Last Day of Touring

On our last day of touring (which was not our last day in the UK), we visited York Minster before leaving the city.  A few hours later we got to our Cambridge hotel, which was across the street from a nice park, a big expanse of lawn where the students sat, played frisbee, etc….just like any big lawn at any big college or university.  We set out for a traipse around the city.

Cambridge actually has what I would consider a real shopping mall, right in the middle of town.  I mention this only because it was the first real shopping mall we’d seen (the one in York was more like a basic strip mall).  We walked through it, but didn’t shop; we were just trying to get out of the heat!  Cambridge is also full of beautiful architecture and a ton of students.  I have often felt I’d like to live in Cambridge, but the reality is much different from the dream.  Too hot, too many people, too many maniacs on bicycles.   I’ll stick with the moors!

Here, we ended up at King’s College (I think) on the far end of our walking tour.

kings college

I don’t remember whether it was the heat or my feet, but I was starting to waver at this point, and am afraid I got a bit short with everyone, so we meandered easily back to the hotel (cutting through the mall again for some air-conditioned comfort).  On the way, we sat at the edge of the park for a while to recover our strength.

relaxing before dinner 

See the pub in the picture?  That was ultimately our dinner destination, mostly because it was right near the hotel!  Good food, though.

After that, it was an early night, just because we were all so bushed.  The next morning we checked out and drove back to Rudgwick.

A day in Rudgwick sufficed for packing (and repacking because the big suitcase was too heavy, buying a supplemental carryon, then packing again, and repacking!) and recuperating for the trip on the 20th.  We made sure to have motion sickness medicine, things to do on the plane, and some snacks.  The flight back was pretty uneventful except for the drama of rushing through Customs in time to make our connecting flight!  But we made it.  The cats were happy to have us back.  We were happy to BE back, and I’m still working on piles of laundry!

Many thanks to all the UK Picks for their hospitality and a big hello to all the new friends we met.  See you in ten years when we can nerve ourselves up for another trip, ha ha ha…

The National Railway Museum

Billed as “the world’s largest railway museum,” this one is certainly very large and involved, and yes, it’s larger than Steamtown, which is the largest one I’d ever seen before that time.  We got here before it opened so that we could maximize our museum time.

Starting out in the back, we saw the red locomotive that serves as the Hogwarts Express.


hogwarts logo

Inside there were, as you might imagine, loads of exhibits, all very well-done.  Here is the logo on the side of the locomotive Winston Churchill.


This next picture was the following picture on my camera’s card, so I assume it’s the interior of the Churchill, but I can’t be certain.  We saw so much and I didn’t make any notes, so…I can’t promise anything here.


Then we went back out and rode the miniature railway.

miniature railway

From here we went back inside and wandered around some more exhibits.  I got separated from the boys here, so I took some pictures of the roundhouse area.

inside 1

inside 2 

inside 3

inside 4

This is the Rocket, a pioneer of trains!

After a total of about four hours here, we rode the little “open-air bus disguised as a train” back to York Minster.  The area was scenic enough, so we wandered about for a bit and Chris spotted this little monument tucked in the trees.  It’s a very old-fashioned looking monument, but if you enlarge it you can see that the statues carved in it are all WWI-type soldiers!


There were no real plans for the afternoon, so after a quick lunch at an Italian restaurant (which was nothing like an American Italian restaurant – for example there were red peppers in the meatballs!) we had to run to PC World and use one of their computers to log in and pay our Amex bill.  We shopped a bit, including buying new t-shirts for all of us who were running out of laundry, and then drove up through the moors to Whitby.

The plan by this time became “have fish & chips in Whitby for dinner” but Whitby, being a seaside town, was packed, packed, packed with pedestrians and cars, and it was nearly impossible to get through the town, let alone find a parking space.  Hasty plan revisions led us to a new plan, “Drive back through the moors and have dinner in York.”

