Thursday, August 25, 2016

Hampton Court! That's what I forgot to write on!

Our penultimate day in England featured a trip to Hampton Court. It's the day I'll remember as the day Sam hit his wall of fatigue. That being said, the way a 10-year-old expresses fatigue is a lot easier to deal with than the way I remember he and Caroline doing so when they were younger. In fact, both of the kids held up very, very well on this long trip.

I should point out, though, that I dealt with fatigue, too. I was darn near impossible to deal with regarding dinner when we arrived in Windsor late Thursday, insisting that we had to eat at Pizza Express, figuring it was a chain I could rely on after a long day of travel.

We had a tough call to make on Friday of our trip. Our original plan had been to visit Legoland Windsor, but the online materials made it seem as if it was too kiddish for our biggest amusement park fan. So we then had a choice of Chartwell, Windsor Castle, or Hampton Court. We opted for Hampton Court.

And it was splendid, but may have been palace overkill. It was the third one we visited. Here are some photos.

So, let me get off my chest an irritation at this site. This was one of about five sites where we had a portable, hand-held audio guide. Generally, it was good. But it required one to move sequentially through the narrations, offering few numbered locations so one could quickly find the track for where one should be if you got out of sequence. Also, they didn't recommend having an adult on the adult one and a child on the child one ("You'll be unable to stay together"). These were minor annoyances which goes to say that I learned from England that . . .

Stuffy old museums have a great ability to be un-stuffy with a little bit of ingenuity.

Generally, I was impressed with the museums we visited in England. These institutions are blessed with places that could just speak for themselves. Charge admission, have people walk around and look at old, then move on their way. However, virtually every place we visited figured out a way to engage. Lyme Park might have done this best, what with the Edwardian apparel they let visitors wear and the archery lessons for kids. The Roman Bathhouse in Bath had a superb kids' version for the audio guide. Parliament and Westminster did too. Two museums we visited offered lunch rooms for families who packed, and the British Museum even had a family locker room / bathroom / table arrangement. Hampton Palace had a troupe of actors who gave a fairly accurate, kid-appropriate dramatization of Henry's marriage and divorce to Catherine of Aragon. There was a genuine effort to make the museums and historic homes we saw somewhat kid friendly.

Hampton Court did impress me. They permitted us to see and get into more spaces than I expected. The guides who watched over the rooms would, when prompted, share a great deal of knowledge with you. Though the palace is most famous for its link to Henry VIII, a guide in one room talked at great length about William of Orange's legacy as king. While he was doing that, Sherry was getting a good earful from another guide about the constant relevance of the monarchy in Britain.

In short, I had the privilege of seeing a lot of sites that showed evidence of a lot of care and thought by their staffs.

Wait a minute

I wrote a post on York and forgot I wrote a post on York. That was silly. I guess my readers can choose which one was best.

Between London and Bath

We've been home from England now for nearly two weeks, and two weeks has passed since we left York for Windsor. This modest anniversary reminds me that I did little posting about our adventures after leaving London but before our final day. Though York was quite nice, our stay there didn't afford me good chances to blog about our adventures. When we left York, there were some challenges with cell phone reception and battery life that challenged my ability to post as well. Then, of course, there was the fatigue-from travel factor as well. Here's a belated update. 

Sam at the photo-stop version of Platform 9 3/4. 

The real Platform 9 3/4 probably looks more like this. 

Sherry and Caroline on the trip to York. 
We left London early Monday. The staff at Dolphin House assured us that the Tube was the best was to get to that station, and they were right. The train ride was, well, civilised. Britain de-nationalized the trains, which means for-profit companies run the system. Virgin runs this line, and we had reserved seats around a table. The ride was quick. It was pleasant. Nothing to complain about.

