Sunday, August 09, 2009

We're back in the USA! While in London, we decided to save 20 pounds (about 32 dollars) and wait to come home before doing the last bit of blogging.

Saturday, August 1st

We went into Nottingham to do some shopping. Paul wanted a few things that aren't available in the US, and we hadn't found them elsewhere. The market square was new since the last time we were here, and they had transformed it into a beach paradise for the summer. Very cool! We had a great dinner with Maria and Rob tonight while Ken and Margaret watched Ryan.

Sunday, August 2nd

Packing! And, dinner at a carvery for a traditional Sunday Lunch (i.e., roast meat for dinner). At this carvery, you could have your choice of one or all of the meats. I had turkey and beef - it was great! Yorkshire pudding (sort of like a popover) is another traditional item to have.

Monday, August 3rd

We drive to London and return the rental car. Our hotel room is ready, but we don't stay long before heading downtown! Our plan was to head to the nearest ticket booker and get whatever discount tickets we could for whatever show we could. We decided to not plan ahead, but to spend whatever money we had left at the end of the vacation on whatever we could find. Our top choices (Mamma Mia! and Hairspray) weren't available today, but tickets for Avenue Q were. Avenue Q won a Tony Award for best musical when it opened in New York on Broadway. We absolutely loved it. It's non-traditional musical, meaning that you aren't going to find huge choruses or groups of dancers. What you will find is a sort-of Sesame Street for grown-ups. You'll see muppet-style puppets along with their puppeteers singing and dancing. If the song titles offend you (It sucks to be me, Everyone's a little bit racist), this show is not for you. Paul and I thought it was great, and would recommend it to anyone with an adult and open sense of humor.

I also managed to force march Paul to some scrapbooking/bookmaking stores in London. Our first stop was Blade Rubber Stamps, where I found a few books, and a new edition of my favorite magazine. We then went to a bookbinding store, Shepherd's, which was just around the corner. They have every tool a bookbinder would need. Dinner was indian food. Absolutely delicious.

Tuesday, August 4th

Today, we visit the Queen! Unfortunately, she's not home, but she lets us tour the public rooms of Buckingham Palace. The rooms are only open about two months per year, when there is no business and the Queen isn't in residence. The palace is breathtaking. I'd visited Kensington Palace and the Tower of London on other trips, but wasn't overly impressed. Kensington Palace is a nice building, but the rooms are mostly empty since they're unused. The Tower is great, but it's an older building, so you don't see grandeur (unless you count the royal jewels on display). She has a lovely tea shop set up on the back of the palace, complete with loos and a gift shop! She only uses the finest paper cups for her visitors, and all of the gift shop items were actually made in the UK!

Tonight, we score tickets for Hairspray. We are very excited! We're both a bit tired (we didn't get back to the room until midnight last night), so we walk around a bit, but find a Starbucks to settle down in and read books for a while. We roam around to find a restaurant in the area. We have a hard time deciding if we're going to eat the same food as yesterday (Indian) or something new. In the end, we go with Indian food. It's harder to get in the US, and we have yet to find a bad Indian restaurant. We go to Masala tonight, which is a bit of a chain, since they have a few locations. They specialize in Thali plates, which contain a curry of your choice, and a selection of other side dishes and snacks. The food is marvelous.

Hairspray the musical was fabulous. Our seats were a bit further back than for Avenue Q, but still great. The music is great, the actors are fabulous, and it's filled with great dancing. The musical even has a tap dancing number which was cut from the movie. I am excited, and imagine that I'm on stage with them. If only the casting agent had seen me in my most recent show....

Wednesday, August 5th and beyond

The trip home was great, and we spend Thursday doing laundry and getting essential things done at home. Friday, it's back to work.

We'll have more adventures, but that's it for now. Thanks to everyone for their comments and e-mails. This has been fun!

Friday, July 31, 2009

We started today with a lunch at McDonald's. Even in England, little boys love McDonald's! They had Ice Age toys, which were perfect since Ryan is in a bit of a dinosaur mode. I had a Cadbury's caramel flavored shake - yum!

