Monday, May 27, 2013

Holiday Weekend

We've had a good weekend here. Hardly restful, but good. On Saturday Noah and I ran some errands in the morning. Then in the afternoon Lily went to a friend's birthday party where she got to hang out with some of her best friends from school. Noah, Amanda, and I went to a small party where folks gathered to pray for some people who are adopting a child from Uganda. As we were coming home we got an invite from Nathan's dad to go see the UNC vs NC State playoff baseball game at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. We certainly couldn't pass that up! We all had a great time.

After church on Sunday we had some lunch and hung out while watching the Indians' game. Then we met Nathan's family at the USA Baseball complex to watch Grand Canyon University take on St. Edward's. Why would we go to this game? It was free and the weather was beautiful. We had a really nice time.

Today we started off by getting Amanda a new bike. This was a long time coming because her old bike is not in good shape. We hit the local Goodwill where Amanda found lots of clothes for the kids. I also found a tweed-like jacket for myself. I'll take paying $8 over 325 pounds any day!

Amanda and the kids hung out while I went to Durham to donate platelets. When I got home I fired up the grill and we had marinated beef tips from the Meat House. That's hardly everyday food, but it was good for a holiday meal.

Tomorrow is a big day on the home repair front. Our oven has conked out, so we decided to replace it. We are getting a new range tomorrow and Amanda is looking forward to using a convection oven. We also take our car into the shop to get the collision damage repaired. I am interested to see what kind of car we end up with.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Day 9 - Journey's End

All good things must come to an end. We were ready to come home. We missed the kids and we also were very tired from all that we saw and did. Fortunately, everything went very smoothly. We got up early, got our stuff packed, and got to the airport in plenty of time. The only negative was that Amanda was missing a sock. Hopefully it turns up in our luggage.

We got to the airport in good order, which was good because the British version of TSA was very interested in the stuff we were bringing home. Apparently a duffel bag full of tea and food doesn't scan well. I felt like a fool for putting the HP sauce in our carryon, and it had to be confiscated. Even with all the extra attention I got I still much prefer their airport security over ours because I felt like theirs actually had value.

Once we got through the screening we had an extremely long walk back to our gate. I'm not sure that we could have had to walk any father and still be in Heathrow. We got some breakfast, boarded our plane, and had a smooth journey to Charlotte where we picked up our connecting flight for a smooth journey home.

It was great to get back. Lily jumped out of the car and gave Amanda a big hug as soon as she saw her. Noah was not quite as effusive, but he and Lily both greeted us warmly. It was wonderful to come home to the house being kept so well. We are extremely grateful to Jack and Melanie for making this trip possible.

Now it's back to reality for us. As I type this at 5:58 AM I've already been awake for 2 hours. I woke up at around 3:45 and couldn't get back to sleep since my body is still 5 hours ahead. I'm sure that we will adapt quickly enough though.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Day 8 - Oxford

I awoke around 6:00 and took a run through Hyde Park. It was a lovely run, but as with all things London it ended up being longer than I intended while I worked to find our hotel. I did eventually find it and after getting cleaned up we headed out to take the train to Oxford.

Unfortunately, it was chilly with intermittent rain in Oxford. That still didn't make the buildings any less old or beautiful though. We went through the Bodleian Library, checked out some bookstores, and had lunch at the Eagle and Child. That is the pub where CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien used to hang out with their group known as the "Inklings." I enjoyed my venison sausage with mash, but Amanda's salad was a bit lackluster. Nevertheless, it filled us up for the rest of the day.

We bought tickets to tour Christ Church College, which was of course beautiful. We had to leave and come back to see the great hall. Their hall is what inspired the great hall in the Harry Potter movies. It didn't disappoint at all, though I recommend not going in front of a group of 12 year-old French girls if you can at all avoid it.

By the time we got back to London Amanda was really pooped. She hung out in the room while I went off to find us some dinner. I got us some Middle Eastern food, which we both enjoyed. I had fun watching the FA Finals where Wigan Athletic upset Manchester City. I really had no rooting interest other than seeing an upset and it is always fun to watch football (soccer) here. I also tried to watch some cricket, but I don't have internet access in the room and I still find the game somewhat inscrutable. Now we're down to reading and blogging while we finish up our time here in the UK.

