15 September 2010

England Vacation Part 19

September 15, 2010

A bright sunny morning - off to the train station to see some more of London.

Our first stop for the day was the blue tour around London, we ventured around and saw some neat things mostly expensive shops and car dealerships (Lamborghini, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin and more) we couldn't resist, so we got off at Harrod's.

Harrod's is a landmark, it's London's Macys. There are 6 floors and the store is about one large city block in size. It is cut up into departments and each one has several staff and beautiful displays. The Egyptian hall was stunning, as were the Egyptian escalators, I should have photographed it, but was being distracted by the kids.

One walk through this store with 3 kids is enough to end a vacation.

The sports department was quite interesting, I've never seen an actual Polo section in a sporting goods store before, but there it was complete with cool brushes for your horsey. They even had a skiing department. Found a nice set of custom skis for 2775 pounds... that's $4400 canuck bucks. Most every department had specialized merchandise like that, I mean they also had Rosignol and other main brands. But, I didn't go to Harrod's for that now, did I?

I packed a light bag for the trip in hopes to buy some clothes, was even hoping to get a nice set of boots from Churches. So far, I've got two lousy t-shirts - I don't expect to get much else. Next time.

The city is pretty exciting right now as they prepare for the pope's visit tomorrow. A lot of controversy too judging from the papers... one of the big hat wearers from the vatican called London a 3rd world country. I guess when Atheism is growing in popularity in England and your mixed up in paedophile scandal, you have to fight back with something to avert the attention... sticks and stones, eh? The security is increasing immensely with barricades going up every where. Not sure how it's going to affect our journeys tomorrow, but it should be exciting to see the chaos regardless.

The national gallery was our last stop of the day and what a treat to see some Renoir, Van Gogh and Monet paintings. They are stunning, could have spent the day in there, but art wasn't on the itinerary of the junior members of our entourage. Next time.

The kids are burning off steam in the pool as I write this, well two of them are, the third is locked up in the tower dungeon for the night.

Until next time.

14 September 2010

England Vacation Part 18

September 13, 2010

We toured around some more. Tired. Very tired. London has a way of taking all of your energy... and money.

We saw many cool shops, went to Saville Row, the Burlington Arcade and Lillywhites - the largest sports store in London... and despite repeated attempts, could not find a pair of shoes for myself. I did get Parker a really cool pair of Lonsdales. We took some tours on the open top buses and wandered around the shops. Not much to report, really.

London is very much like New York, but way more green space and open skies, but there are many similarities.

What I don't understand about England is the plumbing. The Romans introduced plumbing to the Brits about 2000 years ago and they've done little to improve on it since.
Hot and cold water hardly ever touches each other prior to leaving the tap, if you want warm water, you fill the sink with half hot and half cold... it's bizarre. Most taps barely extend far enough over the basin for you to put your hands under to wash up. And, don't get me started on the water pressure, OMG - I can't wait to get home and have a proper shower.

England is the first place I had to pay to go to the washroom, 30p here 50p there. For some reason it just feels seedy. And, because it's costing you money, you want to save up and give it a good go. Each time I go in I think of that famous poem:

Here I sit, broken hearted,
paid a dime and only farted.
Last time, I took a chance,
saved my dime and shit my pants.


So, plumbing is a bit suspect, but we've started to find some good meals in London, I haven't had french fries (chips) for about 3 days, my body is starting to feel better already. The people are friendly and the county is beautiful. The English Heritage sites are very well run and worth every penny to by a pass, whether you are visiting or living here... it's a great deal.

Anyways, gonna run, gotta get some sleep for the next big day.


September 14, 2010

Today, was overcast, first day so far, probably not the last though. We started by taking the trains downtown instead of the loser cruiser... this saved us 20 minutes each way. When we arrived, we went directly to the London Bridge Experience and the London Toombs. It was very good and the kids were scared silly. The first part was a great history lesson about London Bridge (not tower bridge, which everyone assumes is London Bridge) and it's history, the second part is scarefest times ten.

From there, we went to the HMS Belfast, a 70 year old naval light cruiser that was the first to fire on the Germans on D-Day, it was pretty neat but everyone of us got lost on it at some point. We walked onto the wharf, which stands for Ware House At River Front by the way, and made our way to the Museum of Design - it was really, really neat.

We soldiered on and went up to Tower bridge, where we took the elevator up to the observation platform and walked across to the other side and back down again. Hmmm, not sure how much this cost as it was part of our package, but not that exciting.

