the famous poet William Butler Yeats

Thoor Ballylee Castle

Next we moved across the country and spent a 2-night stay on a barge in Belfast Harbor where we visited all the Titanic sites since the Titanic was built right here.

Home on a barge in Belfast Harbor

Then it was onto a Stena Line Ferry, and back across the Irish Sea to Scotland and England.

Scotland and England July 17 to Sept 12 

Leaving the ferry, our destination was Wyndermere in the Lake District of England.   Along the way we stopped to visit the PanAm Flight 103 memorial outside of Lockerbie, Scotland.

Flight 103 Memorial in Lockerbie

Our home for the next 6 nights was a nice townhouse on a marina on Lake Wyndermere

Our view from the deck

Lake Wyndermere

Each afternoon around 4pm we had a fly-over from RAF and USAF jets returning from their training area nearby.

USAF F15 Hotdogging

Sadly, our visit here was marred by the passing of Lucy.   She suffered a stroke on our last night and we took her to a vet in Edinburgh where we said goodbye.

Our last picture of Lucy 2 days before she passed

Even now the wound is too fresh to write about.

The morning she passed we were supposed to arrive in Edinburgh, pick up our rental motorhome and travel with Craig and Vicki for 10 days.   This turned out to be the perfect therapy.

In "George" - C &V's Motorhome

Their Motorhome is made by Bailey and they named it George.   Think "George Bailey"   If you still dont get it then you must be one of our younger readers.

Our Motorhome

Our 10 days was a whirlwind of beautiful sights, castles, pubs, and mostly decent weather.

Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye

Scene along A47 Carbost, Isle of Skye

A832 Kinlochewe, Scotland

River Ewe Poolewe, Scotland near our Caravan Park

Our 10 days up - it was now 5 days in Edinburgh and a return visit to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Massed Pipes & Drums

Next on the itinerary was a stay on the Neidpath Castle Estate in an old Boothy.
Our stay was just outside of the quaint market town of Peebles.

Peebles, Scotland

Our 3-day stay over, or next stop for a week was in Warkworth, Northumberland, England.
Enroute we took a side excursion and visited the National Trust Property Craigside.


Our stay in Warkworth was in a compact but really nice studio apartment.   Well appointed on the ground floor, and with a large yard for Annie to run and play.   It was a great location to explore the nearby countryside.
Cross House Cottages

Annie surveys her domain.

The nearby Warkworth Castle was a fun day trip

Warkworth Castle

Annie got her first beach day on the nearby beach.

Kate made friends with an Owl.

We made a day trip to Bamburgh Castle.  Those of you who saw the series "The Last Kingdom" would know this as "Bebbanburh" the ancestral home of Utred.   At the time of the vikings this was a wooden fort, the stone walls coming in later centuries.

Bamburgh Castle

It was a great week with lots to see and do, but time marched onward and so did we - to our next stop in Pickering in North Yorkshire.

On the way we made a quick visit to Whitby, a beautiful and popular town on the coast.  Also famous for its Fish & Chips.   During our week in Pickering we made two more visits to Whitby. 

Whitby Harbor

Side streets in Old Whitby

We took a trip on the North Yorkshire Steam Railway.   Used in Downton Abbey and Harry Potter Films.

NYMRR Pickering Station

We visited Whitby Abbey perched above the town and the sea.   The inspiration for Bram Stoker for his novel Dracula.

Whitby Abbey

A real treat was that we were perfectly timed to enjoy the purple heather covering the moors as far as the eye could see.

Another highlight was getting to reconnect with our new friends Steve & Hailey who we met earlier this summer in Wales.   We met them for lunch at a really nice pub near Thirsk in Felixkirk

We met our friends Craig & Vicki, plus her sister and Bro in Law who live in the town next to Pickering for dinner one night, and before we knew it another action packed week had slipped by and it was time to move to one of our favorite towns  - Winchcombe - located in The Cotswolds.    A scenic area in the Midlands of England.

