Friday, June 25, 2010

England's Lake District and Hadrian's Wall

We were becoming more and more weary in our travels, but still had the passion and drive to keep pushing and see more. Yet when we entered the "Lake District" in the Cumbria region of Northwest England all we could think about was finding a place to wash clothes. Remember we were living for the month on 10 lbs of clothes each (due to budget airline restrictions)!

Keswick in the Lake District had a "Lovely Little Tea Room".......but also had a "Lovely Little Laundromat!" to our extreme delight. We got the machines started and dodged the rain to grab lunch at a nearby Thai restaurant. Connor gobbled down her rice and "yummy trees" (broccoli) and could barely wait to return to see her clothes spinning around and around. Laundry and persistent rain aside, Keswick was my kind of town. It was a little crunchy and very outdoorsy, but with just enough shopping and whimsical cuteness to captivate nearly everyone. There was a Pencil Museum in the town center. And who wouldn't love a Pencil Museum, right?Keswick is a haven for hikers, bikers, boaters and rockers - as in porch rockers. The mountain architecture reminded me much of a British Blowing Rock or Asheville.I couldn't help but think of my NYC friend who has recently birthed her first child, a daughter named Greta. There was a "Greta Hamlet" and a "Greta River" running right thru Keswick! We took these photos just for you Baby Greta.
We reluctantly left Keswick sorry we hadn't planned to overnight was a place I wouldn't have minded a slow-paced week to explore and uncover as many stones as I could. Next time! We drove out around the lake and up into the mountains to more fully experience the "Lake District"

Rounding out the day we checked out Hadrian's Wall. Hadrian's Wall extends laterally across England and was built during the Roman Empire. Sure seems impossible that it is in tact enough to hike along. But you can! It is a structure you can see from space and extends 117 kms (nearly 80 miles)!

Hadrian's Wall was spectacular. You could get right up close and climb onto it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bodnant Gardens in Wales

Next on our scavenger hunt around Northern Wales we visited Bodnant Gardens overlooking the Snowdonia mountain range. This 80 acre garden was heart-stoppingly gorgeous. While we were a little early for the peak flower season, we did hit the daffodil and rhododendron season during the sweet spot. Connor took Tigger and bounced-bounced-bounced amongst the yellow bulbs!The laughter shots still make me chuckle.
It was clear what a special and sacred spot this is to the Welsh people. I can only imagine when it gets a little warmer there are bunches of brides sealing their marriage amidst this natural beauty. I felt just like we were skipping in the palm of Mother Earth's hands.

There is an upper part and a lower part to the gardens. We of course had to explore every inch. After so much driving it felt great to breathe the fresh, intoxicating mountain air and stretch our legs.

Snowdonia is in the background. Barely - you have to squint. But the snow-capped top was visible despite the clouds.

Bodnant Garden is world-famous for its botanical collections which have been described as a 'poem in greens' . The gardens were created by four generations of the local Aberconwy family.
The famous fifty-five metre long Laburnum arch at Bodnant, is an overwhelming sight in June. Plants and shrubs provide a blaze of colour through Spring and Summer but Autumn is arguably the best time to view the garden. We were there a few months too early so it was pretty bare, but I get goosebumps just imagining this....and thinking we were right there!
Bodnant Gardens entrance fees were covered as a part of our Great British Heritage pass. We may not have found them otherwise. It was fun to run around and enjoy the classic British garden. I think we might have to find a way to return one day in June to see this incredible glowing archway in full glory!

Portmeirion in Wales

We decided to check out the popular tourist village dreamed up by one man, and called Portmeirion. It was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in the style of the Italian village Portofino and is now owned by a charitable trust.
We were intrigued by the tour book description and thought, why not? Sounded cool. A unique and odd ode to the Mediterranean in the cold northern part of Wales. Hmmm.
Problem was only once we parked, unloaded and unstrapped from the car we noticed they were charging EIGHT POUNDS (nearly $15!) a person just to walk in and through. We were already there so it seemed impossible to turn back. It ended up being a pretty big rip off. But we made the best of it.
Connor loved the pool and palm trees. It was definitely a colorful palate plopped in the middle of Wales. Makes me really wonder what this Ellis guy was thinking when he dreamed it up. But to each his own. And hey, now his legacy is charging $15 a person so joke was on us!

Spring was starting to bloom forth.

So if you are in Northern Wales I would steer clear of Portmeirion. It was a lighthearted stop for us, but not worth the entrance fee. Take the $15 a person and put it towards a real trip to Portofino, Italy instead to see the real deal.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Now that's a CASTLE, Northern Wales

Our adventures led us next to "the castle capital of the world" - the British country of Wales. Connor was hysterical taking immense delight wearing her WHALE pajamas in WALES! We set up camp in Conwy, the Northern region right near Snowdonia National Park. Connor played her heart out every moment at our Conwy B&B with the innkeeper's daughter. They were exactly the same age. And two little peas in a pod.They say Wales has more castles per square mile than any place in Europe. With over 400 castles in this tiny country, we were determined to find a few! First up was Caernarfon Castle. Now this was a real, full-on castle if there ever was one. It was grand and magnificent - and the site where Prince Charles was invested as the Duke of Wales in 1958. Oh me, what the world had in store with this young man - the future King of England. It is strange to be in the same place were major historical events have taken place. Same background. We could almost feel the pomp and circumstance still on that round circular platform. Unfortunately our day was a little more grey and rainy than Prince Charles' was!Connor was a little princess up in her medieval tower with the sunlight spotlighting her.We also went to the marvelous medieval masterpiece of Conwy Castle. This grandiose castle had it all. Spires, a drawbridge, a moat, boats dotting a beautiful water view......and a fairy tale town embracing Conwy Castle. We kept our eyes peeled for Prince Charming slaying dragons, but no dice.We did locate the "Smallest House in Great Britain" - a big hit with our little one!Amidst the Welsh castles we found our way into Snowdonia National Park. We drove north, south, east and west conquering much of the area. The weather left a little to be desired, and we found ourselves longing for the days we could jump out and do more spontaneous hard-core hiking just the two of us...all in all the park was scenic and lovely. Unlike USA National Parks, there were towns peppered all about Snowdonia, lending to a crunchy, granola feel of communing and community out in the woods.Mom, this orange cat is for you! My mom has wanted an orange cat all her life. If only I could have picked up this butterscotch ball and shipped it home to you.Snowdonia had it all. Snow-capped mountains and rushing waters. Quirky mountain towns and vast expanses of natural wonder.