Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Back to Reality...

After a direct flight from London to Seattle yesterday, Laura and I parted ways. She went to Helena, and I headed north to Alaska. I arrived back home in Anchorage about 11:00 p.m. Monday night/8:00 a.m. Tuesday morning England time! I had no trouble falling asleep when my head hit the pillow last night, and even got up and went to work this morning. The proof that I'm back in the office is below in the photo Brandie took of me :-)

As I sit here eating my lunch, I thought I would blog about some things I've observed in the 12 hours I've been back in the States:

1) I am experiencing Laura withdrawals. Help! After spending 2 solid weeks with Laura on a really fun adventure, it was hard to say goodbye yesterday. I miss you Lou Lou and I cannot wait until Christmas! Thanks for putting up with me. I think we make a good travel team and can't wait for our next adventure!

2) I've turned to the dark side and am now a tea drinker rather than a coffee drinker. We'll see how long that lasts...

3) Transitioning back into my normal routine is tough! Thank goodness I'm going away this weekend with Shanna and Mary to Shanna's cabin (accessible only by floatplane) for some relaxing and fishing. Taking a mini-vacation is really the best way to ease back into normal life after a really big vacation.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Super Lamb Bananas, and Much, Much More!

Yes - that sculpture really is half lamb/half banana - just one of many that can be seen around Liverpool

Tim and Nan getting ready to head out for a tour of Southport on his Honda motorbike

After a quick plane ride from Dublin across the Irish Sea to Liverpool, Tim and his friend Dave greeted us at John Lennon International Airport, and the start of a fun weekend (as well as the last leg of our trip) began. We drove to Southport, where Tim lives, and were immediately treated like royalty. He took Nan for a spin on his motorcyle (Laura did not go, as she is afraid of bikes), and she was able to see the town where we would be living for the next few days. After the bike ride we visited, caught up on life, then ordered Indian food. It was our first experience with 'authentic Indian food', and it was delicious. We then toured downtown Southport, first stopping at the Victoria Bar, then making a pit stop at one which we can't remember the name of, before ending the night at Tim's favorite bar, Owen's. On Saturday we slept in (the first time this whole trip we didn't get up before 7:00!), then took the train into Liverpool. We had a drink at a really nice bar that was formerly a Polish Catholic Church before walking around Liverpool's shopping district. The only time it started really raining hard we happened to be next to a Top Shop store, so it worked out well for Laura and I (Top Shop is the store we fell in love with in London). Tim waited patienly while we browsed for clothes.

We took some pictures next to some of Liverpool's famous Super Lamb Bananas. These crazy half lamb/half banana sculptures located all over Liverpool.

Because Nan loves Italian food, we had a nice dinner at a little restaurant before heading to the Duran Duran concert. The Duran Duran concert was incredible - those boys and the one female member know how to put on a good show. Great music, good seats, and Simon and rest of the Crew kept us entertained for a good hour and a half.

So here we are on our last day in Liverpool, and the last day of our England/Ireland adventure before we head back to the States.

A special thank you to Tim. He has been a wonderful kind host and a great cook. We had all kinds of wonderful meals (scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, black pudding). So if anyone is ever going to Southport and wants a good meal, we'll hook you up with Tim.

It's time to log off and go watch the Wimbledon men's final on t.v. Nan and Laura have a £1 bet on the match. Nan is sure that Federer will win his sixth consecutive title, but Laura has her money on Nadal.

Team Llewellyn


Christ Church

Our last day in Ireland was spent in Dublin. After checking into our hostel, we immediatly headed over to the Guiness storehouse (because we were worried it would close soon...not because we were thirsty for Guiness...well, maybe a little of both). The Storehouse was amazing! It had undergone a major renovation a few years before, and although it was a major tourist destination, it was not tacky or overdone. We toured all the floors, finishing with a pint of Guiness at the Gravity Bar, which overlooks all of Dublin.

To wash away our sins (wink, wink) we visited Christ Church. It was right across the street from where we were staying, so that made it easy! We missed out on the evensong, but toured the church, complete with a visit to the crypt. (Spooky to say the least). It was one of the oldest structures in Dublin. We finished our night off walking around Temple Bar taking in the nightlife. We settled in for some tapas and mojitos (not traditional Irish but still delicious).