We then went to play cricket at Rufford Park. Ryan has a new bat and ball, and lots of people willing to bowl to him. They have quite a large field, and lots of other things to do. The country manor is mostly a ruin, which is interesting to see, and they also have a garden and ducks in a lake. We only managed to play some sports (cricket and football) and have an ice cream snack. The weather today is nice - mostly warm, but overcast. We were never quite sure if it would rain, but at least the heavy rain held out until the evening. We only had a few sprinkles while driving.

After that, we went to Sherwood Forest - home of Robin Hood! The forest has trees in it that are hundreds of years old. The park has become more commercialized since the last time Paul was there - they had a shop, restaurant, games, and storytellers dressed in period armor. Keeping with tradition, Auntie Debra bought Ryan a "silly" hat. Four years ago, it was a Santa hat, but today it was a Robin Hood hat! Of course, no Robin Hood is complete without a sword, so Ryan picked out the best one from the shop. Once we reached the Major Oak, Ryan enjoyed his outfit and using his sword on inanimate objects. On the way back, Paul forced the entire family into a forced march back to the car!
Our adventure continues..

On Tuesday, we went to Derby, which is a market town in the midlands. We enjoyed the day shopping, and a lunch at a restaurant that used to be a chippy. Ryan got to slide down the Incredible Hulk slide, which was quite an adventure.

Wednesday was our rainiest day yet. It rained consistently all day, which made it not much good for anything outdoors. We took Ryan to an indoor play area, and had a nice time.

Yesterday was a reasonably nice day. It did rain a bit, but not enough to dampen our fun. We went to Drayton Manor, which was a great amusement park for families. They have a few bigger roller coasters, but the big feature is Thomas Land, where all the rides relate to Thomas, and they're all for kids under 1.3 m. Ryan enjoyed all of the rides, and had a nice time picking which adult would accompany him on some of the rides. While the rest of the family had lunch, Deb and Paul went on a roller coaster, which was fun for us, but not too scary.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ryan arrived yesterday morning at about 6am. It's a good thing Auntie and Uncle heard him arrive and woke up, because he couldn't wait to see us this morning. He spent the morning chatting with us and showing us loads of things he'd collected, and his stuffed animals. We took him to Titchfield Park to play football (soccer in the US), and play on the equipment. He ran around for quite a bit from one item to another, and then we played soccer for a while. He wasn't too keen on the dogs running around the park, so we had to cut our visit short. All in all, a nice quiet day visiting with family.

Today, we'll do a bit of shopping at a local mall, and then a bit of visiting with Ryan, Maria, and Rob.

p.s. We did see the sun yesterday - it was a lovely day - but more rain is forecast for today and the rest of the week. It's already raining a bit!

Friday, July 24, 2009

We're safely in Nottingham! (Now updated with photos!)

The drive up here was a bit busy on the roads, but fine for weather. All of the schools are out now, so this is a big weekend to drive away and take a holiday. Luckily, fewer tourists seemed to be entering Nottingham than leaving it.

We stopped along the way in Gloucester, and saw the shop that inspired Beatrix Potter for "The Tailor of Gloucester." I bought Ryan the book so I could read it to him later. It's fascinating to look through the books and our pictures and find the same images. Her books have incorporated so many scenes from England in them.

We also walked around and found the cathedral. We didn't quite know it at the time (and didn't have time to explore, anyway), but some of the Harry Potter movies were shot here. It's a gorgeous building on the outside, and the money from filming has allowed them to keep up with the maintenance.

We got to see Ryan for a bit today. He has grown a lot since we last saw him (no surprise since it was 3 years ago!), and was loads of fun. He was a bit shy at first, but warmed up as time passed. At the end of the night, he shook our hands - not ready for a kiss goodbye yet. Very cute!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Today is our last full day in Exeter, and true to form, it rained! For our last day, we decided to go the Eden Project, an attraction in Cornwall. I thought we were going to see a garden, but we'll later see that Paul had darker intentions.....