We lunched in front of these ruins. 
We arrived in York around lunch time and picknicked in the gardens outside York's museum. We were on the look out for supposedly ravenous squirrels, but apparently they were so well-fed they didn't beg for food.
Display of boys' luggage set for a trip to Preparatory School at National Railway Museum. 
Our first site in York was the National Railway Museum, which was a very good museum. However, it had the unintended effect of making me quite homesick. First, it reminded me a lot of the good railway museums I've seen in Pennsylvania: a little bit like swirling together Steamtown and the Railroad Museum in Strasburg. It's funny how steam-era railroads pretty much smell the same on both sides of the pond. Secondly, seeing engines, cars, and destinations native to England made me realize how little of the country's geography I knew and made me wish for some U.S. companies and destinations. I purposely spent most of my time there looking at the excellent displays about station culture: luggage, ticket purchasing, and other aspects of being a passenger.
Caroline at York Minster.
Tower at York Minster.
After our museum adventure we wandered over to York Minster, the cathedral of the town. It might have been Sherry's favorite site (after Tower of London). Sam enjoyed it a lot too. In fact, the Minster kindled some sort of dormant appreciation for sculpture in the boy. The Minster meant so much to them that the two of them returned later in the trip for a guided tour of the tower.

We might have had our best meal of the trip in York at Mr. Chippy's. Fantastic fish and chips that will someday fatten the wallet of my yet-to-be-named cardiologist. Also, I found my favorite beer in England there. Oh, and the waiter gave us a great tip for where to eat the next night, York Roast Co.

Along the fortifications.

Display at Castle Museum. Nineteenth-century farm house. 

Display at Castle Museum. Dresses (Caroline's request).

Display at Castle Museum. Victorian era street scene. 

Display at Castle Museum on food preparation. Food preparation?!?!?

Roman era human remains. 
York's museums, as did the museums throughout our trip, impressed me. We visited the Castle Museum on our second morning and found out the name was a misnomer. It had little to do with any castle. It had everything to do with telling the life of ordinary people over the decades in York. Very well done. Lot more in there than I expected. In the afternoon we visited a kid-centered museum called Dig which meant to replicate an archaeological dig in York. It's an offshoot of the Jorvik Viking Centre, which is unfortunately closed due to a recent flood.

Sam lost two teeth in York. Here's #1.

Our hotel.
Our accommodations in York featured the only hotel of the trip. Very nice place, though small to Americans. It featured lots of Churchill images, a cigar bunker (in which I did enjoy a beer one night) and an outstanding breakfast each morning. I'm still mourning the loss of English breakfasts now that I'm back home. My attempts to make them upon returning didn't survive our first week back.
Clifford's Tower, what remains of York's castle. 

Atop Clifford's Tower, what remains of York's castle. 

Clifford's Tower, what remains of York's castle. 

The York Minstermen's pitch. 
Our final day in York was a relaxing one, though I noticed it was the day Caroline seemed to wear down (Sam had his own fatigue day . . . see the next post). In retrospect, I wish we had gotten the car one day earlier so that on the last day Sherry and Sam could have seen more of York on foot, which they did, and Caroline and I could have driven to something worthwhile outside of town. I forget how a car ride can be a refuge for a kid on a trip . . . a time when they don't have to walk or follow or wait or exert. They can simply move and zone out while the parents do the work. 

More late. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

My Kids' Imagination

Being home with an 8- and a 10-year-old has proven to make for my favorite dad summer yet. There were times where they surprised me in how they didn't need me as much (in other words, it's not necessary like it used to be to set a schedule). But they still want me around. It's a nice place to be. 

What has particularly fascinated me is how they try to represent what's going on in their imagination, incorporating recent experiences. For instance, Caroline integrated some of her experiences traveling to create a hotel apartment some of her animals were staying in. 

Murphy is ready to greet visitors. The renters are upstairs in the bedroom. 

The bathroom and kitchen suite. 
I love how a chicken nugget box from BJ's inspired her to re-create some of the recent hotel stays from our England trip. 

Let's not forget, though, my favorite little recreation of hers from the summer: Murphy as Queen looking out from our apartment in London. 

