Sunday, 29 June 2014

Newcastle: Bridges, Buses and Beaches

After Fountains Abbey we continued north to Newcastle - or more precisely Gateshead, Newcastle's sister city across the Tyne River.  Our hotel was on Gateshead Quays, an area which includes the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and the Sage Gateshead concert venue.  It's obviously undergoing serious regeneration; the remaining derelict industrial buildings and weed-strewn vacant lots were overshadowed by modern metal and glass springing up all around.

On the Millennium Bridge with the BALTIC Centre behind.

Millennium Bridge with the Sage behind (that wavy building).
We had a view of the river from our fifth-floor room, and Toby was most excited about sleeping on a sofa bed: "They're going to make my bed by magic!"  Theo seemed content enough with his familiar Moses basket, which we placed in the bathroom - a travel tip I'd seen somewhere.  It gave us a little more space in the main room, but whether it improved the quality of anyone's sleep is difficult to say.

I think we hit the sweet spot with our boys' ages on this trip.  Toby coped amazingly well with a fair amount of walking, while Theo was happy to be carted around anywhere, as long as he got milk on a reasonably regular basis.  We got a DaySaver ticket which meant we could hop on and off the Metro and buses - at least we thought we could; the fourth and final bus driver of the day insisted it wasn't valid and made us pay.  Up until that point we had been most impressed by both the value and frequency of public transport, and it was great to be able to rest our legs now and again.

Toby likes buses!

A whistlestop tour in photos:  We visited Grainger Market and ate pasties by the Grey Monument, which appeared to have a permanent seagull in residence.






On our way to Leazes Park for the obligatory playground stop, we passed a diminutive Chinatown, part of the old city walls, and Newcastle United's football ground.


For you public nursing advocates (I'm looking at you, Eva!): Theo having his lunch by the old city walls.


Daisy chains in the park

We were able to take a bus part way to the Discovery Museum, where Toby got ecstatically drenched in the Play Tyne room, with a replica of the Tyne River and its bridges.


Out to the real thing, we rode a bus along the quayside, and walked across the sweeping curve of the Millennium Bridge.

That's the Tyne Bridge in the foreground, but you already saw the Millennium Bridge.

Dinner was at Zizzi's, located on the solid Georgian splendour of Grey Street, from where we caught our final bus practically to the hotel door.


Next day was the beach at Cullercoates, a short drive away.  It was cooler and a little drizzly - but what does that matter when you're a three-year-old boy with a bucket and spade?



Saturday, 28 June 2014

Fountainless Abbey

"It's called Fountains Abbey but it doesn't have any fountains!" - Toby
West front of the abbey church

It's true.  It has plenty of other things, though.

Beautiful stonework, for one

We had picked the Abbey out as a good place to stop for lunch on our journey up to Newcastle-upon-Tyne last weekend, and I thought we'd spend a couple of hours there.  In fact we doubled that time estimate!  The abbey ruins are much more extensive than I'd expected, and I could have easily taken longer to explore all the fascinating nooks and crannies.  Plus we had to go to the playground, and walk through the water gardens, and duck into a cave, and stop at the all-important ice cream shop, and admire the church...

St Mary's church

Fountains Abbey is one of the best-preserved Cistercian abbeys in the UK.  Graham asked what a Cistercian was, and the only response I could come up with was, "A kind of monk".  This not being entirely informative, I have educated myself slightly.  Cistercians are a kind of monk.  To be precise, the kind of monk who belongs to a religious order established in the eleventh century, which stressed isolation and individual poverty.  Rather ironic, then, that Fountains Abbey was one of the richest monasteries in England at the Dissolution, and its ruins today welcome thousands of visitors a year.




And with good reason.  There's something rather wonderful about a ruined church.  It is enclosed yet not enclosed; bearing the form of a holy place, and yet part of the outside world.  The floor has become green grass, and the only roof is the bright sky above, but the enduring stones bear witness to those who built the sanctuary, who worshipped and prayed in these sunlit aisles.  The empty windows and broken arches still perform their task of lifting our eyes to God.



We looked around together, and then Graham and I each took a few minutes to explore separately.  Toby then announced his intention of going by himself.  We looked at each other: "Is he really doing it?" and by that time he was disappearing into the cloisters!  I followed at a discreet distance as he inspected the stonework and peered under archways, entirely absorbed.  Suddenly we came face-to-face round a corner.  "You're not supposed to be here!  Go back to the picnic site!" he exclaimed.  Sorry, kid.  Three is not quite old enough to be independent.

Graham and Toby estimating the height of a column
 

Toby exploring

From the abbey we followed the little river as it threaded through a grassy field and spread out into glistening pools.  These were the water gardens, created when the abbey ruins became part of the Studley estate.  They included all the clichés - beautifully rustic bridges, carefully crafted caves, artfully placed temples, and tastefully nude statues.



