Sunday, 22 January 2012

Father/Son Day & Where Exactly is Derby?

Fairly slow week in terms of blog-worthy items so I thought I'd give a quick geography lesson.  But first, a quick weekend recap:

Alex's school had a teacher's workday (call an Inset Day) on Friday.  I believe they get 5 for the year.  This one was a little unusual in that his school was the only nearby school to have it so there were no holiday care options.  Since I have a few more vacation days than Kuk, I took the day off.

You may recall that we had a nice outing last year during an Inset Day (link). Alas, the weather was not conducive to outdoor activities and some of the possible indoor options were closed (as are many of the tourist sites this time of year).  So, we went to see a movie, had lunch and ran a few errands.  Alex enjoyed the movie (Puss in Boots) and we had a nice day.  There are some photos below.

On Saturday we had our friends the Connells over dinner.  We met them through Nicole (Derby High) and Andrea also works at Rolls-Royce.  We had such a good time that I forgot to get any photos.  [rats]

For today (Sunday) the weather was a little risky for an outdoor activity.  It's decently warm here (50F) but very windy.  It was going to be cooler and perhaps rainier up in the Peak district where we would have gone.  Nicole got a better offer and Alex and Kuk were angling to be relieved of their family obligations so I decided we would just stay at home.

Highlight of the day for sure was Scrooge McDad springing for some popcorn and a soda at the movie theater.  A rare event indeed!

Unfortunately, the lights just went down and my little flash was working hard.  Tried to capture the fact that we had the place to ourselves initially.  Huh, go figure, empty at 11 am on a Friday.  One other father/son (from Walter Evans Primary too) also showed up.

We had a nice, albeit slow, lunch at Nandos home of the "legendary Portuguese flame-grilled Peri Peri chicken."  We each got some wings and they were good.  It's not really fast food but you do order at a counter.  It reminds me of BW3's but much slower.  I assume that nothing is pre-cooked.  In fact, they might not kill/pluck the chickens until you order based on the elapsed time.  Nice lunch, outside of the food wait.

Okay, now on to the geography lesson.  After visiting folks at Christmas I thought some pictures might help explain where we are living. 

Derby is very close to being in the geographic center of England.  It's also close to be the farthest from the coast.  As you can see from above, we aren't in London!  In fact, we are around 2 hours away (to the NNW).  Some will daytrip to London but that's not our preference.  We will visit over a long weekend in February.  The closest major airports to Derby are Birmingham (1 hr) and Manchester (75 mins).  It's about a 2.5 hour drive to Heathrow in London.

Derby is a city of 236,000 people in 30 square miles.  Indianapolis has 820,445 people in 372 square miles (about 30% as densely populated).

Scotland is to the north.  Edinburgh and Glasgow are about 4.5 hours away but there's a whole bunch of rural Scotland further north than that.  We hope to get there in June.

Wales is on the west coast (Swansea and Cardiff shown on the map are in South Wales).  We visited the wonderful North Wales back in April 2011.

The green area to the NW of Derby (W of Sheffield) is the Peak District NP where we have gone for hikes many times.

The next two green areas to the north are the Yorkshire Dales and Moors NPs.  Further north and west (above Barrow in Furness on the map) is the Lake District, a popular (and pretty) NP that we hope to visit in May (about 3 hours away).

In August, we plan to take the quintessential English holiday (vacation) and go to Cornwall.  Cornwall is the county in the extreme southwest corner of England.  That should take 6-10 hours depending on traffic (no, really, everyone goes and it can be quite backed up).

I've zoomed out a bit here so you can see most of Europe.  First, a few definitions:

Derby is in England, the largest country in the United Kingdom.  Great Britain is (generally) the island consisting of England, Wales and Scotland.  The UK is Great Britain + N. Ireland.  The British Isles are GB + Ireland (the island).  The Republic of Ireland is a separate country not part of the UK (they use Euros, etc.).

