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Greetings From Harrogate...
Sunday, 28 October 2007
Cardiff and London
Topic: Trips



(Click on the above slide show to view as a web album.) 

Tuesday we drove south to RAF Fairford. We've been listening to the Harry Potter books on cd. The version we're listening to is the UK one, read by Stephen Fry. We finished Prisoner of Azkaban, but only had the US version of Goblet of Fire, so that's what we started listening to. No disrespect to Jim Dale (the British man who reads the US audio editions), but we gave him two hours and by the end of that time, Larry and I were ready to fall asleep, lulled by the monotonous tone of Mr. Dale's voice. We marveled that someone could actually make the book boring. We gave him a try. We really did.

The trip to Fairford was long, but smooth. (It took over four hours to get there from Harrogate.) We had dinner at the bowling alley on the base.

Ryan amazed us that night by actually sleeping in the rollaway bed in our room! (The last time we had a rollaway, Ryan ignored it and slept between me and Larry.)

The next morning we had breakfast in a tiny little cafe tucked inside the base's community activity center. The center itself was undergoing renovation, and looked deserted. As we walked over the cement floor, currently stripped of its carpet with residual glue stuck on the ground, I said to Larry, "There was a time when I would have thought this was weird!" However, we rounded a few corners, and found the minute oasis of coffee and food in the midst of the dark community center.

After breakfast, we headed to Cardiff. Along the way, we saw an, "Adverse Camber" road sign. I'd seen this before and it left me scratching my head. After a quick Google search, I found it has to do with how the road slopes from the center to the side. If this gets going the wrong way, and a vehicle gets going too fast, things can get ugly.

The border between England and Wales is over a body of water, the Mouth of the Severn. There's a really neat bridge that spans it. (Unfortunately, there's a 5.10 pound toll to get across!) It took us a couple of hours to get into Cardiff and get parked.

It was a gorgeous day, sunny, but quite cool with a breeze. My first thought was that Cardiff is a lot more European in feel than England and Scotland. The sense of being in a foreign country is heightened by all the signs being both in English and Welsh. (Welsh is really crazy-looking. Way too many consonants all together. Tongue out)

Our first stop was Cardiff Castle. (If you want to see some Welsh, click on that link and choose "Cymraeg." There are also some great photos of the inside and outside of the castle. Go to the site and click on "present" to see them.) We hadn't been to a castle in a while. A tour of the castle was included in the price of admission. The tour started up on the castle wall. Ryan was tired and not at all cooperative. We had to remove him from the first couple of rooms of the tour. (Larry and I took turns.) Eventually he settled down and was quiet and good. (I suppose it's expecting a bit much for a three year old to be quiet during a tour!)

After the tour, we walked over to the keep, which was separate from the residential part of the castle. It was fun to climb up to the top and look around.

Of course we stopped in the gift shop. The Welsh flag is a red dragon on a field of white and green. I love it! It was hard for me to control myself in the souvenir department.

We had a late lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe (of course). We got Ryan an HRC collectible bear wearing a dragon costume (Dylan the Dragon, I was told was his name). From talking to two of the employees at the HRC, I got the impression that Welsh people are very passionate about their dragon, and have a strong sense of national pride.

Cardiff is home to the Millennium Stadium. Larry suggested we take a look at it. They had a tour starting just as we got there. It turned out to be very interesting and informative. I'm glad we went on the tour. It's something I never would have thought to do, but it turned out to be fun.

Of course we stopped at Starbucks and bought ourselves a Cardiff mug.Smile (We also made a stop at WHSmith to buy the UK audio version of Goblet of Fire. Tongue out) We walked around the pedestrian area a bit before heading back to the car.

I really enjoyed Cardiff. Wales is somewhere I'd definitely like to come back and explore.

That night Ryan made sure Larry and I didn't sleep to well. He must have lulled us into a false sense of security that first night! The second night, he took forever to settle, then kept moving back and forth between our bed and the rollaway. Then he was up around 4am, and didn't go back to sleep until after 5am!

We had some breakfast, checked out of the hotel, got some gas, and were on our way to London. We did what JoAnna and Ryan and I did last year: drove to the tube stop at West Ruislip, and took the tube into London. This worked out well. Ryan was great on the tube.

As sunny as Wales was, London was the opposite. It was stereotypical British weather: cold, grey, drizzling, gloomy. That didn't dampen our spirits, though.

We pretty much went back to London so I could see The Globe Theatre. Smile It was definitely worth it. We had a late lunch first, then Larry kept Ryan while I took the tour of the Globe. It's a re-creation. There's nothing left of the real Globe except a placard noting its original location just one street over. However, I very much enjoyed the tour, and even got to walk across the stage!

After the tour (and a quick Starbucks stop), we headed back to the tube, then back to our car, then back to Harrogate. It was a long drive (about four hours), but fairly smooth, except for some bad traffic in the beginning.

