Archive for June, 2007

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The last homely home of the west

June 29, 2007

Ah, here we are in Birmingham in the home of the every gracious and charming Dan (for those of you who don’t know him he was the British Chap that we met in our stay in China). He has just arrived home from China yesterday and we leave tomorrow, so our time here is short, but so wonderful. It is always lovely when traveling to have those times when you can just relax and have some good tea in a proper house with people who you haven’t just met in a hostel, and maybe have some good internet time and upload some pictures onto Flickr (hint, hint). Anyways so now I am basking in the warmer, sunnier town that is Birmingham and then tomorrow comes the big fly (for Jess that is back to the States and for me onto South Africa). At this point I think it is safe to assume that this will be my last post for quite some time (possibly as long as two weeks) because I will be without internet and very busy with other type things for the duration South Africa.
But I just wanted to thank all of you who have commented, one down point with doing a travel blog instead of mass emails is that I don’t get as many emails, but the giant plus part is getting comments and hearing from people who I might not otherwise. So anyways have a great two weeks and I will do my best to fill you all in when I get to Egypt.
Cheerio!

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Wordsworth and the weather

June 27, 2007

On Sunday Abby and I walked from the edge of Ambleside to Rydel, not so much for the town as for Rydel Mount (one of Wordsworth’s homes and gardens). Then we continued on to Grasmere, again not so much for the town as for the gingerbread Abby had read about in the Lonely Planet. (This would be the gingerbread I am now having to finish all by myself. There was also the suggestion of giving it to Becca when I get back since Abby remembers her liking ginger, and there is lots of ginger- ginger bits mind you-in these sweets. What say you Becca? It’s strong stuff…)

Well, Rydel Mount went over far better with both of us than the gingerbread. Though I spent about ten minutes in the dinning room, reading every factoid they had up and -romantic that I am- soaking up the fact that I was standing where Wordsworth once stood (though my favorite spot is probably this little shelter build of logs, along one of the paths, that overlooks much of his gardens. Evidently this was one of his favorite spots to work out his poems, read them outloud to himself, pace, revise, be inspired). The rest of the rooms were great as well, and they had on display many of his letters discussing poems about to be printed, and things of that nature. I also appreciated seeing the women’s rooms (Dora’s (his daughter), and Dorothy (an aunt). There were sketches and paintings up of Dora’s, the desk she had used for her schooling, and needlework that both Mary and Dorothy had done, still in pretty good condition. The house is actually still used by decendants of Wordsworth’s, and some of their family pictures were up in the living room.

The walk from Rydel Mount to Grasemere was scenic (though I think it would be hard to find a non-scenic walk in the lake district) and I was releived that my croc sandels did alright. And to add to the free money I have received so far in England (1£ at the bottom of a purse I bought and 20p on the ground), I would have an additional 3£5p from the confussed bus driver who thought I’d given him 5£. The conversation went something like this:

“Right, that’ll be 2.95.”

(I give him 3£, he gives me back 3£5p).

“I think I should only be getting 5p back.”

“The fare is 2£95p, so I gave you 3£5p change.”

“But I only gave you 3£.” (I don’t know how to make myself any more clear)

“Maybe it’s my accent. I’m sorry.”

“No, I undersand you perfectly well, it’s just that I ONLY gave you 3£. I should only get 5p back.”

(He opens up his other hand which had the money I’d given him. 3£)

“Oh, I see.”

(He gives me the 5p)

I go find Abby on the bus, wondering if perhaps I was the fool and he was trying to give me a free ride. mmm. No. And it this were the case, it was too confussing to be flattering.

So that was our last day in the lake district, and the next morning as we were packing up to head north there was a bit of a drizzle. The weather was starting to catch up with us…and it knew we were headed for Edinburgh. Oh, winter coat that’s back home, how I long for thee…

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Edinburgh and some fine Scotish dancing

June 27, 2007

Okay, lets see today is Wednesday, so that means that it was just around 2 days ago that we arrived in Scotland’s capital.  Our train ride from Ambleside was fairly uneventful, if not a little crowded and we were able to find our hostel without much difficulty.  Although I have to say our arrival here was a little less enjoyable than I had hoped, due to the fact that it was (and still is for the most part) quite cold here!  Planning on traveling to England, I knew enough to count on wearing long pants (I guess I should probably say trousers) and a jacket, but I wasn’t prepared for having to layer on multiple long sleeves and my rain jacket, just to keep from shivering.

