Wednesday, November 3, 2010

House, Home and Highway Hijinks

I've been putting off the final entry of the blog because if nothing else it reminds me the trip is over and done with. That aside I'm enjoying being back amongst my mates and other family. Sometimes you don't know what you've got until you miss it! Reading back over stuff makes me realise how much we did.

The flight from Singapore to Sydney was a pretty decent one. The body clock took a bit of a battering but otherwise we arrived in good nick. Customs was a laugh, going through 10 times faster than everyone else because we actually bothered to declare stuff, not that the customs folks were in the slightest bit interested.

Richard was waiting to pick us up thank goodness. In the rain. It must be me! Apparently he'd been there quite a while as Mum got a bit anxious and booted him out of the house way too early. It was weird sitting in the passenger seat for once having been the sole driver for the best part of 5 weeks. I was pretty knackered though and happy enough to be a spectator for once.

The trip had one more twist in store for us. 20 minutes from home Dad's car overheated on the Lappo hill and we ended up parked by the servo at Glenbrook. Poor Dad, you do someone a favour and look what happens! Fortunately the tow truck got thier pretty quick and Anita saved us from a long wait by rushing down to jam all of us and out luggage in the car. Quite a team effort getting us home from the airport in the end. I've since found out my Dad also broke down after he dropped us off the day we left. Talk about Carma. Sorry, couldn't help myself ;-)

The house was in great shape when we got back thanks to Jenny the House Sitter. Many thanks Jen! We had no hot water unfortunately but that was a quick fix and considering we'd been gone for 5 weeks a pretty good result. The dogs barked at us when we got in (morons!) but before long were doing all the usual stuff like demading affection. Shanks has pretty much forgiven me for leaving him too, albeit at great personal cost.

Not much left to do now apart from thank a bunch of folks. Wyn, Gareth and Rebecca for taking us in, Julie, John and co for a brilliant night out, Steve and Dennis for catching up and finally everyone who followed and commented on the blog. It was good fun and I'm glad others got a few vicarious holiday moments as a consequence. Not sure I've got the styaing power to be a travel writer no matter what Ev thinks.

Time to start planning the next trip I reckon. It's been at least three weeks since I've had any mint cake...


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Farewells, Flights and Falkirk Wheel

Day Thirty-seven – Edinburgh
So that's it then. Holiday over! It's been an absolute blast, even with the manky Pommie weather although I must admit we're all ready for home, our own beds and some proper sunshine.

We did most of our packing last night so there was not a great deal to do this morning. I did my best to clean out the car and we tidied the (wonderful) flat before we left. Once breakfast was out of the way we were off.

There was no set plan for today other than "must be at airport at 3:00pm to return car" so we went for a drive. We were reluctant to go sightseeing "properly" so a wandering drive ending up back at the airport seemed like the best idea.

Jenni had a bit of trouble with directions and before we knew it we were committed to a trip across the Firth of Forth road bridge. No matter, we had plenty of time to kill and the opposite shore looked just as interesting. Once we reached the other side we turned west an headed, very roughly, towards Glasgow.

After an hour or so of driving through some very pleasant country we decided we'd better head back towards Edinburgh. Just after doing so we passed a sign for the Falkirk Wheel, a name which rang a VERY vague bell but I couldn't remember why. Once we were within sight of the Wheel though it all came back. I'd seen and read a fair bit about it some time ago and was quite interested in it.

The Falkirk Wheel is best described as a "canal lift", operating two caissons through 360 degrees of a loop, the top and bottom of which are both linked to canals. Each caisson can hold up to 4 boats or barges and hold so much water that an extra 1cm depth adds 1.8 tonnes of weight. The engineering involved is quite something and though I'm not sure exactly how high it is from top to bottom it must be 50 metres or close to. We wandered around the visitor centre for a while and ate lunch, all the while watching the Wheel do it's thing, lifting boat loads of tourists from bottom to top canal and back again.

With lunch finished it was really time to start heading home. On the way back to the airport we filled up the car (LOL I forgot to take a photo of it!) and drove her to the airport drop-off point. We've spent the last couple of hours sitting about, checking in and now we're sitting in the departure lounge waiting for our short hop to Heathrow and then on to Singapore.

