Saturday, April 12, 2014

Dream Vacation - Day 29

Woke up on day 29 to a full English Breakfast prepared by my buddy Meds. I have to say one thing about these British/Irish/Scottish folks really know how to do breakfast.

It was a complete surprise where Meds was taking me today. He had planned the entire day out and I was just along for the ride.

We drove to the near by city of Sarehole, parked and walked to a row of houses. Meds pointed out that the third house on the right was the childhood home (ages 3 to 12) of my favorite author J.R.R. Tolkien. I was extremely excited as I wanted to see as much Tolkien stuff as I could while in England and this wasn't even on my wish list. And to further my excitement across the street from the Tolkien's house was a corn mill, and it wasn't any ordinary mill, it was the inspirations of Ted Sandmen's Mill in Hobbiton in Lord of the Rings.

The locale at that time was rural Worcestershire farmland and countryside. "It was a kind of lost paradise ... There was an old mill that really did grind corn with two millers, a great big pond with swans on it, a sandpit, a wonderful dell with flowers, a few old-fashioned village houses and, further away, a stream with another mill. I always knew it would go – and it did. – said Tolkien in an interview with Guardian journalist, John Ezard in 1966.

This mill is now a museum and Tolkien themed and talk about timing it opened today after being closed all winter. We started with a self guided tour of the mill itself. They had these Hobbit themed wooden plaques that would give you clues to the next plaque. It was a kind of riddle game and a lot of fun. They have a room set up where you can watch a video about the local area and Tolkien. And then they had a second room with pictures and information about the surround lands and how things have changed over the years.

After the mill Meds and I walked around the property, the lake is still there and there are pathways roaming through gorgeous trees and bushes. 

We spent a few hours there and it was amazing!! It's also said to be where the large Willow tree (Old Man Willow from LOTR) was located. Unfortunately it had been cut down many years ago.

Also just outside the mill was this sandwich bar called Hungry Hobbit, we didn't go in but I had to get picture.

Next on our adventure was Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings, this was an open-air museum of rescued buildings which have been relocated to its site in Stoke Heath, a district of Bromsgrove.

Founded in 1963 and opened in 1967, the museum was conceived following the dismantling of a 15th-century timber-framed house in Bromsgrove in 1962 to provide a location for its reconstruction.  The museum's collection comprises more than 27 buildings and structures which have been relocated from their original sites under threat of demolition, being rebuilt and restored at the museum. This includes a fully functioning windmill and a post WW2 prefab house as used in many towns and cities after the Second World War to provide quick affordable replacements for houses destroyed by bombing.

This place also has a collection of telephones booths which of course includes a TARDIS. What makes these telephone booths even cooler is that you can call each other from different booths.

There is also a nice cafe located on the grounds and after our visit we grabbed some tasty goodies and one thing that I been wanting to try while in England.. a Crumpet. It reminded me of an English Muffin here in the US, but very tasty... I mean it's bread smothered in butter so of course I'm going to love it.

Afterwards we went back to Meds place and hung out and watched some TV.

During the evening Meds took me out to dinner to The Ewe and Lamb restaurant, we started with a few drinks and watched some locals almost come to blows while we waited for our table. I had lamb shank and sticky toffee pudding for the first time. Both were very good, especially the pudding. We also had a few more drinks and enjoyed each others company for a few hours before taking a taxi back to his place and calling it a night.

We crammed alot into a day but it was so much fun. Thanks Meds for being awesome.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dream Vacation - Day 28

Today my plan was to start the next phase of my vacation and drive to Bromsgrove to visit my buddy Simon and his family. But there was a Torchwood convention happening in Birmingham, which is just a half hour north of Bromsgrove and several friends were going to be there. Since my visit with Markus was fantastic I figured I'd help him out by driving him up there and then I could visit with friends for a few hours before heading back south to Bromsgrove.

