Friday, October 30, 2009

Fri 30th Oct- London Calling & Sad News

Today we were travelling by train to London leaving from the Chester Rail Station at 11am. We managed to cram all our belongings into our bags, including the bags sent on with Pete & Sophie when we left London for Ireland back at the beginning of the month. We were staying at a Heathrow hotel for the night before flying out late tomorrow night where I'd have to do a major reshuffle and repack to get the weights right before checking in with Emirates. We said our goodbyes to the Sophie & Maddie before Pete drove us to the Chester station. It wasn't so bad as we knew the family would be home for good before the end of our summer.

Have you ever tried travelling with two huge suitcases plus two roll-on cabin bags? It's not so bad on planes because all you have to worry about is getting them from the car park or drop off point to Check-In and usually you can find a trolley to load them on. Try travelling by train with the amount of luggage we had. It wasn't so bad from Chester to Crewe, fairly empty train, short 20 minute ride, pick your own seat. From Crewe to Euston Station it was a whole different kettle of fish!

First no lifts or lifts occupied when you need to get from Platform 1 to Platform 6 in 10 minutes, try dragging bags up and over 2 or 3 pedestrian bridges, getting there just in time but having absolutely no luggage space left to store your bags which happen to be 3 times the size of everyone else's! Then finding your allocated seats are way down the other end of the carriage or in fact in another carriage altogether. Once you have located your seat and managed to store the bags in an empty space by the doors you get angry glares from all and sundry(you also hope like hell the doors aren't going to suddenly open when you're not looking and the bags fall out) Unfortunately our booked "front facing" seats turn out to be "back facing" and not only that our big picture window is a small half window with a bloody great pillar taking up half the view. Groan! I know I'm going to be feeling crook before the first bend.

Then to make matters worse there's a stag party going on in the six plus rows in front of us(which would have been behind us if the seats were correct). They're obviously off to London for riotous weekend and they've decided to start the ball rolling now. For the next two hours the noise level grew steadily, the swearing and laughing got louder and louder, guys were falling all over the aisles and the seats and dozens and dozens of cans were downed. I'm not sure how some of them were going to enjoy London, they could hardly stand when we got to Euston.

I managed to take a few photos along the way ~
A caravan park
And a house boat marina

I had allowed all day to get to the Park Inn at Heathrow and I'm please I did. I had overlooked that it would be mid to late Friday afternoon when we arrived at Euston Station where we then had to change to a tube train to take us through to Heathrow Airport. Friday afternoon in London? You got to be joking! It was a mad house and we still had double the amount of bags as everybody else. It took us awhile to figure out which tube we needed to get to Heathrow, then to get our bearings and find our way from one part of the station to the Underground. Up and down escalators, through underpasses and overpasses we wheeled our luggage along.

I checked our Oyster cards and found that we still had enough money on them to get us to Heathrow so no need to queue for tickets with half of London, only the need to queue on the platform with the other half! In the end we let 3 trains go before we attempted to board. There was just so many people making a rush for the carriages, we waited paitenly until we'd worked out where to stand for the open door with the luggage storage area and for there to be less people on the platform. It only delayed us by 15 minutes or so and we had heaps of time so it wasn't a problem. Once on board we managed to store the luggage and stand near by as the train quickly filled to capacity after each station stop and then slowly return to normal as we got further and further out of the city.

Once we were offloaded at Heathrow we then had to find our way to the shuttle pickup points for the hotels. That wasn't too bad as we knew roughly where to go. Very soon a shuttle bus arrived and we loaded up and headed to the Park Inn. Finally six hours after leaving Chester we were opening the door to the hotel room. It had been a long day!

We had a late check out the next day, as we weren't departing until 11pm, which was great as we were able to have a sleep in, carefully repack the bags, have a late lunch and just generally relax and mentally prepare for the 24hr flight ahead of us.

In the early evening we caught the shuttle back to Terminal 3, checked in with no problems and prepared to wait for the boarding call. It's a bit of a ritual that we use up any spare cash at the Sushi Train, a very expensive place but it does a roaring trade. Ranging from £2 for the pink dishes up to £5(which is about $9) for the grey dishes which house the flashest sushi and/or sashimi, a tally up always gives us a shock. This time was no different and I think it was about £40 in total. Oh well, last of the big spenders.

