A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Rounds Women

York, April 24th & 25th

sunny 69 °F

Not as if anyone EVER doubted that we come from fancy-pants royal roots, but back a few centuries, we did have kind of a kick-ass castle in the family.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roslin_Castle

Mom and I had the luck to get to return there and say hello to the old girl. It overlooks a really steep canyon area, with all sorts of trees and vegetation— almost reminded me of Costa Rica in some ways, with the vines growing up the immensely tall trees. There were oodles of a certain type of teeny while flower (still googling), and it made the air smell like freshly chopped shallots. And yes, we did take a wee nibble of the flower once we figured out what it was. It tasted pretty onion-like, and we felt pretty refreshed after we both came down from the hallucinations. (Apparently both my parents are big proponents of the “when in doubt, try it out” method of plant identification.) Another botany-related aside to any of you youngsters out there, if your mother insists that a particular plant is a nettle (even a variety you’re not familiar with) and you happen to disagree, it’s best not to assert your all-knowing youthful independence in open toed shoes.

The Roslin chapel is being restored at the moment, (and it was Easter Sunday morning) so we didn’t get to check it out, but the castle was really something. It was a little awe inspiring to think about being connected to a place that’s been around for so many centuries before you were born. Seeing even parts of it still standing was truly impressive. Part of the area within the original walls is still being used as a guest house, and there are many lovely walks around the area, including one along the valley floor underneath the castle. It was just breathtaking to see what kind of a view they must have had. (Actually, there was only about a two foot high wall around the whole area, and it was scaring me spitless to see mom leaning over to get better views.) Though there was a lovely cemetery between the chapel and castle, I really didn’t want her to miss London on account of a mere eighty foot drop.

From there we drove to York, which is a lovely little town, home of York Minster Abbey, and has the River Ouse running through. It’s pronounced “Ooze”, which lent itself to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song running through my head for at least 4 hours each time I looked at the water. Given that our B&B was right on the water, it was a tough day for me. The location was fantastic, but the B&B sported the single steepest staircase I have ever been on. The places we’ve been staying are all half-way ancient and not built for the faint of heart, but this place might have been better off with the rung-ladder set up my dad’s boats had in the galley. That might have made it easier for toting bags upstairs as well.

Mom did a little walkies about town while I took another cough syrup assisted afternoon nap, so the evening was spent checking out the cooler points of what she’d found. The city still has the old fortress walls around it, and you can walk along most of it. It
overlooks the Minster, and the outlying buildings (old Treasury house, etc) that have the most immaculate gardens. (If thousands of people were looking down on my garden every week, I’d probably maintain them a little more meticulously. And probably not garden in my pajamas or au natural quite as much.)

Mom found one of the lovely narrow riverboats for sale near our B&B, and briefly considered scrapping this whole moving-to-Alaska thing and messing about on the water for the rest of her life. I rather like the idea of her cruising about the river system of Britain, maybe starting up a mobile pasty shop and serenading the locals with the goofy German songs she used to sing to us as kids.

We visited the Minster the next morning, as it was closed for Easter services on Sunday night. We’d hoped to catch Evensong Sunday night, but our usual repertoire of taking many, many wrong turns before arriving tastefully tardy to our destination was in full effect, so we had to wait till the next day to see things. There was quite a bit of contemporary art on display, one of which was an embroidered panel featuring a scene from the Garden of Eden that was particularly gorgeous. The stitching was just immaculately detailed, from the peacocks down to a very redheaded and topless Eve. The mother of all mankind apparently shares my style of gardening.

The pipes on the organ were surprisingly detailed in their decoration as well, and the woodwork along the top looked about as delicate and intricate as lace. The Minster is undergoing some refurbishment, and they have a display on one end showing the process that the stone cutters and stained glass artists have to go through for restorations.

