Monday, 22 October 2012

Back to Bath and Stonehenge

Hello Readers,
Welcome back.  I didn't blog last weekend since we stayed home on the weekend to rest for our month of touring with Bob and Lona (my in-laws).  A few note worthy events happened last week that I will briefly cover before we move onto this weekend's travels though.

A combo Carol Seppanen Book Update/Auntie "B" Word of the Week entry.  I started James Joyce's Ulysses, 657 pages, this past week and my initial opinion is what a pile of rubbish.  Maybe I haven't had the time to get into yet but it is not an easy read so far.  I read somewhere that Joyce wrote the book as an intentionally difficult read and he succeeded.  I wanted to read it after our Dublin trip sparked the interest in me plus it is supposed to loosely follow Homer's Odyssey which I read in high school and thoroughly enjoyed so I thought why not?  Now I know why not.  But I will forge on and see if it gets any better.  It did provide me with this week's Auntie "B" word of the week though - ashplant.  Ashplant in this context refers to the Irish word definition.

The Better Halves Club met again.  This time we met at Shirely's place and there were six of us - the seventh missed as she was picking up her mother in law from the airport.  We all brought an appetiser or dessert dish and Shirley made curry which made for a delicious lunch.  (Sorry Dana I forgot my camera.)  The company was as engaging and comical as usual with Laverne and Shirley being the main entertainment.  The typical discussions range from comparing cultural differences to trip planning/info sharing to local sightseeing ideas to random topic conversations.  I have to admit it was a little tough saying goodbye to the four returning to the USA members this summer but our new group has settled into that comfortable group zone which is great.

Now where do I start with English service?  Restaurants, realtors, doctor's offices/hospitals, appliance repairmen... it is "different" than the US.  Not that the US is good service all the time across the board but c'mon England.  The "Dan Stine extreme self restraint in the face of surmounting adversity moment of the week" is dealing with my tumble dryer (clothes dryer for the Yanks) engineer (field service tech for the Yanks) and company the last few weeks.  A little background - we bought a used clothes dryer from a returning secondment couple when we came over so we knew it was two years old and well used.  We used it for almost a year and then the water tray wasn't always full of water after running the dryer.  (For the Yanks - clothes dryers here aren't vented outside, the water is pumped into a tray and the tray must be emptied after each use.)  I weighed fixing it myself or calling a repairman and of course picked the wrong option.  I called a local repair company and they were out in a couple days at which time the engineer diagnosed the problem as a shot drain pump.  I ordered the part through them the next day and waited a few days for them to call me back to schedule the engineer back out to replace the pump.  No call after a few days so I called back and found out the part was ordered but the part that arrived was wrong so it was sent back.  The last couple of times I've called they don't have the proper part and can't even track if the proper part has been ordered/shipped yet.  I knew I should have done it myself.  Next weekend will be a month without a dryer which means I am washing a load a day and hanging everything.  England can be SO frustrating sometimes.    

The Mark Elliott Pub Glass Pic - check out my newest member!  A Beck's beauty I found at a local boot sale for a paltry 50 pence.  Welcome to the collection my new friend.  Shout out to Mark's Brownies for finally winning a game this past week.  1 and 15 means first pick next year buddy - congrats!
Lori had a typical doctor's office experience this last week.  Her ears have been blocked and painful so she is thinking ear infection.  So we stopped at the clinic one night last week and after a quick thirty minute wait she was ushered in to be checked out.  She walked out a few minutes later looking not happy.  Turns out the nurse looked in her ear and basically said looks bad but no infection yet, come back when they are infected.  In the meantime use pain medication to treat it.  So Lori clarified that the nurse was telling her that it looks like it will get worse but she won't do anything to make it better.  Yup.  Typical English doctor's visit - reactionary treatment only.  Go across the pond for preventative medicine.  Load up your "English health care system is better than US health care system" argument Jim Lang - we will be loaded for bear when we return.
Welcome to England Bob and Lona!  My in-laws are here for a visit so we are enjoying their company for the next four weeks or so.  After a rough flight over and a couple days to catch up to the time difference they were ready for our first weekend trip - Bath and Stonehenge.  We have been to the area previously so I won't go into a long write up on anything or a lot of pictures but will include some of the pictures from our trip.  (See first trip to Bath and Stonehenge link.)
The first stop was Tintern Abbey in southern Wales.  Impressive in size it was a good introduction to a ruins site for them.  They also found it interesting plus it was a scenic drive down.

The kids and Bob inside the Abbey.

Looking down the centre, you can see a person on the right for a scale perspective.

Looking towards the centre of the abbey.

The impressive ruins from a distance.

Jim Seppanen Pic - Chinese Paperbark Maple.  Some trees are changing colour now.

Hard to see but the bark was like thin papyrus curls.  Very neat.

Our weekend ride - a people carrier.  Easier to drive than I expected.  A couple tight spots but not unwieldy on the streets.  I was worried about driving these over here but no worries this weekend.
After the abbey was lunch.  We tried a cafe but after waiting for ten plus minutes without being looked at (remember my English service comment above?) we went across the street to a tea room/pub/restaurant combo place (they literally had a separate tea room, a separate pub and a separate restaurant in the same building which was a first for me) for some decent food.  The highlight was the adults asking if the kids chicken fingers can be made into an adult portion.  I imagine us Americans are pretty obvious to others as we travel around asking silly questions.  They chuckled but did serve the adult portion.  Thanks Anchor Inn.
Adult portion chicken fingers.

