Friday, April 18, 2008

England and Wales driving holiday

Basically, we spent 5 days, a LOT of money and drove 678 miles. We arrived in Liverpool and spent an evening then made our way down the M6, driving through cities like Stoke-on-Trent, Birmingham, Worcester before taking a side road hour drive into Stratford-upon-Avon, where we spent a few hours. We headed south again on the M6, got onto the M50, which later, in Wales turned into the A40. We drove through towns such as Abergavenny, Merthyr Tydfil, and Glyneath, until finally reaching the city of Neath. We spent about 2 hours trying to figure the town out and trying to find a hotel (all the "Inns" were not hotels, rather bars) and the roads seemed to keep leading us in circles. Eventually we drove to Swansea and got an extremely expensive and upscale hotel room for the night (but we were desperate to stop driving and eat some dinner). Then the next day we were able to get up early and explore Neath.

After spending the day in Neath we headed west to the coast, driving through towns such as Carmarthen and Haverfordwest up to Fishguard, our firststop off. In Fishguard we headed north up the A487 and didn't stop for the night until Aberystwyth. Aberystwyth was a pretty nice coastal type town with a big seaside "Promonade", tiny streets and a lot of people. But the people didn't really seem to be tourists, although I'm sure they were there...but we stopped at 4 hotels before finding one with vacancies.

Near Aberystwyth we did a hike at "Devil's Bridge" and then drove up to Corris for another stop off along the way. Then we entered Snowdonia National Park which basically is a mountainous region, along with big rolling green hills and a GOjillian sheep. Man, those sheep were everywhere. It was awesome. We kept seeing baby lambs and wondering how we could smuggle one into the car and get it on the plane with us. For Fun - a sheep game from the BBC. Those dang little lamb were jumping around all over the place and we've even see them standing on top of the mamma sheep and even once I saw two little lambs playing together and they jumped and they bumped butts together...if that wasn't the cutest thing! I'm serious, it was awesome seeing all those sheep and spring lamb.

We stayed on the A487 until Dolgellau and then got on the A494 up to Bala (still in the Snowdonia National Park---lots of very skinny roads, hardly any place to stop for gas or bathrooms and still a gojillian more sheep and pretty scenery to entertain us). Then we made our way eventually out of the National Park area and drove the rest of the Welsh country side in the North and making our way to Chester, England and back up to Liverpool.

On our travels, we pretty much ate a bunch of fish and chips. I wanted to have some meat pies but never got around to it. One day when I was sick and tired of fish and chips I was able to talk Jake and Ann-Marie into Chinese Food. It was interesting to hear the Chinese people speak English with a very Chinese-English-Welsh accent. One interesting restaurant was Circo which we had fish and chips. However, at the time we were in the mood for just a plain ol' pile of greasy, salty, vinegary plate of fish and chips...having just arrived in England. But we got a very small portion of fancy fish and chips with the plate decorated with sauces and stuff (that type of place). Anyway, it was a fun place. Other than that we ate at the hotel restaurants pretty much and also did one take out fish and chips which gave us TONS of food for only 10 Pounds and it was rather good. However, we didn't realize that scallops (we ordered two orders of it) were actually only potatoes- huge slices of potatoes, put into the fish batter and then fried...we thought we were getting some scallops.

Jake and I had many of those moments where you are in a situation, trying everything you possibly can to stifle back laughter, tears streaming down your face, embarrassed at yourself kind of situations- a complete riot of fun, seriously. It was great to have him around to laugh with like that. Ann-Marie had a good time with both of us and would earn her spending money for each day by giving us awesome back scratches and back massages when we got back to the hotel rooms at night. And she was a great back seat navigator, she would watch out for the turns and help us make sure we were staying on the right roads when going around the round-abouts. She pretended she was the princess in the game super mario brothers when we were in the Neath castle (and Daddy was Mario and had to save her). At times, we were trying to bump our heads on the pretend blocks and were looking for mushrooms. (you gotta know the game)
Ok, have a look at our photos and maybe later this weekend I will try to post more pics. It was a nice time.

Some Neath sights in South Wales

Church in Neath's city center.
A nice plaque on the church in the above pic.

A random Elementary School building.

More Neath city sights

Victoria Gardens in Neath, South Wales

The city maintains a gorgeous garden park area, about the size of a city block. It is located near the church in the city center. On the day we were there, there must have been 5-6 gardeners working cutting grass that didn't look like it needed it, picking up sticks and stuff like that. We walked through the gardens and there was even a small play area that Ann-Marie enjoyed.

Neath Abbey

Neath Abbey, Wales

The Neath Abbey in Neath, Wales was an awesome structure. We found it and wandered the ruins of the fortress completely alone (no other tourists). As you can see it was a sunny and relaxing time as we walked around every corner of the ruins, wondering what we'd discover next. It is so cool to walk around these old castles and wonder 'what has happened on these grounds?'

