Friday, May 26, 2023

Its an Annie!

Over the past year or so...  whenever we spoke about the dogs passing, I've always said that it would be nice if we could go dogless for a while.    As great as it is to have the mutts, they do require a commitment, and sacrifice.

I've had had trips to Japan, Australia, & New Zealand on my radar for some time now.   Trips that you can't take if you own a dog unless you can leave them with someone, or put them in a kennel - the latter which is a non-starter for us.


We're not going to Japan.
Or Australia,
Or New Zealand.

Meet Annie, the newest member of the pack

Annie at 14 weeks

Annie is a 16 week old Australian Cobberdog.   On Feb 2, 2023 while we were hanging out at Quartzsite with the gang, Annie was making her entrance into the world in Barcelona, Spain.    Little did she know the life that she was going to lead.

What's a Cobberdog you ask?  

Well the link above tells you a bit more, but it is a strain of dog, recognized as a Purebred breed in development.   Created by the same people who developed the original Labradoodle line, and descended from the original Australian Labradoodle strains, the line was tweaked a bit, and now has strict limitations on who can breed them, and requires DNA testing before they can be registered.    This is to hopefully prevent the craziness that happened with the Labradoodle line where every knucklehead with a Lab and a Poodle started breeding them and calling them Labradoodles.

A Cobberdog consists of approximately 28 different strains.

We purchased Annie from a breeder in Barcelona whe specializes in Therapy dogs.   I'd been following this breeder for a number of years and was impressed with their program.   Its a decent sized venture that has a training center and vet as part of the practice.   The dogs go thru a fairly rigorous training program to set them on a good path as Therapy dogs before you get them.   That is why Annie was 16 weeks old when we received her today.

So today at 0830, the pet taxi that we took a couple of weeks ago from Calais to London arrived at our cottage here near Canterbury.   He picked me up, and took me on the train, thru the Chunnel, to Calais where I met the driver who transported Annie 13 hours from Barcelona over 2 days.

We arranged the pickup at a nearby McDonalds, and within about 30 min we were heading back to the Chunnel with Annie on my lap.

On the Chunnel Train from France

First impressions is that she is a very chill pup.   Loves lap time and really loves people.   She's already started on house and leash training, and does not try to chew on you - even though she is currently teething.    Time and patience will tell, but so far so good.

Lucy has seemed a bit lost without Gracie.   Previously very independent - she has started to want to be at our side much more.    Now we'll see what the addition of 6 lbs of puppy power will add to that equation.

The veteran and the rookie

Based on her current weight - I'm guessing that Annie with be our smallest Doodle yet.  Yes I'll still call her a doodle - it sounds better than a "Cobber".    I'm guessing perhaps 14-17 lbs.

Finally - where did the name Annie come from?

Well you might know that Gracie was a blonde when born and was Gracie Allen
Lucy was the redhead and was Lucy Ricardo.

Well Annie comes from one of our favorite movies - Overboard with Goldie Hawn

If you've seen the movie then you know about Annie Goolahee Profit.

She's our little cookie cutter.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Back in London

 As I mentioned in ending our last post, we arrived in London and had a lot to do to get settled in for the summer.    

Since we were not able to take the ship, we had to leave a lot of baggage behind.   Some of the things were considered essentials, and I just figured that I would buy them over here.  One of the things that I had to order from Amazon was a small/medium size cooler.  Since we eat at home a fair amount, we have staples that we travel with and need some way to keep the perishables cold.

First on the order of business however, was getting our rental car.    Since we were scheduled to arrive by ship in Southampton, and I had rented the car for 5 months from there, it was easier to just stick with the  plan and travel the 90 minutes to there to fetch the vehicle.

So on Monday morning the 15th, I walked down the hill to the Finchley Road Underground Station, and took the tube 20 minutes down to Waterloo Station in London.

Waterloo Station in London

From there is was an easy 3 escalator ride up to the train platforms where I caught the 1020 train leaving for Southampton.   I informed the rental agent at Volkswagen that I'd be arriving at the Hedge End Station at about 1130 and he told me he'd be happy to come and pick me up.