I'm really glad we got to see Cardiff, and took one last jaunt to London. I still can't believe we're leaving the UK in less than two weeks! I will definitely miss it. 

ps - Today we were channel surfing, and saw there was a Tom Jones concert at Cardiff Castle! It was fun to see it, since we were just there!

Posted by hkvlayman at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Sunday, 28 October 2007 6:45 PM BST
Thursday, 25 October 2007
We're Back
Topic: Trips
Hello. We're back. Smile

Posted by hkvlayman at 10:50 PM BST
Monday, 1 October 2007
RAF Croughton
Topic: Trips

We got home from Scotland on Sept. 4, only to turn around the next day and head south. My friend Natasha had business in London, and needed someone to watch her kids. Her husband, Tim, had the very cool idea of all of us heading down, then swapping babysitting duties so each of us could go into London. Natasha made reservations for us at RAF Croughton, an American Air Force base near Oxford. This worked out extremely well. I had fairly low expectations of what our lodgings would be like, having stayed in my share of military hotels and temporary lodgings. Turns out, we were very pleasantly surprised. We each got an entire, fully-furnished house to stay in! Score! Smile The houses were fairly nice, with two bedrooms, one bath, and an actual yard. We made ourselves right at home.

In the afternoon, I went for a run on the base's track. It was a warm, sunny day, and I'd been in the car so much over the last few days, it felt good to get the blood flowing. I had the half marathon coming up, and I wanted to get some running in since I'd been traveling and hadn't really been training. I wound up having a good workout.

That day, not only had Natasha fed us on the way down (yummy sandwiches), but she also fixed dinner for all of us. Many thanks, Tash!

Early the next morning, I went over to Natasha's house to watch her kiddos. Ryan loved having Savannah and Lauren to play with all day. Around 2pm, Tim and Natasha got back. An hour or so later, it was Larry's and my turn to take off. There's a train station just ten minutes or so from the base. We took the train right into London.

We had dinner at the Hard Rock (of course), then saw Mamma Mia. It was so much fun! I highly recommend it. There's no way anyone could walk out of the theater without a huge smile, and feeling like dancing!

The next day we had a leisurely start, then headed out to a very nice outlet shopping center. Unfortunately we didn't realize what the consequences of not immediately heading home would be. Traffic was a nightmare. It took what seemed like forever to get home.

Overall though, it was fun to travel with Tim and Tash and their girls, and to go into London one more time. If I could, I'd see a West End show every week!

Posted by hkvlayman at 11:04 PM BST
Sunday, 30 September 2007
Scotland Part Two - Our Trip Continued
Topic: Trips



(Click on the above slide show to view as a web album.) 

Monday morning, Sept. 3, we got off to an early start. We had breakfast at the B&B with four very nice Spanish travelers. Breakfast was at a big round table in a beautiful round solarium with twenty-five year old geraniums climbing up one wall. The food was tasty, and our hosts friendly and helpful.

It was a beautiful sunny morning, but a bit crisp. Our first destination was the nearby Glenkinchie scotch distillery. We got there right when it opened, so we were the only ones there. The staff was very friendly. The entrance to the distillery has a small but nice gift shop. Upstairs is a three room display with information on the process of making scotch, and the history of the Glenkinchie distillery. Larry and Ryan and I looked through the display, which was very interesting and informative. There was a tour of the distillery, but kids under eight years old aren't allowed, so I waited with Ryan. Because no one else was there, Larry got to have a private tour! He greatly enjoyed it, and told me he got to ask all kinds of questions he wouldn't have gotten to ask in a big group.

While Larry was taking his tour, Ryan and I got to hang out in the bar downstairs and have tea and cookies. The place was very family oriented. There were two little tables set up just for kids, complete with crayons and blank paper. Ryan sat himself down and had fun coloring.

When Larry was done, we had a taste of Glenkinchie scotch, both without and with water. It's interesting, the difference between the two.

We bought some Glenkinchie scotch (of course!) and walked back to the car.

Our next destination was  the National Museum of Flight Scotland. The museum is located on RAF East Fortune, an historic WWII airfield built on a WWI Royal Naval Air Station. The museum is in four hangars spread out on the RAF.

The first hangar we went into houses the Concorde. The entire hangar is devoted to the Concorde and her history. Larry and I took the self-guided audio tour, which goes around the outside of the aircraft, and the inside as well. It was fascinating to actually get to be aboard the Concorde. When we first boarded, Ryan thought we were going somewhere, so he climbed into one of the seats (which you're not supposed to do)! Luckily no one else was on it, because Ryan then entertained himself by running up and down the aisle!

I thoroughly enjoyed, "The Concorde Experience," as it's called. It was definitely the highlight of our visit to the Air Museum. The last part of the audio guide almost brought me to tears at the retirement of what was not only a truly extraordinary airplane, but also a work of art.

We explored the museum's other three hangars. The entire museum was very nice, with well-put together displays with easy to read, interesting information.

There is a small trainer the public is welcome to sit in. I sat in it with Ryan on my lap. He raised his hands in the air and said, "Blast off!"

Some of the planes had ladders you could climb to take a look into the cockpit. It's amazing to me that only a piece of glass separates the pilot from the rest of the sky!

