Bridge over the River Cam

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Mar 312009
 

The sun came out and we headed into Cambridge where we discovered that we were an hour behind as daylight saving had started!  Spring had definitely started in Cambridge with the bulbs and fruit trees blooming and the willows allowing their new green leaves to weep into the river.  After a walk through the town and the Sunday craft markets, we headed for King’s College.  The Chapel at the college (15-16th C) leaves all the other cathedrals and chapels seeming insignificant.  It is a long building with a high Gothic ceiling that is a remarkable feat of engineering and art.

Inside King's College Chapel

Inside King's College Chapel

We viewed the Chapel from inside and out, most notably on our punting tour of the River Cam.  (There is a bridge over the river named Cam, in case you are wondering).  Our guide (a college student) punted us up and down the river for 45 minutes with commentary on the university history and an unbelievable but true story about a climbing student, the highest spire of the Chapel and a witch’s hat…

Cam Bridge

Cam Bridge

For lunch, we dined and drank Greene King ale at The Eagle, hoping to acquire whatever it was that Watson and Crick did in this pub at the time of their  DNA discovery.    Sadly, no such luck…

Product review time!

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Mar 312009
 

I thought it time I review a few of the products we’ve come across so far in our travels.
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First up it’s Nougat Pillows, a breakfast cereal Julian brought home from Lidl a few days ago.  Lidl is kind of like an Aldi, that stocks cheap imported goods, often in bulk quantities.  Apparently, this was the most normal cereal he could find.  As most of you know, I have a real sweet tooth.  But I usually draw the line at breakfast, as I’m not a huge fan of sweet cereals.

I think I went into a sugar coma this morning after trying this cereal!  The cereal comes in little parcels.  The outer surface is a biscuity product that I would liken to “Pods”, for those Australians watching at home!  The centre is a soft, gooey “nougat” that basically tastes like chocolate and hazelnut – Nutella!  The cereal is certainly delicious, but I would classify it as a dessert!  Definitely a “sometimes food” only…

The second product came highly recommended from Kate, our Australian friend in Scotland.  She bought us some, with the severe warning not to consume more than 3 in one sitting!  They are the Scottish institution, Tunnocks Tea Cakes.  These little bundles of joy are essentially a layer of biscuit, covered with a mound of marshmallow and covered with milk chocolate.  Kate, we now understand the reason for the warning – Julian proclaimed after trying one that he could easily eat 6 in one sitting!

Little balls of yum

Little balls of yum

 Posted by at 6:44 pm  Tagged with:
Mar 292009
 

The Bay Horse is a traditional English pub complete with a larger than life publican.  It’s located in the small town of Kirk Deighton, near Wetherby.  We read about this place in the Michelin guide (again), however it changed ownership in December so it’s difficult to say if it would still be listed next year. However, the food was wonderful, and the atmosphere was great.

Fish and chips

Fish and chips

Julian had traditional fish and chips, with the biggest chips I’ve ever seen in my life! I had a fish pie, which was very decadent and delicious. Of course, it wouldn’t be a complete meal without dessert! I had another sticky toffee pud and Julian had a chocolate tart

Before this trip we both read Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Small Island”. One of the things he remarks on is finding the wry British sense of humour in the smallest of places. Our publican (and the new owner) was a classic example of this. He was bantering with some elderly ladies who were having dinner with their children at an adjoining table and we were blatantly eavesdropping!

One of the things we learned was that he is a big foodie himself (having formerly been a chef) and all the produce, with the exception of the fish, is sourced from within 3 miles of the pub (the fish is brought in from Scotland daily from a sustainable fish farm). I thought the foodies among you would appreciate that!

The Bay Horse

The Bay Horse

St Andrews

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Mar 292009
 

About 1.5 hours north of Edinburgh lies St Andrews, home of golf.  Here, we met up with Kate and Dennis, Brisbanites living in Dundee.  Kate gave us an excellent walking  tour of St Andrews, taking us past the Castle, Cathedral, beach and golf courses.  Thanks again for a great night out.