I found 2 humorous (and educational) You Tube clips explaining this.  Give them a try:

Clip 1:  Get it Right

Clip 2: The Difference between the United Kingdom, Great Britain and England Explained

England is 95% the size of North Carolina (NC is roughly 54,000 sq miles).  Scotland is 80% the size of Indiana (36,000 sq miles). 

Great Britain is almost 89,000 square miles; roughly 2.3% the size of the US, but has 19% of the population (i.e. 8 times as densely populated).  If you just consider England, it's 12 times as densely populated.

Now, back to the Europe map.  We are obviously a lot closer to many countries than in the US.  For reference, the distance from Derby to Istanbul, Turkey (way to the south east) is 1641 miles which is about the distance from Indianapolis to Las Vegas. 

Ireland, France, Belgium and The Netherlands (Holland) are quite close.  It's particularly noteworthy how close France is (26 miles from Dover to Calais across the English Channel).  It's certainly easier to reach the countries of Europe from Derby (than the US) and we do aim to take advantage of that.  However, it does tend to take at least a half day (or more) to travel to any other country.  

At first, I thought we might visit more countries because of their proximity but I'm finding that one-at-a-time generally works best for us.  In fact, most of our destinations this year will be in the UK!

Now I've zoomed out farther so you can see across the Atlantic.  The thing you should notice is how far north we are.  As a result, we have very short days in the winter and long days in the summer.

Our latitude is 52°55'.  Here are some US places for comparison:
Indianapolis    39°46'
DC                 38°54'
Bangor, Maine   44°48'

In terms of European cities:
Moscow   55°45'
Copenhagen  55°41'
London    51°30'
Paris  48°51'
Rome  41°54'
Madrid  40°25'
Athens  37°59'

I hope you found the geographic lesson informative and perhaps even a little entertaining.

Finally, we have Nicole's meal-of-the week.  She picked out and made a new pasta dish with ham, mushrooms and creme fraiche (that French "sour" cream).  We used some very colorful farfalle (bow tie) pasta that we picked up in Rome.  The green beans and beets were forced on her to round out the menu.

Have a good week.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Ashby De La Zouch Castle & the National Brewery Museum

Today was a fine, albeit brisk, Sunday afternoon so we decided to hit a couple of sites.  The first was the Ashby de la Zouch Castle [wiki link] just over 30 minutes away.  It was going to be a family affair as usual, but Alex attended a sleepover birthday party with 6-8 other boys and let's just say he wasn't quite up for it.  So, it turned into a nice father/daughter day out.

Coincidentally, my buddy Jay happened to visit the castle yesterday (great minds think alike) and I am going to shamelessly plagiarize his blog for the description (thanks Jay).  Any factual errors are Jay's fault.  :-)

The castle was built in the 12th century as a fortified manor house.  William, Lord Hastings, acquired it in the late 1400's and made improvements to the property, including fortifying it into a castle.  (A side note on William was that he was a very generous lord, he paid his servants too much and didn't charge his guests at all which led to massive debt.  Generosity was probably not very common in those times.)  The castle eventually became an important footnote in the English Civil War.  The owners at the time were on the side of the Royalists, or Cavaliers, and housed retreating Royalist forces in 1645.  The Parliamentarians . . . caught up to the Royalists at the castle and laid siege to it from September 1645 to March 1646.  Terms of surrender were eventually negotiated with the family being allowed to leave because the castle was never breached.  (Some kind of chivalry thing I guess - the better the loser fights the more favourable their terms are.)  Some of the Royalist forces were killed but the castle was demolished as part of the terms which is why it is in ruins. 

The castle is also famous from Sir Walter Scott's 1819 novel Ivanhoe.  The novel mentions the castle by name
[Steve here] and turned it into a tourist attraction in the 19th century.  

The audio tour didn't take itself too seriously and actually featured some role play acting between the 2 characters that both Nicole and I enjoyed (better than a dry monologue). 

On to the photos . . .