Unfortunately my camera started to die towards the end of our visit to the museum. I had charged it up before we left for our trip, but it died anyway.

After a snack at the cafe (everywhere in the UK has a cafe - and a gift shop!), we headed to the Scottish Seabird Centre. It was pretty much Big Brother for Birds. It was neat though. There are a bunch of live cameras situated in various places for optimal wildlife viewing. In the Seabird Centre, you can pan and zoom the cameras, which was fun.

Unfortunately, Ryan only got to catnap in the car, so by the time we got to the Seabird Centre, he was starting to come a bit unglued. His favorite thing at the Seabird Centre was a soft play area. He just wanted to spend the whole time in there! He threw a fit when mommy and daddy actually wanted to see the rest of the place. Oh well. There was a lot to see and do at the center, but all three of us were getting a bit tired and hungry. On our way out, Ryan took a fancy to a toy Mig he saw in the gift shop. (Why that would be in this particular shop, we don't know!) We normally only get souvenirs that are directly related to the place we're visiting. However, Ryan really took a shine to this airplane and it seemed to calm him down and make him happy, so get it we did.

We headed into Edinburgh for an early dinner. I was really tired of being cold (it had been cold and windy all day, and I'd been without a jacket or sweatshirt). We had parked in a mall's parking structure, so we took a quick stroll through the mall looking for something warm for me to wear. A sports store happened to be having a huge sale. I found a very nice dark blue Lonsdale sweatshirt that had been about 42 pounds, on sale for twelve! I don't know if Lonsdale is a big deal in the States, but it seems to be somewhat of a big brand name here. There's no way on earth I'd pay over $80 for a sweatshirt, but I was definitely willing to pay $24!

We had dinner and went back to the B&B. I was sad to think that might have been the last time I'd be in Edinburgh. It's a city both Larry and I really enjoy.

The next day we had breakfast, then took off. Larry thought it would be interesting to visit the Three Hills Roman Heritage Center. It's located in the lovely, picturesque village of Melrose, not too far northwest of the Scottish border. The pamphlet we had listed the Three Hills Roman Heritage Centre as, "A surprising experience of the simple, and sophisticated 'Roman' lifestyle on the Northern Frontier." We had trouble finding it at first, and circled around the small town center a time or two before we figured out where it was. I'm not sure what we were expecting, but it wasn't what we found. The center was located in a building that could have been residential as easily as a small business front. The museum itself was very small, but packed with interesting displays. What made the experience for us, was the sincere enthusiasm of the lady who greeted us at the entrance. She was very friendly, and clearly had a love of the subject matter at hand. She gave a mini-tour to the small group that had formed inside. Ryan was a bit restless, so I missed some of it while trying to keep him quiet. However, I think he enjoyed himself once we walked around a little. There was a guided walk over an archaeological site that seemed like it would be interesting, but it wasn't until later in the day, and wasn't kid friendly. It was enough for us to check out the museum.

Afterwards, we stopped at a bakery and got some snacks for the road. It was a gorgeous day and a nice drive home. There was hardly any traffic at all, which made it nice, too. We saw some beautiful countryside during our travels.

Our trip was only a couple of days long, but we packed a lot into it, and had an enjoyable time.

Posted by hkvlayman at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Sunday, 30 September 2007 10:20 AM BST
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
Scotland Part One - Rosslyn Chapel
Topic: Trips

(Click on the above slide show to view as a web album.) 

With our time in the UK rapidly coming to an end, Larry took some leave so we could get some traveling in. On Sunday, September 2, we headed north to Scotland. I took along a travel journal Susan gave me before she moved to the States. It was great to take notes on paper. (If I don't write things down right away, I tend to forget...)

We left the house just before 10am. It was cloudy and windy, but not cold. The weather all along the way north was very changeable. At times it was sunny, and at others it would rain. As we traveled farther north, low clouds and mist made for a moody, but beautiful countryside.

Sometime in the afternoon we made it to Rosslyn Chapel, which is located in Roslin, Scotland. (I'm not entirely sure why the name of the chapel and the town it's in are spelled differently, but they are.) Rosslyn Chapel has an official website: but I like Wikipedia's page better: It has the most basic and interesting information right there all on one page.

Rosslyn Chapel is fairly small. It was undergoing restoration work, and had scaffolding around the outside. The upside to that was the scaffolding was open to the public, so we could climb up and have a look around. I went up first, then Larry went. We both took the camera with us. It was funny, because we took some very similar photos!

It was cool and breezy out, and I was beginning to regret my decision to not bring a jacket - or even a sweatshirt! That would be a recurring theme throughout our visit to Scotland.

We walked around the grounds outside the chapel, then went inside. It is indeed fascinating. It has Masonic and Templar connections, as well as being subject of much conjecture regarding the extensive and intricate stonework inside.

After a trip through the gift shop, we went outside and followed a hand painted sign that simply read, "castle." Turns out, there wasn't much "castle" to be seen. There were some some ruins on a bluff high above a river. That was it.