Bard's Quest in Corris, Wales

Bard's Quest was a cool human maze which we had to find our way through (and eventually OUT of). It had 'stations' in which you would periodically stop and listen to a fairytale-like Welsh legend. When you approached a station that you hadn't found before through the labyrinth you pushed a button that told the tale. You had the choice to hear it in English or in Welsh.

Also at this sight, there were a lot of Welsh crafts avaliable for purchase. The craftmaker's were on the sight and you could watch glassmaking, woodcarving, quiltmaking, stuff like that.

Random traveling pics

A Welsh gas station: the price of gas in litres, we had a deisel car which was very good on gas!
Ann-Marie at a rest stop along the M6 which is a main highway similiar to an Autostrada, Autobahn or Interstate hwy.
On the RyanAir flight from Venice to Liverpool, Ann-Marie's tooth came out. The British tooth fairy came and brought some Pounds!
This car, along with others, sat in front of the Mersyside Police Department building, near the Mersy River in Liverpool.

Near Abersywstwyth, Wales- Waterfall hike

"Devil's Bridge" Waterfall trail near Abersystwyth Wales

It was a beautiful trail that basically descends straight down some crazy-scary steps called "Jacob's ladder" into the Gorge between the mountains, a bridge over the river and back - straight up- lots of steps.

Random Welsh Images

Eating a Raspberry tart as we stopped at a castle in Wales. We didn't end up actually going into the castle and didn't get any pictures of it, but it was a good rest stop for our cheese and Raspberry tart snack.
Jake in Newport, Wales. There was a WC rest stop near the water. This waterway is St. George's Channel and part of Cardigan Bay (of the Irish Sea).
This rest stop had a nice little hike path and Ann-Marie found a seashell. This was either Fishguard or Newport in a different area (above and below). There was someone selling ice cream from a trailor and Ann-Marie had some.
These thorny bushes are everywhere in Wales. I took notice of these the first time when we were on the countryside in Ireland, where they were everywhere too (last April- didn't get any photos-forgot the camera). But the yellow flowers are so pretty rolling the hills. When in Ireland a man told us about these...something about, 'yeah, they look nice but the farmers hate them...once they show up they just get bigger and spread, taking over everything"

A Few Liverpool Sights

Stratford upon Avon- William Shakespeare's town

We made our way to Shakespeare's birthplace. The countryside was really lovely and the houses in the area were pretty too. We did not go into any 'Shakespeare sites'. Just walked the city streets and had some lunch and bought some strange and different candies in a traditional English sweet shop. Definately we could have spent a full day or two here, but we were eager to get back on the road and didn't think Ann-Marie would enjoy going through a Shakespeare museum very much.

Driving on the left!

This was pretty much a 'driving vacation'. We rented a manual transmission (shift with your left hand but pedals are the same), small - deisel operated car. It was brand new. This was the photo I took of Jake in the drivers seat before he actually pulled out the first time. It was kinda weird. We left the airport without having any destination whatsoever. We were just looking for either the main highway headed south or a hotel that could be pulled into fast and easy. We ended up making it all the way into central Liverpool. It took maximum concentration from both of us, him driving (backwards, you could say) and me (watching road signs, watching for cars, pedestrians, etc). It was terrifiing but at the same time it was a blast. We found an Ibis hotel right across from the Albert Dock in Liverpool and when the car was safely parked in the parking lot 'high fives were all around' and I think we were all glad to get out of the car. As far as driving, he did a good job. No wrecks, but a lot of frightening moments (especially when driving the tiny roads through the mountains of Wales). The first two days were pretty tricky at times and really all of it at times could be tricky. Pulling out you have to remember to go into the left lane and going around traffic circles you go toward the left, street signs are on the left.
Personally for me, in the passenger seat, it felt extremely foreign, sitting there without the choice to grab the stearing wheel which wasn't there. One time, as Jake was standing outside the car still, I even got into the car and pushed on my pretend brake (the map that had smooshed on the floorboard) as I released the parking brake---all on accident- just habit. ("Oh, xxxx!!!!" and then quickly pulled the brake back into position) LOL. I never drove while there. I debated several times but decided not to.
Once on the major highways, it was no big deal, really. The smaller roads especially in Wales and the city navigations were a bit scary though. All in allg, a great time! But I was glad to turn that rental car in.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cookie fun with a friend

We invited a friend and her mother over to make cookies today. The girls decorated cookies and then went upstairs to play for a little bit. When I went up there they had lipstick all over their faces. Kids will be kids. This photo is after we tried washing it off. (It did finally come off almost all the way in the bath)

The Beaver Family Together

Once upon a time in a river there's a beaver family together. The End.
By Ann-Marie Stacey
written and illustrated on Sunday 20 January 2008.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Jake's Christmas deco

Jake sent me these pics this morning. We spoke yesterday on the phone and I asked (yet again) if he could take some pics of himself by the tree. I teased him that it was almost New Year's and he still had his tree up. He just laughed and said "All I have to do is stuff it in a box".

I see he has two trees there. The one to his right is the one I is his official 'deployment' tree. And for the years when he is actually home, it goes nicely on Ann-Marie's bed side night table.