Saturday, June 30, 2007

More photos


Today we leave for Paris, but we've seen an awful lot of London in a few short days. The first day we walked through Hyde Park down to the Victoria & Albert Museum to see the beautiful sculptures and historic clothing. Then we went to the retail extravaganza that is Harrod's, followed by a nice little dinner in Knightsbridge.

Day two was a busy sightseeing day. We walked through the park again to Buckingham Palace, where we saw the guards strutting around and a military band warming up. Then it was on to the Parliament area, at exactly the time that Tony Blair (Andrew has taken to calling him T-bag) was starting his last Prime Minister's Questions. So sad. And exciting -- we saw hundreds of protesters, including one being arrested. He was yelling and screaming and had his hands cuffed; they had taken his poster and his Iraqi flag. Andrew got some great photos. After that excitement, we walked along the river and found silent comfort in the great, cold halls of the National Gallery. I love art museums. They are so stimulating intellectually and aesthetically, but they are also great people watching places. We had great fun, and while it was crowded with groups of tourists and school children, we still had enough space to get up close to the paintings and check out all the details. I find that I still love the Impressionists, but I'm getting into other eras more and more. I really liked the super-realistic details of some of the Northern Renaissance paintings and the bold color of the baroque wall-sized paintings. And the Rembrandt self-portraits really spoke to me this time. They have one of him as a young man and one as an old man. Quite moving. Later on we went to the National Portrait Gallery, too. The paintings of Queen Elizabeth were really impressive. When I was at Cambridge six summers ago, I wrote two long papers about Elizabeth's portraits, but this was the first time I'd ever actually seen one. That night we met Courtney (the Gator girl who put us up our first night here) and several other London Gators for dinner and drinks at the Texas Embassy...clever, huh? It was so much fun! They are all living the expatriate life, working in exciting jobs and enjoying the city. It sounds great.

Day three was Kew Gardens. I had never been, and I was excited to see the flowers and to see what inspired some of Virginia Woolf's earliest stories. I closed my eyes very hard for a few minutes so I could open them slowly and watch the colors resolve into clear detail. And what detail! The plants were beautiful and well-laid out. We walked around for hours and hours. I filled up my camera again, but I should be able to post those pictures today. My favorites were the rose garden -- the sweetest smelling rose was the yellow Mountbatten; I smelled all of them -- and the waterlily house filled with multicolored waterlilies, lilypads two-feet in diameter, orchids, and dozens of varieties of chile plants. The beautiful glass greenhouses were gorgeous, too, and there were lots of tropical plants that reminded me of Florida. The beauty of the gardens made up for the fact that we had hardly any money left over for food...but who needs food amidst so much beauty?

Yesterday was another busy day. We woke to news of the first of two car bomb attempts in London. We were miles away from where the cars were found, but it was still unnerving. We didn't let it ruin our day, though. We walked to the British Museum and had a lively political debate about the legitimacy of British ownership of these priceless artifacts from all over the world. The Rosetta Stone has written on its side "Rescued by the British Army" -- ha! I guess it wasn't a debate; we both think it's sort of silly that the British have kept them for so long. But it is a fabulous museum, and it's really amazing to be able to see these things up close. My favorites were the Greek sculptures -- the smaller ones, where you can see the facial features -- and the jewelry. Andrew really like the mummies. Later, we walked to the British Library, which had a fantastic exhibit of sacred texts from Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. We got to see some of the oldest religious texts in the world, including a fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls. We were blown away. We also saw the highlights of the regular collection with all my favorites -- James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Paul McCartney :-) After the library, we took a short stroll -- I'll have to try to map this stuff later on; we walked miles and miles and miles -- down past Old Bailey and Saint Paul and across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern. We didn't much care for most of the art inside, but it was still fun to walk around the building and laugh at the more ridiculous pieces. Then it was another stroll back through the city to our hotel, a quick change of clothes, and a delicious dinner at a place called Ping Pong Dim Sum. Hooray! Now we're packing up and heading out to Paris, where we'll meet up with our compatriots. More from Paris soon; cheers!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


