Wednesday, July 22, 2009


The train ride from Amsterdam to Frankfurt was about 4.5 hours long on a fairly nice train. We ended up next to a few Americans at one point, and an older Dutch gentleman with his adorably beautiful, 15 month old, half Dominican little girl talked with us as well. When Chuck smiled at her she would get a big smile and hide shyly behind her hand. Cute little girl. Once we arrived in Frankfurt we walked 1.5 miles to our hotel and rested for a bit. It's definitely a lot hotter in Frankfurt than in was in Amsterdam! After cooling off we headed out to Römer Square - it's an old square that was mostly destroyed in WWII but has since been rebuilt. It's very traditional looking and has a bunch of little cafes and ice cream shops in it. We ended up getting a pizza from an Italian cafe. It was okay, but the service was once again not so great. Oh well.

On the 16th we got out of the hotel room by about noon and headed down to the south side of the river to find the "food district." It was a hot day and all the walking wasn't very exciting, especially when we didn't really find any street that could respectably be called a "food district." We did get a nice view of Frankfurt's skyline though. And we found a cherry tree, full of plump, red cherries! So after finding nothing on the south side we crossed back over the river on a bridge called the Eiserner Steg. It's a nice pedestrian bridge that is mentioned in Frankfurt's wikitravel page. I don't know if it's really anything special, but hey, it's a bridge. The bridge takes you right to the south side of that Römer Square place, so that's where we ended up. We were starving by now and zeroed in on this simple sausage stand as our lunch choice. It turned out to be great! They have various types of sausages that they serve with mustard, a bread roll, and a potato salad. Not American potato salad either - I don't know what the ingredients are but I think perhaps some vinegar and mustard. It was good stuff! We went back to the hotel and picked up a quarter of a watermelon from the supermarket next to where we were staying. We had fun eating that while standing over the bathtub. We weren't able to slice it up so we just took turns biting out big chunks. It was a messy process, with a whole lot of seeds, but well worth it! After a rest we headed out again, this time to Zeil Street on the northish side of town. It's lined with big brand named stores and tons of people. At the end it turns into a bunch of cafes and restaurants which is where we headed. After a lto of debate we ended up getting schweine schnitzel, pork on the bone, and some potato salad at a delicious smelling little place. We fed crumbs to the cute, tiny birds that seem to live alongside the pigeons in Frankfurt. And on the way back to the hotel after our wanderings we saw a ton of bunnies just munching grass in a park we cut through. They're so cute.

The next day I dragged Chuck to yet another botanic garden. This place was called Palmengarten. We had to walk two miles to get there which was rough. We ran into a rampaging T-rex along the way and narrowly avoided getting eaten! Or maybe it was just that we passed by the Natural History Museum and they had a big T-rex on their front lawn... And we got these big sandwiches along the way that were bursting with prosciutto, tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese. The Palmentgarten was a pretty good set of gardens. I was very happy that they had water lilies in bloom! I've been looking for them at each botanic place we've gone and finally found them at this place! In fact, there are water lilies in ponds around the city. They must be kind of common in Frankfurt. We also saw a greenhouse filled with cactus-y plants and another with tropical plants. They had a few large terrariums, one of which was filled with carnivorous plants and another with the kinds of plants that grow on other trees - maybe they're called air plants? Not sure of their name. They had a nice square with a fountain in the middle full of water lilies and at each corner of the square was a patch of different colored flowers. One corner was yellow and included Sunflowers of course, one corner was blue, one red, and the last white. It was nicely landscaped and designed! We also found a kiwi tree covered in unripe kiwis, a few pretty orchids, an outside cactus garden, and a bunch of other stuff that I don't know the names of. There was even a small lake with a waterfall, turtles, ducks, and big catfish. For a small fee you could take a rowboat out on the lake! By the time we were done and walked the two miles back to the hotel we were pretty exhausted and had hurting feet.

