Sunday, 24 March 2013

What, more snow?

Not much to report here this week.  We had to scrap our plans of walking in the Peak District due to weather.  Despite the calendar saying it's officially Spring, we got a nice dump of snow on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  My patience is wearing thin.  As a colleague (co-worker) says "I am starting to have a sense of humor failure" about this.

I don't have official statistics to back me up, but I believe it has been colder in March on average than December or January this year.  Enough already.  I'm guessing we had 5-6" all together.  Fortunately, they did a decent job with the roads since it was only a few degrees below zero.  I'll give them that.  However, I don't think we would have been able to drive to the Peak District, much less walk in it this time.  Oh well.

Here's one of the front, albeit with the auto-focus set too close.  You get the picture.

I used the down time to put the final touches on our upcoming Easter trip as well as book accommodation for our October trip to Spain (!).  I've got one 3-day weekend left to plan then I'll be pretty well done except for the details.  What am I going to do?

We did manage to get out with friends this weekend.  On Saturday, the Seppanens were gracious enough to host us (thanks guys).  Today we had our semi-regular ex-pat gathering at the Bull's Head in Repton.  Fun as usual.

Quick digression since Easter is coming soon.  We are pretty much past the egg dying stage but Alex has a project due tomorrow that involves eggs (Eggstraterrestrial Egg Competition) so I had to go out an buy some dye.

Then I thought, all the eggs are brown here, what do the kids do?  Why are there brown eggs and white eggs?  I'm not exactly a farm boy so I had to do some research to find out.

Back in the good ole USA, most eggs are white.  In fact, you get the privilege of paying extra for brown eggs (some think they are better).  Turns out, white chickens lay white eggs and brown (red) chickens lay brown eggs.  Huh, who knew.

And the reason the brown eggs cost more?  They are bigger chickens!  (that eat more).  That and the fact that suckers will pay more for them.

Back in the day, the only brown eggs (in the US) would have been organic and fed a special feed so they could very well have tasted different (and been "better").  But big business has caught on and they are mass produced (and fed the same), so don't pay more for brown eggs today!

But here?  No choice -- pretty much nothing but brown.  I happened to be at Costco today and noticed that they sold (white) duck eggs.  Who knows what they taste like, but we'll try it (and dye a few).  The photo above shows the color and size difference as well as my long term dying experiment (3+ hrs while we were at dinner).  Not sure about the results--perhaps a little too long in the solution.  Hopefully it fits the bill for his project.

Okay, I've either provided you with an interesting nugget or bored you to death.  No blog next week as we are traveling.  Have a good one everybody.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Elton and Robin's Hood Stride -- A fun walk in the mud

The calendar, though not the weather, says it time to start walking.  Like birds migrating back north, we set out on a walk on Saturday despite the chilly temps and misting rain when we started.  A contributor on the travel forum I often visit frequently says "There's no bad weather; just bad clothing".  I don't fully agree, but having the right gear can certainly help.

You'll notice we have our waterproof jackets and overtrousers on in the photo above.  Though not the best for walking, we also donned our wellies (rubber boots) which turned out to be a very wise move.  Fortunately, the rain stopped before we actually starting walking and the temps even reached the mid-40's (6-7C).

Our  starting point was the small village of Elton, about 35 minutes away; due west of Matlock.   It's not really close to anything of note except for other little villages like Youlgreave and Birchover from which we've started walks as well.
Stats:  4.1 miles, 2:42 (2:04 walking).  Slower pace than usual and you'll see why in a moment.  This walk came from Collins Short Walks in the Peak District (#13).
We actually started at he highest point and did more down & ups than I realized.  Over 1000' total elevation change.

First, the village of Elton.  It had a church (above) and a small primary school and that's it.  No pub, no tea shop, no convenience store that I could find.  Elton used to be a lead mining village.   More on Wiki.

Typical looking house in Elton (taken after the walk but inserted here).

Off we go for our first down and up.

Bundled up in the beginning (about 3C) but after we got moving and the temps rose slightly we were fine.  Hot even.
Did I mention the mud?  This was definitely our muddiest adventure.  So glad we brought the wellies -- one less thing to worry about.  There's one in our group who has had a few issues with footing (hint:  she wears a blue jacket).  Kuk's taking it extra carefully here.  Not the place the slip.

We had a few sections like this which took some time to get through.

