Saturday, April 5, 2014

Dream Vacation - Day 22

Was up early at Erlend's place. My buddy Matt made me a "perfect" cup of English Tea, though I don't do milk so it was almost perfect.

Erlend, Matt and I headed into town (Cambridge). We did a lot of walking, we walked along the canals and into town. Of course Cambridge is known for it's collages and I have to say there are a ton of them right next to each other, each one more magnificent then the other. Most of the campus' you had to pay to visit but there were a few that we were able to go into without paying.

We stopped for lunch at a place called The Eagle. Originally opened in 1667 as the "Eagle and Child", The Eagle is one of the larger pubs in Cambridge, England, on the north side of Bene't Street in the centre of the city.

When the university's Cavendish Laboratory was still at its old site at nearby Free School Lane, the pub was a popular lunch destination for staff working there. Thus, it became the place where Francis Crick interrupted patrons' lunchtime on February 28 1953 to announce that he and James Watson had "discovered the secret of life" after they had come up with their proposal for the structure of DNA. The anecdote is related in Watson's book The Double Helix and commemorated on a blue plaque next to the entrance. Today the pub serves a special ale to commemorate the discovery, dubbed "Eagle's DNA".

On our way back via the backside of all the campus' we had walk along this walkway that went through a field and in this field just roaming around were a bunch of cows. It was very strange walking among the cows. Erlend fought the urge to push them into a stream, yeah he's an odd duck.

The backsides of the collages were beautiful, first of all the canal runs behind them and there are people floating down the canals in gondolas. Most of the collages had large grassy areas filled with trees and flowers. We walked through as many of these as was possible. Lots of people just hanging out on the grounds enjoying the beautiful day.

Back at Erlends place Matt made me my first official Bangers and Mash for dinner. While we ate dinner was watched Avengers. Afterwards we played some Yahtzee on my ipad and a game that I had heard alot  about but never played Munchkin. It was a fun way to end the evening.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Dream Vacation - Day 21

Today I say goodbye to Daniel and his family in Doncaster and head to Cambridge but first I had several stops to make before I get there. My first stop was in Sheffield to visit my friend Phil. Phil is a Guild fan and like with Daniel I have never met him, seen him or talked to him over the phone/skype. He and I have communicate only through texting, chat rooms and twitter.

I picked him up just outside city center and we drove into Sheffield. We parked and then walked around the city for an hour. We also got some lunch in the city and I tried Beef & Ale Pie for the first time, it was really good.

After hanging with Phil I stopped by the city of Nottingham as I wanted to go to Nottingham Castle. After parking and getting lost for over an hour I finally found the Castle. It cost me about 6 pounds to get in. Nottingham Castle is located in a commanding position on a natural promontory known as "Castle Rock", with cliffs 130 feet high to the south and west. Besides the beautiful grounds the main building is a museum and art gallery. It houses most of the City of Nottingham's fine and decorative art collections, galleries on the history and archaeology of Nottingham and the surrounding areas, and the regimental museum of the Sherwood Foresters. 

I spent a few hours checking out the grounds and museum before heading to Raunds to pick up my buddy Matt, again this is the first time that we'd be meeting in person. He was joining Erlend and I in Cambridge for my visit. 

When I got to his house his mom was outside so I got to met her as well, a very sweet lady. We packed his stuff into my car and we were on our way to Cambridge. While heading there we got a text from Erlend asking if I could pick him up from work, which is just outside of the city. 

Erlend is the one friend that I have met before, we met up at San Diego Comic Con a few years back. So Matt and I picked him up at a pub near his job and headed to his place just outside city center of Cambridge. Erlend place is very nice and even has a guest room with two twin beds so both Matt and I had a place to sleep. 

Once at Erlends we settled in and decided to order some dinner. We got fish and chips and wow did we get some chips.. three giant boxes of them. While we ate we watched Captain America, we plan to see Captain America: The Winter Solider in the next day or so and Matt had not seen the first movie yet... so it was a must watch.

After the movie we played one of Erlend's game but it was new game to me. It's called Kraker Laken Poker. Despite the name, Kakerlakenpoker has nothing to do with poker – except that the game is all about bluffing, and it's such a fun game. I'll have to pick up a copy of it when I get back to the states. 

We spent the rest of the evening just hanging out.. it was a low key kind of night as I knew I'd be doing lots of sightseeing tomorrow and the next day.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Dream Vacation - Day 20

Today we drove to Lincoln, which is about 45 miles from Doncaster. Today's weather was completely different then yesterday. It was slightly cloudy and cool but there was no fog... so yay!!

Got to Lincoln and parked, Daniel had been here before so he knew exactly where he was taking me. We headed into the city center and then started walking up this hill. It doesn't look that intimidating until you are half way up it and you're exhausted and out of breath. It's so bad that they actually have benches about halfway up the hill for you to rest. But it was totally worth the hike as when you get to the top of the hill there are two must see things. First was the Lincoln Cathedral, it was once the tallest building in the world, from 1300-1549. Yet, in spite of its size, it is filled with intricate detail. In Lincoln Cathedral the architects of the Gothic style perhaps reached the pinnacle of their art. We couldn't go in as it was closed and portions of it was being remodeled but it didn't take away any of the majestic beauty.