Riding Southwestern Railways to Southampton

There has been some rolling strikes on the Railways lately, but fortunately my travel day as not one of them.  My train departed on time, and soon was speeding thru the English Countryside past yellow fields of Rapeseed. 

Like magic, I arrived at Hedge End Station right on time, and Steve from Peter Cooper VW was waiting for me outside of the station.    A few minutes after arriving I was seated at the table signing the documents, and recieving my keys.

Because we were expecting to have 2 dogs, one of them with a suitcase full of meds and a buggy to be pushed around in - I had rented an "Estate" car.  (That's British for Station Wagon)
VW Passat Estate

No worries though.   The longer wheelbase means and even nicer ride, with lots of room for Kates treasures to be acquired over the next several months.

The car has lots of nice bells and whistles and will be a comfortable ride for the summer.

Less than 10 minutes after arriving at VW, I was done with the paperwork and sitting in the seat working up the courage to fire it up and once again set off driving on the wrong side of the road.

I sat there for about 2 minutes, then said to myself the car was not going to drive itself back to London, so I pressed the start button, put it in gear, and hit the road.

My first stop was only about 3 miles (and several roundabouts) away.   My buddy Craig who lives in the UK had placed a "click and collect order" (That's Brittish for online order for pickup) for dog food.

I drove over to Pets Corner, picked up the order which was waiting for me, and then a few minutes later I was motoring up the M3 to London.

Left hand driving on the M3 from the right seat.

If in doubt - stay in the roundabout

One of the things that I learned last time - when I am in a roundabout and not quite sure which exit I want, there is no shame in making the circle one or two times to get your bearings all sorted out.   Sort of like Chevy Chase in Euro Vacation going round and round the Champs-Élysées over and over.

Well I only had one or two of those moments.   Last time I had many more on my first day of left side driving.   I've found its a little like riding a bike.  Once you get your bearings it's much much easier this time.

Well, after lots of traffic I made it back to London.   Our house has off-street parking which is very rare for London, and it makes it very convenient.   

Meanwhile, Kate had been patiently waiting for me to get back home so that she could open up the envelope from the US that we knew was coming that day.  I told her not to wait for me but she insisted.

Inside was Kates Irish Passport!   Its official!   As an Irish Citizen, she has all the benefits that come with an EU Passport.   Almost 3 years of work getting to this point, but the long road had come to a very successful conclusion.

Kates newly minted Passport

While here I have been ordering all sorts of stuff from Amazon.   We had so many deliveries that I am on first name with some of the delivery drivers.    In between all of these shipments however, we started to explore our new surroundings in the outlying area of London called Hampstead.

Our street - our house just past rubbish bin on the left

Hampstead is one of the desirable sections of the city, favored by artists and the type.
There are lots little side alleys with outdoor cafes and coffee shops

From our place it was about an 8 minute walk (up and up the hill) to the High Street

High Street in Hampstead

One morning we connected with our friend Raina who we met on the ship 4 yrs ago.
She lives both in the US and UK and was supposed to sail with us on the ill fated cancelled crossing.  Like us, she flew over.

We walked down the hill to the Finchley Rd Tube and took it down to the London Bridge Station.
Then right around the corner from the station we met her and her friend Simon (who we also met on the ship 4 yrs ago) at the Borough Market.   (more on the market later.)

While there we took a stroll thru the impressive Southwark Cathedral.

Southwark Cathedral

One really impressive thing was that one of Simon's ancestors is buried in the Cathedral.  We saw his grave while passing thru.

One really nice thing about London is that a good stretch of the Thames River is pedestrian friendly.   
We walked along the riverfront where I snapped this photo of the city with London Bridge on the right.

Those of you who recall my posts from previous winters, will recall the "real" London Bridge that was removed from this exact site, and moved stone by stone to be re-assembled in Arizona.   It's a shame, but the new London Bridge is a plain looking industrial thing.   Just the approaches on either end remain from the old bridge, giving a hint to the nicer structure that once spanned the river at this place.

The "New"London Bridge on the right

We stopped at a pub along the river for some lunch.   Steak and Ale Pie for Kate.