Terminal 3, people watching. So many people patiently waiting for their turn to board ~

At long last it was our turn to board, we weren't going to be aboard the A380 again until we changed planes in Dubai. We departed on time at 11pm Saturday night and arrived in Dubai at 8:45am. After a short wait in transit we departed for Auckland at 10:15am Sunday morning and arrived in Auckland 2pm Monday afternoon. Unfortunately we had to wait 3.5hrs for our connecting flight to Tauranga which only takes a mere 35 minutes to fly. Mum & Dad were at the airport to meet us and after a quick catch-up we fell into bed for a welcome twelve plus hours of sleep. The older you get the harder those long haul flights are. Next time we may just have a stop-over on the way.

A footnote-
Sadly we had some dreadful news from NZ while we were waiting to fly home from London. My 17year old cousin Robert was killed in a very bad car crash in Napier. Robert was a much loved son, brother, grandson, nephew and cousin and a wonderful and outgoing friend to hundreds of people of all ages in Hawkes Bay, as was evident by the 1200 plus people at his funeral. With a huge beaming welcome smile for everyone he will be greatly missed by many, such a waste of a good life.

RIP Robert

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thur 28th Oct- Beautiful Bodnant Gardens

Bodnant Gardens, run by the National Trust, are one of the most beautiful gardens in the UK apparently, spread over 80 acres, they are situated on sloping ground above the River Conwy and looking across a valley towards the Snowdonia mountain range.

Bodnant Hall is the residence of Lord Aberconway. The house was built in 1792 and is not open to the public. The gardens were officially started in 1875 and are the creation of four generations of Aberconways.

The gardens have a variety of features, from formal ponds to magnificent woodlands and streams. The 55 meter long laburnum arch is the most famous feature of all and the most photographed sight in the garden. A mass of yellow blooms, it flowers in late May but as we were there in October I had to “steal” a photo to show you what it looks like.
The upper gardens consist of terraces, and both formal and informal lawns with plenty of mature trees that were mostly in their beautiful autumnal colours.

A Sphinx overlooks the Canal Terrace and the Pin Mill. The mill (circa 1730) was rescued from Gloucestershire in 1938 and was rebuilt at Bodnant.

The Pin Mill- I love the reflections in this photo but it was just my luck, these people appeared in my photo just as I clicked and I didn’t pick them up until after I downloaded the photo. I’ll have to do some photo shopping I think.

In spring the gardens are a mass of colour with hundreds of camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons and magnolias flowering. The banks are covered in bluebells and spring flowering bulbs.

Of course we were there in autumn and while there weren’t the masses of flowers the autumn colours were spectacular. I’d love to be able to visit again in the spring though.

We carefully made our descent with Maddie and pushchair in tow via the longer winding path to the lower garden, a beautiful wooded valley of The Dell passing the family Mausoleum on the way. The Dell is a tranquil area with shaded walks by the side of the River Hiraetlyn, a tributary of the River Conwy.

The lower garden contains the wild garden, spring flowering bulbs, shrubs and the mill pond. The mill race leads to The Old Mill, pictured below. The 'race' was used to power the flour mill and a sawmill.

After pausing briefly at the Mill we then took the steeper path with its many switchbacks up the other side of the gardens and back onto the upper terraces. There were so many beautiful vistas to take in along with colourful trees. Past the herbaceous borders and the huge rose garden and we found our way back onto the front lawn (which was the size of a small paddock!)

If you ever in the area make sure you put Bodnant Gardens at the top of your must visit list, they truly are magnificent and well worth a visit.

This guy knows which side his bread is buttered, the shop cat ~

We stopped at the Pavillion (part of the estate) for afternoon tea, a bottle and nappy change for Maddie, then packed up the car and headed home after a great days sightseeing. Unfortunately we got stuck in a combined rush hour and car crash traffic jam just outside the village and it took over an hour to cover a couple of miles. By this time it was dark and Maddie was screaming the house down for her dinner. It’s hard to pacify a baby when you can’t take her out of the carseat and in the end I was feeling rather queasy from leaning over my seat into the back cooing, clucking and singing silly songs to amuse her. None of that worked either.

There is nowhere in the country lanes to pull over, you just have to go with the flow even when it is a snail's pace, once you’re stuck in a jam that’s it until either you get past the obstruction or you find yourself a rare side road that will lead you to where you want to go. Thankfully Sophie found one of those at last and while it meant a detour of 3 or 4 miles at least we were moving. Finally we made it home safe and sound, well safe anyway I'm not sure about the sound part! We were all a little frazzled, but nothing a couple of wines didn’t sort out. And then off to bed fairly early, tomorrow we were travelling to London by train ready to catch our flight home.