The next morning we walked around the city and explored, then hopped on a plane back to Liverpool, where our gracious host, Tim, awaited our arrival.

Erin Go Bragh!

Dingle Bay, Ireland

We arrived early (around 1am) to Trinity College (where we stayed in a dorm), so a good morning greeting from Ireland for a blog title seemed appropriate! Trinity College is a very old university, wth loads of character and charm. We both are thinking of going back to school there (we knew you'd love to hear that, Mom!).

We woke up Monday morning to traditional Irish weather- grey skies with a slight drizzle. After only a few minutes of exploring Dublin, we knew we would enjoy our time there. People in Dublin are extremely friendly and helpful. Even though it is a large city, it has a very small-town feel. This was later confirmed for us in the Irish Indepedent, as we came across an article titled, 'Ireland is Among Top Happiest Countries in the World.'--We believe it! (Note: The U.S. ranked 16th and Zimbabwe was last, surprise, surprise).

Later in the afternoon, we decided to catch a bus down to Cork, where we had reserved a B & B for two nights. For this portion of our trip, we decided to 'fly by the seats of our pants' and see where the wind took us. Upon arrival in Cork, or Butte II as we dubbed it, we decided time was too short to experience all of our time in Cork. We decided over dinner to travel to the Dingle Peninsula and stay the following night. After a four hour bus trip to Dingle, we wandered around the town for a brief stint trying to find a place to stay for the night. We were lucky to find a place in the heart of town for a very reasonable price. (And to boot, it had an iron, which we were thrilled about!).

WE LOVED DINGLE!!! It was very laid back, and we enjoyed a day of walking around the water, going into a few shops (Nan bought a cute wool hat). Thanks to our Fodor's guide, we found a cute little restaurant called the Chart House, where we were treated to a world-class meal. Nan had Kerry Beef and Laura had rack of lamb. (This made Nan quite upset, considering that we had ooed and awed over the cute little sheep only days earlier! But, when in Dingle....)
We were sad to leave, but wanted to spend one more full day in Dublin before heading to Liverpool.
Things to note:
The music/bar scene in Dingle was small enough for us to hit up all the spots, but with a slightly different flavor of music in every pub. We could have sat there all night listening to the musicians.
Also, we ran into a girl whose mom lives in Great Falls, Montana! Small world.

Day 3: After Dinner Mints

On our last day in the Cotswolds, our wondeful B & B caretaker, Jill, filled our bellies with a hearty English breakfast and we headed out for the last leg of our biking tour. We biked 20-something miles, relishing in the beauty of the area before catching a train to the Bristol International Airport. Nan wittingly and accurately said, 'If I see one more rose, I think I'm going to be sick!'

Upon the completion of our three-day journey, we had swallowed enough bugs (after dinner mints), to meet our bug eating quota for life!

The beauty of this region, the houses with incredible flower gardens and quaint villages, the rolling countryside dotted with sheep, castles and churches galore, cannot be adequately desribed!

Final thoughts:

If possible, attempt to take a shower at the end of a bike ride before catching a plane to Ireland!

Day 2: Killer Hills and Killer Sheep

A 'killer sheep' on Dover Hill

Broadway Tower

Attempting to capture even a small percentage of the Cotswold's beauty

The 2nd day of cycling was full of what we nicknamed 'thigh burner hills'. We definitely got a good workout in. We also saw more sheep than we've ever seen in our lives. These were the killer sheep Dave warned us about, so we steered clear :-) Though Nan found one she thought was really cute and she took just as many pictures of him as she did of Federer.

Other highlights from Day 2:

- Snowshill Lavendar Farm: who knew there were 100 different kinds of lavendar! the rows and rows of lavendar were beautiful.

- More cute towns with pubs.

- In Winchcombe, we had our first 'Afternoon Tea' experience since arriving in England.

- We saw lots of other cyclists, so we were not the only sweaty people stopping off at pubs and tea rooms.