Can you tell we saw a lot of royal sites in England? 
Sam, meanwhile, pestered me about playing a strange computer game he remembered I had called Papers, Please. Perhaps it was because he had recently passed through nations' borders to get into and home from England. After playing it for part of a morning, surely he had to re-create it. 

The border crossing and inspection station. 

Closeup of the inspection station. 

Palace of justice in the town behind the border. You might not wish to look too carefully at the gristly back, right-hand corner of the palace. 
I guess for the rising fifth grader, some of the re-creations are getting more, uh, sobering. But this is the kind of stuff I'll be missing daily when I return to my professional life in about a week. 

Promised Land

According to park literature, the name of Promised Land State Park was meant to be ironic. Shakers tried to make the area into a commune back in the eighteenth century. But the rocky soil defied any attempts at farming it (really the land seems good for only two things, one of which is logging) and as they retreated, they sarcastically called their abandoned home promised land.

What's the other thing the area is good for? Looking spectacular.

Seriously, this view was a mere 15 seconds from one of our campsites. 

A feeble attempt at capturing the full moon over the lake with my cell phone's camera. 
We (six adults, ten kids) spend the weekend at the park. I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't take more photos of the trip (when one's cell phone doesn't receive a signal, one starts to forget it's there, even if it's just to use the camera app). However, my daughter made an artistic representation of our site that you might find informative.

Caroline's map of the campsites. We reserved four but only used three because high underbrush blocked access between it and the other sites. 

Caroline's inset of her favorite part of the sites. The heart-shaped lollipop is the big tree by the lake. 
This is a photo that shows I still have my priorities right when it comes to photography. Another selfie with a stuffed beaver. 
Caroline tells me her favorite park is Promised Land, which she has now been to twice. Sam says any park will suffice as long as his friends are there.

When we first started camping years ago, we only went for an overnight. But then that felt too short to truly enjoy a park. Now two nights is feeling too short. We (my family and the friends with whom we share these camping trips) are getting better at setting up sites, maintaining sites, and feeding ourselves. The kids are pros at playing at the campsites. Oh, and no injuries to report!

There's a bit of sadness after this weekend as I wonder if Hickory Run, the park I've camped at the most often, is getting left behind. Promised Land is a winner park. There are three drawbacks to it compared to Hickory Run: gravel at campsites, hikes that aren't quite as awe-inspiring, and distance from home. But those are offset by a spectacular lake, nice bathrooms, and a park layout that encourages relaxation more than Hickory Run might.

We did get in a pair of small hikes, and I have a few photographs from that. Sadly, I don't have any of the trip to the beach, which surprisingly held our attention for quite a while. I think the hikes we did do show that there might be some more cool things to explore as we make ourselves more familiar with the park. It's worth the trip next summer.

Rock formation on Conservation Island. 

Along Little Falls Trail. 

Along Little Falls Trail.

I'll let you figure out a caption to this photo. Be adventurous, but keep it clean. It's a family site. 
More later.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Final (Full) Day

I had some doubts about our plans for the trip's final day. It did involve a fair amount of driving. And it led us to two sites that I worried would prove to be disappointing (relative to their hype). Instead, this turned out to be one of the best days of the trip. I'll let photos of our destinations speak for themselves.

First stop, from about 9:30 until 11:30, Stonehenge.

The pleasant surprise for me: How close visitors were allowed to get.

After a lunch at a roadside travel plaza (yes, they have those in England, too), we visited Bath to tour the Roman baths. Crowded and somewhat touristy. But I was impressed at how the museum moved the herd through and reconstructed the site while telling a story. Worth every minute.

Pleasant surprise: one of the classiest jobs of historical presentation one could imagine from a place that could be much, much more tacky.

Bath itself offered some other neat spots to check out, which we did before taking dinner and returning to Windsor.

Abbey in Bath. 

Abbey in Bath. 

Abbey in Bath.

A circular ring of townhouses. 

A circular ring of townhouses. 

Sherry and Sam at our final pub of the trip. 
It was a neat way to end the trip. Approximately 3 hours in the car and two sites that were remarkably friendly to a family with kids.