I Would Walk 2000 Years …

More like 12+ miles but we did it alongside a wall nearly 2000 years old. Hadrian’s Wall – built by the Romans to define their northernmost borders (and to keep the army busy so they wouldn’t revolt). There isn’t much to say other than it was amazing.

We started off Vindolanda, a Roman fort and village, now one of the best locations to find Roman artifacts. The English climate did an excellent job of preserving items and a lot has been learned from this spot.

After spending the morning touring the place (and making an unforgivable number of sheep jokes), we started off for the wall. We’ve been fortunate to have great weather on this trip (not one day of rain!) so I’m just going to let the photos do the talking beneath the break with a few comments.

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A Vacation from Vacation

Every vacation needs a bit of time away from the whole tourist thing. Today was that day.

We left Bristol early this morning and caught a series of trains to the little village of Haltwhistle. Haltwhistle is very close to Hadrian’s Wall, an ancient wall built by the Romans in AD 122 that crosses the entire country. This was my Must See sight of the trip. We’re going to be hiking it over the next couple of days and I guarantee pictures.

On a side note – we seem to have a lot of luck with leaving cities just in time to avoid problems. Cardiff played host to the Euro Football 2012 Qualifiers between England and Wales today. The game was played not too far from our hotel so the place would have been a madhouse. And in London, huge protests took place regarding government budget cuts. Estimates are 250,000 people showed up. This would not have been good for playing tourist.

More tomorrow. For now, it’s off to read a book or watch some football on the telly.

Don’t Talk Back in Bath

We left Cardiff this morning and, after a brief stop in Bristol where we are staying the night, headed to Bath.

Bath is a town famous for the Roman baths that give the city its name. They were said to have restorative powers – Queen Mary stayed in Bath when she was unable to have a son and nine months later, gave birth to a son and new heir to the throne. That the King did not accompany her on the trip was overlooked as divine inspiration.

We took ate a lunch of pasties and then embarked on a tour of the city led by a volunteer who also happened to be a civil engineer. That meant the tour not only cover the history but the architecture of the city. Very cool.

Afterwards, we started ate dinner at a great Nepalese restaurant called Yak Yeti Yak. On the way, though, we stumbled across a souvenir.

Decorah, IA to Bath (via Edinburgh, London, Cardiff): 4000+ miles
Decorah, IA to Trempealeau, WI: 81 miles

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Tintern Abbey & the Grace of God

If there was one sight Steph insisted on seeing while in the UK, it was Tintern Abbey. Remarkably for being such a large tourist draw, it’s not the easiest place to get to but Steph had all the routes figured out so we headed out this morning to beat the crowds.

Tintern Abbey wasn’t quite what I expected. I thought it would be far away from civilization and surrounded by fields. Instead, it’s on the edge of the quaint village of Tintern and next to the river Wye (just a stones throw from the English border).

There were almost no other tourists so we got to walk around and take plenty of photos without having people getting in the way. Just before Steph took her last photo, the SD card in our camera died. As in “Screw you, I’ve taken enough danged photos”. This sentiment also applied to efforts to remove any previous photo from the card. Fortunately, I’d copied off all our other photos earlier in the day but all those Steph had just taken? Gone.

She was not pleased. If you are a Star Trek fan, just imagine the scene in Wrath of Khan where Kirk screams. Now replace Kirk with Steph and “Khaaaannnn!” with “SanDissssskkk!” and you’ve got the right reaction.

Crushed, her dreams squashed and with only the images in her personal memory, Steph went inside to buy postcards. She mentioned that her SD card had failed and one of the clerks said, “Oh! We’ve got some for sale just over there.”

Steph was most pleased. And now, we proudly present to you those photos.

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2 Castles, 2 Countries

Wednesday was our last in London but we had enough time before our train left for Wales to fit in one more sight. So we went Underground to the Tower of London.

The Tower of London is more than just a single tower; it’s an enormous castle that also hosts the Crown Jewels and a great deal of history including being the place where three Queens were executed. The admission fee is a bit on the steep side, but if you can get in with one of the Yeoman Warder tours, it’s worth every penny (or pence, I should say). Every Warder is a 22-year vet of the British armed forces, live in the Tower and have a huge (and somewhat mischievous) grasp on the Tower and its history.

After London we headed toward Wales. Our original plan had been to visit a friend of Steph’s that lived in Port Talbot but she had a family emergency so we got off a stop earlier in Cardiff. What’s to do in Cardiff? Heck if we knew, so we wandered about a bit and found this …

Cardiff Castle. That’s just the keep – the rest of the place is much bigger and we got to take a tour around it. Being that we arrived late in the day, the tour group was small, us plus the tour guide. Rather nice. The place was owned by a family that controlled most of the coal producing lands in Wales just as steam power took off. That made them rather wealthy (think Bill Gates eat your heart out wealthy).