The Eden Project is an outdoor conservatory and two biomes that model the conditions in the rainforest and Mediterranean climates. It uses sustainability as the thread through the different garden areas. The area where the project sets used to be a clay mine for the potteries, which basically leaves a blight on the countryside. The developers wanted to make something beautiful in this area, and teach people about how to live sustainable lives.

We read a lot of conflicting reviews on this, so here is our take. First, it can be a bit preachy if you choose to read every sign and watch every video. We didn't. We did learn a lot about sustainable practices around the world. I found it very interesting that some parts of the world use cloths to "catch" fog. The condensate falls into a type of a gutter, and is collected to use for watering. Paul found some hops to inspect - they're doing about as good as ours back home (not great).

Some reviews said it was overpriced. At 16 pounds admission for an adult (there are family rates available), it certainly wasn't inexpensive. But, as far as attractions go, this seemed reasonable. Residents of Britain can pay their admission fee as a donation instead, and get free admission for a year for the same price as one day - this is a great deal.

Some folks said it was overrated and boring. I'm not sure what they were expected, but we enjoyed the day. Of course, most of the day was spent looking at plants. If you don't like wandering through gardens, you won't enjoy the day too much. We don't have children, but there were a lot of things for kids to do. There was a green area with toys like hula hoops and more unusual things, and a guy giving instruction as needed. Story time in the garden was quite popular. In the core, they had giant machines that were hand cranked, along with other exhibits that were fun to look at. Kids could also collect stamps and solve puzzles around the gardens, so there was a lot of incentive for them to wander the gardens and find things. There was also an amusement center, and a "ride with Elvis." Elvis seemed a little out of place, but who am I to judge?

Bottom line: if you like gardens and learning about other cultures and sustainable behaviors, it's worth a trip. Even if you just like gardens, it's worth a trip. I loved the flowers. This is one of many that I snapped a picture of.

So, we walked around the lovely gardens, had a lovely lunch (home made with fresh local produce - lovely), and toured the biomes. The first biome was a Mediterranean climate. It had grapes, tomatoes, olive trees, and all sort of plants from the area. The second was the rainforest. It seems that Paul was not content to have me march around the English climate - cold and wet - now he was force marching me around the Amazon! It was beautiful, but it got hot and humid after a while. The cameras both got so fogged up we couldn't take many pictures. Paul's shirt and head were soaked by the end. It was enjoyable, but be sure to bring water and take your time if humid weather bothers you at all! I heard one fellow describe it like being in Orlando in August!

Back in Exeter, we had an Indian feast at Tandoori Nights in downtown Exeter. It was a wonderful dinner. On the first day, we had walked to this area. Today, we drove. It was 3.7 miles - one way! We probably walked at least 10 miles on that first day after you include all of the walking around town and the quay that we did. Wow.

Tomorrow, we drive to Nottingham to spend some time with Paul's family. We won't be doing as much sight-seeing, so I don't know how regular I'll be at blogging. I do have some more thoughts to share about England, so I might type some of those up for the novelty of it. We plan to stop at Gloucester on the way up - it's the midpoint, and the inspiration for one of Beatrix Potter's stories.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The weather today... Mostly dry (it only rained a bit while we were in the car), partly cloudy (we saw blue sky for more than a moment today) and very windy! Paul's hair doesn't get too mussed in the wind, but it certainly blew around his jacket!
Today we took a drive through the moors. There are several moor areas in England - we went through Dartmoor. When I think of moors, I think of Wuthering Heights, Jamaica Inn, and romance novels where the heroine inevitably gets lost and the hero rescues her. Most of these thoughts revolve around dark and rainy nights, so the moor in the daytime is a bit different, but no less majestic and mysterious.

We started at Bovey Tracey. They have a Guild for Devon artists, which is mostly a gallery of work for sale and an exhibition space. I enjoyed seeing the books one of the artists made with leather covers and other cool techniques. This was a really pretty town, just on the edge of the moor.

After Bovey Tracey, we took some smaller roads to Widecombe-in-the-moor. Along the way, we passed some rocks - the twin rocks of Haytor Vale. They were up a smallish hill, and at the top, we got some great views of the area. There were lots of people here rock climbing up the side of the rocks with full climbing gear as well as little kids just scrambling up the side. I would call this a mini-forced march. The walk itself wasn't long, but it was all uphill.

