Thursday, 30 March 2017

..... and back again

Back from a wonderful vacation in the UK with my Mom and Dad. Fortunately we had moved on from London several days before the terrorist attack. Otherwise it could have been quite a different vacation. The attack occurred right where we'd been visiting the sites in London. Below is the Clock Tower (the bell inside is Big Ben not the tower itself). The attack took place just to the left of this photo. I have confidence London and the UK will not let this effect them.

The Clock Tower (Big Ben is the bell inside)
We had problems getting to our hotel, the Bedford Hotel, because there was some sort of NHS protest march going on that day and the police had blocked off the street the cabby needed to go down to get to the hotel. We ended up walking about 1.5km, with all our luggage in tow (hurrah for wheeled suitcases), to get to the hotel.

Day 1: On our first day in London it was grey and overcast and we were a bit jet lagged so we went to the British Museum, which was conveniently located just around the corner from our hotel. Entry into most museums in the UK is free, although they do ask for a donation, it's optional. We spent four hours there and only got through a few rooms - Chinese pottery, Korean pottery, some medieval British displays, and a room showing the evolution of clocks (which is tragically not called 'A History of Time'); the place is absolutely huge. I managed to bang my knee into a table when we stopped for some lemonade.

The British Museum
Four hours is more than enough to burn out your brain in a museum though so we called it a day and went for lunch at a nice pub where we started our mission to sample as many ciders as possible while in the UK. As were were leaving the museum I somehow jammed two fingers on the railing on the stairs.

Mmmmmm, cider.
Day 2: On our second day we went on a bus tour called 'London in a day'. First we swung by the Royal Albert Hall, which was indeed named for Prince Albert. Here's a commemoration of him:

Prince Albert in gold.
 And the music hall itself:

The Royal Albert Hall
Next stop was Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. That's really neat to watch and involves marching bands playing while the old and new guard switch places. It's clearly a show for the tourists and really has nothing to do with guarding the Royal Family. Except perhaps as a distraction. It was still a lot of fun to watch, the guards wear Canadian bear fur hats. They were recently replaced and it must have been interesting since bear hunting is strictly controlled these days. Since we were there in early March the crowds were fairly thin (by London standards) too. We did not go into Buckingham Palace.

Buckingham Palace
Next came lunch and then a trip to St. Paul's Cathedral. I could not get far enough back to get a picture of the whole thing. And there was a tree in the way, at least it didn't have leaves yet.

St. Paul's Cathedral
And our final stop was at the Tower of London. Which isn't really a tower at all, its a series of buildings. The British Crown Jewels are truly amazing but you're not allowed to take pictures. I had to keep reminding myself that none of the gold was plate, it's solid and none of the jewels were glass, they're all real. It's a bit mind blowing.

The Tower of London.
From there we took a river cruise down the Thames.

Tower Bridge.
Afterwards we had to make our own way back to our hotel. After a (failed) attempt to figure out the tube we took a cab. It cost less than three of us taking the tube anyway. Once we got back to the hotel I found a bruise on my forearm. At this point I was beginning to wonder just how hard London was going to be on the body. Fortunately that was the last injury of my vacation.

Day 3: The next day we started with a visit to Westminster Abby. I now know where Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton are buried or commemorated. Plus a whole lot of other people too. Apparently Winston Churchill refused to be buried here on the grounds that he would not like to have tea with most of the people interred here. He has a plaque though, which he'd probably be mad about.

Westminster Abby
In the afternoon we went to the British National Gallery. Where Mom and I found some paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, Dad had wandered off somewhere and we lost track of him for a while. We found him again later. Pretty cool pictures, you are allowed to take pictures of the pictures but it just didn't feel right, so I didn't. The gallery is right next to Trafalgar Square which has a number of interesting statues.

One of four giant lions in Trafalgar Square.
Giant thumb in Trafalgar Square.
Day 4: We were pretty beat by this point so we took an easy day and went back to the British Museum since it was close by. This time we went to the Egyptian display and saw the mummies. None came back to life and started any kind of attack on mankind. Fortunately. Or perhaps not, as there were school kids everywhere in this part of the museum and some clearly deserved to be eaten by a homicidal mummy/zombie. But I digress.

That's it for London, from here we started to make our way to Scotland and the wedding.

Day 5: From London we tried to take the train first class to Edinburgh. We also completely forgot to look for Platform 9 3/4 while at King's Cross Station.

King's Cross Station
I say 'tried' because there were transportation issues that day. First the train we were on broke down and had to get towed into York. While waiting for the tow train(?) we found out that there had been a gas leak at King's Cross Station, I guess we're not going back.

