Commentary and pictures from our trip to the UK.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Legoland Windsor

For months before we came to England, Jonathan had been paging through a book about Legos that friends loaned us and dreaming of visiting Legoland Windsor, a big amusement park done up by Lego corporation. Finally, on August 5th, we visited. In our rented vehicle, a Peugeot 307 that Jonathan named the Jungle Thing, we roamed the motorways, all around the London outskirts and near Heathrow, until we reached the park in Windsor.

The boys were obviously excited from the moment we got there. Alistair wasn’t big enough for some of the rides, so Jeremy took Jonathan on Pirate Falls, while I took him on a big roller coaster, the Dragon’s Lair. We all walked a maze, rode the Dragon’s Apprentice, the Dino Safari, the Dino Dipper, and the Fairy Tale boats. Jeremy waited in a long, long line to ride another coaster, while I took the boys on a fun safari train ride, past Lego statues that sometimes sprayed us with water.

Beyond the rides, we saw two shows, one comedy sketch with Brick and Click (ouch), and one Johnny Thunder adventure show full of gymnastics, high dives, and slapstick melodrama. Most memorably, the boys went to driving school, where the world’s most patient man gives 3-6 year olds instruction in steering and driving, then repeatedly has to rescue them from the curbs and pile ups they cause. Judging from our video, the Campbell kids shouldn’t get licenses until they hit 30. Afterward Alistair told me “I made lots of stakes, Mommy.”

We rounded out the day with a hasty trip through the amazing minature village, where whole cities are reproduced. The boys were tiring rapidly, so we only saw some of Italy, Holland, a race track, NASA, and Sweden, where Abba was performing. Afterward, we hopped back in the Jungle Thing for the ride back to Cambridge. The kids were asleep before we finished the short drive out of Windsor.

We'll post pictures and videos soon. Check back.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Explorer Pass

We purchased an Explorer's Family Pass from the Historic Scotland society. It gives us unlimited access to Historic Scotland properties for several days. Our experience with museums and children lead us to believe that castles and such go better with kids. We were right.

We started our day with Stirling Castle, another of the royal castles. It is located in town of Stirling about 30 miles outside of Edinburgh. We really glad we rented a car for this trip.

We enjoyed Stirling Castle, but the big, royal castles are different than other castles. They're more like forts with palaces on their grounds than castles. Nevertheless, a good time was had by all.

We left Stirling and headed for Castle Campbell located in the village of Dollar. After a great lunch at King's Seat, a local free house, we drove up the hill to the Castle. As Campbells, we were especially intrigued by what we might find.

Castle Campbell was aqcuired through a Campbell-Stewart marriage as part of a dowry. It was strategically important to the powerful Highland Campbells as it gave them a lowland presence very near the royal court.

Castles seem indestructable, and they are from the outside. However, inside their stone and mortar walls, important elements like the floors are frequently made of wood. This castle, like many, had at one time burned, so most of what remained was ruin. Still, it was great to see the place.

We left Castle Campbell and headed to Lochleven Castle. Lochleven Castle is literally in the middle of Loch Leven on a small island. This castle is notable as a place Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for about a year. More on that can be found here. Aside from the historical significance of the place, we thought the kids would get a huge kick out of the ferry ride. They did.

We returned to Edinburgh exhausted and hungry. We wandered about the Bruntsfield Links area (where our hotel was/is), and found an interesting (as in not too pricey, though everything in the UK is very expensive) Chinese eatery called Lee On. We knew it was a good Chinese place because we were the only Caucasians present. It proved to be the best, most varied meal we'd had in some time.

Pictures from our day can be found here.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Edinburgh Castle

Today we started touring Scotland in earnest. Edinburgh’s downtown is dominated by Edinburgh Castle. The castle sits above everything else on a strategically important hill of rock. It’s also the home to the throne of Scotland, but since the merging of the royals of Scotland and England, it’s mostly been a military fort.

Edinburgh Castle is not what I expected for a castle. It is basically a fort with palaces and other important buildings set inside the walls. Nevertheless, it is a place filled with the history of political intrigue, violent clan disputes, and aspirations of empire. More than one person has lost their head there for running afoul of someone for something.