At this point it started to rain so we found a tour bus that took us past the homes of Sean Connery, Kate Blanchet, Roger Moore, Pete Townsend, Amadeus Mozart and Margret Thatcher then past a bunch of shops we couldn't afford and then to Regent Street where we found the Hamley's, a 250 year old toy store squeezed into 7 stories of fun. The kids were all over it. The boys got remote control helicopters, Isabella got some lego and a really cool brush. Yikes, don't want to see my Mastercard bill when I come home.

We stopped briefly at the Ferrari store and looked at the merchandise, then after seeing who was shopping there, decided against buying any Ferrari merchandise until I actually own a Ferrari. Even then, I may just get a license plate frame that says, "my other car is a piece of shit." The pretense in that store actually turned me off the brand, I mean, not totally, ...I still want one!!

Tomorrow, not sure, maybe Harrods, maybe the Zoo. Maybe they're the same, actually, they probably are judging from some of our shopping experiences.


12 September 2010

England Vacation Part 17

September 12, 2010

London. What can I say about London that has not already been said?

We were greeted with a clear blue sky today - now, I'll probably jinx our weather, but we've had great weather this entire trip. Everyone said to pack an umbrella, but to be honest, we only needed it for maybe a half a day. I packed two pair of shorts thinking I might just get a chance to wear them one or two days, I've nearly worn them out.

We used London's public transit, bus 185, the loser cruiser. We've got cars, but there's not chance I'm driving downtown, not here. London's transit system, as you can imagine, is pretty tight and well run. It's inexpensive and clean. Our only other option is cabs, but it ain't cheap, not from Catford. Plus without having to exert every synapse between my ears to focus on the road, it's a nice break to actually see things other than 30 feet ahead.

We arrived at Victoria station and quickly bought a pass on the hop and go double decker tours - they worked well for us in New York. We started the tour and were off seeing the sights. The layout of the city is kind of mix and match, it's not the square city blocks we're used to, but it adds to the character of the city and makes it interesting with lots of neat things around every corner.

Big Ben was a lot smaller than I thought it was going to be, as was Westminster Abbey. For some reason, I thought they would both be much bigger. The highlight of the trip was learning that the only traffic circle we found in the centre of the city is now called Chevy Chase Roundabout by the locals, which means it will be officially called that eventually. Hey look kids, there's Big Ben! I actually said that as we went around it.

London has great architecture, and I don't mean the old stuff. The new buildings all have character, unlike at home where few new structures are little more than a box with windows. The Gherkin is already a landmark... and there are so many more. They take pride in their city and I guess with so much history, want to leave their mark for years to come. I guess that's part of being world class, if you want to be world class you need to set an example, and that they do.

We are doing more site seeing tomorrow.

Ta! Ta!

11 September 2010

England Vacation Part 16

September 11, 2010

Left the Shropshires for London. A two and a half hour drive, over some beautiful country. A quick stop for some KFC got us charged up part way through.

We were greeted with a traffic jam. It took us quite a while to get through to the city, but we did it - saw the Sega office, it was cool, a great big Sonic on the side - we saw the coolest Audi and Mercedes dealerships and lot's and lot's of traffic.

Driving in London is an experience. Not necessarily one you need on your bucket list though. Holy shit. I lost track of how many times a two lane road switched to a single lane without warning. Not that I missed it, there is no warning. If you drive here a lot, you just get used to it I'm told. Phew. It's insane, it's like New York city if you added scooters to the mix.

Finally had a good meal, we went to Harvesters, looks to be a franchise outfit, but they have good food. And I had fish with no chips... it was Salmon, not Cod, and there were greens (finally) not f'ing french fries again. I think I've gained 20lbs on this trip, it may not be fair to blame the chips though, I have had one or two beers (with each meal).

Tomorrow we're off to see London. Can't wait.


My Interview with FFWD Weekly Magazine

Kevin Franco, Owner, Franco Media
A look at branding Calgary
Published September 9, 2010 by Trevor Scott Howell in Urban Living

The city of Calgary’s decision to rebrand itself is quite unnecessary. There is nothing wrong with the current one, Heart of the New West, which was recently launched — in 2003.

Unless you have a budget rivalling Coca-Cola or McDonald’s, you don’t change you’re slogan every few years. Besides, even though it hasn’t been finalized, calling Calgary, “Canada’s most dynamic city,” is not, well, a dynamic slogan. And it’s arguably not worth the $200,000 that has been paid out so far for it.

