Now that the major stages of trip planning are pretty well take care of -- I've got my Eurostar tickets printed and my other train tickets from TheTrainLine.com arrived a few days ago, and I've got places to sleep paid for and confirmed for all four nights -- now it's all about the details of what I'll be doing and when.
I now know how much time I will have in each place I'm stopping, which makes it easier to figure out just how much I can "fit in" to my timetable. This forces me to set priorities: what are the things I MUST spend time seeing and doing, and what are the things that would be NICE to see if I happen to have the time.
The 4th day of the trip is taken care of, for the most part: that's the Mad Max Tour that leaves from Bath in the morning and will take me to Stonehenge, Avebury, Lacock and Castle Combe, and will return to Bath by around 4:30 or so. Since I'll be spending the day before that doing all my walking bits around Bath -- the Roman Baths, all the pretty Georgian architecture, and tea at Jane Austen's (hee hee) in the afternoon -- I was thinking that on my last evening in Bath, I would literally TAKE a bath, and spend a couple of hours relaxing my weary body at the Thermae Bath Spa! It's not expensive and you can go at the twilight hours to their rooftop pool (with the same heated mineral water the Romans enjoyed centuries ago), and that sounds like heaven to me. They offer spa treatments but as I'm trying to watch the budget I may have to forego that.
For my second day, I'll start out going to Stratford-upon-Avon and for the sake of time and expediency, I'm going to use the open-air tourist buses to get around to all the attractions; since Anne Hathaway's house is actually a bit outside of town, I would need transportation to that anyway, plus the bus route goes right past the train station anyway. You can purchase tickets when you get there, from the bus driver, and to save a few quid you can buy a combination bus ticket plus entrance to some of the other attractions.
I'll be back in Oxford by mid-afternoon, and because I really don't know much about Oxford and I find all their various "colleges" so confusing -- there are so MANY of them! -- I opted to take another tourist bus (same company that operates the one in Stratford, as it happens) which leaves from the train station and goes all around the city. I found a number of free "City walk" apps for my iPhone that have helped me figure out what there is to see and do in most of the cities I'm visiting (the exception is Winchester but the city does have a decent tourism web site) -- in particular Bath has their own walking tour downloads and I also found one on Shakespeare. After I've done the tour I'll let you know which ones I used and how they worked out for me.
The past couple of days I've spent thinking about packing and walking. I am committed to traveling very light on this trip, and decided to go with just a backpack, and a normal-sized one at that -- the type you might use if you were a student, not the type you'd use if you were doing a two-week hike around Europe. We are not hikers and campers, so that sort of larger bag would be overkill; but a decent, lightweight pack with some good organizing features like pockets for gadgets, water bottle holders and security features can be useful for anyone. And if the Garçon is ever in need of a new backpack for school, he could always use this one later on.
I went to Aux Vieux Campeur in the 5th arrondissement: they are an awesome store that is actually split up into about a dozen smaller boutiques around the Rue des Ecoles area. And as it happens, I couldn't have timed it better as they've got a huge 20% off sale going on, on EVERYTHING for hiking. Cha-ching!
And I chose red, not black. Georges was grateful that I didn't choose pink or purple (which wasn't an option, but I came very close to taking an acid green pack only I decided 18 liters was too small and didn't have enough pockets). This pack by Osprey is a 28-liter pack and weighs about .875 kilos, I think. It felt comfortable when I put the floor model on my back (they stuff them with a lot of plastic bags so you can get at least some idea of how it might feel when loaded). I can't say I got any great customer service there, but then again I didn't really ask anyone for help; I just went in, went to the part that had the smaller packs, and started looking around. There is an overwhelming selection, however, and if you did need help at least their salespeople are trained to help you make the best choice based on your needs.
I also came away with a protective camera which proved too small for my digital SLR -- since I'm not planning to bring my laptop I thought I might bring my real camera to get better quality photos than I can get with my iPhone -- so I'll have to (gasp!) return it to the store next week. I bought some good padlocks and a theft-proof mini-purse from the PacSafe brand, which makes excellent products for travel. I was going to spring for a waterproof cover for the backpack but figured this pack is so small that I could simply bring a big plastic trash bag from home to cover the pack if it rains on days I'm walking around with the bag; it's not the most elegant solution but it's certainly cheap.
Today I also found what I think will be a good pair of walking shoes, not only for this trip but in general. I have so many problems these days with pain in my hips, knees, ankles and feet that good shoes are an essential. I found a store not far from us that sells Fitflops brand shoes; I bought a pair of their sandals last summer on a friend's recommendation and love them. They didn't have much in stock and in fact had nothing on display, but the saleswomen were extremely nice and one of them went down a ladder into their cave, and came back with something I loved!
So check out my new travelin' shoes:
Sassy, huh? I love that they're this sort of pewter-silver metallic color, they'll look great with jeans or shorts all summer long and into the fall.
I still have one or two things to buy -- a rain jacket with a hood or else one of those tacky rain poncho things that would make me look like Quasimodo with the backpack underneath -- but I'm super-happy with my decision to go with a backpack and "rough it" without a lot of extra clothing and a hairdryer. I have short hair and it's going to be May, so if I go out with wet hair, who is really going to be looking?
Next up: more details as I figure things out.
Read all the posts for my 2013 British Countryside Literary Tour: