Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Wicked UK Tour, Part 5 - Edinburgh

And finally we started the long trek back to Edinburgh to visit Jarek and Evelyn before flying back to Germany. I had been hoping that the weather would be typically scotish - overcast, raining, etc - so that we could drop the car back to the rental company a day early, and hopefully they wouldn't notice the chip in the windscreen. While eating breakfast the gods were surely on our side, as most of the hills around Glencoe were shrouded in fog, and it was drizzling. But unfortunately it didn't stay that way as we were getting closer to Edinburgh - the sky was a brilliant blue, no clouds in site, and the sun was shining right onto the chip in the windscreen, making it stick out like dogs' balls. So in hoping that tomorrow would bring shitty weather, we decided to take the car into down-town Edinburgh, part it overnight, and return it the next day when we drove out to the airport.

Arthur's Seat

Edinburgh Castle from near Arthur's Seat
In Edinburg, Jarek took us on a whirlwind tour of the local sites. We hoofed it up to the castle, along the royal mile, took a hike up the smaller hill in front of Arthur's Seat (and proceeded to nearly get blown off), ate the most awesome pastie that I have had in a long time, hit Greyfriars Kirk (including the grave of Greyfriars Bobby, a little dog who spent 14 years guarding his owner's grave), before catching up with Evelyn at The Last Drop pub for a drink and then dinner at a neighbouring local.

Arthur's Seat

A rock that I found cool
After dinner Bel and I were off to visit Mary King's Close, which is a tour through the covered over streets of early Edinburgh. Although the tour is a little cheesy at times, it was interesting to see these streets and houses that were simply built over when it was decided to make Edinburgh a little flatter. Apparently there was still one man working down in his workshop "underground" until the 1930s. He had refused to leave because his family had taken out a life-long lease on the workshop. If you get the chance to take the tour, then I would recommend it.

National Monument

Greyfriar's Kirk
The next morning it was off to the airport after breakfast with Jarek at his house. When we went outside all of my prayers appeared to have been answered - it was raining, and it kept raining the whole way to the airport. As we were approaching the rental company's return compound I stopped using the wipers in order to let the water build up on the windscreen and hopefully hide the chip. I also had my choice of car parks in the return area, so I chose one with a sign pole at the front on the driver's side, as this is where the chip was, and I was hoping that the guy wouldn't be able to look too closely because of that. The guy came over, took the keys from us, check the fuel, did his lap of the car to check for damage (he looked very closely at the passenger door at a dint that was already on the car when we got it, and was also documented on the previous damage report), and ... nothing! So we signed off on the car, high-tailed it out of there to the bus, and disappeared off to the terminal, and back to Germany. :)

Scotish Parliament

The castle from Greyfriar's cemetery
Upon arriving back at the car in Germany, Bel and I realised that we had no idea where our car keys were, and had to proceed to completely unpack our bag onto the ground in order to find them. So I guess it was a good thing that we limited ourselves to the 1 carry on bag each after all. :)

So that's it, the end of our Wicked UK Tour, and what a wicked tour it was too. We had heaps of fun, and send out a big thanks to all of those who put us up (and put up with us) along the way. Maybe next time we will take it a little slower and not do so much - 1000 miles in 1 week was a bit too much, especially when combined with a case of the green apple splatters.


A Wicked UK Tour, Part 4 - A Highland Fling

From St. Andrews Bel and I then headed west to the opposite coast of Scotland, up into the Scotish Highlands, for a bit more R&R. We'd received a bit of an inside tip from Chis and Bec for a B&B in Glencoe, so off we headed, unsure of what to expect.

Duck, duck, duck...
Arriving in Glencoe hours later, we discovered that there isn't too much to Glencoe, other than great views, a couple of small shops, great views, relaxing quiet, and great views. It was pretty easy to see why some of the scenery for various Harry Potter films was filmed up here. Our host at the B&B even informed us that he got to use one of the porta-loos that were brought in for the crew when they left them unlocked one night. He said it looked like a normal porta-loo from the outside, but on the inside it was all marble and pretty spiffy.

The Highlands

Urquhart Castle
After dinner at the local pub (I had a venison burger which was to die for), a DVD in our room, and a great sleep (the best that I had had in a while) we downed our excellent breakfast (including porridge and crumpets), enjoying the aforementioned awesome views, before picking up our packed lunch from the B&B (yes, they did packed lunches!!!) and headed out for a day at Loch Ness and the ruins of the Urquhart castle.