It was a shame to not get to see the full stained glass of the East Front that’s being worked on, but we DID get to see a good bit of “local colour” (as mom calls it) on Sunday night… Since Monday is a bank holiday, everyone took the liberty of getting dressed to the Nines and going out. Actually, most of the women were a little less than half-dressed, so we’ll say they were dressed to the Fours. Earlier during the afternoon sun, there were tons of families having picnics in the Museum Gardens, but as soon as the sun set and the chill set in, the 20-30 something crowd came out and left the sensible dressing to us fuddy duddies. We’d thought the Scottish girls put the “tart” in “tartan”, but the Yorkie women definitely gave ‘em a run for their money. How those women walk in high heels on cobblestone sidewalks without breaking anything, I’ll never know. I rolled both my ankles at least three times just while wearing flats.

After our tour of the Minster, we grabbed a quick lunch of pasties (flaky crusted little meat pies, mom’s new addiction) and headed off to London.

Posted by Rounds Women 18:28 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Techincal difficulties

or "bloody effing hell" as they say here

Sorry gang, new pics and the blogs on London will have to wait till I'm back Stateside-- the ol' laptop has given up the ghost, and I'm too old and blind to do much with mom's iphone.

cheers

Posted by Rounds Women 02:41 Comments (0)

Isle of Bute, Edinburgh Apr 21-23

semi-overcast 53 °F

Well, our sunny lucky streak finally came to a temporary end… It was cold and (what we thought was) cloudy the morning we left Rothesay (on the Isle of Bute), and it took listening to the radio all the way through Glasgow to figure out that it was actually SMOG that was blocking all our views. Most lucky Brits get Good Friday as a holiday, and this Monday is a bank holiday, so it’s a nice long weekend for most folks. Despite gas being just over $9 per gallon here, there are enough people driving this holiday weekend to muck up the entire country! One more reason to love and be spoiled by the Northwest. Because of the traffic, we’re also finally seeing a small police presence on the roads now. Until now, we’ve only seen about two police cars, one of which pulled up behind me immediately after we left the rental car agency in Bath. (Was SO glad I wore my industrial strength nappies that day in anticipation.) Instead of cop cars, they have signs announcing speed trap cameras. It’s lovely! They have a sign that warns you that there’s a speed camera ahead, and then BAM! There’s a speed camera a little later. I like this method. They even let you know when the camera is not functioning, just to save you the inconvenience of slowing down if no one’s really looking.

The Isle of Bute was… Ok folks, I’m running out of positive adjectives for the ol’ blog here. I’m not going to bother my pretty little head looking back on what I’ve already used, so let’s pull one from the ol’ thesaurus. The Isle of Bute was…Stupendous and Phenomenal. There we go. And I know I haven’t used phenomenal yet, because I found myself staring at that word in a shop window and trying for the life of me to remember if we spell it the same in the States as they do here.

So. Isle of Bute. After the darling (if you overlook the price) little ferry ride to the island, the first thing we saw were hairy cows. Scottish Highland Cattle, if you want to be proper… Emo Cows if you don’t. I’ve posted a picture of a postcard, since I stupidly didn’t take photos of them when I had the chance. Criminal, I know. At least I got photos of the ridiculous amount of palm trees in the downtown area. Haven’t quite figured out how those suckers survive, because it was DAMN cold out the next morning, which I imagine isn’t an unusual occurrence. That evening was fairly cool, but we took a long stroll along the walkway on the sea. People we passed were very friendly, and the beach was made up for more shells that sand. Everyone seems to be enlivened by the warm weather—it’s similar to the Portland area right now, where they’re just seeing the first real signs of real Spring beginning.

Our HUGE room at the B&B overlooked the bay, so after mom and I found our requisite fish and chip dinner, we got a bottle of Benromach Single Malt Scotch Whisky and watched the boats go by. The view and the whisky were both delightful, so we proposed some toasts to sexy new Wellies and not ripping each others’ heads off thus far.