We did just that, also stopping in a very, very small town called Goathland.  Ant wanted to see this town because it’s where the Hogwarts end of the train journey is filmed, and because a show called “Heartbeat” is filmed there.  (We never heard of “Heartbeat.”)  The boys all got an ice cream from a ticky-tack shop and we stepped around some sheep to get back to the car.  I wish I’d taken pictures of the moors.  I want to live there.  Nicely desolate.

Tomorrow, Cambridge in the sweltering heat!

The Long and Winding Road

Our next day was a long and mildly interesting highway drive from Beaumaris all the way to York.  Anthony’s left-ear hearing aid had shorted out, so once we checked in, he went off in search of a hospital or someplace that could repair it.  Chris, Alex and I took the sightseeing tour bus ride and saw a lot of interesting stuff from the top of an open-air double-decker bus.  I had been reading C. J. Sansom’s “Sovereign” (about Henry VIII in York) so this was a very timely trip.  After the tour was over, you could either stay on the bus to get back to your starting point, or get off and walk.  We opted to walk back to the hotel.

Along the way we saw a gorgeous Victorian-style brick building…which had the modern and mundane Pizza Express located inside it!  This nearly made me cry.  I suppose it’s good in that someone is still getting use out of the building, but…Pizza Express?  Waah.


After the three of us reached the hotel, we puttered around a bit and then Chris (peeking at a map) said, “Hey, there’s a shopping mall a couple blocks away.  Want to walk over and do some shopping?”  Of course my shopping had been seriously curtailed during this trip – it’s difficult to be comfortable poking around a shop when there are three guys either waiting in the street impatiently, or wandering around the store impatiently!  So I agreed.  We set out with the map in my handbag.  Note that we had no cell phone during this stay.  Maddie and Brian had offered us one of theirs, but I declined, on the grounds that Ant has a cell phone, and if they needed to reach us, they could call him.  It didn’t occur to me that maybe WE would need to call Ant!

“A few blocks away” is how this place appeared on the map.  “Past the second roundabout.”  Well, it became clear, about a mile past that second roundabout, that the map was not drawn anything like to scale.  We plowed on.  At about mile 2, Alex started complaining about being tired and his feet hurting.  (Mine were too, but I tried not to complain.)  Chris actually carried Alex – for about 20 yards – but Alex is near 70 pounds now, so that made it really awkward (especially since it was really hot, too).  Alex steeled himself to keep walking after Chris promised him we’d take a taxi back home instead of walking.

At about mile 3, I started complaining!  But we plowed on.  There were several free Park & Ride buses that kept going past us (leaving the mall and going back to the city) so we decided that if we ever got to the mall, we’d take the bus.  Several times we thought we were there, but it turned out to be a small shop with no mall attached.

Finally, at about 3.5 miles, we reached the mall.  There wasn’t much to it..after all that…but we did get Alex some dinner since he was hungry.  We poked around for a while, tried to phone Ant from a pay phone (unsuccessfully), and then hopped on one of those buses to go back to the city.

The bus dropped us about a mile from the hotel.  It wasn’t really – it was only about half a mile – but we walked quite a ways in the wrong direction before pulling out the GPS and realizing our error.  So, we turned around to walk in the correct direction, and got caught in a rainstorm!  Totally soaked!  Well, there was nothing to do at this point but laugh about it.  By the time we got back to the hotel, Ant was waiting (but his hearing aid had not been fixed), and Chris and I were ravenous.  However, Alex and I were too tired to go out for dinner, so Ant and Chris went out, while I ordered room service.  Aah…’tis an ill wind that blows no good.

So that was our first day in York.  Tomorrow, our second day, a much better day overall!

The Crab Parade

I forgot to mention the Beaumaris Crab Parade!  Down on the sea front there were a bunch of kids & families that had been catching crabs in buckets.  These crabs are about the size of my hand, and dark brown, not like the things they serve in US restaurants.  Anyway, the families were getting ready to leave, so the parents were making the kids release the crabs.  They stood at the top of a boat launch ramp and dropped crabs out of buckets, and at one point there were about 100 crabs scuttling sideways to get to the water.  There were also about 20 seagulls hanging around, wanting crabs, but afraid of the people.  Alex was really excited and squealing about this, while I kept checking my feet to make sure no crabs were nearby!


