Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Windy Whitby: Return to the Sea

After a relaxing and productive Saturday around the neighborhood, we were winding down on the couch watching an episode of Mad Men (Season 5 was recently released to US Netflix).  I'm dozing off and Kerry asks me, "What do you want to do tomorrow?"  I say, "Ughhh...".  But then I remembered one of my chambered day trip ideas (cancelled due to inclement weather) from when my parents were visiting - Whitby!  We shall return to the sea!

Already better than Skegness!

We went to bed without making any plans, but I did have the forethought to top up the diesel in the Focus, and I had accrued a respectable amount of high denomination coins (1, 50p, and 20p's) in the cupholder which would allow me to pay any bus or parking fare with exact change.  I felt confident to take on anything!

I woke with the sun early and grabbed the Fodors England 2012 to look up Whitby.  1 whole page of information!  I figured out the basics in under 10 minutes, and made special note of a text box in the margin which mentioned the cliff walk from Whitby to Robin Hood's Bay.  Next step was to hit up parkopedia.co.uk to understand my options for Whitby parking and write down a postcode that my GPS SatNav will understand.  

By 7 am I was ready, so I woke up Kerry and explained all our options.  I even suggested a backup plan to visit Goathland waterfalls and quaint steam train station if we got bored of Whitby.  She didn't process any of that having just woken, but nevermind, get ready to go!  We were on our way by 8:30 after a hearty breakfast and packing minimal provisions - water, cash, camera, nuts, dried apricots, sweatshirts, rainjackets, and phones.

A daytrip had materialized in mere moments - the 2.5 hour drive up through Yorkshire to the North York Moors National Park went quickly.  The sun was shining and the scenery was pleasant.  If you're like me, you won't know what a "moor" actually is.  I suppose I thought it  was like a hill or something?  Well it's a bit more specific than that.  A hill is a dale.  A moor is actually a type of habitat characterized by low-growing vegetation (mostly soft heather) on acidic soil.  So when we got into the York Moors park, I was quite surprised.  The landscape almost reminded me of a hilly, high desert since nothing was in bloom.  It appeared that some controlled burning had recently been started possibly to control the growth of the heather.

Here, closer to the sea the grass was greener.  But as you can see, not many trees.

Upon arriving in Whitby, I was following signs for parking when I noticed that many open street parking spots were available for was free - we're only a short walk from the touristy area, so we took advantage and saved 5 pounds.

Greeted with spectacular coastal views immediately

Capt'n James Cook learned how to be an explorer in Whitby before setting off on his adventures.

Kerry under a blue whale jawbone statue "Look no gloves!" The warmth was welcome.

We made our way down to the beach and I was drinking in the sun (I actually over did it and got a sunburn on my bald head...)

Setting off on our walk we had to cross the one weak bridge that connects the "new" Whitby to the "old" Whitby.  Luckily we weigh under 7.5 tons.

We weren't the only ones who thought it was a good day to visit a seaside town. Everyone was enjoying the quaint atmosphere of the town.

The steps up to the ruins of Whitby Abbey, where we'd pick up the trail.

The graveyard by the chruch - sandblasted tombstones.  It was very windy today, as you will see in a moment.

The Whitby Abby after being destroyed by King Henry VIII.   Bram Stoker was inspired by this structure, and made it the setting for Dracula.  
So of course there's a tourist trap about Dracula...

Found the trail!  The Cleveland Way is 140 miles long around the perimeter of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  We're only going to cover 6.5 of those miles along the coast.

The Whitby pier behind us as we set off

Striking views along the cliff edge trail
The wind was getting pretty severe - actually putting us off balance!  I started to worry Kerry might get blown off the cliff edge.  When we found ourselves in a sudden rain outburst, I contemplated turning around.  

The rain was just a sprinkle though, so we forged ahead.  The conversation was short, since we had to yell at each other in order to be heard.  Soon enough the wind went from severe to moderate and the rain stopped.

More great views of cliffs, sea, and sky

Into the wind!

The soft grasses made the footing a little unsure, so Kerry crawled out to peak over the edge.

A lighthouse (and a raindrop on the lens)

Snuggling lambs in a ditch trying to block out the wind

Panorama of the Cleveland trail

One of my favorites - looking back at what we've covered as we neared Robin Hood's Bay.  The exposed rocks go back to the Jurassic era.

No one really thinks Robin Hood hung out at Robin Hood's Bay, but there's an old tale about how presumably stole from the rich and gave to the poor up here too.  In reality Robin Hood's Bay was known for smuggling things like alcohol and tobacco from France into Britain to avoid tax.  At one point hundreds of years ago, Robin Hood's Bay was a booming port!  Now it's just a cute little village full of B&B's and tea shops.  As the tide was out, folks were down in the pools looking for fossils.

Really liked the landscaping here - I wonder if I can get inspired to do my yard like this when I get back to Indiana?

Crazy steep grade on the only road down into the village. You go up this twice a day and you'll get a decent amount of exercise.  My hamstrings were feeling it.