The 18th was my Birthday! Yay! So we decided to do a double-movie and dinner to celebrate. There's a theatre in Frankfurt that shows movies in the original language which was lucky for us. It's a crappy little place that costs way too much - €8, or $11 a person. But we forked out the cash and saw Bruno. I didn't think it was as witty or revealing of peoples true colors as Borat was, but I laughed a few times. Oh! I forgot about our walk to the theatre! On the way we came across a large crowd lining the road and wondered what was going on. It turned out to be a parade. In fact, it was a gay pride parade! There were a lot of men dressed up in heels and big Mardi-Gras-like dresses, and trucks full of people dancing and cheering for whatever organization they're with, and a group of people in these crazy balloon outfits, and loud music from each group. It was very cool! In fact I almost made us late for the movie hanging around taking pictures of the parade. But we made it to Bruno just in time and after the movie headed out to a place called Adolf Wagners. It was recommended to us by the guy at the front desk of our hotel as a good, traditional German place to go. We sat outside under the awning as it rained, and little bitty raindrops would slowly drip down in a bit of a mist on you. It was actually nice. We got the local drink: Apfelwein, or Applewine and I got Tafelspitz while Chuck got the Pork Knuckle. My Tafelspitz was good, but not as filling as Chuck's Pork Knuckle. In fact, a German family sat next to us (there are long wooden tables and people who aren't together will end up sitting next to each other at the table) all got the same thing Chuck did and they were laughing with us, commenting on how much food it was! Man it was good though! A big chuck of pork, still on the bone, cooked until the skin (which still had some visible hairs in it) was crunchy and crackly. And the fried potatoes that came with our meals were so good! And we didn't forget dessert: Apfelstreudel. Can you guess what that is? Yeah, apple streduel. It was a very good Birthday dinner. And after dinner we headed back to the movie theatre to see Harry Potter. The theatre room they were showing it in was that smallest I have ever seen... It was about the size of a large living room perhaps. I would say less than 100 people could fit in there. And there was even a faded silver curtain that opened up to reveal a 10 foot screen when the movie started. But, hey we got to see Harry Potter, that's all that matters! And on the walk back to the hotel we passed the continuing celebrations of whatever event had sponsored the earlier parade. There were lots of people having lots of fun. I have to wonder if Frankfurt is so happening every weekend.

The next day was very lazy. We managed to get out to eat some more of those sausages in Römer Square and then tried to find a shop to get food. Since it was Sunday just about everything was closed. However, the sex district was still going. That's where we ended up finding a convenience store and food. That was about it for the day...

The 20th was just as lazy. We even got those sausages in Römer Square again. They're good!

Frankfurt didn't have as much to do and see as we thought. When we first arrived it was very hot. By the second day a storm system had moved in and was dumping rain here and there, cooling it down a lot which was nice. Sometimes it can be very windy when walking through the tall city buildings. People tend to only cross the road when the green "walk" signal lights up. Chuck and I frequently found ourselves crossing alone while others just waited for the signal to change. Maybe they have hefty fines for crossing when the signal says "don't walk." Beer is cheap! It's about €1.60 a bottle, as opposed to €3.00 in most other places we've been so far. Traffic tends to stop for you when you're at a crosswalk with no signal. Chuck swears people look at you more. As in they have no problem meeting your gaze and continuing to look at you as you pass by them on the street. Just a curious gaze, not menacing. I haven't noticed this myself, but then again I tend to keep my head down and avoid eye contact. So there ya go! Those are some of my impressions of Frankfurt.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Amsterdam was an interesting visit. Let me first answer the question on everyone's mind: yes, we did in Amsterdam what it is illegal to do in most the rest of the world. There! Let's move on! So, we arrive after a three hour train ride in Amsterdam Central Station. It's a decently big place, and the building itself is a nice looking building from the outside. Inside it's nothing special though. We hopped one of the local trains to nearby Lelylaan Station adn wandered around for about an hour trying to find our hotel. We ended up stopping into another hotel and the immigration agency looking for people who could direct us. The hotel wasn't very helpful, but the imigration guy knew what we were looking for before we opened our mouths. He looked at us and said "Golden Tulip?" That's the name of our hotel. Well, one of the names. Apparently they prefer the name Fashion Hotel instead. But man the hotel is nice! For us that is. It's all modern and clean looking, with a big TV and a big bathtub in the room. Complete with a construction site outside our window. Luckily they don't work weekends...

Our time in Amsterdam wasn't like other cities - it felt to me as though the main attractions are the coffeeshops and they've tried to built a decent number of museums and other attractions into the city to give people something else to do. I mean, they've done a pretty decent job of that I think, but you can't really get around the fact that the main point of going to Amsterdam is marijuana. The town does not feel seedy though. It feels like there are a bunch of tourists there to be honest. It feels like a tourist town, which is okay with me. People were mostly very nice and pretty much everyone speaks English very well. The coffeeshops (that's where you can go to buy and smoke your pot) are really varied in their feel. Some are dark and dank and feel dirty and hidden, while others have a more open active feel. Some have friendly, smiling staff while others have staff that scowl at you and say "I don't do the drugs, I just sell them." I guess like with restuarants or bars - you just gotta find one that you like.