City slogans become part of the city’s personality — if left alone. Look at Texas, it has “Don’t Mess With Texas” and New York City has “I Love New York.” People love New York City because they haven’t changed that slogan for decades — now it’s iconic.

Cities feel they need slogans to aid in economic development. It should evoke positive emotions making people want to visit, move to and do business with the city. A spinoff of this is the benefit of civic pride, people grow into the slogan over time and a city can become synonymous with the slogan.

My family has been here since 1908 on my mother’s side and 1956 on my dad’s side. I was born in the same hospital as my mum. I’ve seen Calgary evolve and grow into a major player, especially over the past decade.

It’s a vibrant city with one of the youngest demographics. The mountains are a stone’s throw away. We’ve developed culturally as well; there is always something happening in this city.

We haven’t entirely shaken off the cowboy image. In fact, there are people who still think we’re an outpost on the Prairies. I’m cool with that.

The attitude here is very entrepreneurial, very can-do, which sounds cheesy and would be a terrible slogan by the way. But if you want to do a fundraiser, for example, there is no shortage of people here who will jump in and make it happen.

There’s an optimism you see here that you don’t see out East. There’s a belief here that if you do something, it’s going to work.

There are some very smart, talented people here who are making things happen. We have one of the highest penetrations of head offices in Canada. In Canada, we’re not looked at as one of the top cities — but we are.

Maybe that’s part of an inferiority complex that is driving this whole need for a new slogan. Maybe there’s a feeling that we’re uncomfortable with being No 1. or No. 4 as far as cities go.

But as far as labelling Calgary “dynamic,” that can apply to every city. There are probably 200 businesses with the word dynamic in it.

It sounds like something city council came up with, not something a California firm dreamed up. The $200,000-price tag sounds a bit rich too. The fee itself doesn’t rattle my chain so much as they went outside of the city to get the work done.

Our creative team has unanimously decided that "Heart of the New West" should be kept as it really is a well-crafted slogan and epitomizes the core feeling the city should exemplify. Also, our team was unanimous on the thought that “dynamic” was not a great choice.

If you look at the word dynamic another way, like to say it might be energy. Energy is probably a good way to describe Calgary in terms of the energy sector but also the young demographic — it’s young and energetic or something like that.

We had a little bit of fun and explored many themes. Keep in mind that this was a fun exercise and we only spent about 15 minutes on it. Naming and slogan creation is a long process and requires much reflection and thought — we can do better with more time (and a budget).

"Vibrant Strides, Glowing Hearts"

"Making It Happen"

"City of Energy" or "Energy City"

We also had some fun with it:

“Canada's Most Dynamic Slogan"

"No Slogan Required"

"How the West was No. 1"

"Lots of things Rhyme with Calgary"

"Paving the Way"

"Git 'er Done"

“Calgary, Your Slogan Here”

“Calgary, Everybody Wants to be Mayor”

“WTF? Calgary”


Here is a link to the original article and to FFWD Weekly Magazine:

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England Vacation Part 15

September 10, 2010

Today, we travelled about a mile down the road to visit Stokesay Castle, well, it wasn't so much a castle as it was a fortified manor. It was exquisite. A real gem. The audio guide was great and explained so much about how it was built and how it was used in it's nearly 800 years.

We didn't want a big travel day so we stayed within 25 miles of our base camp today... there was so much to see, in just this little part of the Shropshires, we had no idea.

Further up the road was a town called Much Wenlock, a nice little town with a great pub where we had a delicious lunch. The pub was called the George & Dragon Inn. We wandered through the shops and happened upon their little museum and made quite a discovery, the father of the modern olympics was from that town and in the mid-1800's he began holding olympic games in England and pushed for an international olympics. In 1894 he was invited to France to form the international olympic committee, but was 84 and could not attend, he never saw his vision come to fruition but provided the spark for the modern games. The memorabilia in this museum as it related to this was really neat... the other stuff was quite typical.

Our next stop was a little town in a valley called Iron Bridge. It's famous for, wait for it... that's right, an iron bridge. Well, it's the first iron bridge ever made, this was the heart of the iron industry as metallurgy was invented and mastered in this area of Great Britain. The bridge was pretty cool, and the toll house at the one end made you think of the many people that had to cough up some coins to get across to the town in dry clothes.

We got home early and ordered Indian take out. Vinaloo, butter chicken and curry... it was a nice change from fish and chips, hamburgers and chips, pie and chips... heck, everything comes with chips here, it's worse than America for that.

