Sunday, 22 May 2011

Calke Abbey

Another weekend, another big house.  Calke Abbey is a unique National Trust site which we visited today.  It's about 12-15 miles south of Derby.  It was owned by a rather eccentric family that collected many things -- stuffed animals and birds (the taxidermy kind) primarily from the looks of it.  Over time, the family had a difficult time keeping up with things and finally let most things go.  Rooms were shut off, paint was peeling, etc.  When the last family owner passed away in 1981, the family gave it to the National Trust (1985) -- and they left it as is for the most part.  Quite a contrast to the other homes we have seen.

The gardens were nice as were the animals (sheep, cows, deer, etc.).  The best part of the day though was taking a 3-mile hike around this and adjacent property.  It was our first "English" hike using public rights of way and directions like "pass through stile and head across Farmer Bill's field until you see an old fence . . ."  This was walk #6 of 23 from my recently purchased Derbyshire Walks with Children.  22 more to go!

We topped it off with a stop at a renowned pub called John Thompson (surprisingly no Georgetown paraphernalia).  The atmosphere was a little subdued when we were there but it looked promising.  The beer was fine but not up to the high expectations.  Glad we stopped but I don't need to drive down there just for that.

Enjoy the pictures below . . .

Kids in the Garden

Palm trees outside of Derby?  They had quite the heating set up back in the day to keep the greenhouses warm.

Deer outside the garden (in an enclosed fence)

An all too familiar scene . . . Kuk trailing and Alex way behind.  [from the garden to the house]

This porcelain pig caught my fancy for some reason.  Crazy stuff in the house.

Not every day you see a Rolls-Royce!

View from our hike.  The grass was swaying in the "breeze" (30 mph gale force) -- quite dramatic.

Alex climbing a stile (for all you Americans who like us didn't know what that was).  A stile is pretty much anything that keeps the animals on one side but lets the humans through.  Think turnstile with out the turn!

King of the (small) hill


Different kinda cow (sorry, city boy here).  This guy's friends got way too close to the car coming in!

Heron on a branch.  Kinda small -- click on the photo for closeup.

Big ole gnarly tree

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Inner Cave Man (with better tools)

I've always placed a premium on time given our hectic schedules.  As a result, I've been a gas grill man.  I've had a Weber gas grill since Nicole was born (I remember this because my Dad assembled it while we were at the hospital after she was born.  I always think of Dad when I grill for many reasons . . . ).  I've always wanted to give charcoal a try and moving to the UK was just the opportunity.

I'm still getting the hang of it and have been upping the complexity as I've gone along.  Hamburgers, steaks and boneless chicken at first.  Then a little indirect cooking with a bone-in chicken breast (which they don't sell here -- I had the butcher chop me up some!).  Well, I thought I was ready for my old favorite -- beer can chicken.  This takes about 75 minutes of cooking time and I wasn't sure how the heat from the charcoal would hold up (I did add some at the hour mark).  Also, I wasn't sure it was going to fit in my "57 cm" (22.5 in) grill.  Well, it took 2 beers because the tall boy didn't fit!

It turned out great.  The beer makes if very moist while the skin crisps up nicely (and we aren't generally skin types).  Kuk swears the chicken here tastes better.  Maybe it's the lack of stress (free range)!.   I also mentioned that my new grill might have something to do with it.  :-)  The family absolutely loved it.  The only problem is I don't think I can fit 2 under there.  Kids will have to get nuggets if company comes over.  :-)

On the chopping block . . . 

Ready to be served . . .

Home Away from Home

After 2 months, I figured it was time to get some pictures of the house up.  We are in a hidden cul-de-sac with 3 other houses plus one in front by the main road.  The house next to us is for sale and rent and was the one we preferred (own by the same folks).  We hope it doesn't sell so they don't try to sell ours too.

We really like the area and we were fortunate to get something fairly new (2-3 years) and a good size.  Some may say it doesn't have the charm of some of the other houses (true).  But then again charm is another way of saying quirky old stuff that doesn't work.  :-)

No one parks in the garage.  In fact, the door is heavy/manual and the garage, though attached, does not have inside access to the house.  The house has 4 bedrooms plus a study (so essentially 5 BR).  The yard is quite small and really the only negative besides the tenuous lease situation is the fact that we back into a major road (very loud).