Today (August 14) was an all-Wales day, except for the tiny part of road between our Telford hotel and the Welsh border.  First we drove past a little glass workshop called the Glassblobbery; the name of it was so funny we had to stop.  The artists who work there make beautiful glass torchwork sculptures, then tint and stain them afterwards, which is a process I’ve never heard of.  (Yes, that sentence ends with a preposition; I stand by my usage!)  Of course, with fused glass (my medium), the glass is purchased already colored, so there is no need to add color afterwards.  I purchased a small glass dragon which shades from amber to blue to a little bit of green.  Thought she’d look good next to Detro.  Her name is Daphne.  (Nothing to do with Jack Lemmon!  It’s because she’s diaphanous.)

After leaving the Glassblobbery, we stopped to admire the scenery at this lake.  Naturally, I can no longer remember the name.  Bald Lake?  Bear Lake?  Something with a B, four letters.  Aha, Bala Lake.  Yes, now I remember it reminded me of “balalaika.”

welsh lake

Between this lake and our first stop at Blaenau Festiniog, we drove through some awe-inspiring patches of countryside.  There were long stretches of road where the only manmade things we could see were the ‘giants’ (big metal things holding up the electrical power lines) and our car/the road we were on.  No houses, no other cars, no sheep (which is amazing because Wales is sprinkled with sheep everywhere you look).  Nothing but big rocky mountains and trees.  Gorgeous.  It was hard to capture this with my puny camera, but the picture of the lake above (although you can see some buildings and a bridge in it) is fairly representative of this feeling.

At Blaenau Festiniog we stopped to watch the steam train get under way.  For some reason which I now no longer remember, we were unable to ride the train.  It was drizzling this whole time, so we also stopped in a cafe to get some coffee and dry out.

train under steam

We moved on to Caernarvon Castle.  This castle originated in 1283!  I have been unable to determine, after viewing ruins and old buildings over the years, why the roofs and floors always seem to be gone.  I guess the roof caves in, and then when the floor is exposed to the elements it rots away.  Here are some pictures I took.  If you look carefully you can see Chris, Alex and Ant up there.

chris on walls

boys on walls

chris closeup  Yes, he’s quite far away.

The Royal Welch Fusiliers have their museum in the castle.  We took a look through there and saw lots of interesting things and historical explanations.  We saw a taxidermied goat!  The goat is the mascot of the RWF.  The one that had been stuffed was the original one that Queen Victoria had gifted to the regiment.  His name was Billy.  I kid you not.  (Oh, dear, I hadn’t even realized that pun until I was proofreading my entry…)

bam Who wants to be a fusilier?  I do!

Well, this very full day was going to get fuller yet.  We walked around the town and discovered a small fair in progress, so Alex got to go on the giant slide (they call it a Helter Skelter over there, but I never heard that term applied to a carnival ride before) and the swings.

alex slide

 carnival at caernarvonI liked the juxtaposition of carnival and castle in this one.

We walked around town a little bit more before heading to our hotel.  I stumbled across a little yarn shop.  This was very exciting to me, until I went inside and saw that all their stock was Sirdar, Rowan and Plymouth!  However, I asked the lady if they had any local yarns and they did; I got 10 skeins, seven of a rough grey (undyed) wool and 3 of the natural undyed.  Not sure what I’ll do with it, since it’s so scratchy, but it would be good for felting, I think.  It was fairly inexpensive.

A walk along the old city walls was pleasant, and we saw a regatta taking place in the Menai Strait.  None of us had realized it was a regatta until we were all startled by a cannon report from shore!  After peeking around we saw the officials on top of a tower, signaling the boaters.

When we got to Beaumaris (the town where our hotel was) we dumped the stuff in the rooms and went for a walk along the seafront.  I tried to make a stitched picture of the opposite shore, but my program is failing to stitch them.  None of them are interesting enough as a standalone.  They are very distant and hazy.

alex and cowsAlex with Welsh cows.