We've covered over 7 miles in about 3.5 hours and we're spent!  We stopped in a little cafe for tea, soup, and shared a sliceo of lemon cake.

A bus runs every hour on Sundays back to Whitby, so we hopped on to get back to our starting point in about 15 minutes.  Most expensive bus fare I've encountered at 3.90/person for such a short distance!  They know most folks don't want to walk back.

Back in Whitby feeling refreshed, we walked around town a bit more.  We checked out the more cheesy tourist traps that English seaside towns all seem to share in common - the arcade.
Pleasureland - come prepared with your 2p coins

Pleasureland was filled with arcade games, both video and old school like the claw and those terrible coin games where a pushing bar slowly puts the coins toward an edge.  If you're lucky your 2p coin will set off the whole lot and you can maybe win a lot more 2p coins.

I've never seen so many 2p coins in one place - they even had change machines which only gave 2p coins!  I watched as others dumped there 2p's into the machine, every 5th coin they'd win about 7 or 8 2p coins.  It was like a viscious time-wasting cycle.

After laughing at all the silliness of the arcade we checked out a few more shops and views before settling on an early dinner.

Out on the pier - the wind had died down

Taking in the whole town, with the abbey always imposing down at us

A locally-sourced seafood dinner!  Kerry had the flounder and I had the mussels (with a rock oyster starter - I hadn't had oysters in a long time!)

One final peek at the abbey on our way back to the car

Well, it was a great day trip.  We decided to class it up for our meal at the end since our only other expense was the tea, bus ride, and fuel.  We both decided to opt out of paying admission to the abbey or other museums.  Everyone I talk to raves about the fish & chips in Whitby, and yes they were popular.  Everyone was eating them out of cardboard boxes from Magpie's Cafe.  But in my opinion the freshness of the cod gets overwhelmed by the fryer.  I'm starting to think it's more of a tradition of eating fish 'n chips in Whitby that makes them taste better, because of all the fond memories of holidays past.  There is no truly "great" fish 'n chips.

We were home by 9 pm, exhausted but happy, and ready for the week ahead. That's all for now!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Elder Peters Are Coming!

...was the subject of an email my mom sent me on August 29, 2012, 27 days after we arrived in Derby ourselves.  They had booked their travel using credit card points 6.5 months ahead of time.  It seemed so far away when  they first booked their travel, it's hard to think now that they've come and gone!   This post is out of order, as my parents visited from March 19-25, two days after their 32nd anniversary (St. Patrick's Day).

Having booked through reward points, their itinerary was less than ideal.  Also my parents, being their stubbornly independent selves, did not consult me in the slightest with logistics.  Their only request was that I pick them up from the Derby train station.  I see now where I get my reluctance to ask for help or impose on others.   I have limitless respect for my parents as they are raising four of my nephews, essentially hitting "reset" on parenthood.  Needless to say, their lives are hectic and noisy with very little time to themselves.  When they tell me they enjoyed the train rides from Manchester, I don't think they're just being nice.  I truly think they are savoring the time to themselves, as precious as it is.  For the time being, this is something that Kerry and I still take for granted.

Even when I asked what my parents wanted to do - they were just happy relaxing around the bungalow and doing British things.  So the theme of the visit was rest and relaxation, not high gear tourism and sightseeing.  My parents are seasoned travelers having been to the UK multiple times, so we could skip all the "must-see" activities for first timers.  We even reflected on the ex-pat experience, as my parents lived in Okinawa Japan for a short time while my dad was a Navy dentist.  Still, being the planner that I am, I tried to chamber a few day trip ideas that could be set into motion in a moment's notice.  Nothing fancy, but I knew we'd need to get some fresh air at some point.

I even planned for what I thought would be March weather - cold, grey, maybe a bit of wind and rain.  But WOW did I underestimate how uncooperative the weather would be - the snow just kept coming!

My parents braving the snowstorm at Wollaton Hall in Nottingham (aka Wayne Manor from Dark Night Rises)

My parents did a great job recovering from jet lag.  The trick is to sleep as much as possible on the overnight flight - using sleep aids are helpful.  After you land, caffinate a bit, and then you gotta keep yourself up until 10 pm - that would feel like 3 am for someone on the east coast.  You'll be tired but it's doable.  This way you'll sleep through most of the night.  I was able to pick them up without a hitch, except their luggage never arrived and British Airways would deliver it to the house the next day.  I took them to the Victoria Inn in Beeston.  A very nice British pub experience that came recommended by my neighbors.  We arrived early to get a table (it is very popular) and hung out for a few hours catching up over pints and decent pub food.  I hadn't seen my parents since last July, and phone conversations are short, so there was a lot to catch up on!

