Monday, April 28, 2014

Southern England

Last week we met Kacey's parents in England for a week holidays. We took the Rosslare ferry to Pembroke Port and drove through southern Wales to meet them in Bath on Saturday.


We all arrived around 4pm. Bath is rated quite high in the places to visit in Great Britain. Honestly, I think Canterbury had a better feel, but seeing the old Roman baths was interesting. Bath is quite expensive, but we did enjoy dinner at the Bath Brew House. Granted, most food in Great Britain is pretty good. We also checked out the Bath Abbey and then spent some time in Sydney Gardens to let the kids play a bit before our drive to Amesbury on Sunday afternoon. The drive was a nice country drive with plenty of yellow rapeseed/canola fields, which looked brilliant on the sunny days we were enjoying.

Pictures from Bath can be seen here.


We stayed at the George Hotel in Amesbury, a 5 minute drive (without traffic) to Stonehenge. Recently, they have invested to preserve the area around Stonehenge by building a large carpark and visitor center about a mile away from the site. It is still crazy, though. I recommend going when they open at 9:30 and having a reservation. The traffic getting to the site backs up for miles by lunch (partially because you can see Stonehenge from the highway, and everyone rubbernecks). It is surreal to see this site. The large blocked off area around the site helps it not feel too crowded. I was even able to get pictures with no people visible. As you walk around the site, the light hitting different areas and the different formations make it seem to change every 20 feet. The cafe was decent for a quite bite before hitting the road to Dover.

Pictures from Stonehenge can be found here.


We arrived in Dover and headed straight to the castle. When purchasing the english heritage pass at Stonehenge, it made Dover Castle almost free (sites in England are expensive). We had 2-3 hours to visit, which was plenty. Plus, many people had left by the time we arrived. This is one of the nicer castles we have visited, with many buildings restored, and actors providing some interactive exhibits. This was all very similar to Sterling Castle in Scotland. We enjoyed the sun and some nice views of Dover as well.

The next day we got up to hike the White Cliffs of Dover. We were blessed with another sunny day, and beautiful views of the cliffs (and France). They really are spectacular and rise up out of no where. They change in the sun and clouds, it was interesting to watch the clouds move and see how they change. We hiked out to the lighthouse, taking the scenic route along the cliff edge along the way. After a quick snack, we took the shuttle back to the carpark and headed toward Canterbury.

Pictures from Dover can be found here.


We found a spot in the close carpark and we were basically already in the town center. We toured the cathedral first, in case Easter week services closed it later. It is rated as one of the top cathedrals in europe to visit. I don't know if it is #1, but it is up there. It is in a really nice setting with a park to the back. King Henry IV is buried here, which I thought was cool (until visiting Westminster Abbey). Also, I saw a clock here, which is seldom found in these old cathedrals.

Walking around Canterbury town, it is a grand little town with lots of people wandering around and lots of old shops. We were directed toward what was supposed to be a great chipper, but honestly wasn't that super (next to the Canterbury Tales exhibit). We watched some fudge get made and popped in a couple other shops before driving in to London. Canterbury had a nice feel where a couple more hours could maybe have been spent wandering around.

Pictures from Canterbury can be found here.


We arrived Tuesday night, which gave us 4 full days plus Easter service on Sunday. We had planned out the first two days pretty well, and a couple more activities to do on the last two days. On Wednesday, we visited St. Paul's Cathedral, and walked through Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and the Eye. No photo is allowed in St. Paul's and I get why. It does a ton of visitors and they were having problems with everyone posing, slowing everything down (Westminster Abbey is the same way). This is a grand church with a big, open crypt as well. I did the tower climb for views of London. This church does remind one of St. Peter's Basilica. While London attractions are very pricey, they do usually include an audio guide for free. It was nice to listen to information about the church while walking around. We grabbed a bite at Pret and then took the tube up to Hyde Park. We walked around a bit, then headed down Constitution Hill toward Buckingham Palace. After a few pics and some frolicking in the flowers, we walked to Big Ben. We hung out for a bit in Parliament Square, taking in all the sites. We walked across the Thames toward the Eye to learn about it costs and line lengths. It is crazy long wait and crazy expensive. We found the Wahaca mexican restaurant; it was awesome!

