Sunday, April 27, 2008

Chillin' in England

Sorry that we have taken so long to write this entry. As you may have noticed from our latest changes in map and calendar, our trip has had a minor overhaul. We have been in England for the past 3 weeks instead of heading to Morocco, Portugal, and Spain. We spent a few days with Nicole's cousin, Susanna (Nana), in London, two weeks with Nicole's aunt Felix in East Grinstead, and the past couple of days with Nicole's cousin, Catrina.

The trip was slightly interrupted because of a minor medical matter that needed to be attended to. As it sits, everything should be fine and we're continuing on a slightly different journey tomorrow. We have plans to meet up with friends of Nicole's in Greece on May 8th, so what we've decided to do is travel for a month to Madrid, Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece and then come back to London hitting Venice and Slovenia on the way. While in London we'll get our Russian visa stuff sorted and then head to Russia earlier than originally planned.

Being in England for so long, it has given us time to do some thinking. We've blown our travel budget already, we're itching to get back and we're thinking about buying a home, plus the lack of routine is really starting to get to us. Jason has been looking forward to Russia and Scandinavia the most so we're going to keep that segment of the trip, however, we're planning on postponing most of central and eastern Europe for now. Our current estimates get us home for mid July instead of September. We'll keep you posted if our plan continues to change. See our map and calendar for details.

While in East Grinstead, Nicole did lots of crocheting while Jason read and we both enjoyed many more walks with Felix and the dogs. We tried to help out and earn our keep by cooking almost every other evening for Felix, Stuart, and Jim. Jim has been spending most of his days building a new summer house for his parents. Jim also took us to Brighton on the shore of the English Channel for a weekend which was nice. We toured the city, saw the movie "21" and spent the Saturday night boozin' with Jim's friends Peter and Tim. It was a great time and nice to have a night out.

We're looking forward to getting back to our travels. We leave for Madrid early tomorrow morning. HUGE thanks to Felix, Stuart, Jim, Nana, and Catrina for putting up with us for so long and being better hosts than we could have asked for. We're happy that we've been able to become very close with Nicole's English family!! Cheers!

Here's some pics of what we've been up to lately:

Pics: London continued | Sussex continued

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Driving Ireland

We've enjoyed a nice week driving around the land of sheep, castles and beautiful landscape. We flew into Dublin, rented a manual Nissan Micro, and drove into town to our pre-booked Brewery Hostel. Jason had to get used to driving on the left side of the road and driving left hand stick again (he had done it once before in Tasmania 4 years ago). Other than having to be reminded to position the car correctly in the lane, everything came back to him.

We spent the next morning walking around Dublin, visiting Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin Castle, Trinity College, and O'Connell Street. And no, we didn't go to the Guinness Brewery as neither of us are big on the dark stuff. :)Then we hit the road for a few hours, heading to Galway on the west coast. We avoided downtown and went straight to the Salthill Caravan Park to set up camp and eat dinner. We relaxed in the laundry/sitting room, which had electric kettles for us to make tea in the chilly evening.
We headed further west driving out to Gorumna Island only to find that all of the signs were in Irish and that our map wasn't very helpful (not very detailed and was in English). We think that we made it to Gorumna Island but it is hard to say. We drove over some cool narrow causeways as we drove from island to island but the scenery wasn't quite as spectacular as we were hoping. We drove back through Galway then headed southwest to The Burren area along the coast. It was a beautiful drive through coastal towns and hills to the fantastic Cliffs of Moher. The lighting could have been better, but the cliffs were stunning nonetheless. We finished off the day by driving to Killarney to find a place to camp. We caught a great view over the lakes of Killarney National Park for dinner and sunset then found a caravan park in Killarney which was closed, but they took us anyway.

We drove all the way through Killarney NP the next morning and had a nice little hike past a waterfall and a lake and enjoyed some great views. Then we took the scenic drive around the Ring of Kerry to the west of Killarney. We started on a small windy road over the Ballaghbeama Pass then continued along a nice coastal drive. The sheep in this area were often not contained and we had to slow down every time we passed them on the side of the road (or on the road in some cases). Jason had to deal with Nicole's constant "awww..." followed by a mimic "ba-ah-ah" every time we passed some adorable lambs. We camped at a beach-side caravan park on the southwest corner of the Ring then carried on to Cork the following day.

Cork is said to be the 'real' capital of Ireland, according to the locals. It seemed quite similar to Dublin, except that the people drink Murphy's rather than Guinness. It was a Saturday, so we decided to stay in a hostel and have a night on the town. We walked around town in the afternoon, watched a movie in the early evening (In Bruges -- quite funny), then had a few pints in the bar district. It was nice to have a night out. But at the same time, we realized that Ireland is really just a more expensive version of home, and it made us miss home a little.