Thur 29th Oct- Conwy Castle & UK's Smallest House

On the last day before we were due to catch a train back to London and then the plane home, Sophie, Maddie and I did a day trip to the beautiful seaside town of Conwy and then onto Bodnant Gardens, an amazingly beautiful National Trust property of over 80 acres overlooking the River Conwy with the Snowdonia mountain range as a backdrop.

I knew there was a castle in Conwy but I didn’t know how impressive it was. As you approach Conwy along the coast it suddenly appears, a huge imposing dark stoned fortress perched high up on rock overlooking the estuary. It seemed to take over the whole view especially as you drove around the edge of it. What a fabulous sight. Conwy Castle was constructed by Edward 1 between 1283 and 1289 and was one of his "ring of fortresses" built to contain the Welsh. It has 8 huge round towers and it’s very intimidating actually standing at the base of its soaring walls.

We parked up and walked back around the castle and over the Conwy Suspension Bridge, an attraction in its own right. Built by Thomas Telford this was one of the first suspension bridges in the world and was completed in 1826.

Telford matched the bridge’s supporting towers with the castle’s turrets. Built into the rock that the castle stands on, it is very close to the castle and very small, only 2.5 meters across. It’s hard to believe now that they would do this, but part of the castle was demolished during construction so that the suspension cables could be anchored into the rock.

Sophie & Maddie, looking back towards the castle-

We then crossed over the road and walked back along the waterfront and over the vehicle bridge.

Conwy itself is a classic walled town, its circuit of walls are over ¾ mile long and are guarded by no less than 22 towers. You can see two of the towers in the foreground and the walls stretching back around the town on the right.

Just below the bridge, this oyster raft was anchored. It looks like it’s used as a base to gather the dredged oysters together to be shucked before transporting them back to shore. I thought it was quite funny that there were half a dozen Oystercatchers happily foraging around the deck! Smart birds.

Looking out over the stunning Conwy Estuary on a beautifully sunny late autumn day.

But wait there’s more……

As if the castle, the walled town and the suspension bridge weren’t enough there was one more treat in store for us- the smallest house in Great Britian! And they weren’t kidding either. This tiny 2 roomed house is tacked onto the end of a row of “normal” houses located on Quayside right beside the harbour.

The house measures 3.05 meters by 1.8 meters (10feet by 6 feet) and was lived in from the 16th century until 1900. The last occupant, a fisherman, was 6ft 3inches tall and could not stand up inside, he was eventually forced to move when the council deemed the house unfit for human habitation.

The upstairs is so minute that there’s only room for one bed and a small beside cabinet, visitors can only see this by standing on the step ladder that leads up to the bedroom. Once up there the occupant had to close the trap door so he could move the bed back over it.

Downstairs, this was taken from the doorway!

Downstairs there was a seat and a fireplace obviously where all the cooking was done. No bathroom. I guess they used the nearby harbour. Nowadays a lady in traditional Welsh dress stands at the entrance(where else could she stand & I wonder what she does when it's cold and raining). For a small £1 fee she will hold back the curtain so you can have a look inside, two at a time is all you can fit.

Quayside entrance through the wall to the town-

We stopped for fish ‘n chips at a small cafĂ© inside the town walls which actually took a long time to arrive and weren’t that great.

We then made our way back to the car, loaded up and headed inland to the beautiful Bodnant Gardens.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thur 22th~ Wed 28th Oct- A Welsh Village

In fact I got it wrong on the last blog, we had one more full Irish breakfast to savour and we also took our time getting up and ready as we weren’t due to fly out of Dublin until 12:20pm. We made our way back across the city and found our way to the airport. Unfortunately it was there that we got lost ending up in Budget’s huge workshop and repair facility instead of at the drop off kiosk, they were a few kms apart! A small error on our part, in following the signs that said “Budget” instead of the ones that read “car rental drop off point”, and the fact that there were a whole lot of road works, cones and machinery all over the airport with various detours to follow too. It would seem that many people do what we did as the guy told us we weren't the first by a long shot. Oh well no harm done, we had plenty of time.

We checked in with no problems and made our way to the departure gate. We were flying Ryan Air again with priority boarding which as mentioned before was well worth the extra 3 pound. It was another full plane, we found seats at the front of the plane and settled in while the rest of the passengers fought over who sat where down the back. There were about 3 rows of seats behind us and across the plane that had their trays down and temporary paper signs saying “reserved”. I lost count of how many people tried to sit in them before an attendant came and told them to move right along. I’m not sure why the seats were like that but no one sat in them for the flight and I wonder if in fact they were a sort of “barrier” between the priority boarding people who obviously grabbed the front seats, and the rest of the passengers, a sort of class distinction. Who knows.