In Widecombe-in-the-moor is a lovely church that is part of the National Trust (St. Pancras Church). It was surprisingly light and airy inside - not at all what I was expecting from an old stone building. You can see the church in the upper right of the photo below. One of the other characteristic things about the moor are the livestock - ponies, cows, and sheep. Add them to the list of things to look for when driving, as they don't pay attention to traffic signs or crosswalks. At Widecombe, we had lunch at a cafe that overlooks the church. Paul did a ploughman's lunch (salad, cheese, branston pickle, and pickled onions) and I did another pasty (cheese and onion today) with chips (or fries, if you're american). There were a few gift shops here offering mostly awful things in them. I can't believe tourists buy some of this stuff. One gift shop offered Royal Doulton figurines - lovely, but who buys porcelain in the moors? From the little old ladies and bus nearby, I suspect that the tourism trade in this city depends on the coaches of people shuttled in.

Our next stop via the nearly one-lane country roads that cause me to panic at every turn was Postbridge. This is barely a town, with only a pub and an inn from what we could see. There are a lot of hiking trails that start here (as at most towns in the moor), but it's real claim to fame is a clapper bridge. These bridges are typical for the area, and are who-knows how old. (Dave, if I had any skills at story telling, I would think of a whopper here. This is at least the second bridge photo in the blog, however, as an homage to your inspiration.) This clapper bridge is the longest, so it draws a lot of visitors. It's also very close to the car-park, which makes it easy for families to visit.

Along the way at some point in our journey we also found a scenic spot to take a picture with the moor as the backdrop. In case you're wondering how we get shots of us together at so many places, Paul has a gadget for all occasions. I usually scoff at them until they become handy. In this case, it's a gorilla pod - a grippy tripod that allows us to balance the camera in odd locations, like the bonnet (hood) of our car.

After Postbridge, we drove home. We had plans to visit Dartmoor Prison, but I was less enthused about visiting here after I found out it's an operating prison (Sorry, mom, but I skipped the gift shop, too!). I had the impression that is was a medieval prison that would just be spooky. The gift shops at Widecombe sold shirts that identified you as an escapee from the prison - apparently, there was a prison break here at some point in its history, although where they could go from the middle of the moor is beyond me. It would sort of be like a prison break from Houghton. We made this day a bit shorter, as we're a bit tired and just felt like relaxing. I'm sure after a day of rest, Paul will be more eager than ever to force me to walk miles and miles.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Top news of the day

Sales of knives in Britain are down, and more people are adopting the US habit of using only - gasp - a fork for eating meals. If you don't know, folks in Britain hold their knife in the right hand, and fork in the left hand. They eat and cut at the same time, never transferring the silverware to a different hand. People in America hold the fork in the left and knife in the right when cutting food. They then transfer the fork to the right hand to eat. Britains consider this barbaric behavior, but it's catching on over here, and actually made the BBC news and a big story in the paper!

Back to vacation

Yesterday, I wished for sun. Of course, this meant that we woke up to rain. Pouring rain (at least before we started driving - then is was just rain). This meant that it was the perfect time to go shopping for crafty supplies! So, we started out at a craft store just outside Barnstaple, called Crafty Devils. They have a 5,000 square foot warehouse, which is a bit misleading, since a portion of it is reserved for their internet sales. I browsed around to see what was new on the crafty front in England. I scored a new magazine here and at Tesco (sort of like a Walmart). These were the best magazines of the bunch so far - good freebies (stamp, felt flowers) and good techniques and samples. I also picked up some decoupage sheets and flower soft. I think I can get flower soft in the US, but I haven't seen it in person yet. They also have dies for my die cutting machine, but most of that I can get in the US. The X-Cut company, however, did have some piercing dies that looked interesting and were reasonably priced. More crafty details will be on my other blog when I get a chance.

