Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fronczak Family Fun Week! Part 1 - Pints, Puddings, Castles, Pints, Minsters, Ruins, and Pints

The Fronczak family [my in-laws] flew in from Chicago the first weekend of June.  I had it blocked out on my calendar at work as "Kerry's Family Invasion".  We picked them up from Manchester Airport on a Saturday morning.  This was the first time Kerry's parents and sister have been overseas.  Their only other international experiences have been at Caribbean ports of call on a cruise ship.

The gang's all here:  Dave, Deb, Kerry, Jeff, Kim, Maria, and Jim being welcomed to the city of London
They had to wait for  us for a while, unfortunately, since I miscalculated a few things.  I assumed I would have plenty of time to get there even after they touched down, since they had to get through the assumed long lines at immigration control and then collect their luggage.  However, they connected in Dublin, so they went through the long lines of immigration control there, much earlier in the morning.  Flights from Ireland to the UK are treated like domestic flights, apparently.  Also, I wanted to be slick and just drive right up to arrivals and pick them up.  But there were two problems with this plan:  (1) no one told them to wait outside and (2) Manchester has managed to hide the Terminal 1 Arrivals drive-up from incoming traffic.  I drove around in circles in the bewilderingly confusing roundabout maze at the airport to no avail.  I was forced to pay for 10 min of parking to go collect our house guests who were waiting in the busy arrivals area looking quite bewildered themselves.  On our way back to the car we weaved through the obstacle course created by large Muslim families camping out with their big suitcases in the arrivals hall.   I did notice a drive-up does exist, but it appears to be for taxis only.  Well played, Manchester.

First order of business!  (Maria and Jim don't arrive for another day)
I've yet to meet someone who flew economy overseas from the US say that they slept well on the airplane, or even dozed at all.  It is difficult to relax, after all, so I don't blame them.  The trick is to get a short nap in once you get to the final destination and unwind, or just power through until 10 pm that evening.  In the latter case, it often means you will have no sleep for 32 to 34 hours.   Some managed to snooze on the drive back while others made funny comments about driving on the "wrong" side and observations about their new surroundings.  "Oh, look, they have BP here, too!"  Meanwhile I reflected on how much Kerry and I have adapted in the last year.

Luckily everyone got in a short nap, then we made our way into Derby to drop Kerry off for an emergency dental appointment (this is another story for another day).  I then shuttled everyone to the Bridge Inn for lunch and drinks.  We hit some traffic delays going from the dental office to the pub, such that as we stepped into the pub, I got a call from Kerry stating she was done and ready for pickup.  So I decided to leave the parents and sister to tend to themselves at the pub while I went for a 2nd lap to the dentist office (this time avoiding the traffic congestion by taking the ring road).  Before leaving I was nice enough to explain how to order at a British pub.  It would have been cruel to let them sit there waiting for a friendly server to show up to take down their order!  

Not to say pub service is not friendly, in fact, they got along famously with the server and barman.  A laugh was had by all when Dave held out a handful of change and asked the barman to pick out which coins he needed to pay for his pint, and the waitress enjoyed some small talk with her new American friends.

Afterwards we hit up the Sainsburys to stock the house.  I wanted everyone to have a chance to pick up snacks or drinks they wanted.  Unfortuantely the shock of a British supermarket was too overwhelming and we ended up just getting a few cases of beer.  This is a Miller drinking family, but since MGD in the UK will cost more per unit volume than a fine French cognac, I recommended we try Carling.  This "brilliantly refreshing" lager brewed quite close nearby in Burton-upon-Trent is probably the most popular beer sold in the UK.  A bit of digging online revealed Carling has its roots in Canada and is distributed by the same mega-corporation as MGD, so no too shabby.  We also got a case of Carlsburg since I just had some in Denmark and I wanted to keep with the "Carl" prefix trend going.   I did have some John Smith's "smooth flow" pub-style ale for myself.

Our little fridge has never been so full!  Posting this reminded me to throw away that pepto-bismol.