The next morning we visited Mount Stuart house, which I mentioned in the photos I posted previously. It’s an absolute shame that you’re not allowed to take photos inside, and the postcards they have for sale do NO justice to the phenomenal (yay for spell check) design of the place. The owner spent a lifetime designing the place, and had an incredible mix of humor, beauty, and spiritual elements in every detail. It’s a lovely mix of “churchy” religion, greek and roman mythology, and kind of a naturalist awe. The stained glass windows were inlaid with crystals in the shapes of constellations, so when the sun shone in, they cast rainbows against the opposing marble walls. (There were something like eight different types of marble used in the house in different ways.) Even though it’s “just” a house, rather than a cathedral or castle, it was one of the more fascinating and lovely of all the historic buildings we’ve visited. They also just happened to have mini-zip lines in the playground area. But I’m not at liberty to discuss that portion of our trip. Mom did chat up one local that owned a little seafood shop outside the ferry terminal, and found out what pride they take in catching their own product.

It being a nice long Easter weekend also meant for more crowds, as many people travel. Today in Edinburgh was the first day we’ve had to wait for almost anything. We stood in line for about 15 minutes to get tickets to the Edinburgh Castle this morning and were jostled about a bit going through the Scottish Crown Jewels exhibit (no kilt jokes here) because there were so many people. After we were doing exploring there, though, the line was 100x times longer, with people queuing up outside the castle and what seemed like halfway down the Royal Mile road. Must have been a 1-2 hour wait just to get tickets. Our B&B hostess said that in August it’s just total chaos, you can hardly walk along the street in that area because there are so many people.

The Royal Mile is lined with very repetitive shops selling basically the same few items, but we did find one place that has a full tartan-weaving workshop included in the building. Each clan has its own plaid pattern (“tartan”) so tons of people try and trace their lineage back to find out what tartan their family would have. Thanks to our cousin Jim Doore and his vast study of the family tree, we knew not only our tartan, but also that the Sinclair heritage that we boast includes the Rosslyn (Roslin) castle, a few miles south of Edinburgh. (Pictures coming soon.)

After thanking our lucky (rainy) stars and early brekkies, we headed off from tourist traps to the National Museum of Scotland. On the way we popped into a little bistro for a leisurely lunch… Mom’s distaste for the local wildlife shone through in her meal selection; I chose mussels in a lemongrass-infused wine sauce, and she sought her vengeance on the infernal cooing wake-up calls she’s been getting for a week straight by ordering warm pigeon salad. It was quite sweet, with only a wee bitter aftertaste. I think we’ll both sleep well tonight.

The museum was rather fascinating, covering Scottish history from cavemen in the area through the industrial age to modern day. They had examples from ancient ruins, churches, the royalty, and even a full sized whisky still. It’s about the only sight we’ve been to that’s free, and really proved to be one of the more entertaining things we’ve done. Maybe because you were actually allowed to TOUCH some stuff. Obviously we’re very into those attractions bent towards the young and easily distracted.

Posted by Rounds Women 13:28 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Liverpool, Blackpool, Hawkshead, and Keswick Apr. 19&20th

semi-overcast 68 °F

Liverpool, Blackpool, Hawkshead, and Keswick Apr. 19&20th

Let’s see…. I think I left off on the last blog talking about Welsh. Mom and I dug a little deeper into the topic with some heavy duty linguistic detective work (well, we looked at the covers of two Peter Rabbit books, anyway) to compare Gaelic and Welsh, and discovered that the only thing they seem to have in common is that they’re both entirely unintelligible. Whichever came first, I think someone tried writing it down phonetically, and POOF, the other distinct language was created, making equally little sense. As for mom and I, we’ve been perfectly content coming up with our own pronunciations of town names. For some reason we invariably end up digressing into talking like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets, which can last from anywhere from a few minutes to an embarrassingly long stretch.

From our castle in Ruthin, we descended on the class-scale perhaps a touch further than absolutely necessary for the next night. More on that in a moment, but suffice to say there was NO elevator butler guy in Blackpool.

From Ruthin, we drove up to Liverpool to enjoy a little Beatles’ sightseeing. Albert Dock is an entertaining little area with lots of shops and museums set up around the old port where oodles of trade and shipping used to go on before boats got too big for the relatively shallow water. It was another lovely, lovely day out, around 70 degrees, but with a sturdy breeze coming up over the River Mercy.