Tomorrow we drive into London, I'm excited about it and a bit nervous... the traffic in the big centers are nuts. I wont say I've mastered the driving here, but I'm a lot more comfortable than I was two weeks ago. But, it's still a lot to grasp, quick changes, narrow roads, weird signs and all while on the wrong side of the road. One turn on our drive today required us to turn a bit, back up and then make the turn - and even at that, we had about 2" of clearance on each mirror as we went through the narrow channel. I was smart enough to load up a couple thousand songs onto my iPad before leaving... I've rigged it up to the rental car stereo so the music is good and we're not constantly trying to find a station.

Our second week saw us at a pretty nice spot, just outside of Craven Arms. The barn conversion had most of modern trappings, other than internet. We have a plasma TV, modern kitchen, washer & dryer and a shit load of spiders... bit hairy ones, in fact, one of them had biceps. I couldn't even muster up the courage (or strength) to kill it.

I am hoping the place in London has wifi, the lack of connectivity is killing me. I dunno, maybe it's good. I was hoping to post as I went along, but here I am each night before bed, recapping the day's events. This gives me some time to embellish and exaggerate, and that's always good for storytelling.


England Vacation Part 14

September 9, 2010

The day started out pretty foggy, but it burned off quickly as we made the long journey north to Blackpool. It's a two and a half hour drive from our place in the Shropshires but well worth it.

We arrived and quickly found a parking spot, purchasing parking tickets in most areas in England sucks, you need to take a piggy bank with you. Despite having ten pounds of coins in my pocket, that would have gotten us parking until about 5 but the machine ate a pound or two and shaved a couple hours off our ticket... which resulted in us getting a different kind of ticket later. We shall write a letter.

Blackpool looked like it would have been a beautiful vacation spot about 30 years ago, many of the buildings are in disrepair and there are plenty of undesirables milling about. If you can get past that, this is the place to kick off your child's gambling problem. There is a mile of casino's disguised as 'fun houses' for kids, plunk in your coins and win tickets... just like Ruckers. Only the kids are playing VLT's as well as the typical games of chance for these worthless tickets. When they have amassed their fortune in tickets, and daddy's wallet has been emptied, it's time to go redeem the tickets for something at the prize fulfillment store. Basically a dollar store that takes 100 tickets to the dollar... the kids had won about 400 tickets collectively.

On the piers, everyone had something to sell from two dollar watches to the junkiest of junk, lot's of schucksters. I was approached by an woman with a Lavender blossom in tin foil with a blessing, she looked like an old witch looking for a donation. The kids wanted to look in every store and we obliged. There are also about 2 miles of hotels, all 6-8 bedroom hotels, it was kinda weird to see actually... there were hundreds of them.

The bright spot of Blackpool was the theme park called Pleasure Beach, a very nice spot with plenty of rides and roller coasters. The world record for consecutive roller coaster riding is still held there.... 1000 hours on the Big Dipper, a 90 year old wooden track thrill ride. Many of the rides in this park are closing in on their hundredth year. If you can afford the entry, it's well worth it to spend the day there. I even went on the largest roller coaster, The Big One. It was scary as hell and a looong way up! From the top, we could see that the tide was out... we could also see Newfoundland, yeah.... it was that high.

When Pleasure Beach closed, we crossed the road and walked out on the sand... it was amazing how low the water level had dropped. The pier we were on was fully over the water at lunch time, now it was about 100m from the water. I would estimate that the water dropped about 30'. There was a really neat sculpture on the shoreline, it was a functional organ that played as the tide came in, using pressure from the water to force air through the instrument. Really inventive.

My car battery was dead when we returned, even though it was a standard transmission we could not push start it, because the parking break on it is electronic and could not unlock without power... dumb design. If Vauxhall is not made by General Motors, I would be surprised... it's got all the same lousy attributes and a button for everything, more buttons than functions.

We hung out until dark to see the illuminations, which in Canadian English terms means lights. The streets were lit up as were the trams and buses. Parker said it looked like Vegas for kids. It was pretty neat. Worth seeing, even thought it meant a very long drive in the dark. It was like a grand xmas light display for about 2 miles down the main road with some sections (tastefully) sponsored by companies.