A sampling of our adventures, for your reading pleasure:

Yarm. The next stop is...Yarm.
This is a tiny little town near the horrible black hole of Middlesbrough. We found Middlesbrough on a map and decided it would be a good place to camp on our way to Whitby and Robin Hood's Bay. We showed up at the station and found ourselves in a pretty big city...not great for camping. The tourist information office was closed, but we saw a police station, so Andrew thought we should ask there. We walked in and saw lots of other people, presumably not there to ask for directions. We asked at the desk, and a cop pulled us aside and said, incredulously, "Camping in Middlesbrough? Oh you don't want to do that. Anywhere but Middlesbrough." Oh. So he sent us back to Yarm, about 30 minutes away. There, we found no camping. Several people said we could camp for free by the river, and we went down there, but it was all sheep and mud and bugs, and I just couldn't do it. We ended up wandering the streets looking for something, anything...and finally had to fork over £70 for a hotel. It would have been more adventurous to sleep in the field, but sometimes safety has to come first.

Flood warning
In Stratford, there was rain. More rain than I've ever seen, and I'm from Florida. One night we were heading back to the tent but found our way blocked by a puddle. No, a lake. There was no way around, and it was the only way we knew to walk back. Andrew found a hole in the fence, so we snuck through and tried to get across the field to the road, but the field was full of --I'm not kidding -- thistles and stinging nettles. An entire field of them. After wandering, getting stung, and fearing cholera or worse from the flood water, we fled the scene and had a fabulous, budget-busting Indian dinner instead. kind of adventure.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Getting to know the English

Since I last updated, we've been busy. We took a day trip up to Amberley, a pretty little village near the Cotswolds that Andrew had visited before with his family. It was a beautiful day, and we had a nice long walk and a picnic. Once we got to the village and had a look around, we stopped at the local inn for a pint and ended up watching the opening of Royal Ascot with some locals. It was hilarious seeing how they reacted not only to the races but also to the fashions. Ascot is known for its fashion forwardness and its crazy hats; all the ladies try to outdo each other. It looked like a convention of peacocks! We finished our day with some local ice cream and a train trip back to Bath with some extraordinarily rude fellow passengers. Most of the British people we've met have been lovely, but then you get these people on trains and buses who make it very obvious that they don't care about anyone around them. I don't understand it.

The next day, we went in to London for Andrew's big day, which went very, very well. While he was at Barclays, I went up to Hampstead and looked at the cute shops and sat by a duck pond. It was so quiet and relaxing, even though I was still in London. We decided to stay in Bath one more day so we could go to Stourhead Landscape Garden, but it turned out to be inaccessible by public transportation, so we had to stay in Bath proper. After five nights, we felt like real locals.

We left Bath to travel to Cornwall, which was another train adventure. One of the trains was late and missed a key connection, so they put about a hundred of us on double decker buses up to Newquay. Apparently Newquay is a huge destination for bachelor parties -- they call them stag nights here -- and I ended up the only girl on the whole bus, and Andrew and I were the only sober ones. It was a horrendous experience, and we considered leaving Newquay, but I'm glad we didn't, because as soon as we got there, set up our tent, and got down to the beach, everything was glorious. The rain cleared away and we explored the rocks and caves and tidal pools on the beach. We also got to watch the Red Arrows -- the Blue Angels equivalent of the Royal Air Force -- practicing. They were flying so low over our heads we could almost see the pilots!

Our second day in Cornwall we spent walking along the coast. Every few minutes we would round another bend and get a new view of cliffs, arches, and waves crashing against huge rocks. It was breathtaking. Our last day in Cornwall was a lot of fun, too. We went to Lanhydrock House, a Victorian estate with over 50 rooms and beautiful gardens. I felt like I was going to walk into Narnia at any moment; it was just like the house in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. There was even a room with nothing in it but a wardrobe, and I found out there were a bunch of evacuated children who lived there during World War II. Perfect!