We took a scenic drive out of Cork, visiting Cork Harbour and the town of Cobh (where the Titanic last set sail), then continued up country roads from Youghal (pronounced y'all) to Cashel and on to the medieval town of Kilkenny. After driving past a couple of cathedrals and posing in front of the castle, we found ourselves a hostel and had some dinner. We had planned on camping, but after driving through a couple of bouts of hail and seeing that the temperature was dropping to -4C overnight, we decided against it. We ended up at another hostel in a room with 4 Canadians and a couple from north California. We met up with the Canadians at the Pumphouse bar across the street where a live band was playing. The bar was closing at 11:30pm though, so we moved on to another pub that stayed open till almost 1am. The Canadians were from Guelph, so it was nice to talk about home and the differences here in the UK.

We slept in a little then went back south a bit to Kells Priory, the ruins of a priory dating back to the 1200s. We were able to walk around the whole area, getting some nice pictures of the ruins and even some nearby sheep. We carried on back to the north and stopped by the hostel we intended on staying at. There was no one there so we ate lunch and brought their cute cat, Ted, in out of the hail to play with us. :)

After lunch, we drove through Wicklow National Park to the small scenic town of Glendalough. We took a walk around the Lower Lake to see Upper Lake and Glendalough's stone tower. It was raining when we arrived, it cleared right off while we walked, and then it began to rain again by the time we got back to the car. Quite fortunate! The hostel we stayed at was a very nice little place off the beaten track with a fireplace, good kitchen, and wireless internet. We made ourselves some bangers and beans for dinner. :)

And that concludes our week. We drove back to the Dublin airport again and caught our Ryanair flight back to London. It turns out that we were lucky to have opted in on the full insurance on the car because they found a scrape on the car where someone must have hit us while parked. Otherwise, we had no problems with the car and Jason quite enjoyed driving again. We're back in London for a couple of days and then we carry on to Morocco!

Pics: Dublin | Galway & The Burren | Killarney & Ring of Kerry | Cork | Kilkenny, Glendalough & Around

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

England, back in the western world

Nepal was great, but arriving in London, after a terrible layover in Delhi, into the warm open arms of family was spectacular! We were spoiled rotten while we were in London and it made it very difficult to leave. Nicole's cousin Catrina and her husband Ryan put us up for the majority of our stay. Nicole spent most of her time playing with Maya, Catrina and Ryan's daughter, while Jason spent most of his time hiding from Maya and the many discussions about babies.

Our first afternoon and evening in London was spent meeting the family, strolling around Fulham and adjusting to 8:30pm home cooked dinners and drinking again. In no time we were getting along great with Nicole's cousins Catrina, Ryan, Jim, Nana, Chris and of course, Maya. It's been wonderful catching up with long lost family and it's been even better finding out how awesome they are. Everyone gave us great ideas on where to go and what to see in London and as keen as we were to tour around our first few days, we found enjoying a warm home, good friends and family, cuddly babies and 5 cups of tea a day, more enticing.

Unfortunately since Jason had caught a bad cold the last couple days in Nepal, he felt more like staying in bed all day than hanging out or touring. Jason was miserable for far too long and we all decided it wasn't just a case of 'Man Cold'. Jason took advantage of England's health care system and got a free checkup at the walk-in clinic. It ends up Jason had Acute Sinusitis, cured by a hefty dose of antibiotics. It still took a whole week for him to completely kick the virus. Poor guy :(

For the Easter long weekend, we gave Catrina and Ryan some peace and quiet and headed to Nicole's aunt and uncle's place in East Grinstead. Jim was nice enough to pick us up in London and drive us out to Sussex with him which was much appreciated. All three of us stayed at Felix and Stuart's and while there, we enjoyed many dog walks in the Ashdown Forest (Yes! Winnie The Pooh's forest), yummy hot-cross buns and lots of rest and relaxation. Nicole quickly found a weekend hobby and started a difficult 1000 piece puzzle of Buckingham Palace. The weather was iffy all weekend, more like winter than spring, but we still found time for a nice tour of East Grinstead and a trip to the Greenwich Meridian line. We stood in the East and West simultaneously!
The best was waking up on Easter morning to an Easter egg hunt. Soon after we began searching, Jim wasn't allowed to look anymore (he already knew all the hiding spots and had to give the other 'kids' a chance). In the end we all split the eggs evenly, sharing them with Felix and Stuart too. Easter dinner was amazing and felt more like a Christmas feast with the snow outside and the smells of turkey throughout the house. We both enjoyed the cheese and cracker alternative to a sweet desert but couldn't believe we still had room to eat more!

Easter Monday Stuart and Felix took us out for the day to see Bodiam Castle and to tour the towns of Rye and Hastings. Bodiam Castle was beautiful and a nice introduction to the many other castles we would see later in Ireland. Bodiam was great for photography but it was also very well organized for the public. With re-useable maps and a neat information display located in their ticket office, we thought it was a great tourist destination. Felix and Stuart treated us to lunch and then we carried on to Rye. We enjoyed walking along the old cobble stone streets and had a little fun with the cannons at Rye Castle. In Hastings, we walked along the coast and saw all the fishing boats pulled up on the beach. For dinner, we enjoyed some long awaited traditional Cod & Chips in a cute little restaurant along the Hastings coast, mmmmm yummy! Tuesday morning we took the train back to London. We hope to see Felix, Stuart, Henry and Winnie again in August.

