UK with Maria and Tyron - December 2011

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Europe » United Kingdom
December 18th 2011
Published: May 21st 2012
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After almost a 12 hour delay, Andy and Bunny were finally on the way to collect Maria and Tyron from the airport. It was a late flight in and Maria and Tyron had had a long day at Joburg airport, so that night we briefly stopped by Andy’s flat to give them the tour and then headed straight back to our place.

The next day Martin, Bunny, Maria and Ty set off very early for St Pancras Station and a train to Edinburgh, but we were rewarded by a beautiful sunrise as we pulled out of London… a good omen if ever there was one :-) The ride up was great; the scenery in general, but specifically as you enter Scotland, is just stunning. We arrived right on time and then headed to our apartment through the grey, drizzly day; arriving at Edinburgh by train is awesome, you pop out of the station right in the heart of the city, only a 5 minute walk from the famed Royal Mile and the majesty of the gothic city hits you immediately. Great for showing off UK cities to South African tourists! We were glad to be back, we really love the feel of Edinburgh! Our apartment was directly beside Edinburgh castle and offered a wonderful view of the awesome structure. The place itself was wicked, retro and cool, with lots of period feel; a very cool place with crimson and black painted walls that wouldn’t suit anywhere else -with a view of the castle from the couch!

After a brief chill out at the apartment we headed up to Edinburgh Castle, which was cool as it was something we hadn’t done on previous trips. It’s a pretty cool castle as castles go, and the views of one of our favourite cities is quite sensational from the top, compounded with all the festive lights and Christmas Markets at this time of year. Dinner was, fairly randomly, not a pub but an American style diner in The Royal Mile where Martin did, however, order haggis and the rest of us tried the smallest samples! It’s not bad, but nor is something to write home about as far as culinary delights go.

The following day we’d booked Maria and Tyron on to a Highland tour similar to one we’d done a few years back. It’s a 14 hour tour given how far north you head, so Martin and I had a lazy start to the day followed by a visit to the Christmas Markets and a bit of pub hopping around the city, finishing back at the markets with Kristi trying warm Crabbie’s with a shot of whiskey… when in Scotland and all that! Was indeed quite ‘warming’!!

Third day in Edinburgh saw us go shopping in the outdoors shops for Maria and Ty to pick up a couple more items for their upcoming ski trip to Austria, and we got yummy lunch from stalls in the Christmas Markets and spent a few hours in the pub “The Standing Order” where Martin and Tyron proceeded to try as many new beers as they could. A great afternoon all around, but then all so suddenly our trip to Scotland was over and we found ourselves heading back to the train station!

The next few days were ours to check out London. We had been hoping for snow but sadly we got grey drizzly days instead. We visited Hamleys with Andy and his mum, Pam. We checked out Carnaby Street and brunched at the NZ café ‘Sacred’. We embarked on a ‘Hop on Hop off’ tour of the London sights, browsed the very fun Borough Markets with all it’s delicious food samples on offer and indulged in amazing Raclette from a stall there. We drank pints at one of the oldest pubs in London, ‘Ye olde Cheshire Cheese’ – a great place with loads of rambling stairs and nooks and crannies to drink a pint in!

One night after a long day of sightseeing we made it to ‘B@1’ Hammersmith (our fave cocktail place!) to introduce Maria and Tyron to the 180 cocktails on the menu which were well received! … before Andy arrived and took us on a long drunken walk along the river to some cool pub where we had more drinks, and quite frankly, we can’t remember the name of, nothing to do with the alcohol involved of course!

Throughout the next couple of days we wandered around Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, checked out Buckingham Palace and went to the very impressive St Paul’s Cathedral which lived up to the reputation in that it was really quite cool! We climbed the full 528 steps to the Golden Gallery for amazing views across the London skyline and later that day did a cruise along the Thames. We spent Christmas Eve-Eve at one of the cool local pubs right near us in Pitshanger Lane for a dinner with Andy, and Kent and Tish who’d just arrived in town from Manchester – fun times!

All in all they were some pretty hectic days in London, but we did manage to introduce Maria and Ty to some of the many iconic London sites; it would have been nice if the weather had been a bit more extreme – snow OR sunshine would have been great!! London is far more spectacular in the height of summer or covered in snow, alas it lived up to its ‘grey’ reputation.