We drove into Edinburgh for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. Ryan was well behaved, the food was good, and so was the service. It made me sad to think that could very well be the last time I ate there!

We got Starbucks for dessert, then headed to our B&B. We stayed a farm called Eaglescairnie Mains. It was nice. There's Benjamin Franklin clock at the bottom of the stairs. I'd never seen one before.

We got settled, then went for a walk before turning in for the night.

Before bed, I was looking for a way to turn on the bedside lamp. There was a button on the wall right about the head board. I pushed it. I jumped as I heard a loud ring emanate from somewhere downstairs! I think it was a service bell. Oops. Thankfully, no one came!Embarassed

The place itself was rather large. It was multi-level, and decorated with what seemed like about a million mechanical clocks (all set to the proper time, too). Our room had a well stocked bookshelf, so there was always something to read. The house was clean and Victorian, but also friendly and lived-in. We all slept fairly well, though Ryan took forever to get to sleep!

(Part Two coming up...) 

Posted by hkvlayman at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Wednesday, 26 September 2007 8:07 AM BST
Monday, 6 August 2007
Topic: Trips
July 7th was the start of a fun weekend. My friend Michelle (from the Harrogate Harriers) was having a big going away party. (She's gone to New Zealand for nine months to work. She's a forensic scientist.) Around noon, two of my other British friends, Alex and Emma, came and picked me up. The three of us drove up to Castleside (Michelle's home town), which is in County Durham, near Consett. We met up with Michelle and her boyfriend, and went to a Cantonese restaurant, where about 65 of Michelle's closest family and friends came to see her off. Alex and Emma and I were at a table with one of Michelle's cousins, Michelle's brother, and his girlfriend. The food was great. It was the kind of meal that takes a good two or three hours, with lots of courses shared by the table. Michelle's brother bought our table some very good white wine! I noticed all the tables were enjoying various liqueurs to cap off the meal. (Our table had sambuco with the anise seeds in it.)

When everyone was done eating, there was cake, presents for Michelle, and a speech. I felt really honored to be included in Michelle's celebration. Alex and Emma and I were the only people from Harrogate there. (Michelle previously had a separate going away party with work friends.)

After the restaurant, many of us came back to Michelle's brother's house, where there was plenty more to drink, and plenty of things to snack on as the afternoon turned into evening. (We didn't actually eat dinner, since we had such a huge, late lunch, and lots of snacks after.) I got introduced to a very weird drinking game involving a cereal box. You cut the top off the box and put the box on the ground. The object is to pick up the box with your mouth, without touching the ground with your hands or knees. After everyone has had a turn, an inch or so is cut off the top of the box, and so on. For someone who is not limber, this is not easy! I made it farther than I thought I would, though! Depending on the flexibility of the people playing, it can get to the point where people are practically sucking up a piece of cardboard off the floor!

Eventually Michelle's mom walked Alex and Emma and I over to the B&B where we were staying the night. It was a nice, cosy little place. Our room had three beds - but only one towel! (Ok - two towels. There was a small hand towel, and a not-much-bigger towel.) We had a laugh over that, wondering how the three of us were supposed to get by with that! (I think we were planning on asking for more towels later.) After a short time to freshen up, we rejoined Michelle and her boyfriend, her brother and his girlfriend, and walked to a nearby pub. It was a w.m.p. (also known as w.m.c.'s in some places) - a working man's pub. It's strictly a locals place. We were maybe going to go to a club in Consett, but that wound up not happening. Some people Michelle knew were supposed to maybe meet us at the pub, but they never did.

We had a really good time. There was karaoke - mostly really bad karaoke! Also, I didn't know a lot of the songs people were singing. I didn't sing anything on my own. I did, however, sing an extremely rousing "Holiday" by Madonna, with Michelle, Emma, and Alex. We tore it up! That was really, really fun!

I have to admit, I got a wee bit *cough* inebriated. Glasses of white wine kept appearing in front of me as if by magic! Laughing Michelle's brother was extremely generous. Emma and Alex and I all offered to pay for our drinks, but we didn't pay for a single one all night, courtesy of Michelle's brother. (Yes, I feel horrible, but I can't remember his name!Embarassed)

We all had a great time, and wound up back at our B&B around 3am-ish.

The funny thing was, even though I didn't have to worry about getting up for Ryan, I still woke up around 7am. Ugh!!! I couldn't get back to sleep, either. Weird.

After a while, we all got up and went downstairs for some breakfast. Let me just say, never, EVER try to eat a full English breakfast after a night of drinking. I wasn't hung over (oddly enough) or sick, but I took a few bites, and just couldn't continue. (For those of you who might not know, a full English breakfast usually includes a fried egg, sausage, bacon, (the last two items being the British versions), a tomato, mushrooms, and sometimes beans.) I wound up with tea and toast, some oj, and a little bowl of corn flakes. Thankfully, the lady who made us breakfast wasn't offended!

After breakfast, we checked out and headed over to Michelle's mom's house for one last goodbye.  From there we drove back to Harrogate.