“The Beatles Story” museum was a total sensory overload, although anyone who’s seen Magical Mystery Tour would probably be unsurprised by that. There were audio guides to explain the different exhibits and photographs, plus videos playing in many areas, plus overhead speakers piping old interview recordings and music on top of everything. I think if someone put me under hypnosis to sift out those separate parts, I might be able to tell you a few things I learned… for now all I can consciously remember is lots of bright colors, having “she loves you yeah yeah yeah” stuck in my head for ages, and a gigantic yellow submarine blowing bubbles into the air. Actually, it was quite fascinating to see their progression from nobodies playing in dank nightclubs to their ultra-stardom. One portion of an exhibit was just videos and pictures of crazy, screaming women going berserk over their arrival at various places. I had to revive mom twice when she fainted from the flashbacks.

From Liverpool, it was on up to Blackpool via the most obnoxious directions given by one owner of the B&B, who was in London on holiday. He was suffering from a cold, and I’m afraid he’d overdosed on cough medicine, because from what we could tell, he was bouncing back and forth between giving directions from London and directions from Liverpool. I can identify with the mental-fuzz, as I’ve been slugging “Chesty Cough” for several days, and only today realized that it’s about 100x stronger than the beer around here. Haven’t gotten arrested for violating any open-container laws while driving just yet, so keep your fingers crossed.

Blackpool is basically a weird mix of Las Vegas, Carnival, and whatever other towns you can imagine with lots of chintz, flashing lights and sticky floors. It has amusement park rides, as many drag queen shows as you can count on three hands, and lots and lots of bars pressing cheap alcohol. There’s a great big tower at one end of the promenade where you can look out over all the seedy goings on. (Un?) Fortunately, we were there on a Tuesday night, so the crowd wasn’t quite as colorful as it might have been otherwise. Still, there were plenty of drunks and pink boa feathers strewn about the streets. The other owner of the B&B (Tony, who had the most delightfully delicate cheekbones and Scottish accent) said they often had cocktails out on the front veranda to watch the night’s entertainment walking by in sized 16 stiletto heels.

Also, despite it being midweek, there were a huge pack of demonstrators next to the drag show that mom and I were supposed to go to (we were pretty wiped out and running late anyway, so we missed the Funny Girls show ) and the police were out en force. We had some dinner across from another similar club, and about halfway through our bangers and mash, a Police Dog van pulled up in front of the club. To our great disappointment, they never opened the back of the K-9 unit. We had SO hoped to see the infamous Corgi attack unit in action. I’ve heard that anyone who doesn’t remember to keep their weed stash above knee level can kiss their ankles goodbye—it’s like a furry yipping pack of piranhas on a cow carcass.

The next morning, our oh-so-friendly and flamboyant Scottish host served us our first Black Pudding, which was actually really delicious. It looks like something you’d see coughed up in an anti-smoking campaign ad, but was very good and savory. Mom’s going to look up the recipe, but for this one I’m all in favor of being blissed out in ignorance.

From Blackpool we drove further North into the STUNNING Lake District. We drove around Lake Windermere and up to Hawkshead, where there’s a Beatrix Potter gallery featuring many of her original drawings. The book “Timmy Tiptoes” is celebrating its 100 year birthday, so there were extra displays of that book. The town of Hawkshead is almost painfully darling, and we spent a lovely sunny afternoon messing about in shops and gazing at the hills of sheep and birds.

It’s about right on par with the Cotswolds as far as totally stunning scenery and pastoral fields that are almost hypnotizing. I have to say the one teeeeensy little drawback for the Lake District is its teeeeeensy little roads. I’ve tried to save my kvetching and moaning about the roads here to a minimum, acknowledging that I’m spoiled rotten with the SUV-accommodating carriageways in America…. Today took the cake though. We’d only had one really close call earlier in the week when an over sized motorhome barreled over a bridge that it had no place trying to cross with other traffic…. Today we at least tripled that figure in near-misses. At one point, we got pinned between a slate rock wall and an enormous lorry, with barely a couple inches on either side. The driver had underestimated his ego and overestimated his turn, and it took several minutes for him to squeak by us without taking the entire side of our car along with him. Mom had enough time to reach out her window to pull some weeds from the rock wall on her side, and for me to write a few obscenities in the dust on the side of his truck on mine.

