Monday, October 29, 2012

Arthur's Seat & the Pars

View from Arthur's Seat

After our big fall holiday throughout the British Isles, we decided to do things a little closer to home this weekend.   Saturday morning, we drove into Edinburgh and climbed up on top of Arthur’s Seat, which the main peak of a group of hills just to the east of Edinburgh.  Some people might call it a mountain because it does rise rather dramatically above the city, but it is really only a little over 800 feet high. 

It was rather cool but the skies were nice and clear.  We took a loop road around the back side of the hill and parked the car near a pond.  The hike up was steep, but relatively short. 
on top of Arthur's Seat

On top of Arthur’s Seat, the winds were really blowing and the wind chill had to be below freezing.  I know I had trouble talking as it felt like my lips & face were numb.  However, the views from on top were outstanding.  We could see all of Edinburgh spread out below us, with great views of Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace (Queen’s home while in Scotland), Calton Hill, and Easter Road (football stadium were Hibernian or “Hibs” play).  Carter and Cara had great fun playing with the sheets of ice that had formed in the frozen puddles at the top of the hill.  We enjoyed being on top and look forward to going back in the future and exploring Salisbury Crags which is a lower hill even closer to the city center.
Salisbury Crags - our next destination hike

We returned to our home in Dunfermline and in the afternoon went to our first Dunfermline Athletic Football Club match.  The team is known by the nickname of the Pars and they play at East End Park which is about ¾ of a mile walk from our house.  Dunfermline is playing in the Scottish First Division, which is the 2nd tier of football in Scotland, and with this win it put them at the top of the table.  Carter brought a friend form school with him and the rest of the family went along as well.  We sat in the end behind the goal and watched Dunfermline beat Cowdenbeath 3-0. Dunfermline dominated the match and did a very good job of passing and running off of the ball.  I think we all had a good time, but we agreed that the next match we attended, we would be better prepared for the colder weather.  Stacy, Cara, and I had two jackets, but our legs got a little cold as well as our hands.  Carter and his friend very much enjoyed the match and hope next time to get to touch the ball as it goes out the end of the pitch and into the stands.
Pars Stadium

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Autumn Holidays – Days 11-13

Our next day in Wales found us going to Conwy Castle which is another of Edward I castles that were built in the late 1200s to control the Welsh people and countryside.  Conwy Castle is smaller than Caernarfon Castle and in not as great shape but it is still extremely interesting to wander around.  While many of the castles in Wales were never fully completed, Conwy Castle was built to its full plans in 4 years.   The castle sits on a rocky piece of land jutting into the Conwy River and is the anchor to the walled city of Conwy.

We arrived in Conwy on Wednesday morning and immediately walked toward the castle by passing through a gate of the walled city.  We discovered that we could walk on the wall as our route for getting to the castle. 

Once inside the castle, Carter had fun exploring every crevice and passageway and his shadow, Cara, was not far behind.  After our experiences of walking up and down all of the turrets of Caernarfon Castle, we created a new strategy of walking the ramparts and then taking small trips up to the turrets.  Once this was completed, we then toured the lower portions of the castle.  The views from the turrets were outstanding, with great views in every direction.  We could easily see the entire walled city of Conwy as well as its harbor and the surrounding countryside.  We found it interesting that the railway system went right past the castle and its bridge structure was incorporated into the look of the castle structure.

After touring the castle, it was time for lunch, so we took our baguette, Welsh butter, cheese, and meat (PB and nutella for Cara) down to the harbor for a picnic by the river.  The sun was shining and the water looked great so we sat on a bench ate our lunch.  Stacy and I really like the fresh bread with the Welsh butter.  Carter was on bird patrol, keeping the seagulls and other birds of “lunch” prey away from our bench.  I think he walked more during lunch than on our castle tour but he did do a great job of keeping the birds at bay. 

After lunch, we walked a bit on the city wall, stopping to play at a playground, and then continued our walk around the city. 

Leaving Conwy, we tried to go to the Orme, which was a big rock mountain jutting into the sea at Llandudno, but the road was closed going around it.  We then tried to go to an ice cream shop that Stacy had found in a guidebook, but it was also closed.  Undeterred, we stopped at a store called Sweets and Treats and Carter and Cara got candy sticks, called rocks in the UK.  We then headed back to our hotel in Caernarfon, looking again at another rainbow.  Amazingly, we saw more rainbows in Wales than we did in Ireland.  I bet we saw one or two in Ireland, while we saw 10 or more in Wales. 