Day 7 - Cheddar

Hilary made us the "full English" breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, tomato, mushrooms, and baked beans. The beans are really the key to making it the full English. We then set out to walk. We took a really nice walk to the Cheddar Gorge where we toured Gough's Cave. It was very much worth seeing. We did a bit of shopping in the village, including a stop at the cheese shop. In case you're wondering, cheddar cheese really was invented in this village. Eating the cave-aged cheese is almost worth the trip in itself.

After that we headed up to Wells. We got to see their beautiful cathedral. It's amazing to see these buildings where the newest parts are still older than anything we have in America. After our tour of the cathedral we went back to the cottage, collected our bags, and then had a short driving tour of Bristol. We then had a train ride to London without incident. The only difficulty was finding our hotel, but once we knew where to look it wasn't a problem.

We finished the evening with a meal of cornish pasties. All in all, it was a fine day.

Day 6 - Travel

This was a pretty simple day, though not completely without incident. Fortunately, the easiest part was our drive from Oban to Edinburgh. As always, I was very grateful for Google Maps. I don't think that I broke any traffic laws and I do know that I got my full deposit back on the car. I call all of this a huge success.
We caught a bus from the Edinburgh Airport to the city center (centre, if you prefer) where we were dropped off at the train station. We boarded our train and enjoyed our first-class trip until we stopped at Newcastle. Our train was killed because the lines were delayed due to someone being hit by a train south of York. With the help of the nice lady in the first-class lounge we found a different train and headed to our destination at Bristol.
We were met by Amanda's friend Hilary who took us to a great Indian restaurant in Cheddar. We enjoyed a lovely meal and then went back to her cottage for bed. It was not a very exciting day, but it was a load off my mind for us to get through all of that smoothly.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Day 5 - Kayaking

Today was our last day in Scotland and we decided to save kayaking for it. I started the day with the "Full Scottish Breakfast." For the uninitiated, this included a poached egg, a slab of bacon (more like Canadian bacon), half a tomato, some mushrooms, a potato scone, a sausage link (think a "banger" when you get bangers and mash), black pudding, and fried haggis. I also chose to get our host's homemade porridge.

Breakfast was certainly an experience. Porridge is very good with cream and whisky, though I don't think I want to make a habit of drinking an ounce of whisky at 8:00 AM every day. Amanda also thought it was good, but not something we would go out of our way for. The black pudding and haggis both looked like large sausage patties on my plate. I really liked the black pudding, particularly with HP sauce. The haggis was good too and it was much better with the sauce.

Having thereby fortified myself, I set out to our adventure of the day - sea kayaking. Compared to Amanda, I am a kayaking neophyte. I understand the idea, but don't have her experience. I went into this with some trepidation as I really hate being soggy The good news is that this place set us up with dry suits. These were not particularly comfortable, but they weren't horrible either. I was surprisingly OK with having my legs in the kayak cockpit with the spray skirt on top.

We were out for about 5 hours, though we had a few breaks, including a protracted one for lunch. We ran into some weather too. Amanda came extremely close to capsizing once, and our instructor told us that it is fairly common to have someone go swimming. I thought I came close a couple of times, but really that was just nerves and I was fine.

Overall, it was quite intense. I had never kayaked in the sea with 20 MPH winds blowing rain sideways creating 6 inch waves, but now I can say I have. I'm not eager to do it again, but it was worth it for what we saw. If you don't mind putting on an extra layer and getting your hair mussed by the rain then Scotland is a treasure. If you do mind those things then stick to Paris. The Parisians are rarely mussed.

We came back and Amanda had a long soak in the tub. To give you some perspective, her arms hurt while folding clothes for our packing to go home. I don't feel particularly sore, but I do feel weary from the wind, rain, and salt air. We finished the evening with a quiet meal at a restaurant recommended by our guide. I very much enjoyed the local beer I had along with my fish and chips. Amanda had steak pie with a glass of Shiraz blend. All in all, it was a great day.