After my trip to heaven (ie, a crafting store), we continued on to Ilfracombe. We had a walk around the town, and it was raining most of the time. I did find a crafty store to wander in, but no good snags here. We wandered around the harbor, and got a Cornish pasty (I know we're in Devon, but the quest failed in Cornwall). Cornish pasties are a bit different than the ones we're used to in Michigan. The crust was a little bit crunchy on the outside and less flaky. It was a bit more like a bread roll, now that I think about it. The meat on the inside isn't ground - it is cubes of meat. Finally, it seems like they add something to make it have a little bit of gravy inside. The ones we buy back home seem drier, and I need gravy or a sauce for them in order to really enjoy the meal. We were asked if we wanted sauce (ketchup had run out, but Heinz HP was available), but apparently the salesman was about to be insulted if we ruined his pasty with a bit of sauce, so we passed.

In Infracombe, I've also adopted my new motto for the trip - "Everything tastes better with a bit of clotted cream!" We followed lunch with a scoop of Cornish ice cream (made with clotted cream) and topped with clotted cream. I've been waiting for a sunny, warm day to have an ice cream, but I fear if I wait for that day, I'll never get any!

After Ilfracombe, we wandered to Lynton. This is a really interesting town with scary steep roads. Those of you back home - imagine a single lane road steeper than Agate. That's a two-way road in Lynton! Luckily, we didn't encounter any cars when we were headed up the road. In Lynton, we found a nice piece of glass jewelry for me, some peanut brittle for Paul, and tea cosies for our tea pots back home. They have a really lovely art center with handmade goods from all sorts of local artists - my favorite kind of shop to visit.

Lynton is at the top of a river valley, and Lynmouth is at the bottom. You can hike down to the bottom (or up to the top) or take a clever little train back and forth. Paul let me ride the train up the hill, since I wasn't whining too much, but we walked down to enjoy the scenery. The entire town of Lynmouth was destroyed in the 50s by a massive flood, so there is a flood museum that tells the story and shows how the town looked before. The redesigned Lynmouth has a wider river, and bridges that can float away if necessary. There was a lot we could have done here, but not enough time to do it. Since the sun finally arrived (yay!) along with a bit of warmth, we enjoyed some time staring at the water, and having a cream tea. (Everything is better with a bit of clotted cream! Paul wanted to take me on a forced march to the tea shop, but the one he wanted to go to would have closed when we arrived.

Dinner tonight was at the pub next to the hotel. That was relaxing and allowed us to get back "home" nice and early for a good start tomorrow. I think we're heading to a prison in a moor. Scary!

Monday, July 20, 2009

This morning, we woke to a strange site. The sky was blue, and white puffy clouds appeared to float across the horizon. The sun was bright - so bright, you might have thought we were Eric or Jessica from True Blood from the way we reacted to the light. I eagerly awoke, and put on a pair of shorts and a summer top.

After breakfast, the clouds came back. Sheesh. OK, I know this is not the end of the world. It didn't rain too much on me today, and isn't a bad day on vacation better than a good one at work? But, heck, would it be asking too much to have a little bit of sunshine? A little warmth? I'm wearing long pants and sweatshirts like it is September in Houghton. But, I digress. The weather did not dampen our spirits for long, and we set off on our longest journey of our stay in Devon/Cornwall.

We started the day by heading to the Lizard peninsula. This is the southern most part of England, and we had to cross the moors to get there. I still can't tell the difference between the moors and the rest of the countryside, so that will have to wait for another day. At the Lizard, we went for a lovely walk around the shore path. This is a bit misleading, since you are at least 150 feet up from sea level, with a lovely cliff to fall off if you're not careful. This is not an American sight-seeing tour with carefully placed pillars and ropes - you're on your own here if you are crazy enough to get too close to the edge. There are large black rocks here, and rocky beaches (if you can get to them). We missed a member of the royal family by about a week. They arrived last week to dedicate the new exhibition at the Lizard Lighthouse. We had lunch at a cafe near the southern most part (there was one cafe just a little more south). I was on a quest for pasties, but the bread, mussels, and crab sandwiches were too good to pass up. We can't get fresh mussels back home too easily, but I can get a pasty!

