January 13, 2007

Funny, Christmas seems so long ago already as I have done so much since then. Here’s the recap.

Christmas morning Collin, Mark, Sara, Drew and I all had breakfast together: sweet breads and such with coffee and tea. We all slept in a bit that morning, and had a really relaxed day. Family began to drop by 11:30: Mark’s grandparents, his mother and step-father, and the neighbors Andy, Vicki and Thomas. Basically, everyone came over to exchange gifts and chat, but nobody stayed long as all of our visitors were going from house to house, visiting others. In between guests, Mark worked hard to prepare our Christmas feast:

By two our guests were gone, so we began our own gift exchange. There were stockings for everyone, including Emily, Mark and Sara’s cat:

I felt incredibly spoiled by all I received, as Mark and Sara had already paid for the majority of my airfare to be in the U.K., and Collin helped to pay for our long train trips. Drew and I got some great gifts for our home, in addition to yummy chocolates and such. However, my favorite gift was a blue john necklace – gorgeous! It’s also unique as the stone is native to nearby Castleton.

We all had fun oohing and ahhing over everyone’s loot, and breathing a sigh of relief when Sara’s jewely box (the name makes it sound like something petite – but this is more like a chest) was opened and it was all in one piece. Mark bought the gift by a craftsman in the U.S., who would only ship it in the States. So it was sent to Sara’s grandmother, and from there, Drew’s aunt and uncle delivered it to us after Thanksgiving. Since we heard it was a jewelry box, we thought we would be able to transport it over, along with the rest of our Christmas gifts. But it was much too large for us to haul around. We had a hard enough time dragging our bags through the London Underground and our trains. This would have been a nightmare. I in turn dropped the gift off to Collin before our trip, who under orders from Mark, put it in some luggage with only a layer of thick bubble wrap over it – it could barely fit in the bag with the one layer. I thought it would be crushed on the way over to the U.K., but it arrived with only a few scratches on top, and Sara was thrilled with her gift:

We ate dinner around five, and we all stuffed ourselves silly. We had homemade bread, turkey and stuffing, with little sausages wrapped in bacon, potatoes, brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, parsnips and many other yummy things I can’t remember at the moment. I just remember that we were all so full that we waited about two hours for dessert. Mark did a wonderful job. Before dinner, I had my first Christmas cracker experience. Afterwards, we put on our crowns, told the awful jokes that were inside and examined our “prizes”. I got a tiny radio with headphones, and Drew got a compass. Good fun!

We dessert, we had the traditional Christmas pudding. Mark doused it with brandy and lit it on fire, before we ate it. A fudge yule log was also provided for those picky eaters who hate the Christmas pudding (ahem…Drew). ‘Twas a good Christmas, indeed…


We’re Home!

January 11, 2007

Drew and I finally arrived home last night at 10 p.m. after 18 hours of nonstop travel by two trains, the London Underground, two planes and a ride from Dad.  We had a good time, but after leaving wonderful Edinburgh on Sunday afternoon I was ready to go home.  It will be nice to settle into some semblance of normalcy again, even though I’ll soon begin job hunting and applying for grad school again.  But stay tuned as I plan on blogging about the rest of our journeys…as soon as I catch up on my sleep!


Bear With Me

January 4, 2007

Hi everyone! Just a quick note. Drew and I are in Edinburgh now, and we’ll be headed back to Mark and Sara’s on Sunday. We leave early Tuesday morning for a grueling day of travel back to the states (two hours by train to London, an almost 9 hour flight to Detroit, two hour layover, flight to Cleveland, then an hour ride home – yuk!). Since we’re busy having a blast in Edinburgh, I don’t think there will be much updating to this blog until after our return. Just wanted to give you all a heads up.

Today we climbed up the Scott Monument, then hiked up Arthur’s Seat. Afterward, we had haggis, tatties and neeps at the Sheep Heid pub. I love this city! Will finish up when I can…


Christmas Eve Expedition

January 1, 2007

Time to give a brief overview of our Christmas Eve “hike”, along with some photos. As mentioned previously, this hike has been a tradition over the past five years for Mark and his brother Paul. I was the first gal to ever be invited, and to be honest, if I had really known ahead of time how difficult it would be, I probably would have wimped out. Mark simply said that it would be easy walking due to the heather and peat, and that there would be a few steep areas. I told him that I would go, because I knew if I didn’t, I would be jealous of Drew getting to do so and as Mark said, I would get to do something and see something that wouldn’t be in mentioned in a fancy schmancy tour guide.

In the morning we all scrambled around looking for the proper attire. I didn’t have any hiking boots, and with three pairs of socks on I was able to fit into a pair of Marks boots that he’s had since he was 16 years old. I had on a long-sleeved shirt, two sweaters, then a few more borrowed items: a fleece, a gortex jacket, and a thicker hat and scarf than I had brought with me for the trip. After a quick breakfast, we stumbled out the door a little after 9 a.m.