Update: After a very bumpy but otherwise uneventful flight we've made it to Singapore. Everyone but me is crashed and I think the jetlag is going to be worse this time because we're flying the other way...


Millsy Meets Mons Meg

Day Thirty-six – Edinburgh
So that's pretty much it. Today was our last full day in Scotland and also of the trip (travel home excluded of course). What a way to finish! Glorious weather and a visit to Edinburgh Castle. Not much could have topped that I don't think.

We took the bus into town from Leith rather than drive, partly to avoid the need to park, partly so I could have a break. The ride was good fun and as we had a double decker we sat upstairs so we could enjoy the view. There was plenty to see, including the Scott Monument, Princes Street and more. It also gave us the opportunity to see the castle from a distance. We got rather lucky as I asked the conductor which was the best stop to get off at exactly the right moment.

Princes Street runs parallel to the Royal Mile and when we got off the bus we could see the castle up above us, dominating the centre of Edinburgh as it does. We walked along the park and then up the hill to the Royal Mile before following that a short way up to the castle. As we arrived they were still in the process of dismantling the stands and seating from the Military Tattoo which was kind of cool. It made it all the more obvious walking across the forecourt and bridge that you were walking right where they perform the tat.

While Jenni was buying the tickets I took a first look at the view from up high and it's magic. As I've said the weather was great and you could see right out across the Forth of Firth. The climb up the hill is only part of the height as the centre of town is already up above sea level.

First up we wandered around the walls on the Northern side of the castle and then down into the National Military Museum of Scotland. It's a smallish museum but has some very interesting exhibits. The fact it is almost exclusively focused on Scots military history makes it a bit different from other military museums in that there is a combination of "anti-british" material from medieval times and the more "pro-british" stuff later on.

As we walked higher we also visited the Regimental Museum of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. The RSDG were formed in 1971 when the 3rd Carabiniers and the Royal Scots Greys were amalgamated. Consequently the museum included plenty of Napoleonic gear, including my third French Eagle of the trip (45th Line), taken by the Greys at Waterloo. I have a bit of a soft spot for the Greys as they were raised by Charles II to fight the Scots Covenanters (Boo! Hiss!)

By now we'd reached "the top" and I got to see Mons Meg, one of the largest medieval cannons. She sits at the very summit of The Mound and the view from the top in almost every direction is AMAZING. We sat right next to Meg and had lunch in the sunshine (and a pretty brisk breeze!). Afterwards we popped into St Margaret's' Chapel and then started our walk back down.

On the way back down we stopped to see the National War Memorial, the Royal Apartments, a small (but entertaining) exhibition on prisoners held in the castle and finally the Crown Jewels of Scotland. The jewels are a much smaller collection than the English ones but no less impressive to my mind and they feel older and more "genuine" if that makes sense. Perhaps that's just my Scots blood coming through. ;-)

Walking back down the hill was quite pleasant considering all we'd done so far all day was walk uphill. On the way back down we stopped in a crazy tartan weaving mill cum tourist trap shop which was as much a maze as a shop, mainly to pick up some final souvenir bits and a birthday presso for Sam (yes, we haven't forgotten you mate!). As we came out we passed a guy dressed head to foot like Mel Gibson from Braveheart, doing photos for charity. In my opinion he's tied for best street performer of the trip with the Purple Bike Dude from York.

The walk back down to Princes Street was over quick (certainly quicker that the trip up) and we were soon on a bus home. The rest of the day is going to be spent trying to get far too much stuff into four suitcases. I don't fancy our chances ;-)

PS. Some quick bits and bobs...

  • UK Trip Pub Spotter's Trophy goes to...... ME! I'm clearly a better pub spotter that Jen, kicking her arse all over the UK with 9 Royal Oaks to a measley 3 Rose and Crowns. To be fair Anna helped me a couple of times. Good girl!
  • Photo count currently stands at 3,615. I'd say when we've cleaned out the "junk" and duplicates that will drop to about 3,400 but its still an impressive tally. I'd hate to think what that would have cost in film and prints back in "olden times".