We toured the castle taking in the views from inside and over the walls. Looking outward, you have the best views of Edinburgh there are to be had. Looking inward, you get to see a side of Scotland that you have to physically experience.

We saw a fantastic historic interpreter playing the part of Lord Crichton. He relayed the often bloody and always tumultuous history of Scotland in the 1400s. Shireen and I enjoyed the history, and the kids got a kick out of seeing a man dressed in period clothes.

It’s been said that the only thing the Scots do better than fight each other is fight outsiders. The Scot’s war memorial is inside the castle, and it is a truly moving tribute to Scots that fought and died in WWI and WWII. Inside the memorial, there are books divided by service branch that record the names of those who have fallen. I tried to explain to Jonathan the link between Clan Campbell and the Highland Regiment, but he didn’t seem to quite get it. It hit home with me when I saw Campbell after Campbell listed in the book of the dead.

We toured the other exhibits at the castle and headed back down into the city. As it was by now lunchtime, we sought a place to feed the kids. We landed in a restaurant in an old church called Frankensteins. It features, among other Frankenstein elements, a running movie loop of the original Frankenstein movie. When the monster is born in the movie,
A robotic monster is borne from machinery suspended overhead in the eating areas. It was a hit with the kids, and the food was not overpriced either.

We left the restaurant, and headed across the street the National Museum of Scotland. We’ve learned that, at best, we can get an hour from the kids in a museum, and this was no different than any other museum. We learned all about the history of Scotland through pre-human times up to the beginning of Roman influence. Then the kids melted down.

All in all, it was a great day.

You can see pictures from our day here.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Off to Scotland! Aydon Castle, Hadrian's Wall, and the Scottish countryside

Today we left Newcastle, England for Edinburgh, Scotland. We’d planned a route that would take us along Hadrian’s Wall for a brief while. We hadn’t realized how much of the wall was gone. There certainly is no contiguous wall any longer. Frankly, though, I know so little about the wall that is may never have been a contiguous structure.

We searched for a while for that perfect view of the wall. You know, the one you see on post cards. In the middle of our search, we made a fortuitous wrong turn off of the B6318 roadway. (I’ve since mastered the roundabout.) As we searched for a place to turn around, we passed a sign for Aydon Castle that indicated it was open. We decided to take a look as any good tourist would.

Aydon Castle, perched on a promontory with steep sides leading down to a creek, was a fortified manor house. It would have been home to a regional lord in its heyday. The castle was fabulous, and it was a great introduction to the historic countryside touring that awaited us in Scotland.

The man from the English Heritage group manning the desk at Aydon Castle was very helpful with directions to a scenic portion of Hadrian’s Wall. I casually mentioned our disappointment at not being able to find the wall. He held up a post card of Hadrian’s Wall available in their shop, and said, “You’re looking for this?” I responded affirmatively, and he politely drew me a map. (The people here are amazing.)

He directed us to a place called Steele Rigg. I’m not sure of the historical significance of the place, but it sounded like there was some from what I overheard other tourists saying about it. There was a section of wall here that was fully intact, and it was set amongst hills like we’d never seen. After a picnic lunch in the magnificent scenery, we took turns climbing up an old stair case carved into the mountain to the top, where the wall and wall remnants were visible along the ridge line that now separates sheep from sheep rather than Picts and Anglo-Saxons from Romans.

Then, we got back in the car for the drive on to Edinburgh. During the remainder of the drive, we went through some great country. Parts were completely foreign, and other parts were eerily reminiscent of the landscape of the mountainous areas in North and South Carolina. My father’s Scotch-Irish family comes from this part of North Carolina, and it dawned on my why his ancestors would have felt at home there.

You can see pictures from our day here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Images online

I'm having trouble getting Blogspot's image functions to work properly. I blame the fact that I'm using, ahem, dial-up for Internet access.

Until I can get it all sorted out, I'm posting pictures here. The pictures are raw without description or commentary, but if you're a friend or family member, you may be curious about what's going on.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Punting on the Cam

After weeks of brushing past importunate punting vendors with nos and frowns, today we went punting. It seemed like a good way to finish off Mom and Dad’s England trip. The tour is expensive (50 pounds), so we brought our own lunch and beverages. The guide talked us through the history and minutiae of the colleges we passed (Queen’s, King’s, Claire, Trinity, St.John’s) as we munched and gawked.