But the highlight of Cornwall was that night when we splurged on dinner at Fifteen, Jamie Oliver's restaurant. It was the best meal of my life. I'll post the menu later on. We did a six-course tasting menu, and every bite of it was absolutely delicious. The restaurant overlooks a bay, and we got to watch the surfers and the sunset. Absolute bliss.

Now we're in London, after a full day of traveling and dealing with the muddy riffraff from the Glastonbury Festival on the trains. We've checked in to our hotel, and we're off to see the sights!

This is our last week in London; on Saturday we meet up with Bryan and Christina on the continent. More soon. Cheers!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Rains, reins, and reigns

So England is a rainy place; everyone knows that. Apparently they're having a particularly rainy summer here, though. Lucky us. At least our tent has so far maintained its waterproofness.

Since I last posted, we explored Grasmere and Ambleside in the Lake District. It was neat to see Dove Cottage, where Wordsworth lived and wrote his best poetry, but it was even better to walk along the paths and see the same views that inspired the poems. It is a beautiful part of the country, even in a downpour. We left the Lake District and took a train to a tiny town in the West Midlands that was the closest we could get via public transportation to a National Trust site I wanted to see. We had a grueling three-mile walk each way with our fully laden backpacks, but Little Moreton Hall was totally worth it. It is a beautiful half-timbered Tudor house (the black and white stripy looking kind). The builders were a bit over ambitious and built parts of it too tall and too heavy, so the house has settled over time, leaving walls that bow, windows that lean crookedly, and floors that roll like an angry sea. The only part of the estate that is still straight is the knot garden, which has lovely sculpted hedges in intricate knot patterns. We also had a nice afternoon tea at the house. All the National Trust properties have cafes or restaurants that serve local foods. In fact, lots of restaurants around here boast fairtrade, organic, local, and free-range foods. It's very exciting for us.

After leaving Little Moreton Hall, we made our way to Stratford-upon-Avon, which we weren't planning to visit, but I'm glad we did. We didn't go to any of the Shakespeare museums because they were really expensive and kind of cheesy looking, but it was fun to stroll down the same streets he had known. We stayed at one of our more unusual campsites, at a racecourse. Most of the sites have been traditional campsites, but we've also stayed on farms, at a church retreat, and at an old mill. Stratford is on the Avon River, which, we noticed upon our arrival, was very high. During our visit, they got a lot more rain, and the whole river flooded. We have photos of signs and benches that should be in the middle of fields that are under feet of water. The rain messed up our sightseeing plans, as did the bus system and the opening times of certain properties, but we still had a nice time. We spent one whole day just wandering around Bath searching for a second hand suit for Andrew (he has an interview in London). Then we spent our last day there at Charlecote Park, an Elizabethan estate with a stunning house and deer park. We had a traditional English Sunday lunch there with roast pork and veg and pudding...yummy.

Now we are in Bath, and this morning we toured the Roman Baths. We were amazed at the Roman engineering and artwork. I can't wait to see the ruins at Pompeii. This afternoon we went to the Assembly Rooms and I got to see where lots of Jane Austen scenes were meant to have taken place. Now we're wandering around town. Tomorrow we're going to Amberley, we hope. We're praying for good weather but not letting the rain dampen our spirits!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Here are all the photos I've taken so far. They start in Haworth, go through York and Fountains Abbey, move on to Hadrian's Wall, and end up with Scotland, the Isle of Skye, and Dunrobin Castle. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Traipsing through Wordsworth country

We just stopped at this crazy store in Windermere that I guess is the flagship store for a cookware brand. It's like if Frank Lloyd Wright designed a Bed Bath & Beyond. We had a spot of tea and are now using the free computer terminals, so you get a bonus posting. We're headed up to Grasmere later on for some Romantic poetry homage and hill-walking. The real hill walkers around here tuck their pants into their socks, but I don't think my capris will stretch that far.