Our flat is in front of the silver car

The High St in Winchcombe

We were here for 3 weeks.  Our friend Kirstyn flew over from Kansas City for a week.   

We enjoyed all the simple things the area has to offer including the local village fair.

Dog show at the village fair

The main town nearby would be Cheltenham.   This is where all the big box stores would be found.

Cheltenham City Hall
A short drive away is Burton on the Water.    A pretty town with the River Windrush running thru the center.

We visited Eastnor Castle.  The first well preserved castle we've been to where dogs were allowed inside.

One day we drove down to Cirencester to check out the big market held on Fridays.

Enjoyed the Cotswolds views on our travels to and from here and there.

We also visited Goodrich Castle.   An English Heritage Property.
As both English Heritage and National Trust members, we get to visit all the properties for free.

Our 3 weeks were winding down. We had changed our plans for the last 10 days, and now would be going to Barcelona to pick up Phoebe.    This was a good time to give Annie her pre-QM2 bath.

England to Spain and back Sept 12 - Sept 22 

We departed Winchcombe on Sept 12   We drove to Folkestone on the English Channel and checked into the Holiday Inn there.    I then dropped off our rental car at a place we stayed in May, then caught a taxi back to the hotel for the night.

The next morning our Pet Taxi picked us up, took us onto the train thru the tunnel to Calais and dropped us off at Enterprise Car Rental at the Calais Ferry Terminal, where we picked up a rental for our time on this side of the English Channel.

In a blink, we were now on our way to Barcelona, but first with a stop in Paris for 3 nights so that Annie could see the Eiffel Tower and the rest of the Parisian sights.

Annie visits the Eiffel Tower

Annie visits a park

We also visited the Arc de Triomphe and walked up and down the Champs Elysees.

Annie visits the Arc de Triomphe

Paris is a food lovers city.   The markets, the sidewalk cafes...   Its so dog friendly!

Fresh Veg & Fruit Market

Just one of the endless sidewalk cafes lining the streets

After 3 days it was time to move on to southern France.  Our next stop would put us 3 hrs from Barcelona.
Along the way we got to drive over the beautiful engineering marvel, The Millau Viaduct.

Approaching the Millau Viaduct

We stayed at a lovely hotel in Perpignan France on Saturday night.  About 3 hrs from Barcelona.   We had a wonderful dinner by the pool, Annie was allowed.

Kate and Annie head to dinner

Dinner by the pool

Sunday morning we were on the road before the sun rose.   We had a 9am appointment to meet our breeder in Barcelona to pick up Phoebe.

Phoebe (L) and Annie (R) meet for the first time.

Seconds later they are both airborne as the playing begins

And snuggling in the car on the long rides the next few days

From Barcelona we turned right around.   We had about 13hr to drive to get to Calais where we'd turn in the rental car and grab a pet taxi back to the UK.     Our first nights stop was about 5 hrs from Barcelona just north of Toulouse.  

Phoebe fit right in to life on the road and slept well in our hotel.    We had an amazing severe thunderstorm that night.   

Sure Hotel by Best Western Les Portes de Montauban

The next morning the dogs accompanied us to breakfast (France is so so dog friendly) and by 8am we were on the road to Normandy.

We had to kill a few days as Phoebes paperwork and vaccine timing would not allow her into the UK until Sept 21st.    The QM2 left the next day on the 22nd.

French countryside on A20 north of Toulouse

Next 3 nights were spent at one of our favorite hotels - Ferme de la Ranconniere a boutique hotel in Crepon (Normandy) France.   It has a Michelin Starred Resturant to add to the charm.

Our deluxe ground floor room with back yard.   Great for the dogs!

A delicious meal every night.... dogs are of course allowed

Hotel courtyard

Beautiful grounds with lots of flowers

We made a day trip to Arromanches-les-Bains - the Normandy location where the artificial harbors were built after D-day to support and supply the invasion as it moved inland.

