Day 10 – You have to wake up early to catch the plane

Today we had to wake up early in order to fly to Germany. Our flight was a 7am and our hotel was purposefully booked a short 10 minute walk from the terminal. We left the hotel at 5:50am missing any breakfast because we were too early. Upon arrival at the terminal we were greeted with the longest check-in line I’ve ever seen (and this is a small airport, like Sacramento). Mind you we had to check our baggage because of the way EasyJet handles carry-on bags. A sign said that baggage check for flight ends 40 minutes before departure, which meant we had 20 minutes to get through check-in and then 10 minutes to make security and run to the gate. At most small airports that would have been close, but doable.

After about ten minutes in a line that did not seem to be moving I was getting a little worried. Luckily, we found in both Copenhagen and London-Luton that when a flight is nearing departure if you’re at the back of the line you get to go to the front of the line. Little things like this are lessons I think we Americans could learn from the Europeans. Back home we would have likely missed the plane. Here our bags were checked and we then went past some great looking shops selling coffee and other breakfast foods we desperately wanted, but we needed to get to security.

At the top of the escalator I saw a line that made the check-in line look short. Imagine the largest high school gym you’ve been in, filled with a long snaking line of people splitting into about 10 security check points. Luckily it moved relatively quickly and after about 15 minutes we made it to a check point. Of course we did not make it smoothly through security. Darcy’s Kindle was chosen for bomb screening. It turns out there was a dime under the Kindle which creates a suspicious looking spot on the x-ray.

Up to this point most every airport worker we met was moving with purpose. The special bomb screeners had no such desire to move quickly. At one point I started stacking empty bins for the screener so that he spcould get on with screening our Kindle. Another 10 minutes and we made it through security and were off to our gate. At this point the true sprawling size of this tiny airport became known to us. Last call for our flight was announced over the loudspeaker as we rounded a corner where a sign came into view that told us our gate was 5-15 minutes away. Needless to say we went from walking at the speed of Peter (or too fast as Layla said) to running. We made the gate just a final boarding was announced again, proceeded out the gate and found ourselves boarding a shuttle bus that would take us to the plane. It waited a bout 5 minutes before it left to take us to the plane.

So maybe we hadn’t needed to run after all. Oh well, such is life. But after we boarded the plane and then proceeded to wait another ten minutes for another shuttle full of passengers I had really wished we had stopped for some coffee. The flight was only an hour and we had the price ledge of purchasing over-priced Starbucks VIA and muffins (which were actually tasty).

In Dortmund we were able to quickly collect our bags and proceed through both passport control and customs. When we left the terminal Ellen was waiting for us with a big welcome to Deutschland!  Ralf drove us to Osnabruck where Ellen took us for a tour of her school grounds and the downtown portion of the city.

Later that night Ralf and Britta took us out into the countryside for a traditional German dinner of schnitzel. Layla got to see some animals at the farm, including this pony I’ve named El Loco Ponyo.




We really enjoyed this and the evening spent with them at their home on the back deck talking and translating our horrible German and their very good English.

More to come as we have time.

Day 9 – London in a day


Wow, what a whirlwind. I think we’re all going to collapse when we check-in to our hotel, which is good because tomorrow’s flight to Dortmund, Germany departs at 7:00am. Luckily, we had some foresight and booked a hotel within an actual stone’s throw from the terminal. Today we saw London in a day. Since we technically started our London stay at 7:30pm yesterday we even made it in 24 hours. We’re sitting her at the children’s playground in Kensington Gardens. Layla is having a blast with the water features, sand and large pirate ship.

In (attempted) reverse chronological order our visit included:

  • Car park to Luton airport
  • Kensington Gardens
  • Underground from Millennium Docks to Queensway
  • Thames Clipper from Greenwich to Millennium Docks
  • Greenwich Royal Observatory, where we stood over the Prime Meridian
  • Greenwich Royal Naval Museum (ship in a bottle)
  • Thames Clipper from the Eye of London to Greenwich
  • Walked from Big Ben to the Eye of London
  • Bell chimes at Big Ben
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Walked around the mall, past the pond with Pelicans, past the military marching practice.
  • Buckingham Palace (we were to late for the changing of the guard)
  • Up the mall, from the Gate near the Cavalry Museum, past a side entrance with some really young guards who could not stand still.
  • Lunch at La Pret Manger (very nice fast, but fresh food)
  • Trafalger Square
  • Took the Number 15 double decker bus from the Tower of London to Trafalger Square
  • Walked over the Tower Bridge (took pictures of Layla straddling the draw bridge)
  • Walked along the pier from the London Bridge to the Tower bridge, past the London Dungeon experience.