Leith and a Leisurely Lifestyle

Day Thirty-five – Edinburgh
What's that? A second day without rain and the promise of sun tomorrow???

We were all pretty knackered today having spent the last two in the car and driven from Hull to Edinburgh. As a consequence we decided to keep it quiet and do a bit more tomorrow when the weather is better.

Everyone got up VERY late and shambled about the flat until lunchtime. I suppose part of the reason for not wanting to go out is because the flat is brilliant. If it was a hotel it would be at least 4.5 stars if not higher. It is easily the best accommodation we've had (family aside as I said yesterday). We have great beds, a huge lounge / dining / kitchen and a TV that is reminding me of home ;-)

Not only is the flat itself good, the location is excellent too. In Leith, right on the water and close to the centre of the city. The Royal Yatch is moored just round the corner and I might take a wander tomorrow for a look if we get back in time. James is impressed with the location – there is a lighthouse at the end of the quay and the light changes colour, red, yellow, green, blue and back to red.

After lunch we all went for a walk together along the quayside and then up the hill above where we're staying. The place *feels* like Scotland (which might sound silly as we *are* in Edinburgh but apart from Wales this is the most evocative). Everything is sandstone and of an age, much of the terraces easily over 100 years or more old.

Jenni cooked us all a lovely pasta dinner and now we're watching Pommie game shows. James is going to miss The Cube when we get home ;-)

Tomorrow is our last full day. In some ways it has gone in a flash and yet it feels like we've been away from home forever. I think we'll all be happy to be back with family and friends, sleeping in our own beds but we will miss the new activities every day as well...


Castles, Cats and Coastlines

Day Thirty-four – Edinburgh
Flipping eck! A whole day of sunshine! Maybe I was a little harsh on the weather man after all. ;-)

Today was our last day in England and we finished on a high. Not only did we have glorious weather, we also saw a great castle and had a lovely drive up into Scotland.

We started the day at Alnwick Castle, family home of the Percy's for just over 700 years. Not only is it the best preserved castle we've seen, it had an amazing set of state rooms, a marvellous little museum with all sorts of antiquities and a plenty of Harry Potter stuff for the kids.

Alnwick as I said is a very well preserved castle. Despite (or perhaps because of) the restoration work being carried out it is in excellent condition. The walls, towers and living areas of the castle are all in very good nick, every roofed structure being intact and containing some excellent exhibits.

The first place we visited were the state rooms. You aren't allowed to take photos which is quite possibly the biggest disappointment we've had in that regard. To say the rooms are SPECTACULAR is not doing them justice. The quality, volume and variety of art, furniture, sculpture and other items is something you have to see to believe. If at some point you pop past our house then please *demand* to see the catalogue we bought. Highlights (if you can pick some!) were the death warrant of the Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland for treason (he was Catholic and a supporter of Mary Queen of Scots), van Dyck's portrait of Algernon, 10th Earl, the Guard Chambers containing the ENTIRE armoury of the Tenantry Volunteers (all of em!) and the library.

Next up the kids tried their hand at archery in the inner ward, we walked the walls, checked out various exhibits in the Constable's and Postern Towers and I had a quick squizz at the regimental museum of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (whose battle honours include Badajoz in Spain and Omdurman in Egypt).

Last up we spent some time in "Harry Pottter Land" as I called it. The kids tried out all sorts of film-themed activities including a castle-wide hunt for scrambled names from the films, Anna made a spell book and both Anna and Jenni dressed up in medieval costume. We also got to meet Bunyip the castle cat (quite a monster size-wise but very friendly). All up a brilliant way to finish in England.

We left just before lunch and headed North, enjoying the drive in the sun for once. Along the way we saw Holy Island (from afar only unfortunately). We stopped for lunch just before the border and then drove into our fourth and final different country in Scotland.

An hour or so later we were in Edinburgh and not long after that settled into our last apartment of the trip which is lovely I might add, probably the best place to stay in the whole trip (family aside!)

So we've got two and a half days left before we fly. Hopefully we can get in some good sights before we leave to finish on a high.


