Penzance, Cornwall

Trip Start May 23, 2013
Trip End May 22, 2018

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Monday, June 3, 2013

Got up at 5:30 to catch the train from Salisbury to Penzance, on the southwest coast of Cornwall. I could live on a train- it's so relaxing-read, nap, watch the countryside go by, then get lulled back to the nap again.
Got my first sight of the ocean, and saw Saint Michael’s Mount, an old abbey on a hill out in the sea that you can walk to at low tide or take a ferry to if the tide is in. 

Was met at the train station by a guy named Leo, who is a friend of the lady who owns the house I’m staying in as she’s out of town. When she said he’d pick me up I was all "yay! I won’t have to lug my stuff from the train station!!"  Unfortunately he came to pick me up on a bike, so I had to walk anyway (uphill no less).  It’s a good thing he did, because I would never have found her house on my own.  It’s an historical Georgian townhouse and a bit eclectic, very dusty and likely haunted.  I’m staying there with this mysterious man named Julian, that both the owner and Leo have been a bit vague about.  I feel like they are all slightly inbred former aristocracy.

On my way to the cellphone store (where I spend at least 30 minutes a day trying to get the blackberry to work for more than 5 minutes at a time) I actually passed an organic restaurant recommended by lonely planet- good thing, because I was starving to death.  Had a lovely leek and goat cheese tart with a salad -most delish! Then I headed out to the tourist info office to find out how to get around the area. While there are plenty of buses, turns out you have to know how to read a bus schedule, a skill I apparently do not possess.

Nevertheless, the next morning I set out for St. Michael’s Mount in nearby Marizion, having actually gotten on the right bus.  I had a chat at the bus stop with an elderly lady who lived in “housing”, i.e.  subsidized housing. Turns out they have the same NIMBY problems here as in the US. Turns out parking is limited and the homeowners in the area don’t want the people living in the affordable apartments to use a parking space for more than 20 minutes at a time. It was funny how everything she said about the haves and have nots resonated perfectly with our red/blue divide.

When I got to Marazion, I was starving, so I decided to stop for a cream tea, a Cornish specialty-a pot of tea, a couple of scones with jam and clotted cream. Well it was, as the English say, rubbish. The jam and clotted cream were prepackaged and the scones were cold and stale. By the time I got out of there, could see the tide was coming in a bit, but the causeway was still open.  I wasted precious time with the damn scones and the tide, she was a turnin’.  Unfortunately, I got stuck behind a really slow older couple and by the time I was halfway across, the waves were washing over and my shoes and socks got totally soaked which was not good at all in the 50 degree weather.

Anyway, I started in the gardens, which, due to granite rock absorbing the heat and the way the winds hit, are surprisingly tropical (but still cold). Absolutely stunning! I walked around there and up and down there for hours. The castle was also good. It is owned by an actual Lord, who still lives in part of the castle with his family. Queen Elizabeth visited them there only last week.

Took the ferry back to shore and that’s when I realized that the drop off point for a bus, isn’t necessarily the same place as where you pick up the return bus. Lesson learned.

Next I went to a tiny town called Mousehole and had lunch (homity pie- a local specialty of potatoes, onions and parsley in a crust).  It’s a cute little fishing village with some small galleries and shops.  I couldn’t believe kids were swimming in the harbor! But I learned from camping with Mikey and Wyatt that boys apparently have some special gene so they don’t feel the cold.

Penzance is a great town with a big marine industry.  The Cornish don’t seem quite as friendly as the English, but they are still very nice. I finally met Julian and what a character!  In 10 minutes I learned that he had been arrested on suspicion of gun running in Zimbabwe, but luckily his cousin, the attorney general in neighboring Botswana, got him out using diplomatic immunity; got stabbed in India, but luckily he was with his friend, the chief of police, at the time; and got shot by a cattle rustler in a the jungle, but luckily was with his friend with connections to the Botswana Defense agency so they were able to radio for a helicopter and get him to a doctor. He’s also a big game hunter (but an admittedly terrible shot), a nightclub owner, former Burmese morphine smuggler, a sculptor and a department store manager.  And he has only about 8 teeth.

Today I took a driving/hiking tour with a guide to more western Cornwall. Dairy farms, moors, ancient standing stones, rugged cliffs, stone houses, wildflowers, sandy beaches- a really gorgeous area. I am so glad I came down here.  We hiked to several areas of prehistoric stone formations.  The donut shaped stone at Men an Tol is supposedly a cure for rickets.  You strip naked and climb through the hole and voila, you are cured. I did not test it out as I am ricket-free and even if I wasn't, it was too cold to be naked outside.  We stopped in the cutest café so I could have a proper cream tea and it was delicious! The only other person on the tour was a Welsh girl, so I learned a lot about the end of the mining industry and their economy. Lots of parallels with US towns suffering due to outsourcing to China.

Next took a short train ride to St. Ives, a beachy, artist town with lots of ice cream shops-the sun finally came out, so out of the wind it was nice and warm (of course, I’m still wearing jeans and a sweater, but at least I could take my jacket off!) Everyone else was in shorts. Had a really great lunch at a beach cafe, parsnip soup and haloumi (a yummy kind of cheese). Both had edible flower garnish which was kind of cool as on my outing yesterday, we ate several plants growing along the trails, but the only flower we tasted was honeysuckle.

Met up with Julian for beer ( Doom Bar- my new absolute favorite) and a walk around the town. Turns out the former model Jean Shrimpton lives here and runs a hotel and the Bronte sisters lived here as well.  Penzance kind of reminds me of key west- it’s the end of the line for the railroad, so a lot of people just get off and stay here.  Artsy, quirky, fishing village vibe.

Edit on the number of Julian’s teeth. After spending more time with him 8 is an exaggeration, I think it's closer to 2. He was a really nice guy and a great tour guide.

The next day I went to Penlee Gardens and Gallery. The exhibition at the gallery was about a woman named Florence and her husband Alfred Munnings, he an artist and she a model.They were part of the Newlyn School, an artist community in a town near Penzance.  Florence fell in love with her husband’s friend who felt he had to do the honorable thing and leave town. She was devastated and committed suicide.  A movie, Summer in February, about their story is coming out next week. It was all filmed in Cornwall, so go see it and you’ll see what I mean about how beautiful it is here.

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Tex on

Oh, Lisa. It's this leg of the trip that got me the most intersted. I know next-to-nothing about the area, but now am psyched to get myself over there and see and feel and hear and taste the scenery.

The book club is following your travels with great interest (and jealousy). Continue the fun and the rambles.

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