29 August 2010

England Vacation Part 4

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bank holiday. The day off for most Brits. We got up at 6:30 and made breakfast - today, we were off to Durham. Home of the cathedral and the castle, both bearing the Durham name. No bull.

We drove past Raby Castle on the way to Durham, a beautiful castle only a few miles from where we are staying then drove through every round-a-bout in England on the way. Many have said that Calgary has the second most expensive parking in the world, obviously the surveyors didn't make it to Durham's downtown shopping centre, the Gate. For 6 hours, we paid 12 pounds - about $20.

The city of Durham is a beautiful spot with a river that wraps around a small piece of land that hosts the castle and the cathedral as well as the old town that is now a series of narrow streets with shopping and restaurants. We walked through the medieval courtyard through the streets of quaint shops up the hill to where the castle and cathedral stand. The bells were ringing, we arrived right at noon. At 1:30, the bell ringing apprentices came out and they didn't stop until long after we left the city at about 5:00.

The tour of the castle was informative, the castle was occupied by Bishops for several hundred years - from what I can take from it, they were the local power. The castle was built in 1070 with several additions over the years, the most recent addition was in the 1800's so no Starbucks yet. It was really cool.

The cathedral was fairly large and like the ones I saw in Italy, demonstrated a huge parity between the haves and the have nots. It was well designed with very high ceilings and beautiful stained glass windows. And, for a fee, you could do anything there, light a candle for 40p, climb the stairs for 5 pounds or buy a religious artifact in the gift shop, a feature no medieval cathedral should be without.

We drove up through Newcastle/Gateshead to get to Wickham, where Derrick's brother lives. We stopped in for an afternoon tea and visited for a bit. We headed back to Casa Del Stinko to find that the foul stench had somewhat dissipated, which was good news... we may be able to enjoy the nice evening - tonight you can see the stars.

28 August 2010

England Vacation Part 3

Saturday, August 28, 2010

We arrived in Manchester, a beautiful sunny morning which didn't last long, it quickly turned to rain when we picked up our rental cars. Yes cars, plural - we got two identical Vauxhall Insignias. It was cheaper than one large vehicle, besides the large vehicles over here aren't exactly large by our standards.

The kids slept for about a half hour on the plane and were completely wiped. I was too, and was about to embark on the hairiest driving experience of my life. Pouring rain, no sleep and I've got to get this standard transmission car off the 13th floor parkade... and, on the wrong side of the road.

Once we got on the motorway, it was smooth sailing. The motorways move quick, we were averaging 80mph... what the hell? I thought Britain was metric? We drove into Barnard Castle, a beautiful little town with a great market and some old buildings (I suppose there will be a lot of that!). Charles Dickens stayed here once, we know because there was plaque... on the building where he stayed ... for a night or two. Marketing old country style.

We ate lunch at the Turks Head pub, a neat old place and I had my first beer in England... A bottle of Heineken. Matthew and Isabella slept at the table while we had a very tasty fish and chips.

It was time to check into our manor. We drove into Staindrop. I know, I know... the English have a way with words. We found Foxholes, our quarters for the next week. It's called a conversion, but it's really a grouping of several hundred year old barns. The Strathmore Barns were just that, barns until a few years ago when the land owner converted them into homes. They are very nicely done but they are still in the heart of a farm, which, if you arrive at a certain time of the year, the pungent aroma of cow and sheep manure is overwhelming. It's pretty gross actually. The smell has not permeated the interior of our cottage, which tells me it's a temporary thing and our arrival was just ill timed. I'm hopeful it will clear up in the next day.

We got unpacked and the kids crashed, as did I. I slept from about 3:00 to 8:30... all caught up on sleep for the next little bit and ready to take on England first thing tomorrow. For tonight, it's a cigar and a Stella Artois.