  • Walked over the London Bridge in the rain.
  • Walked to the London Bridge from the Underground
  • Took the Underground from the British Museum to the London Bridge
  • Ate ice cream (soft-serve) with strawberries and chocolate on the front steps of the British Museum
  • Explored both Egyption exhibits, including the Rosetta Stone, at the British Musuem for a few hours (this was our only long stop all day) as Darcy loves everything related to ancient Egypt.



  • Took the tube from Queensway to the British Museum
  • Packed our bags in our car, at the car park for the day as we left the hotel.
  • Ate a nice English Breakfast for the last time on our trip.
  • Woke up nice and early.

In an attempt to get some information out about what we did, I’m going to end this post here and come back with more details and photos later.

Day 8 – Harry Potter and Harrods

One of things I find interesting about England are the automatic coffee machines. These are super high-tech machines that spit out freshly ground espresso and steamed milk based upon your computerized inputs. Even the Starbucks seem to have these instead of letting baristas craft your coffee for you.


Today is our scheduled trip to the Warner Brother’s Studio is Leavesdon, home to the Harry Potter movies for ten years of production. The sounds stages were converted into a tourist attraction that opened just a few years ago, after the last film was completed. We had a great time seeing the sets, videos by the cast and crew, the anamatronics and we even drank some butterbeer.



Posing with some Wizard Chess pieces.20130620-080546.jpg


A panorama of the Black family tapestry.20130620-080749.jpgStanding in Diagonalley.

After leaving Leavesdon we had about an hour drive to London. Our hotel is at the far end of Hyde Park, so we decided to drive in and park overnight. We were able to avoid the congestion charges by a few blocks. After parking the car and stowing bags we went for a walk through Hyde Park.  Along the way we came across the “Round Pond” which is not quite accurately named as it is actually more oblong.  But, there were some baby ducks we stopped to look at.


On the other side of Hyde Park is Harrods, a seven story department store.  We went in to check out the Egyptian Escalator at Harrods. There is nothing like being surrounded by million dollar cars to make you feel like you’re traveling on a budget.







On the way out we saw a bike cabby and a chauffeur get into a bit of a scuffle.  I’m not sure what the issue was, but the cabby was getting as close to the car as possible and the chauffeur wasn’t having it.20130620-081603.jpg


Day 7 – Nottingham and the Sherwood Car Park

Today was our last day in the English countryside. We went looking for the Sherwood Forest and all we found was a car park. Not really, but there is a funny story in there somewhere, Actually, we drove to Nottingham today to visit the home of Games Workshop Ltd. the makers of Warhammer and other miniatures games. I had high expectations and the visit did not disappoint.

We knew we had arrived when we came across this Rhino APC tank in the parking lot.



We started with a late lunch (or low tea) at Bugman’s the on premise pub. The foot was actually not bad and it looked like the company’s corporate employees also used Bugman’s for a lunch hangout and casual meeting spot too. After a pint we headed into the gaming room to look around. There were more tables here to play on than at the large Sacramento store, Great Escape Games. Even the most poorly decorated tables here would rival the best terrain back home, and the best tables here were masterpieces.


After a tour of the gaming space I made my way to the store to buy a few things for a friend back home. This is the only physical store that stocks some of the specialty items made by Forgeworld. They also stock just about every model the company makes, so you can see everything there in the store.

I was feeling a bit disappointed that the display cases didn’t have as many models as I had expected. We were getting ready to walk out when Layla came running up to me to tell me I had to come follow her. I headed up the stairs to the third floor and walked in on this view, the hall of miniatures.


