A Travellerspoint blog

Romantic spires of Oxford

sunny 19 °C
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It was a bit of a grind getting to Oxford from York. After diverting to see the family connection with the stables of Castle Howard, it took rather longer than expected to get to Oxford. Mysterious road works (we never saw them) slowed traffic down to a crawl on some parts of the various motorways we travelled on. There is a tremendous network of motorways criss-crossing the country. Fortunately our GPS is able to correctly direct us to turn off and join various motorways with great accuracy. The only travel failure of the trip has been my inattention at some roundabouts, where I have mistakenly taken the wrong turn. Thankfully the GPS voice calmy says "turn around when you can" - if it was me navigating I'd be shouting "wrong way fool - don't turn here!" which would undoubtedly be bad for everyone's blood pressure.

We got to Oxford in time to join the Sanderson wedding party for a family dinner on the eve of Rosemary's wedding. They had just been to the rehearsal, and it was lovely to see them all again and join them for dinner. Caitlin & Finlay got to meet Gregory, their cousin (in his mid 20s) and reacquaint themselves with Uncle Michael, Aunty Judy and cousin Rosie. Michael cried on seeing us, probably reminded of Geoff. He set me off....

Our accommodation was a 2 bedroom apartment. Very comfortable. Oxford is a very beautiful city and it's so compact it's easy to find one's way around. Our early morning rambles took Caitlin and I past some of the colleges (Balliol, Magdalen, Nuffield, Trinity). We poked our noses through the gateways to see the enclosed courtyards. Also went to the Bridge of Sighs and past the Bodlein Library. Fabulous.

The wedding was in Keble College, where Rosemary's betrothed, James, studied. The service was in the college chapel. A very traditional service with hymns such as All Things Bright and Beautiful, and Jerusalem, but quite appropriate for the setting. Rosemary looked breathtakingly beautiful, in a simple greecian-inspired outfit and hair style to match. She's very slender and has a porcelain complexion, and she looked really stunning. From Keble College we walked the short distance through the streets to the wedding reception in the ballroom of a nice hotel in town. Never been part of a wedding procession before. It was fun. People stared at us in all our finery as we snaked through the streets. Fortunately the weather was kind to us. There had been rain the day before and the sun had come out on our arrival.

The excitement of it all got me quite tired and after all the speeches, the food and the cutting of the cake, we discretely left and made our way on foot back to our rooms. Caitlin & Fin seemed ready to leave too. Arrangements were just being made to remove the tables for the disco, so it seemed like a good time to leave.

All in all a very lovely day and so moving to see a couple very much in love and planning their future together. Geoff was very fond of Rosemary, so he would have been thrilled to have seen this if he could.

We had breakfast in town in the morning after the wedding. A bit of a challenge finding anywhere open at 8:30am on a Sunday. Even more challenging is the prospect of decent coffee. There is watery coffee by the bucket load. The only decent coffee is espresso, which comes in a thimble-sized cup (a taste and it's gone). I'm not really complaining - just reflecting how fortunate we are in Wellington with good cafes and restaurants.

We left Oxford this morning and have arrived in a small village called Hopwas, just outside of Birmingham. Staying at a B&B on a converted farm. The rooms we have were probably the stables. We have 3 horses outside our door, and it seems to be the time of day when they like to gallop up and down their paddock. I keep hearing thundering hooves and half expect to see a horse poke its head in the door to my room. It's one of those farm doors that can be split in half. I have the top half open and the bottom half shut. As with old buildings the ceilings are fairly low. Fin has bumped his head three times now. He'll learn!

We went to a pub for lunch when we arrived in Hopwas - called The Lazy Otter. A canal runs near to the pub, so after lunch we strolled along the path to see what was there. Canal boats moored nearby, and more canal boats sliding through the water silently. They go very slowly, as the canals are very narrow. Picked juicy fat blackberries and ate them as we walked. Lovely. This is quintessential England. I'm thrilled the kids like it. We picked apples from one of the farm trees and fed them to the three gamboling horses. They made the apples sound very crunchy, and they managed to be very slobbery about them as well. We gave them quite a few. From inside my room I saw one of the horses rolling around on its back with its legs in the air and I wondered if the apples might not have been such a good idea.

There's a small indoor pool here which the kids have gone off to examine. I'd better get over there with the camera. I haven't loaded any pictures onto this blog yet as I brought the wrong cables. Will see if I can pick up some more and then I'll try to punctuate this site with pictures. Have been taking heaps!

Posted by HelenWyn 09:42 Archived in England Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Old stone walls and even older stone roads

overcast 18 °C
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Yes, we're in York now! We met up with my friend Barrie, who I befriended together with his partner Judy, when I was living in York more than 20 years ago. Barrie told us when they were having some recent renovation work done on their house, the builder unearthed some interesting looking stone material under their property. In spite of their interest in discovering what was under their house, he advised them to cover it up and press on with the renovations or it could be 2 years before the work might be completed as a team might have to come in and "dig" to see if there was anything of historic merit. It is not unusual to find human bones and old roman roads when you dig in York. He took us to a dig site in the city that is thought to be the site of a roman hospital. Fascinating - too bad if it's under your house and you want to get that small extension done before the winter.