I'll run through the pictures below.  You'll notice a lot of blank walls -- who knows if we will ever decorate.  At least it is functional.  All the furniture is self-assembled IKEA -- what a joy.

Back of the house and my new, trusty Weber grill.  Family room below; master BR above.

Back Yard from Master Bedroom.  Just enough room to kick a soccer (football) around.
Partial view of A38 (major road) from our bedroom.  Summer time (no A/C) will be rough if we can't open the windows at night due to the noise.  It's not worth having patio furniture either.

Kitchen work area.  Nice size. Lots of storage (unusual).

Smallish fridge on left (lower) & oven.  Freezer is separate (not shown).

Kitchen table.  Also notice radiator -- all steam heat even with new house.

Guest room, junk room and sewing room.

Family room ("lounge")
Dining "room".  Notice the nice pictures on the floor!

Entertainment center.  Only TV in house.  Hard to see black on black.  We did bring the Wii.

Master bedroom

Two of 3 wardrobes in master bedroom.  No closets in bedrooms.

Nicole's bedroom -- decent size.

Alex's bedroom -- quite small unfortunately.

Kids' bathroom.  Larger than ours by quite a bit.  We had them put in the shower.

Study with 3 of 4 desks shown.  At least we got the world map up!  Everyone has a computer and a desk.  There are pros and cons to all working in the same room.

Kuk's wreck at the other end.  UK laptop, US laptop, Tablet PC and a monitor.  Sheesh.

This is the for sale/rent sign next door.  The phrase here (and in Spain) is "To Let" which our minds always make "toilet".  That's especially true when the post covers the space in the sign.

All in all we are very happy and fortunate.  Sure, there are some quirks (road noise, water pressure, no screens, etc.) but that's all part of it.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

IKEA and Me plus Alex's "Birthday"

We hopefully made our last [major] trip to IKEA this weekend.  We knew we had 1 more in store for us but we wanted to live here a few months to see what we "needed" to make it our last stop.  Kuk set off early Saturday with a list in hand.  Delivery came later that day which gave me/us the time to put it together.  This last load included a dining room table, 6 chairs, a bridge for the entertainment center, 2 more wardrobes, a futon, sewing table, bookcase, and a small table for the hall.  Phew.  Glad that's over.  Pictures to follow later -- I've been waiting to show the house until we were "done".

Bits and Bobs

Despite the IKEA run, we did have a nice weekend.  We went to Pizza Express for a family dinner, chatted with two friends (one at "tea"!) and had a couple of new experiences.

Kuk ventured to City Centre via the bus to get her haircut and shop at the mall.  No issues.  I also got my haircut (2nd time) and walked.  It's a different part of town with a small shopping center.  I took my back pack and stopped at the produce store for some fruit, the butcher and the pastry shop and then walked back.  I felt very European!

Alex's Birthday

Alex turns 9 tomorrow.  It's easier to celebrate on the weekend (and Kuk has a work engagement tomorrow as well).  We were a little subdued (lame?) this year but it turned out really well.  Alex had a friend over for a play date and the two neighbor boys also joined in.  It was a fun day.

We had a small cake tonight as a family.  You may notice the lack of candles.  I covered our lameness by holding up the grill lighter while we sang and he blew that out while laughing.  Alex also got twice as many presents as he was expecting!

Oink the local Water Buffalo

So what wild place did we go to see this guy?  Just down the street!
We live in an area of town called Darley Abbey.  We are just off a main road and not in the village proper.  I will often walk down to the village and into Darley Abbey Park for an evening stroll.  Part of the walk involves walking past a random field and low and behold there's a water buffalo there.

Come to find out, his name is Oink (presumably from a sound he makes, perhaps from living with pigs all his life).  He's been part of the village for more than 15 years and has been in  the news over the years for legal fights (ownership) and reports of abuse which led to security cameras being installed.