On the drive home, it started raining... no problem. Then we found out the only road leading to our small town was out and we had to take a diversion... no problem. I did not think that the roads could get any narrower. The workman on the highway said, 'Dun go mad, she's narrow and there's open back bridges'... I have always thought the roads were narrow, but didn't think they could get any worse. But, when both mirrors are dragging along the bushes on either side of the car, you know it's narrow, and the road was pretty slick, it was mostly hard packed dirt, which was now very slick. Now that was pretty cool and scary at the same time... we did this for 4 miles and had three cars come towards us which we had to navigate through at the odd opening in the road.

England Vacation Part 13

September 8, 2010

Only 12 days left in our tour, I'm beginning to get tired from all the travel, I know it sounds incredible, but we've logged a lot of miles and seen a lot of rocks. From Roman ruins to cathedrals and castles... and, of course Stonehenge. I'm beginning to see a pattern with this trip. Stones. Luckily, I'm a huge fan of the stones.

Derrick decided to stay back today to give his knee a rest, it's been a lot of walking and we're all starting to feel a bit of fatigue. We set out on our own, with the trusty GPS in hand.

Our first stop, Stratford Upon Avon, the birthplace of commercialism... and William Shakespeare. It was a neat old house, with shopping and souvenirs on either side, well, a whole village built around it actually. To visit Bills birth home was about £80 to do a walk through, so we just peered over the fence at the bards' yard.

There were some neat shops though, one that sold magic wands and potions with a freak show upstairs and a tea room in the back and a shop that sold vintage maps and clippings from old magazines.

From there we went to Warwick Castle... It was a castle at one time, but has been taken over by someone that understands how to make a buck. There were shows for the kids, with the cast of actors playing multiple roles throughout the grounds. The prince from one skit could be found later in a different costume polishing armor and sharpening arrow heads. He was very informative and the kids learned a bunch, all in the medieval setting.

We got to watch and speak to a long bow shooter, a whitesmith and watch an 18m high catapult called a Trebuchet shoot a fire ball across the field. To load the trebuchet required 4 soldiers in hamster wheels... It was quite impressive. Warwick Castle was well worth the price and the drive. Is it an authentic castle? Well, the stone structure is, the rest is a well done experience for kids and I highly recommend it, if you are looking for an authentic castle, I recommend Durnham Castle.

Now, if you rely 100% on your GPS, you may want to find out how often they update their maps. We found a massive intersection of two motorways that were not on the GPS... after three attempts and 9 extra miles we finally hit the right road home.

England Vacation Part 12

September 7, 2010

We took the long drive south, into Newport and Caerleon Wales - the road signs are crazy, they speak some kind of pig latin, with extra letters. It's quite neat to see.

We took the Severn Bridge across to England and into Bristol, then over to Bath. Bath is amazingly pretty, very European looking and built into a valley with gorgeous architecture stretching up every hillside. We went downtown and spent a few hours in the shopping mall, OK, mostly at the Apple store to poach their free wifi and then have a pizza, but what we saw was really, really neat. I need to come back to this city for sure.

The weather was perfect, so far, we have had sunny days every day, little bits of cloud and the odd spurt of showers, but mostly it's been great.

From Bath, we drove to Stonehenge, a world historic site. To think the stones used in making it were brought from so far away really makes you wonder about how they did it - they are huge, way bigger than they show them on Spinal Tap.

From Stonehenge, we went to Salisbury, a town built on the River Avon - a very pretty site, we went to Salisbury Cathedral and while we weren't expecting much more than the average cathedral, it was spectacular and had a hidden gem in the back charter house and medieval frieze... the Magna Carta. The original document with 63 charters outlining the rights of the people of England - only 3 are still applicable, but groundbreaking for it's time and a very important part of history. Seeing it encased in glass, under special lighting was really a treat.

For the drive back we relied on our GPS and our interpretation of the directions, missing turns and going on the wrong exits along the way... this turned out in our favor as we were happened upon one of the chalk horses on a hillside - we could't have found it with a sherpa... but there it was, across the field as we're driving by... Karen yells, 'look at that! Pull over!!!' and we quickly pull over and snap a few picks from about a kilometer away... really cool.

We then drove through Marlborough, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, you may know him from the opening of the Iron Maiden Album, Somewhere Back In Time. After that, we drove through Swindon, which has the most famous traffic circle cluster in all the world... seriously, look it up on Google, the map of it looks like a boy scout knot diagram.

We stopped for a quick bite to eat along the motorway and then made the long journey back home, at our furthest, we were 145 miles away from base camp. All in all, it was a really fun day.