I think it's great to spend the entire afternoon and all night giving someone a proper send off. (Same goes for any sort of celebration.) It's too bad we don't tend to do that in the States. 

Posted by hkvlayman at 4:52 PM BST
Updated: Monday, 6 August 2007 5:05 PM BST
Wednesday, 1 August 2007
Topic: Trips


(Click on the above slideshow to view the photos as a web album.)

Stonehenge has always been on my list of Things I Must See Before I Leave the UK. On July 5, I was finally able to check it off my list.

Larry and Ryan and I got a leisurely start on the 4th. 

For those of you who don't know, we have a bit of a "thing" of visiting various Hard Rock Cafes around the world. Larry likes to collect pilsner glasses from each HRC we visit. He's got one from Birmingham (England, not Alabama), but had never been to the cafe. He thought it would be fun to actually go there, since Birmingham was kind of on our way.

We ought to have taken heed when, before we left, we couldn't find the Birmingham HRC on the HRC's official website. We did, however, find it and directions to it elsewhere online, so we printed out the map and thought we were good to go. That was the first mistake. We got to Birmingham and parked in a parking garage. We figured the HRC wasn't too far away, and that we'd walk. That was the second mistake. We also decided not to take Ryan's stroller. That was the third mistake. We didn't take umbrellas or raincoats, either. That was the fourth mistake.

It turned out we were parked pretty far away from where we wanted to be (and we don't mind a bit of a hike). Ryan is a trooper with a lot of energy, especially after being cooped up in a car for a long time. However, even Ryan's legs get tired after a while, and Larry and I wound up having to take turns carrying him.

After a while of not being able to locate the HRC, we came to the conclusion that it just wasn't there anymore. We looked right at the spot where it ought to have been, and no HRC. At that point we were all tired and hungry and had been rained on off and on, so we wound up eating at a Pizza Express, of all places! (That's funny because there's one in Harrogate. So we drove all the way to Birmingham to eat at a Pizza Express!)

Lunch was decent. We got Starbucks for dessert. Smile (Hey, if we couldn't go to a HRC, the least we could do was visit a Starbucks!) From there we made our way back to the car, and continued on.

We stayed at RAF Fairford. (A huge thanks to Sarah for telling us about it, and giving us their phone number!) RAF Fairford is the closest US military installation to Stonehenge. (Military members and their families can stay at the guest house - hotel - on any military installation for a very low fee. I think it was only $32 for the three of us to stay at Fairford for the night.)

Since it was the 4th of July, there were celebrations going on. RAF Fairford is very small, and broken up into two sections, one just down the road from the other. The guest house was on one part, the festivities on the other. We got settled into our room, had some leftover Pizza Express for dinner, then headed over to the other part of the installation.

It seemed like a pretty good party, actually. There were various carnival type rides. Ryan had a blast on the bouncy castle, and riding the tea cups. (I rode with him on those. I'm still afraid to have him ride anything on his own. I'm not sure he'd stay put!)

There were also fireworks, but not until quite late, since it doesn't get dark here until almost 11pm. We were tired, so we went back to our room. I tried to watch the fireworks from our room, but there was a building in the way. Frown They were mostly set off fairly low to the ground, so I only got to see the few that were higher. At least I got to see a little bit of fireworks on the 4th of July. Smile

We had a trundle bed for Ryan, but he refused to sleep on it. He planted himself between me and Larry, making it difficult for us to get to sleep!

In the morning, we checked out of the hotel and headed for Wiltshire to see Stonehenge. There wasn't anywhere open on RAF Fairford where we could get breakfast. The man at the hotel desk suggested a cafe located in a garden center that was on our way. I don't know why, but Larry didn't want to go in and check it out, so we wound up getting breakfast at a mini-mart. 

It took us a little while to drive to Stonehenge. When we got there, we were surprised at how busy it was, considering it was the middle of the week.

When I first saw Stonehenge, it wasn't very impressive. However, that was due to the angle you first approach it from. The whole area is roped off, and there's a walkway around the perimeter. We got audio guides, which was a good thing, because otherwise, we would have walked around it in about five or ten minutes, and that would have been it. The guide gave interesting information, and gave us a chance to stop and really take it all in.

The farther we walked around it, the more impressive it seemed to become. What was fascinating to me, was how it shifted and changed, depending on the angle it was viewed from.

Ryan desperately wanted out of his stroller. However, I had this image in my head of Ryan bolting to the center of Stonehenge, and us getting thrown out! (Larry and I also joked about the scene in National Lampoon's  European Vacation where the Griswolds knock Stonehenge over!)

I'm glad we saw Stonehenge. It's too bad you can't get right up to it, however, from where we were we still got a good view of it.