Kevin Coleman Pic - bitter and dull and not chilled.  It's official, Wales beer is as bad as English beer.

Dana Johnson Pic - my first Shepherd's Pie.  Mince lamb, peas, onion, gravy, mashed potato, cheese - it was surprisingly good.  The cabbage and carrots side salad was good also.  Bob had the decent tasting adult chicken fingers but will taste some "proper" British cuisine later.
Lunch is over so its onto Bath.  We motored on over and checked out Bath Abbey and Roman Baths.

Double door for abbey although the entry is through a smaller side door.

And inside the abbey was a choir practise or something that limited access which was kind of a bummer although the view is still impressive from the rear.

More of my favourite "important person" memorials.
This guy was a US Senator, I don't remember seeing this last time.

Obligatory stained glass window pic.

Bath Abbey in centre, Roman Baths entrance on right.

View of the Royal Bath from upper level.  Note the emperor statues on the upper level.

Emperor Vespasian overlooking the bath.  Vespasian was in The Jewish War.

Side of Bath Abbey from the Baths.

Combo pic of Roman Baths and Bath Abbey.


The Gorgon's Head on the temple pediment.

See below.

From above.

We walked past the Pulteney Bridge (above) and also saw The Circus and The Royal Crescent but I didn't have a chance to take some good pictures of those two this time. 
After Bath we stopped at a country pub where Bob was introduced to English hamburgers.  I don't think he believed us that they tasted different than US hamburgers but he does now.  He ate about a quarter and tried pawning off the rest to us but there weren't any suckers, I mean takers.  Interestingly enough Lona had a burger as well and said it wasn't bad but wasn't crazy about it.  I guess both her and Karl are missing some taste buds or something.  We also introduced them to English breakfasts at the Holiday Inn Express on Sunday morning.  They passed on the baked beans but tried the boiled egg substitute and mushy sausage.  One bite of sausage and they were done.  Welcome to England Bob and Lona!  Bob commented that the cereal was good though.

Kevin Coleman Pic - an okay stout at the country pub.  I had an IPA before the stout that was dirty dishwater flavoured.
On Sunday we started out near Avebury Stone Circle so we made that our first stop of the day.  Avebury is less well known than Stonehenge but equally interesting in my opinion.  More circles with smaller rocks set in larger diameters, a little different but still worth a stop.  Bob and I checked them out and he found them interesting also.

Steve Frey Pic - so this was the purpose of the stone circles - sheep back scratchers.  Mystery solved!
Steve Frey Pic - A couple stone circle segments in the distance.  Foggy and soggy day starting out, the sun would come and go all day with a chilly wind at times.  Temps in the mid 50's F all weekend.  Decent weather, no rain so I was happy.

Steve Frey Pic - Avebury lawn mowing service hard at work.  A velvety horned ram is on the right.  You could hear them tearing the grass with each bite.

Steve Frey Pic - The black sheep of the family.
Onto the underwhelming attraction called Stonehenge.  I think most people see it and say, that's it?  World famous and five thousand years old is worth a trip but I think everyone expects more when they first see it.  No exceptions on this trip. 

Stonehenge.  Henge means hanging so this place is really called Hanging Stone for the curious.

From a different angle, you can see the country side in the distance.  This place really is in the middle of nowhere.

KK and KJ in front of Stonehenge.  On the right is the start of the three tour buses that pulled in after us so now it's getting crowded and the chilly wind comes to life so we headed back to the VW.
After Stonehenge was a trip through the scenic Cotswolds.  It didn't seem as picturesque as I remember so I'm not sure what road we took last time or maybe we weren't used to the country scenery last time we were down here.  Regardless, our next stop was Stow-on-the-Wold (tourist info link).  It is a charming market town now with many standing houses built in the 1600's.  Its history dates to the Iron Age although we didn't explore much of the town.

Charming buildings.

Dana Johnson Pic - clotted cream and jam scones with strong coffee.  We were going to stop for a snack until I looked at a local map and saw the next town was much smaller than Stow so after eating our dessert first we ended up ordering lunch.

Dana Johnson Pic - some places have very good scones with clotted cream and jam.  This place was my second favourite only to St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall.  Dee-lish!

Dana Johnson Pic - now after my meal planning blunder it's time for a proper lunch.  Ham and cheese with mustard on white bread was okay.  The crisps tasted salt free though so I have to give them a thumbs down.

Check out these roofs Dad - bowed roof on right and a humped roof on left centre.

I thought this building face was unique.
I thought this little vestibule was quaint.

This cute little dog was watching the street.

Next town was Chipping Campden.  I think this is Chipping Campden but not sure because instead of following the road signs I followed the SatNav.  So instead of ending in Chipping Campden we ended up at Country Road to Nowhere.  So we called it a Fail and drove up to Stratford-Upon-Avon then home for the day.  We didn't stop so no pictures this time.  Maybe we'll make it down there this winter.

Teresa Robinett Pic - how's Bear doing Teresa?  Bob and Lona are dog sitting for us on our secondment so now Teresa is dog sitting for them while they are here.

The last view of the Cotswolds on our way home. 
We had a fun sightseeing weekend with good weather to start their vacation.  A few local trips are scheduled this week then we're onto Scotland next week for the kids half term break which means no blog next week.  See you in a couple of weeks.
Thanks for listening,


  1. Nice round 2 writeup. I like the Avebury commentary in particular. Thanks for all the pics.

    You know, if you guys would ever stay at B&B's you could actually get a decent breakfast.

    1. Some of us are not B&B fans so we don't stay there very often. I guess they don't have hair dryers or something.