Tomorrow, we'll have to drive south about 15 miles to see if we can bust into the Cadbury factory and get us some chocolate. The factory resides in a lush green valley, with nothing around it but farms - not what you'd expect at all. A marketers dream.


07 September 2010

England Vacation Part 11

Monday, September 6, 2010

It's a holiday in Canada for labour day, and here, it's still vacation and will be for a fortnight. I love saying that. Don't get me wrong, I'm not getting all soft on English culture and adopting their ways. I still won't drink tea. But, I am starting to learn the lingo a bit. Prior to arriving here, all I knew about the Brits is what I learned from Benny Hill, Monty Python and the Carry On movies. Not that that's a bad thing.

Let me first say that I love my kids. Their behavior while on vacation has not been stellar. In fact, I'm questioning the rationale in bringing them in the first place. I'm not sure how much of the English countryside they've even seen with their heads buried in their Nintendos. I hope they remember more about the trip than being lectured by their parents.

We are right by Stokesay castle and I hope to see it... There are so many castles, we didn't even see Raby castle or Barnard castle and both were within a mile or two from our last residence. Today we visited Shrewsbury, the birthplace of Charles Darwin. They named the shopping mall after him, how nice. There's probably more tributes to the man but, that's all we saw today... along with a lot of really cool shops.

We found a McDonalds... I know it doesn't sound great, I won't eat there back home, but a break from fish and chips with free wifi is a win in my books. I got to check some emails and post a couple more blog posts.

We visited an old abbey... not too shabby. Our parking was running out, you pay for parking everywhere over here, 1 pound per hour is typical, but it can be a lot more if your not careful. Also, in Canada we enjoy such brevities as 'parkade' whereas the Brits like to call them 'multi-storey car parks' and our road signs say 'uneven' theirs say 'adverse camber'. It's these subtleties that provide some challenges when trying to converse with the locals.

Tomorrow is a big day, getting up early to head into Caerleon, Wales, then to Bristol, then to Bath (insert weather joke about showers in bath here), then to Stonehenge. If we have time, there is a small town (probably a grouping of 2 or 3 houses) called Tiddleywink, which would be worth the extra petrol, just for the photo. Early night tonight.

06 September 2010

England Vacation Part 10

Saturday, September 4, 2010

We left Stinkholes, er, I mean Foxholes and the smell of rotting flesh and manure behind us, we're off the Shropshire today.

Although we were happy to leave the smell behind, the spot was nice and very central to all points north. But it's time to head South West, into the Shropshires.

We're very close to the Welsh border, the Wedgwood factory as well as Bristol and Bath. There should be many good day trips from this location.

It was a very long drive and getting into the area where many of England's rich have getaways, there were many nice cars on the road and the roadhouses were starting to look less like greasy spoons and more like country clubs.

Our new residence is called 1 Church Farm Barn... it is also a barn conversion but nicely done, with a loft that the boys have called their 'man cave' - there's satellite TV but still no wifi. Should be a good spot to see this side of the country from.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

I woke this morning to a nice breakfast and coffee. The kids got me a gift and some cards for my birthday and my father in law bought me a nice book on England. A great way to start the day.

A bit later, we went North to Knutsford for the Penny Farthing Race, if you don't know what a Penny Farthing is, I'll give you a few minutes to Google it..... OK, now you know.

Anyways, the race is held every 10 years, and it just so happens that it landed on my birthday this year. We got to see three races; the hobby horses - bike like contraption with no peddles, the Bone Shakers, a crude bike of sorts on metal wheels and then the Penny Farthings... talk about a fixed gear bike!

The Penny Farthing race went for 3 hours, enough time to drain the beer tent out of every drop and exhaust the kids (mostly). We met up with Karen's uncle Jim, and her cousins Catherine and Robert - it was a nice visit and we had a great lunch.

The race was sponsored by Bentley... to give you an idea of the money in this little town, they had a Rolls Royce dealership as you entered the town. 275,000 pounds for the nice coupe with the suicide doors... not sure why Bentley's are so popular with the wealthy, I guess they are more affordable, the Rolls were pretty spectacular.

We went to a great pub for dinner, it was originally called The Black Boy, but changed their name to the something else... I didn't even look at the new name, but did snap a picture of the original sign with the black boy on it... that's a keeper for my No Longer Appropriate Museum. Got a few other pics for that gallery from my travels.