Next to the Cathedral was the Lincoln Castle, this castle was constructed during the late 11th century by William the Conqueror on the site of a pre-existing Roman fortress. It was a few pounds to enter and more then half of the castle was covered in scaffolding and being remodeled. The area with the view of the city that Daniel wanted to show me was closed. But it was still cool standing in the middle of this very old castle. 

We headed back down the hill and came across a few used books stores. I was on the hunt for some older prints of Lord of the Rings, Hobbit or Harry Potter. Unfortunately I didn't find any. We ate lunch down in the city center before getting back on the road and heading home. 

While we were driving up to Lincoln I saw a sign that said Sherwood Forest, as in Robin Hood. So on the way back we decided to stop by since it was only a short detour. We got to Sherwood Forest about an hour before they closed. Since it was at the tail end of winter things weren't really in bloom but for me it was awesome as I love leave-less trees. So I had a great time taking a ton of pictures of these amazing trees. 

The main attraction of Sherwood Forest is a tree called Major Oak, which, according to local folklore, was Robin Hood's principal hideout. The oak tree is between 800 and 1,000 years old and, since the Victorian era, its massive limbs have been partially supported by an elaborate system of scaffolding. We semi-jogged to get to this tree as it's in the back of the park and time was running out as they were closing soon. But it was worth the jog.. this tree is MASSIVE!!

After Sherwood Forest we headed back to Daniel's house but first we stopped by Toys R Us so I could get his daughters some Frozen dolls as a thank you for letting me stay at their place the past few days. These were their first Frozen dolls and they loved them.. which made me happy.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dream Vacation - Day 19

Today Daniel and I were heading to Manchester. I was going to drive since Daniel does not. We mapped it out and it had us going north and over Peak District National Park but Daniel said that the drive would be much better if we drove through the park and since I want to see as much countryside as I could I agreed that we should go through the park. It's about 60 miles from Doncaster to Manchester.

We headed out in the morning and it was foggy and gloomy, we were hoping that it would burn off or change when we entered the park but it didn't. The road way we were planning on taking was actually closed halfway through it and we went all over the place following detour signs. I have to say that some of the roadways were extremely perilous and my heart was pounding hard a few times. But we made it to Manchester and walked around for an hour or so. There really wasn't much to see in this city. But like all cities in England they had some amazing looking old buildings.

For lunch we found a Taco Bell in a local mall. Daniel had never had Taco Bell before and I was missing it so we grabbed some lunch while there.

So we headed home and tried to take the more scenic route again and this time the fog wasn't as bad, we even came across this house in the middle of this valley and it was one of the most beautiful sites that I had seen this entire trip. It was as if it was plucked out of a fairytale. I had to stop and take some pictures (which still don't do it justice).

Made it back to Doncaster and I got to hang out with just Daniel as his wife and kids were out. We watched a local debate on weather or not the UK should separate from the EU. It was interesting to watch British politics. I guess politics are the same regardless of what country you are in.

After the debate I introduced Daniel to Star Wars The Clone Wars, we watched the movie and then a few episodes of the series... he was hooked, don't think his wife was happy about that :)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Dream Vacation - Day 18

Today was a travel day. I was going from York to Doncaster. It's only a 43 mile drive so I figured I'd get there in an hour or so. I left my hotel around 10am and while driving there I came across some nuclear silos. It reminded me of The Simpsons. I had never seen nuclear silos before. I got into Doncaster around 11. I was staying with my Treks in Sci Fi buddy Daniel and his family. I've known Daniel for many years but we've never met in person. So this was going to be our first time. Daniel took off time from work to hang out with me while I stayed at his place. I was staying with him and his family for 3 days.

He lives in a very cute row house just outside city center. I knocked on the door and was greeted by his smiling face. I entered his house and met his wife Laura and their young daughters Isabel and Elia. I instantly learned a ton about My Little Ponies as both kids brought out many of their own ponies and shared all sort of information with me.

Laura and the kids had to go somewhere and Daniel and I headed into town. We walked around town, check out Doncaster Minster which was beautiful, and then stopped for some drinks. My first drink was a cider called Rosie (I chose it because it reminded me of LOTR and Sam's wife).

We then went to another bar and I discovered Hooch. I had never heard it before but I was hooked. I guess these were big back in the 90's here in England but the "refreshing" drink, was criticized for its sweet lemonade taste and cartoon-style branding, which was thought to be attractive to teenagers. It has 4.7% ABV, stronger than many beers and was pulled for about nine years until resurfacing recently. All I know is I could have drank these all day long. But after a few I was feeling a bit tipsy.

Afterwards we headed back home and his family was there. I found out that the two girls are huge fans of Frozen so we watched it while we had some dinner or as they like to call it tea, which really confused me as I thought they actually meant tea.