Ascending the first hill (a little tired)

Looking back towards Elton and the mud pit we walked through.  It didn't look that bad/obvious from the other direction.

Still some snow in the north facing shade.

Look out!

Lots of stiles on this walk (which also increase the time).

Hmm.  Can't see how I missed this (we had to backtrack slightly).   There were times when there wasn't a clear path (glad for my GPS) and other times where someone had painted some signs (NO WAY or THIS WAY).


Here we go, Robin Hood's Stride (link):

Robin Hood's Stride is a spectacular tor of gritstone rocks perched on a ridge between Harthill Moor and the Alport-Winster road. Legend has it that Robin strode between the tower-like stones at either end of the tor, but this is unlikely because they are 15 metres apart and the ascent of the towers is difficult - especially the southern one.

An alternative local name is 'Mock Beggar's Hall' and from a distance it is easy to imagine the tumbled rocks and turrets being mistaken for fortifications, especially in semi-darkness or mist.

A closer look at the boulders and the water (and man-made) erosion.  The one prominent date is 1885 but of course, someone could have scrawled that at any time.

I decided to have a clamber up.  The best route around the back went through this arch. 

getting closer

the girls down below
and finally joined by the kids

and another

Alex in the arch on the way back down

Alex liked this little seat.  Note the mud on his over-trousers and wellies.  (He had fun today)

One final shot of a different formation with a hint of blue skies for a few minutes.

I've found I generally like the scenery of the Dark Peak walks better and this (White Peak) walk didn't measure up in that respect.  However, it was a nice family day out and we enjoyed ourselves.  It was fun to slip/slide through the mud without having to worry about losing a shoe (or destroying expensive ones).  I wouldn't want to do it every week, but for this one it fit just fine.

The Ultimate Lego?
I made my way over to the Training Centre at work this week and they had (most) of the Trent 1000 engine Lego on display.  This is half scale and contains more than 150,000 pieces (!).  The spinner on front of the fan (top left) is "undergoing maintenance".   Top right is the IP (Intermediate Pressure) Compressor.  Lower left is the HP (High Pressure) Compressor and Combustor.  And the lower right contains the 3 turbines (though the IPT is hidden).   Pretty cool.  [This is the engine project I work on.  There are times when I wish I just had to worry about Legos.]

Here's a full shot from the web.  A short YouTube video can be found here.

Meal of the Week

Still making a new Jamie Oliver Meal when I can.  This one was very unique and surprisingly tasty.  I would never think to combine these ingredients but I'm glad he's done it for me.  This one is Chicken Tikka (Salad) and had an ingredient list a page long (chicken, naan, spinach, lentils, mango chutney, yogurt, cilantro, tomato, carrot, cucumber, chili pepper, spices, etc. etc.).  Risky, but good.

Have a good week everyone.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Blue Planet Aquarium and Norton Priory

Hello, Blog Fans.  We had another nice day out (despite the weather).  We visited the Blue Planet Aquarium and Norton Priory in the general Chester / Liverpool area.   Before getting into that, a few notes of interest first.

I had a first on Friday night.  After 2 years here, I attended my first "leaving do" (going away dinner) with traditional drinks and "a curry".  The guest of honor was a colleague from my team at work who is moving back to Germany to work at our site there.  Fourteen of us met up after work on Friday and had a few beers before heading to a curry house in the city centre.  Now, this was my first visit to an establishment of this caliber (and it wasn't on the high end, to but it nicely).  But, there was plenty of room on a Friday night and a bunch of engineers didn't grumble about the price so it all worked out.  Good times -- glad I went and best of luck Andreas.

Interesting to note from that night, we had:

a German (engaged to a Portuguese women)
a German born/raised in Brazil
a Mexican
an Italian
an Irishman (married to a Thai)
two Spaniards
an American (me)
and a bunch of Brits

Quite the United Nations -- and that's normal, too.

Today, Sunday, is Mother's Day here in the UK.   Technically, it's Mothering Sunday (wiki), which is the 4th Sunday in Lent (and why it is so stinking early).  We've decided to go local while we are here and celebrate on this day (FYI, Father's Day is the same in both places).  If Kuk were on the ball (and not so busy) she's angle for a second celebration in May as well.

Given that we would be day-tripping on Sunday, I made her a nice meal (fondue, actually) on Saturday.  I was going to make her one of her favorite desserts (apple crepes) but we were too full.