At this point we were about 88 miles from our new residence, driving home on nearly all country roads at night with hedges and trees crowding the lane ways. The road feels as though it was cut out of the landscape the only thing to concentrate on are the white reflectors built into the roads. There are very few straight aways with many traffic circles breaking up the winding highway. After this trip, I'm gonna kill at Atari Night Driver... if I can find a right hand drive version.

Today is also the day of the Morrone Family Reunion, no, no the Morrone crime family from The Dark Knight, but the Morrone family from Sepino, Italy. This is the first time I've missed the family reunion since it's inception and I missed catching up with everyone, and the famous bocce tournament. Tutta La Genga!!

Until the next time, Cheerio!

England Vacation Part 9

Friday, September 3

Off to York to see the York Minster and the many shopping areas around the city centre... very cool to see modern shops in 500 year old buildings. Pizza Hut, Starbucks and McDonald's are hard to find, but when you see them in a very old setting it's kind of neat to see... not that we're looking for these places.

The Minster was neat as it has been rebuilt over the ages, on the same spot... first by Romans, then by Normans then again in Medieval times, each time growing in size.

We left the city of York and drove to the East coast. Whitby Bay. What a beautiful spot. Sandy beaches and beautiful countryside - we drove through North Yorkshire National Park - there was the purple hue of heather for as far as the eye could see in all directions. Incredible. There was also many sheep on the road to avoid, as far as the ewe could see.

The roads are incredibly narrow in places and cars park on the sidewalk. Some homes come right up to the edge of the road, if you're not careful, you can loose a mirror as you pass them. It's also neat to see 20 foot travel trailers being pulled by Audi A4's and Mazda 3's... makes you wonder why we need F350's and Ram 3500 trucks to pull such things back home. Actually, the thought of the ridiculous size of the trucks back home is mind boggling. There is no point, other than compensation for something else, I guess.

The vehicles in England are neat. There are many brands that we don't have back home, including the one I'm driving, a Vauxhall Insignia. There are Fiats (which are all very cool and well designed), Seats, Rovers, MG's, Skodas and Lotus. And, the car brands that are familiar offer up different models than back home.

I think we can learn a lot from the Brits when it comes to automobiles and driving. Trucks (18 wheelers) aren't allowed out of the outside lane and the inside lane is for passing only, use it and then get the hell back in queue! It's very efficient.

04 September 2010

England Vacation Part 8

Thursday, September 2, 2010

We started the day at the Metro Centre, Newcastle's largest shopping mall... it was pretty large. A few bargains to be had and a McDonald's with free WIFI!!!

I finally got a chance to look at my e-mails and get a bit of correspondence done and learned of the passing of someone that I've known for quite a few years. Ronalda you will be missed by many.

From the Metro Centre, we travelled to Hadrian's Wall, the wall built by the Roman Empire to stop the Scots from invading their territory in the 1st century. The Roman's probably would have kept pressing north only the temperatures and the land probably wasn't deemed worth pursuing. Along the wall are many ruins and artifacts, the Romans occupied the area for nearly 500 years so, they left more than a few tent poles and Kit Kat wrappers behind for us to find.

The ruins were quite spectacular and the craftsmanship was very evident... 2000 years and still standing... for the most part.

Our kids are a handful at the best of times and spending a bunch of time with them is good, but I think their grandfather is beginning to rethink the 3 week tour. He's only seen them when we visit, or for one or two nights... to see them in full action is an eye opener. Sorry grumps.

We then visited Karen's grandmother's home north of Newcastle and stopped at the local ASDA for dinner at McDonalds. ASDA is just like Walmart, only the colour theme is yellow not blue. I wondered if there was a "peopleofasda.com" website but the WIFI at this McD's wasn't working. I can tell you, if there isn't already a site, there should be... it was frightful to say the least.

I must say that the English drivers are courteous and accurate. Accuracy is important when the average street is the exact same size as the width of the car... and they're going 50mph. There are many traffic circles, luckily I live near one in Calgary and have had some experience with how not to take them. English drivers know how to queue and give right away, in order. It seems that they know they are part of the system, where in Alberta, everyone thinks the road is there for them and them alone. It's very refreshing. ...now if they could only drive on the right side of the road!

Arrival back at camp stinky was much of the same, the wicked odor seems to be concentrated at our front door, 25' away and it smells moderately better. The house is hot tonight, but we don't dare open a window in fear of stinking up our accommodation.


02 September 2010

England Vacation Part 7

Wednesday, September 1

6:45 and the coffee's on. A quick breakfast and on the road North.