St Andrews

St Andrews

St Andrews' Castle

St Andrews' Castle

Mar 292009
 
David Bann's

David Bann's

David Bann’s

Sadly, we didn’t take any photos of our meals here, but I wanted to mention the restaurant anyway.  David Bann’s is actually a vegetarian restaurant, but don’t let that stop you!  The food was absolutely divine.  I had (another!) mushroom risotto, this time with leek and a huge hunk of a Scottish soft cheese (like a strong Brie or Camembert).  The risotto was beautiful, and was cooked from scratch (we had to wait quite a while for our food!).  I  must confess to a bit of meal-envy though, because Julian had a delicious crepe, stuffed with roasted eggplant, capsicum, tomatoes, mushrooms and Dunlop cheese (from Ayrshire).  The desserts looked delicious, but sadly we were out of time before our ghost tour.  So if anyone goes there, try the chocolate soufflé for me!

The restaurant is not mentioned in the Michelin guide, but I think it should be!  And they seem to have won just about every other commendation!

But no michelin recommendation...

But no michelin recommendation...

Stac Polly’s

Stac Polly's

Stac Polly's

After our ghost tour, we were able to have dessert at Stac Polly’s, which is apparently a bit of an Edinburgh institution.  The restaurant is know for its modern Scottish food.  Julian had a brioche pudding for his dessert, but I went for a modern variation of the traditional Scottish dessert, cranachan.  This was a parfait (like icecream) of cream, oats, honey and (maybe?) whisky.  This was drizzled with a raspberry sauce and fresh raspberries.  I’m not sure where the raspberries are sourced from at this time of year in the UK, but I have had them twice now and they are divine!  I’ve never had raspberries that good before in my life!

Eerie Edinburgh

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Mar 292009
 
St Giles' Cathedral

St Giles' Cathedral

After a very lazy sleep in (we earned it!) we strolled back into Edinburgh to be tourists.  We bought our tickets for Mary King’s Close and checked out St Giles Cathedral before we went for lunch at the World’s End.  Here Julian experienced haggis, neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) for the first time.  I wasn’t sure I could handle a whole dish of the stuff, so I just tried some of his and enjoyed my steak and ale pie instead!  Although the haggis was nothing to write home about, it was quite alright and tasted like a peppery mince mix.

Haggis, neeps and tatties

Haggis, neeps and tatties

Mary King’s Close was fascinating.  Legend goes that the street (or close) was sealed up when the bubonic plague hit Edinburgh, with live people still inside.  Apparently the bodies were so stiff when the foul clangers came to collect them, limbs had to be hacked off to get the bodies through the narrow doorways.  Unfortunately, this story is a myth.  The street was sealed up, but no-one was still living in the area at the time.  The one thing Julian and I did find was that it’s very hard to get a real sense of what was street and what was private residence.  Everything is still below the foundations of existing buildings on the Royal Mile, so alleyways could easily be houses.

We booked a ghost tour for the evening, so we headed out for dinner.  We enjoyed a delicious meal at David Bann’s, across from our hotel, but I’ll do a separate review about that (and our dessert at Stac Polly’s).

We did our ghost tour through the Black Hart tour company, which was recommended by the Lonely Planet.  The tour started at St Giles Cathedral, where we were told some amusing stories about the city, and one of its most famous residents, Robert Louis Stevenson (of Treasure Island fame).  We then headed down a back alley and onto Cowgate, stories all the while.  Eventually you end up going into the vaults which exist beneath and within the South Bridge.  The vaults are quite spooky in their own way, although we didn’t see any ghosts!  Perhaps they were scared away by the thumping music from the adjoining nightclub…

We really enjoyed our time in Edinburgh, although we have seen some of our worst weather here.  That being said, apparently the weather has actually been quite good!

Cowgate Rd

Cowgate Rd

Mar 262009
 

Another smooth ferry trip (2 hours) from Northern Ireland saw us arrive in Stranraer, Scotland where we were informed the A77 road north was closed because of a traffic accident in the wet conditions.  We changed our plans of visiting Glasgow via Ayr and headed for Dumfries (east) then Moffat to camp.  This meant we would be 90 minutes from Edinburgh where we had accommodation booked the following night.