If only I knew someone named Carl to hold these cans!  (Sidenote: You can see that Deb brought Kerry some American celebrity gossip magazines)
Not everyone was happy for the new company - Stan and Lucy kept to our bedroom most of the time.
Before dinner that evening we took a walk through our little town of Sandiacre.  If you're not careful, you'll walk in to Stapleford without realizing it.

Sandiacre's main drag
We happened upon a cricket match - I witnessed a seam bowl yorker for a diamond duck grubber on a double wicket maiden 20/20 over.  Nearly tickled the batsman's ribs!  Everyone else lost interest quickly.

The Roach bar.  With numerous cockroach silhouette logos. Is this really what you want me to think about when I go to your establishment?

The next day it was off to the Peak district for a walk in the Longshaw Estate, a pretty area that's a bit east of Castleton, harkening to our first trip to the area last August.  Longshaw was formerly a shooting box for the Duke of Rutland, but is now a National Trust site.  I assume the Duke of Rutland is connected to the Rutland Water, a nature preserve we visited last February.  Anyway, Longshaw has very impressive features such as old trees, ancient rock formations, sheep, and a quaint brook.  This hike was meant to stay pretty easy and casual around the estate and visitor center, so we only logging about 3 miles.

A nice sunny day for a short hike in the Peak district

The Longshaw estate had the most impressive rhododendrons I've ever seen.

Here Kim is trying to sit on a rock as awkwardly as possible.

This lamb is growing up fast

Keeping the gang heading the right direction on the well-marked trail

Some of the old twisted trees I mentioned earlier

Some of the quaint babbling brook I mentioned earlier
Kerry and I leap for joy on a sunny day in the Peak district

At the end of our loop hike I wanted to continue a bit further down to Padley Gorge near Grindleford, but I couldn't gain any traction with the group to go for the extra miles and slightly rougher terrain.  Instead we hopped back in the Peugeot 508 and made our way to Bakewell for another pub lunch.  It was a fun drive on the curvy steep roads in the Peak district, and I think I only made everyone nervous a few times. I don't seem to have any good  photos from our stop in Bakewell, unfortuantely, but it was our 2nd time there, and it was just as busy.  Summertime in Bakewell is apparently a hotspot for visitors, why, I can't tell.   Yes it's quaint and nice, but not sure exactly what the huge draw is.  After lunch and pints we stopped to get some famous Bakewell puddings to go.  I had taught myself how to make custard last Christmas, so we'd make this our dessert.  So we were homeward bound.

Uncle Jim and Aunt Maria had landed earlier in the day, and after their nap, came to visit us.  They flew into Birmingham (OZZYYY! - Jay has repatriated, so someone had to take over that gem).  They had rented a car and were staying in Tamworth.  When they arrived, we pulled all our chairs out to the front porch in the evening sun and had an "office party".  This is common in Deb & Dave's neighborhood, where on a nice evening you sit out front and invite any passers-by to join for some conversation and a drink.  Luckily my neighbor Phil (who is known to enjoy a shandy or 2) stopped by to meet the family.

Phil's the other bald guy, and enjoyed our American tradition.
The next day was Monday, and I had to work.  All my paid time off has been allocated for the year, and I could only afford to take off 1 day, which will be coming up on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Kerry took her family on the bus to Nottingham for a day of adventure.  It worked out quite well, as she bought them a group bus ticket that covered all five of them for a nice discounted rate.  Kerry hasn't shown any interest in sharing any details from this day, and I was not an eyewitness, save the photos they took.  So I'll do my best.  Seeing that I've rattled on about airports and the history of Carling far more than was necessary, I'll let the captions do the work here.  The Nottingham itineary appears to have consisted of a stop at Costa coffee (or as I like to call it, Costalot coffee), a walk through Nottingham Castle,  and yet another pub lunch at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (or as us locals call it, "the Trip").

Deb and Robin Hood

A little fancy-dress fun in the castle.  I thought this exhibit was intended for youngsters, but they appear to be having a splendid time.

The Knight Templar
The Trip has a great location next to the castle, built right into the side of the hill.


More Pints!

Fish 'n chips with mushy peas go well with the pint

Here Jim and Dave are at Pitcher and Piano - the Nottingham former church, which is now a popular bar, for yet another pint.  There must've been some walking involved from the castle to the Pitcher downtown which worked up a thirst.