We headed up to Alnwick (pronounced Anik, you ignore every second letter) to see the castle where many parts of Harry Potter 1 and 2 were filmed as well as numerous other films including Elizabeth and Robin Hood Prince of Theives. ...In my opinion, I thought Kevin Costner's English accent was bang on.

The town of Alnwick is beautiful, as are most old English towns, the market place was on two winding roads that were intersected by another road forming a nice triangle shaped plaza.

Again, no wifi, not until the pubs open that is. We went over to the castle and started to explore. The tour guide took us through the castle exterior and explained many of the scenes from Harry Potter and how they filmed them. The castle itself and Haggreds house are very recognizable and there are still some remains from the film crew like metal hangers for torches that could not be removed from the arrow slits.

We visited the poison garden, a collection of all plants poisonous including the extremely dangerous and dreaded cannabis plant. But seriously, there were some pretty nasty little flowers to see. Someone asked if the Angel's Trumpet flower was traceable if used to poison a person. I think everyone was thinking the same thing... wondering if that little brat in the tour would like a cup of tea. The answer was yes, most all of the poisonous plants can be traced.

The interior of the 700 year old castle was gorgeous, quite typical by castle standards, silk wall coverings, framed masterpieces, massive libraries, beautifully painted ceilings and stuffed family pets. That's right, the nut jobs that live in the castle, the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland felt it necessary to call the taxidermist each time their dog died and proudly display it in the castle.

After Alnwick, we went to Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island. Which is only an island part of the time. When the tide goes out, it's attached by a narrow road and a large sandy plain, when the tide comes in, it's a full fledged island... that you can wade through the water to.

At the top of the island is a fortified castle that is likely a thousand years old - it't a really neat spot and the kids enjoyed combing the beach for shells and mussels. The narrow road on the way out of the island was demonstrated when my daughter spilled her drink and I veered off the road for a few meters, luckily it was just sand where we went off and not the rocky bit a few meters before.

We got back onto the motorway and headed north, to Scotland. The kids were pretty excited about visiting the wee country north of England. We stopped at a town called Burntmouth to have dinner. Yeah, that's what I thought. We found a great place to eat, it was called the First and Last Pub and the proprietors (the people filling in for the actual proprietors) were very friendly and were from Inverness. They thought it was neat that we lived in Prestwick a community in McKenzie Towne, along with Inverness and Elgin - all cities in Scotland.

The drive back was only 80 miles, but it was getting dark and it was a long, long day. Our arrival at Stinkholes, er I mean Foxholes was greeted with the strong smell of fermenting animal carcass or something less sweet. The accommodations are nice, but it smells like hell. We can't even open the windows, luckily it does not permeate the interior of the dwelling.

England Vacation Part 6

Tuesday, August 31, 2010.

The Beamish Museum was on the agenda for today. It's pronounced like it sounds, but I called it Be Amish all day, and it fit quite nicely.... a quaint old spot similar to Heritage Park in Calgary with the park staff in period costume.

Our kids liked the Beamish Museum and even Derrick got to see the trolley car that his father drove. The number 10 trolley, driven by Mr. Wilkinson, made the last run of any trolley car in Newcastle before they were replaced with buses. The last run was attended by the mayor of Newcastle as well as many dignitaries at the time.

After Beamish, we drove into Newcastle and timed it perfectly to experience rush hour traffic... luckily we were only going to the very centre of the city. After making a few circles and a bit of a walk, we found ourselves at the Millennium Bridge on the Newcastle side looking over at Gateshead.

There was a great art exhibit in an old flour mill on the Gateshead side so we went in. There was no photographer but I left my email address so that they could forward me a couple of images of the exhibits.

After a nice drive, we stopped in Staindrop at the Black Swan pub for dinner. The proprietor and his daughter served us, they were very friendly and the food was really good.

Now, a word about English beer. Nearly every place serves Peroni, Stella Artois, Budweiser and Heineken. I'm not sure why. Even the grocery stores carry all these beers, but no local beers - they can only be found in the pubs (mostly). So, not that I'm trying to avoid English beer, quite the opposite, I keep looking for some to try. We just haven't spent much time in pubs. On the plus side, I did have a Black Sheep beer, a local beer for the Wensleydale area. It was pretty good, room temperature, but good.

Tomorrow, we're off to Anick Castle, where parts of Harry Potter was filmed, and England's North East coast.

England Vacation Part 5

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.