Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Wales Castle Visit

One thing we learned about Wales was there is a lot of castles. Most of them are in ruins because they were created to defend against the invading forces (England). As England took over an area they destroyed the castles. Its a bit of a shame, but my kids love climbing over castle ruins rather than touring fancy castle museums.

The castle we found was Coity Castle. As you see all signs are written in both English and Welsh. Ironically hardly anyone speaks Welsh, but the government is trying to bring back the almost dead language...thus the signs. 

The castle was located in the middle of a neighborhood. There was local boys were playing soccer in the courtyard, and there was a nearby playground.

Wales: Cave and Farm

The owners of the cottage we hired suggested that we take the kids to The National Showcaves which was a couple of caves and a couple of cheesy family attractions like a dinosaur park and farm.

Since there wasn't anything to spear Misty on, we decided to feed her to a dinosaur.

This is us as we begin our journey into one of the caves. 

The caves were beautiful, but unfortunately they don't photograph well.

I enlarged this one a bit so you can hopefully see that there are two waterfalls inside this cave. The path curved around so you actually walked behind the waterfalls and then in between them. This cave was popular for wedding ceremonies, so they named it the Cathedral Cave.

In dinosaur land, Misty found a touch screen game that allowed her to paint the dinosaur. This was one of her many creations.

They had a sleuth station to pan for gold. Suprizingly they actually had real gold to pan for instead of pyrite  but it was just small worthless flakes. Neil and Lexi thought it was fun though. Here Neil shows Misty the finer points of sloshing.

Onto the farm side, Neil found some random rocks that had some historical significance.

While Lexi made it a mission to pet every animal. Misty was a bit exhausted at this point so she didn't enjoy this part of the day as much.

Wales: Waterfall Hikes

Normally I break up our holidays by days in a chronological timeline; however, I think it would work better for this trip to categorize it by experiences. 

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Wales was because they are known for beautiful waterfalls. I love waterfalls. 

We really had no idea what to expect from Wales. Ray works with a Welsh lady, and before arriving we had the impression that Wales was like Texas....everyone there THINKS they are special, but in reality everyone knows they are special. We found this to be untrue. Everyone in Wales was very nice, and it is just a slower pace of life than in the cities of England. Wales is mostly just countryside full of country people.

The countryside of Wales is beautiful. It was also VERY muddy. We rented a wonderful cottage, and before arriving the owners told us to bring wellies (rubber boots). We are very thankful for this warning since it was very muddy. The kids enjoyed it though, esp Misty who told us her wellies needed to be wet and muddy.

The hike to the waterfalls were long and in rough terrain.  The first one we picked was by the cottage, but we later found out was the hardest waterfall trail. At points we were hiking up a rocky cliff, splashing through puddles, and walking through thigh deep mud. 

Sgwd-yr-Eira meaning the waterfall of snow

The waterfalls were worth it though. 

The kids were able to get behind one of the waterfalls.

On a different trail we got to follow the river on a much more mild hiking trail.

Sgwd Gwladus

Sgwd Gwladus

 We saw several other waterfalls as we were driving. I can see why they call this part of Wales Waterfall Country.


While my mom was visiting, Ray and I snuck away for a romantic getaway to Edinburgh. We took the train up there, which was a very relaxing way to travel. 

Old City
New City
The city is divided into two sections: the old city and the new city. In the old city there are two castles that are divided by what they call the Royal Mile which is a medieval street of shops and restaurants.We stayed in the old part of town a block away from the Royal Mile. The new city was full of modern shops and chain restaurants. 

Our first stop was the Palace of Holyroodhouse which is at one end of the Royal Mile. This is the official residence of the Queen when she stays in Edinburgh. It was very interesting to see the place all decorated for Christmas.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Abbey in the Palace of Holyroodhouse
 One of the things we loved about Edinburgh is that around the next corner you never know what you might find. It was very historic with a bit of a Roman influence.

Random pic
Next we ventured to the waterfront to see the Royal Yacht Britannia. Ray and I really enjoyed the tour of the boat. We enjoyed a royal feast of a lunch and tea while we were on the yacht which was very fancy.

After lunch we returned to the Royal Mile for the castle at the other end: Edinburgh Castle. It was SO windy there. The castle is at the top of a huge hill and the winds were stronger than usual. We got blown over a few times. 

Edinburgh Castle

Angie at castle gate

After the castle tour we did a tour of the Scotch Whiskey Experience. It explained the different types of Scotch based on the various regions. We each got to sample a Scotch, but I must say I had the idea of butterscotch in my head and it was nothing like that. Ray's tasted like you licked a campfire log. We decided maybe we selected poorly, so we tried a different type and it was terrible in a completely different way.