Driving, Driving Rain, Driving Me Insane and The Deep

Day Thirty-three – Newcastle
From now on lets just ASSUME it is raining unless otherwise noted. The best thing you could say about the weather today was that we didn't waste a sunny day travelling. The weather, if possible, was actually WORSE than it has been yet.

Driving from York to Hull and thence to Newcastle was a real test, both of my patience and my ability. There are some idiots in Australia but nothing compared to the UK. Thank God we got the convicts. They may not be honest but at least they understand the baiscs of motoring signals, lane changes and the rest. I'd rather share the road with a murderer. At least when he kills you its because he cares, not becasue he has NOT FUCKING IDEA WHAT HE IS DOING.

Our last actitivity in Yorkshire was to drive down to The Deep, an aquarium on the Humber in Hull. The Humber itself was a sight, cracking in a gale with 2 foot waves and visibility less that the length of a football pitch. I've only ever seen brown surf once before (at Bondi) and that was for an altogether different reason. Inside The Deep was quite pleasant well set out and pretty good fun overall. Sydney Aquarium is a better one, but then it is also a lot closer to where the fish live. The Deep had plenty of good exhibits, a decent big tank and some massive mantas. For once it WASN'T a shame about Ray. Sorry, couldn't help myself there... ;-)

The drive from Hull to The North then began. In total it took about 3.5 hours, all motorway. Along the way I got to see plenty of "stuff" including a continuous 23 miles (YES, truly) of roadworks, the largest power station I've ever seen (getting desperate now), The Angel of the North (not as big in real life) and traffic. I missed Hadrian's Wall as it was too late when we arrived but DID get to see what happens on the A1 outside Newcastle at 4:30pm on a Friday. It's called Hadrian's Crawl. Not as interesting but probably more likely to turn people back than the wall ever was. If by now you have not worked out I'm a bit crazed after today then you probably need help as much as I do.

Anyway, we're here now. The weatherman, teasing bastard that he is, promises a morning of sunshine tomorrow which would enable us to see Alnwick Castle (aka Hogworts School) in the sunshine. I don't believe him for a minute. If he said it was going to shit meteors and lightning bolts I'd be more inclined to believe him after today. I wonder what the Georie is for "Ming the Merciless"???


Crikey! Captain Cook, Cloudless and Clear

Day Thrity-two – York
Today was sunny! I shit you not! There were blue skies, few if any clouds until late on and we went outside without getting wet!

We'd been hoping hard all week for at least one sunny day in York so we could drive down to the coast and today we got our wish. We left as early as was sensible given we all have to use one bathroom ;-)

Our drive took us up over the North York Moors and brought out many jokes about Catherine and Heathcliff, black dogs and Ripping Yarns. The drive itself was beautiful, some of the best driving we've done so far and is something we will always remember. Along the way we passed The Hole of Horcum (or 'Orcum's 'Ole by gum!) as the locals would likely call it, at least in my head if nothing else. I'm not sure what the hell the hole IS (other than a hole in the ground) or how it happened (Volcanic? Meteoric?) so that one will require a little research one t'internet is back.

After an hour or so in the car we reached Whitby on the East coast. It was a toss-up between Whitby and Scarborough and I'm glad we settled on Whitby for a number of reasons... Firstly, Whitby is absolutely lovely. It's busy but not crowded, coastal but not a busy port, and much of it is real picture postcard stuff. We parked right in the middle of town, well within walking distance of everything we wanted to do.

Having done a quick wander through the tourist info centre we walked along the quayside, over a bridge and into the Captain Cook Museum. Cook spent a lot of his youth in Whitby, living in the house that now houses the musuem. It might seem odd going halfway round the world to see stuff about a Captain Cook considering the museums in Sydney but we were curious to get a different perspective. The musuem turned out to be really good, with a lot neat maps, models of the Endeavour and artwork executed by artists that travelled with Cook and Banks.

By now we were quite hungry and had fish and chips sitting on the quayside, watching the oldest working lifeboat in the UK at 73 years (supposedly) doing runs up and down the river on guided tours. If the number of times you yell "73 years old!" makes it correct then never a truer word has been spoken.

