Thursday, April 16, 2015

UK, Day 12: Last Day in Wales and Heading Home

On our last day in Wales we visited yet another castle.  Although not as old as some of the other castles we saw, Caerphilly, built in the 13th century is Britain's second largest castle and certainly the most imposing castle on our trip, covering 30 acres and having a double moat.  
We were allowed to go all over the castle, exploring dark tunnels, high towers, and defences.  No one got lost and the kids successfully completed the children's trail and earned a magnet.
We then took the short drive to Cardiff, the capital of and largest city in Wales.  TV fans will also know it as the home of BBC Wales and filming locations for Dr. Who.
We strolled around Cardiff Bay seeing the Wales Millennium Center, the Senedd (home of the Welsh National Assembly), the Pierhead Building, and the Norwegian Church.
We had our last pub lunch at Eli Jenkins where the service was terrible but the prices were amazingly low, and stopped by the Mr. Whippy truck for an ice cream treat.
Walking around Mermaid Quay, we enjoyed live music from the Quaynote Competition, and scrumptious, freshly made Welshcakes from Fabulous Welshcakes (imagine the offspring of a pancake and a scone with a hint of spice).
Saying goodbye to our friends we made the long drive to our hotel near Heathrow.  One side of it looked like a castle while the other looked like an office building.  The accommodations were fine, but not exactly castle-like, and we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere opting for dinner at a rundown takeaway fish and chips shop.
Waking up early on our last morning, we headed to Heathrow's Terminal 5 where we enjoyed breakfast at Wagamama (who knew they even served breakfast?).
We also grabbed as many sweets as possible from the duty free store including Ava's favorite, Kinder Eggs, which have been illegal in the US for many years. 
Flying in World Traveler class (aka coach, but with a posh name) in the upper deck of a BA A380, Ava had a shelf and storage bin next to her for the flight home.  She also had a personal video screen and got to watch tons of movies including the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie based on her current favorite book series.
We made it home safely and Ava is back into the swing of things at school and with her after-school activities.  Ava had a wonderful, albeit exhausting, vacation and is looking forward to a future trip back to the UK.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

UK, Day 11: (B)ramble On

Heading out of Llanrhidian (population 512) for the morning, we made our way to Rhossili Bay on the far western shore of the Gower.
The chilly temperatures and blustery winds didn't stop Ava and the rest of our crew from enjoying the sand at the beach, trying to perfect handstands, and generally acting silly.
On the hilltop above the beach the wind was even stronger and we were lucky that Ava held onto Chris' hat.
For lunch we stopped in at the only pub in Llanrhidian.  The kids visited the chickens and playground in the back garden before we headed in for food and drinks.
With only one person working at the pub that day the menu was limited to toasties (basically grilled cheese sandwiches) and the kids bided their time by making towers out of beer mats.  The wait was worth it (for the adults) as the melted Welsh cheese was great (albeit a bit too sharp for Ava).
Ava claims that she was convinced to stop playing football (soccer) with Matthew and Haydn by a claim from Abby that we could go on a five block walk to get to a castle.  Starting off on a well worn footpath, the first sign said that it would be 1.5 miles to the castle.  With that in mind, along with very simple written directions from the proprietors of the house where we stayed, this walk looked easy peasy.  Unfortunately, the clear path and good signage wouldn't last for long.  Making our way over stiles, through kissing gates, and up a small hill we continued to follow the small signs on the intermittent posts. 
Climbing further up the hill, on a muddy trail, and avoiding the horse manure, we eventually found an open field filled with small, friendly ponies.  Don't worry, none of the kids came down with foot and mouth disease.
The only problem with this revelation is that there wasn't a sign or path marker in sight.  We did, however, find an old man with a dog and walking stick and asked him where to go.  He was quite impressed that we were heading to the castle and warned that it was a long ways away (an ominous sign).  He offered us two options - walk along the road or walk down the path full of brambles.  We chose the latter path and walked through the narrow, brambly path being careful to avoid thorn or stick in the eye, and pausing here and there to dislodge prickly growths from tearing shirts and jackets.  Eventually the pathway opened up a bit and we had some room to walk.
When we got back to the bottom of the hill (the one I don't think we were meant to climb up in the first place) we returned to pastures and farmland.  We continued on and eventually climbed up the hill to Weobley Castle.  The view from the top was stunning and it was all free as there was no one there to collect our entrance fee.
We wandered all around the ruins and even climbed into windows.
On the way back we walked along the narrow road for a ways before finding a pub mentioned in our written directions.  Following the directions and the small footpath sign, we entered a field filled with sheep.  Unfortunately, there was no way out of the field.  Not only were the sheep scared/angry with us, but we had to turn around and walk back along the road.
With tired feet and no phone signal we nearly gave up and headed back to the pub to have Ben pick us up, but we pressed on.  Good thing too as we ran across The Mystery Machine from the Scooby Doo cartoons, and eventually found a footpath back to the village and our house.
We ended our day with a pub dinner at the Greyhound Inn (home of the Gower Brewery), which we had passed earlier in the day when we were lost/walking home, and a group photo in front of our house.
Check back in tomorrow to see whether we got lost on our final day in the UK.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

UK, Day 10: Castles And A Guy Named Dylan

With limited internet access, Ava's blog wasn't updated for a few days.  That, however, doesn't mean that Ava's UK adventures didn't continue...

After breakfast on Friday morning, we walked a few blocks to the tiny ruins of Narberth Castle.  With it's gate tucked behind a wall on a normal street, you would practically miss it if you didn't already know about it.

Saying goodbye to Narberth, we drove down to Laugharne, in Carmarthenshire, with its imposing castle overlooking the estuary of the River Taf. 
Jumping forward 800 years in history we walked along the hillside to peek into the writing shed where the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood, and then on down to the Dylan Thomas Boathouse where he lived for the last four years of his life.
Being such a nice day we were able to have tea, welsh cakes, and bara brith outside just as Thomas would have (although he probably would have been drinking whiskey).
With the tide having receded we took the path along the water (which had been completely submerged an hour earlier) back to the castle where we were able to go inside and out.
After a busy morning, we made our way to the Mumbles in Swansea where we met up with Kerrie, Ben, Matthew, Haydn, and Hollie.  After lunch we all enjoyed ice cream at Joe's and a stroll along the waterfront. 
Leaving the very busy Mumbles area, we drove along narrow roads into the countryside to the tiny village of Llanrhidian where our rental house was next to a church and a large field of sheep (of course).
You can find out more tomorrow about our trip to Rhossili Bay and our attempts to find Weobley Castle.