We made it to the area at 9:30, where we met up with Paul, Andy and another friend whose name escapes me at the moment. Getting out the car I was struck by two things: how choked with fog the area was (I had visions of us being lost all day because visibility was awful) and how much colder and windier it was a little further north where we began our trip. Mark gave Drew and I some walking sticks, which I would have had a heck of a time scaling the gullies without. We tightened our hoods around our faces and began our first leg of the trip. According to the sign, we were in the Hope Woodlands Moor, which is part of the Peak District.

The beginning wasn’t overly difficult. We began walking up the hill immediately, but we had a stone trail to follow. Some areas were tricky though as they were iced over. After a mile, we turned left and began off-trail hiking. This is where I began to question my sanity. The landscape was unlike anything I had ever seen before, very sparse and without trees. Part of the ground was frozen, and others found themselves sinking into thick mud up to the knee! I decided it was best to keep to the end of the line where I could see how the guys got through certain areas and avoid holes and sinkholes that they had gone stumbled across. It also helped to watch them scale steep areas and gullies, and if I needed an arm to grab to help me up the side of a hill, I had five men to help me out.

The goal of our hike was to first find plane wreckage from 1948 (info can be found here), then to reach the summit of Bleaklow. The wreckage itself was fascinating, and there were crosses and other memorials all around:

The photos also give a sense of how bleak (as Paul said, they don’t call this Bleaklow for nothing) the surroundings are. It felt a bit like being on the moon. We stopped here for about 15 minutes, during which we all started to get cold again. As long as we were walking, we were warm, but as much as 5 minute rest would find the cold settling in the bones again.

From the B29 wreckage, it took us 45 minutes or so to reach the summit of Bleaklow. Along the way we saw some grouse (one was nice to enough not to fly away so we could get a photo) and the “kissing stones”:

At the summit of Bleaklow, we stopped for lunch and hot coffee. The night before Mark made ham and cheese sandwiches to bring along, then nicked some scotch eggs, sausage rolls, chicken and chocolate from their open house party. While eating, we encountered a few other hikers, two of whom were from New Zealand.

The way down the mountain was much easier, though we had to jump from rock to rock over a stream and ended up with wet feet. The fog had broken up on the way down and the scenery became less forboding and much more beautiful and green. Since we were also walking along a creek and in a gulley, the wind was less severe and we could finally walk without our hoods and get some air in!

We finished up after 4.5 hours and according to Mark and Paul we hiked 4.5 miles. Due to the steep terrain it felt like much more, but still, I was very proud of myself at the end. Here are a few more photos:

Frozen foilage

This is me at the end of our journey. Sweet relief!

The rest of the day was spend resting and lounging around the house until it was time to go to the lovely candlelight caroling service at Mark and Sara’s church. We headed to Sanjoy’s afterward, their favorite Indian restaurant, and ate until we couldn’t move. Sara headed for bed when we got back and Collin went across the street to a neighbor’s house he was staying at while they were gone over the holidays. Mark, Drew and I headed to The Ole Vic, Mark and Sara’s local pub, to meet up with friends and brag about our hike. When I got home I called Mom and she passed the phone around to everyone who was over for Christmas Eve dinner. I crashed shortly after and was quite sore for the next three days…


Thought of the Day

December 31, 2006

Though my feet are screaming at the end of the day, it’s a good thing that Drew and I have walked so many miles whilst in the U.K.  We have been feasting non-stop since our arrival in Stockport, and we’ve also been introduced to the beauty of Thorntons chocolates…

Hopefully I will get in a real update soon.  Today and tomorrow will be low-key, so we might get to catch up a bit on photo uploading and blogging.  So much to do and so little time…but then again the plan is to finish up our blogging after we get back.

Happy New Year, all!


Day Five – Morrissey In Manchester

December 28, 2006

*geek warning* Most of you will probably have no idea who I will be gushing about in this post. Just ignore my ramblings if you wish (wink, wink).

Saturday was a relaxing day, which was desperately needed. I hadn’t been sleeping well two weeks prior to our trip, then proceeded to run myself ragged in London. I slept in until 10:30 and spent a good portion of the day uploading photos and finally updating this blog. Drew did some shopping with Mark, while Sara rested up before a holiday open house they were having from 5-9 p.m.

Drew and I left for Manchester by train after 5. After a 15 minute ride, we took a tram (similar to the “L” in Chicago) to the G-Mex Centre, a huge venue which used to be the central railway station in Manchester. We got there quite early, and the opening act came on almost an hour late. I was feeling a bit impatient by that point, she was alright, but I think everyone was in the same mindset as myself. Everyone was chattering by the end of her set and she stormed off after her last song, thanking “those of you who listened.” Hurrah! Soon Morrissey would be on.

