Monday, 13 April 2009

Conwy castle, Liverpool and back to Berlin

We drove the short way to Conwy Castle & Walls, a small walled city which is regarded as one of the best examples of a walled city and castle still standing in the UK. After parking our car, we strolled along the walls of the city to the castle. The castle was built between 1283-87. It sits on a piece of land on the Conwy River, and it built on a rocky outcrop, and from any of the 8 towers you can see the harbour and town.

The National Trust had a great idea for the kids - a 'spy kit' that led the kids throught the castle, finding clues and solving a puzzle about when the castle was taken by rebels and held hostage for several months. They had to find the clue boards hidden around the castle, use their special 'spyglasses' to decode the clues, and complete the story. The boys had a great time - we roamed the castle, saw everything, and the boys learned about the history of the castle.

After the castle, we visited an old Elizabethan house, Plas Mawr. The house was built in 1576-1585, for Robert Wynn, a wealthy merchant. There were characters dressed up moving throughout the house, sharing information with visitors, and entertaining the kids. In the house, there was also a 'game' for the kids, to become spies for the queen by finding clues and solving puzzles. Again, a great way to engage the kids, and get them to learn lots about the history and having fun at the same time.

Some interesting ways to cure illnesses.

So, after a very 'historic' morning, in the afternoon we made our way to Liverpool, from where we were flying out the next morning.

We arrived with enough time to go into town for a look around. We went to the Albert Dock, looked around the down-town area, and then wandered up towards the cathedral and found a great little Indian restauant for dinner.

It was a nice town, plenty of Beatles references, (there were Beatle posters, signs, statues everywhere. In hindsight, I wished we had have taken photos of every Beatle reference we saw!) but we struggled to understand some of the locals! In the airport, Cameron asked me what language the two guys in front of us were speaking - it was English, but with the accents and the amount of slang they used, Cameron wondered if they were speaking French!

Camerons view: (Cameron wrote a diary for school, and he has given me permission to post his thoughts in the blog)

Today we played on the beach before breakfast and did a contest of who could find the roundest stone*. And guess what, I won with a perfectly round stone.

After a while we drove to Liverpool and saw all the buildings and the river. We had a great Indian/Chinese dinner.

(*one that looks more like a sphere)

Today we went to ASDA a bit after breakfast. Then we went to the park, and I fell off the tire-swing which made my knee even worse.

Then we went to the airport and took Easy Jet back to Berlin. When we got back we did the usual stuff like shopping, playing video games and that sort of stuff.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

A few days at the beach - Llandudno

Llandudno is a Victorian-era seaside resort on the north coast of Wales. Being Easter weekend, it was always going to be busy, with excellent weather as well, it was packed!

We stayed about half way along the beach, which meant that the huge concentration of people on the promenade around the pier had well and truly thinned down near where we were staying, and when we walked along the beach in the other direction, we only saw a few fishermen and people walking their dogs.

A lesson in skipping stones

We started the day, after breakfast, with a huge beach walk and play.

Then headed down to the pier (and the crowds) we wandered along the pier and back, looking at all the amusements and stalls. If you have never been, it is probably what you would expect - lots of tacky little stalls, food vendors and souvenirs. Also, blaring 60s music.

A Punch and Judy Show...even the kids thought it was creepy!

We enjoyed a lunch of sandwiches and salad from the supermarket, sitting on the promenade, then went back onto the beach for more play.

We were keeping our eyes on the clock - The boys had heard on the radio whilst we were driving that the BRAND NEW DR WHO!!! special was going to be on, and with David Tennant (the 10th Dr) on the radio, the boys had the channel and the time fixed in their minds!

We went and got some take away (fish and chips) and made our way back to our hotel room for the start of the show. On the way back, Alexander had a bit of an accident. He was leapfrogging bollards, and got his hand caught on one and fell flat on his face. He luckily got his hands down, but ended up with a very sore wrist. He was in shock - and this took some time to shake - but I had visions of a visit to the hospital with the way he was holding his wrist (I remember Cameron and our visit to Sicily...). A dose of Fish and Chips, and an hour with Dr Who and the Planet of the Dead, and he was a bit better.

The next morning was Easter Sunday, and somehow the Easter Bunny tracked us down. The boys got enough chocolates to keep them going, and a Dr Who magazine. The hotel staff also left the boys a big Easter Egg each, so they were very happy.

We went for another big beach walk, then used the cable car to go to the top of the Great Orme (the ancient mountains). It was another beautiful day, and after a long wait for the cable car, we really enjoyed the views on our ride up to the top.