The weather has been much more pleasant in York. On the first night we wandered the town and sat out to eat at a little pub near to where we are staying. Met up with Barrie on day two, and he took us around some interesting sites in the town. Went back to his place for a meal. Nice to have home cooked food after so many restaurant meals. I think the kids enjoyed seeing the inside of a private house. Judy and barrie's house is lovely and cottagey, with a pretty little garden out the back.

Went to Castle Howard, a large country house just north of York, on the day we left York. I wanted to show the kids a big country house, but this one in particular because Geoff always maintained a distant grandparent used to work there as a stable boy. It's strange to think that I am part of a family that has a longer family history in Scotland and England than we do in New Zealand. Travelling down to York from Edinburgh we stopped at the ruin of Invergarry Castle, which is the seat of the MacDonells of Glengarry. The Sandersons trace their family heritage to the MacDonnells and a family history going back to the 1600s at the site of this castle. How cool is that?

Again, York had many memories, but not so pronounced for me as I experienced on revisiting Skye. After a delayed departure (due to the diversion to Castle Howard) we set off for Oxford. To the south - warmer I hope.

Posted by HelenWyn 03:19 Archived in England Tagged automotive Comments (0)

Skye and Edinburgh

rain 15 °C
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Well, people like to complain about the Scottish summer, and I can see why. Skye has rather dramatic weather-wise, with heavy rain and mist, sun and everything in between, all in the same day. Nothing much stops the midges though, a kind of mossie that is almosy translucent and therefore nearly invisible to the eye. Thankfully the tramper in me had thought to bring mossie repellant and it worked a treat. Would have been pretty miserable without that stuff. The midges even get onto your scalp and bite with little stinging jabs. Nasty critters!

Enough of the moaning. In spite of the weather Caitlin and I walked each morning before breakfast. Lovely to explore our little village of Broadford on foot. We spent our free day on Skye exploring as much of the island as possible. I took the kids to see some of the places Geoff and I had enjoyed, like Dunvegan Castle, the coral beaches (too wet to get out when we actually got there), the Waternish peninsular (arts and crafts), the "Old Man of Storr" (a massive rock shaped like a giant club standing on its own near a rocky cliff face), the Cuillin mountains and of course Portree, the lovely capital of Skye (where we married).

It was probably a little difficult for the kids to relate to, but for me it was fabulous to retrace some of my own past. Also quite emotional. It brought back memories of my life with Geoff pre-children, and the many happy times and adventures we had as "youngsters". On leaving Skye, it felt surprisingly ok to acknowledge that was then and this is now, and I could could say farewell and be at peace with that.

So we travelled on to Edinburgh. Quite a bit of rain, which did not auger well for the Tattoo, which we were to see that night. As it happened, the evening cleared up and we ventured into town for dinner before the Tattoo, feeling tentatively positive (armed with umbrellas and light plastic ponchos which we bought in case of a rain emergency). There was intermittent drizzle through the show, but it didn't dampen spirits. The stadium, which had been set up in the castle grounds was packed full, and the show went on even in the rain. It really is a spectacular show, and to my surprise, and delight, even Finlay enjoyed it.

Had a free day in Edinburgh the next day. Mooched about looking at shops and fringe festival performers. The Edinburgh festival really brings in the crowds, and it quite amusing to walk through the streets and see the performers, some of whom might simply have been rather eccentric locals. We went to a standup comedy show in the evening, crammed into the back room of a tiny pub. One of the comedians joked he sat down on a bollard in the street to eat a banana, and when he looked up a crowd had gathered round him, and by the time he'd finished his banana he'd earned 6pounds!

Our early morning rambles through Edinburgh netted some lovely fantasies as Caitlin and I eyed up the beautiful 5 storey town houses for sale. Splendidl homes of large proportions that we will never be able to afford.

We left Edinburgh on a fine, sunny morning. We had York in our sites.

Posted by HelenWyn 02:31 Archived in Scotland Tagged automotive Comments (1)

The Scottish Connection

semi-overcast 20 °C
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A bigger contrast from Dubai is harder to imagine than arriving in the lush leafiness of Scotland. Where vacant building lots in the city of Dubai swirl with sand in the wind, Scotland is all grass and water. Dubai really is built on the desert, and water seems to be used architecturally as a display of wealth - water walls, fountains, infinity pools, whereas Scotland has lochs at every turn and naturally formed waterfalls gushing down hillsides.

It has been a fantastic experience visiting Dubai and I would like to visit again. It would be very interesting to talk to women from the culture and understand how they view their world. Caitlin felt quite challenged by the burka, and seeing so few women out and about compared with the relative freedom men seemed to have.