Inside the glass cases on the three walls was every miniature made, painted at amazing levels. In the middle of the room is a display case housing a huge scene of the assault on a fortress. This made my day.

After leaving Games Workshop we went to do some laundry in Nottingham, downtown, and then went to the cinema to catch Man of Steel. Not only did Layla do okay, but she really seemed to like it. It thought it was a fantastic movie. Upon leaving the movie, about 9pm, we went looking for a coffee shop. Evidently, the Brits don’t drink coffee late, as none could be found still open. We had to settle for gas station coffee; still better than the garbage served at the Hampton Inn.

On the way back to the hotel we mused about a story my father had told us about the Sherwood forest being not more than a few trees and perhaps a parking lot, so we didn’t go looking for it. It turns out, as you can read here, that the Sherwood Forest is making a recovery. It currently has just over 1000 acres in the National Trust and has been gaining land over the past years. Oh well, perhaps we’ll see it next time.

Day 6 – Whirlwind of adventure

We explored and adventured yesterday, starting with our drive to Caerphilly Castle, just between Newport and Cardiff, Wales.


You can read more about the castle here and here. The highlights include: built in the 13th century and believed to have never been taken in a siege. It was given to the state in 1950 and a restoration began, including re-flooding the moat.







After the castle we piled back in the care for an hour drive to the Cotswalds, an area of beautiful English countryside.  We opted to stop in in a small medieval town called Lacock.  Billed as a town preserved in ancient past, used for filming movies such as Harry Potter, and boasting an Abbey that was home to William Henry Fox Talbet, the father of negative and positive type photography. In Lacock we went on a Spy Trail (a downloaded packet from the internet) that lead us through a clue gathering exploration of the town and church.  What a fun way for Layla to experience the town, especially since we found this neat playground behind a pub while exploring.


We stopped in at the Red Lion for a bite to eat (BTW, there have to be a million Red Lion and White Hart inns in all of England).  Darcy had to take this picture after I told her about what the cheeky Brits had put in the dispenser in the men’s bathroom.


Dinner was again quite good.  For some reason was expecting horrible food in England.  Evidently that might have been the case pre 1990s, from what I read, but the food now seems to be quite good.  I had the Scottish Salmon (smoked) and cucumber sandwich and a cider.


We ended the evening, after checking-in to our Hampton Inn, across the street at a Chequered Horse (a cross between a local pub and a chain restaurant, like Applebees. They were having a local pub quiz night, which we lost quite soundly, although we only came in second to last. I really can’t complain since most of the questions were about British pop-culture.


I learned that India Pale Ale (IPA) is not the same the world over. In fact, its definition varies wildly based upon the types of hops and access to certain malts. You can read more here if you’re interested. The Greene King IPA was good, but did not have the strong hoppy taste we’ve come to associate with IPAs on the west coast.

Day 6 – Old castles, towns and a treasure hunt

So much for an early start again this morning.  Our time zone seems to be somewhere mid-atlantic.  The fact that the sun rises just before 5am and sets after 11pm doesn’t help, I’m sure.  It’s just after 10am and we’ve finished another breakfast and are packing to leave on today’s trip.

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We have about 5 hours of driving ahead of us today.  I’m hoping that frequent stops and interesting activities along the way will keep Layla in good spirits.

Day 5 – Bath, but don’t touch the water – it’s dirty!

Layla decided to take her sweet time falling asleep last night. She makes more noise, grunting and such, while falling asleep than a pack of wild dogs. By the time we had finished our episode of Game of Thrones it was past midnight again. As such, we awoke a bit past 9am this morning. Breakfast at the Hampton Inn was a bit less fancy than the Hilton’s had been, as we suspected. Everything was nice, the mussleix, ham, toast, except the coffee. So far the coffee here has been good or great, but this was brown water. I’ll find something to complain about most places, but this was truly bad.

Back the room to get ready and then out to the car, where we found it was storming quite badly. Excellent weather for a drive in a foriegn country – at least I was getting the hang of it by now.