We hate to go home. I told our host that we had to leave before breakfast and he packed us a lunch that would impress Grandpa Jack. We have rolls, sandwiches, water, crisps, 2 oranges, and 2 apples. I think we're ready for our next adventure - the trip down to Bristol on the train.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Day 4

Today we enjoyed the complete opposite weather from yesterday's. It was sunny, dry, and in the mid 60s. We started the day with a little drive to the Isle of Seil. There isn't much on the island, but there was a spectacular view from a little area called Easdale. I do feel like I'm starting to get the hang of diving on these roads though. I think the biggest key is not to get too uptight.

After that we came back to the room and walked into town. We thought that we could catch a ferry to the Island of Kerrera (pronounced as if it doesn't have the er at the end "Kay-ra") from downtown, but we found out that we had to walk about 2 miles south of town. By the time we got there Amanda was dead tired. We also missed the last ferry that ran at 12:30 and had to wait until 2:00 for the next one. I took the opportunity to walk back to the hotel and get the car.

The goal for the Island was to see Gylen Castle and to have tea at the tea gardens. What we didn't realize was that both were at least another 2 miles from where the ferry dropped us off. We pressed on and eventually found the tea room. It is an incredibly beautiful spot and we did have tea with a very late lunch (we had Lara Bars to fortify ourselves earlier), but it was not a British Tea. It was still a nice time though. The hike to the castle was rather muddy and sheepy, but it was worth it. I've come to realize that our modern ideas of castles are probably very Americanized because they did not have much living space at all. I think that the view may have made up for it though.

The hike back was easier because it was more downhill, but it was still quite long. We were very happy for the car to drive back to the hotel. We got cleaned up and then had a nice meal at a local seafood restaurant. As you might imagine, this is a great place for seafood.

Now we are enjoying the view from our room with the windows open to give us a lovely sea breeze. Westward facing windows are pretty, but the room was pretty hot. No central A/C here, for obvious reasons.

As I finish this we can hear bagpipes playing in the distance. I'm pretty sure that makes our Scotland experience complete. Tomorrow we go kayaking in the sea. That should be an adventure too.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Day 3

I woke up excited to take a run this morning, but was a little disappointed to be greeted with a driving rain. I decided not to let that deter me, so I laced up my trainers and hit the streets of Oban. This was a helpful way to quickly get the lay of the land.

Amanda and I had a lovely breakfast where we both had yogurt, fruit, and granola to start. We continued with scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. It was a great way to start the day.

We then set out to explore Oban together and do some shopping. i really wanted to get a sweater while here and I found a few candidates out of the many choices. I have been told that I'm not ready for a plaid deerstocker cap, but I know that my day will come eventually. I also saw a couple of great tweed jackets, but not £350 great.

After shopping we went back to our room to gather our stuff and get ready for a scenic drive. We spent 10 miles on a one-lane road along a raging river. We didn't see very many other folks on the road either, which was nice. After that we got lunch at an inn that was highly-recommended on TripAdvisor. It did not disappoint.

We continued our scenic drive back home and then walked back in to town to finish up our shopping. I did commit to a nice fleece-lined cardigan sweater. We also made reservations for kayaking on Wednesday. After that we went to check out a place for Amanda's benefit - Aldi. If it was not in a glass jar I certainly would have picked up some lemon marmalade for 95p. We did get some goodies that would be considered premier in the States, but they are just food at Aldi. We only wish that clotted cream would keep on the plane ride.

Finally, we went back out on the town for dinner. Amanda had fish & chips while I had fried squid. Both were good. We stopped at a restaurant/pub for dessert. Amanda had chocolate cake and I had sticky toffee. Again, both were excellent.

The weather today was, well, authentic. It was in the low 50s and it rained off and on all day. The rain here is like the rain you get in the mountains. It is not a driving rain with big nasty drops, but rather it is a mist of varying intensity. As I look out the window I see it is back to intense mist. We did see a tiny patch of blue sky when we walked to dinner, but that was it. We are undeterred though. If we wanted sunshine we would have taken another cruise. Instead we got to see some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. A little rain/mist can't spoil that!