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle
After a freezing couple of hours at the castle (views are great, but I would never have wanted to live there due to the cold weather and the constant invasions and sackings of the castle) we headed back to the B&B with a few short stops to look at the bridge that appears in a few Harry Potter films and Ben Nevis. On the way back we managed to get a massive chip in the windscreen of the rental car after an oncoming car flicked up a stone from the really poorly surfaced roads. This caused me a crazy amount of stress over the next few days, as we had chosen not to pay down the excess on the car, and I had neglected to take out the 1GBP a day insurance on the windscreen. Given that I had been stung before by this same rental company for a windscreen (which I didn't chip), I knew that this was going to cost a pretty penny. :(

Urquhart Castle

Ben Nevis
That night, after chatting with the B&B owner and playing with their dog for an hour or so, we had dinner at one of the few little restaurants in town and put on a Harry Potter film in the room (and I proceeded to fall asleep pretty much straight away). The next morning we enjoyed our breakfast views, porridge, crumpets, etc. before piling back into the car and heading off to Edinburgh to visit Jarek and Evelyn.

Urquhart Castle


Friday, May 15, 2009

Where is Bel, and why can't she hear me?

----- UPDATE #3 -----
So I am home now safe and sound. Although I was somewhat nervous about the return flight I had no problems.

I have been to an ear specialist here and after a number of tests he assures me there is no lasting damage... YAY. And, I now have special drops that i have to take before take off and landing to help me in future.

thanks for thinking of me
----- UPDATE #2 -----
So, if everyting goes well, Bel should be coming home tomorrow. It turns out that her eardrum hadn't burst, but there was a lot of fluid and gunk in there that could have caused it to burst if she flew any further or earlier. She has been going to the Dr every day in Korea to get it looked at and get the gunk sucked out - YUM!

----- UPDATE #1 -----
Now Bel has to stay in Korea until Saturday. The ear doctor that she went to near her hotel isn't happy with her flying any earlier than that, due to her other ear still being a little blocked. :(

----- Original Post -----
Right now Bel should be in the Philippines, but she isn't. So where is she, and why can't she hear me?

Well, right now she is probably sleeping in her hotel room somewhere in Seoul, Korea. Why in Korea, you may ask. Well, she was flying via Korea to the Philippines and was due to have a 7 hour stop over before continuing on. Problem is that her ear drum burst and she isn't allowed to fly any further, at least until Wednesday, when hopefully she can come back to Germany. Turned out that her being worried about her blocked ears and nose, due to a cold that she got in France, was justified...

Yes, she can actually hear me - she hasn't lost her hearing or anything like that, but is in a little bit of pain, as one can imagine.

So, I just thought I should update you all on that.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Wicked UK Tour, Part 3 - A Scotish Wedding

After a relaxing couple of days in Keswick, it was back into the broom-broom Blood Clot for some more highway time in the direction of Edinburgh, Scotland. Luckily Andrew, whose wedding we were attending, and who was putting us up for the night, had given us some directions for the more scenic route, so after the border it was off the highway and onto some of the back roads for some crazy driving fun.

After rocking up to Andrew's farm house, realising it was the wrong one, and then actually turning up at the right one, it was time to sit down and enjoy a break after...well...sitting down for so long in the car. Andrew was actually off picking up the first of the french visitors from the airport, so Elaine - the soon to be Mrs Wilson - looked after us while preparing the feast for the evening, including some great salads, seafood, and a mushroom risotto, which was all sensational, and me being me ate too much, of course. :)

After dinner, Andrew and Elaine were off again to pick up some more frenchies, coming to four in total for the evening. Elaine used to put french students up in her house when they came over to study, hence both her and Andrew speak french, and hence the large red, white, and blue contingent for the wedding.

A bridge to nowhere in the middle of nowhere.
That night I didn't sleep to well. The risotto from dinner was sitting like a brick in my guts, and I felt like I wanted to be sick. It wasn't any better the next morning when I got up either, but nobody else was suffering the same problem, so we were pretty sure that it wasn't food poisoning. So everyone else tucked into bacon and egg rolls for breakfast, and I enjoyed water, and nothing other than water.

After breakfast (around noon) we packed our stuff together and climbed back into the blood clot, and took two of the french contingent to the local P&R before heading up to St. Andrews via the scenic route. Apparently my driving on the local roads scared the french girl a little, which would explain the le mans like breathing that was coming from the back seat...

Honey? Did you remember to take the cray traps AND the boats out of the water before the tide went out?