They gave me their entire office/play area for my room at the top of the house. They had a bed all set up for me as well. It was a good day. They took me into their family like I was one of their own. Though we had just met it was like we've known each other forever.. it was pretty awesome. Heading to Manchester tomorrow.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Dream Vacation - Day 17

Today was a partial day of rest, I have noticed that I need a break every now and then from the vacation and sightseeing. So I got up early and just kind of hung out in my hotel room watching this British TV series that I started watching last night called Heartbeat. Heartbeat is a British police drama series set in 1960s North Riding of Yorkshire and broadcast on ITV in 18 series between 1992 and 2010. It's a melodrama soap opera and it sucked me in with the first episode. I watched two episodes last night while I was staying in Durham and again I watched four more episodes today while chilling in my hotel room. Now I have to find it here in the states... must see more of Heartbeat.

I was debating on traveling to another city close by for the day but as I mentioned I was exhausted from all my recent traveling and decided not to. I left my hotel room around 1pm and headed back into the city center of York. I grabbed some lunch at a local fish and chips place and picked up some bracelets at an open market. I explored different parts of the city and also did "The Fabulous York Cat Trail" The York Cat Trail is a scavenger hunt with the opportunity to find and photo the numerous statues of cats which are on York's old buildings.

These were put there to frighten away rats and mice. The statues were also thought to ward off wandering evil spirits and to bestow good luck and good health on people. The older statues are thought to date back to the Victorian Era whilst those removed or rotted are believed to have origins in medieval times, when a rat may have helped carry the bubonic plague.

The walking tour consisted of 21 cats but there are quite a few more further out from the city center. I spent the next three hours walking all over the city looking for these 21 cats. It was alot of fun though somewhat frustrating at times when I couldn't find the cat. But I'm happy to say that I did in fact find all 21 cats .. woohoo!!

I wanted to check out the Jorvik Viking Centre, it's a museum and visitor attraction. It was created by the York Archaeological Trust in 1984 but the Cat Trail adventure took a bit longer then expected and it was closed by the time I was done.

As night fell I stood in front of a closed Starbuck in a very deserted street using their free wifi for about an hour. People would walk by every once in a while. It felt a bit unsettling at times but I had have my dose of social media.

I made my way back to the hotel and crashed for the night. Tomorrow I head to my buddy Daniels place down in Doncaster.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dream Vacation - Day 16

I was up around 8ish, enjoyed the comfy bed. I had some leftover pizza for breakfast before packing up and heading to the city of York. It was a 75 miles drive from Durham to York and it was once again very foggy and misty. I didn't stop a single time as there really wasn't anything to see. I could tell there was beautiful countryside out there I just couldn't see it.

I got into York around 1pm and made it to my hotel, I couldn't check in right away but they allowed me to park my car in their lot. Figured I'd explore for a few hours and then come back and check in. My hotel was about two miles from city center so it was a good 20 minute walk. Outside city center it was kind of a boring town, it was old and not in a good way. But as you get closer to city center you see the gates, the one I walked through is called Micklegate Tower. This is a gated city like London-Derry in Northern Ireland, but unlike London-Derry only half of the walls are still standing. But you are able to walk along what portions of the wall are still standing.

Once you go through the gates you're in city center and then it turns into your typical charming English city. I wandered through the city streets until I saw this "ruin" on top of a small hill. I figured I'd give it a look.

It was York Castle aka Clifford Tower, it's a fortified complex comprising, over the last nine centuries, a sequence of castles, prisons, law courts and other buildings on the south side of the River Foss. The now-ruinous keep of the medieval Norman castle is commonly referred to as Clifford's Tower. Built originally on the orders of William I to dominate the former Viking city of York, the castle suffered a tumultuous early history before developing into a major fortification with extensive water defences. After a major explosion in 1684 rendered the remaining military defences uninhabitable, York Castle continued to be used as a jail and prison until 1929.

There was a fee to going into the castle but again it was something like 8 pounds which I felt was worth it. Once inside all you can do is take a spiral staircase to the top and get some great views of the city of York.

Walking through the streets of York reminded me the most of Harry Potter and Diagon Alley. But one street in particular was pretty amazing.. it's  called The Shambles. The buildings are close together, and leaning inward. It was a very magical feeling walking down that street. I almost felt as though I would turn the corner and see Olivanders Wand shop :)

Just down the street from The Shambles was the amazingly beautiful York Minster, it's one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe. The minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the second-highest office of the Church of England, and is the cathedral for the Diocese of York. It is run by a dean and chapter, under the Dean of York. The formal title of York Minster is "The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York". The title "minster" is attributed to churches established in the Anglo-Saxon period as missionary teaching churches, and serves now as an honorific title.

There really are no words to describe how amazing this structure looks. It's so huge and ornate. I've seen quite a few church's in my travels but nothing compares to this one. You're able to walk inside and check out the inside which is also very beautiful (but no photo's allowed), but you have to pay something like 24 pounds to go up into the towers. This was one thing I didn't feel was worth the money. I mean just seeing this place from the outside was good enough for me. 

I wondered through different parts of the city making my way back to my hotel to check in and call it a night. This hotel is very unique and must have been a big house at one point and converted into a hotel afterwards. The room was extremely small and the bed was even smaller but I had my own bathroom which was nice and it was quiet, but the best thing about this hotel was the key.. it was an old school skeleton key.... very cool.