She had asked to "see some flowers" but it's really too early for that.  In fact, we had a few snow flakes and the temps hovered a few degrees above freezing so we improvised. (You can tell it's not exactly warm in the picture up top).  She said she had a good time at least.

So, our first stop was the Blue Planet Aquarium (B above) just outside of Chester.  It's divided highway and motorways most of the way so we made it there in less than 90 minutes.  After that we went to Norton Priory (C), but more on that later.

The aquarium is nice, though pricey.  They had a fresh water section and a large saltwater tank.  The best part was the tunnel they had connected to the tank which gave some interesting views.

really large fish (technical, huh?)

piranha are scary boogers, but . . .

they never look that way in real life

 giant octopus (asleep as usual)

most of my pictures were "rubbish" because of the lighting and speed of the fish -- this shark was as good as it got.  This was the coolest part of the aquarium though.

Videos are actually better than photos.  Nicole took and edited these:


sting ray

guitar fish staying still for me

 ditto for the sting ray

here's a photo of the tunnel -- they have something like this closer to home at the Newport Aquarium as well

upside down jelly fish (no really, that's what it is called)

this is a well camouflaged stone fish -- the most venomous fish in the world , believe it or not

Alex as a snack

they did a nice little show with a couple of divers in the tank -- when they started feeding the rays, etc. it got pretty hectic

and finally some cute otters outside

So, not a bad little visit, but it was pricey (about £50 for the family).  I guess it's good to throw the kids a bone every now and then.

Next up was the Norton Priory (wiki). From the wiki link:

The priory was established as an Augustinian foundation in the 12th century, and was raised to the status of an abbey in 1391. The abbey was closed in 1536, as part of the dissolution of the monasteries. Nine years later the surviving structures, together with the manor of Norton, were purchased by Sir Richard Brooke, who built a Tudor house on the site, incorporating part of the abbey. This was replaced in the 18th century by a Georgian house. The Brooke family left the house in 1921, and it was partially demolished in 1928. In 1966 the site was given in trust for the use of the general public.

Excavation of the site began in 1971, and became the largest to be carried out by modern methods on any European monastic site. It revealed the foundations and lower parts of the walls of the monastery buildings and the abbey church.

The star of the show was this medieval sculpture of St. Christopher.  It's over 600 years old and in remarkably good shape (somehow surviving the dissolution).  It stands nearly 12' tall (it's supported as it was not intended to be free standing).  Notice the folds in the clothes and the fact that the clothing on the left is still touching the leg (i.e. continuous).   Fascinating sight.

The legend:

. . . an enormous man called Reprobus who traveled in search of the greatest master in the world.  He firstly searched for the King, then the Devil and finally Christ, whom he served by carrying travelers over a dangerous river.

One stormy night a small child asked for help crossing the river.  The weight of the child became almost unbearable, but Reprobus struggled on and when he reached the other side the child explained that He was Christ, and the enormous weight had been that of the whole world and its creator.  Christ baptized Reprobus "Christopher", who later became a saint after he was martyred for his Christian faith.

a close up of the fish around his feet

painting of St. Christopher (they think the statue was originally in these colors)

we enjoyed petting this whippet who was whining at being left outside the cafe

Next up was a tour of the walled garden.  This is normally closed this time of year (for obvious reasons) but they had a special tour going today for Mother's Day.  Two other ladies joined the four of us.  I liked the doorway leading in.

pretty much off season -- we still enjoyed the quick stroll around and it whet our appetite for a future (summer) visit

 snowdrops -- one of the few things flowering

lots of fruit trees (trust me) -- they have all sorts of jams, etc. for sale.  We bought some "quince" which is supposed to be all the rage

 a few sculptures too

and another

surprisingly, they had some chickens too.  I guess it started with an abandoned cockerel and they added some hens to keep him happy.  (His name is Derek, btw.)

back inside to the museum and this impressive tile work from the priory

 closer view

they had some old coffin lids too

back outside the priory and the surviving undercroft -- there were quite a few "rooms" like this one

Here's a nice view of the foundation/ruins.
We enjoyed the priory and could very well come back again in warmer weather.  All and all a nice day out.  Once home, it was time to round out the day with a little cooking.

Tonight was another new dish from Jamie Oliver:  grilled steak, saffron rice and ratatouille.  Very nice.

 and an apple crepe for dessert -- as promised!  Happy UK Mother's Day, Kuk.

token shot with me to prove I still exist

Have a good week everyone.