Later, we continued our walk along the Thames to Waterloo Station (where I previously caught the train to Southampton) and took the tube back up to Finchley Road.

Then, it was back up the steep steep hill to our house.

Lucy has the right idea here!

The next day Kate and I took a stroll up to Hampstead Heath.   Known as "The Lungs of London" it is a large park in forest in the outlying area just a mile or two from where we were staying.

Like everywhere here, its super dog friendly and even has swimming lakes for people and pups.

Swimming lake in Hampstead Heath

Strolling further into the park, we walked up to the top of Parliament Hill, where you get a good view of downtown London in the distance.

The view from Parliament Hill

We met Raina for lunch at the Freemason Arms,  a nearby pub, after our ramble thru the park.   After lunch she came back to our place to spend the night.    The next morning the three of us hopped back on the underground and headed back down to Borough Market to pick up some goodies for our traveling larder.

The market is one of Londons largest and oldest.   There has been a market operating at this location since at least the 12th century, and possibly a couple hundred years before that.

Our train arriving at Finchley Road

Fresh fruit and veg at the Borough Market

Cheese?  Yes please!

In addition to grocery items, the market has numerous places to pick up a quick meal.
We stopped by The Ginger Pig, who is famous for their sausages, meats, and especially their cooked sausage rolls and meat pies.

There was a long lunchtime line at their stall, but it moved very quickly.   We brought home a couple of sausage rolls for breakfast, as well as 4 meat pies for dinner.   We froze a pair of the pies for a quick dinner later on down the road.

Sausage roll

A Beef & Stilton Meat Pie

Our tour guide Raina had one last great suggestion before we parted ways.   There was 2 tube stations about equal distance from our house.   One was uphill, and the other downhill.   We had planned on returning to Finchley Road and walking back up the steep hill, but she suggested that we take a different line from the Waterloo Station back home and arrive at the Hampstead Station instead.   Hampstead is the other station near us, and its a downhill walk to our house.   Now that is smart!

Heading West to go East

Well Sunday morning had arrived and in a blink of an eye our 8 days in London was already over!   

Our original plan was that upon arrival in Southampton, I was going to place our hanging suit bags containing our "grownup clothes" in a storage facility there rather than dragging them all over the UK and Ireland for the summer.    I had figured that I'd bring them with me on the train when I picked up the car,  but I nixed that idea due to all the walking involved.  I also thought the car would be big enough to just leave them inside of it.

When I started to pack the car however, it became painfully obvious that while I could squeeze 20lbs of crap into a 15lb bag - it would be rather uncomfortable for Lucy in the back.

So plan C emerged.   I called the storage company and for the 5th time resorted my plans and told them that I was indeed coming and needed the space.    So when we departed London on Sunday morning, rather than heading east to Canterbury, our next destination, we first headed west 90 minutes to Southampton to the immaculate Locknstore facility to drop off the suitcases.     A much better plan.   Now Lucy only has to share the back seat with the cooler.

Departing Sunday morning on Finchley Rd 

Meanwhile, the weather has been fantastic.   While we were in NY it rained almost the entire time.   We had a sunny day to drive to Newark and fly out, but then the rain returned in France and it rained there almost the whole time.  We entered the Chunnel on a cloudy day but emerged out the other side to a bright sun shiney UK day.    Since then we've not had a drop of rain.   Great temperatures for walking too.

So now we are in Canterbury.  (think Thomas Becket)  Lots of castles, cathedrals, and great things to see here.   We are here for 6 nights, and already 3 of them are over.   Yikes!   I think we are living life in dog years!   

But Canterbury is the subject of the next post....

Sunday, May 14, 2023

We made it!

It has been one hell of a time the past 3 weeks!
After getting our flight to Paris set up, I had to do some minor reorganizing of the lodging schedule in the UK, I had to change the USDA paperwork from 2 dogs to one, and change it from just the UK to first the EU (France) and then the UK via France.

Cancel rental cars, reschedule others, and book a 1-way from Paris to Calais.
A hotel reservation in Calais and transportation on a pet taxi the the Chunnel on the train, etc etc.

