Friday, September 12, 2008

Welcome to my blog!

Life can be crazy and even with e-mail, text messaging, and cell phones, it can still be really hard to keep in touch. So, I am following my sister's example by creating a blog where I can post photos with my text. I hope you'll check in from time to time to see how my family and I are doing, but I hope even more that you'll let me know how you're doing also!


England, part I: Aug. 21- Aug. 24

As most of you know, I graduated in March from OSU with a degree in English. Shortly after, I moved home to help my parents at their new house in Medford, OR. My mother was very sick with cancer, and I acted as her full-time caretaker. Mom passed away on July 23rd. Her passing was peaceful and it happened while she slept. Though we all wish her cancer had not occurred at all, I truly believe that the end happened in the best possible way. Our whole family had the time to be with her and to say everything we could wish. I graduated at about the perfect time, as I arrived home just as Mom was beginning to need help. She was a fighter and had such a positive spirit, she was an incredible inspiration to all who met her. She is sorely missed!

My dad has a business in Northampton, England. Just before his last business trip, he asked me to tag along and of course, I gladly accepted! Our trip was amazing! Following are some photos and stories about our trip... I have only included a fraction of the photos we took, but if you would like to see them all, I have posted them at Enjoy!
I arrived in England after a 10 hour flight on August 21st. Dad picked me up at Heathrow and we drove our rental to Nottingham (as in Sheriff of..!). We saw lots of Robin Hood statues and we toured the castle of Nottingham, which turned out to be a mansion built on the site of the ruined original castle. Probably my favorite place in Nottingham was the place we ate dinner, called "Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem." It is the oldest known pub in England, built the year King Richard the Lionheart ascended to the throne in 1189 AD. It is a series of tunnels and rooms carved out of the rock upon which the castle stood. We had to duck under the doorways because they were so tiny!

Did I mention that Dad and I drove down a pedestrian only street? Oh yes, and not only that, we were driving on trolley tracks and were surrounded by crowds of people who stared and yelled at us. So so embarassing! We're lucky a trolley didn't come!

We stayed at an adorable bed and breakfast. Our room was charming with an old four-poster bed. Breakfast was served in a beautiful glass dining room set in a garden, but the food... well food in England is not exactly stellar haha. That morning and pretty much every morning after, we were served roasted tomato and mushroom, a fried egg, black pudding (blood mixed with a filler until thick), bacon (which isn't strips, but big pieces), and toast. I ate lots and lots of toast!

We left Nottingham and toured the Chatsworth House next. You might recognize this house as it has been in multiple movies. It was Pemberly (Mr. Darcy's house) in "Pride and Prejudice" and the new movie "The Duchess" with Keira Knightley is about a real woman who lived in that house... it is featured in the film. They had a display with all of the actors' clothes and information about the real duchess, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire.

I absolutely loved this house! It has a room of sculptures (it's in "Pride and Prejudice") and an amazing library with paintings by famous artists. The gardens are immense and they include a hedge maze. Dad and I had a blast!

If you're wondering why I haven't shown any photos yet, it's because my Dad thought that re-formatting a photo card meant changing the pixel format of the photos.... and he deleted all of the photos we had taken so far. *sigh*

So, I snatched a couple photos from the Internet of Chatsworth House:

Hedge maze and the painted hall

After Chatsworth, we drove to York and arrived just in time to go on a ghost tour in the most haunted city in the world. Legend has it, a little girl and her parents lived in York during the black plague. As her mom was tucking her in one night, she noticed that the little girl had the telltale boils on her underarms. Without saying anything about it, she left the room and locked the little girl in. In the middle of the night, the girl's parents left York, never to return, but they first painted a red X on the door so people would know the house was infected. Still today, people say they see the ghost of the little girl crying and scratching at the little window in the photo to the left.

The tour was fun and we also saw the York dungeons, but the highlight of York for us was the famous York Minster. The church is absolutely gorgeous with the largest collection of stained glass in the world. Under the church is the crypt, which was my favorite part. They had artifacts and tombs dating back to the times of Roman occupation. In fact, we also walked on part of the cobblestone Roman road upon which the Minster was built. Pretty cool!

When we left York, we traveled up the skinniest 2-way road I've ever been on to Bamburgh. On the way, we visited two castles:

Warwick Castle, which is mostly a ruins now,

Alnwick castle, an absolutely enormous practically town-sized collection of buildings and walls,

and lots of beautiful English countryside!