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Small World

We traveled all the way to London’s West End to see Chicago.

At dinner prior to the show, we ate at a pub where the waiter was part Norwegian and had heard of our little town of Decorah in NE Iowa. On top of that, he also worked at a restaurant in Australia at roughly the same time that Steph had eaten there when she studied in Melbourne. Go fig.

We started the day out at Trafalgar Square and walked down Whitehall (saying Cheers to the Prime Minister on Downing Street) and crossed the Thames to Shakespeare’s Globe. We finished off with the Tower Bridge.

We also stumbled across an Apple store earlier. England doesn’t get the iPad 2 for another couple of days. It took a great deal of willpower to resist the temptation to walk into the store and say, “Excuse me, do you have the new iPad? No? *hold up my iPad*. Well, I do!” and then run like hell from angry Brit geeks.

As usual, pics after the break.

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London Education

What we learned today in London:

How to Kill an Hour in London
1. Stand outside a tourist attraction (in our case, the Horse Guards).
2. Look at your watch wondering what time the parade starts.
3. Be greeted by an elderly Londoner (he said he was 81, didn’t look a day over 60).
4. Spend the next hour walking and getting a tour and history lesson on the Changing of the Guard plus tips on where to stand, little things tourists might miss, and very enthusiastic advice on where to get theatre tickets.
5. Part ways, see a great Changing of the Guards, and curse yourself for not getting the man’s name.

The Rosetta Stone
It’s bigger than you think and really fascinating. The whole of the British Museum was great, even if we only got to see about a third of it (if that much). Also, seeing the Elgin Marbles was quite interesting along with a whole host of Greek and Egyptian artifacts.

How to Make An English Lit Geek’s Jaw Drop
Enter the British Library and go into the Special Treasures Room (sorry, no cameras allowed). Turn to the left and wait for it. The original copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Go a little deeper and pass copies of da Vinci’s notebooks, Shakespeare’s rough drafts, Handel’s Messiah, and you’ll end up at one of four remaining copies of the Magna Carta. It is strongly recommended you bring along a towel to wipe up the drool.

How to Make a Harry Potter Fan’s Day

Pics after the break.
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Up the Hill and Down to London

This morning was our last in Edinburgh. Most folks would mourn leaving the beautiful city by heading out for a quick walk up the Royal Mile to grab a few souvenirs.

Steph and I ran up a big hill.

Arthur’s Seat sat practically in the backyard of our B&B and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take in the city from on high. On top of that, we reached the peak at sunrise. Absolutely fantastic views.

Mythology states that Arthur’s Seat was on of the possible locations for Camelot. Those rumors are probably wrong but it’s not hard to see why they thought that. We did come across the remains of a chapel in one of the valleys that was built sometime before 1436.

After bidding farewell to the Scots, we grabbed a train to London. As is our custom, our presence fouled up the Tube so we had to improvise a bit to get to our lodging. So far the city is impressive but we haven’t seen much yet. We passed by Buckingham Palace on the way to dinner (sadly the No Vacancy sign was out) and had some great pies at The Jugged Hare.

Tomorrow will be a touring day but of what we’re not positive. That all depends on the English weather.

More pictures after the break.
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Stirling Castle and the Cancelled Train of Edinburgh

As mentioned yesterday, Steph and I were not to be denied our trip to Stirling Castle so we hopped a train and headed north. Pictures after the break for those interested.

Stirling Castle plays an enormous role in Scotland’s history. It was said that whomever held Stirling held Scotland. Once we got there, it was easy to see why. Stirling commands a view of the entire kingdom and if you wanted to march an army north or south, east or west, you had to go past the castle. For those more in tune with Hollywood, Stirling was also the place William Wallace (aka Braveheart) defeated the English.

After the tour, we headed into town to warm up with some tea (we’ve had some glorious Scottish weather – windy, cold, and damp!), then headed back to catch our train back to Edinburgh.

Which wasn’t there.

It seems someone opted to walk along the train tracks and the train opted to tell them that that wasn’t such a bright idea. Thus, every train from Stirling to Edinburgh was canceled. Hurrah! We sprinted and caught a bus back to the city. Unfortunately, that ate up most of our evening and by the time we got back, we just wanted to eat and retire to our B&B.

Tomorrow – London!

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