Fun on the i4 from Notts to Sandiacre.  Dave told me he couldn't remember the last time he rode a public bus.

Maybe they feel a little more at home by now, because they found a Poundland and loaded up on all the food and snacks to bring 

Kim was a huge fan of Poundland, that older lady in red was confused. 
They even thought of me!  When I got back home I got a gift of a union jack bandana that Kerry found from a street vendor. 
We had a nice evening together at the bungalow.  5 people in a 2 bed/1 bath is a bit of a challenge.  But we purchased extra toilet roll so we got by.  On Tuesday, I went to work again while the family set off by train to York.  They wanted the train experience, and since there were 6 of them, it was really the only option, not just because I had to take the car to work and am the only insured driver.  I explained how to get to the Derby train station and how to park, etc, and informed them to give themselves 40 minutes to get there.  I also warned them about how easy it is to miss the right exit to the station from the ring road and end up out in Pride Park.  One thing I did not factor in was the normal weekday impact, something I'm well aware of now.  This is when the station car park fills up in the morning with train commuters heading to work.  Well, the weekday impact definitely caused a hiccup for the York-bound crew.  When they arrived (6 crammed into the VW for the short trip) to a full car park, they panicked and lost precious minutes.  I should have informed them to just follow sings for a blue and white "P". Yeah, maybe you'll end up a few quid poorer than the station rate, but you'll make your train.

By the time they were fed up with it and parked in the reserved "1st class" parking spots, it was too late and the train had gone.  Fortunately, the station manager saw the group of clueless Americans and showed pity.  He allowed them to board the later train at no extra cost, and they were on their way.

Finally you can relax!
Guess what the first stop was upon arriving in York?

On their way to the gorgeous York Minster.  You've heard me talk about this before last year, so I'll just say we have a few more tickets.  Everyone was very fascinated by this impressive structure.

Kim wanted to have lunch at the supposedly haunted pub - the Golden Fleece

And pints were included with the 4th pub lunch of the week.

They went for a stroll along the old Roman walls, something that Kerry and I didn't get to when we visited the first time.  York has some serious history.

Deb got to ride on Purple Bicycle Man's bike because he overheard her say that she didn't think he was a real person.  These street performers are ace!

Well, you can't finish a day trip without a visit to the pub - that's 3 for the day! Even the Brits might think this is starting to look impressive.  As they say, "work is the curse of the drinking class"

Oh, and they returned via train with no further drama.  Also, no one seemed to care that they parked in 1st class reserved, because in fact there is no way of knowing if the person who parked there indeed paid for a first class ticket.  Just an honor system from a culture who is used to more stratified classes, historically speaking.

The next day, the family fancied a trip down to Stonehenge and Bath.  This is no joke of a daytrip, something that we had done last fall.  Seeing how there were only 5 seats available in Jim's VW, Kerry graciously bowed out and took a day to herself.  They had a great time so I hear.  

I was somewhat perplexed about how to handle parking in Bath.  With two persons, the park and ride is a good deal, as a return ticket on the bus is about 2.50/person.  With 5, suddenly you're penalized for parking away from city center because you can easily park for the day in Bath city center for 12.50.  Well, it may be a bit more stressful navigating to the multi-story garage.  So you have to weigh your options carefully when travelling in big groups.  I suppose the driver could drop off the group and go park himself, but the rest of the group would be waiting upward of 30 minutes for his return.  We'll revisit this topic later.

3 of 5 at Stonehenge

They visited the Roman Baths and came back with rave reviews, which Kerry and I were glad for.  We were also glad we didn't have to pay the entry fees again.  So they've really been exhausting themselves putting in a serious amount of transportation time but seeing quite a bit so far.

We have two more adventures to go before they head back home, but we'll take a break here.


  1. I think I would get along well with your in laws. Less museums, more pints!

  2. Great to see some Yanks adapting to the local pint culture. And what's with the sun in the PK? That doesn't happen often enough. Can't wait to see the rest of the Fronczak Family pics. And thanks for taking the Bir-ming-ham torch now that I am back in the States.