Bamburgh also has its own castle, which was one of our favorites. It's right on the North Sea and has views of two other castles. It was war-torn multiple times and displays a wide array of armor, swords, cross-bows, and rifles. The castle is complete with escape tunnels and ongoing archaeological digs. All very interesting and very old!

Okay, that's all for England: part I!

Scotland: Aug. 24- Aug. 26

After Bamburgh, Dad and I crossed the English border into Scotland. Our first destination was supposed to be Melrose Abbey, but first, we took a short hike to a statue of William Wallace, who was featured in "Braveheart." Wallace led the Scottish army of laymen into war against the English in the fight for freedom.

Next, we stopped at Melrose Abbey, which was built in the 1100's. Though most of the abbey is in ruins because it was pillaged for building materials in harsher times, what remains is intricately carved and shows that the abbey was once very prosperous and very beautiful.

The heart of one of Scotland's most famous kings, Richard the Bruce, was embalmed and buried under the stone shown at the left at Melrose Abbey. His body is elsewhere, but it was believed that the more places a body was buried, the better because then people could pray to the person at multiple locations.

After Melrose, we drove to Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. The countryside is gorgeous!

While we were in Edinburgh, the annual Fringe Festival was just winding down. During the festival, thousands of shows are played around the clock for a month. Street entertainment was everywhere and we enjoyed watching the various acts. We also saw Circus Oz, an Australian circus show, and a Scottish bagpipe band. The photo on the right is of me and a street entertainer playing the bagpipes.

Scottish Pipe band:

A really creepy street entertainer... he followed me around without ever cracking a smile. He had contacts that made his eyes yellow and red. Yuck!

Our first night in Edinburgh, we went on a pub crawl. As we walked between pubs, the guide told us stories about the famous people who had made history in Edinburgh, including Mark Twain, Sir Walter Scott, and the author of Sherlock Holmes, who was based on an Edinburgh professor. Also, we heard about how people used to make their money: body snatching! Turning dead bodies into the research university was one of the easiest ways to make money. Gruesome!

One morning, we visited Edinburgh castle, which sits on the top of a hill in the very center of the city. This castle has been modified and rebuilt multiple times and it has a bloody history.

American prisoners of war were kept in the prison in this castle on multiple occasions, most notably during the Revolutionary War. On some of the prison doors still present, are the names and sayings that the prisoners carved into the wood.

The whole castle is extremely militant. There are two military museums on the grounds and possibly the largest building in the castle has been dedicated to Scottish citizens killed in war. The names of soldiers killed in Iraq are still being added today.

The photo at the left is of Dad in front of a display of weaponry in the castle's great hall. It is hard to see, but there are pistols, swords, lances, and an array of other weapons.

The photo at the right is me posing as a soldier in a guard shack at the castle. American guards must be so lazy. After all, they actually have chairs and spaces larger than 3x3'. What a bummer to stand in that box for hours.

Also at the castle are the Honours of Scotland. They are the Scottish crown, sword, sceptre, and scabbard. They do not allow photos in this room, so I nabbed this one off of the Internet. They also had the Stone of Scone with the Honours. It is essentially a large flat rock upon which the first kings of Scotland were crowned. In order to make a point to Scotland, the English king stole the stone from Scotland in the 1200's and stored it under the English coronation chair in Westminster Abbey. It wasn't returned to Scotland until 1996 as a show of good faith.

During a siege on the Edinburgh castle, the commander put all of his men, totalling over 100, in this tiny room in the photo at the left. Without ever moving out into battle, most of the men died of disease from living in such a small space. Needless to say, they surrendered and lost the battle.

The photo at the right is of Hollyrood Palace. It is the queen's own residence in Scotland and we were told that when the flag is flying, it means the queen is there. As you can see in the photo, the flag is flying. Unfortunately, we didn't see her.

When we left Edinburgh, we drove across the countryside until we reached Stranraer on the Western coast. From there, we took off for Ireland on a ferry. So... that's all for Scotland!

Ireland, part I: Aug. 26- Aug. 28

Dad and I arrived in Ireland by ferry. We drove from the port in Larne, Northern Ireland, to Dublin. The drive down the Eastern coast of Ireland was very very rainy! I kept myself busy during the drive by listening to Gaelic radio. To hear it, click play below!

When we arrived in Dublin, we went out to the Temple Bar. The Temple Bar is a pub consisting of a maze of rooms, some indoors, some out, and they occupy nearly a whole block. Over time however, the Temple Bar has become more than just a pub. The Temple Bar is now an area encompassing many blocks with multiple clubs, bars, shops, and restaurants (see the two photos below). We went to the Temple Bar area two nights in a row, both of them weeknights, and both times all of the pubs and clubs in the area were packed! Many of the pubs have live entertainment every night and afternoon. Also, there is street entertainment everywhere and it is so much fun, even on just a normal Tuesday evening.