Here is a picture of Beaumaris Castle.  I loved that it was just plunked down here; it doesn’t rear up like Caernarvon, and there were no big plaques pointing visitors to it – it just sits there unobtrusively.  Very nice.

beaumaris castle

That day was our tenth wedding anniversary, so Ant took the babysitting duties in the evening while Chris and I went for a nice dinner.  Unfortunately, the hotel restaurant wouldn’t let Chris in while he was wearing shorts, and he had no long pants to change into!  Rather than try to find a pants shop at this hour (ha ha), we went in search of a different restaurant.  We had almost decided to settle for Chinese takeout (with a promise of a nice anniversary dinner at Coho when we got back), when we stumbled across a beautiful little restaurant in a hidden courtyard.  It was quite elegant, the fare was delicious (Chris had lamb something and a beer, and I had a salad and Strongbow) and we wandered around town for a while before heading back to the hotel room.  I feel very lucky to have been married to Chris for 10 years and can only hope we have many more hilarious years together.  Never a dull moment!

And to my great delight, I found that Amazon Fresh delivers Strongbow, so there is a six-pack chilling in the fridge at this very moment!

Tomorrow, a little bit of York with a long and lousy story!

Bristol Zoo and More

First thing, we geared up for the Bristol Zoo.  Funny…when we discussed it the preceding day, Chris and Ant said it was a really big, involved zoo.  Then this morning when we talked about it (before we got there) they said we could do the whole thing in a couple of hours.  Well, in reality it was pretty small, about like Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.  Nice place, good for kids, but, I feel like “You’ve seen one zoo, you’ve seen them all!”  Of course, I haven’t been to San Diego zoo yet, so that might be the one that makes me change my mind.

bristol zoo

We got there a little early.  If you look carefully in the window reflection above you can see me!


I won’t bore you with the animal descriptions, except to show this one posing seal.  I have some movies of the seals, but I can’t yet figure out how to get them into the blog.  I’ll work on it; they were really funny to watch.


But the grand thing about this zoo is the rope adventure thing they had set up, called Zooropia.  It was a series of high-wire walking adventures, where the participants are clipped to a safety wire and make their way all around the zoo, high up (their feet were about 20’ off the ground).  Alex did this, and here are some pictures of him.  He really, REALLY liked it!

in line for zooropie

zooropia 1

zooropia 2

zooropia 3

zooropia 4

Trust me, he’s in there somewhere.

zooropia 5

It ended with a long zip-wire ride down to ground level.  Truly the highlight of his day…and it’s a good thing, too, because we jumped on the highway to get to Colinette before they closed – so, nothing of interest to Alex at all for a long time.

Colinette was a Mecca trip for me.  Ever since I’ve started knitting, I’ve been trying to use their yarns; sometimes I can get them, but more often, they are either (a) too expensive (as much as $20 a skein) or (b) too scarce.  It’s hard to find enough matching yarns for a sweater for me, and they won’t ship to US customers because of their current distribution agreement.  So, I spent a few minutes drooling over the store stock, then ran around grabbing stuff off the shelf to buy.  Chris amused himself by wandering around looking at the knitted-up samples and commenting on the yarns that he’d seen me use through the years.  In the end I spent a respectable 165 GBP, enough for two and a half sweaters (about $9 a skein).  (Not sure what I’ll do about that half a sweater, yet…)  While we were in the store, Alex and Ant went and looked at the narrow-gauge Llanfaer Caereinion steam railway next door, but we were unable to take a trip on it due to scheduling.

Good news for US knitters, Colinette tells me they are taking over their US distribution in a few months.  Prices should drop, and yarns should be more readily available!

We made it to the hotel shortly thereafter.  Since we had been stumbling around the zoo all morning and sitting cramped up in the car all afternoon, we decided to briskly walk to the Iron Bridge and find a place for dinner.  Our chosen pub was pricey, but absolutely delicious and also quite relaxing.  Then we came back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.

View from the top of the Iron Bridge:

from top of ironbridge

 on the iron bridge

Tomorrow…Wales, Caernarvon, and Anglesey.