I had been keeping tabs on Morrissey’s current setlists, and this show followed them without any surprises. It was still a great show though. He opened with “Panic“, a Smiths favorite, which was glorious and left me grinning like a loon. He played four more Smiths songs that night: “William, It Was Really Nothing”, “Girlfriend in a Coma”, “How Soon is Now?”, and “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”. I loved how self-deprecating he was in regards to the Smiths material. Before performing “How Soon Is Now?”, he told the crowd, “I think this was the one you all came to hear.” Not quite for me, not my favorite Smiths tune by far, but it is a classic of that musical era.

You know what’s almost better than seeing Morrissey? Watching all the cute British boys who are far more stylish than myself (better hair and shoes), singing their hearts out while Morrissey performs. American men…well, they just aren’t that liberated. But I digress…

Moz was great and spoke to the crowd a lot during the show, often launching into politcal attacks. Being a massive U2 fan, I am used to that sort of thing during a show. He also went on about people such as Jamie Oliver who are ruining Britain. After the second song, Morrissey ripped off his shirt and bounded around the stage, which was really funny. He used to be such a twig in his younger days, and now he’s got a slight paunch which heightened the comedic effect of it all. He did this four more times throughout the evening, changing into a new shirt each time.

Drew and I spent most of the evening in the middle of the crowd to avoid the annoying folk who push and shove to get to the front. The venue was huge though, and the three large video screens helped us get a better view. We didn’t have any problems with the crowd. Some people became a bit chatty during the show, but I’ve experienced much worse at a concert.

All in all, fabulous show. Enthusiastic crowd and Morrissey sounded great as well. So glad I got to go! Seeing him in his hometown was just too, too cool. The setlist can be found here (it was being all wonky when I tried to cut and paste it).

We made it home by 11:30, and the party was still hopping. I got to meet some of Mark and Sara’s friends and got into some discussions of the Madchester music scene. It was nice meeting and chatting with them, but thankfully they were all gone by 12:30 so we could crash. I’m turning into an old lady already!


Day Four – Last Day In London

December 27, 2006

Friday was a hard day. Drew and I were both tired and really depressed over Nesta. We were going to plan an agenda the night before, but it never happened so we just decided to wing it.

Since Wednesday was such a full day, we didn’t spend as much time at the Tate Modern as we had wished. Also, Drew had wanted to take a trip down one of the “Super-Happy Fun Slides” as he called them. Trips down the slides required a (free) ticket, but they were timed. Last time we were there, we would have had to wait over two hours, and due to our itinerary, it would have been impossible. So Drew was going to finally get his turn Friday.

We checked out of the B&B around eleven, then headed to our tube station to make the trip to Euston Station where at 6:35 p.m. we would leave via train to Mark and Sara’s in Stockport, which is just south of Manchester. Unfortunately, there was an accident on our tube’s line, a collision of some sort (thank god we weren’t involved) so we had to take a bus to the station instead.

Once there, we dropped off our bags, then took the tube to the London Bridge station. From there, we wandered around a bit before arriving at the Tate. Drew got his ticket (I’m a chicken and prefer to watch – they were huge slides), and we had almost two hours to kill. First we browsed the gift shops, then we sat outside on a bench overlooking the Thames. We watched the water and the bustling crowds around us. With an hour to spare, we headed back into the museum to check out the rest of the exhibits that we had missed the other day. Our heads really weren’t into interpreting the art, so we breezed through it all. Drew got to his slide at 3:30, and finally got his ride. I didn’t catch a photo of him, since he was a few floors above me, but did get a photo of a little girl coming out of one of the slides:

Before going back to Euston Station, we got dinner at a greek restaurant, which was disappointing. Our “starter” was good, but the lamb in our main course was tough and almost inedible. Boo. At the station, I got us some fresh cookies to make up for dinner, then we boarded our train. The station was crazy, but our train was a back-up train to Manchester (to handle the large demand of passengers), and luckily our car was half-empty and very quiet.

Exactly two hours later, we arrived in Stockport. Mark and Collin, Drew’s father, picked us up from the station. We met up with Sara at home and they all had cards for Drew in memory of Nesta, along with a cute fuzzy stuffed dog that looks a bit like her. Very sweet of them. We spent the evening catching up and marvelling at Sara’s big belly. None of us had seen any photos of her since she’s been pregnant, but apparently she hadn’t started to really show until recently. Drew was already excited about being an uncle, but finally seeing his sister made it a bit more real, and he’s been gushing all over her and the bump ever since.