Keswick (the “w” is silent… yeah, I know. I can’t force myself to say it without the “w” while I’m looking at the word either) was another great experience for us. Every other store in the town is an outdoors type shop, and they get a LOT of hiking tourists going adventuring around the area. It was a bright and beautiful afternoon-- a perfect 70 or so degrees out, sweet breeze coming off of Lake Derwentwater (close cousin to “Wherewentwater”), and sheep, squirrels and birds milling about on the hills beside the golf course. We got checked into our B&B, which overlooked the golf course and hills that seem to go on for ages. I fell asleep about 90 seconds after walking in the room (a side effect of coughing myself blue in the face all day while navigating roads that would comfortably allow for a single smart car and a bicycle passing one another) so mom got the afternoon off from my snot-nosed presence. She came back later smelling of Birkenstocks, Gore-Tex, and granola, so I’m assuming she had herself a good time, but I’m not one to pry.

We tried some local fare before heading to the theater, and re-discovered that whatever the price you pay, it’s still the same bloody bland British food, so you might as well eat at a cheap pub.

Keswick (you said the W in your head again, didn’t you?) has a theater down by the lake, and we went to see Arthur Miller’s play “A View from the Bridge”. It was a delightful performance, and since neither mom nor I had read the play before, we were both totally transfixed. At intermission we walked down to the lake, and it was almost surreally beautiful. The wooden rowboats they rent during the day were all lined up with ducks paddling around them in the twilight, with the birds and sheep in the background noise. It was a little misty along the water, and even with all the other theater-goers standing around chatting, it just felt totally dreamlike. One of those perfect moments that you don’t want to breathe too hard in case you blow it away somehow.

We head to Scotland tomorrow, and I’m pretty sure our first Haggis experience will be on about the same par. I’m sure we’ll both be speechless some somewhat watery eyed in any case.

Posted by Rounds Women 10:44 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Wales!!

llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch. Just sayin'.

sunny 70 °F

Wales and Ruthin Castle Apr. 17th, 18th

So, as a super quickie lesson for anyone who doesn’t know… The United Kingdom is made up of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Day 8 of our trip consisted of wandering over the border of England and Wales to check out some scenery and castles. I knew that Welsh was a language all unto its own, but had NO idea how incredibly different it is than English. I posted a few pictures of the signs we’ve found, just to give an idea of the total lack of similarity. The second you pass the border, all of the signs start being in Welsh and English. (Right, reading the sporadic road signs here wasn’t hard enough before when it was in ONE language….)

Mum was explaining that it’s a Celtic derivation, and was around for several centuries before French or German. We’ve been listening to Welsh radio, and it’s almost impossible to pick out anything from it, since there are no Latin roots or anything in common with words we know and speak. Of course, as the roadtrip silliness set in over time, we would shout out words that we thought we understood, or English words the speaker would drop in occasionally…. “Farfig-nuten!!” “Ooooh!!! I heard MP3!!! I speaky the Welsh better than you!!!”

It’s a fascinating mix of the rolling R’s of Spanish, and the guttural flemmy bits of German. Seeing as I’ve managed to get a bit sick over the trip so far, I’ve been trying to hide my hacking as Welsh practice. I got away with it for a bit, but mom’s a pretty smart cookie… she checked on my insistence that it was always spoken with Kleenex in hand (for propriety’s sake) with a local tourist guide, and he not only sold me out on that, but also on my claim that Menthol was an ancient secret for communing with those long dead. I’d curse him in Welsh, but it takes too much typing.

Just as an aside, I have to share with you the name of a town in Wales, just for a little example. It is: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch. I s**t you not: Google it.

Thankfully we didn’t go by there, seeing as we have a hard enough time with the shorter names with a distinct lack of vowels… (One town was “Cwn Llwmn”) If proper names were allowed in Scrabble, you would be SET for life if you knew a few towns in Wales.