Arriving in Scotland we realised we didn't stand out anymore and getting about and communicating has suddenly become much easier (although it has to be said that a lot of people speak English in Dubai). The kids are intrigued they have ancestral connections with Scotland (clan MacDonnell of Glen Garry) even if they are not terribly sure what this means.

We are driving around in a smallish Peugeot stationwagon which we picked up from the airport at Glasgow. Great for the luggage, and enough room for the three of us. Leaving Glasgow we headed toward Fort William, not too far north from Glasgow and a reasonable start on the trip toward Skye. Stayed overnight in a little Inn in Onich, just south of Fort William. Very pleasant stay with friedly Scottich hospitality and porridge for breakfast.

Drove to Skye today. We are currently well ensconced in our B&B in Broadford. When Geoff and I first visited Skye (about 21 years ago) the only access to the island was via ferry. There is now a bridge connecting Skye to the mainland, which I never liked the idea of (I remember the controversy when it was first built). Approaching Skye this time I therefore insisted that we took a detour to avoid the bridge. Instead we went to Glenelg and took a small car ferry (6 cars at a time) to Kylerhea on Skye. A delightful approach to the island over the waters of the Sound of Sleat. Apparently sea otters abound, but we didn't see any. The car ferry really lets you feel you are going somewhere special and different. The bridge is too mundane an approach for me.

I felt quite emotional coming back to Skye without Geoff. Here I am travelling around our treasured island with his (our) two fairly grown up children. We had always intended to bring our children here, and sadly that is now my privilege alone.

Not yet sure what the kids make of it. We have the whole day tomorrow to explore.

Posted by HelenWyn 13:20 Archived in Scotland Tagged automotive Comments (1)

In Dubai

sunny 39 °C
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Well, the less said about the last leg of the journey the better. Sheer endurance as I thought. That was in spite of good service on the flight, fresh fruit, hot towels for refreshing oneself, and guite pleasant neighbouring travellers. Poor Fin was very cramped. Tall people suffer in economy class.

All that's behind us now. We're in Dubai. Arrived 5:45am. Got through the airport really fast and to our hotel nice and easily. The taxis here are fantastic - plentiful and quite reasonably priced. It was 32C and not even 6:00am. We were in for a good hot day, I could tell. Explored our comfortable 2 brm apartment and discovered the rooftop pool. In the pool by 7:00am - joy! A great way to shake off the rigours of the flight.

Changed and decided we needed to get some food and start to see the sights. Very hot, we took a taxi to the gold and spice souks (markets). By then it was 9:00am and they were just opening up. We were the only europeans, and we noticed the only people other than us were all men. We attracted some stares, but no one bothered us. Couldn't find anything open to eat or drink.

We'd been told before leaving the hotel that it was Ramadan, which would mean no cafes of restaurants would be open to serve food, but it would be possible to purchase food to take away. With no food in sight at the souks (the gold souk is just that - all gold) we took a taxi to one of the big shopping malls. Got to the very large Emirates Mall - absolutely huge. It was very quiet there as it was still fairly early in the day. After some searching we found one of the food courts, but nothing going on. Managed to procure a sweet drink for Fin and continued walking round in search of food. Picture us if you will, sleep drprived, hot, in a strange city, in search of the most basic of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. A man approached Fin and said if he didn't get rid of the drink he was carrying round he could be fined - Ramadan..... we hastily ditched the drink - right in front of a security guard and casually got some distance between us and the guard.

Well, enough detail on that front. My boy nearly fined, sleep deprived, dehydrated and ravenously hungry - we were really having a good time. As you do in a shopping mall, we decided to purchase a pair of board shorts so Fin could swim in the hotel pool properly. Caitlin had the wit to enquire where we could get some food. They directed us to a corner of the mall where, behind a curtain, we found the lobby of a flash hotel and low and behold a restaurant that was open. Bliss. Felt like we'd died and gone to heaven.

Outside the mall it was 39C. A very thick kind of heat. It's hard to describe. It assaults you after entering it from the coolness of the air conditioned malls, taxis, hotels. The air is almost tangible - it swirls round you as you go outside and the heat clings to you. It radiates from the paved streets, the buildings. No one really walks the streets - they're almost deserted. Lots of air conditioned vehicle traffic, but hardly any pedestrians. Walking slowly, we got to a small supermarket and picked up some food supplies to take back to the hotel. Ramadan, don't you know. After a swim and a rest we planned how to find an evening meal. After his brush with the wrong side of Ramadan laws Fin elected to stay "home" while Caitlin and I braved the heat once more. Seven at night and it was dark (surprisingly) and still very hot. Had an uneventful meal - no arrests - back to our hotel. Fin asleep. We soon were too.

Posted by HelenWyn 20:08 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged shopping Comments (0)

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