Watchtowers like these are pointless on a day like today...or nearly every day in Scotland.
Taking the scenic route turned out to be a bit of a waste of time as it was completely fogged in the whole way up to St. Andrews. I also wasn't feeling that great when we arrived, so we headed to our B&B for a bit of a relax before going to dinner with Jarek and Evelyn, who were also up for the wedding. And later that night it started... Let me just say that I almost saw more of the bathroom in the B&B than the bed that night (the bathroom was really big, and you accessed it through what looked like the double doors to a big closet), and I didn't make it out of bed the next morning for breakfast. Luckily the B&B hostess gave us the tip to go to the chemist in the local town, rather than in St. Andrews, where I was able to pick up some medication to get my digestion going again and to stop the squirtle-turtles that I was suffering from. I actually found the consultation in the chemist quite funny, as the girl talked at a normal volume until it came to words like "movement" or "diarrhoea", then she would whisper. :)

Part of the ruined church in St. Andrews

More of the ruined church.
After the chemist we went to check into our hotel for the wedding and I spent most of the rest of the day in bed, while Belinda went for a walk with the rest of the group along the beach where Chariots of Fire was filmed. When she came back it was time for us to get dressed for the big event, and what does one wear when one goes to a Scotish wedding? You would think that most would wear a kilt, but out of the 6 kilt wearers at the event, at least 3 of them were foreigners, including Jarek and myself. But here's a tip for young players - if you have a case of the Bradley Pitts, a kilt is AWESOME! No fiddling with a belt - skirt up, boxers down, and THERE SHE BLOWS!!!

Brush and J-man kilted up to the 9s.

Brushy and his David McJones catalogue pose.

J-man, Derren, and Brushy in matching kilts.

Taking the kilts out for a spin. Can you see my arse?!?!
The next day I was feeling a little better and managed to battle my way through a continental breakfast at the hotel (the stomach couldn't deal with the full scotish that Jarek had) before meeting up with the others at Andrew and Elaine's hotel for another walk on the beach. By the time everyone got themselves sorted I was feeling a little dodgy again, so we said our goodbyes, went and got ourselves a fresh juice and some lunch (yes, it took everyone that long to get sorted) and headed off in the red rocket in the direction of the Scotish Highlands.

The Old Course - a shot that I took for my Dad.
In the next installment - me in normal clothes feeling a lot better, the highlands, and Nessie...


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Wicked UK Tour, Part 2 - The Lakes

After our awesome 4 or 5 days in London with Chis and Bec, Bel and I jumped into our bloated rollerskate of a hire car (Fiat 500) and headed out towards Bristol to visit some other friends of ours. We met Mark and Nikki in Athens last year and they had said that if we were ever in town that we should drop on in, so we did.

But before heading to Bristol for the night, Bel and I took a little detour to Cheddar Gorge. Cheddar Gorge is where the cheddar cheese comes from, and it is here that the cheese is ripened in the caves that are buried in the mountains. By time we got there it was getting late in the afternoon, so we decided not to do the tour, but to have a quick look around the "town" instead. We found the shop in town that is the only cheese factory in cheddar, which was already cleaning up and shutting down for the evening (they all close early in winter because they have to work so late in summer), so we grabbed some cheese to take to Mark and Nikki's and got back in the car for the drive through the gorge to Bristol...which was kick-arse fun in the red rollerskate.
From A Wicked UK Tour, Part 2
When we arrived at Mark and Nikki's place we got to meet their 2 great daughters, 2 crazy dogs, 1 cat, and Belinda even got to meet the hamster. Nikki cooked up and awesome dinner for us - the first lasagne that I have had in AGES - which was a nice distraction from the news that Mark gave me, that my company was going to lay off a large part of its workforce. This ALWAYS happens when I am on holidays!!! The next morning we kept Mark away from his work until lunchtime, chatting, eating cheese, and eating more cheese, before strapping on the rollerskate and heading off to Keswick on the shores of the Derwent Water (where the pencils come from) in the Lakes District for a couple of days R&R.
From A Wicked UK Tour, Part 2
After a full Cumberland breakfast the next morning, including fried bread, Bel and I headed out for a hike through the hills surrounding the Derwent Water. The owner of the B&B had suggested a hike for us that had a required time of about 3-4hrs, but he made it clear to us that this was the time required for old people who walk really slowly. Little did he know that over the next 5 hours someone, who is not the author of this post, was going to take in excess of 200 photos of the scenery. :) But it was worth it...and we really needed the walk to work off that full Cumberland and the great Indian dinner that we had the night before.
The next morning saw us tackle another full Cumberland (again with fried bread - YUM!) before leaving Keswick and driving to Hilltop, the farm home of Beatrix Potter. This was a little treat for Bel, who has all of the Beatrix Potter between herself and her sister. After taking our time to look through the house and seeing where a lot of BP's inspiration came from, we had a picnic on the banks of a lake and then laced up the skates and left England for the land of the dress wearing men.


Monday, May 11, 2009

A Wicked UK Tour, Part 1 - London

For Bel's Xmas and B'day present I decided to get her tickets to Wicked in London. Luckily she was nice enough to take me along with the second ticket, so we decided to make a weekend of it and visit Chis and Bec while we were there. As it turns out, one of my colleagues was getting married on the following weekend in St. Andrews in Scotland, so we decided to extend said weekend to a 2 week tour of England and Scotland. Because we had originally planned to only go for the weekend, we had booked flights with Ryanair (sigh) and hadn't paid for any checked baggage (they sting you for EVERYTHING), so we took the challenge of packing for 2 weeks, including wedding clothes, in one piece of carry-on luggage with a max weight of 10kg each.