London ‘taster course’ done, a few days later and we were off to North Wales, to a village called Betws-y-Coed which we had last visited with Bunny’s parents in December 2009. It’s a charming village that we really loved, especially when it was covered with snow in 2009! This time a lot of the town was shut up for Christmas and it was still just not cold enough for snow, but it’s still a lovely place to visit, with autumn colours dominating the landscape. Arriving in Betws-y-Coed on Christmas Eve, we checked into our luxury B&B with its lovely views over the valley and 4 poster beds and spent the afternoon and evening in our room, super chilled with drinks and movies from the B&B’s collection……. It was such a relaxing way to spend Christmas Eve! We woke Christmas Day to a huge cooked breakfast and then took off to spend the first part of Christmas day exploring the rugged, stark and very impressive Welsh countryside.

We first visited Penceunant Tea House, a traditional 18th century cottage, on the lower slopes of Snowdon up a tiny rutted road. It’s a fantastic place to stop, having been restored to create a charming and welcoming tea house where “muddy boots and dogs” are welcomed every day of the year. So with Oslo in tow, (yes he’s now been to three countries! ;-)) we stopped off at the extremely cosy little place for Christmas Hot Choco and Mulled Wine, and to chat to the super friendly and eclectic owner, Steven – who also gave Bunny and Maria some Welsh love spoons… he did seem quite taken with the girls! Warmed up, we headed off to drive through more rugged countryside, and ended up winding through small villages, over rivers, past mountains and on to the medieval walled town of Conwy. A small coastal town with foreboding castle and cute quay… we even found a charming pub, where there was lots of festive cheer and they wouldn’t let us pay for our first drinks! The Welsh are an extremely hospitable people! Late in the afternoon we headed back to Betws-y-Coed for our Christmas dinner, where our hosts had put on a HUGE spread and we ate until we couldn’t move any more….. ahhhhh Christmas! Seriously we can’t remember a time where we consumed so much in one sitting, a delicious home cooked feast with ALL the trimmings! Bliss!

Boxing Day saw us en-route back to London. We often look out for the ‘brown information signs’ or ‘Tourist signs’ dotted along the highway as if you follow them you often find really quaint villages and cool places to visit. After deciding we’d stop ‘at the next one’ however, we didn’t find one for ages until we finally saw one for the ‘Iron Bridge’… well….why not?! It took us quite some time to actually find this fantastic sight and as we drove of course we built up and up the picture of this impressive structure in our minds, spurred on by the blurb on the Iron Bridge website: “Along with such monuments as the Acropolis, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China, the spectacular Ironbridge Gorge has been classified as a World Heritage Site since 1986”. Mmmmmm… well finally we found it… and it was, in fact, an iron bridge. Ha ha. The Gorge was awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO for the area's unique contribution to the birth of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century which had a worldwide impact. However, as a site, it’s really not as interesting as we were expecting. It’s a bridge. It’s made of iron. End of story. So, of course, we stopped at a pub on the gorge edge and enjoyed a pint. Then it was back to London…

On the 27th December, we had a lazy start to the day while Maria and Tyron visited Richmond with Andy and Em and took the boys to the park. Then we had our ‘second Christmas Day’ for the year with Andy & Em and their little ones Tommy and Louis; Andy’s mum, Pam, over from South Africa; and Kat and Chris. Emilie cooked up a MASSIVE feast of DIVINE food where we all over-indulged once again and celebrated our successful new Mulled Wine recipe and ‘Milk Tarts’ shots!

The following day we went on a whistle stop tour of the impressive Harrods and then went to the west end and saw the musical ‘Wicked’ which was great.

All too soon it was Maria and Tyron’s last day in the UK before they jetted off skiing in Austria, so we took a day trip up to Bath, stopping en-route at Stonehenge (where Bunny was glad to see they’ve finally passed laws to move the highway from right beside the monument) and also the chalk horses at Wiltshire. Unfortunately with the time constraints, we weren’t able to show our Saffa visitors much of England (and there is sooooooooo much to see and so many completely different areas!) but it was good to at least get out to Bath to wander around and catch up with Ginny for lunch.

So, it was a whirlwind few weeks, I think we slept solidly for the next three days to catch up! We weren’t blessed with great weather, but it WAS winter and we did a great ‘taster’ course of what the UK had to offer, well Scotland and Wales in particular and London in England! Hopefully they’ll come back one day and we can show off more of the English highlights while it’s still our temporary home!

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