Once all the pieces were in place, now it was time to start wondering what next would go wrong.   It seemed the harder we tried to get over the pond (this was now going to be our 5th try) the more crap got dumped in the way.

But the harder that the forces pushed against us - the harder I dug in my heels and said that one way or another we were going to make it.

On Friday April 27 we parked the bus in storage as planned.   The State park we were in had no vacancy over the weekend and we had nowhere to stay.    We wanted to get out of the park anyway since it just held bad memories.

Bus (in shadows) in storage barn

The bus and truck should be pretty safe here.

Farm on which the bus is stored

Needing somewhere to stay, and wanting some time just to ourselves, we booked an AirBnb in Saratoga Springs, NY which is the next town over from where we used to live.

It was a nice place and good to get a change of venue.    The bigger surroundings and fast internet made it more conducive for me to get our trip details all sorted out in a timely fashion. 

AirBnb in Saratoga Springs

One of the tasks at had was to get Lucy somewhat aclimated to being stuffed into an undersized pet carrier for our trip on the plane.    I had about 10 days to get this done.    Lucy is not real fond of tight spaces and this carrier was going to be a challenge.    I started by hiding dried fish treats inside.    Her love of "fishums" overrode her fear of the box.

Lucy tentatively explores the box

While here we had dinner guests on two different nights.   One was our old friends Bill and Jean who lived next door to us when we lived here.    It was truly great to see them and share some good laughs for the night.   Next was Brian and his wife Heather.   I worked with Brian for about 15 years and had never met Heather.   Again - laughter is the best medicine.

AirBnb in Saratoga Springs

After about 5 nights in Saratoga Springs, we moved into our friends Matt & Julies house up in beautiful Bolton Landing, NY on Lake George.     I continued my "Doodle in a box" training with Lucy.   Progressing to zipping the door shut for short periods, getting her used to being locked up inside.

Time left for further training was starting to run out and I had more to do.... 

Lucy getting braver with the box

While at Matts, I helped him enclose his greenhouses for the tomato planting soon to come.
In this neck o the woods, the nights are still cool and the greenhouse will allow the plants to jump start into the summer.

Greenhouses at Matts

A man of many talents, I learned that Matt is now also a beekeeper.   I played carpenters assistant and helped him build a stand for the beehive that he was bringing home from its current location.   There were two hives together at the other location and he thought that by spreading them apart it might reduce the competition for nectar and increase the honey production from both hives.

Bee Hive at Matts

It was good therapy to see Matt & Julie, and by the time we left their place we were starting to feel much better about things.

Now it was time to put our new plan in action.    Leaving Matts, we headed south and stopped at Hertz to pick up our 1-way rental to Newark.    Then to the bus to drop off the truck and exchange some clothes.

When I arrived at the bus, we had another obstacle to overcome.

I found that the electric outlets had tripped and my bus batteries were not charging.

Not wanting to take a chance, I started up the generator and charged all the batteries while we tended to other chores, then I disconnected the house batteries.   They are Lithum and have a low self-discharge rate and should be just fine for the 5 months.    I turned off the connection to the chassis batteries and hope they will be fine.    If I get back and they are dead, I should be able to start the bus using the house batteries.

I parked the truck in its shed, disconnected the battery, and hooked a small trickle charger solar panel to it to keep it charged.

Finally - a couple of hours behind schedule, we were headed to Newark in our rental car.   The plan was to drop Kate & Lucy off at the hotel and then I'd return the rental car to Hertz.    The problem was that Hertz closed at 5p and did not have a night drop.    It was looking like we would be cutting it real close and as we got closer, the NJ rush hour traffic was starting to build.

I called Hertz and the man there asked for my ETA.   I informed him that it was probably going to be a bit after 5p.  He told me that he would wait till 5:30.

Dropping Kate & Lucy off at the hotel took place about 5:10 and it was about 15 min to Hertz.
At 5:27 I pulled into the lot and was relieved to see that he was a man of his word and was still there.

Turning the car in, I grabbed an Uber back to the hotel and got there about 6p.