Since Stacy and I enjoyed it so much, our dinner for this evening was back to the Blue Boy Inn.  I got to sit in a pub, watch England vs. Poland, have a cask ale, and eat dinner.  What could be better than that?

I also thought it interesting to note that most people in the pub were excited when Poland scored but it makes sense.  The UK is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and N. Ireland, with England being the dominant partner.  The other three countries tend to feel that England is the overbearing older sibling and there is often a sporting mentality of anybody but England.  I definitely noticed that in the pub while watching the game.

Leaving Wales and heading to York

Our next day had us packing up to leave Wales and head to the English city of York.  Along the way we stopped at the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in the town of Llangollen in Wales.  The aqueduct is a raised 11 foot wide canal bridge that rises 128 ft over the River Dee and is 1000 ft long.  Over 200 years ago, much of this area of Wales used water to transport goods and the canal was built to facilitate that transport.  Now it appears that the canals are used for private transport, with people having long narrow house boats to travel the canal system.  The bridge from a distance looks impressive, but it is truly amazing to realize that it is really a water bridge.  We were able to see a boat crossing the bridge, to walk across the bridge, and to walk under the bridge.

Leaving Llangollen, we headed to York.  After dealing with a few traffic issues we arrived at our hotel and went to the National Railway Museum in York.  We got there around 3 in the afternoon and started in looking at the trains.  Carter, Cara, and I got to ride a miniature train around for about 5 minutes.  Inside the Great Hall, we saw many old trains and got to climb on a few.  We saw the flying Scotsman, the Hogwarts Express and even a Japanese bullet train.  We felt that the museum was lacking in some of its exhibits (closed or tired exhibits), probably due to lack of funding since it was not a fee museum.  Also contributing to our feelings was the fact that we got there late in the day and also late in our holiday tour.  I think we would really enjoy the museum a great deal more if we attended it another time and I would recommend going to the National Railway Museum to anyone.

We had dinner at a Pizza Express, which sounds like fast food but is really a somewhat fancy sit down pizza restaurant.  The pizza was good and the kids enjoyed the doughballs and dessert.  After dinner, we took a short walk into the center of York.  It is another walled city and it has a very gorgeous cathedral in its center.  We got to it just as an Evensong service was concluding and the Cathedral was closing for the evening.  Both Stacy and I decided that York is a place that we would like to come back and explore.  The center of the city looked very intriguing inside walls and the Cathedral looked very much like a place to explore.  Also, apparently the city is known for Chocolate since there are several chocolate tours of the city (no samples though :-).

Last Day – Hadrian’s Wall and the drive home.

On our last day of our holiday tour, we headed to Hadrian’s Wall, in particular the Housesteads Roman Fort.  The drive took us about an hour longer than anticipated due the fog and accidents on the motorway but we made it nonetheless. 

Hadrian’s Wall was built back in 122 AD, most likely as a border to keep barbarians out of the Roman colonized areas of Briton.  The place we visited was called Housesteads, which was the location of a Roman fort along the wall.  There were forts scattered along the mile approximately 5 to 10 miles apart and the troops in the forts patrolled sections of the wall to keep out the barbarians.  The basic foundations of the fort are still in place, so we were able to walk around on the old rocks and bricks of the fort.  The fort probably held around 1000 soldiers so the area enclosed was quite large.  It was fascinating to see and read about the intricate details of the fort like a latrine with running water, bath/steam houses for officers, or even an elevated grain house to keep out pests.  I also thought it was quite amazing that the fort was most likely built by the actual soldiers since I incorrectly assumed that the forts were built by slave labor.  The kids had fun climbing around and reading the information plaques since mom was going to give them a quiz later as we were traveling.

On our way home, we stopped at the border of Scotland and England, and it felt quite nice to get back to our adopted country.  I did not realize how attached I had become to Scotland but it felt good to be home even though at that point we still had at least an hour to travel (actually 2 since the traffic around Edinburgh was hectic even at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon) .

In regards to our entire autumn holiday, there are a few things that we might do differently if we were ever to do it again, but the entire experience was wonderful (even traveling in a small car for 13 days with Carter & Cara being squirrelly).  The break has been nice and believe it or not, I am not dreading going back to school.  I really wish the school system in NC could have something like a fall break, where families (and teachers) can get away for a while and go to places during an off peak time.