Boat loads of Japanese tourists photographed Jonathan when we’d meet along the river, which baffled but pleased him. The amateur punters can be a hazard on crowded days, and we learned that the tour guides delight in whacking them out of the way. If you want to try punting, rent a punt south of the Silver River bridge to avoid some embarrassment.

We have a video of the punt tour here.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

A journey to the heart of the Fen Lands: Ely

Saturday the 16th, was fair, so the Campbell/Rylanders decided to take one more adventure and bus to Ely, the cathedral city that towers above the fens of East Anglia. There has been a church here for well over a millennia, though the present, magnificent cathedral shows considerable alteration and expansion over the centuries. Mom was delighted to learn about a famous Alcock Bishop (her maiden name), probably the same guy who was influential in the development and expansion of Jesus College here in Cambridge.

I can’t do the cathedral justice, in part b/c the boys just weren’t into the touring around. Things looked up after we left the Cathedral and got some great fish and chips, then walked to the river. Dad and Jeremy went to get a pint, while Mom and I watched the kids play in a playground. Jonathan quickly made a friend and invited him to his next birthday party as they spun in a silver saucer toy.

Separating the new friends, we tracked down the guys, lingering over a pint at a table along the river, which is full of houseboats. A pint later, we ambled up through a park/pasture (cows and horses grazing along the path) and past what was once the old church vineyard to catch the bus home.

Pictures from our trip to Ely are here. The kids sabotaged the camera charger, so we didn't get as many as we'd have liked before the charge ran out.

Friday, July 15, 2005

A trip to Stowe Garden and Bath

The Stowe-Bath trip (July 14th-15th) was particularly exciting for me b/c I didn’t see Bath the last time I was in England and really wanted to put images to the ideas I’ve gotten from my obsessive Austen reading of youth. First up was Stowe Garden. Stowe was interesting in a “I can’t believe how much money people will spend on constructing bizarre momuments to impress other people” kind of way, and the two minutes of silence for July 7th victims, which we observed at 12 at the Temple of British Worthies, was quite moving.

The group at the Temple of British Worthies

Back on the bus, we started driving through striking hilly country, covered by stiles and fields, and picturesque farms, then began descending toward Bath. It was HOT—over 90 even at 4 o’clock, and the city, much of it faced by a particular kind of golden-pinky off white rock quarried locally, glowed as we approached. The group stayed at the YMCA, while we were at the Travelodge around the corner. Less you think this was a step up, think again: yes, we had privacy, but no air conditioning. In a virtually airless room on the third floor, the heat was near intolerable.

That afternoon, I did a walking tour with some students and one of our program tutors, Rachel, then the family took Carol and Alix out for magnificent sea food. Jeremy and I then got the kids over to mom and dad’s slightly more ventilated room, and we went out for a pint with a few students.

Back at the room at closing time, we began suffering. With a window as wide open as we could make it, we tried to sleep, but even totally unclothed and covered, the heat was incredible. About 3, I got on the floor just under the window and covered myself with a cold wet towel: it helped slightly.

But, Bath did not disappoint on Friday. The entire group walked through Queen Anne’s Square, up past the Circus to the Royal Crescent, all examples of early urban planning, with an emphasis on connection and flow between private and public space. After this walk, we split into smaller groups. Ours hit the costume museum and recreated assembly rooms. I don’t have any pictures of this, but one highlight was trying on corsets.

Royal Crescent

You can find more information about Bath here.

Our pictures from this trip are available here.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Bury St. Edmunds

With my parents and three stalwart students (Claire, Kristen,and Justin) in tow, we took a bus ride through Newmarket, the home of English horse racing, and onto Bury St. Edmunds, an old cathedral city. The abbey there was destroyed by fire in the 1400s, but its massive remains, surrounded by a large garden in full bloom, show how big the Benedictine order’s headquarters once had been. It's also the site where a group of English nobles pledged to enforce the Magna Charta in 1214. While we were roaming around, we got to spy on guests assembling for a wedding picnic. Even girls with punk-dye hair and multiple piercings were in elegant dresses, with appropriate feathered hats.