The Millenium Eye.

And from the anchor point.
A 1.5hr drive to the Frankfurt Hahn airport (which is in a different state to Frankfurt), 2 failed and 1 successful check-in attempts, a long wait, an uncomfortable 1.5hr flight including 2 for 1 offers on spirits and endless offers to buy scratchies, a long wait, and a 70min bus ride later, we had arrived at Victoria Station in London. At this point in time the heavens decided to open up, so Bel and I hid in a Café on the banks of the Thames for a while before slowly hoofing our way to Waterloo Station via multiple "sights" and catching the train to Chis and Bec's place. We took in dinner that evening at the local and signed ourselves up for the trivia comp. For a team of 4 Aussies in a British Pub Quiz we did pretty darn well, pulling some answers out of the deepest, darkest reaches of our backsides. The Tools missed out on a 3-way tie for second by 0.5 points, and headed home for the night with a well earned 4th behind "My beaver has bucked teeth", "We put the sex in dyslexia", and another team who's name obviously wasn't funny enough to stay in my memory.

Look kids! Big Ben...

On Friday I bit the bullet and went with Bel to the Tate Modern art gallery. I came to the conclusion that I just don't get modern art whatsoever, though it was pretty impressive to see and original Salvidor Dali painting up close and see just how much detail he was able to capture in his paintings. Some phsychologist's detailed analysis of a Jackson Pollock painting saying that he had discovered fractals in Pollock's painting, 25 years ahead of them being discovered in nature, and therefore Pollock was like so ahead of his time, gave me enough "how much of a tool is this guy!" fodder to take to Chis' birthday dinner and really enjoy myself. :)

Midget Bindy!

Brolly and wellies are a must.
With a good cooked breakfast in our bellies (why did everyone else's omlettes work, and mine basically became scrambled eggs?!?!) we took Chis and Bec out on a 7-8 stage Sherlock Holmes inspired geocache. The cache lead us all over London, including to parts that Chis and Bec had never been to before, like the spot where William Wallace (see Mel Gibson in Braveheart for a bad portrayal) was executed. Unfortunately it turned out that the Temple area was closed off on Saturday due to the G20 protests, meaning that we couldn't find one of the answers to the clues, and the cache remained unfound. :(
After dinner at a great French restaurant with C&B just near the Theatre, Bel and I headed off to see Wicked - and it truly was. The story, the sets, the music, the acting and singing - all of it was just bloody excellent, and I would recommend it to anyone who is thinking of going, regardless of whether you are a fan of The Wizard of Oz or not. Whatever you do though, don't try and take and video with your camera, video camera, or iPhone - they will be confiscated from you, and I will probably be the one sitting behind you laughing my arse off! :)

Shop front on Portabello Road.

What you lookin' at, punk?

Check this for hang-time!

Maybe should have heeded this warning before getting on the bike.
At Chis' b'day dinner on Friday night the seeds were sown, and on Sunday the plan came to fruition - it was off the Bletchley Park for a nerd outing for Brush and Chis! For those who haven't seen the movie Enigma, this was the home of British Code Cracking and the cracking of the German Enigma in the second world war.
Before going into Bletchley we tried to take in another cache. I am pretty sure that we had all of the details correct, but we couldn't find the hidden treasure at the end location, even with Chis and I doing a bit of tree climbing...
The it was off to Bletchley. After 1hr we bailed on the guided tour (a guy reading from prompt cards really ain't my idea of entertaining) and took in a 90min presentation on the theory of the Enigma instead. The presentation was held by a guy who really knew his stuff, but who kept it at a level that even those who hadn't studied Algebraeic Coding and Cryptography could understand and enjoy. It took a fair bit of time and effort to get Bel to stop asking follow-up questions after the presentation was over.

Chis doing his best Rizatta ad.

And helping me climb a tree.

It's da bombe!

Who is that stunning man?!?!?
On Monday morning it was time to say goodbye to Chis and Bec (thanks for letting us stay guys!!!!), London, and The Tube, and jump in our rental car - our travel companion for the next 9 days - and head west to Bristol and the Cheddar Gorge. We got to Cheddar Gorge too late to tour the caves where the Cheddar cheese is matured, but we still got to have a little look around and buy some cheese brfore heading back to Bristol to stay with some friends for the night. Here I learned that my company is planning on cutting around 1/3 of the workforce - why does this always happen when I am on holidays?!?!?

Some cool windows I found.

Boats in Hyde Park.

Not sure what the building is called, but we are in the reflection.

A little river in Cheddar. Kinda cheesy, huh?

Here ends Part 1 of our Wicked Tour of the UK. In Part 2 we head off in the red rocket to The Lakes District for a couple of days of R&R.