Day 2

I managed to stay awake until 8:30, which was very difficult. I kept feeling like I was going to drop off when we were riding the Metro. We survived though.

I didn't get up until 7:30, which is amazing for me. I really needed the sleep. Amanda got up shortly thereafter. We got cleaned up and then hit the town. We started with a walk to Luxembourg Gardens. On the way we found a boulangerie where Amanda got a chocolate croissant and I got some pastry called "pepito." I thought it had poppy seeds in it, but it was instead some kind of cheesy filling with chocolate chips. Both were really good. We enjoyed these in the park and then walked around a while. We saw the classic fountain where kids still race sailboats. It was pretty amazing to take in this garden that you see in movies.

After that we walked to the Palace des Invalides, which was something built for wounded veterans in the 17th century. We decided not to get in the queue to see the chapel, though I'm sure it was amazing. Amanda didn't have much interest in seeing the French Army museum either (insert French military in the last century joke here).

We walked over to the Champs Elysees where Amanda found herself a scarf. Turns out that many Parisians wear them, straight men included. We got back to the hotel, gathered our bags, and then took the Metro to pick up our shuttle to the Beauvais Airport where we got our flight to Scotland. Flying Ryanair is a lot like flying Southwest in the States, with the addition of many opportunities to buy things in-flight including scratch-off lottery tickets.

We got our car at the Edinburgh airport and hit the road. Driving was not trivial here, as you might imagine. My biggest problem was getting used to how narrow the lanes are. I kept clipping the curb on the left side of the car. Fortunately, Amanda was a pretty mellow passenger. A more nervous passenger would have really unnerved me. The constant rain didn't help matters either.

We pulled in to our B&B at about 9:00 PM and were delighted with the hospitality of the owner. We love our room too. The most difficult part of the journey is successfully behind us.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Day 1 - Paris

Bonjour de Paris! We pulled into the gate around 7:30 local time, which is 1:30 AM to our internal clocks. Amanda slept more on the plane than I did, which was good for her. I got a couple of hours, but they were not great hours of sleep.

We got settled into our hotel around 10:30 and then began exploring the city. We started with croissants and cappuccino at a local boulangerie. We then began navigating the Metro to get our real lunch. The only snag we found with the Paris Metro is that you have to manually choose which doors open. Otherwise, it was smooth sailing all day.

We had an incredible meal for lunch. For starters Amanda had pate de foie gras and I had a tort made with a variety of veggies. Both were excellent. In fact, the pate was one of the few foods where you feel like your life won't ever be quite the same after eating it. For our main dishes Amanda had lamb and I had duck. Both were also excellent. If you are heading to Paris please let us know and we will set you up with this place.

After lunch we started sightseeing. We started with waiting in a long line for the Eiffel Tower and then a long climb up the stairs. It wasn't that hard, though it did take a toll on our legs. After that we walked to another Metro station where we caught the train to get to the Arc de Triomphe. I always wanted to see it and I'm glad I did, but I didn't want to see it enough to wait in line. I just took photos from the sidewalk across the street from it.

We walked up and down the Champs Elysees a bit, which was fun. Amanda thought about looking at necklaces at Cartier and I thought about looking at pens at Mont Blanc. Neither of us was very serious about this, of course. We then went to the Mariage Freres tea store, which was kind of overwhelming given how tired we were. We did pick up a couple of tins that we look forward to enjoying.

From there we took a relatively short walk to Notre Dame. We were there just as Mass was starting. The pipe organ does add a certain gravitas to the proceedings for sure. They even do incense for just a regular Saturday evening Mass.

From there we walked across the river to our side of it and got a fairly simple dinner of quiche. We both got desserts that we really enjoyed and now Amanda is soaking her aching legs in the tub. I am tentatively planning on taking a job around the Jardin du Luxembourg tomorrow, but we will see how it goes. I do think that I got a good sense of what the city is all about. It is certainly fun, but I think that I prefer Rome.