The next morning feeling somewhat improved we started off on the basic Royal Mile tour of Edinburgh.  The Royal Mile runs uphill from the Palace of Holyrood House to the formidable Edinburgh Castle and along its length contains lots of little shops selling “real Scotish wool” and miniature Bagpipes. Upon arriving at the top of the road and the entrance to the Castle, we were not pleased to find out that the admission fee was even more expensive than promised in our guide book, but after a few sighs and weighings of the mind we decided that 22 dollars (despite being ridiculous) would just have to be paid. Because who travels to Edinburgh without seeing the giant castle that was its reason for existence? Unfortunately our arrival at the castle coincided with the 17,000 other people with the same idea as us, so we wandered around for a while, qued up to see the Crown Jewels and decided to head out in search of less expensive sites.

If you haven’t already guessed that day was a little bit of a downer for Jess and I, maybe it was the fact that we were tired of doing our best to stick to a small budget (that despite our best efforts of eating PB & J and staying in hostels, etc was rising at a steady rate), tired of cutting our money in half every time we tried to buy a cheap meal or a cup of coffee. But whatever it was Jess and I were experiencing a bit of a low point. So we decided to rally the forces and go check out a movie. There is nothing like the quietness of the movie theatre and the universal appeal of movies to make one feel better. We headed out down Princes St. at a good clip, wanting to make sure we made it on time, and then we noticed some things. First of all the sky and cleared up and we were getting a remarkable view of the castle. Much more impressive from a lower perspective and framed so nicely against the evening sky, I began to realize that maybe there was something special to this cold summer city. We continued walking along the park and then we began to hear music. We looked down and there in the park was a crowd of people doing scotish highland dancing! It didn’t take us long to decide that this indeed was better than a movie. So we walked down to get a closer look. We quickly paid the admittance fee and took some seats near the back.

The dances looked familiar to some of the square dances that I knew from annual barn dances back home, but both Jess and knew we wouldn’t know the steps. The couples were mostly older folks, some of the women had on plaid skirts and their dancing shoes, but the best part was the older men in their kilts with their wooly socks and bright jumpers. In between each dance a small troupe of 3-4 couples would come out and demonstrate the dance, but it was clear that most of these people know all the dances by heart. We watched and waited for a possible opening, but with our lack of knowledge and the unknown factor, we both hesitated off to the side. Eventually during the second to last dance a small white haired lady came up to us and asked us in perfect Scotish brogue, why we yougens weren’t dancing? We replyed with our lack of knowlege and she scoffed, oh you can pick these things right up. She informed us that she had been doing these dances since she was a wee girl and that this group had been going on for that past oh 20 or 30 odd years now. It had started with just a few couples and had grown to this group of 50 to 60.

Finally after the final demonstration two of the guys from the troupe (sent by our white haired friend) came over and got Jess and I to join in. It was a blast, the other members of my square kept pointing out the moves to me and when I would forget which person I was supposed to be weaving around, another would point it out, “oh round this way lassy, yah, now cross in the middle, oh that’s right you have the form of it.” Before I knew in the dance (Muriel’s wedding) was over, despite us having done it twice and then Mike (my partner) asked me if I knew how to polka. I of course responded that I didn’t, but he said oh we’ll see and soon I was flying around the floor (apparently Jess had been grabbed by the white haired woman and was having a similer experience). After the dizzying dance was over Jess and I met up and said good by to our new Scotish friends and made our way back to the hotel, giggling and laughing about how the cheapest part of our day, had been the best by far.

By the way it is currently hailing outside our window, oh and an update on the picture situation is that despite the fact that flickr is not block on this computer, it doesn’t seem to want to read my USB card reader, so once again pictures aren’t happening, sigh)

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hill trudging

June 23, 2007

Today Jess and I finally made it up into the hills!  Because I can’t show you any pictures I will just have to describe it for you.  Our hostel looks out over the lake (as Jess pointed out in an earlier post) and off to the right crops up hills which if you look far enough into become mountains.  The road going by our hostel winds north and in just over a mile gets you into the small town of Ambleside.  Full of climbing gear shops and little tea spots, this gets used as a base for lots of weekend hikers.  We are especially finding that out today as it is Saturday and I do believe everyone in England is up in the hills.