We went out to explore the city the first evening we were there. It took us about 30 minutes to figure out the tram system, but once we did we went into central Amsterdam and wandered around. It was very crowded! In fact it was always crowded, every day of our visit. Amsterdam is a busy city this time of year. We tried McDonalds to compare it to the US and found it to be just as addictively disgusting. That was basically the highlight of the evening.

The next day - the 10th - we got our 4-day tram passes and headed back into the heart of Amsterdam. We found a bagel shop that was pretty good. It was sort of half undergound and very small. There was a group of three people taking up two tables and one of the guys apparently hadn't ordered any food. He was just sitting with his friends chatting while they ate. I guess the owner was not happy with this arrangement and finally told him he needed to buy something or get out. It was kind of intense in a very subtle way! After the drama we just walked around the center of the city. We mainly walked around Dam Square which seems to be the main hub of the city. Boring day overall.

The 11th wasn't much more exciting. We finally found a grocery store that morning - they had been eluding us up to that point. I found some Bugles (you know, the cone-shaped, crispy, corn snack that you can stick on your fingers) and had to get them. It's been a long time since I had Bugles. Then we got fries from a fry shop. That's something we don't really do in the states I think. Fries aren't really seen as a main course back home - here (maybe more in the UK) they have fry-burgers! Craziness. This is also the day we got swindled out of €2. We had stopped on the sidewalk, looking and pointing at our map, obviously trying to figure out directions. A friendly-looking man came up to us and asked if we needed help. After telling us where we should be headed he very kindly asked if we would be willing to make a donation in return for his help. So we gave him €2. I only hope it's going to a good cause and not just booze! We found what we were looking for though: an old, wooden building from 1519. It's just one of the older buildings in the city, nestled between two younger buildings, as is the European and San Franciscan way of building. We did manage to see a bit of the red-light district that day too. Just a bit. But I'll talk more about that after the pictures. Oh, I totally forgot that we went to the Sex Museum too! It wasn't really impressive, but it was entertaining enough. There was a lot of artwork, old pornographic photos, and various mannequins in leather and studs.

WARNING: There are some pictures that contain nude mannequins and statues. If that's not your thing then proceed with caution!

Next morning we wen to one of the numerous pancake places around the city. The pancakes they serve aren't like the fluffy soft ones I'm used to - they wer more similar to a crepe. And you can get bacon or apples or whatever cooked into them. Then you can slather them with syrup and powdered sugar - yum! We got bacon in ours. The service at the cafe was pretty rotten though. I have to say, I think that the fact servers in the US rely on tips really does tend to make for better service. It was a rainy day that day, so we walked around the city huddled under our hotel umberella and ended up at this cool floating Chinese restaurant. It was right off one of the docks and Chuck said it has a reputation for being pretty good. We looked at the menu and found it was also a bit expensive, so we just took a few pictures. I love that there are all these house boats along the canals throughut the city. Some of them are really nice looking boats too. It would be cool to pull up at the floating Chinese restaurant in your house. By the time we had made our way from the docks to the red light district it had stopped raining for the most part, so we put away the umbrella. The red light district is an interesting place to visit. It didn't feel as seedy as I was expecting, although there were burly men inviting passers-by into dark clubs advertising "live sex." Ehhh, no thanks. And we saw the prostitutes displaying themselves in the windows. Most of the were old, or rather large, or just a bit unattractive, but there were a few that were actually good looking. And some of them were sporting packages both upstairs and down - in other words they were men with breasts. Some of the prostitutes would blow people kisses and motion for them to come over in an attempt to get business while others just sort of sat there. They all wore some sort of lingerie, or a bikini. The red light district was definitely an interesting place to see!