I took this photo for my nephew Leighton as we took off, he loves anything to do with maps, roads, roundabouts, flyovers and interchanges. I can’t see that they’ll have one like this in Napier any time soon.

The flight to Manchester was only 55 minutes, a very short flight for us in the whole scheme of things. Oh how great it would be to live in the UK and/or Europe and know that so many wonderful places are but a short plane flight away. Out over the Irish Sea somewhere and in between the broken cloud I spotted hundreds of what looked like power poles in the water running in dozens of straight lines, I kept seeing them and it wasn’t until we had dropped height a little bit that I realised they were wind turbines. I suppose they are less of a blot on the landscape being out at sea but still it’s such a shame to have this visual pollution out in the middle of nowhere.

Peter was waiting to collect us at Manchester and then we only had about an hour’s drive before we were back in the tiny familiar Welsh village of Sychdyn, tucked up in the warmth of their house reacquainting ourselves with Maddie and having a nice cup of tea! We were looking forward to the next few days, especially being able to sleep in a little and not have to rush to get anywhere. Being on the move all the time has certainly taken its toll this trip. In fact we didn’t leave the house much at all for the first four or five days except to visit the weekend market in Mold and a car boot sale in a local carpark. The rest of the time we relaxed, took Lollie(the dog) for walks around the village, played with Maddie and caught up with all that had been happening over the last few months with Peter and the bike business.

Mold’s Saturday market- your typical range of crappy junk in amongst the veges and flowers.

I managed to get rid of a whole lot of shrapnel on this stall- 50p a bag. David was in 7th heaven for awhile reminiscing about all the sweets that he used to buy when he was a boy and that weren’t available in NZ.

A cold and crisp early morning boot sale near the village, not much to buy, it had been well picked over by the time Peter & I got there. Sophie had already been down to it, on the look out for children’s books and toys. She had picked up some great bargains over the months and can’t get over how good the condition of things are that people are selling and how little they want for them. Both Pete and Soph commented on how it’s like people are a little embarrassed to be selling like this. They don’t quite know how much they should be asking and are a little reluctant to push things, and they tend to accept whatever you offer. Mum you would have a ball, us Kiwis are definitely not boot sale virgins!!

I thought I’d better buy something to remind me of our time with Pete & Sophie and I spotted this on a small table. Now I know it’s not Welsh, it’s Corso de’ Fiori from Italy, which as some of you know is what I have collected over many years. It was perfect and it matches my main pattern at home. I’m guessing it was purchased as a souvenir from the Corso factory, it’s only about 5 inches high so you can’t use it, more for decorative purposes only. I asked how much they wanted for it and the lady said “Oh, I don’t know……what do you think?......50p, would that be OK?” I see what Pete and Sophie mean! So I got it for 50p and I was very pleased, small enough to wrap and take home safely too.

There are plenty of public walkways and bridle paths all around the village and across the countryside.

A lot pass through private land and I always feel a little like I’m trespassing when I’m walking across someone’s field especially when some of the crop rows have been flattened by the many feet that must pass by. It's worse when you also have a dog in tow, especially a big dog with big feet! They build some great Bailey bridges to cross streams though. We had to be careful to not lose our bearings when out walking which is actually quite easy to do when there are so many paths criss-crossing here and there.

This cute little house was across the road from Pete & Sophie's, it looks like a one up, one down, with a "lean-to" tacked on the back! :)

The entrance to Soughton Hall which is just a couple of miles down the road, we came here for lunch in late winter when we first delivered Pete and Soph to their new home. These trees were bare with an interesting jumble of tangled branches towards the base. They were beautiful then and I’d have to say they looked great in their autumn colours too.

I hadn't done any serious shopping at all during the weeks away and time was fast running out. I had a request from home to get some children’s clothing from Primark so Sophie, Maddie & I made a trip to Wrexham (Wales) one afternoon. Whenever I hear the name Wrexham it makes me smile, I want to say “wrexham, bloody near kills him” . It always takes forever to make your way around a Primark store especially some of the bigger city ones, checking all and sundry especially when you're buying for 7 children of varying ages but in the end I got some good bargains and managed to spend equally on everyone  Maddie is such a good wee girl, she sleeps in her pushchair or car seat so it’s no problem having her along and fitting into her routine of eat, sleep, poop, eat, sleep, poop. We had lunch and a nappy change at a pub in town and then made our way back to the car.

Wrexham high street-

Now all I had to do was fit all this extra clothing in our luggage...........along with Sophie's purchases, she had bought Christmas presents for family back home. No problem............I hope!