From the abbey, we wandered to a cemetery, where I had to nip behind some shrubbery to change stinky Alistair. I missed this, but Jonathan asked Jeremy, “Daddy, can we go through the cemetery? There’s a lot I don’t understand about them.” He particularly likes skeleton images, which this vast and old cemetery, full of memento mori, provided.

Once through the cemetery, we fetched up alongside a large church. A kindly man walked by, and I asked him if he knew if this church was open to visitors. He smiled and pulled out a key and opened the side door for us. (the retired vicar, who let us in even though he was a Queens Man, a rival Cambridge college), while the students and I represented Corpus Christi. Most incredibly he could have simply pointed us around to the front of the church, but instead let us in to show us the Renaissance side entrance.

The church was rich with military tributes, testimonials to loved ones, and history; my favorite aspect was the hammerbeam ceiling (incredible carvings of angels) and the tomb of Mary Rose Tudor, the sister of Henry the 8th.

After this, we had lunch at a sandwich shop. While Jeremy, Jonathan, and the students toured a local museum, equal parts creepy and interesting, Mom, Dad, Alistiar and I did a little shopping and grabbed a pint before meeting up to take the bus back.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Garden Parties and a Trip to Grantchester

Shireen here--On Tuesday, July 5th, my parents joined us. They'd had a Long Journey, from Grey Eagle, MN, to Mpls (roughly two hours) by car, then from Mpls to Dallas, Texas, with a considerable layover, then Dallas to Gatwick, and from Gatwick to Cambrige by slow airport bus. That night, despite being tired, they joined us at a reception for the Davidson Program. It was supposed to be a garden party, but the weather didn't cooperate, so we met instead in a common room (equivalent of american lounge) and enjoyed strawberries and cream and Pimm's cup.

On Thursday, a big group walked along the river Cam (and through some pastures, complete with cattle, as well as a car park) to Granchester. This village is best known b/c Rupert Brooke, a poet who died in World War One, lived there. He used to have tea regularly at the Orchard, a tea shop with tables scattered under apple trees, and other early twenthieth century luminaries joined him there.

Jeremy took John and Edith to a nearby pub, while Jonathan, Alistair, several students, and I enjoyed deserts. Jonathan gobbled down a chocolate mouse cake, then proclaimed to the students, "If any of you can't finish your dessert, I can eat it." No one took him up on it.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

All Aboard! A London Adventure...

Shireen had to tend to some business in London on July1 for the program she is directing at Cambridge. This presented a terrific opportunity to travel into the big city for some sightseeing with the kids. Given their age and levels of stamina, it wouldn't be the full-throttle touring that adults do. We had to do something simple.

The day began with our first trip on the British railway system. This proved to be a big hit with the kids. The trains are very nice, and travel on them is affordable. For about $70 US we were able to purchase train tickets that included unlimited usage of the London Underground and bus system.

While Shireen took care of business at the Knightsbridge Barclay's branch (across the street from Harrod's), the boys and I strolled around the area near the building. We came across a London Fire Brigade station aroudn the corner from the bank. The firemen were washing a Mercedes fire truck. I asked if I could snap a few pictures of the fire equipment for a friend back home. The firemen immediately latched onto Jonathan and Alistair and proceeded to give them one of the most thrilling moments of a day filled with excitement.

The firemen didn't just allow me to take some pictures of their apparti (which didn't turn out well, sorry Wilson). They put the boys in the truck, let them wear their helmets, and even let Jonathan start the truck. This was followed bythem letting the boys (with assistance) operate the hoses and spray water out the back of the station. These blokes were amazing, and you wouldn't believe how much fun the kids had.

After we left the fire station, we met back up with Shireen and headed down the road to see some museums. Our first stop was the Victoria and Albert museum of Art. The boys didn't have much patience for it, but they were willing to tolerate the hands-on discovery areas. They each tried on a gauntlet and othe fun stuff.

Next, we walked a little further down the street to the Natural History Museum.Again, the kids had little patience. But the dinosaurs helped that immensely.

The entryway to the museum.

Jonathan in front of a prehistoric crocodilian. They've changed little to now.

T-Rex skeleton.

