Wednesday, May 09, 2007

WALES - A surprise round every corner.

Ever since Steve and I were here back in 2001 we have wanted to return. This time we decided to head to the north, more specifically the region of Snowdonia. After the failed attempt at mountain climbing in Scotland I first headed off to the outdoor shops and bought myself a pair of decent shoes. After scrambling over some of the slate on Snowdon it was a purchase worth every pound!!

We decided to take the train from London to Chester and then hire a car and drive ourselves for the few days. Unfortunately, I lost my wallet and am now minus a license so Steve was my chauffeur. Our first surprise was the compact car that we had hired was upgraded to a black Saab convertible (with no price increase). Steve enjoyed testing the car around the country roads.

Saturday was Steve's birthday and we had fabulous weather so decided to give climbing the highest peak of England and Wales a go - Mt Snowdon. This is one of the main drawcards of the area and there are at least 6 different paths up to the 1085m summit. We decided to use the Miners Track which runs alongside two lakes (Llyn Llydaw and Llyn Glaslyn) before starting the proper ascent. The area is a major source of the world's slate and it is everywhere on the mountain. Our particular path was originally used by workers of the Copper mine and there are quite a few remnants of stone buildings.

Lyn Llydaw with one of the buildings on the other side.
Just after we passed the lakes and were thinking "are we going to start climbing soon," the ascent really started. Some of the slate looked as if it had been organised into a path, but certainly not an easy one to walk along. The views became more spectacular the higher we climbed and we were amazed at the number of people also climbing. Our track joined another about half-way up and the frequent stops to allow people down were needed just to catch our breath.

At the summit we rested and ate some good old aussie Starburst lollies, while the true trekkers next to us made a some tea on their little gas burner!!! I wouldn't have carried anything extra up and we had done one of the easier paths!

View over the lakes from the summit

Proof that we did make it!

The way down was quicker but not really any easier then going up. Steve took a few near tumbles but lucky for me stayed upright and didn't drop the camera. I also thought it was a little strange that he kept refusing to let me carry the bag, but it made sense soon after.
So here is the moment that you have all been waiting for. This is the spot where Steve proposed, alongside Llyn Glaslyn. The lake has incredibly clear fresh water that looks blue from above. The colour comes from the effect of copper mining. He couldn't have selected a nicer spot.

Llyn Glaslyn
The next question that everyone has asked is - was there a ring? Yes. The ring was chosen in Australia by Steve all on his own, and is gorgeous. It sparkles just right and is much more than I ever expected. The second question - we haven't set a date yet. The remainder of the walk back was fairly relaxed. I was distracted frequently as the diamonds kept catching my eye.

The rest of the weekend was a bit rainy so no more outdoor walking for us. The area is a walkers and campers paradise. Another on the list to revist at some point. Instead, we explored the seaside resort town of Llandudno and it feels a bit like Brighton although it has sand on the beaches not just rocks. We happened to walk into a bit of a time warp as the annual Victorian Historic Weekend was in progress. The average age would have been over 70 so we felt a little out of place.

One thing I did have to see was the White Rabbit Statue. This was where the little girl Alice, that Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland for lived. I was very disappointed to see that dispite the bars, rabbit was missing an ear and an arm.
Wales is famous for its castles and there are heaps of them. We chose to visit Conwy Castle which was billed as one of the best preserved castles and town walls of Briton. All that is left of the castle is a stone shell, which was interesting but given that it is not inhabited it is not quite the same as Leeds Castle. We're not quite sure that our entry fee was being used to look after the castle. One positive was that you can climb into nearly all the towers and the views from the top are pretty spectacular.

Overview of the castle from one of the 5 battle towers.
Claire and Steve at the top of a tower.
Some of the other notable and quirky attractions that Wales has to offer were:
Britain's smallest house which was once inhabited by a 6 foot plus fisherman. The house was full when we were there so we only have the photo. You could actually see the queue from the top of the castle.
Britain's smallest house
The town with the longest name in Britain. In Welsh it is Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
In English it means St Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near the rapid whirlpool of St Tysilio close to the red cave. Sorry, but we haven't found out the pronounciation for this yet.
Whilst driving around the Snowdonia National Park Steve had to do some evasive driving to miss some of the locals. We can confirm that the sheep made it back to the right side of the fence.
This last photo is random scenic shot taken on our last day. The only thing missing were the sheep.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Vanessa loves winter so much that she decided to head back to Oz just to miss the UK heat. It was great to have her stay with us while she got set up. When she decided to leave it spurred us into action and we started to tag along whilst she 'ticked some boxes'. The major one being Notting Hill. Both of us are big fans of the movie so we needed to locate the icons, namely the door and the book shop. It was a little disappointing to see the door is now black and not blue, but probably understandable as we weren't the only ones taking photos. We have since found out that the internal shots of Hugh Grant's flat were done in a studio as the house belonging to the door was the director's house.
We also discovered the book shop in the movie is now an antique shop, but it was modelled off this one which has since moved just round the corner. This is just as much a tourist attraction, and again we weren't the only snappers there.

