Archive for July, 2010

Audible

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

I still have a posting for Dublin to upload. But in the meantime, a travel update. We’ve pulled an audible and switched our schedule around a bit. We’re doing Belgium and Amsterdam earlier on the front-end of the Europe portion instead of the back-end.

Currently, it’s happy hour on Thursday in Brussels. We’re sitting at a bar near the Grand-Place Grote Markt enjoying our 2-for-1 beer, and this bar has FREE WI-FI!!! That’s why you lucky kids are getting a free impromptu blog update. After having ubiquitous (notwithstanding AT&T) internet/data access in the states, being reliant on sparse free wi-fi locales is trying on the connected addict in me. So finding free Wi-fi spots is a treat. Miriam would probably disagree. Her object and goal of this trip is to find as many new foreign snacks/chocolates/sweets as humanly possible and try them all. We spend way too much time in the snack aisle of every supermarket in each country. But I guess that’s okay, I get to check out the beer aisles then.

Edinburgh

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

July 11, 2010 (Sunday) – July 14, 2010 (Wednesday):

Edinburgh is a wonderful little, big city. The city is enjoyably walkable. The architecture of the buildings (new and old) are fantastically photo-worthy (I went a bit camera-happy and had to pare down over 100 pictures down to a more “reasonable” 70). And the food is surprisingly not too bad, yes even Scotland’s famous haggis.

Upon arriving on the train into Scotland and after checking into our B&B, we were famished and needed food. Based on the recommendation from our guide book, we visited Urban Angel cafe. Hallelujah! Finally, good food! Miriam loved her smoked mackerel salad (a happy, full Miriam equals a stress-free, unbothered Frank). I enjoyed my haggis and mash as well. Haggis! It gets a bad rap. Basically it’s just “sausage”. What’s not to like.

Belly full and satisfied, we were ready to explore Edinburgh. I didn’t have much expectations for the city, especially since I was bummed that we didn’t allocate enough time to venture on a proper multi-day Scotch whiskey tour (most of the distilleries are a good few hours drive away, making day trips not too convenient). But after walking around the city a bit and taking in the scenery around, its hard not to appreciate everything the city has to offer. The city center is highlighted by the imposing Edinburgh Castle which sits atop a large hill overlooking the city-proper on oneside, and Calton Hill bookending the city to the other side. In addition, many of the buildings retain the look and feel of centuries ago. Just walking through Old Town, it was hard not to show restraint from going shutterbug-happy. Miriam was so impressed (with the architecture, not my pictures), that she’s considering scrapping her career and studying to become an architect. Uh-oh. City planners, be afraid….be very afraid.

We did manage to get out of the city and take a day trip to nearby Stirling Castle and Loch Lomond. And even made our way to a Scotch whiskey distillery, the Glengoyne distillery. Clearly a highlight of my day. We took a tour of the facility and learned the process from which barley, yeast, and water gets transformed into one of the most delicious beverages known to man, single malt scotch whiskey….mmm. Too bad we’re traveling for an extended period of time and can’t lug bottles of scotch around with us. Otherwise I wouldve spent our budget on buying several bottles. Actually, maybe it’s not a bad thing, ‘lest we might have to cut our trip short.

The trip to Stirling was to another castle. If you’re keeping score at home that makes it three castles so far on the trip (Windsor, Edinburgh, and now Stirling). I get the sense that we’re going to be visiting many castles on our jaunt through Europe. Anyway, in it’s history Stirling Castle was a major strategic stronghold in the many battles between England and Scotland; in Scotland’s constant fight for independence. Of particular significance, was William Wallace’s victory over the English army in the 13th century. But more importantly, without that historical event, many centuries later, there would be no ‘Braveheart’. “…they may take our lives, but they’ll never take…OUR FREEDOM!!!”

Our time in Edinburgh was short. Next time we should plan on staying at least a week. Well, not a necessarily a week in Edinburgh, but at least a week in Scotland. Take some time to drive up to the northern coast as well as the western coast. I heard both those areas are really nice. Also spend more time doing a proper multi-day Scotch whiskey tour at the various distilleries in either Speyside or Islay.

Also, on a side note, Miriam was complaining about the amount of luggage we have, mainly having a laptop (vs. a netbook), a full dSLR camera (vs. a compact point-and-shoot), and numerous thick travel books for the various regions we’d be visiting. She was contemplating about maybe getting an iPad, so we could get rid of the laptop and travel books. That way we’d have the ebook versions of the travel books on the iPad. Consolidation. Lighter luggage weight. But then I thought, we would first have to buy an iPad, and second have to buy again the ebook versions of the travel books. So….who needs to buy an iPad. Just take pictures of the pages we need from our travel books onto our existing blackberry/iPhone. Problem solved. Money saved.

To view more pictures from Edinburgh, visit the Photos.

Lake District (pt. 3)

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

July 10, 2010 (Saturday):

We spent our last day in the Lake District by taking a leisurely four mile stroll (in the rain) to the neighboring town of Grasmere – famous for a particular gingerbread cookie and the residence of William Wordsworth, between 1799-1808.

All in all, our time in the Lake District was peaceful, albeit quite wet. The three days was a nice departure from a typical tourist city trip.

To view more pictures from the Lake District, visit the Photos.