So we got to the hotel in Birmingham around noon and met up with Matt, Erlend, Thomas (who was working the event) and my buddy Adam (Bel) who was visiting from Sweden. I got to hang with Matt, Erlend, Markus and Bel for a few hours in their hotel room. Individually each guy is fun but when you get all four of them together, it's a mad house!! One of my favorite moments was when Bel was teaching Matt how to dance. We grabbed some lunch at the near by train station. Before I said my goodbyes and made my way back down to Bromsgrove.

I made it to my buddy Simon's house around 8pm, I met Simon via the Treks in Sci Fi podcast and forums. We hit it off instantly and became fast friends. When I started my MASH podcast I knew I wanted Simon, or Meds as we all call him, for the podcast. Happily he said yes and we are now going on over three years of podcasting.

It was awesome seeing his huge smile as I got out to the car and was welcome with a warm hug. It's funny because all these people that I'm meeting over here is for the first time but since I've been online friends with most of them for years it as though we've known each other forever and it's the same with Meds. It as though we haven't seen each other in a few weeks and are just now catching up on each others lives, it's very comfortable.

We sat around for a few hours and chatted, I got to met his wife Natalie who was also very sweet before calling it a night. Meds has some big things planned for tomorrow and I don't have clue.. can't wait.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dream Vacation - Day 27

Today was all about Stonehenge, Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in Wiltshire, England. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is the remains of a ring of standing stones set within earthworks. It is in the middle of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds.

This was one of the "must" see on my list of things to do while in England. Markus hadn't been since he was a young boy so this would be fun for the both of us. It's a two hour drive from Worchester and it's still funny to me that these guys over here (in England) think that it's a super long drive and for me that's nothing, I do that every other week to visit family. I tried to take a different route then what was taken yesterday when we went to Oxford as it's in the same general direction and I wanted to see something different. We took very few highways and instead did lots of two lane country roads. It was a nice drive.

You can actually see Stonehenge from the highway but of course it's forbidden to stop anywhere. When you get to the entrance of Stonehenge you're about a mile away and can't see it at all. We decided to check out Stonehenge monument first before doing the museum part. They have shuttle trams/buses that take you from the center to Stonehenge but Markus and I figured we'd walk, it was a nice day and it couldn't be that far. Yeah that was a mistake. Though the walk was very nice it took a long time to get there and we now understood why there were only a few people doing it, the majority would pass us on the tram/bus.

But we made it to Stonehenge and it was everything I had expected. It's strange standing there and looking at this thing that's been here for thousands of years. There is a path that goes all the way around Stonehenge, at one point you're about 30 feet away from it and the furthest point eight or nine hundred feet away. I took a ton of pictures from every side of Stonehenge. The weather was nice and the crowds weren't so bad.

Afterwards we headed over to a group of burial mounds (barrows) that are part of the area here. There are actually quite of few of these but these looked to be the largest. I walked to the top of one which kind of felt weird doing it but there was a well worn path leading up and over the mounds so everyone does it.

We then caught a tram back to the main center as I was not going to walk back. Once back, we went into the "museum" part of Stonehenge, I learned a lot about the history of Stonehenge and never realized there were different stages to building Stonehenge. We spent a good five hours at Stonehenge before we headed back to Worchester and called it a night.

You can check out more picture of Stonehenge HERE.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dream Vacation - Day 26

We were up early and on the road, Markus was taking me to Malvern Hills, The Malvern Hills are a range of hills in the English counties of Worcestershire, Herefordshire and a small area of northern Gloucestershire, dominating the surrounding countryside and the towns and villages of the district of Malvern. The highest summit of the hills affords a panorama of the Severn valley with the hills of Herefordshire and the Welsh mountains, parts of thirteen counties, the Bristol Channel, and the cathedrals of Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford. It's also said and more importantly the reason Markus wanted to take me there, that this mountain range was the inspiration for The White Mountains of Gondor from Lord of the Rings.