From there we walked up The Steps (note capitals) of which there are 199 (I counted on the way back down). The Steps lead you up above Whitby onto the headland, with great views North along the coast as well as of Whitby itself. The Steps were built to provide access to the church and graveyard on the headland and there are benches at regular intervals where the pall bearers could rest the coffins. Quite a few were in use by people who looked like they'd need a coffin themselves pretty soon, me included. For some reason I was feeling rotten, like I'd been on the turps, which is a major rip-off seeing as I've not touched s drop for days. The dizziness was the worst, especially climbing The Steps but there was no way I was going to give in on a sunny day!

At the top we walked round the graveyard, reading headstones from people who passed on up to 3-400 years ago in some cases. Many are so weather worn they are completely erased but presumably parish records could tell you who lies where.

Just behind the church is a large open grassy area and (hurrah!) an icecream van. I was still feeing tender so stuck with something basic (as did Anna) but Jenni and James had what I can only describe as "scary 99s". Jenni had some sort of lemon sorbet on hers which is apparently a "Northern delicacy". Jenni made a comment about not eating yellow snow ;-). James went one further and had a "Whitby gothic horror" which is blueberry icecream with the Flake replaced by a liquorice stick.

Our last stop was Whitby Abbey, runied now but still magnificent for all that. Unfortunately I was really starting to feel shabby and didn't go in (James kept me company) but Jenni and Anna did. Jenni took some marvellous photos and even from the outside it looks like a brilliant place to visit. Oddly enough James and I were watching a flight of swallows flying in and out of the abbey tower at the same time Jenni and Anna were inside taking photos of them.

When the girls came out we headed back to the car, via The Steps. Along the way the girls stopped and bought a dress each while James and I kept walking.

Back in the car we had one more (painful!) stop to make. In a previous blog I mentioned how I was going to shut my eyes when we posted all our souvenir catalogues home. In the end I stayed in the car which was just as well. It meant I was sitting down when Jenni told me the postage for three boxes came to GBP155.95. OUCH! I know it was close to 10kg of paper and other stuff but it was mostly sea mail.

The remainder of the drive home was relatively uneventful not to mention thankfully a lot cheaper. We did have some fun trying to get back into York as the ring road doesn't allow us to drive the way we need to from the direction we came from. In the end we drove almost right the way round but as we've learned to say "we saw a little bit more of England than we would have otherwise..."

Tomorrow the weather is supposed to turn to shit again. It has already rained late today as the light went. It would be great if we could have one more sunny day here but I'm not holding my breath.


Rain, Rides and Religion

Day Thirty-one – York
I've just done a quick count – over 2,800 photos so far. Certain individuals are going to regret insisting on a photo night I suspect, not pointing any fingers Nicole...

Today was amongst the worst so far weather-wise. Someone must have broken a mirror in London becasue the weather has been absolutely appalling ever since. All that aside, it was still one of the best days of the trip.

We started out by visiting the Jorvik Viking Centre, right in the centre of York at Coppergate. The centre is a kind museum / theme park around the Viking settlement of York (called Jorvik by the Vikings). The major exhibit is a kind of "Viking Ghost Train" which runs through a reconstructed Viking age representation of York, complete with sights, sounds and smells. The kids thoroughly enjoyed it and from an objective point of view it was kind of cool but it felt a bit cheesy to me, even if it was very well done for something of it's kind.

Next up was possibly the absolute hightlight of the trip – York Minster. Even if you are a complete atheist, bored by history and uninterested in art it would be hard not to be impressed by the Minster. It is an amazing building. Simply breathtaking. There are no words to describe it really. The size, scale and complexity are something else. When you add to that the immense number and size of stained glass windows, you get a building that is hard to absorb. Every time you look up you see something spectaular, be it windows, vaulted ceilings or massive buttressed columns.

We spent the first hour or so wandering up and down the nave, transcepts and other central areas of the church. I personally spent a good 20 minutes on my own sitting the The Chapter House which in inself is quite an amazing space. The kids were doing a "treasure hunt" and Jenni was helping.