We had lunch, and the kids played in a playground for ages, before we had an ice cream and walked back down to the town.

It was a lovely walk, and we followed the tram route for most of the way, then used small paths and the footpaths to finish our journey back into town. On the way, whilst mucking around, Cameron took a tumble and cut his knee. Nothing too big, but slowed him down a bit for a few minutes...

We got back into town and it was packed. As we made our way through the crowds we passed a bookshop - and were lured in to top up on our reading supply. The boys both chose a couple of books, as did Nicole and Phil. Nicole found a great book for Phil - Alone in Berlin - which was written in 1947 and had a real flavour of what life was like in Berlin during the war.

After another long play on the beach, we made our way back to the guesthouse for dinner.

This couple has us laughing. Here they were in the middle of the stony beach, with their fold out chairs, napkins on lap, dinner on plates, facing the prominade. The photo below is the view they were looking at while eating their dinner. Now don't you think it would have been much nicer to be looking towards the ocean???
Camerons view: (Cameron wrote a diary for school, and he has given me permission to post his thoughts in the blog)
Today was a fun day. We played on the beach for hours, We went for a walk. Well actually we spent the whole day on the beach except for 6:45 and above.

I had a sausage for dinner (with some chips). We ate the meal whilst watching DOCTOR WHO, Planet Of The Dead!!

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Alexander tried to leapfrog over a pole and had lots of shock when he face-planted* on the ground. He cried like MAD when he fell. (*face plant means to fall flat on your face)
Today was Easter. We found a Dr Who magazine on the side of our bed, a packet of mini-eggs, a bucket of chocolates and a big Easter Egg* from the hotel manager.

Then we went to the beach and played for a while. Next we went up the cable-cart and played in a playground. After 1 1/2 hours we walked down the hill. Halfway down I fell down a hole (an accident) and got a nasty scratch on my knee. Then we went back to the beach and played until dinner.
(*everythng before this was from the Easter Bunny)

Friday, 10 April 2009

The town with the longest name, up Mt Snowdon

Another cooked breakfast...the boys then went out to feed some toast to the chooks, and when they were feeding them, poor Arthur (now outnumbered) went a bit crazy and started butting a tree. Cameron was very impressed!

We left and headed for Mount Snowdon, the biggest mountain in (?). On the way we stopped at a small town called Llanfairwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogoch, which means "St Mary's Church in the Hollow of the White Hazel near a Rapid Whirlpool and the Church of St Tysilio near the Red Cave". Our Lonely Planet Guidebook says "(The Name) was dreamt up in the 19th century to get tourists in. And it worked."

It was really just a small village with a petrol station and a visitors centre/gift shop, where you could buy everything from magnets to t-shirts with the name on it. We managed to get 2 pins for the boys pin boards with the name of the town on it!

We made our way to Llanberis in the Snowdonia National Park, where we caught the train up Mt Snowdon. The narrow-gauage train is a rack-and-pinion railway.

At this time of year it only runs 3/4 of the way up (today they had snow at the summit), and we were contemplating heading up to the top on foot, or catch the train up,then walk back down. We decided to catch the train up,and see what we would do from there.

Once we were at the 3/4 way, the weather changed before our eyes (the temperature dropped to near freezing in a matter of moments).

It was obvious that, even with the simple walking trails, we were not adequately equipped to be out on the mountain, and instead caught the train back down.

We walked through town, and back along the lakeshore. We found a playground, where the kids had a great time and quickly made a band of friends. We stayed there a while - Nicole and Phil enjoying the sun and the kids dashing around playing.

We drove through the mountains (over Llamberis Pass) and then on to the coastal town of Llandudno, where we would spend the next 3 days relaxing in Victorian era splendour.

After checking into the hotel, we took the boys down to the beach. So many stones to throw into the ocean! When the tide was out, the sand strip was revealed. It was really interesting to see how far people had been able to throw (or skip) rocks out at high tide, because they were left scattered on the sand at low tide!

The boys had their shoes off and paddled, but with the cold water, the grey skies and all the rocks, the kids decided that was not such a good idea!

We tramped off to the town's big ASDA (kids clothes and some other requisites, and then returned (via the beach!) to dinner.

We were assigned the top two rooms of the hotel - interestingly, there was a fire door on the landing below that we could lock, and then the whole top floor (two bedrooms, a hall space and a bathroom)was for us - it was a perfect layout, except being in the attic, Phil was forever bumping his head or stooping to avoid all of the angles and low roof beams!

The owners have obviously made a big effort to modernise the guest house, and (in his words) "we can then charge a tenner more than they charge the old mingers down the other end of the promenade!"