The 13th was a good day of sight-seeing. After getting some fries (and using our store-bought bottle of ketchup that I now carry in my purse instead of paying €0.50 for it) we went to see Anne Frank's house. As we walked down the road we realized that there was incredibly long line waiting to get into the Anne Frank Museum. We're not to into waiting in long lines so changed our mind on the museum and got pictures in front of the actual house front. So we saw where Anne Frank went into hiding which was a bit touching. Down the street was a cute tulip shop that we stepped into quickly. They had a lot of really nice cards with stylized tulips on them. Next I dragged Chuck to the outskirts of the city to see a genuine windmill! We took a very long ride on the number 2 tram to the very end of the line and followed the signs to Molen van Sloten. We walked through a much more quaint, peaceful, and beautiful part of Amsterdam to get there. There were all kinds of lovely green plants growing in front yards and backyards and along the small canals. The houses had steeply pointed roofs and looked so Dutch, or German. And we walked down a quiet little street lined with shops and houses that looked like something that would be on a postcard from Holland. and the windmill was very cool, even though it was right on the corner of a busy street. It was bigger than I was expecting and I was excited to find that the it was running. The windmill was milling. Well, the fan thing was spinning round at least. And when the wind picked up you could see and faintly hear it get faster. We didn't go inside - I just took lots of pictures. It was a very nice old-school windmill.

Our last day was boring - we just ran around trying to buy train tickets in advance and changed our mind cause they were so expensive (€110 a person). We ended up buying them at €115 on the day we left... So much money! But that was our time in Amsterdam. Not too exciting, but nice.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Well we made it to Brussels in Belgium on the 6th of July via the Eurostar's bullet train. We got up at 4:00 AM, had our baked beans (a traditional part of the the English breakfast), and Chuck phoned a taxi for a 5:00 AM pick-up. We arrived at St. Pancras in one piece and checked in with the Eurostar people. Although they x-rayed our baggage and shuffled us through a metal detector it felt as though they hardly looked at us.

The train was fairly nice, although Chuck thinks the regular trains that run around England are more spacious. I saw a few bunnies in the country-side before we entered the tube under the channel and everything went dark. The only thing I had to look at then was my lovely, tired face string back at me in the reflection of the window. So I laid my head down and slept as best I could. After only two hours on the train we were in Brussels! And at that point, we were not impressed.

It looked a bit run down with block apartment buildings nearby when you step off the train. And when we walked down the wrong street towards north Brussels while trying to find our hotel we were even less impressed. But once we did find our hotel we also found the nicer part of the city. Since it wasn't yet time to check in, we found a little cafe and had some simple yet satisfying sandwiches. Then we walked around a bit, sta down for a bit, complained about our incredibly sore backs - my backpack is expecially heavy since I've been slowly acquiring extra "stuff" during our trip... Finally we were allowed to check-in early. Then we napped for about five hours. It was well needed too, seeing as we barely got any sleep the night before.

After our nap we went out and about to see a bit of the city. We walked down toward what's known as the Grote-Markt, or Grand'Place. Basically a big shopping area. Our first priority was a Belgian waffle. We passed a few stands before deciding to jest go for it and got a waffle saoked in just a bit of caramelized sugar. Oh man, it was so good! It sounds like a really simple, almost boring sweet, but the subtlty actually makes it a big winner. Luckily we were reserved enough to just share one, but I feel like it's probably not that bad for you as far as sweets go. It was well worth the €1.70 we paid.

Next goal was to find us some Belgian chocolate. Chuck looked up some shops before we had left so we already knew where we wanted to go: Chocopolis. The man behind the counter was friendly, but a bit pushy. Perhaps it's just the nature of the culture over here, but he was a tad off-putting. Despite that we got a €2.00 bar of %80 dark chocolate (Chuck likes his chocolate dark) and I got eight to-die-for truffles. We made our way back to the hotel in the rain that came upon us suddenly, stopping at a little grocery store for some crusty bread, cheese, and salami for dinner. Although the day started a little on the shady side, it ended up being alright in the end.

The next day we went out to the shopping district again - the Grote-Markt. This time we made it to the heart of the market and foudn it to be quite amazing. It's a big square surrounded on all sides by big, old buildings. Each one was covered with sculptures and engravings. Everywhere you looked there was so much to take in that it was a bit overwhelming. The buildings had dates on them, quite a few of which were in the 1600's. It really looked and felt "European" to me. I'd say that was the highlight of the day for me.

After that we strolled around and ended up on a street lined with chocolate shops and tourist stores. At the end of the street was Brussels pride and joy: the Manneken Pis. In English that's the Pissing Boy. And he is exactly that: a little boy pissing into a fountain. His representation is found in shops and logos around the city, most notably as a bottle opener/wine corker. The spiral of the cork protrudes from where the unrine would normally be flowing... I have seen quite a few people giggling and laughing at it in the stores, myself included. But yes, he is the pride and joy of Brussels. And while we were there, there were two security guards hanging around, looking very intense. At first we thought that the Manneken Pis had his own bodyguards, but it seemed they were in fact guarding some old lady and her daughter... I wonder who they were!