Before we knew it - we were back in Calais at our old standby - The Holiday Inn Coquelles.   Its close to the tunnel and allows dogs.   We've stayed here 4 or 5 times now.

Annie & Phoebe with Kate at Breakfast

Like clockwork our pet-taxi arrived and soon the dogs were cleared and we were loading on the train.

Loading onto Le Shuttle to head to the UK

We were dropped off where I left our rental car and soon we had driven to Southampton and checked into our hotel.   The last stop on British soil.    Tomorrow we'll be on the QM2 headed to NYC

Best Buddies already

I dropped Kate, the dogs, and the luggage off at the ship.   I then returned our rental car that we'd had for the past 5 months, caught an Uber, and met them back at the terminal.

Our ride awaits

Our palatial suite for the next 7 nights

Dogs are safely inside the QM2 kennel.

New York to Arizona - Sept 30 to Nov 27 the trip concludes.

Our arrival in New York was marked by one of the largest rain events in history.    Access into and out of the port was blocked for hours.   Our car service from Albany (4 hrs away) got stuck in the floods and we had to arrange for a plan b.    We stayed in the rain and wind from about 8am until 1;30 when our alternate ride finally made it thru and took us north.

Wet dogs and people waiting for rides

Arriving at the bus, we spent the night at our storage facility.   It was on a farm so it was a nice place to spend the night.    We had no food in the bus so we made some rice and mixed it with a can of cream of chicken soup.   It was warm and filling.

The dogs discovered an entire treasure trove of new toys left from Gracie & Lucy and settled into PartyBus life without a hiccup.

At home in the PartyBus

Our route back to Arizona took 2 months and many stops along the way:

Normandy Farms RV Park in Foxboro Mass was first.    We stayed 5 nights, got settled back, re-provisioned, and made lots of side trips.

Salem Mass

Lake George NY - our old stomping grounds where we caught up with friends and enjoyed the fall colors.

Upstate NY farm country

Next was the Finger Lake region of upstate NY

Driving along Seneca Lake

Then 4 nights or so in Central Pennsylvania at Shawnee State Park

Shawnee State Park Campground
Then Gettysburg Pa.

Then Shenandoah River State Park in Virginia

Shenandoah River State Park CG site #3

While here we drove up on the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park to enjoy the fall colors.

Skyline Drive Fall Colors

A 4 or 5 days at Pocahontas State Park outside of Richmond

Pocahontas State Park Campground site # 108

Next was Gaffney, SC and a visit to Freightliner for a few days of work on the bus.    Then we pointed the bus west and took 3 days traveling the 1,000 miles to Houston where I picked up the new truck

Katy Lake RV Park near Houston

Then it was Northwest to Austin Tx for a Thanksgiving bash with friends who arrived from all over.

It was late November and now time to make the last push west.   Another 950 miles to Tuscon and our our winter hideaway.

In Fort Stockton for the night we got our first taste of those western sunsets that we'd not seen for many months.

Sunset from Hilltop RV in Fort Stockton, Texas

Last stop before Tucson was Las Cruces NM.    Also our first stop when we left Tucson in April.
The circle was complete.    I let Annie drive the last 5 hrs.

Come on dad...  let me drive

And as quick as it began...  it was over.   We were back in Az and I was plotting our next getaway.

Back at the Cactus Ranch

Its now Christmas day and we have about 2 1/2 weeks or so till we load up the bus and hit the road for a couple of months to join our friends for our usual wintertime desert fun in the sun.

Then back here for a month or so and then sometime in April we'll be back on the road headed east for the Summer to be spent in the Canadian Maritimes - Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland.

If you've managed to make it to here - congratulations - this was a looong post.

Thanks for riding along.   We hope you've enjoyed the ride and look forward to making more memories in the not too distant future.

Happy Holidays Everyone 🎅🎅