RIck Steve’s guides have been quite helpful when figuring out where the “best” of something is in a given city. His advice for parking in Bath was spot on and gave us a nice all day car park within convenient walking distance of the Roman Baths and the central district. We would never have found it otherwise as many areas in British towns are hidden from the roadway. A quick walk put us in the central district near what I’m coming to find is the typical main street outdoor shopping mall. We grabbed coffee and proceeded to the roman baths.

The natural hot spring that feeds the baths is the only one of its kind in Great Britain. It is fabled to have healing or restorative powers, but when Layla went to put her hand in the water she was told not to touch the water as it is “very dirty.” I guess all the healing powers have been replaced with germs. All-in-all the museum and uncovered portions of the bath were quite interesting to look at.

Our ticket also included entrance to the Fashion Museum just a short walk away. Billed as the 10th largest museum of fashion in the world, the Bath Fashion Museum was probably just larger than a school multi-purpose room and very dark and dingy. While it was interesting to see some of the fashions over the years, if you’re tight on time I’d skip it.


We grabbed another pub dinner in Bath. I didn’t catch the name of the place, “West” something. There was a Sunday roast special that sounded great. Everything but the meat was quite good, but the roast beef was a bit dry. I suppose when you catch the end of service that is to be expected. Puddings were great as usual. The Brits do seem to have dessert down.

We drove back to Newport, in Wales a bit earlier with the intention of an early bed and early rise.




Day 4 – Ending across the Severn River

This post comes to you courtesy of Darcy. Equal rights means equal writing too!


Hampton Court Palace was our first ‘must see’ in England. The hedge maze was at the top of Layla’s list! Touring the palace was a balancing act between being indoors when it was pouring rain and getting outside in the sun to see the amazing gardens. The bag pipers had both Layla’s and Peter’s attention for quite a while, but Layla really perked up when we got to scamper through the beautifully manicured gardens (in the sunshine) and peek over the hidden walls into the “Privy Gardens”. We also saw the world largest and possibly oldest grape vine which still produces table grapes annually.



We left the Palace in time for the rain to come down in buckets and after making a U-turn (Peter: 3 point turn on a narrow congested road. Our Vauxhall’s turning radius is shit) to escape a traffic jam (queuing) followed by my scrappy navigation skills, we were finally headed west (on the correct motorway), and we had a dinner destination mapped out. The Red House, which we stumbled upon thanks to and good luck, is a delightful British restaurant and pub in the country with lush gardens surrounding it and very friendly service. The local beers (bitters) on tap were excellent, and their wine selection included only one American choice listed as Californian – Bogle Old Vine Zin for 35 pounds ($50 which we buy locally for $10)! The food was very tasty and the coffee after dinner came with dark chocolate truffles!


With tummies filled to the brim we continued our drive west to Newport, Wales, forgetting entirely about Avebury until we had passed the turn-off. We took a large bridge over the the River Severn and turned off the motorway. Now settled in to our Hampton Inn (could be found anywhere, but couldn’t pass up for the price), we are fading quickly and fully intend to wake up in time for breakfast tomorrow!


Day 4 – Rooks and Rocks or the Royal Court

The alarm went off at 8am this morning and was quickly silenced. Just before 10am I woke up again to the sudden and sad realization that we had 10 minutes to get to breakfast. It’s amazing what the proper motivation will do to bring three people from a dead sleep to fully awake. A run through the hotel in a daze found us at breakfast being seated and also told that we actually had until 11am and to enjoy ourselves. Once again Hilton offered us a full English breakfast complimentary. I imagine that tomorrow morning at a Hampton Inn will be a bit disappointing after the last two mornings; oh well.

After breakfast we came back to the hotel room, which I now realized had quite the musty smell to it and upon opening the window we discovered a beautiful view of flowers and trees – it almost looked like the edge of a rainforest. The clothing we washed in the sink the previous night were still damp and had to be laid out in the back of the car to finally dry out. After finishing getting ready for the day we headed out to the courtyard to get in a game of chess on the large chess board while Layla ran back and forth across the board and ran around with pieces set off to the sides. Darcy made a valiant effort, but she made a fatal mistake (playing against me) and lost her King to me. We then made for the car to begin the day’s journey.