Back in London, we headed to Nicola (yet another cousin) and Matt's to visit and spend the night. We burned some time buying Oyster cards (for London's transport system) and checking out Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately in off season, the changing of the guard only occurs every other day. We happened to be there at the right time but on the wrong day. Oh well. We arrived at Nicola's at 1:00pm, just as planned. We were well prepared for an evening full of kids. Nicola and Matt have 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls.

Esther, Gabriel, Jonty and Naomi, from youngest to oldest. On arrival we were greeted by Nicola's familiar face, a very shy Esther and Gabriel. We all had lunch and in no time Gabriel was chatting our ears off. Eventually Esther and Gabriel disappeared for their afternoon naps and we got to catch up with Nicola a little. Later that afternoon, after Jonty arrived home from school, we all walked to pick up Naomi. It was a nice stroll on a sunny day and it gave us a chance to play with the kids. By the time we arrived home, hide-and-seek, tickle monster and chase, were all in high demand. We humoured the kids for a while but eventually settled everyone down for their dinner. Matt arrived home and before all the kids headed to bed, we helped in a geography lesson and showed everyone where we've been and where we're going. In no time, the kids were bored to death and ready to head to bed. Jonty did enjoy searching out pictures of us off our website though.

By 8:30pm, we were again eating a wonderful home cooked meal. The four of us got along great and enjoyed good conversation late into the evening. Eventually we all stumbled off to bed. We were expecting a startling wake-up call from the kids, but instead we were awakened by a very quiet Naomi and Jonty knocking on our door and telling us it was time to get up. It didn't take long until all the kids were in bed with us, but it still was a much nicer wake-up call than expected. Soon after Jonty and Naomi left for school, we said good-bye to Nicola, Esther and Gabriel and headed on our way for a day of sight seeing.

First we stopped by Matt's office to see the view of London from one of the tallest buildings in the city. We enjoyed a cup of coffee/tea with Matt but felt a little out of place in the large architecture company. It was a nice little treat to see the city from Matt's office and Jason very much appreciated it. After saying farewell to Matt, we continued on our way to Madame Tussauds, the famous wax museum. On approach we noticed a huge line, thinking 'at least we don't have to stand in that' we walked right past only to realize that that was the line for Madame Tussauds. We decided there was no way we were waiting that long to get into a wax museum and instead decided to grab lunch and head back to Catrina and Ryan's.

We promised ourselves we would tour London the next day but again, we ended up staying home and hanging out with Catrina. So we were bound and determined to get out and see the sights on Friday. Catrina had previously suggested a walking tour route and with map in hand, we left to see the sights. We saw Chinatown, Covent Garden Market, Trafalgar Square, the London Eye and Big Ben from afar. We then headed back home to meet up with Catrina for some inexpensive shopping in Hammersmith. Nicole was happy to find some things in our price range and managed to buy some inexpensive items to wear out for an evening on the town. A good family friend of Catrina, Nana, Jim and Nicola's was celebrating her 31st birthday at a bar and Felix was nice enough to come up from East Grinstead to look after Maya for the evening. We all enjoyed a night of drinking, dancing and chatting. Better yet, our good friend Kasza (Chris) happened to be in town and joined us for the evening. It was great to see someone from home. Kasza is travelling for a year working on organic farms in different countries. We look forward to meeting up with him again in France. :)

Saturday was the great Oxford and Cambridge boat race. There's quite the hype for the rowing race that only lasts 20 minutes and that onlookers can only catch 2 seconds of. Just another excuse for a party I guess. Oxford won, much to the dismay of everyone but Chris. After the race we tested out our new Thai recipes on the family. Everyone seemed to enjoy our red curry, green curry, cashew chicken and sweet and sour dishes but Nicole was certain that the leftovers the following day tasted much better. We were thrilled to be able to give a little something back to everyone that had been treating us so well.

We spent Sunday getting things done like our taxes and packing. Monday was our last chance to really sight see. We headed to Madame Tussauds early and had lots of fun posing with the rich and famous. Always a good time!

We also saw St. Paul's Cathedral, the London eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the Parliament building up close this time. We're still saving the museums for when we're back in London some other time.
On Tuesday it was time to say good-bye to the best home away from home that we've had. We're having a blast in Ireland but are already missing having other people around to hang out with. Not to worry though, we'll be back in no time and they'll all have to put up with us again. :)

A great big thank you to Catrina, Ryan, Nana, Chris, Nicola, Matt, Jim, Felix and Stuart for hosting us and spoiling us rotten. It's just what we needed :)

London Pics | Sussex Area Pics