After lunch, we wandered back to the town, and picked up some local sweets and cider (hard, not soft!) at a local shop. The snacks would fortify us later. We left to visit Land's End. A few years ago, we visited John O'Groats, and it is a grand tradition to visit both spots. The hard-core traveler visits both in the same trip, but we separated our visits by a few years.

Since Paul is semi-local, we took a detour on the way to Morrison's grocery store. We were on the lookout for some of our favorite local delicacies - more cider, spice mixes for curries, and chip shop curry (so we can replicate chips and curry at home). On a side note, we've found that chip shop curry makes an excellent gravy for your pasty (if you don't care for ketchup).

At Land's End, we arrived about 4pm. We thought things would start to close soon (they would), so we made a bees-line to the famous signpost for a picture. At John O'Groats, the photographer took some extra candids with our camera after shooting our paid shots, but they weren't in the mood to do that here, so we can't share the shot with you. We will soon have a matched set of shots to proudly display in our home. (Note to our Club Scrap friends - I'm thinking the photo triptych will be marvelous for these two shots! Several of these shots are also probably headed for Postcard land soon...)

After our glamorous photoshoot (Ok, one shot in the wind), we went to the Doctor Who exhibition. Paul and I are both big fans of the Doctor and Torchwood, so we took a gander around the exhibition. It was cool to see props from the show and some of the video highlights. Definitely touristy, definitely worth seeing if you love Doctor Who.

After our brief visit to the museum, Paul frog-marched me around the coast until my tired legs couldn't take it anymore. I wasn't having any fun, as you can clearly see from these photos. The cliffs are even rockier here, and the coastline is even more barren.

Our drive back was uneventful. We stopped at a little town called Bodmin for supper. It looked quaint and cornish. Unfortunately, the only local place we could find open for supper was a chain pub (part of the Weatherspoon's line) so the hunt for a traditional pasty will wait for another day. At the other local pub, the cook was too busy playing darts to cook for us.

Once back at the hotel, we do our usual routine of downloading photos, geo-tagging them, and blogging. Paul has informed me that if he doesn't start to look like a better husband in this blog that we might not make it to the crafty store tomorrow. I'd better watch my p's and q's or I'll never get to craft again!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Another day, and more drizzle! We did manage to see the sun a bit today, and it only rained for a little bit, so we consider this a "dry" day. I'm going to need a vacation from my vacation if we keep walking this much!

We started out the day in Brixham. It's a small port in the Torbay area - just across from Torquay, where we were yesterday. This port is more of a working port, with more fishing boats, and fewer tourists. It still has quite a lot of activity and shops, but just not to the same level at Torquay. We walked all around the harbor, and shared some fish and chips for lunch. This time, we got them as a take-away, and ate them right on the harbor.

We then drove to Kingswear. I think Paul is bound and determined to take me on some of the smallest roads in Britain, although we did see smaller roads later. Kingswear is a really small town on the river Dart, with virtually nothing in it. The main point of driving to Kingswear is to take the ferry over to Dartmouth. There isn't a bridge over the river Dart for miles, so this is the quickest way to get to Dartmouth at this point. You can take your car over, or just go over as a passenger. Since there was easy parking in Kingswear and the ferry ran until 11pm, we decided to just go over as foot passengers. The ferry runs continuously, and only takes a few minutes to cross the river. You can see Paul on the ferry here.

In Dartmouth, Paul and I went on another forced march to the Dartmouth Castle. This castle is a ruin, and we didn't tour it. There was a lovely tea shop at the castle, though, and we had another cream tea. It was sunny at the start of our tea, then it started drizzling, and then it got sunny again. All of my Michigan readers - if you think the weather there is unpredictable, you need to visit England! There were some really lovely views along the walk of the river, the boats, and the opposite coast. It's probably hard to see in the pictures, but when the sun was out, the green on the hills was soft and warm. These rolling hills separated by dark green hedges are very typical in England, and really make you feel like you are someplace else. I can't think of anyplace in the states that looks like this.