The drive home was long and rainy, with a lot of traffic. We did hit a Hard Rock Cafe on the way home, in Nottingham. We parked and walked, and got rained on. Smile

Posted by hkvlayman at 4:10 PM BST
Updated: Friday, 3 August 2007 9:57 AM BST
Wednesday, 22 November 2006
Topic: Trips

Last week I went on a shopping trip to Calais with my friends Carissa, Sarah, and Aimee. (Left to right in this photo.) The trip was organized through a coach tour company, Sunfun International. One of the pickup points for the tour bus was RAF Alconbury, which is a good two hours south of Harrogate. The pickup time was 4am! So, we decided to head down the night before and stay at the hotel on the base.

Aimee very kindly drove. After sorting a few logistical hiccups out, the four of us had dinner in Harrogate Tuesday night before heading to Alconbury. We ate at an Italian place called, "Est Est Est." It was a weeknight and early (for dining out here), so the place was nice and quiet.

Sarah wanted an amaretto sour. The waiter informed us they didn't have sour mix. The maitre'd came to our table and asked Sarah, "You want an amaretto sour?"

Sarah replied (to the effect), "You don't have sour mix though, right?"

The maitre'd said, "Sour mix is for bartenders that don't know what they're doing."


So we were curious to see how Sarah's amaretto sour (without sour mix) would turn out. When the drink did come, it was a different color than Sarah expected, but was otherwise pretty good. Sarah gave us a taste. I don't know what amaretto sours are supposed to taste like, but this seemed pretty good. A little while later, the maitre'd came back with a straw, stuck it in Sarah's drink, and put his finger on the end of the straw, extracting a taste. He said he wanted to see how it turned out. We all just sort of looked at each other. I couldn't believe he did that!

The food was pretty good. I ordered a glass of house white wine. I really am not a wine connoisseur, but I'm pretty sure I've had stronger water! :)

I had a nice time at dinner. If that was all the four of us had done, I would have been plenty happy! It was very enjoyable just to go out to eat somewhere nice, with friends.

After dinner, we made our way to Alconbury. We got checked in, and after a bit of confusion as to where our rooms were, got settled in. We really didn't get much rest. By the time we got to sleep, it was pretty late. The tv in the room next to the one Carissa and I shared was on all night, extremely loudly.

By 4am, we were out in front of the base, waiting for the bus. The day before, I made a pumpkin cream cheese bread for us to munch on as an early morning snack. It hit the spot, if I do say so! :)

We managed to doze a bit on our way to Dover, where we took the ferry across the English Channel. I hadn't realized I'd get to see the white cliffs of Dover on this trip. They were really amazing. I also didn't realize I'd get to take a ferry. (When JoAnna and I went to Paris in the summer, we took a train under the Channel. This was my first time on a big ferry.) We stayed on the bus, which drove right onto the ferry (which, by the way, was named "The Pride of Calais," of the P&O Ferries line). We got off the bus, and looked for a way out onto the deck of the ferry. We finally managed to get out on the deck as we were pulling away from the dock. The ferry was pretty big, and we were pretty high above the water. It was actually quite a sight, being able to get a view of the cliffs, at the break of dawn.

I wanted to take pictures, but discovered that I'd left my camera behind. Sarah and Aimee didn't bring cameras, so Carissa was our official photographer. (I will post more photos at some point - hopefully soon!)

It was really cold and windy, so after admiring the view for a while, we went inside. There was a pretty big duty free shop on the ferry, as well as plenty of lounges. There was a cafeteria, a coffee kiosk, and a slightly nicer sit-down restaurant. There was an arcade, and also a little kids area with table toys. All in all, not too shabby.

It was only about an hour's trip from Dover to Calais. The bus took us to a store called "Pidou." It reminded me of Smart & Final. When we'd checked into the hotel at Alconbury, the lady at the front desk had said, "Going on the booze cruise, eh?" That comment made sense once we saw how much alcohol people were buying at Pidou. Apparently people will buy a whole year's supply at once. The only thing I bought was a selection of beer from Belgium for Larry.

There was also a little store next door that sold Belgium chocolate.

From there we went to our destination, which turned out to simply be a mall. I had to laugh because honestly, there's a huge mall just down near Manchester that's just as nice. The prices weren't that much better in Calais, except that the main currency was the euro, rather than the pound (although, a lot of places did take pounds as well).

We had crepes for lunch, which was fun!

At the front of the mall was a huge, WalMart-esque store called, "Carrefour." We bought a few things there.

I had been hoping to finish my Christmas shopping, but didn't really find much that I liked, gift-wise.

The main point of the trip for me was more just have some kid-free time, and be with friends.

After a few hours of shopping, we were back on the bus. We actually had to go through immigration before getting back on the ferry. Now I have a Calais stamp in my passport!

Our return trip was on "The Pride of Burgundy." We went back up on the deck to watch the ferry turn around and leave. The sunset over the shore and the city was quite beautiful. (This photo was taken on our way out on the Burgundy.)

I would be remiss if I didn't mention our feisty and terribly politically incorrect Scottish bus driver! Sarah and Aimee were sitting in the front of the bus (Carissa and I were towards the back), so they told us about all the crazy comments the bus driver was making that the rest of the bus didn't hear.