But anyways nicely situated at the beginning of the mountains is this hill which as soon as I saw it I decided we needed to climb.  So this morning after switching around our plans a little, Jess and I packed up some peanut butter and jam sandwiches and headed off with only a general bus map to guide us.  Fortunately we were able to pick out a road that seemed to lead up towards the hill and eventually stumbled upon a B&B whose owner provided us great directions to the start of the path.  It was a nice little hike and eventually we found ourselves actually back around on the north side of the hill facing the mountains.  But because we wanted to get a view of our hostel and the lake, we decided to follow the many little sheep paths through the hill and scramble around a bit.  So that is how we spent a good hour or so this morning, trudging about, oohing and aahing as we went.  Sometimes we started singing “climb every mountain, forge every stream,” however it should be noted that the only streams we forged were of the mucky marshy kind.  This did result in me stepping wrong and going ankle deep, if you ask Jess, I am sure she would be willing to do a smashing imitation of my scream.  However she should be careful, because I can also do a great little rendition of her little jog down the hill then ended up with a nice butt slide.  After snapping a dozen pictures of sheeps, hills and the lake (none of which will do the views we saw any justice) and eating our lunch, we headed back down. 

Things did get a little tricky at this point because we had wandered quite far up onto the hill and weren’t keen on backtracking all that far to find our path again.  So we decided to just kinda bushwack our way down, following the stone walls and scaring the sheep.  This plan ended up working okay, until we climbed over a gate that was chained shut.  This lead us into a pasture that had barbed wire on its walls and fences and pretty soon I started to feel like any moment a farmer was going to appear and start yelling at us.  Jess didn’t seem to mind all this as much, but probably this is because she is a lot better at climbing over barbed wire fences than I am.  Eventually after only having to climb over one fence (although Jess sure wanted to try to climb over other ones) we made it back to the path and around 4 and half hours after we left made it back to the hostel.

Now we face the difficult decision of getting ice cream or walking into town for tea, ah the tough decisions faced by one in the Lake District. 🙂

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lake, lounging and lots o’ sun

June 21, 2007

Well, the first thing that should be noted is that with great relief our hostel accomadations (though a bit noisy at night) are wonderfully located on a lake (as promised) with a room that doesn’t have a stench like the first hostel we stayed at, and whose beds gave us better sleep than the night before. For those of you out there who have not stayed in a hostel, each guest is given a clean sleep sack (basically a sleeping bag made out of sheet material with the sides unsewn). There is a bit of an art to it, so one can imagine that in the dark, with no previous knowledge as to how a sleep sack works (there is actually an insert for your pillow), it can be quite frustrating to figure out (Abby can be a witness to this as she was kept up the first night for a bit, by noises being made by an annoyed redheaded bunkmate up top).

There can be no complaints about breakfast though (well, some might not find it nutritious enough, but Abby and I give it a thumbs up!). English know how to start the day. Croissants, sausage, bacon (no, no, you’re imagining American thin -might have once been a pig- bacon; I’m talking about English bacon that’s like a nice slice of ham), eggs, juice, coffee or tea, a fruit, and butter, jam or marmalade. Oh, and cereal, if you want to mess with that.

Once a good breakfast has been had, a good day is sure to follow, and for us it did. We walked into town (I looked in wonder at all the shops mainly put there for silly people like me (who are impregnated-possibly during the flight over- with a ”desire to aquire” very unneccessary things), while Abby restrained from rolling her eyes. So we stopped into some shops (Oxfam being one) and also to this divine eatery called Lucy’s On The Plate. Though all the food was wonderful, the chocolate fudge cake with white chocolate shavings must receive some mention. —The comments made about this cake cannot be shared on this site, though they were all positive mind you;)—Um, so after that experience we went a walking again, round the town, round the town. 