As a result, one can't get too close because of all the protective trespassing signs (he's apparently friendly enough, or at least he was).  Here's a better picture from a few years back.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

North Wales

Right after Easter weekend we had another 4-day weekend for the Royal Wedding and May Day (1st Monday in May).  So, we were off to North Wales where we stayed 3 nights in Criccieth (this was the view from our B&B).  It was another wonderful holiday.

North Wales is 3 - 3.5 hours away and offers the coast, Snowdonia National Park and of course lots of history!  Recall that William the Conqueror and the Normans were having their way with England in the late 1000's.  However, they never quite got all the way through the mountains of Wales.  At that time, Wales was not a united country but rather a bunch of mini-kingdoms that often fought with each other.  However, Llywelyn the Great started the consolidation process in the early 1200's.  This was eventually passed to Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (sometimes called Llywelyn II and then Llywelyn the Last!) who was in control when King Edward I became King of England.

Edward "called" Llywelyn to pay homage to him and Llywelyn refused.  Eddie got mad and sacked Wales.  In the process, he decided to build many castles along the Welsh coast and re-fortify some existing ones which all form a collective "Iron ring" and a World Heritage site. (map)

Interesting note:  this is the same King Edward who battled extensively with Scotland (William Wallace and Braveheart).  The castle progress was occasionally halted because the resources (people and funds) were needed up north.

Interesting note 2:  Edward II was born in Caernarfon in North Wales and is why the heir to the throne is called the Prince of Wales.  The castle was used for the investiture in 1911 and 1969 (Prince Charles).

Okay, enough history (I find it fascinating) and on to the pictures!

Day 1 -- Caernarfon

In addition to being an important military fort, Caernarfon was also designed with the thought of being the political center for England in Wales.  Edward's many travels (Crusades, etc.) led to a much more European flavor to it (polygon towers and banded colored stone).

 A view inside Caernarfon Castle.

Caernarfon up-river.  Edward wanted to make sure that the castle could be refortified without going through the mountains.

Inside Caernarfon Castle.  Slate became the primary industry in the 1900's and a slate platform was used for the Investiture services.

Princess Nicole?

 A view from across the river.  You can also see some of the walled town.

 Back in Criccieth (30 minutes farther away).

Day 2 -- Hiking Mt. Snowdon & National Slate Museum
Although it was an adventure getting to the Pen Y Pass trailhead (near car sickness on the winding, narrow roads, parking issues, etc.) we had a wonderful day hiking in Snowdonia.  Snowdon is the highest peak in Wales (3560 ft).  We didn't start out early enough to climb to the peak, but we picked a nice trail to get some good views of the scenery.  We had just enough time to stop into the National Slate Museum at the end of the day.  This was our favorite day.

 Hiking with sheep never gets old.

Along the Miner's Track to Snowdon.

 Miner's barracks ruins.

 Miner's Crushing Mill

A view of Mt. Snowdon (that we did not fully ascend)

 A view of a partial slate quarry from the National Slate Museum.

 A very cool slate splitting demonstration.

Day 3 -- Harlech Castle & Portmerion
Harlech Castle is another of Edward I.  It's farther around the coast.  It's not in quite the shape of Caernarfon but was still climbable.

Portmerion was a quirky village that was planned from the beginning to be a tourist spot with some conservation thrown in.  It's a cross between Disney and an Italian village.  Not a big hit.
 in front of Harlech Castle

 From Harlech Castle (the sea used to be much closer in the old days)

on the walls of Harlech Castle

 Off to the prison tower for you! (he wasn't really this miserable -- just playing the part)

 A view of Harlech from our lunch restaurant (cool)

inside Portmerion

a tree stump with coins (Alex's favorite part)

 Hanging on a tree branch

 Back at Criccieth skipping stones at the beach (it's the simple things most of the time . .)

Day 4 -- Criccieth Castle
Criccieth Castle is an older Welsh castle that was apparently refurbished by King Edward I.  It's has deteriorated more than the others.

 Close up with my wonderful kids!

 Criccieth view #1 from top.

Criccieth View #2 from top.

A very windy day!