Our official mileage for our autumn holiday was 1,653 miles!! (Thanks for driving it all, Jim)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Autumn Holidays - days 9 & 10

Day 9 –
Today we left Dublin and took the car ferry to Holyhead, Wales. I really like travelling by ferry, because once you park your car, you walk up a few stairs & have one or more decks to relax, shop, walk on the outside deck, eat at a restaurant, coffee or snack bar, etc.

Lighthouse at sunrise Dublin Harbour

Our ferry departed at 8:20 am, and arrived in Wales at 11:45. We drove from Holyhead and made our way toward Caernarfon. Along the way, we stopped at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, because it is the longest place name for a village in Europe.
Longest town name

After arriving in Caernarfon (cuh-nar-von), we went to the Caernarfon Castle. This is the castle where Charles was invested as Prince of Wales in 1969. Some of it is ruins or was never completed, but you can still walk up several of the towers and around the walls.
Carter on the ramparts at Caernarfon Castle
inside the castle walls
the town of Caernarfon has old walls around it to keep it safe

We also walked around the town of Caernarfon trying to get oriented and find a place to eat dinner. After checking into our hotel, we headed back to the Black Boy/Black Buoy Inn. The pub was old with dark wood beams and a nice, toasty coal fire. Our dinner was one of the best of our trip, and the cask ales were right up Jim’s alley!

getting toasty by the fire

Day 10 –
Today we woke to a drizzly morning of rain; however we headed out to explore parts of Snowdonia National Park. We were headed to the town of Betws Y Coed for a hike, but since it was still raining, we headed a little north to a woolen mill and museum. We were hoping to see several of the manufacturing processes; however they were replacing a part, so we didn’t see a lot of action.

Fairy Falls in Trefriw

After leaving the mill, the sun was starting to shine, so we went on a short hike to Fairy Falls and then back to Betws Y Coed for a picnic lunch by the river and a walk along the river. Our walk took us through a couple of sheep field and the kids had fun pointing out all the “sheep beans” and working hard to avoid walking in them!
Avoiding sheep beans!
Can you believe a brother would do THIS?!

Driving back through Snowdonia and up over a mountain pass, we loved the stunning beauty of the rocky landscape dotted with small waterfalls cascading from the heights and sheep dotting the mountainsides.
How many sheep do YOU see?
views in Snowdonia
view of the slate mine

We stopped at the National Slate Museum for a free tour, of which Cara was excited about the kid’s playground and Carter was not-so-excited about any of it, but it turned out better than expected. We toured a little portion of the old slate mine headquarters and then took in a slate splitting demonstration. The gentleman giving the demonstration picked Carter out of the group and said that at about the age of 11 or 12, boys would usually start in slate mining, and so he was asked if he would like to split some slate. He has given some instruction and hit his finger a bit with the hammer, but ended up with a nicely split piece of slate (to take home, no less!!).
Carter working at splitting slate

A little later, since Cara was the only other child there, our demonstrator made her a lovely slate heart ornament, to demonstrate how they can shape pieces. What lucky kids!!
Cara receiving her ornament

We ended another lovely day with a takeout dinner of fish and chips (and PB&N for Cara) – yum! Carter rated the fish better than Alari’s (our local in Dunfermline, so that’s pretty good)!

Autumn Holidays - Days 3 - 8

Leaving Portrush, the next stop on our holiday was the Ulster American Folk Centre near the town Omagh in Northern Ireland.

The folk centre has actual buildings from various time periods that have been moved entirely to this location.   As we wandered the property, the buildings took us from Ireland to America so we could see how the Irishman transitioned to America.  One branch of my family (the Pedens on my mom’s side of the family) actually has Scots-Irish roots, so it was interesting to see the types of houses and conditions that my ancestors could have been living in.  We were able to see small one room farmhouses that slept 8 people, with the only source of heat being a small fireplace burning peat.  Another house that we visited was the weaver house.  This was a bigger house but much of the space was dedicated to spinning wool into thread.  Cara got to try carding the wool and she found it to be rather difficult. 