After that I convinced everyone to climb the tower with me. There really should be a warning about the effort required. 265 steps, nearly all of them narrow spirals is hard work and even I was blowing a bit by the time I reached the top. The view is well worth it though. Despite the ugly weather you can see for miles and we got a good look at lots of things we've only seen from ground level so far inlcuding Clifford's Tower, the town walls, Stonegate and more.

To finish off we climbed all the way back down and the went one step further into the Undercroft. You can almost FEEL the weight of hundreds and hundreds of tonnes of stone over your head. Much of the stabilisation work carried out in the last half of last century is on display, almost an exhibit in itself. There is also a good showing of the Roman and Norman structures that preceeded the Minster on the same site.

I could go on for hours about how good it is but I will say just this. If you go to Britain and you DON'T see York Minster then you should not bother coming at all.

We spent the afternoon at home out of the rain, napping in my case and playing games or doing a bit of craft in everyone else's. The weather looks equally grim tomorrow <sigh>.


Murder, Materials and a Military Museum

Day Thirty – York
Another sleepless night, another grey day! Things seem to have settled into something of a pattern. No matter who shares with who at night we have a restless one. In an attempt to find some rest Jenni shared with Anna and I shared with James. For my pains I got a good couple of thumps and none of us got much sleep.

Despite that we still got out and about and had a good day. First up we went and bought some packing materials for the SILLY amount of guidebooks, postcards and other paper rubbish we need to send home. I can already see myself standing in the post office with my fingers in my ears and singing "la-la-la-la-la!" while the lady behind the counter tells me how much the postage home will be. ;-)

After that we dashed home for a quick bite and then went out for some sight-seeing. Jenni took the kids to York Dungeon, a kind of harum-scarum "indoor theme park" designed to entertain and frighten you at the same time. It certainly had the latter affect on Anna who was unnerved enough that they only made it through the first ¼ of the place before they had to bail.

I went off on my own to see the York Military Museum which houses the regimental museums of both the Royal Dragoon Guards and the Prince of Wales' Own Regiment of Yorkshire. This is an absolute MUST if you are into military history and at two quid a go is easily amongst the value things I've seen. Not only is it a really well set out museum, it is absolutely CHOCKERS with really cool stuff for the military anorak.

Amongst the best stuff was a jacket worn by Capt. W.F. Browne as he led the centre squadron of the Iniskilling Dragoons in the charge of the Union Brigade at Waterloo. Browne had his horse shot from under him and was subsequently stabbed seven times by French Lancers but lived to tell the tale. There is also a pile of swords and other regalia brought back from Egypt during the Sudan War and a very healthy collection of VCs (plus literally hundreds of other medals). There really is too much stuff to mention.

After I finished up I was wandering round looking for a bookshop when I ran into Jenni and the kids in a cafe (see above for why!). We all stopped for afternoon tea together and then headed off to see the Roman Baths underneath a pub. Yes, really. That didn't take long to check out even if it was pretty tidy. When done Jenni set off to see the Quilt Museum (patchwork anoraks?) while I took the kids back to our apartment. Over to Jenni...

York Dungeon was a kind of historical tour of some of England's more gruesome history set in a dark dungeon. Actors play the part of grisly characters like a doctors assistant (cheking you for plague) and witches about to be hung. We only got through the first two rooms when something mechanical jumped out at Anna and me, making me yelp and Anna started crying. We had to leave. But we went down to the gift shop and purchased the photo of James chopping my head off that was taken at the start of the 'tour'. You'll have to wait until we're back to see that one as it was printed out for us.

I promised Anna a milkshake to cheer her up and as we were ordering, Mike showed up.

So after our quick stop at the Roman bath, Mike took the kids back to the flat while I went off on my own to the quilt museum and gallery. I wish we had one of these back in Australia (maybe we do, I'll have to look into it). It's a permanent fixture in a historical Hall where the quilter's Guild members of York also hold their meetings.