Whiskey Museum at Scotch Whiskey Experience

The last part of our trip we decided to go on a haunted underground tour of the city. It started at this church where the guide talked about the corruption in early Edinburgh. We went underground and heard some ghost stories. At one point I got a chill that ran down the right side of my body.

I splurged and upgraded to a first class train ride back home. It was a nice upgrade that came with yummy snack boxes.

The Goodwin's Christmas

I was about to update our blog about a recent trip to Wales, but then I realized I hadn't posted my pics of Christmas. My mom came to visit for Christmas, and we decided to take a little trip to Bath and Stonehenge. We also walked around downtown London and saw all the window displays and sat on Santa's lap at Harrods.
I had heard the town of Bath was really nice. It gets its name from being a former Roman Bath. I must say the town was very beautiful, but I was disappointed that the shops were all just big name international chains.
Bath, UK

Bath, UK

On the way home we stopped by Stonehenge. There was a ceremony going on inside the center of rocks. We didn't go through the official path to see what they were saying or doing, but I think it had something to do with the winter solstice.
Downtown London has a lot of fun things to do for Christmas. One of the attractions is called Winter Wonderland where they turn Hyde Park into a big Christmas carnival. Unfortunately everything was super expensive, so we didn't do much other than walk through. We did sample some yummy food though.
Christmas market at London's Winter Wonderland

We decided to splurge a bit and take Misty to Harrods to see Santa. Ok it wasn't as much of a splurge since it wasn't that much, but I did have to make reservations in August to get a spot. Of course Misty was terrified of Santa, so I don't really have any pictures of it that anyone would want to see. It was a fun experience though.

A small note: I want to thank my mom for the pictures since I stole them off her facebook page ;)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

10 Random Things from London

We have been here in London for two years now. When we first moved here there was a lot of things we had to adjust to that we didn't expect. Of course everyone knows that the driving and food are vastly different from the states, but here are our top 10 random things we found difficult to understand.

1. Language Barrier
Most people know the Brits call things different, like chips for fries or a biscuit is a cracker or cookie. They also spell words differently like tyres, pyjamas, colour, ect. Most of these are humorous and nothing we didn't expect.

The problem comes when they call something COMPLETELY different and we have no idea how to find what we are looking for. While the Americans in our community try and help each other when we are looking for something, there is always a random item you want that has a weird name you have no idea what to look or ask for. Iodine is a good example, or should I say Betadine. We have been looking for this since we moved here 2 years ago, but just recently stumbled upon its British name.

Another language barrier issue is accents, as in we have one. They don't understand us if we speak too fast, and we can't understand them. Of course we have adapted to their language which make it easier to communicate, but we still always have to keep in mind that we are the ones with the accent.

2. No Food Preservatives  
I thought I'd spare you a picture of moldy bread, but the fact is they do not put any preservatives in their food. It is very frustrating that a loaf of bread or milk only lasts 3 to 4 days. The UK is on a national health care system, so the government limits any chemicals that go into food. Most of the locals turn their nose at the idea of yellow lemonade because they don't use unnatural food coloring (or should I say colouring lol).

I should warn anyone visiting London that while you can buy some of the American foods you are used to, they will taste different. The meat also tastes different too.

3. Doors
The problem with the doors is there is no door handle. Well that isn't entirely true, there are some doors that have a handle but don't lock like an American door.

This is our front door. You open it by turning the key to unlock it. The big knob in the center is just to help you shut the door. It has no function in opening the door. Our back door looks like a normal American door with a push down handle, but it really isn't that simple. In order to lock it you have to lift the handle up to engage the bolts before turning the key to lock it into place. It took us months to figure out how to lock that door. The property manager had to finally give us a walk through on how to use it.

The main problem with not having door handles is that it each house has a different way to open from the inside. Imagine going to a friends house, having to leave, but having no clue how to open their door. I've stared at a door for a good minute before finally asking for help out. I think we finally figured out how most of the doors work, so we don't have that problem much anymore.

4. Technology
The Brits are not as open to new technology as us Americans. Sure they all love the iPhones and gadgets, but most other technology they are very reserved about adopting. Our first shock was the lack of Pay At the Pump. There is only one place around here we found where you can do this, although half the people still go in to pay. The internet here can be as slow as dial-up, and you also have to pay for the amount of bandwidth you use.

Here is a picture of our bathroom sink. Notice there is separate faucets for the hot and cold water. They are not big on adapting to a single spigot sink. They also are hesitant to put water softeners in their house even though they have terribly hard water that destroys their appliances. 

5. Shopping
Going through the grocery store, I would never have expected to find the eggs in the baking isle rather than the refrigerated section. Or the cocoa powder with the hot chocolate mix. The problem goes much further than just what isle to look for things you want. Finding the right store to do your business is the tricky part. For example, the cobbler is the person to go to in order to get a copy of a key made. Or finding sewing supplies (haberdashery) at department stores.