Another dinosaur skeleton.

Velociraptors. Scary in packs.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A long, long road to travel...

Long trips are tough on kids. Heck, they're tough on adults. Everyone always starts off in a really positive mood. As the miles and, more importantly, hours accumulate, moods turn sour.

We checked in at the Charlotte airport around 6:00 PM on June 28th. We made quick progress through the ticket counter and through security. For the first time in recent memory, I wasn't "randomly" selected for the additional search before boarding. They must have abandoned the practice as I was previously at 100% for the "random" selections, and had the searches still been going on, I would no doubt have been selected again.

Once inside, I waited in a nightmarish Burger King line for a family meal. I've never seen such ineptitude. I do actually believe they could hire better staff even if the pay is minimum wage. The food was edible, but waiting in line to be seated at the slow food restaurants would have been better (and not much more expensive) than this supposed fast food restaurant.

After supper, we browsed the duty free shop for a new, black purse for my wife. We'd identified yet another hole in her wardrobe that we thought should be filled for our travels. It was nice and not terribly expensive, though I doubt the savings were extraordinary.

The kids played in the gate area while Shireen and I shifted about nervously. It is a big, long trip to live in another country for quite a while, after all. I franticly played with my Blackberry knowing that in a few hours it would cease to function as the hub of my mobile, digital world. Shireen sifted over and again through her documents.

We finally boarded and left the ground around 8:30 PM on June 28th. The flight was uneventful. At least I think it was. I've found that having a few adult drinks helps me deal the stress of travel. The kids were thoroughly unimpressed with air travel. I think they were expecting something on the order or a rocketship. Modern airliners endeavor not to provide that sort of thrill.

We landed around 8:00 AM on June 29th at London's Gatwick airport. We made our way through the passport lines and to baggage claim. We waited for our bags. And we waited for our bags some more. Finally, familiar luggage came down the converyor belt. Unfortunately, not all of the familiar luggage came down the belt. Shireen's suitcase full of all of her clothes was missing. We filed our claim at the service desk and found the driver waiting for us.

The drive to Cambridge was not too bad. It was stifling hot around London (most cars and buildings don't have air conditioning, which is always hard for us southerners to fathom). Fortunately, we were only passing through as we made our way to Cambridge with its milder climate.

Once in Cambridge, we found our flat. It's posh by British standards. It must be 1100 square feet. We then ventured into Cambridge's historic City Centre for a look around, a bite of food (pizza, of course), and some provisions for the flat.

It's going to be an interesting time here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Last Boarding call for USAir Flight 95 to London...

I had hoped to add pictures today. We hoped we'd be doing fifty other things today in addition to the things we've actually done. C'est la vie. There will be no pictures today. Neither Shireen nor I are especially photogenic today with our scrambling around and all that other jazz.

There is a lot to do before leaving the country for an extended period. We had to get traveling cash and travelers cheques. We had to clean the house so our house sitter will have a decent place to stay. (We hope the house sitter reciprocates on our return.) And, gasp, we had pack.

Packing was a chore. This is not a simple weekend trip with a well defined list of events. This is a 7 week gig with many plans yet to be made. First, we had to identify the holes in our wardrobe. I needed shorts, casual shirts, and casual slacks. Shireen needed a broad spectrum of things. This lead to shopping. I normally prefer BR, but given the other expenses we're juggling, I got my duds at Old Navy. Shireen got some at Old Navy too, but she did a lot of other shopping for which I was not a party. The shopping then lead to the mini fashion show. It in turn lead to more scrutiny. Then we pre-packed. Then we found yet more holes in our wardrobe (I needed socks, flops, and new black shoes). Finally, after a few more mad dashes to the store, we actually put clothes in suitcases.

Now, we're hours away from actually getting on the plane. I must run as there are more unfinished errands around the house. Hopefully, we'll be online again soon with pictures of our travels and new living accommodations.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Here we go...

This is the first post to what I hope will be an active blog. My family and I will be living overseas in Cambridge, England for the next 7 weeks. We're pretty excited. We're pretty nervous. We're pretty well ready to get the trip underway.

The Big Adventure is the place where we'll chronicle our time spent traveling. We'll put some pictures here, but most will be here.