Actually, I’ve been thinking about recording mom and me talking as we’re driving and trying to get to places… My mucus-induced leg up on the language notwithstanding, neither of us has ANY idea how to even begin to pronounce the names of towns or streets we’re headed for, so our Navigator/Pilot conversations usually are something along the lines of:

“Okay… so on the.. twenty seventh roundabout this mile, we’ll be taking the third left to go towards…. Pen… Peny…. Peneblebbblebbellllllll…..lll…Pblebeby-beeb-e-bebby.”

“Wait, didn’t we just pass Pblebbeby-bbebby-ty-beebty?”

“No, no, that was Pensy-wald-cwn-bbeb-yly-bebbtibbys.”

“Oh, right, right, I forgot there was another “B” in that first one we went by.”

This (and the 400 miles worth of similar inane banter) is all said totally dead-pan, as there’s unwittingly been some unspoken agreement made between the two of us to not point out that we’re both helplessly lost and couldn’t ask for or understand directions if our lives depended on it.

I’m now convinced our rental car is equipped with two way radio, since between the Welsh stations we’ve been listening to, it throws in such songs as “I Will Survive”, “Living on a Prayer”, and “Stayin’ Alive”. Fairly certain the car rental place is trying to boost our morale and the chance for the car returning safely, OR the radio is sentient and desperately wants to live past its second birthday.

Despite the dizzying amount of retracing steps and wrong turns, we did eventually make it to Caernarfon Castle, where the Princes of Wales have been crowned. They had a lovely display and history of the events, along with lots of photos of Prince Charles’ big day. We also got to drive by Conway castle and read some history about it as well.

Our BIGGEST castle find of the day was in Ruthin, where I’d booked a room for us at the Ruthin Castle. Thinking it was more or less of a gimmicky name (especially considering the low room price) we had a hard time finding the place. Turns out, yeah, it really WAS an actual castle, and the only one in the city.

We took one of those ancient elevators up to our floor (complete with the rusty little old guy that pushes the buttons and locks the cages behind you so you don’t lose an arm), and the view was just lovely! Looked out over a garden, and had a huge porcelain bathtub, and a KING SIZED BED!!!!

I’ve made every effort to try for separate beds for mom and I, for while we’ve never been weird about sharing a bed, Double beds are the standard size here for two people. When I learned that we could only get a one bed guest room at the castle, I was a little worried. She and I have gotten along splendidly so far, but I was definitely afraid that sharing a small bed might be that last straw to push one of us into breaking. So, while we both spent our time commenting on the fine furnishing AROUND the bed, there was a palpable relaxation of the tension in the air over who would kill whom in their sleep during the night. I was able to return my “souvenir” knife to the gift wrapping and take the No-Doz out of my nightly pill regimen.

We woke up to the sounds of a peacock on the roof across from us… and while we have those in the Northwest, it sounds so much fancier coming from the roof of a castle. Mom had a charming little pretend-conversation with him while he was squawking, going over how MARVELOUSLY she slept and thank you for asking, etc. Rather darling, actually.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that about two seconds after she left the window, the couple in the room adjacent across the garden (the peacock was on their roof, out of view) quickly shut their window and kept peering suspiciously up at our room.

Actually the only hiccup in the Castle stay was over brekkies… We had a delightful Welsh bakery breakfast with croissants and coffee and meats, set up in a lovely dining room that overlooked a little plaza just crawling with peacocks and flowers. Unfortunately, they made the horrendous mistake of letting the underling staff pick the music, so we were stuck listening to some awful morning-show uproar. They were rehashing some terrible audition for Britain’s got Talent or something, so it was awful singing, then cutting to hip hop/rap mixes in between repeats of this poor tone-deaf soul.

Overall, it was another gorgeous sunny day with the most amazing scenery and new adventures for us both. Every day is bringing new challenges and surprises, and I’m so blessed to get to do this with my mom right now in our lives! Mostly because we’re both old and senile enough to forget the small offenses that do occur, and both totally distract-able enough for pretty, shiny things to dissolve any brewing tensions over travel-snafus.

Posted by Rounds Women 15:58 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

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