Also included in the Folk Centre was the Irish home of a young Andrew Mellon, who went on to become a huge banker in the United States during the late 1800’s.  It has been interesting so far during our time in Britain to see the beginning lives of people that I have always considers bigwig Americans of the Industrial Revolution.  I never realized that Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland and that Andrew Mellon was born in Ireland; I just thought they were American.  Again it shows the power of the American dream as their families immigrated to the US in hopes of a better life.   All in all, I thought the Folk Centre was very well laid out and a worthwhile activity as we worked our way south to Dublin.

We left the Folk Centre and headed south to Dublin, Ireland.  We never actually saw the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland but we did quickly notice that the speed limit signs switched to 100 (km per hour). 

We drove to our hotel in the city centre and walked to the Temple Bar district to eat dinner.  We went to Oliver St. John Gogarty’s pub because they have a reputation of playing live music. 

The music was ok, most of the people were tourists and so the music was a mishmash of popular songs including several US tunes.  We were hoping for more traditional Irish music but it was fun all the same.  After dinner we walked along the River Liffey and crossed the Ha’Penny Bridge. 

It was originally named the penny half penny bridge for the toll paid to cross it. The next day we got fresh baked goods for breakfast and at them along the river bank before heading out of town.


Leaving Dublin, we headed across the country to the town of Dingle.  The drive took us most of the day with a few detours for various reasons.  We arrived at our Bed and Breakfast (Torran Na Dtonn) in the late afternoon and went into town for dinner.  The next day we embarked on our tour of the Dingle peninsula on the Slea Head Drive. 

The morning was typical weather for the island with misty rain periodically mixed with brilliant sunshine.  The views of the hillside and seashore were gorgeous, with each turn around the bend being something else that was equally as exciting as the last bend.  The kids had great fun on a couple of beaches and also taking a hike out on a rocky ridge.

The loop drive was filled with a multitude of ancient rocks, huts, forts, etc. Tourism was an obvious mainstay of life, because everything cost to see it (whomever the land belonged to). It was quite different from visiting sites along the Blue Ridge Parkway for free. The amount of work that the Irish people had to put in to making this land livable is amazing. The fields were all edged with rock walls, which had been gathered from said fields (a lot of work). Seaweed and sand was gathered from the beaches to make the clay soil usable for growing potato crops and feeding livestock.

The next day was again filled with exploring the peninsula, with trips to the beach and a walk on the hillside (not as successful as the previous day since there was rain water and Cara managed to find the puddles with her shoes).   For lunch we stopped at a place we had looked at the before, but weren’t able to visit because it was only open for lunch, called Chowder. Stacy & I shared the most amazing lamb burger and bowl of fish chowder. We found a local cheese shop and sampled several varieties of Irish cheeses, then ended up making a couple of purchases and this became dinner (See Cara’s story).

We left Dingle right after breakfast and drove the Connor Pass over the mountains toward Tralee and Limerick and eventually back to Dublin. At one point at the top of the pass, there was an overlook from which you could see the coast near Dingle as well as the coast on the northern side of the peninsula. Of course the top was shrouded with clouds which were spitting rain at us, but the views were still beautiful.


Returning to Dublin, we searched for several laudrettes in order to wash our clothes, but they were either not to be found, or more like dry cleaners. Our hotel informed us that there were laundry facilities available at the hotel!! I was so excited until I discovered that the washer was out of order, so it was an hour of washing clothing in the bathroom sink – fun….

Today we awoke to rain. We headed toward the Dublin Zoo, but changed course because of the rain and hit the Guinness Storehouse at 9:30 am!

The Storehouse is now just a tourist attraction, but used to be where Guinness beer was brewed. We walked through 6 floors of information and displays about the brewery. On the top floor is the Gravity bar which is a circular room with spectacular views of Dublin and the Wicklow mountain range.

After a quick lunch in the car, we hit the Dublin Zoo.

We didn’t have very high expectations for a city zoo in Europe, but we ended up being pleasantly surprised. Many of the animals were quite active. There were a good number of giraffes and even a baby.

Carter really enjoyed seeing the two varieties of tigers, and we spent quite a while with the gorillas watching two young ones at play. We also got to see the seal and penguin feedings.

After a 3 hour visit to the zoo, we headed in toward St. Stephen’s Green, a park and tourist area in Dublin. We found Grafton Street, a pedestrian shopping area with plenty of street entertainment. Our feet got tired rather quickly, so we stopped for an early dinner at Wagamama’s at Carter’s request and then headed back to our hotel.