Notting Hill does have a pretty good market, but I would hate to live in the immediate area. The roads are packed with people and made driving extremely difficult for the residents. There are heaps of nice looking restaurants and pubs, but we decided to stick with traditional at the Sausage and Mash Cafe. This place does a variety of snags with a choice of mash and a choice of gravy. I personally went for the Lamb and Mint with Bubble and Squeak, mmmm. Well worth the effort in finding it (hidden behind some stalls). The waiter wasn't the best with the camera so we do look a little fuzzy.
Another box was the Aquarium. In hindsight it was a little disappointing, (stick with Seaworld or Underwater World) especially for the cost but we did amuse ourselves at the touch pool. They really only had rays on offer which feel almost like jelly. Very strange sensation.

The other boxes ticked were a visit to Covent Garden, the theatre (We Will Rock You) and a posh afternoon tea with a view. Unfortunately we weren't smart enough to take the camera everywhere so you will just have to trust us that they were all great.
Life will be a bit different over here now, but the 10 things we know she will miss most (apart from our fabulous company)......
1. Galaxy chocolate
2. Starbucks, Nero and Costa Coffee on every corner
3. the super comfy camping mattress
4. cooking for us (Zucchini Slice)
5. Sunday roast at the Moby
6. gloves, scarves, beanies, thermals and blankets just to go to a movie
7. the Scottie Dog
8. free papers on the tube
9. Banoffe pie
10. Washer/Dryers

Cheers, Steve and Claire

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

LONDON - Marathon

Marathon fever hit the city so we went out and joined them. Steve had put in a ballot entry along with 100 000 others and missed out along with 70 000 others. After watching the start of the elite womens and wheelies on tele we headed outside and picked our spot at 9miles.
We really didn't have too far to go as the route runs alongside the quay where we live. The buildings at the end of the road are our place. Just in case the runners were starting to feel a little tired at this point the water station people had some 1950's rock music at full volume.
There was an Aussie (Benita Johnson) in the elite pack and she went to the same school as Claire. In the next picture which is of the leading women, Benita is tucked in at the back. The runners in white are the pace runners which drop out at half way.
The men set off around 45min after the women so we did have a wait to see them come through. It is always amazing to see how effortless they make it look, and then to realise how fast they are actually running.
The corner that we were standing on did see some excitement. A couple of the pacers missed the turn and the police officers turned into race marshals. One of the wheelies lost a wheel as he turned, no injury but we don't think he continued racing either. Once the men had passed us we jumped on the tube and headed into Westminster to the 25mile mark (and positioned ourselves outside Big Ben) to pick them up near the end. Benita finished in 7th and the women's event was won by a chinese competitor.

Aussie competitor Benita Johnson at 25 miles.
Zhou, winner of womens event.
For the men's race all the media had been focussing on ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassie but he bailed with a stich (i know, soft....) at around the 20mile mark. The men's pack was still together towards the end and we were wishing we had gone further towards the finish line to witness the sprint finish. The eventual winner was Lel (in the red singlet) in a 3 person sprint.
After watching the race and seeing some of the normal people on TV we are contemplating it next year. Now we know the trick of gaining an entry is to join one of the charity teams. We also thought we would start off with a 10km in June. The sweltering 25 degree heat (remember it is London and they train through winter and single digit minimum temperatures) took it's toll on many. Some people that thought it would be a great idea to run in a novelty outfit had their own battery powered fans inside the suits. There was even one competitor doing it in slow motion. He was expecting a finish time of 10days. All these people got a place in the race, and all Steve wanted to do was run a normal race.
We are now waiting for the Tour de France which this year starts in London, and also goes past our front door.