It's quite a trek driving up some of these very tiny (one car only) roads. There were more then a few times when I just closed my eyes and squeezed between 2 parked cars and hoped that I wouldn't nick them with my side mirrors. But we made it there safely and started to make the climb to one of the highest peaks. It was beautiful and well worth the hike. The weather wasn't that bad, there was a haze but the sun was out.

We then headed north east to Warwick Castle, Warwick Castle is a medieval castle developed from an original built by William the Conqueror in 1068. Warwick is the county town of Warwickshire, England, situated on a bend of the River Avon. The original wooden motte-and-bailey castle was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century. During the Hundred Years War, the facade opposite the town was refortified, resulting in one of the most recognizable examples of 14th century military architecture. It was used as a stronghold until the early 17th century.

I figured it was an old castle but when we got there it turns out that it's more like an medieval amusement park. You can check out their website HERE. We had planned to just stop by and check it out for an hour because we had a lot that we wanted to see today, but when we got there and saw the price to get in I decided that there was no way I was going to pay that much for an hour visit (It was close to $40 US dollars). But we talked it over and moved some things around (mainly Stonehenge). We would spend more time hear to make it worth the cost.

There is a ton to do here, besides the beautiful castle that you can walk around in and see "staged" scenes of what life would have been like back then. They had jousting tournaments and bird shows happening in the middle of the courtyard. There were other activities that you could pay extra to do and if we had planned to stay all day I might have done them but we passed on most of them. But we did partake in one of those activities.. bow and arrows. Both Markus and I tried our hand at it and it's alot harder then it looks as well as leave a nice burn mark on your forearm from the bow hitting it. We spent about 3 hours there and had a blast.

After Warwick Castle we headed south to Oxford. If you know me you know I'm a HUGE J.R.R Tolkien fan and I wanted to visit his grave site which is located in Oxford. We found the cemetery and there were stone markers directing you to his grave site. Once there I paid my respects and thanked him for his amazing stories that have brought so much joy to my life. It was a nice moment.

J.R.R Tolkien was a professor at Oxford Collage, so we headed out to find the house he lived in while being a professor. It took some doing but we found the house. It's just in the middle of a regular looking neighborhood owned by private owner. There is a blue plaque at the top of the house letting you know that this was Tolkien's house but you kind of feel weird taking pictures of someones private home.. but none the less I did.

We then headed over to a pub called Eagle and the Child, The Eagle and Child is a pub on St Giles' Street, Oxford, England which is owned by St. John's College, Oxford. The pub had been part of an endowment belonging to University College since the 17th century. It has associations with the Inklings writers' group which included J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. They would meet in a private lounge at the back of the pub known as the 'Rabbit Room'.

Markus and I went into the pub and grabbed a drink. Lots of Tolkien and Lewis history all over the place. We meet a cute couple who had met online and were vacationing together and were visiting the pub for the same reason as we were. We spent a good hour just enjoying the environment.

It was getting late and we had planned to hit up Stonehenge but since we took longer at Warwick Castle we decided to postpone Stonehenge until tomorrow. So we spent a half hour or so driving around the crazy streets of Oxford looking for Oxford Collage and I think I saw parts of it but we were to tired to continue so we made the 2 and a half hour trek back to Markus' place.

When we got back we walked into town to grab come yummy Chinese food before calling it an night.

We did lots of things today.. all of them were fun but my favorite was visiting and paying respect to one of my all time favorite authors. Thanks Markus for sharing such an amazing experience with me, couldn't ask for a better friend to do it with.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Dream Vacation - Day 25

Today I woke up in Worchester, Markus made us breakfast and then we headed into town. Worchester is gorgeous and looks like your quint essential English town. Markus lives up in the hills so you get a great view as you're walking down to the city.

Markus showed me some of his favorite places in town. One of these place was a little cafe that sold Scotch Eggs, A Scotch egg consists of a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, coated in bread crumbs and baked or deep-fried. We picked up two of them. We also stopped by a grocery store to pick up some snacks for our travels the next few days. Markus got these giant marshmallows.. these are the biggest that I've every seen.