Thursday we were using a London Pass to visit a few sites. We started off cutting the big line at Westminster Abbey. This place is incredible. Kings, history, poets, scientists, all buried here. Next we headed to the Tower of London. This is a castle in the city surrounded by a moat. There were a few lines for things inside, and they were huge. We did see the crown jewels, but the exhibit seemed smaller than expected. Next we went to Tower Bridge to check out the exhibit. This was cool, seeing the inside of it, and how things work and how it was designed and built. Lastly we finished off our day with a boat cruise on the Thames back to Big Ben and Parliament. It was a nice ride with great commentary along the way. We walked up toward Trafalgar Square to see the area and to find some dinner. We ate some delicious pizzas and pasta at Fratelli La Bufala. This is a fantastic international Italian chain. We then enjoyed some gelato from around the corner at Gelupo. We headed toward Piccadilly Circus to see the aluminum statue, but it is covered and being renovated. So, we headed back to the hotel.

Friday we were going to maybe go to a museum, so we headed toward the Natural History Museum. We didn't have tickets to a special exhibit, and the queue was huge, so we decided to walk toward Harrod's and Hyde Park. I had never heard of Harrod's, but it is huge, and we were able to score some Belgium chocolate at the Neuhaus shop there. After lunch at Wagamama, we walked toward Hyde Park to play and relax some. Kacey and I rented some city bikes for a while to see the park and liked seeing the Princess Diana Memorial fountain as well as the Albert Memorial and the Italian Gardens. We tried to visit the British Museum, but it was closing early for Good Friday, so we only walked around the atrium, no exhibits for us. We found a bite at Verdi and headed back to get some rest.

Saturday we had a plan that we were all getting up early; the boys were going to the Natural History Museum, and the girls were going to Notting Hill and markets. We got to the museum about 10 minutes after they opened and only queued for 10 minutes. Inside was great, even without tickets to the Dinosaur exhibit. We spent about 4 hours there and a decent lunch at the cafe. Then we headed next door to the Science Museum, which had no queue. This museum was pretty good as well with a wide variety of exhibits. We walked toward a couple restaurants that looked good and ended up at Bumpkin. It was pretty tasty. We, of course, got some gelato at Scoop and went to rest in preparation for Easter services the next morning.

On Sunday, we got up and checked out to drive to Westminster Abbey for services at 10:30. Our goal was to get there by 9:30-9:45, but it was almost 10 by time we got in queue. It was moving quick and we ended up sitting right next to the Shakespeare memorial in Poet's corner. We had some views of the front, and could see a large monitor of the altar. The message was meaningful and the music was powerful. While Liana wasn't really having it, and although they had no nursery, it was still a memorable service (and, Kacey ended up sitting next to the organists for a while, as well as the Jerusalem Chamber where King Henry IV chose to die). After grabbing some Pret, we got on the road to drive through the Cotswolds.

Pictures from London can be found here.

The Cotswolds

Today was a bit rainy, but we were in the car most of the time. We decided to drive through the Cotswolds region to take in some of the scenery. We decided to drive to Minster Lovell first. This is a small village with an old church that you can walk to. Thatched roofs and folks out walking around made for a nice stop. We next stopped in Burford, but this was a main street with lots of shops all targeted for older people with money. Lastly, we stopped in Northleach and Kacey walked out to the Old Wool Church. We stopped in Gloucester for dinner and got in to Cardiff Bay in time for bed.

Pictures from the Cotswolds can be found here.


We got up and walked around the Bay a bit. This is a neat little area to walk around, but only a few things to do. We got on the road to meet our ferry around lunch.

Pictures from Cardiff can be found here.