To the right is my personal favorite photo from the whole trip! The photo of Sir Darrell in his chainmail hood is from a museum called Dublinia. Like just about all the places we visited, the history of Dublin is bloody. Also, like much of England, Dublin has a strong Viking influence. Did you know that Vikings did not actually wear helmets with horns?

Only very wealthy men could afford oh so stylish shoes like these... and they couldn't afford to ruin them in the common rain and mud, so they would then slip on the wooden platforms to protect their shoes. That pointy toe was so in fashion that the wealthiest men had to have chains from their knees to their toes to hold up the shoe tips. So silly!

It's hard to see, but I have a heavy (and smelly) iron ring around my neck and a heavy chain hanging off of that. Ouch!

Christchurch Cathedral- one of many beautiful cathedrals in Dublin.

The floor of Christchurch Cathedral is beautiful!

A mummified cat and rat that were found after who knows how long in one of the organ pipes at Christchurch Cathedral. The cat was presumably chasing the rat when they got stuck and their bodies were naturally mummified in the pipe.

OH, did I mention that we got to see Riverdance in Dublin, Ireland?? It was sooo so cool! The dancers are absolutely amazing and the musicians are awesome too. The main female dancer looked a little malnourished, but other than that, she was amazing. However, it as the main male dancer that absolutely stole the show. He was phenomenal!

Horse and cart in front of the Guinness Storehouse.
At the Storehouse, Dad and I learned how Guinness is made and how one man developed the recipe a very long time ago.

If you're in Ireland, you've got to order a Guinness!

My pint of Guinness in the Skybar of the Guinness Storehouse.

Ireland, part II: Aug. 28- Aug. 29

When we left Dublin, which is on the East coast of Ireland, we headed southwest to the Ring of Kerry. On the way, we saw thatch roofed buildings, which are so cute!

The Ring of Kerry is located on the very southwest tip of the island. It is a beautiful scenery route and it took us a few hours to drive it. There is a range of majestic mountains in the center of the ring.

A large portion of the route follows the dramatic coast.

Below is a video taken while driving around the Ring of Kerry... I just like the music!

Killarney National Park in the Ring of Kerry.

A random sheep on the edge of the road. They are not fenced in and they climb all over the mountainsides... there isn't even a fence between the sheep and the roads. Dad chased this sheep and one other onto the road just as a car was coming! Luckily, the other car saw them in time and no people or sheep were hurt. Way to go Dad!

I think the red splotches on the sheep must be to mark them as the property of certain farmers (some sheep have blue splotches).

Killarney Lakes in the Ring of Kerry

Another view of the Killarney National Park

This is the Blarney Castle. Blarney is the Irish term for lies weaved in with bits of truth. Despite the silly name, Blarney Castle is one place I would not have wanted to attack in the old days. There are cages around the perimeter of the castle where they kept dogs for defense. If an attacker gets past the dogs, they are hit with arrows from above. If they are still alive after arrows and dog attacks, they have to face the sentinels who guard the grounds with the dogs. If the attackers still make it to the one entrance of the castle, there is a secret trap door in the floor. So, a person walks across the stone and poof! they are dropped into a deep unscalable pit for all eternity. If an attacker is still alive after all of that, the next step would be to enter the castle. Just inside the entrance is a hole in the ceiling. From this hole, castle defenders would pour boiling pitch and water onto the undesirable guest. Yikes!

View from the top of Blarney Castle

Legend has it that after one kisses the Blarney Stone on the roof of the Blarney Castle, they will be gifted with the gift of smooth speech. The photo at the right is of me, kissing the stone.

Did I mention that the Blarney Stone is located over the edge of the castle roof? If you look carefully, you can see a person hanging over the edge, kissing the stone.

Apparently, Dad speaks pidgeon... He cooed at a bird and it flew directly to his head and perched there until he pushed it away!

More Irish music... just push play on the video below!

Dad, bewitched in the "Witch's Kitchen." Supposedly, a cooking fire can still be seen here occasionally at night. Spooooooky haha

We were told that if one concentrates on a wish really hard while walking up these stairs backwards with eyes shut, the wish will come true. So, here I am, walking up the stairs backwards with my eyes shut.

Dad, Irish dancing in what is called a druid's circle. This circle used to be used for druid human sacrifices.

Me, with a funky tree on the Blarney Castle grounds.