And with all the walking around we’ve done and the somewhat consistent attempt on Abby’s part to stay well screened from the sun and my poor attempt, we are both offically sunburned. Well, I have an idea we shall try a bit harder tomorrow since we hope to do a four mile hike with a boat and walking tour round Ambleside.

P.S. To update you on jfeet and afeet, they’d like to say they’re finally starting to enjoy the trip, though they’re a bit skeptical about tomorrow. Oh, afeet would like to put in that that was jfeet speaking and that she’s totally up for it.

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Silly filter/blocker thing

June 21, 2007

Well the filter on this YHA computer deemed Flickr to be too risky for my eyes, so I am left with little course but to either upload pictures directly to this blog (takes up lots of space and lots of time) or just let you all imagine most of Oxford.

….

And grrr curses on technology it won’t even let me upload a picture to this poor little blog in order to show you the wonders of city spires or green mountains.  Sorry folks, maybe later I’ll get this one figured out, but right now the sun is shining and our laundry is almost done!

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5 days, one plane, 3 trains, one car, countless tube rides, and one taxi

June 20, 2007

makes for 2 very tired girls.

Jess and I finally pulled into Ambleside at around 9pm tonight after a rather crazy first 5 days in England.  The last two days were spent spending a whirlwind stop in Oxford before catching the train (or should I say trains) this afternoon for the 6 plus hour journey northward.  But despite the current level of travel strain there are many highlights from our brief time in Oxford including:

-walking into our hostel room to realize that we were staying in the Tolkien room

-taking the Inklings walking tour of Oxford and seeing various important locations in C.S. Lewis’s and Tolkien’s life

-having dinner at the Eagle & Child, said haunt of the Inklings

-being continually wowed by the amazing buildings of Oxford including Christ College Cathedral and Radcliffe Camera

-staying in Oxford on the same day that former President Jimmy Carter was there to receive an honorary award

-being amused by anti-fur protesters who choose that spotlight time to protest in front of the Bodleian Library

-seeing signs for the filming of the Golden Compass (very exciting movie coming out in December based on the Dark Materials books by Phillip Pullman) at various Oxford locations

Well seeing as I am pretty much beat I think I will upload pictures tomorrow, including very exciting pictures taken from the top of Church of St. Mary the Virgin tower and the tree that was one of Tolkien’s favorite and the setting of one of his last photographs.

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Jess

June 18, 2007

Jess, originally uploaded by AbbyN.

What do you know, cool roommate and totally photogenic, who could ask for a better traveling companion?

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Wide shot of Trafalgar’s Square

June 18, 2007

Wide shot of Trafalgar’s Square, originally uploaded by AbbyN.

The sun bleached out a little of the sky, but I really like this shot.

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busy London Day

June 18, 2007

In an effort to fit all of our last London desires in, Jess and I had quite the busy day.  We started off at the National Gallery, which neither of us had been to before.  And we ended up using their audio tour to do a whirlwind highlights visit of Western Art from the last 800 years.  I usually skip out on boring detail things like audio tours, but I was so glad that we did this one.  It was a great little headset that you could just type the painting’s number in to hear a little 2 minute synopsis of style, context and technique.  But it was incredible how much more interesting it made the paintings.  I am so converted!

After the National Gallery we wandered around Trafalgar’s Square for a little bit before stopping in at the National Portrait Gallery where we checked out their Modern Portraits.  Then we walked down Whitehall St, past the Prime Minister’s house and Parliament to see Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.  We snapped a few pictures and then headed underground (to escape the showers) to get to Covent Gardens.  After a brief shopping session and street performance we made it to St. Paul’s Cathedral for Evansong.  This was definitely a highlight for me.  The inside of this building is everything you would imagine it too be, plus 10.  Then through in seats under the dome itself and a boy’s choir singing and you completely get shivers down your spine.   Things I thought a bout during the hour long service include:

-how hard the place has to be to heat during the winter

-the way the boy’s voices would resound for a full 2-3 seconds after the end of a phrase

-the pomp and circumstance of the service and how hard it would be for me to feel religious if this type of service was my only church option

-how beautiful the whole experience was

-how the inside of the cathedral kept reminding me of Kazaad-dum (sp?) from Lord of the Rings … yes I know I am dork 😉