The caravan park at Moffat could be described as prestigious.  It was the first Club site we had stayed at during the trip and our dirty, graffitied (is that a word?) campervan looked and felt out of place against the 30 or so gleaming white caravans and tourers.  It was then a surprise to us that the next morning we had half the population of Scotland gathered around inspecting our tiny campervan.  For all their mod-cons and gadgets aboard their tourers, the campervan was still a hit and the crowd congregated asking questions and taking photos.  I’ve posted some photos of the campervan, so you too can have a sticky.

The drive to Edinburgh was through some attractive countryside of Scotland – rolling hills, the Clyde and trees with leaves for a change (pines).
Once we made it to Edinburgh we went for a stroll up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle.  We spent an hour or so touring the castle and admiring the view of the city and the Firth of Forth.

View from Edinburgh Castle

View from Edinburgh Castle

We checked into the hotel (we got cheap rooms at the Travelodge, booked months ago – Leah was very pleased to have a room!).  Then we went hunting for a McDonalds, but it eluded us.  We found ourselves in a Spanish tapas bar enjoying their free wifi!

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

For dinner we went to an Indian restaurant called Suruchi.  The food was great, once we figured out the menu – check out the Scottish descriptions of the dishes!

Scottish-Indian

Scottish-Indian

Mar 252009
 
Belfast Wheel and City Hall

Belfast Wheel and City Hall

After tree false starts (Michelin guide outdated already) we finally found an open (listed as closed!) Michelin-recommended restaurant in Belfast city called Ginger.  The mains were about ₤8 and dessert ₤5, great value considering the food was absolutely delicious.  (This is for Dave – we had to wait for the chocolate cake dessert to be made and baked – there’s a real chef!)

Leah enjoyed the mushroom risotto and a side of steamed greens, whilst I had the lamb shank and pea shepherd’s pie.  Leah intends to try to replicate that when we finally make it home!  For dessert, it was a sticky toffee pudding and a molten chocolate cake with fresh berries.  All capped off with a lovely house red (Aroma) and a white Sav Blanc (also Aroma) for Leah – both from Chile!

The Windy City

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Mar 232009
 

Greetings from Belfast, aka the windy city!  We’ve been welcomed to the city by a 100mph north-westerly and we’re freezing!

After finding a campsite last night, we rugged up against the wind and rain and had a lazy morning.  We finally made it into the city (on the geriatric express (now there’s a oxymoron) – did you know over 60’s can catch the pink Metro bus for free in Belfast?)  There was so much hairspray and talcum powder on that bus  my eyes were watering (for the record, Julian wrote this!)

From the centre of town, it is less than 10 minutes walk out to Falls Rd and Shankill Rd to see the murals and the evidence of “The Troubles”.  There is  still a huge fence, topped with coils of barbed wire, dividing the formerly Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods.  It was sobering to read the murals and realise that the IRA and the UVF considered themselves legitimate soldiers in a real war.

Mural on Shankill Road, Belfast

Mural on Shankill Road, Belfast

Belfast itself is an interesting place.  It’s a strange mix of bourgeoning development and retail precincts and housing estates and clearly poor neighbourhoods.

I guess the big news is the recent shooting of 2 soldiers and a police officer near Belfast last week.  There are concerns that the IRA may be reigniting the conflict in the region.  Here’s hoping this is not the case.

Mar 232009
 

A long, long time ago, there was a giant Ulster warrior named Finn McCool.  In order to reach his love on the Scottish island of Staffa, he built a magnificent causeway connecting Northern Ireland with Scotland.

Polygon columns of the Giant's Causeway

Polygon columns of the Giant's Causeway

Unfortunately his causeway was ruined by a rival giant and these are the remains we saw today.

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

Just down the road from the causeway is the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge that connects the mainland with a small island.  Unfortunately the bridge is closed in high winds.  Fortunately for us, the Irish are crazy and have a very different interpretation of what high winds are!

Hanging on for dear life!

Hanging on for dear life!