Afterwards we headed from Worchester, England to Cardiff, Wales. Now if you're a geek you should know the city of Cardiff. If not it's the location of Torchwood and earlier seasons of Doctor Who. It was about 90 miles south/west of Worchester. Drove across this amazing bridge to get into Cardiff. We found a place to park and then made our way to an iconic landmark at least for us geeks. It's the secret entrance to Torchwood. It
was pretty awesome standing there. 

Next was the Doctor Who Experience. Markus surprised me with the Merchandise package, which included a t-shirt and some cool postcards. I expected that we'd be seeing costumes and props from Doctor Who.. but what happen as we walked in I never expected.

There is a group of about 20 people and you walk into a semi circle facing a big screen. I did noticed this crack in the middle of screen but just figured that it was an old screen. A video starts and it's Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor explaining the situation. When he's done the screen/wall splits at the crack and opens up to the control room of the TARDIS. Everyone gathers around it and there are these panels with different controls on them. Matt Smith shows up again on screen and explains that we need to fly the TARDIS and explains how to work the controls and those who are standing in front of the buttons gets to play around as the floor of room shakes and trembles. We then are boarded by Daleks as we walk through the hallways into a larger room three Daleks come out of corridors and attack, but just then the Doctor comes and saves us. We then have to deal with the weeping angels before the Doctor talks to the group one last time and then we are released into a large room with costumes and props.

The lower level has several TARDIS control centers as well as the outfits of all 11 Time Lords and the recent companions. Several sonic screw drivers and other electronic pieces that were used during the series.

The upper level has replicas/original of the other characters on Doctor Who. Face of Boe, the Silence, Cybermen, Daleks, Weeping Angels and a ton more. Towards the end of the of the tour there are large set pieces and larger props.

It was a fantastic experience and a must for any Doctor Who fan who can get to Cardiff and I'm glad I was able to do it with one of my favorite people... Thanks Markus for making this all happen. If you want to see more of my Doctor Who Experience picture click HERE.

Once we were done with Doctor Who we went out to lunch at a local Mexican Restaurant, I got some enchiladas but they were just okay. We then drove 2 hours back to Worchester. We were exhausted so we just hung out at Markus' place, I got to try both of the scotch eggs, I liked them better warmed up rather then cold. I also got to eat one of those super large marshmallows. Today was a great day... and we got another fun filled day planned for tomorrow.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Dream Vacation - Day 24

Today is a travel day, I'm going from Cambridge to Worchester. But before I do I head out into Cambridge by myself to meet up with my buddy Russ. When I headed out I had planned to grab a taxi but I couldn't find any that were off duty. So I walked and walked and soon was lost in the somewhere of Cambridge. My buddy Matt who was back at Erlend's place was trying to help me out as my temp phone (blackberry) wasn't working properly but communication wasn't great so I continue to walk towards where I though we were to meet up. I was getting frustrated as Russ and I had little time to hang out and we only got to hang a few hours previous night. It also started to rain and I had no umbrella.

After about an hour and half Russ and I finally met up and went to a local coffee house. We spent the next hour and a half chatting and enjoying each other's company. Soon Emily and Matt joined us and we walked around Cambridge checking out the sites for a bit.

For lunch the four of us went to a place that claimed they had the "Best Burgers in the World" it was called Byron Burgers. We of course had to check it out and find out for ourselves if it was the best burgers in the world. I'd have to say that the burgers were pretty good I don't think they were the best. But we had a great time.

After lunch we said our goodbyes, I don't feel like Russ and I got to hang as much as I would have liked. But I'll take what I can. It was great meeting him and Emily (who is such a sweetheart) and hopefully one of these days the two of them will come to visit me in the US.

Matt and I headed back to Erlend's to pack up our things and get on road. I had to drop off Matt in Raunds before making my way to Worchester.