Kate and Lucy were waiting outside with our luggage, so we all went inside to check-in.
The receptionist told us that their "Key card machine" had broken, and they were currently unable to check us in.   They were serving crusty bread, olives, and cheese in one of the lounges, so we parked there and with a free drink coupon, we had a cocktail while waiting for our room.

Waiting in the hotel lounge

Finally - another obstacle cleared, we were in our room.   Lucy had dinner and immediately hit the sack.

Lucy at Elements Hotel Harrison

Our room was like a small studio apartment.   We had a sitting area and cooking facilities.   We arrived the night before our flight and I booked it for the second day as well.  Our flight did not leave till 7pm and I would rather just hang in the hotel than have to check out and stay in the airport all day.

The next thing that could go wrong was if our plane that was taking us to Paris did not arrive.
So I followed it and was glad to see it coming in on final approach right outside our windows.

Our aircraft arriving from Paris

At 3:30p our Uber showed up right on schedule and we were on our way to Newark.
Our flight is only 1 of 2 flights leaving Newark, only seats 76 people, all in business class, so check-in opened at 4:30 and within a few minutes our dog paperwork was cleared, and another hurdle was passed.

Waiting to check in at Newark Airport

La Compagnie has a priority TSA line, so we were able to skip the long line and go straight to the head of the que and within 10 more minutes we were thru TSA and parked in the Virgin Airlines lounge killing an hour or so.

Lucy is a lounge Doodle

Now - the next worry for me was going to be stuffing poor Lucy into that damn box and getting her smoothly on the plane.    So far she had walked all the way and as we started to board the plane, this gate agent told me that I needed to put her in the box.    Damn....   so close.

So I put her in the bag, zipped it up. and as soon as I picked it up, I felt a bucking bronco inside.   She popped her head out of the hole on top so while waiting in line, I fed her some dried fish to keep her mind occupied.

So far - so good.   We made it back to our seat. I her placed her on the floor in front of my seat and she seemed upset, but tolerating it.

Within a few minutes the doors were closed and we were taxing.    Lucy is getting a little more agitated but still all good....

Then when we lined up for takeoff and the pilot hit the gas.... Lucy started to get vocal,   Not real loud, but enough to make we worry.   What if she started barking and screaming?    I feverishly keep the fish going into her yapper.   It was like I was training Shamu at Sea World.    

And just like that - the wheel noise and bumping stopped.    We were airborne. 

About 40 seconds after takeoff I popped Lucy out of the bag and put her on my lap.   Shaking and panting but none the worse for wear.   I gave her lots of comfort and worked on keeping things cool.

This was her just after I took her out of the case.

Lucy in the sky with diamonds..

We took off to the south, immediately circled to the right as we climbed and passed over NYC at about 5,000' with a pretty decent view.   It was a tad hazy but you can make out Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, etc.

Departing over NYC

Lucy did real well on the airplane, all things considered.

She spent most of the flight laying on my lap or Kates , but in the middle of the night Kate fell asleep, and Lucy jumped off her lap and started making a beeline to the front of the plane with Katie in hot sleepy pursuit.   She made it about halfway or more to the front of the plane before she was tackled.  I don’t know where the hell Lucy was going, I can only assume she was getting the f… out of there

Kate and I were both thankful that when she got halfway to the front of the plane she didn’t decide to squat pee and dump 

No, she did not do that on the plane... 

Exiting the aircraft, we made the long walk from the plane to immigration.   All good.
We had "Diplomat" privileges courtesy of La Compagnie and went to the front of the line at immigration,
We got thru there and made the long walk to baggage.   Things are starting to look good.

I can see baggage claim up ahead and saw our bags had already arrived.   A quick walk thru customs and we'd be outside door 48 where my prior research told me there was a nice grassy area where Lucy would be able to relieve herself.

There was light at the end of the tunnel.    Another hurdle about to be cleared.
Then,....   Lucy started pulling on the leash.    
Walking faster...  
I know that walk...   
I know what is coming....

All of a sudden she stopped, she squatted, and let out a flood Noah would be proud of. 
Passengers walked around our squatting Doodle as if it was just another day in France.
I guess it was!

Viva La Lucy!