Lake District (pt. 2)

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

July 9, 2010, Friday:

Day 2 in the Lake District started off early with a full English breakfast provided by our B&B. The breakfast consisted of a fried egg (kind of runny), baked beans (kind of runny), sausage (kind of salty), 2 strips of bacon (definitely salty), hash brown (kind of good), fried toast (kind of strange and definitely unhealthy), 3 mushroom wholes (kind of weird), and a slice of tomato (kind of greasy). In addition, yogurt, regular toast, cereal, and fruit was also provided. Pictures would do my descriptions better justice, but we didn’t take any. Oh well.

Despite to continuing rain that started since the morning, the day was spent again walking/hiking through and around town. There’s really not much else to do in the Lake District / Ambleside but to walk / enjoy the outdoors (rain or shine). The “morning session” was spent walking through the park and along the adjacent running river, across a stepping stone bridge, and across a field of grazing sheep/goat/lamb (I can never figure out which is what). That’s another thing about Ambleside, there’s sheep/goat/lamb randomly grazing all along every piece of greenery. You can’t escape them. In fact, sometimes you’ll be walking along the high fields, and all of a sudden a head will pop out of the high grass, and it’ll be a sheep/goat/lamb eating lunch. Quite cute, actually.

Back in town, we stopped at a presumably nice-looking sit-down restaurant/bistro that we had high hopes for, Lucy’s. Our high hopes were solely based on the fact that she seemed to be well established in the community (several restaurants and off-shoot restaurants within the surrounding area). Unfortunately, our hopes were severely misplaced. Miriam had a burger, which unexaggeratedly was the worse burger ever, hands down. The bun (a ciabatta) to burger ratio was way off; the burger patty was dry; the “bacon” that it came with was half-bacon / half-ham (literally, the left side looked like bacon strip, and as you made your way over to the right side it started widening out and looked like a flat ham slice.); and the “cheese” that was melted over the “bacon” looked nuked and orangish-red fluorescent.

For my dish, I had a grilled rainbow trout. For a rainbow trout, my dish was not flamboyant nor had a lisp, but rather was just plain bland. I had to load it up with some sauce and spices just to get some life into it. After London, it was clear that our quest for decent food in the UK would not be satisfied in the Lake District either.

After lunch, we walked down to the lake, about a 1.5 mile saunter down the flat thoroughfare. Nothing exciting, so let’s move onto dinner and drinks. Dinner, surprisingly, fared better, but not by much. Miriam had a ribeye steak, which I can only kindly describe as something you could easily get in Vegas at the Hooters Casino $5.99 dinner deals (or so I’ve heard…). My lamb chop was “lamb-y”. But quite possibly really fresh, given the abundance of lamb grazing in the fields right outside.

After dinner, we hit up the local pub scene. And I use the word “scene” very loosely. Most places were lucky to have more than a handful of revelers at one time. But we didn’t mind. We just wanted some of their refreshing beverage to wash down our “tasty” meal. Surprisingly, one of the joints we visited, happened to have a live band performing that night, the Muscavados. They bill themselves as Irish blues folk music. Which I have to agree, they had all the requisite components to qualify: fiddle, guitar, contra-bass, Irish-speaking singers. But it wasn’t until I went into the bar’s bathroom and heard House of Pain playing over the speakers that I thought, “Ay, now there’s some fine Irish tunes.”

Lake District (pt. 1)

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

July 8, 2010, Thursday:

Welcome to the Lake District.   The Lake District is an area (National Park?) in North Western England comprised of many little towns, hiking trails, and yup, you guessed it, lakes.   The particular town we stayed in was Ambleside.   A quaint, little town with outdoors/hiking shops galore.   Surrounding Ambleside were various mountain ranges and rolling green hills.   And about a mile down the road, a calm, vast lake.

After taking the train from London into the Lake District, then a 20 minute bus ride into Ambleside, we were in search of our B&B.   With no area map in sight, we trekked our 2 rollie bags and respective daypacks to the town’s tourist info office about 0.5 mile into the town’s center.   Of course, once we get there, we find out our B&B was afterall only about a block from where the bus let us off.  So we lug our belongings back down through the town to where we would call home for the next 3 nights.

After several days of wonderful weather in London, the weather in the Lake District was going to take a turn for the not so good — rain was forecasted for the remainder of the days we were to be in the Lake District.   Knowing this, we wanted to take advantage of the only day of sunshine, so we quickly unpacked then ventured off for an “easy” trail hike up to Todd Krag, where we would be able to see a 360 degree view of Ambleside and its surroundings.   We would quickly come to find that “easy” is a relative term when the Lake District is an area known for its plethora of hiking choices.   The hike started off leisurely with a nice flat stroll through Rothay Park.  Then we turned into the forest and the trail gradually started to incline.  No big deal, this is categorized as an “easy” hike, we’ve walked hills in San Francisco.  In fact, we saw several elderly couples with their dogs doing this hike.   About 30 minutes later, we were huffing and puffing and sweating, but we still weren’t at the top.  It came to a point where we were already so vested into the hike, that turning back would’ve been a waste of already spent energy.  So onward and upward we trekked.   Long story short, we made it the top and the view was well worth the trek.   Well technically, only I made it to the top.  Miriam was too spent and plopped down to rest / turn back down about 10 minutes from the top (not knowing at the time the top was 10 minutes away).  But in her defense, I did take her on a couple of wrong turns / trackbacks along the way up.  At any rate, we’re glad we did that hike on the first day, when the sun was still shining, as the next two days proved to be gray and wet.