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.

Day 3 – Acclimating…

This morning came a bit to early I think.  Darcy and Layla were dead to the world and even the prospect of breakfast hardly woke them.  Our hotel stay included a nice full breakfast, not terribly different from food in the states, but with the addition of baked eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, various sausages, real Cheddar cheese and various other variations on what we’re used to.

I took a quick drive into town to get a SIM card for the iPad.  Must remember to look right before pulling out.  If you’ve driven on the wrong side of the road you’ll know what I mean.  I think I’m getting the hang of the road system here; I owe my time and the National Lab a thank you for acclimatizing me to roundabouts.

Today is going to be a high of 60 in Canterbury and Ramsgate.  We’re looking for a lunch spot called Peter’s that has the “best fish and chips.”  Judgement reserved.  Then after a leisurely day we head back to the far side of London for our hotel before heading to Hampton Court Palace tomorrow.

More to come from the road.

Day 2 – Driving on the wrong side of the road

Our touchdown in Gatwick (London) was uneventful. We headed out a Peter speed (I have long legs and like to walk fast) only to find that most of the disembarked passengers from our plan were keeping up with us. This never happens, anywhere, ever. It was somewhat akin to the experience we had at CPH where I was surrounded by tall, mostly blond, people such that I didn’t feel tall. Refreshing; change.

One other difference between the UK and the US. Their signs are horrible. Seriously, after the airport and the drive to Maidstone tonight I am convinced that these people just like messing with tourists. Such a signage fiasco took us on a tour of the airport in order to find the passport station for people not from the EU. We had to fill out forms and answer questions very unlike Denmark where they just let us in.

Once through all the mess we found ourselves at National picking up our brand new Vauxhall diesel. At that point it was starting to hit me that I was going to have to learn to drive on the wrong side of the road while navigating a foreign country, operating a stick shift left-handed, read crazy road signs and generally figure out what the heck I had gotten myself into. The gentleman at National was nice enough to give me a map to Tesco, where I would be able to get a SIM for me iPad, and then I’d be able to get data and navigation so we could find our way to Maidenstone before 10pm.

Wrong. I still don’t have working cellular data and it took us an extra 2 hours to find our hotel (remember when I said I hated the signs here?). Luckily, we found a couple of guys leaving a pub who were enthralled with us being Americans and seemingly unable to understand why we’d leave California to visit their “shit hole.” They let us follow them and we made it to the hotel in short order. Thus far, everyone has been very friendly and I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t want to visit.

Upon arrival at the Hilton Maidstone we were greeted with a nice note from the manager, two micro bottles of Australian Cabernet and Shiraz and some Pringles. How did they know I like Salt and Vinegar, but more importantly how did they choose the pairing of Salt and Vinegar crisps with a Cabernet and a Shiraz? I thought a Merlot might have been more up to the task, but oh well. Further, someone went above and beyond to make an origami elephant out of a towel just for Layla. All in all add in a hot shower and we had a nice ending to a long 2 days of travel.





Day 2 – A taste of Copenhagen


After arrival at CPH we quickly made for the metro to Copenhagen proper. Layla and I both received our first passport stamps. With only 7 hours until our flight and less until we had to be back at the airport a quick tour was in order. Up first was figuring out how to use the Metro ticketing system and a Chip and PIN credit card.

With that under our belt the actual trip was not dissimilar to a ride on BART, sans turnstiles. We rode eight stops to King’s Square (Konegs Nyvorsten?) and withdrew some Dannish Kronnor from an ATM. Aside from everything being about 50% more expensive and there being all dollars with no cents, it works the same.

We took a canal boat tour for about an hour (pictures to come when I can access the DSLR camera at a hotel). We met three very nice Swedes who were in Copenhagen for a Depeche Mode concert tonight. The had an extra ticket and I think Darcy had to think seriously about joining them and missing the flight to London.

After the canal tour we found a canal-side eatery. Layla was still not feeling quite well so we got her a tea and bread while Darcy and I split the fish an potatoes pictured above. We told each other we’re try the herring sandwiches on our way back through Denmark at the end of our voyage. Our meal devoured and a small, yet American tip left for our server (as it feels strange not to tip) and we made our way back to the metro with a quick stop along the way for some impromptu art (I’ll also upload those pictures later from the DSLR).

What we encountered at the Metro was cause for panic. Denmark is rather bilingual but when the Danish description if something over a loudspeaker is obviously multiple sentences and the English version is “everything is fine, the train will be here soon” then you know you’re in for it. Evidently there was a train stuck on the tracks just outside the airport.

Layla was nearly trampled more than once by otherwise well meaning people as we waited in no less than three different stations along the route. I think they were trying to disperse the crowd over various stops. We made it to the airport will only an hour before our flight and had to clear baggage check-in (Norwegian only allows a single piece of carry-on), security, passport check, the half-mile of duty-free mall shipping and out gate check-in in 30 minutes. Surprisingly we made it just in time thanks to nice agents at check-in who ushered those on our flight to the front on the line and a security agent who gave me the choice of throwing away my water bottle or chugging 1.5 liters of water. I opted for the later and may yet regret that decision if there is a line for the bathroom on the flight.

To our pleasant surprise, the Norwegian flight, which charges for our bags and every beverage on-board provides free wifi Internet in-flight. And with that I think I’ll take a nap.



Me not fitting in a Scandinavian airplane bathroom (I thought these guys were tall too?)

20130614-010737.jpgSigning off.


Day 2 – Good morning?

We’ve just passed over the island nation of England while eating breakfast. Yeah, sandwiches again. While SAS couldn’t have known we had sandwiches for lunch and first dinner yesterday both, the sight of another cold sandwich was a bit disappointing. That said, the American carriers could learn a thing or two about air travel customer services from the Scandinavians. What a difference between the two aircraft and the style of service.

Our Airbus A300 is probably 20 years newer than the ancient 757-200 we flew from SFO to EWR. While neither fits my 6’5″ frame well, SAS made an effort to provide a bit more than the a Greyhound bus with wings. Darcy’s low fat meals were served before regular meals and dinner came promptly, albeit at 11:30pm. We caught Jack the Giant Slayer on the personal video screens while Layla watched Rio. Tuck in with a blanket and we were woken to breakfast a few hours later. Aside from the obligatory sandwich, Greek yogurt and coffee (pronounced cafe by the swedes) were a nice treat regardless of what time we were pretending it is.

And then we landed, in style. Unfortunately no barf bag could be found so Layla left bits of her sandwich all over me, her backpack, herself and the plane. Once cleaned up here we all are upon arrival.