We did some more walking, making our way to another shopping area where the people with money shop. It was a very long street and we didn't make it all the way, so I have nothing exciting to say about that. Oh, I did get a macaron (not to be confused with macaroons) from a Pierre Marcolini store. I've never had one before but have always thought they looked very pretty. this was not only pretty, but also rather heavenly. It was very, very good! It's a little "sandwich" cookie that tasted like almonds and vanilla (at least the flavor I got did), and it had a slightly crunchy outer shell and a creamy vanilla middle, and the soft breadiness of the inside of the cookie. It was really good.

I noticed as we walked through a street of restaurants that a lot of people were eating whole pizzas. With only two people at the table each would have a whole pizza in front of them. I don't know how people can stay thin here eating entire pizzas, chocolate, waffles, fries and beer. Why isn't everyone a whale?? We made our way in the rain to "pita row" as I've decided to call it, because there are literally about five pita shops all right next to each other. They shout at you as you go by and openly compete for your business - it's a bit agressive! We had our pita and then tried some of the fruit beers that seem popular in Belgium. I had a Kriek, or cherry one (which was very sweet) and Chuck tried the Pommes, or apple. That was about it for our day.

The 8th ended up being a rainy day. Instead of just raining sporadically once or twice it was just rainy and wet all day. But we went out anyways, getting nice and wet in the process. First we stopped by the train station to pick up our tickets to Amsterdam. It reminded me of teh DMV... We got to chose a number and wait to be called. After about 30 minutes we managaed to get our tickets with no real problems. Then we headed back into town for our daily treat: a Belgian Waffle. We decided to try one of the other regional waffles called the Liege Waffle (or Gaufre de Liege). It's chewier and denser than its cousin the Brussles Waffle, which is the kind we had the two days before. We went all out and spent a whopping €9.00 on our two waffles. Mine was covered in bananas, whipped cream and chocolate sauce and Chuck's was the same but with strawberries instead of banana. Boy were they good! And messy to eat... Our fingers were very sticky when we were done. And our hands. And Chuck's shoe even.

We tried another Belgian specialty for lunch: frites or french fries. I loved the logo of the place - it was a french fry peeing, in imitation of the Manneken Pis. The place was even called Manneken Frite. The fries themselves weren't anything to write home about, but they weren't bad. After another beer at the same pub, or bar, or whatever they call them on this side of the channel, we wandered back to the hotel in the still-falling rain. There isn't really all that much to see in Brussels so our day wasn't very full.

My impressions of Brussels are that the sidewalks are slippery when wet, people honk constantly, and as a whole everyone seems just a tad on edge. In fact there was a pretty loud fight in a bar across from our hotel on our second night. A lot of people we passed on the streets looked shady, but a lot of them look nice too, so it balances out. There's more graffitti than there was in England, but I've heard that Europe is a bit graffitti'd in general. So I'd say Brussels is a fairly decent city, but nothing very exciting. I do have to say that their waffles really are delicious. That was my favorite part of our stay there! And we did our best to speak very bad French to people: bonjour, s'il vous plaît, Parlez-vous anglais, merci, du gaufre de Liege s'il vous plaît. Hehe. We did our best. Brussels was a good enough start to Europe as any place I think.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

London III

On the 4th of July we headed back to London yet again. We got one more day of sight-seeing in and went to the Tower of London. But first we ran into some drama down at King's Cross station. The intersection out front was completely caution-taped off and there were a bunch of police and ambulances and a bright red amulance-helicopter in the middle of the road. Traffic was stopped in every direction and there were massive crowds of people pushed up as cose as they could get to the caution tape. It was a little bit funny to look around and see practically everyone with their hands in the air over the crowd, taking pictures with cell phones. I admit, I did take some pictures myself. Turned out that someone basically got run over by a train and he was airlifted to the hospital. I have no idea what ended up happening to him as I can't find any news articles about it. Poor guy!