Kerry and I lent my folks some pyjamas and we did a round of laundry since we'd have to wait for their bags for another 20 hours.  Luckily, they had trip insurance which covered cost of clothing and supplies until luggage arrived, so we decided to take advantage of that at the Derby Westfield mall.  It was a simple day trip, but it was fun walking around commenting on all the small differences from the US.  It reminded us of our first week here when everything felt so different.  Oh - by the way - the supplies we picked up conveniently benefited Kerry and I more than my parents, since they had no room to fly back with extra things.  (I won't complain, contact cleaning solution is pricy!).  We also hit up the nearby CostCo, since my parents are members and the card works internationally.  I kept meaning to look into a membership (I can apply through my employer) but I still just can't seem to be bothered.  The flank steak I picked up, however, was phenomenal - and I've never seen flank steak in the Sainsburys, so that alone might make it worthwhile!

I'm flabbergasted at the size of the parking spaces at CostCo, I can't even get my car door to touch the next car over!  It's like a slice of Americana in my backyard.

Peanut butter M&M's:  Kerry demands an entry fee to stay at our bungalow (technically available here, but overpriced)

Quick stop in the Derby cathedral as we showed my parents around town.

We ate and drank well, played games, chatted, and thoroughly enjoyed our time through their stay.  From here I'll just highlight some of the day trips we were able to take.

Before the big snow fall, we made a trip to Matlock Bath in the Derbyshire dales for a walk amongst some pleasant views of rolling hills and a bit of birdwatching.  I mentioned in a previous post that Kerry and I have a mild enthusiasm for birdwatching.  Well, my parents packed their own binoculars; I'll let you be the judge.

Matlock Bath in the Derbyshire Dales

We made a pit stop at the Rolls-Royce Learning and Development center near my office so I could take my parents through the Heritige Trust exhibit, which is like a mini museum onsite which takes you through the history of the company.  After making sure I saw no familiar faces who might try to pull me into work, we ducked in and I got everyone some visitor passes.

The exhibit kept it simple for the sake of my visitors

Here I'm pointing at a part of the engine I work on. Doesn't look like much? How about a close up!

Oooh! Ahhh! Who's excited?
My wife attempting to look interested as I ramble on about the acoustic properties of perforated metal sheeting while admiring a Trent 800.

Everyone loved the Lego engine!

I found a nice hiking route on the internet for Matlock Bath - it worked out very well.  The Walking Englishman shares my affinity for free parking.

Candid shot - you'll notice there are not many pictures of my dad because he wouldn't give up the camera unless I demanded he let me take a picture of him

A nice picture of my mom taking a short rest after climbing High Tor
More candid photos from my dad lead me to believe Kerry puts up with a lot of my blabbering.

Cloudy day but still nice views

Descending the hill into town

Neat building - an old church turned private residence built up along the road. 

Keep your dog away from the hot coals (known as fouling) - animal cruelty is taken very seriously here

We were in the cold long enough and worked up a bit of an appetite, so it was time for another British essential.

The snow hit hard the next day,and with the proximity to Easter, I made a snow bunny.

Happy spring!

The roads were a bit too treacherous to attempt a long day trip (especially off the beaten path).  So we kept it mainly indoors.  We did have my neighbors over for dinner but we forgot to take pictures.  These are my [in]famous retired neighbors who when we visit them we end up stumbling back home.  I tried my darndest to keep up with them and I think I was successful.  My meal was Mexican-themed with pork carnitas with real authentic 100% corn tortillas - a gift from my mother.  I also made margaritas, which were a hit.  There was not much tequila left at the end.  Kerry also made a killer lime pie.  The conversation went late and was a lot of fun for everyone.   My dad wasted no time to bring up politics and religion after two glasses of wine (hahaha - sorry Dad).

We braved the snow to visit Wollaton hall, which ended up being a lot more fascinating than I was planning for.  The big attraction now is that it was used on the set of The Dark Knight Rises as Wayne Manor.  We talked to one of the security guards who told us all about her starstruck experiences chatting it up with all the actors.   I guess that's the key - keep the expectation low and prepare to be pleasantly surprised.  There was a fun science exhibit ongoing at the hall that day, meant for kids, but we managed to make the most of it.

Fossils and taxidermy was a big hit in the hall

Sledging was popular on the hill at the back of the hall - I'm so out of place without a blue jacket

A herd of deer in the park not minding the cold as much as we did; there were also some bambis sprinting around

One of my favorite pictures, the trees seem to go on forever, my mom is like little blue riding hood

The next day I dropped my parents off at Nottingham Castle while I went off to get a workout in - I mentioned before how we were in the middle of the CrossFit Open and I HAD to get the workout scored and submitted before the deadline.  I would have invited my parents but since the gym wasn't heated, I didn't think it would be terribly fun for them (sorry, Andy).  However, my best intentions failed, as the castle did not open (as the sign said it would).  So my parents ventured off into Nottingham seeking warmth.  They had my phone so we met up later.

Smart idea - find a pub.  That's what a local would do

Enjoying some European style coffee

We hit up a meal at Wagamama but couldn't hang longer than that.  The wind would whip through the streets and just made sightseeing unbearable.  We retreated to the bungalow for tea and (later) wine.

It was a great visit, and I felt homesick for the first time after dropping them off at the train station for their return trip back home.  Kerry's parents are next, coming up in a few months!  That will be a different kind of experience - can't wait!