On our walk back along this two-way road, we got to see several cars attempting to go through the road in each direction at the same time. I am so glad we walked for this part of the trip!

Dartmouth is a buzzing town with lots of interesting shops with artwork, clothing, fishing supplies, and the usual tourist goods. Some of the shops were closed on Sunday, but we were bound to run into that at some point. The market here looks really interesting, and is definitely historic, but it only runs on certain days (Sunday wasn't one of them!). For dinner, we found a Thai restaurant. Next on our list of foods to find is Turkish food (hummus, stuffed grape leaves, moussaka - yum!) and Cornish pasties!

Finally, just for dad, a picture of the steam engine train that departs Kingswear and goes along the Dart up to a few different cities along the way.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

It's a wonder I survived today. Paul took me on (yet another) forced march in the (yet more) rain. Our first stop for the day was in Cockington. They have a lovely town with a forge (to make horse brasses), a country manor, and a few shops. The road there looked like this:

This is actually a two-lane road, although it's only wide enough for one car for about 80% of its length. Good thing there wasn't a lot of traffic! The road widens out at various points where two cars can go through. If you're lucky (and we were) you only run into other cars at the wide points. Otherwise, someone ends up going in reverse until you do.

In Cockington, we enjoyed walking around the grounds of the country manor. Most of the manor had been converted to public gardens and a craft area. There were different types of crafters (a blacksmith, glassblower, leather maker, printmaker, etc.) on hand making their crafts, and selling the final products. There were some really lovely things there. After walking around the manor and having a look in some of the shops, we went for tea at the Rose House. We had a traditional Devonshire tea, which consists of a scone, clotted cream, and jam (usually strawberry). Clotted cream sort of tastes like really light, milky butter. It's lovely with jam on top (or on the bottom - there apparently is quite the debate about the order of jam and cream on a scone).

The scones were warm, and the tea was hot. This was good, because it started raining during our tea, and we were sitting outside under a largish umbrella. As long as we sat in the middle, we stayed relatively dry. We still were better off than the poor fellow playing piano for our entertainment in the gazebo, in my opinion.

After our tea, we drove to Torquay (pronounced Tor-key). It's known as the English Riviera, and is a great place for Agatha Christie fans to visit. It was a little damp when we were there, so the Riviera comparison didn't quite fit today. By this point, it wasn't raining anymore, so we decided to go for a walk along the seashore. The tourist info center said it was about two miles, but did not tell us anything else. Little did we know that this was not just a pleasant walk by the shore, but a hike up and down hills and steps. I protested.

But, we kept on going, because Paul dragged me along the shore, promising me fish and chips if I behaved myself. I'm a sucker for fish and chips, so I soldiered on. The views at the end (Thatcher's Point) were outstanding, and we saw at least half a dozen ships on their way into (or out of?) the harbor. They seemed to be standing still, so maybe they were just taking a break.

After the hike up and down and all around, we followed the road back, and were back in town about 20 minutes later. We shopped all around the quay for an authentic fish-and-chips shop. We didn't want to eat at a pub, and we wanted to find a local "chippy." I also wanted a view of the quay, since it was starting to brighten up a bit. We found a place, and put our order in. We had fish and chips (Paul had cod, I had haddock), mushy peas (sort of tastes like split pea soup without the soup and ham), curry sauce (excellent for dipping chips into), and a pickled egg and onion for Paul. You can see my joy at finally being able to eat after being forced to march in the rain.

We had some tea after supper, found a newsagent with another crafting magazine, and had an uneventful drive back on larger roads than the way in. Paul is now pleasantly napping, and my feet are pleasantly sore. The end of another day in our adventure!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Today, we decided to walk into Exeter. We're still a bit tired, and thought we would wander around the city to see what is nearby. Paul promised a nice walk from the hotel to Exeter. Little did I know that it was going to be a forced march in the rain! It's probably 2.2 miles from the hotel to the edge of the city center, and then we walked all around the city and back.