Well the rest of the day was a blur.

We had 2 medium sized hard spinner suitcase, and on top of these I had a hanging suit bag strapped to the handle.   It was easy to push on smooth flooring, but any lips or ledges, and the stack wanted to fall over, so I had to be careful.   And each stack probably weighed about 80 lbs each.

We had to get on the OrlyVal tram to get to Terminal 1 where the rental cars were located.
With all the baggage and Lucy it was tough getting onto the tram before the doors closed.
And then the doors started to close when I was halfway thru with the luggage.   Kate was inside and Lucy still outside on her leash.

I jammed myself between the doors while Kate tried to get Lucy onto the tram.   Those doors were really trying to close and I had to push hard against them to prevent it.   I think another passenger grabbed one of my luggage stacks and pulled it thru for me.  

Then we had to find the rental car location in the underground parking garage.   Again, I had researched this beforehand so it was not too hard, just a lot of walking.

Finally, we were in the car, the Garmin was turned on, and we were making our way out of Orly Airport.

Finally, another hurdle completed.    Another sigh of relief.  
It was about 10:30am in Paris.  4:30am in NY

A  3 1/2 hour drive to Calais, I dropped Kate & Lucy off in our room at the Holiday Inn, and then took the rental car back to Hertz.

I grabbed a taxi back to the hotel and when I got back Kate and Lucy were dead asleep.   It was now 5pm and I'd been going about 29 hours or so.

Finally - a bed in Calais

A quick dinner at the hotel restaurant, and we were in bed by 8pm.

The next morning - its now Saturday May 13, we had a "pet taxi" pick us up at 0910

You cannot take dogs on the Eurostar Train thru the Chunnel.    You can transport them in your car on the train however.   So the way for us around that is to hire a taxi that caters to pet owners.    We used this service last time as well.

Now for the last major hurdle.    Clearing the dog into the UK...

I knew the paperwork looked spot-on, but there still is a chance that some official might have had a bad morning and picks on some thing or another.    Fortunately everything was fine and a few minutes after entering the Pet reception center, Lucys microchip was scanned, matched to her paperwork, and we received our clearance to proceed to immigration.

Pet reception facility at the Chunnel

Our train was at 1010 and we had a few minutes to spare, so Kate gave Lucy one more chance to pee on France.  (no offense meant - we love France)

Lucy left her last mark in France

Then the short que to clear out of France, then onwards to the next line of booths where we clear into the UK.

The UK border agent started to give me a bit of a hard time.  She was not understanding why we were in a British taxi but coming from France, and kept brusquely asking me pointed questions:

"When was the last time you were in the UK?"  I say "October"
"Then how do you find yourself sitting in a British Taxi?"

I try explaining to her about dogs, trains, and taxis, but she is not listening and instead rattling off more questions in rapid succession.

WTF?    Are we going to have a problem here?

Finally one of the other border agents walked over and explained to her how it works with pets and her demeanor softened up a bit.   She must have been new, or transferred from an airport, where this does not happen. 

The que for French Customs

Finally, we are driving down the ramp to get onto the train.

Down the ramp to the train
Then we are on the train.

Inside the train

Well the train made it safely to the UK.   Our pet taxi dropped us off at our VRBO in London where we will be staying till next Sunday, and after another good nights sleep - we are starting to feel normal.

And best of all.....WE MADE IT!

Tomorrow - Monday the 15th, I have to take the tube to Waterloo Station, where I will take the train to Southampton to pick up the rental car we will have for the duration.   Since the QM2 was to arrive in Sout'n, that is where the car is.    So its about an hour train ride there, and a 90 minute or so drive back.

So here we are.    About a week late, but now back on schedule, and ready to complete the rest of our journey.   We have lots of things in store, and some great surprises too, so be sure to stick around.

Last but not least - thanks to everyone for the well wishes.   It was hard to reply but your good words meant a lot.    

One note - if you post a comment as anonymous, be sure to at least add your name to the end.   We had several nice comments that we do not know who they were from.

ps.   I'm too tired to proof read this, so it is going out "raw and unedited".  Sorry for any glaring mistakes.