Then we were dumped on the platform at the York station and told to make our own way to Edinburgh on any train we could get on. Seriously? Anyway, we hopped onto one heading in the right direction but it stopped, I forget where, and left half the cars behind so we had to scramble to get onto the part of the train that was still going to Edinburgh and ended up standing for the last 2 hours of the trip. So much for first class tickets. Mom's trying to get her money back. We did eventually make it to our hotel in Edinburgh, Parliament House.

By the time we arrived it was late and the bistro, appropriately enough called 'MP's Bistro' was 10 minutes away from closing but the front desk agent called down and warned them we were coming so we got dinner after all. It was a relief not to have to go find a place to eat as we were five hours late arriving and exhausted.

Day 6: Having been revived by a good night's sleep we started our visit to Edinburgh by going to Edinburgh Castle. This houses the Scottish Crown Jewels including the Stone of Scone, sometimes called the Stone of Destiny. After the British Crown Jewels a rough looking sandstone block is just not terribly exciting even if there is a movie about it.  Fortunately the tour guide had warned us to lower our expectations when it came to the Scottish Crown Jewels. ;-)

Edinburgh Castle
The cafe at the castle sells alcohol. This may not seem like a big deal to someone from the UK but nowhere in Canada would you find a licensed cafe in a museum. The soup here was also terrific.

Our second stop this day was at a wool mill just to your right as you are approaching the castle. Unfortunately, we'd spent so long at the castle that the weavers had shut down the looms for the day. Oh, well, it makes for an excuse to come back another time.

That evening my sister and her daughter and fiance joined us in Edinburgh. My Wee Niece arrived wearing the overalls I knit for her. So cute.

Day 7: With our party having grown to 6 including a toddler off we went to the new Scottish Parliament Building. Mom, Dad, and I took the tour, which is about an hour long and covers a lot about the architecture of the place, apparently the architect died before it was completed and his wife took over finishing the building. The picture is the back of the building because I forgot to take one of the front and didn't feel like walking back there to do so.

Scottish Parliament Building
After lunch we went to Dynamic Earth, a geology museum. Conveniently enough for tourists it's right next to the Parliament Building. It's geared towards kids 8-12 years old so it was a lot of fun. They even take you into a very polite volcano; it only spewed non-toxic gasses and did a minimum of shaking. It was fun to go through I would definitely recommend it if you have kids. I was however extremely disappointed to find that Marie Tharp was not mentioned anywhere at all in a museum dedicated to geology. Very disappointed indeed.

Dynamic Earth
Day 8: On this day we went to National Museum of Scotland. We didn't get that far through the museum, I think we were starting to burn out a bit. And we started late due to carousing with a couple of lovely Irish couples in the lounge the evening before. The Irish sure know how to have a good time. Plus there was scotch; well, it's Scotland there darn well should have been scotch!

National Museum of Scotland
That's it for Edinburgh. My sister and her family left that afternoon. Unfortunately, we did not get to do a Ghost Tour, having a young child with us complicated things a bit and we were all exhausted by the end of the day. Another great excuse to go back another time.

In the scramble to leave my soon-to-be-brother-in-law left his backpack at the bus station. Fortunately, we were able to retrieve it for him before leaving on the train the next morning.

Day 9: Another travel day. We didn't have first class tickets this time which was just as well since they once again cut the train in two and we had to scramble to get onto the part that was going to Aberdeen. Fortunately we got seats but I can't figure out why they bother assigning seats when they sell you a ticket; it just ends up being a free for all anyway. And in the mad scramble to get onto the correct part of the train my Mom forgot her bag. She was able to get it back a few days later but it was a serious inconvenience.

Day 10: Having had yet another bad experience with the British rail system we took an easy day and went to a park with my sister, Wee Niece, and Yogi. Dad had injured his heel at Edinburgh Castle, stepped in a hole or slid off a cobble stone or something, and could barely walk for rest of the trip so he stayed behind and rested his foot. And my soon-to-be-brother-in-law had to work so it was just us girls and the dog.

Yogi at Duthie Park
The crocuses were almost finished and the daffodils were just starting to bloom. Huh, I got to experience Real Spring. Actually I'll get to experience Spring twice, assuming Alberta gets Spring this year; sometimes we skip straight to Summer (briefly).

Day 11: Another quiet day. My sister had to go to visit her horse Fern and do some farm chores so I went and helped her out. Stole this picture of Fern from my sister's Facebook page. She's a lovely mare.