In case you're interested, here are some more details about the trip:
2 backpacks
1 tent
2 sleeping bags
2 inflatable pillows purchased here
2 foam sleeping mats purchased here (what can I say? the ground is really hard)
basic clothes, toiletries, first aid, etc. for both of us
money pouches

That's about all we have with us. Our budget is £50 per day. So far we've had to stay in a hotel one night and a B&B another night due to transportation troubles. We're currently about £45 over, but we should be able to make that up over the next week and a half. We're eating in restaurants occasionally and hitting up the awesome grocery stores a lot. We're eating lots of yogurt, bread and cheese, carrot sticks, and fruit. Last night, we had a picnic feast with wine and little pre-packaged G&T's and ate a whole thing of strawberries. Yum.

We've met some fantastic locals and fellow travelers. When we got to the first campsite and set up our tent in the rain, our neighbor immediately ran over and invited us in to his caravan for tea and homemade tea bread. Whilst stranded near Hadrian's Wall, a traveling salesman gave us a lift to our campsite. We discussed archaeology with a retired sculptor over a pint of cider and compared life in the States and life in Oz with some fellow campers on a bus ride. And in Inverness we ran into a group of UF alumni, some of whom live just down Centerville Road and whose kids went to all the same schools as me. So all in all, a fantastic trip so far. More later...cheers!

Monday, June 11, 2007

A tour of Scotland's transportation system


You name it, we've traveled on it. Scotland is great, but it really does require a lot of active traveling. Unluckily, we have had a beast of a time figuring out schedules, which buses don't run on schooldays, which buses run only on schooldays, which trains only run in July and August, etc. Luckily, such traveling has enabled us to explore Glasgow and Edinburgh, attend a highland festival at Glamis Castle (one of my favorite experiences of the trip so far), chill out on the Isle of Skye, admire the general splendour at Dunrobin Castle and Gardens (where we also saw a falconry exhibition with owls, hawks, and falcons flying inches above our heads), and see spectacular scenery from the train (we even got to go over that cool curved bridge they show in the Harry Potter movies).

After Yorkshire but before we got to Scotland, we went to Fountains Abbey, a Cistercian abbey that Henry VIII destroyed. It was one of the most awe-inspiring sights I have ever seen. We wandered through the rocks and arches and learned about the lives of the monks. I can't believe anyone could destroy something so beautiful. From there, we went to Robin Hood's Bay, on the Yorkshire coast. It was a charming village built almost vertically into a cliff. We had the best fish and chips ever there and then walked along the seaweed-strewn coast. We also went to Whitby, a few miles north, which was a big resort during the Victorian era. There was lots of beautiful jet jewelry, another ruined abbey, and lots of shoreline-amusement tackiness. We also had some yummy fudge and Andrew got to try real Turkish Delight! We stopped in Durham to tour the cathedral on our way north, then took the train to Northumberland to see Hadrian's Wall. We walked for about ten miles along the wall and communed with the sheepies. We also saw the ruins of a Roman fort there. We had a great time playing archaeologists, trying to read the ruins. From there, we headed to Scotland.

Right now we're in Edinburgh. This morning we had a picnic in the park, toured a Georgian era townhouse, and had a tasty lunch. Now we're going to a fancy chocolate shop for a snack, the Museum of Scotland to sort out who this Bonnie Prince Charlie chap was, and then maybe Arthur's Seat for a nice walk and a view of the city. The sun is shining, we're well-fed, and we're feeling good. Cheers!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Learning life lessons all over the place

Wow, it's really cold and wet here at night. The days are nice, though, and since I last wrote, we've spent some lovely days touring ruined abbeys, exploring seaside towns, eating fish and chips with malt vinegar, and walking ten miles along Hadrian's Wall. We've met lots of friendly locals who have guided us along the way and kept us in good company, well fed, and well supplied with sweet, milky hot tea. Right now we're in Glasgow, wandering around for a bit while waiting for a train to Ft. William for some highland flinging. I'll try to update in Edinburgh; we are changing our itinerary a bit, but that should be at the end of the week. Cheers!