The current historic exhibition was one of Canadian Red Cross gift quilts from the second world war. The quilts themselves are not all that fancy, but the materials within them and the stories surrounding them are terrific. There was one quilt that had 'V for Victory' novelty material, and another that had little spitfire planes printed on it. The stitching wasn't perfect, but each quilt was obviously made with love and then given to needy families affected by the blitz, who greatly appreciated them (you can tell by the well worn state of the quilts). There was also a dress made from fabric rescue maps that were smuggled into prisoners of war, and a quilt which had a backing made from surplus red cross bandages sewn together in large triangles (as fabric was so scarce).

In two other (smaller) rooms, were exhibitions of contemporary quilts that made me want to get my sewing machine out when we get back. Back to Mike...

And that was pretty much it for the day. I cooked a roast dinner and the kids went to bed early, hopefully for a decent night's sleep. Jenni and I are not far away either. Hopefully the weather will be kind to us tomorrow for once. I really would like to see the sky.


Missing Mallard, Models and Museums

Day Twenty-nine – York
Today was another anorak day, full of trains of all sizes. We're not sleeping very well at the moment for some reason so we started late(ish) once again. This is becoming something of a habit and may well be soul destroying when its back to early work starts!

Once again the weather was dubious at best. One of my enduring memories of this trip is going to be the poor weather unfotunatley but we're making the best of it and to be fair it has not impacted the sightseeing that much. It has, however, made all of us quite homesick at one point or another. We're driving up over the North Yorkshire Moors tomorrow and for once the weather will be appropriate. Wuthering Heights under a lowering grey sky anyone? What's the betting it will be sunny? ;-)

First up today was the National Rail Museum and a chance for me at least to enjoy some serious anorak time. The muesum is a pretty decent one as they go and certainly they have the largest collection of steam engines I've ever seen in one place.

The one locomotive that they ARE missing at present is one I was desperate to see – Mallard – a streamlined A4 and one of the most iconic steam locomotives ever built. She's ON LOAN! What were the odds? In her stead was the Duchess of Hamilton, another streamlined A4 but I was gutted not to see Mallard. It was like expecting blue ribbon chocolate icecream and getting vanilla. Still blue ribbon, but NOT your chocolate...

We saw plenty of other interesting and very cool stuff, including original Royal Trains (carriages fitted out as saloons, bedrooms, etc), the loco that starred in the Harry Potter movies as the Hogwarts Express and brilliant exhibit involving an Atlantic class locomotive which had been cut open down it's full length to expose all the inner workings. You could also walk underneath and see all the underside, giving you a real sense of the size and weight. Jenni was very impressed by one of the largest steam locomotives ever built, a massive Chinese number with driving wheels over 6 foot high.

Another highlight for me was the workshops where they are actively conducting restoration work. You can walk right round (above) the shop floor on a balcony and see the restoration engineers at work. I would have spent HOURS up there if Jenni had let me. I would have needed ear muffs though as the noise was ferocious at times. There is nothing quite like a bloke flogging a massive piece of cast iron with a metal hammer in a large hall for making your ears ring. Brilliant to see though! Monky (senior and probably junior too), you would have LOVED IT. ;-)

Next up was the York Model Railway exhibition. This was something of a disappointment and not because everything was 100 times smaller. First up, the lady(?) on the desk was a bit creepy and I had a real "Little Britain moment". She was pleasant enough to talk to though. The model itself is a good size but everything is a bit tired and "done before". I've seen better at school fetes back home. It just seemed like it had been there for years and not been looked after much.

From there we walked across York (just saying that sounds cool to me) and visited the York Castle Museum. This is a more "typical" museum i.e. it has a broader set of exhibits covering various periods of history. They have some very tidy collections of antique glassware, furniture and other knick-knacks as well as some fun themed exhibits. The 80's kitchen was entertaining as it was just like looking at my early teens all over again. LOL. Five different shades of brown tiles and an old microwave and suddenly I feel 12 years old again.

The best exhibit is an entire (and really quite BIG) reconstructed Victorian street, complete with people wandering about in costume. The fire station (yeah, I know, I know...) was also pretty cool. Thank God for diesel pumps! Anna really enjoyed the kids activity stuff which was probably one of the best so far by the sound of it.

We finished the day with dinner out as we've cooked for ourselves quite a lot of late. We all ate far too much and felt a tad under the weather walking home. I don't think we learnt anything though. ;-)