6. Education
I will be honest, after 2 years of living here I still don't fully understand their education system. The elementary school seems about the same, but they start much earlier. Misty is 3 and is in Nursery which is like preschool. In Nursery she learns her letters and the sounds of letters. In Reception, which is like Pre-K, the 4 year olds learn how to write and read. Year 1 is like our Kindergarten, but the kids are reading books by themselves and doing math. So they start off a year ahead than us in the states.

After elementary school things get very confusing. From my understanding the kids take important tests at various points. These tests divide the kids into those going to trade schools and those who go to university. The way the kids do on the tests, specifically the subjects they do well in, will determine their career or trade. It is perfectly acceptable for a 16 year old to have completed school and be entered into the work force as general labor. At 16 a child is considered an adult and can buy lottery tickets. They can drive a car at 17 and the drinking age is 18.

7. Recycling
Where we live, about 80% of our trash (rubbish) needs to be recycled.

To give you an idea, the brown been on the left is about the size of a normal American size trash bin. This is where our compostable trash (mostly food and paper) goes and it is picked up once a week. The green bin which is less than half the size of our brown bin is for normal trash. We also have 4 recycling bins: Glass, Shiny Paper, and Plastic/Metals (which I was able to request two of since we are a big family). The recycling bins and the green trash bin are picked up every other week.

Now you might wonder, what happens if you can get it to fit in your bins. You have two options which are hold on to it or take it to the recycling center. The recycling center is more than happy to accept anything that is recyclable  but if you have trash that is general rubbish then they will make you empty it out on a table to prove that nothing in there could have been recycled. 

This has been one of the most difficult things to adjust to, but I know it is a more responsible way of life. It really does make us consider what to buy. I stopped using paper towels because it generated too much trash. Sponges are another thing I used to go through a lot more frequently. Now I learned to wash my sponges. I went up to base for a few days and they have less strict recycling rules up there. I felt so wasteful not recycling every bit of trash. At first this seemed like such a time consuming chore, and admittedly we have piled up trash needing to go to the recycling center. However, now it seems like second nature to put your wrappers in the proper recycling bin.

8. Fashion
Black tights or leggings, boots, and a long shirt are all you need to fit into British fashion.

While this is a good example of what the look should look like, it often ends up less attractive. I'm going to leave it at that.

9. Banking and Bills
Getting a bank account here was one of the first major hurdles we had to overcome. It took almost a year before I got a debit card with my name on it. It was very frustrating being dependent on Ray pulling out money for anything I might have needed. London's economic is based on finance and banking.

Credit cards are on a "Chip and Pin" system. This means there is a small computer chip in your credit card, and every time you buy something you must enter your ATM like pin number. They feel this is a safer system than the US swipe cards, and Europe seems to be switching to the chip and pin system. They do not require a signature on your receipt and don't check ID, so I'm not sure it is any safer.

Most of the bills you pay is through the bank drafts or direct debits. The bank drafts are just wire transfers. Bills will have a bank account which you put your money into with a note or memo stating it was to pay your account. Also, billing cycles are different. We pay our water every 6 months and our electric is paid once a quarter (4 times a year). There are different ways to set up payment plans, but this seems to be the preferred method of paying. It is important that you set your utility bill money aside every month or you'll have a huge bill you can't pay.

10. Electric 
Coming over here I knew the electric was different. I didn't really know what that meant. When we got here we got some converters and transformers so that our American appliances would work. These work great for our entertainment systems and computers. As for my kitchen appliances, some do well, but most are slowly dying. My kitchen aid mixer makes a horrible noise as it goes around now and my blender has already died. Along with my YoNana machine and my mini food processor. Other appliances that merely heat up things do fine.

Here is a picture of our electric outlets. They all look like this. There is a 3 prong input for the plugs. Then they have an on/off switch so you don't drain power when you are not using the outlet. It can be frustrating to remember to turn on the electric outlet before using something, but sadly we just leave most of them in the on position.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day Weekend: Leeds Castle and Paralympics

We headed back to London on Sunday, but stopped by Leeds Castle on the way home. The castle is much smaller than Dover Castle, but the castle grounds were amazing.

We had to take a land train to the castle.

The flower garden was full of beautiful flowers.

They had a bird watching station for the kids.

The thing the kids loved the most was the hedge maze. 
I must say were were throughly impressed with this maze. 
It took us much longer than we expected to get through it.

Lexi found her way first.

Neil was lost in the hedges.

Neil and I were the last to find our way out.

Once you completed the maze, you had to go through this underground grotto that was filled with statues. It had an under the sea theme and was quite impressive. Most of the pictures didn't turn out because of the weird lighting.

On Monday the kids had to go back to school, but Ray and I continued our fun extended weekend by going to the Paralympics.

Misty playing in empty rows.