A shot of Nicole on the grounds.  I wanted to make sure to get the frost.  It was just above freezing but obviously not in the shade.

View of what remains of the tower.  The rest was blown up as part of the surrender.  Look at those blue skies.  We don't get that too often this time of year.  Or any, really.

Sunken gardens and more frost.

Closer view of the tower.  We would walk the 98 large steps up to the top.  It's a rule of castle viewing -- you must climb to the top!  Larger rooms on the left; smaller on the right.  I find it interesting to see these multi-story cutaways without the floors.

at the top as promised

 view of the [former] gardens below

semi-artistic shot #1 -- I liked the funky moss at the top

St. Helen's Church next door.  Can you make out the remaining Roman numerals on the lower part of the former clock?  At least that's what I thought it was but the numbers are 6, 9, 7 and 3.  What?

semi-artistic shot #2.  Nicole requested this one.

arches from long-ago vaulted ceiling

School next door.  Wouldn't that be creepy?  It's only 100 years old or so.  Modern even.

semi-artistic shot #3

self shot -- if only my arms were a little longer -- happy days

very cool tunnel within the complex -- very dark, most of the light is from the flash

 good shot of Nicole and the castle ruins from across the grounds

On our way from Ashby to site #2 in Burton-upon-Trent, we saw this Greyhound Inn. Had to stop and take a photo given our history with greyhounds.  Too bad there's a tacky curry night sign up.

Quick tangent on the drive.  It wasn't that far away but it was painfully slow through many towns.  I actually like the roundabout system here in the UK for the most part, but this route had lots of mini-roundabouts with painted circles rather than a median in the middle.  Very difficult when you aren't familiar with the area.  Don't care for the mini-roundabouts.

Next stop was clearly my vote and not Nicole's.  Burton upon Trent has quite a brewery tradition and the National Brewery Centre  is located here.  Two of the larger breweries were Worthington and Bass which merged back in 1927.  In the early 2000's it was purchased by Molson Coors!  From the Burton wiki page:

For centuries, Burton has been associated with the brewing industry. This is due to the quality of the local water, which contains a high proportion of dissolved salts, predominantly caused by the gypsum in the surrounding hills. This allowed a greater proportion of hops, a natural preservative, to be included in the beer, thereby allowing the beer to be shipped further afield. Much of the open land within and around the town is protected from chemical treatment to help preserve this water quality.

a very large can o' Bass

 only 4 ingredients in most beers -- barley, hops, yeast and water (cool beer wiki)

The photo above is an example of what they have in the museum (stressing the more manual aspects of beer making before mechanization). Given the off-season, I should have tempered my expectations, but I was a little disappointed.  They still have guided tours at 11 but we missed that by a lot.  The shire horses, steam engine and actors are off until spring.  There was a decent amount of info for a self tour.  It was okay but not great.  I'd recommend waiting until spring for those interested.  No actual brewing on the tour either, btw.

Ah, but we did get samples (unfortunately served in these dentist rinse cups).  These are my 4.  Nicole got soda -- I didn't take hers.  I also opted for the mid-tour break rather than the end tour sample since I was driving and all.   I had Worthington's Winter Shield, Worthington's White Shield, Brewery Tap and a stout (8%!).  Can't say I was that impressed.  The Brewery Tap was the best and the Winter Shield was okay.  The stout was pretty bitter and the White Shield was nasty.  I've realized that I prefer American or Belgian beers.

A rare Coors Light tap.  Don't know that I've seen one here but I haven't been looking either.

Had to settle for a life sized photo of a Shire Horse (bred for pulling heavy loads like grain and beer carts).  Nicole was purposely placed to cover the anatomy (it was a little graphic for some in this audience).

 very cool beer bottle car in the not so cool winter shed

Ah yes, my wonderful wife.  I did not forget her.  As mentioned earlier, Alex was at a sleep over last night so we capitalized by ditching Nicole and having our first UK date (after 10 months -- phew).  We went to a nice gastro pub up the road in Duffield called The White Hart.   Kuk had a seafood pizza for her main.  Notice the rocket (arugula) in the middle.  Very British.