27 August 2010

England Vacation Part 2

It's 8:30 in Calgary and 3:30 in London, difference is that in London, its tomorrow. We're somewhere in between. We are 37,000 feet over Greenland, Godthab to be exact. It's pitch dark outside and I'm reminded of the last time I flew over Greenland, it was a few years ago. OK, quite a few years ago... let's put it this way... there was smoking in the plane, not a smoking section, every seat had an ashtray and you could call the women working on the plane stewardesses without upsetting them. It was 1979 and we took a family vacation to Italy.

Today, our trip is to England and my kids are 13, 9 and 9. Old enough to enjoy and learn from an overseas trip and young enough to keep Karen and I on our toes. I hope they look back on this as fondly as I remember Italy.

Before we left, we were in a toy store at the airport and the kids were looking at die cast cars and I was reminded of the car I bought outside of Napoli, a silver Mercedes 450SEL - my favorite car of all-time (at that time). I guess I've wanted a silver Mercedes, ever since I was a kid. Somewhere in a box in the basement, I still have the toy car and in the garage is now the real thing.

Three hours left in the flight and I'm certain my kids are wishing we were there already, because I am too. In this age of instant downloads and access to anything it's still hard to get your head around the fact that we can only move so fast on this planet. Someone's gotta come up with some kind of hi-speed mode of travel.

We are now midway over Greenland. I was reminded of the subtle differences in culture just now as I ordered a drink. The crew is all British and when asked if I would like one or two shots of rum, I held up two fingers. Realizing quickly that I just made an obscene gesture to the man, I quickly reversed it, gave him the peace sign and apologized to some laughter. It's gonna be fun. They use the same language, but words have different meanings - a fanny pack for instance is a verb in the U.K.

I have come to understand the pronunciation of certain words to like Glouchestershire - it does not sound like it looks. I suppose, if I make a fool of myself and say the wrong things, I will simply say, "sorry, that's not how we say it in the good old US of A!"

England Vacation Part 1

Here I am, about to fly over Hudson Bay, listening to Blue Oyster Cult at 11277 meters over the earth. Directly below my plane is where thousands of people fly every year to see polar bears scavenge for food in the Churchill town dump. I mean see them in the wild. We're traveling at 1010kms per hour. Man, I wish we were on the ground doing that speed.

Traveling with kids is a challenge for anyone, they are as excited about the pending adventure as us grown ups, but they have a different way of showing it. They don't listen to Blue Oyster Cult in quiet reflection for one. They tend to be more physical and audible about their excitement.

There's a lot to think about when traveling, with 3 kids and two adults you must have 5 boarding passes ready, 5 passports open and all 5 people together... sounds not too bad, but we've got some pretty independent kids and like their father, aren't necessarily conformists if you know what I mean.

So, three kids all marching to their own drummer. One heavy metal, one pop and one Punk. OK, maybe all Punk, but three radically different bands. Going anywhere with my kids without attracting attention is unheard of.

My daughter, who I love to bits wants to sit next to her dad, which I love. My youngest son, who couldn't contain his excitement with any amount of ridalin has been pretty good so far and my oldest son is steady as usual, he is so grounded for his age. I love my kids.

So, we're about to fly over Hudsons Bay, a large bay by any standards. Looking at the screen on the back of the chair in front of me, Hudsons Bay looks like a large meteor landing spot than anything else. So many explorers struggled through that region over the years, and when you think of us flying over the same area so effortlessly really makes you appreciate technology. Well, this iPad doesn't hurt either.

OK. we're over water. Canada is so big. So immense, so open and uninhabited. I love that part of it. The fact that we're not stacked upon each other. The fact that there's room for two massive SUV's for every one of us is comforting.

In another hour or so, we will be flying over Greenland. Is that a continent? I don't have Google up here, so I'm half as smart as when I'm land based. Then Iceland. One thing that's always amused me is that Iceland is green, while Greenland is ice.

Anyways, that's our first part of the journey. If I get time, I'll post some more later.