Meeting Matt was the unexpected highlight of my trip. He's an amazing guy, very British, sweet and so kind, he reminded me of myself at his age (besides the British part)... we instantly bonded. He feels like a little brother to me and I know that will continue to be great friends for the rest of our lives.

It was a rough drive to Worchester, it was a total of about 133 miles from Cambridge to Worchester with a quick stop in Raunds. It rained hard at times, even at monsoon levels, where I couldn't see a foot in front of me. I was a bit scared but took it slow and steady. I eventually made it to Worcester and my friend Markus, just as the sun went down.

I know I say this about all the people I have met here in the UK but it's true... my friend Markus is one of the sweetest guys that I have ever met. Like with the others, Markus and I met though The Guild, he was actually a fan of my podcast Knights of the Guild and our friendship blossomed from there. I've never met a more caring, sweet, and giving human being. I loved this guy before we ever met in person. There is just something about him that makes him amazing. He's one of those kinds of people who don't really realize how incredible they truly are.

He greeted me with the biggest smile and the best bear hug that I have ever had. We embraced for a few minutes and it finally hit me.. we were meeting face to face for the first time, after years of talking about it... it was an amazing feeling.

I got to meet Markus' dad Brian who was a character and super funny.. he welcomed me into their home with open arms. Markus and I hung out for a few hours before calling it a night, we had lots planned for the next few days.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Dream Vacation - Day 23

So today is my second "full" day here in Cambridge. I'm staying at my friend Erlend's place and my buddy Matt is also joining us for my visit.

We headed to the theater to see the new Marvel movie, Captain America: The Winter Solider. This is my first experience seeing a movie outside of the US. My first surprise was that they sell beer at their theaters. I've never heard of this before, I mean I know there are "specialized" theaters here in LA now that sell beer but not in the general theaters. The other interesting thing was the sweet popcorn. They don't really do butter and salty popcorn then do sweet popcorn... interesting.

The theater we saw the movie in was in the middle of a mall so it wasn't huge but I don't know if they have huge theaters like they do here in the US. But they did have "special" seating in the middle of the theater where you could pay extra and have larger comfier seats, which we did.

Now for the movie... I loved it. Captain America is my favorite of all the Marvel movies so I was really looking forward to seeing this. It not only met my expectations but exceeded them. I loved Black Widow in it and the addition of Falcon. I was really surprised to find out that Caps best friend Bucky was the "bad" guy.. I did not see that coming. And then of course we get the big reveal that Hydra has been hiding inside of S.H.I.E.L.D. and all hell breaks loose. So I really enjoyed the storyline and I can't wait to see more. This is defiantly going on my list of blu-rays to buy when it comes out. I give Captain America: The Winter Solider a solid A.

Afterward we went back to Erlends place and we watched the first three seasons of The Guild. I gave them some inside commentary while we watched. It was fun watching these episodes with some hard core Guildies and it brought back alot of the great memories that I have while working on that series.

Later in the evening Erlend, Matt and I headed out to a bar to meet up with another friend of mine whom I've been really excited to meet while in England. His name is Russell and he was with his girlfriend Emily. Russ and I meet through The Guild but I really got to know him when he did a podcast with our friend Teal Sherer. Russ is one of the sweetest guys I have ever met. Not to mention that he's the cutest thing ever, very charismatic, charming and with his accent he's absolutely dreamy.

So when we got to the bar he and Emily were already sitting down. I went to give him a hug and I may have squeezed a bit to hard but I couldn't help it. I've been wanting to meet him in person for a while. I was so happy when he said he and Em were coming down to Cambridge for the weekend so we could meet up.

We sat and chatted for an hour or so before heading out and going to another bar to continue our chat. We called it a night around midnight and made plans to hook up tomorrow morning just Russ and I to hangout again... I can't wait.

It was another fantastic day here in Cambridge.

Thanks to Erlend, Matt, Russ and Emily.