Today we will see Hampton Court Palace, Avebury and then make our way past Bath and Bristol to Southern Wales where we will stay in Newport. More this evening.

Day 3 – The edge of the world (or at least the island)

With proper navigation tools in hand (iPad maps with country-wide 3G network) we made our way to Canterbury.  I think we ended up arriving at 1:30pm as we had a leisurely morning, late breakfast and were in no particular hurry to do anything.  An inadvertent trip into a pedestrian only zone, a wrong turn followed by no roundabout for a bit and finally parked just outside the old city walls near the Cathedral.  Thank goodness we arranged for a Chip and PIN credit card in advance of our trip based upon advice from my parents.  While you can use a regular credit card in major retail locations and a regular ATM card for withdrawing cash, Chip and PIN is required for pretty much all unattended transaction (parking meters) and smaller retail locations.  Self paid parking works just the same on the other-side of the world, but parallel parking is a bit different as your’e either looking over the opposite shoulder or over the normal shoulder but out the window.  I did quite well on the first try if I’m allowed a brief moment of self congratulation.

We wandered around old Canterbury a bit, past a Games Workshop store (which I ended up ducking into at the end of the afternoon for a minute) and tried some local refreshments at a Starbucks.  Interestingly enough, our iPhone Starbucks app worked just fine to pay for the transaction, charged us in pounds and viola, we had refreshments (much needed caffeine!).  Now I need to go see what sort of exchange rate Starbucks provides.  Heading out of Starbucks we bumped into a local tour guide.  Since we had no idea what to look at we opted for a tour. As our luck had it no one else showed up and the guide, and older woman with grandchildren Layla’s age, provided a wonderful tour of the old city, the Cathedral grounds and various other local attractions.  Upon completing the tour we stopped into the local Tourist Information (TI) stall and verified the location of the Viking ship replica we wanted to see in Ramsgate and made our way back to the car.

Two major differences about the cars here (aside from the steering wheels being on the wrong side) was of course the size of cars being generally much more compact and a majority of cars being diesels; at least 2:1.  We’ve been averaging just under 50mpg on our journey so far, probably because the threat of speed cameras has kept me to the speed limit, which I found out today is 70mph on the motor ways.

About an hour later we made our way into Ramsgate (with a stop in the middle to unsuccessfully settle Layla’s motion sick stomach…we have determined that round-a-bouts are quite hazardous for those prone to motion sickness) and to Peter’s Fish Factory.  Lunch consisted of two large cod, a large chips (fries), a pickled cucumber and a Dr. Pepper.  Remember when I reserved judgement on the “best fish and chips” earlier?  Well, evidently with good reason.  Darcy’s friend has evidently been in the US for some time now as I think his memory has failed him.  The fish was good, but completely drenched in oil, as were the fries.  Good quality, but hard to taste the food through the mouth of oil.  The “dill” pickle was half sweet (not bad, but not what I was expecting) and the Dr. Pepper was sweetened with sugar rather than corn syrup.  Unlike Coca-Cola which is far better with cane sugar IMHO, Dr. Pepper is just not the same here as it is back home.



Ramsgate has some really interesting carved stone cliffs (which I think we missed pictures of) but otherwise was rather unremarkable.  I guess we should have read the signs when our tour guide earlier asked us why we were going to Ramsgate.  Just down the way in Pegwell Bay we took a short hike out to the ocean and saw the cliffs which are a smaller version of the Cliffs of Dover, but easier to see from land, collected shells (Layla’s favorite part of the day), watched windsurfers (using parasails) and checked out the Viking ship replica on display before heading back for an hour and a half journey to Cobham, our final destination for the evening.


Layla slept the entire way (so no barfing!), which was great because she had enough energy to hit the pool for a bit before bed.  Once again Hilton delivered for us.  With my Gold status Darcy got a complimentary glass of wine at check-in, I got free internet and we were given complimentary access to the fitness center complete with 80 degree pool, hot tub, steam room and sauna.  Back to the rooms to clean-up, write this entry, put Layla to bed in an extra roll-in bed the hotel had waiting in the room for us and catch-up on an episode of Game of Thrones before heading of to bed.