The Tower of London was pretty good. The only reason we went is because we got a 2-for-1 deal when we bought our train tickets back to London. So instead of paying £34 we both got in on £17. I thought the best part was the section with the crown jewels. Wow! Not to knock Scotlands, but they were gimpy compared to these. They had quite a few crowns, each one absolutely covered on every inch with jewels - mostly diamonds from what I could tell. And we got to see the actual Koh-i-Noor - not just the replica that's on display in the Natural History Museum in London. This was the real thing, set into the Imperial State Crown. Yeah, so there were some really eye-popping crowns and swords and robes in there. And a very thick set of steel doors.

The other interesting thing was the monument where they think Anne Boleyn was executed. Most executions were held on the "front lawn," but scandalous executions were held inside the walls to avoid riotous behavior. So they built new scaffolding each time since there weren't that many "indoor" executions. They can't be exactly sure that this s the spot, but it's their best guess. there's now a glass pillow on a glass pedastal in her honor as well as others who were killed. A bit solemn.

We also saw a bunch of armor that belonged to King Henry VIII and other people. That's about the extent of the place. Lots of people, a lot of Americans. I'm glad we managed to go before we left, and glad we got a 2-for-1 offer. I really don't think it's worth £17 a person...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Torquay I.ii

Hello there! I'm back again - here to finish up telling you about Torquay. I think I left off at the 26th, so we'll start there. I don't think it was a very exciting day. We were due to leave our hotel the next day, but since everywhere else in the country was ridiculously expensive we decided we'd stay in Torquay. And honestly, we really liked it there and wanted to stay anyways. So we traipsed over to another B&B we had looked up online only to find they were all booked up. But, as luck would have it, we saw a place on the way that looked nice and adevertised having internet so we staopped in. They had a full week open so we booked it all! And by booking a full week we got one night free, so it was a good deal in our opinion. After getting that taken care of we went to Chuck's favorite fish n chips shop, then crossed the street to the beach to dip our toes in the water. As usual, it was freezing, but oh so lovely! We played for a bit in the surf before heading back to our current hotel for our last night.

We moved over to our new B&B on the 27th, all the while keeping the fact that we were continuing our stay in Torquay a secret from the previous B&B. I felt so bad about changing hotels on them simply due to the internet problems... They were so nice to us. So I had some guilt issues for a bit (actually, I still feel a twinge of guilt thinking about it now!). But we ended up in for the rest of the day and the next day because I had developed a cold. The rubbish bin (I'm so British!) was full of snotty tissues by the 29th. Ick. But on the 29th we actually got out and did somehting again! We took a walk.

We went on a walk along a coastal hiking trail that was just gorgeous. After stopping into Primark and getting me a new £2.00 tank top and stopping into Tesco for a brown-bag lunch we made our way to a lovely, secluded, tiny alcove to eat. The ocean was crystal clear here with a rocky, pebbly beach. It really reminded me of my summers in lake Erie with the smooth stones and freezing water. It was so beautiful! And after lunch we continued our walk and found a tree for me to climb, then found a rocky hill to climb down on our butts because it got too steep. And then we carefully balanced our way across a pool of filthy, monster0riden water with jagged rocks poking out of it to find ourselves once again at Meadfoot Beach (the beach we visited after Kent's Cavern). Then we had to walk allll the way back to the B&B in the blazing Torquay summer heat. I'm not joking either, it was hot. But it made for a lovely day.

The 1st of July was our next big outing - we went to a place called the Eden Project. It's west of where we were staying by about 2-3 hours, in Cornwall. We took the train and what should have been a 2.5 hour trip turned into, oh 4 hours due to all the delays that day. I don't know what was going on but it seemed that just about every train was delayed by at least 20 minutes, if not more. But we eventually did make it there and foudn it to be a very cool place.

It has two bio-domes. Each one had a big central "bubble" with two smalled bubbles merging into it. They were very futuristic looking. The walk to the domes is lined with tons of different plants and flowers, including a large patch of marijuana plants surrounded by an electric fence. How crazy is that?? Besides pot they were also growing various vegetables, some fruits, hops, tons of flowers, some herbs, and other things I can't even remember or didn't even get a chance to see. It's a huge place.

One of the bio-domes is a tropical rainforest set-up. It was worse than Florida in there... I had noticible back-sweat by the time we were done. Eww. They even had a "cool room" halfway along the path that was blowing nice freezing air. Good idea. They had lots of plants I wasn't familiar with, and some I was. Bananas, cacao, coffee, rubber, hibiscus, palms, and papaya are some that I can remember. And they do a really nice job of making the place more interesting with nice-looking displays showing how some plants are used, or products that the plants are used in. Someone there is doing some really creative work.