This evening another of my sisters (my youngest sister) and her husband arrived, they had just spent a few days in Amsterdam. We now have 7 adults and 1 toddler living in a tiny two bedroom house. Mom and Dad got the spare bedroom and my Wee Niece is still sleeping in her parent's bedroom, the rest of us were sleeping in the RV, it's a good thing I'm single.

Day 12: A trip to Johnston's of Elgin where they process some of the best cashmere in the world. Unfortunately they don't sell yarn, only clothing and accessories. There were so many of us going we had to rent a minivan. They don't call them minivans in the UK, they call them people carriers, but that's what it was.

Johnston's of Elgin
On the way back to Aberdeen we stopped at a stone circle but I forgot to take a picture, it was quite cold and very windy so my hands stayed in my pockets. No time traveling occurred when we went into the stone circle. Not sure if I'm disappointed or relieved.

Day 13: Left for the wedding venue. Met up with a number of wedding guests for dinner, including an old friend of my sister's from High School.

Day 14: The Wedding. There were lots of kilts and plenty of caileigh dancing.

Random men in kilts picture

The bride and groom and daughter
Day 15: In order to recover from the wedding we went to Castle Fraser. It was closed for the season but the tea room was open so we had tea and cakes.

Castle Fraser
Day 16: A wander around Aberdeen was on the schedule for this day. Including into a mall where everyone but me went shopping. I hate shopping so I got bored very quickly. We walked from my sister's house into downtown Aberdeen but took the bus back after dinner that evening.

University of Aberdeen campus.
Day 17: A trip to Dunnottar Castle which was unfortunately closed due to high winds. Seriously, you were at risk of being blown off the cliff and into the sea. We did go for ice cream after lunch so it wasn't all bad.

Dunnottar Castle
Day 18: Another walk through Aberdeen to Seaton Park. The daffodils were in full bloom by this point. I thought I saw an old steam engine masquerading as a playground but we didn't end up going that way.

We also stopped in at a small church with an interesting graveyard but I forgot to take any pictures. My youngest sister and her husband left today to continue their adventure in Edinburgh.

Day 19: A trip to the Falls of Feugh, which aren't all that spectacular but the restaurant was amazing. The tablet was delicious. Tablet is a Scottish sweet I've never seen anywhere else. I expect you can get in in most of the UK if you look for it; but you'd probably have to go to a specialty import store in North America. If they'd even have it. Probably just as well really. Although, come to think of it, I suppose there's no reason why you couldn't make it yourself. Hmmm......

Then a trip to the Edinburgh Woolen Mill, which sells surprisingly little wool. It's more like an outlet store. They have shirts that Dad really likes and my Wee Niece entertained the staff by being terribly cute. She's awfully good at that.

Day 20: Spent the day getting ready to leave. Made my Wee Niece cry when I took all the sweets I was taking home and put them in my suitcase. Fortunately she recovered quickly from her disappointment.

Day 21: Home after an uneventful flight.

Knitting While Away

I finished two pairs of socks while on vacation.

First, the Longshots Socks, done in the colours of my Scent Hurdle team. These were started in Canada before I left, then I finished the first sock and knitted the entire second sock all before leaving Edinburgh. This was helped by getting stuck on the train for three hours when it broke down. The benefit of knitting is you can be productive even when stuck in a broken down train and stranded on the train tracks.

Longshots Socks
Second, I finished a pair for Mother's Day. Mother's Day in the UK is the last Sunday in March so, since I finished these before leaving, Mom got these early, although with no guarantees there will be another pair for Canadian Mother's Day. However, since I returned home and was layed off from work before noon on Monday the possibility of a second pair has gotten better.

This yarn is really neat, one 100g ball made two virtually identical socks. Sweet!

Socks in the Scottish sun.
I started some Father's Day socks once the Mother's Day socks were off the needles. No pictures of them yet.

I also tried to work on the cabled sweater I'm making for my sister (the one who just got married) with the vague thought that I'd leave it with her if I finished; however, it required too much concentration so I didn't really get anywhere with it. Have made progress since getting home though. She can take it home with her this summer.

I had left a hat partly finished before leaving on vacation. Mom said she like the hats I was making to use up some stash yarn that I'm tired of having and would like the red one. So, it's hers. Hopefully she won't need it anytime soon.

The Final News

As mentioned earlier I was layed off from work before noon on my first day back from vacation. This really sucks but there's not much you can do but apply for EI and start a job hunt. Also got my taxes filed, stopped my RRSP automatic withdrawal, and changed my car insurance since I  no longer need to be covered for driving to work every. So goes life.

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