I splurged and got the fillet (pronounced fill it here -- snicker, snicker).  Came with a wonderful peppercorn sauce, fancy potatoes, onion rings, grilled tomatoes and marinated portabella mushroom.  I found a good British steak!  (though not cheap at all, in fact the filet mignon here is quite pricey -- this was £23; okay for a special occasion).

 shared dessert of another local treat -- sticky toffee pudding

Continuing on the weekly food theme:  Nicole made a challenging vegetarian chili with cheese quesadillas).   It was a good effort but we all wished for some ground beef in the end.  :-)  Kuk missed out on this as she continued her jet setting ways and was in Germany the latter half of the week.

And finally to follow up from last week, here's where the "polenta" (corn meal) ended up.  Sauteed chicken with an interesting salsa of mango, corn, beets, cilantro and garlic.  Better than it looks (food pictures are tough).

That's all for this week.  Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Bolsover Castle and Hardwick Old Hall

Well, we are back in the UK and back in the swing of things for the most part.  I thought we might take the weekend off, but it was reasonably warm (50F or so) with a decent forecast (partly cloudy though I'm not sure who got the partly -- we just got the cloudy) so back on the trail we went.

Note:  I stretched the template a bit and I'm using larger photos.  Let me know if you like it or hate it.

I decided to tap a few English Heritage Trust properties to the north of us (< 1 hr away) today.  First up was Bolsover Castle.   It was interesting to realize that many of the castles/estates to the north of Derby are very much intertwined (Peveril, Bolsover, Chatsworth, Hardwick Hall, etc.).

The castle dates back to the 12th century when it was built by the Peveril family.  It changed hands a few times but ended up with Charles Cavendish (son of Bess of Hardwick) in 1608.  Charles set about rebuilding it and that work was finished by his son William Cavendish.  England was at peace then but it was quite fashionable to have a mean looking castle to impress your friends and all the little people.

Here's a view of a model that may help with the visualization.  We entered the outer courtyard at the top right.  The large stable range is the brown set of buildings on the right.  The Terrance range (expansion wing more or less) is in front and the Little Castle is on the left.

View as you enter the courtyard.  Little Castle is out of view on the right; Terrance Range straight ahead.

Inside the courtyard looking at the Little Castle--"a fantasy house for leisure and lavish entertaining" according to the guidebook.  The Terrance Rooms are to the left.

Troops in front of the large door into the stable rooms.

Inside one of the stable rooms -- nice hat.  William Cavendish was big into horses.  Boys and their toys.

one of the views out over the countryside -- notice the green in January -- quite a contrast to what we saw recently in the eastern US

 former dining room area (Terrance Range side)-- obviously missing a few floors these days

Inside the Entrance Hall of the Terrance Range looking back to the Stable Range.  Big door.

 another room in the Terrance Range.  It was fun to walk around and explore the ruins.

 we had walked down the ground floor to get a different view


 part of the Stable Range

 Alex taking a look down the hill (I like this shot)

Okay, now we are in the inner courtyard called the Fountain Garden.  Interesting.  Too bad the fountains weren't on.  Not sure how much the water would normally cover those lower angry men statues.  Alex thought the little boy anatomy features were later add ons.

entrance to the Little Castle

some of the rooms had dark paintings and woodwork and others were bare --here's an example of both (sorry, couldn't resist)

These were some funky plants out on the grounds.  They looked like cacti from a distance.  Anyone know what they are?

 Little Castle from the other side

As we were walking out, little man was swinging his audio device around and got himself all tangled up.

Cool tree.  Spooky without the leaves.

Next, we headed down the road to Hardwick Old Hall.  There's a "new" hall next door, but it was closed.  I knew that and will save it for another day.  It should have taken about 15 minutes to get there from Bolsover but our Sat Nav (GPS) lead us down some secondary road that had a gate and then the chief navigator lead us astray so it took 30-40 minutes instead.  All was calm (we are experienced at getting lost now).