Our first stop in Exeter was the cathedral. I love wandering around old buildings and taking pictures. The cathedral features the longest Gothic arch that is still standing. At all of the intersection points in the arch, they had these stones they call "bosses". A replica was in the church to look at, and it was probably 3 feet in diameter. The largest one weighs 2 tons. Amazing work. The cathedral was really unique with many side chapels around the main nave area. The stained glass windows were fabulous, and it was just filled with lots of great art and craftsmanship.

The cathedral had a gift shop (of course) and a little cafe in the refectory. We had a lovely tea, with onion soup and a ploughman's lunch (salads, bread, and cheese - stilton!).

After visiting the cathedral, we walked down to the Quay (pronounced "key"). It's their harbor area on the river. They usually have river boat tours, but the river level was too high to run them. We walked all around there, peeking in the shops and at an old mill a bit down the road. The mill originally ground grains into flour, but later ground malt for beer, too.

Back on High Street, we wandered around some of the shops. I was on a mini-quest to find crafting magazines. They are all different over here, and each magazine has a sample of a crafty item - paper, die cuts, embellishments, a stamp, etc. They are reasonably priced in the UK, but easily cost three times as much in the US (if you can find them). We only managed to find one magazine, but had lots of fun shopping - including tea at Mark's and Spencer's.

On our walk back, we went to an Indian restaurant - the Light of India. Paul scoped it out ahead of time, and discovered it was on the road that led back to the hotel. We ordered the dinner for two which was like our own indian buffet on our table. We had kebabs, onion bhajis, nan, rice, and four different curries. We then finished our walk back, where I promptly collapsed on the bed and Paul took to downloading GPS data. He hopes to figure out how to post it online to share, but I'm leaving that up to him. In the meantime, it does a great job at tagging where we took our photos which will make scrapbooking very easy when I get to it.

And, yes, it rained on and off all day which is why I am sporting such a fabulous and frizzy do. Paul's hair, of course, looks the same regardless of the weather.
The trip from Houghton to Minneapolis went smooth as silk. A big thank you to Dave and Elvis for taking us to the airport. We had a 9-hour layover in Minneapolis (Paul doesn't like short layovers!), so we did what any sensible person would - we went to the Mall of America to see the newest Harry Potter movie. We give it two thumbs up! A tip for our Houghton travelers: The skyway between concourse C and G has a security checkpoint in the middle. If you exit the terminal from this checkpoint, you'll be at the light-rail station. It's about a 10-minute train ride to the mall. You can also re-enter the airport at this checkpoint if you only have carry on luggage. Pretty snazzy!

The flight from Minneapolis to London was delayed by an hour, which was more than a bit annoying, since the plane isn't very comfortable to start with. The seat in front of Deb had a box under it containing some plane gear, which reduced the leg-room under the seat about two-thirds. Neither Deb or Paul did much more than catch a few cat-naps on the journey over.

We picked up the car rental, and started our journey to Exeter! Google told us to take the motorway, but our Tom-tom GPS told us to get off the motorway, so we followed the little lady's directions. Our GPS has a british lady's voice, so it sounds like a nagging woman if you go wrong somewhere. Getting off the motorway allowed us to drive directly by Stonehenge, which was pretty cool. We arrive at the hotel in good time, and had a nice dinner at a nearby pub, the Barn Owl. Paul drank a Tribute Cornish Ale and Deb had a Bulmers pear cider. We had some fishcakes, chips (fries for our american readers), and spinach-cheese soup.

We were a bit disappointed to find that internet wasn't included in the room price, but found out this morning that there was a reasonably priced 7-day package. So, Deb is able to blog from the hotel room and upload pictures. It will also be handy if we need to find any details for places we're visiting the next day. We slept a lot last night (who thought we'd be tired?) and Paul is still tired this morning. The weather is dull and cold. That's pretty normal for England! Our plans today are just to head into the town and explore a bit. It will take a day or so to get into the right time zone.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Time to travel!

We'll be leaving tomorrow for the UK. We've never done the blog-on-a-vacation before, so we'll see how that goes. If we're able, updates will be posted here. We plan to spend some time in Exeter, Nottingham, and London on this trip. Most importantly, we'll be spending time with our family - especially our almost-4 year old nephew.