Camerons view: (Cameron wrote a diary for school, and he has given me permission to post his thoughts in the blog)
Today we fed the chickens after breakfast then the goat had a spastic attack and started butting trees.

Next we went to a town called !

We then went on a train to the top of the mountain.

When we got to the hotel we went to the beach and found 2 ENORMOUS shells.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Walking in the wilds, on to Anglesey

We awoke to grey skies and cool weather, but looks at these gorgeous daffodils! The boys were quickly out of the hostel room to continue playing around the creek. We called them on our way up to breakfast (another cooked one - 2000 calories, anyone?).

After breakfast we loaded the car with all our stuff, then went for a walk on some of the trails from Kings up Cader Idris. Nicole and I kept to the paths, but the boys had a great time exploring by the river, clambering over walls, crossing little bridges, climbing trees...

The boys found these sheep jawbones along the way.

We were all very good, and didn't disturb the many sheep (as the sign on a gate told us, its lambing season, and they would appreciate if the sheep were not upset at this time!)

Throughout our walks we have seen many rhododendrons. They are classified as a weed here, and there is an eradication policy in place. The rhododendrons grow quickly, and are forcing out the native species of plants. So as pretty as the flowers are when they bloom, they are a big problem for the Welsh environment.

After a couple of hours walking, including a drink of the most delicious water from the mountain stream, we made our way back down to the car, and on to our next destination.

Our next stop was a bit of a strange one... Portmeirion Village It's a private village built by Sir Clough William Ellis. He collected parts of ruined buildings and mansions to create this strange little village- completely out of place in the middle of Wales! He harvested the pieces from across Europe and used them to build the village. The first stage was completed 1926-1939 and the second half completed between 1954-1976. Clough was 90 years old when it was finished.

The village is beside the bay, and your admission ticket has the tides printed on it...perhaps people have been stuck when the tide has come in previously! With an exorbitant charge to get in, we had a look around, had a coffee and ice cream, and went for a lovely walk along the shore and back through the gardens. The entire site is listed on the Conservation List.

There were tree stumps with embedded coins - we aqssumed it was to 'kill them off' with the copper from the coins poisoning the trees.. Of course, the boys thought this was great and immediately set about trying to 'extract the cash'! A few pence richer, we got back to our walking!

We drove on to Carnaerfon for lunch (a Tesco sandwich and a chocolate milk all round!) and then set sail for Holyhead, which is a small island up the north-west corner of Wales. (From here, you can catch a ferry to Ireland.) We could also get Irish Radio in the car along most of the West coast of Wales. After some nice highway driving (off the goat tracks for once!), we arrived at the youth hostel, which doubled as an adventure centre with lots of outdoor activities. The boys immediately found some tepees and disappeared for some fun.

The boys met Arthur the goat, who was tethered to the chook hutch. He was fine when there was one child, but he got a bit frightened when he was outnumbered. Arthur the goat is very popular. He has his own blog, his own facebook page (Arthur has 647 friends at this point of time) and a business card (exactly the same design as Nicole's visitor card. The business cards come from a free website) They also met Harry the dog, who was a big friendly bear of a dog, and the chooks.

Later in the afternoon we went down to the local beach, which was a small sandy beach with rock cliffs on either side. Cimbing on the rocks and playing on the beach was great fun - even if the weather was not so pleasant! We walked over the bluff to get a look down the coast, but the wind was blowing so hard and the rain coming in sideways that we didn't stay there for long!

We drove further down the coast to a second beach, this one a big, wide beach that you could imagine would be covered with white and pink (sunburned) specimens in the summer! The kids had a great run on the beach, found a crab in a rock pool, then watched as the life savers came back to the beach in their rubber dinghy. The volunteers let the boys hose the wheels of the tractor and trailor as the boat was brought up the ramp to the shed. It should have been obvious that giving an 8 year old a high pressure hose is not a good idea! Several soaked volunteers later...and very clean tyres!

We walked across the road to a pub for a delicious meal (sticky toffee strikes again!), then back to the hostel for the night.

Camerons view: (Cameron wrote a diary for school, and he has given me permission to post his thoughts in the blog)
We had lots of fun in the morning playing in the water and had a big walk up a hill.

Next we went to a colorful village and saw money growing on a tree! I tried to get all the money out but I only got a couple of pence.

Then we played on two different beaches. On the second beach we helped in an emergency situation, by cleaning the wheels of the emergency life boat.

We went to a pub and had a great dinner. After dinner we went to a hotel and saw a goat which had its own Facebook page!