Bess of Hardwick (wiki link) was a rich and strongly connected women.  She married 4 times, amassing more fortune with each husband's death, and was thought to be the second richest women (next to the Queen) in the country.  Her second marriage was to William Cavendish and they had 8 children.  First son William became Duke of Devonshire (lived in Chatsworth).  Grandson William (from son Charles) because Duke of Newcastle (lived in Bolsover Castle).  She was chiefly involved in the designs of both Hardwick Halls.

Required Jay Seppanen Steve Frey domesticated animal shot as we were pulling up to the Hardwick Hall grounds.  (Catch Jay's blog if you want another view of ex-pat life in the UK).

 Hmm.  Doesn't look open to me . . . Too much trouble to take down the sign, eh?  I found this humorous for some reason.

 We passed by the closed, Hardwick (new) Hall enroute to the old one.  As you can see, New is relative.

 cloudy, countryside view

View of the Old Hall.  It's a little more ruined than the new one.  Some of its bits were sold off after they moved out.

Four stories with a relatively contemporary design.  She liked her windows and glass too.

All the big to-dos were on the top floor

 some of the plaster/masonry remains

full view of the height

 scary in many ways

 I enjoyed this partially ruined state

Despite the decrepit state of the previous photos, there were some sound stairs that led us to the top where we were rewarded with a nice view of Harwick [new] Hall.  I guess the old one just wasn't big enough.

 and now to cap things off, we stopped at the Hardwick Inn for some refreshments before heading back

Couple of half pints to sample between us.  Bess of Hardwick Best Bitter on the left; Theakston Old Peculiar on the right.  I couldn't find anything on the first and I suspect it might be made by Blacksheep.  Fairly typical.  Slightly better flavor but just a little too hoppy (neither of us like the hopped up beers like IPA, etc.).  I've been noting/complaining about a lack of variety in the beers here and the Old Peculiar was actually different.  It was complex and well, peculiar.  I couldn't quite put my finger on it.  Good effort, but not quite there.

I purchased this one in the Bolsover Castle gift shop (alcohol in the gift shop, can't beat that).  I've always wanted to go Wassailing among the leaves so green . . . . I'll have to report back on how it tastes.  Not sure it's my thing but I wanted to try it.  Too bad it didn't say A Full Bodied Beer with underlying Happiness.  Always looking for some of that (it says hoppiness for those that can't make it out).  Happiness in a bottle is probably more than £3.

Here's the first verse of the Wassailing Carol for those interested.  It's actually a New Year's song so somewhat appropriate.  We have a version on our Scottish Christmas DVD that we always listen to (except this year -- oops).

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wand'ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Not sure why the travel blog has turned into the Food Channel, but I did spend some time cooking each night this weekend so I thought I'd share even if the photography isn't that great.  This is a UK version of Beef Stroganoff.  Picked up some Scottish rump steak at the store and it was good.  It used creme fraiche which apparently is a French sour cream (more fat, less sour).  It used French brandy too, so maybe it wasn't UK, but French.

In continuing my roast adventures, I did a chicken roast stuffed with garlic, lemon and thyme.  Also yummy.  A few too many potatoes, but I might as well cook up all of them.  Notice that they leave most of the feet on the drumsticks -- takes getting used to.

Side note:  spent 10 minutes (and 2 trips) looking for corn meal in the store.  Had to Google it to find out it's called polenta here.  Polenta back home implies the cooked stuff I believe (or at least in my mind).  One of those things that's quite irritating at the time. 

Related side note:  cornstarch is corn flour here.

Not so related side note:  many of the vegetables are different as well (zucchini=courgette, eggplant=aubergine, cilantro=coriander, arugula=rocket, rutabaga/turnip=swede).  Most times it's obvious but others it's not. 

No Nicole meal-of-the week this time.  I gave her the week off on this short week.  She'll be back next time.

Thanks for reading.