The other dome is filled with Mediteranean plants and has a much nicer temperature. The neatest display was of tobacco plants. I'd never before thought about the fact that they would have a flower, but they do and it's kind of pretty. They had one of those nice displays for the tobacco as well, with it all set up to dry the leaves out like they do to make cigarettes or whatever. And they had a bunch of peach trees that were hanging with fruit and smelling oh-so-delicious. There was a huge agave plant, which is what Tequila is made from. Soem others were grapes, tomatos, sun flowers, pomegranate, bouganvillia and more. A really cool place! I recommend a visit if you're ever in the area...

Here's a collection of just flower and plant pictures - there's about 60 of them, so be warned! Some turned out quite pretty though.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Torquay I.i

On the 22nd we headed off to a little tourist town on the south-westish coast called Torquay. We had to change trains three times and at the last station we changed at were a ton of kids. Probably mostly 13 to 15 years old with a few younger. Chuck had his computer out and a group of 10 year olds (they looked like they were 10 or so at least) looked over his shoulder and got all interested in what he was doing. They started asking us questions about where we were from and why we're in England and if we like it, etc. Then they whipped out one of those high-tech phones with video capabilities and watched a series of clips of people getting hurt, one of which was a woman getting her brains blown out. Good. Lord. It was a bit shocking to see these young boys watching such a icky video. I hope it's just for show and not something they really think is okay! Ah well.

Our B&B in Torquay has been great, with only one minor flaw - the internet is POO! We have to go into the dining area to get internet, and even then it craps out on us every once in a while. I have to admit, it has gotten better than it was when we first arrived, but it's still not ideal.

But we're not here for internet. We're here to see the sites, such as the town. We went out of first night and had some delicious fish 'n chips at a shop on the water called Fish n Chips (how original). Chuck swears they're the best he's had so far and refuses to try anywhere else while we're here.

The next morning we headed out to Torre Abbey after our hearty full English breakfast. It's a nice little place with a very good written guided tour. It's nice being able to walk around reading the guide on a paper rather than having to follow signs or listen to a guide talk. Inside there were a lot of crafts and art made by local artists. At least I assume they're probably local. The gardens behind the abbey were nice too so we got a few pictures.

On the 24th we walked a mile or so to the nearby town of Cockington (you can laugh, it's ok). It's very olde worlde (pronounced oldy worldy apparently) with thatched roofs and small buildings. It was really pretty! And the vegetation and plants have taken over an old 10 foot across water-wheel next to one house. And next to one path is an old spinning wheel device that is rusted beyond use, but looks so rustic just sitting there. One of the houses we came across by the park looks just like the cottage that Sleeping Beauty would have lived in before marrying the silly prince, or perhaps where the three bears lived before Goldilocks rocked their world. Just a sort of fairy tale village.

It was recommended to me that if I wanted a good cream tea I ought to do it in Cockington, so we stopped by one of the numerous tea houses. The scones were huge! And it was delicious. I couldn't eat them both though and I felt slightly sick for the rest of the day, but it was worth it. I like that cream tea stuff. Have I explained cream tea before? Ah yes, when we went to Tiptree from Kelvedon I mentioned it. So yes, it was good a good cream tea. Or Devonshire Tea. Or whatever you'd like to call it.

Next day we went to what's known as Kent's Caverns. It's a cave system that has some of the earliest evidence of human occupation in the UK, dating back to at least 700,000 years ago. So we walked all the way over to the caves and did a nice tour. The tour guide was great! Very enthusiastic with a sense of humor and very knowledgeable about the caves. We learned that the humans would have been living side-by-side with humongous cave bears and hyenas, so it would have been a difficult, dangerous life (obviously - they didn't even have internet). Besides the human history, there was some impressive geologic history as well. Not as grand as Carlsbad Caverns or somewhere like that, but it's still an ancient place with some nice formations. And apparently Agatha Christie spent much of her youth around the caves and used them as the basis for some caverns in one of her books.

After the Kents Cavern tour we walked back to the hotel along the ocean. It was low tide, so all the rocks and seaweed were baking in the sunshine. I kept trying to find critters in the pools of water that were left behind, but the only slightly interesting things were a few anemones. And a word of warning: don't step on the seaweed. It's incredibly slippery!