We pretty much retraced our journey, dropping people off. Unfortunately, people forgot things on the bus, so we had to stop and wait for them to catch up to the bus, and get their things. That was annoying. 

We stopped for a bite for dinner once we were on the road towards Harrogate.

All in all, I'm glad we went and I had a very good time!

Posted by hkvlayman at 11:45 PM GMT
Thursday, 10 August 2006
Days Seven, Eight, and Nine
Topic: Trips

            Our first morning in Paris, we wound up sleeping in and missing breakfast. (Luckily, Ryan slept in, too!) The plan was to take a bus tour of the city. We went to the Metro, and somehow I managed to get stuck – with Ryan – in a turnstile. (The machine didn’t like my ticket.) I handed Ryan to JoAnna and managed to crawl out.

            We had lunch at an Italian placed called Pizza Restaurant Domenica. It was good and the people were nice. They didn’t have a high chair, but we were in a booth, so I made do with Ryan. He was fairly well behaved.

            We went to catch the bus for the city tour. You’re supposed to pay at the bus, but for whatever reason they couldn’t take payments, so we didn’t pay! (We really didn’t feel too badly about it, since we paid an exorbitant amount for the bus tour we took in London. We figured it evened out!) We didn’t stay on the bus for long, because it was really hot. We got off the bus and shopped along the Champs Elysees Avenue. That was fun. Luckily Ryan slept through a lot of the shopping, since he’s not too keen on it. I got some tank tops at the Gap, and wore one of them out of the store feeling a bit more fashionable.

            I would like to mention here that our days in London and Paris were punctuated with stops for ice cream. It was the perfect pick-me-up refreshment for walking around in hot weather. It was definitely a hit with Ryan!    

After shopping, we walked to the Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph). From there we turned right around and made our way back towards where the bus tour started. It was quite a long walk. Along the way, we let Ryan run around in a park. He seemed to enjoy himself quite a bit.

We wound up having dinner in the same restaurant we had lunch. (Well, it was good!) Afterwards we had ice cream from Haagen-Dazs for dessert. In the shop, I leaned over to give Ryan a taste of my ice cream. I looked up to realize a boy of about ten was looking straight down my tank top. Oops. I straightened up and figured he’d probably seen a lot more, considering the advertisements posted around Paris!

We were back at our hotel at a decent hour, but since Ryan was right there in the room with us, he didn’t fall asleep for quite a while. JoAnna and I stayed up late reading our books.

The next morning we managed to miss breakfast again. Ryan was up before we were ready to be, so I pulled him into bed with me. By this time, his blankie truly reeked. I didn’t see how on earth he was dealing with it. I didn’t want it anywhere near me! However, if it was keeping him happy, it was keeping me happy.

The blankie wasn’t Ryan’s only comfort item. I don’t know if it was the night before, or this particular night in Paris, but one of the nights in our hotel, Ryan walked over to his stroller and sat in it. We weren’t going anywhere, and I didn’t belt him in. He just sat there in it. I took a shower, and JoAnna told me he sat there the whole time. I think the stroller (and his blankie) became his only real constants, therefore they were his comfort zone. I have to say, he was quite the trooper throughout the whole trip.

Since we’d missed breakfast, we decided to walk up the street and look for a café. We found a little place and had café au lait and pain du chocolat. (We got orange juice for Ryan.) Yum! The place was very authentic, including proprietors who didn’t (or weren’t inclined to) speak English. We had our breakfast at a small table outside. It was really nice. I thought of how it would be to live somewhere you could do that every day: have your coffee and croissant outside while watching the world go by. Paris is a really pretty city, and very much a place to experience joie de vivre.

After breakfast, we went to a local store and picked up juice boxes and milk for Ryan. That made our load heavier, but it was nice knowing we had provisions for Ryan.

Our next destination was the Sacred’coeur. This had plagued me a bit last time I visited Paris. I had spent five days there and had seen and done a lot. However, this was the one thing that for some reason unknown to me, everyone kept asking me if I’d seen, which I hadn’t. So this time I made sure to see it.

We took the Metro, then walked up a somewhat shabby street filled with souvenir shops. From there we rode a funicular (oh I just love that word!) up to where the cathedral was. This was JoAnna’s first cathedral (actually, I think it’s a basilica, but I’m not sure what the difference is). It was definitely beautiful. It had been a while since I’d been inside of one. I kept my tradition of lighting a prayer candle. JoAnna lit one, too. They had these huge pillar candles you could get for ten euros, the thought being your prayer would last just that much longer. Unfortunately, some of those candles had melted awkwardly and had extinguished themselves after a short time. Wonder what those prayers were for.

A little way outside the basilica was a disabled man talking animatedly in French while making cute little doggie keychain souvenirs. JoAnna bought one for herself and one for me. (Mine lives on my purse’s zipper now.)

