The family vacation continues in the UK

We left Paris at noon on Wednesday under warm, sunny skies and we were greeted with gloomy,  rainy weather as soon as the train emerged from the chunnel onto British soil.  How disappointing!  We arrived back “home” in Newark-on-Trent by mid-afternoon, giving us plenty of time to give the kids a tour around the town centre.  That evening, we  cooked dinner together and enjoyed our first home made family dinner in almost a year.  It was a much needed early night as we had a full day ahead of us travelling to York which is a mere 45-minute train ride from Newark, making it an easy day trip.

York is an old city, founded by the Romans in 71 AD, under the name of Eboracum.  The city centre is enclosed by medieval walls, which are a popular walk.  There is also a castle and castle museum, and a beautiful cathedral, York Minster.  I think we were all a bit tired from our Paris trip, and in need of a slower pace so we spent our day leisurely meandering through the narrow alleyways of this medieval town, exploring the unique shops and enjoying the local pub fare. Alyssa loves antique jewellery and was thrilled to discover York to be a haven of antique dealers.  We especially enjoyed The Shambles which is a narrow medieval street full of shops, boutiques, and tea rooms.  Chris and Andrew spent some time taking pictures but then decided to discover more of the local brew in a few pubs.

The Shambles

The medieval wall around York.
(Photo courtesy of Alyssa) 

The pub where we enjoyed a typical English lunch of
bangers and mash with a pint, of course. 

Pub instructions – handy info as these applied to every pub we went into.
(Photo courtesy of Alyssa) 

Lunchtime in a pub in York
(Photo courtesy of Alyssa) 

Pouring a pint

One of several pubs Andrew and Chris enjoyed.

Yet another pub….and another pint.
(Photo courtesy of Andrew) 

Friday was a free day where we spent a little more time exploring Newark and just taking it easy, enjoying the comforts of our home base.

A wedding at the castle ruins in Newark.
(Photo courtesy of Alyssa) 

On Saturday, Alyssa and I left early by train to London where we spent the day sightseeing.  We followed the itinerary prepared by my friend Pauline, from the Camino, who lives in London.  She put a lot of thought and effort into her London in a Day guide for us, with photos of landmarks to help us stay oriented, custom maps, historical background info, funny stories, and restaurant recommendations.  It served us well and Alyssa is keeping it as a souvenir of her day in London.  We hit all the major tourist sites – London Bridge, Borough Market, Buckingham Palace, the Parliament Buildings, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul Cathedral – we saw it all.  (All photos below courtesy of Alyssa, unless of course she is in the photo, in which case I took the photo with her camera :)

Tower Bridge – ready for the 2012 Olympics

Alyssa on London Bridge with “The Shard” in the background.

The Gherkin Building

The Globe Theatre

St. Paul’s Cathedral
(where Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married)

Borough Market

So what did we think of London?  Interestingly, we shared the same impression: it seemed very congested and cramped, a real hodge podge of buildings crammed into every conceivable nook and cranny.  It was very crowded with tourists in part I imagine because of the Olympics that would begin the following week, not to mention the fact that we were visiting in the peak of the tourist season.  We found some of the iconic buildings like Buckingham Palace to be somewhat of a let down, in much the same way as we felt when we saw the White House in person – it was so small in real life compared to how it is portrayed in the media.  We’re glad we saw the highlights of the city but neither of us feel compelled to spend more time exploring it, although I’m sure it has a lot more to offer.

At the end of the day, we made our way by bus to our hotel in Gatwick close to the airport.  Alyssa was taking an early flight the next morning.

Buckingham Palace

Fountain in front of Buckingham Palace

Guard at Buckingham Palace

Westminster Abbey

The Eye

The Parliament Buildings as seen from the Eye.

Chris and Andrew stayed behind in Newark and spent the weekend enjoying the pubs of Newark (no driving involved) and they also visited Nottingham in search of the castle.  Turns out, there isn’t much left of the castle which explains why Chris and I didn’t see it when we were in Nottingham a few weeks ago.

Oldest inn in England dating back to 1189!

Nottingham – home to Robinhood.

Robinhood

Castle wall in Nottingham.

The canal in Nottingham.

After seeing Alyssa off on Sunday morning (yes, there were tears), I headed back into London to spend a few hours with Pauline, before returning to Newark by train. Pauline and I spent a quiet day together, getting caught up on each other’s news since we parted on the Camino.  We enjoyed the unusually warm and sunny day as we walked around her neighbourhood in East London and then just relaxed in a lovely park.  I was back in Newark before dinner which Andrew prepared for us – delicious chicken wraps.

On Monday morning, we were back at the train station, this time heading north to Edinburgh, Scotland to visit my cousin Andrew and his wife Jen.  I had met Andrew briefly back in 2004 when I  visited the UK with my parents and youngest brother, Jim.  When I let my cousin know we were planning to visit Edinburgh, he generously invited us to stay with him even though we had never met his wife, nor did we really know each other.  We had a great time getting to know them, as well as his sister, Susan who I had never met before.  We even dropped in on a distant relative, Bill Baber, who has a knitwear shop in downtown Edinburgh.  Bill is keenly interested in his ancestry and is in the process of creating a family tree.  He casually pulled out the family tree from a high shelf in his shop and I was able to show him where I fit in. Bill was quite pleased that we had dropped by to say hello. Both my cousin Andrew and my son Andrew are also researching our family history.  There are lots of unanswered questions about our past.

Jen, who is Canadian, introduced us to Scottish food: she served us haggis one night and blood pudding for breakfast the next day.  The haggis was actually pretty good, and both Andrew and Chris enjoyed the blood pudding.  As for me, I found the blood pudding to be rather tasty, but I just couldn’t get past the idea of what I was eating.  Jen went out of her way to make sure we had a good time (while Andrew was at work), driving us here and there, showing us the sights.  One of the highlights, at least for Chris and Andrew, was a visit to a local scotch distillery where we observed how scotch is made, and of course, after the tour, we sampled a variety of single malts.  In the evenings, we visited with my cousin Andrew over a dram or two of scotch.

Downtown Edinburgh.

At the top of Arthur’s Seat – a hill in the 
middle of Edinburgh that offers spectacular 360 degree views of the area. 

Blood pudding for breakfast, with poached eggs and toast.

This is what blood pudding looks like up close!

Edinburgh Castle high on the hill.

With my cousin Andrew and Jen outside their house in Edinburgh.

Dinner with my cousins, Susan (left) and Andrew and Jen. 

With my cousin Susan (centre) and Jen, Andrew’s wife.

On Wednesday afternoon, we said our good byes to my Andrew as he boarded a train to London from where he took the bus to Gatwick where he stayed overnight before flying home on Thursday.

And so concluded our 2012 family vacation.  The kids are already talking about meeting us in Thailand next year, but we’re not making any promises just yet.  When the time comes, we’ll see where we are and how much money is left in the travel kitty :)

Travel Tip:  If you need to get to Gatwick airport from London, consider taking the bus.  It’s dirt cheap (from 2 pounds per person each way), comfortable and flexible.

Category: England, Europe, Travel Tips
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