- a non-highlight: the hill outside of Broadway. Overgrown with brush, battle-wound inflicting hill.

Day 1: Fancy a Seat in Stinging Nettles, Love?

Views from atop Dover Hill

Kipscote Gardens....Beautiful!!!!!!!

Nan 'freewheeling'

Mort's homecoming

One of 1,000's of pretty houses!!!!

On Saturday morning (June 28) we hopped on the train at Paddington Station and headed to the Cotswolds, a hilly region in Southwest England (similar to the scenery in the movie 'Babe'). When we arrived at the train station in Moreton-in-Marsh, we were collected by our host, Julia Jones, and whisked away to her farm near Chipping Campden. Julia oufitted us with maps, Dawes touring bicycles, and helmets. Then Team Llewellyn was off! 3 days and 90 some miles ahead of us, cycling from little village to little village.

Note: this blog title is related to something that occured not 7 minutes after we set off on our bikes. It's hard to capture the details of 'The Incident' (as we've named it) in a blog, so next time you see Laura you'll have to ask her to give you a play-by-play. The short version is this: Laura had to go to the bathroom, we THOUGHT we were on a path small enough for just bicycles, Laura squatted by the side of the road, a car came by, and in a mad scramble to finish her business and pull up her pants, she ended up falling in a pile of stinging nettles. All this resulted in her blowing up like a puffball for at least an hour. Not a good start, but it was the worst thing that happened to us that day. And Nan was laughing so hard she had to get off her bike so she didn't tip over and likewise end up covered in stinging nettles.

Day 1: We got a big dose of quaint, charming English villages. We stopped off at little pubs along the way and would cool off with a beer. We concluded the last leg of that day's bike ride with a delicious dinner and some beer at a little restaurant in Ebrington. Then we cycled the last few miles, up a BIG hill on full stomaches, back to Chipping Camden. It was an incredible day, and we were exhausted.


Federer warming up

Nan enjoying our Pitcher of Pimms

S. Williams won the coin toss against Mauresmo

Nan's friends from Alaska (Casino and Amy)

Tennis is a big part of our family, and we have many fond memories of at Nan and Jeanne's (our great aunt and cousin, respectively) house in Texas to watch the Wimbledon finals. So, TO ACTUALLY BE AT WIMBLEDON WAS A VERY BIG DEAL! We felt a bit like the paparazzi, stopping to take pictures of famous tennis players (such as Mauresmo and others). We scouted tout our seats at Centre Court, then split a pitcher of Pimms. Pimms is a gin based drink that is like a gin lemonade, roughly.

After an 1 1/2 rain delay, we had the privledge of watching Rodger Federer, the number one player in the world defeat someone!!!!! Nan snapped 9,000 photos of him, and Laura was a little more rational, only snapping 6,000. Then came the CLASH OF THE TITANS, as Nan so fondly dubbed it. Amelie Mauresmo and Serena Williams battled it out. Though Mauresmo was clearly the crowd favorite (even we were rooting for her, as it will more than likely be her last Wimbledon). That U.S. gal came out on top, winning a VERY CLOSE 1st. set. P.S.: we sat very close to Venus Williams and the girls' dad, Richard. He took as many pictures of Serena as we did of Federer!!!!!! To be given the opportunity to watch, in person, the people we've watched for years on t.v. was a wonderful feeling we find difficult to 'chalk up' into a couple of paragraphs.

After an INCREDIBLE Wimbledon experience, we hopped on our beloved Tube and Headed back into London. Later that night, we met up with Nan's friends Amy and Casino, who just recently moved from Alaska to London. After our mini Alaska reuinion, we moved the party to Leicester square (pronounced Less-ter for all you Americans who have as much difficulty pronouncing British words as we do!), where we met Tim (the friend we'll be staying with in Liverpool) for drinks and loads of interesting people watching. We capped the night off with a memorable 'human-drawn carriage ride' through Green Park, since the Tube was closed.

The only way to take on the next day's events and trick ourselves into thinking 'it would be no big deal to bike 26 miles on 5 hours of sleep', was to go about our London trip as we already had!!!! Denial and cramming a lot into a day and night. And this concluded our week in London.