We started walking and wound up in Montmartre. I fell in love with it! I was so glad we went. It’s a village on the highest hill in Paris. It’s very artsy – literally. There are artists everywhere painting and drawing portraits. JoAnna wanted to get hers done. I was just going to wander around and wait while she did, but I got sucked into getting Ryan’s done when an artist asked me if I had pounds, which I did. After haggling over exchange rates between the euro and pound sterling (I’m still not sure who got the upper hand, but I suspect it wasn’t me), I sat down with Ryan and had his portrait done. It turned out pretty well, and I’m glad I did it. It’s so neat to have something where I can say, “Yeah, we had that done in Montmartre.”

Just in case you thought you were safe from any mentions of a certain bespectacled fictional wizard, while walking around Montmartre waiting for JoAnna’s portrait to be done, I saw a portrait of said character on display. I laughed to myself. I wasn’t going to mention it, but when JoAnna walked by it with me and Ryan, she pointed it out. “Harry Potter is inescapable.” (For those of you familiar with Glen Cook, yes, that’s a Garrett Files reference!  At least the “inescapable” part is.Smile)

From there we went to the Louvre for about two seconds to see the Mona Lisa. I think it’s weird how noisy it is there. I always thought museums were supposed to be quiet. Parts of the Louvre are almost more like a mall, atmosphere wise.

We had dinner in a nice café with a friendly staff. (Again, there were no highchairs.) We discovered that all this time, Ryan’s been speaking French! Even the waiter thought so! Ryan’s at that point where half the stuff he says is intelligible, and half is still in his own language. While we were in Paris, it was remarkable how much what Ryan was babbling really did sound like French.

When we got back to our hotel, Ryan was in dire need of a diaper change. I was trying to clean him up and he was struggling. (For some reason, he thinks that’s funny.) I was saying, “Ryan, stop!” To my utter horror, he looked at me and said, “YOU stop!” I was stunned. He’d never done that before. I know you’re not supposed to laugh, but JoAnna was laughing, and Ryan was laughing a demonic little laugh, so I gave in and started laughing, too. JoAnna tried reassuring me by saying he was just repeating me and probably didn’t know what he was saying. I sincerely hope that’s true! (My hopes are buoyed by the fact that for a while after that, Ryan would at random intervals for no particular reason spout off, “You stop! No!”)

On the bright side, he also said, “I love you,” for the first time while in Paris. Unfortunately, he was just repeating what his toy phone said. I can’t wait until it’s directed at me!

That night there was a really cool thunderstorm. It was very windy and the storm lasted a long time. We had the window open for a while to let the wonderful rain smell in.

The next morning we finally had breakfast at the hotel. It was good. It was very similar to the European style breakfasts I had so many times while living in Germany.

After breakfast, we checked out. We had a rough time getting going, at first. Apparently there are no taxis to be had in entire freaking city of Paris on a weekday in the morning. For some reason, I find this hard to believe. However, the concierge at the hotel was unable to raise one on the phone for us, and we were completely unable to hail one on the street. We wound up having to lug everything onto the Metro. Luckily some very nice people helped.

(I am proud to say that during our whole trip, I only got us going the wrong way on the Metro once!)

We got checked in and onto the Eurostar just fine. There were nice people on the train. It was very international. There were Spanish speakers in front of us, and German speakers behind. Ryan made friends with a little German boy, and they kept each other busy for a while playing peek-a-boo.

Breakfast was good. They were serving French toast, so we couldn’t pass up a French version of French toast! Breakfast also had all the expected accoutrements, such as yogurt, juice, pastries, coffee, tea, etc. They also served hot chocolate, much to Ryan’s delight! We could have had champagne as well (I can’t remember, but JoAnna might have had some).

After a while, Ryan fell asleep on the train.

As I said a while back, it took us quite a while to get home. It was a three hour ride on the Eurostar, then another hour or so on the London Underground. It was a short walk from the Ruislip station to the car. During the walk, I kept praying for the car to be ok. It was a leap of faith leaving it parked in an unsecured lot for three nights. However, it was just fine. When Ryan saw the car, he started clapping enthusiastically while saying, “Bye! Bye!” We let him run around for a while before packing up the car and heading home.

It was another three or four hours on the road before finally pulling into our driveway in Harrogate. I couldn’t believe it, but when we got out of the car, Ryan went right around to the trunk wanting his stroller, as if to say, “Ok, where to now?” He seemed distraught at going inside the house. I tried to tell him that we were home. I thought that after being gone a week, he would have been happy to be home! He did calm down after a while.

Even though we were tired, we did wind up taking a walk to asda for a few things. That made Ryan happy. I’m not sure, but that might have been the night we tried Indian food. I’d always been curious. Asda has it to go, where you just heat it in your oven. It was pretty good.

All in all, our trip to Ipswich, London, and Paris was a great one. I’m so glad we went!

Link to Photo Album Paris

Posted by hkvlayman at 4:34 PM BST
Updated: Thursday, 10 August 2006 5:08 PM BST
Tuesday, 8 August 2006
Errata and Addendum
Topic: Trips
Just wanted to let everyone know I added two photos to the Paris Day One album, and made a correction on an existing photo.

Posted by hkvlayman at 2:54 PM BST

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