View from the rustic bridge

 

But no fountains!

Friday, 27 June 2014

New Look

Well, what do you think of the new look?  Does it work on your computer / laptop / tablet / phone?  Can you read it OK?  Does it make you want to share this blog with all your friends?

Whatever you do, pleeease don't tell me you preferred the old way!  You wouldn't believe how many little things there are to tweak once you decide to make it a little bit different.  And my boys don't nap for that long any more...

Really that background in the title was meant to be yellow.  But for some reason every time I uploaded it, Blogger decided to make it a hideous shade of yellow-green.  Yeuch!  Not on my blog!  So I had to compromise with that tan colour.  Not quite as cheerful, but maybe I can pretend I was going for sophistication instead.

And yes, after all this messing around, I'll get on to writing a proper post as soon as I can.  But if you'll permit me a moment of bragging:  I won a prize!!!  For a cake!!!!


Third prize in the local village bake-off, to be exact, for a chocolate-red wine cake.  I was happy.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Well, Well, Well!

One of the joys of moving to a new area is the discovery of local traditions, often unknown outside of their small area.  England is rife with such customs, ranging from the riotous  (Padstow 'Obby 'Oss - a Cornish village May Day parade) to the ridiculous (Gloucestershire cheese rolling - chasing a Double Gloucester cheese down a 1 in 3 hill).  Both of these have become internationally famous, but few people we know outside of Derbyshire seem to have heard of the local practice of well dressing.

That's not the same as being well-dressed, you understand.  In fact wearing your best clothes to help dress a well would be a really bad idea.  The process starts with trampling clay underfoot, softening it to fill a wooden frame.  Then you have to trek through the woods to find flower petals, leaves, twigs and alder cones to build up the picture.  Only natural materials are allowed, although not necessarily British - we noticed coffee beans and glacé cherries included in some patterns!


The designs are beautiful, and amazingly detailed; it can take up to three days to create the well dressings.  Once finished, they are displayed at water sources around the village for a week or so.



We visited the tiny village of Tissington, which claims to have originated the custom.  It's a beautiful place to wander around on any sunny day, so the open-air artwork was just the icing on the cake.  Many of this year's dressings commemorated the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.  The sombre depiction of a battlefield was particularly moving. 





Lightening the mood, the Faith, Hope + Community picture featured farm animals, teapots and sugar cubes.  And some strange things that looked vaguely like moneybags.  Any guesses?




Altogether there were seven well dressings spread around the village.  We admired them all, shared a picnic lunch, and walked a small portion of the nearby Tissington Trail.  My mom taught Toby a few flower names, and on the way home he fell asleep in the car.  Still clutching a sprig of wild garlic.


All's well that ends well!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Chex Mixed

When we lived in America, we occasionally got to confuse people with our strange English habits, such as putting butter on sandwiches or eating baked beans as part of breakfast.  Now that we're back in the UK, we occasionally get to confuse people with the strange things we learnt across the pond.

Our small group at church is a wonderful bunch of people, who have helped keep me sane in the craziness of moving to a new place and bringing up two boys.  Between us we represent quite a number of different nationalities, so when we had to set up a table at church to tell people who we are, someone suggested that we could bring food from our respective countries.  A lady of Indian origin volunteered to bring onion bhajis, and I tried to think of something distinctively American.

After flicking through a few recipe books, I settled on Chex mix as something that was well-known in the US, easy to make for a crowd, and unlikely to make a huge mess.  Chex cereal is not easily obtainable here, so I fudged together a recipe with Shreddies, Cheerios, pretzels and nuts, baked it up and got ready to go.

There wasn't much left by the time I realised it might be good to have a photo!

The Sunday in question was one where I was scheduled to wrangle small children in creche.  I dumped the bowl of Chex mix on our group table with little explanation, and ran off to play toy kitchens and sing, "The Wheels on the Bus" umpteen times.  Little did I know how much confusion I was leaving behind.

At the end of the service my bowl was returned to me with, "Well, that sure caused some conversation!" but it wasn't until the next Wednesday meeting that I got, "What on earth was that stuff??"  One guy said, "It looked like cereal without milk, so I tucked in expecting it to be sweet..." and another person's best guess was, "Shreddies covered in Marmite".  When I revealed that the main flavouring was in fact Worcestershire sauce, there was general bemusement that anyone would think of adding that to their breakfast cereal!

I guess Americans do have a greater appreciation of that kind of sweet/savoury combination.  And just to prove that it really is a thing, here's the original manufacturer's recipe.

Chex party mix

Just be glad I didn't decide to try the Surprise Salad recipe.  Ingredients: beetroot, lemon Jello, sugar, mayonnaise and horseradish.  I don't think any number of years living in the States could persuade me to like that one!


Martha's Anglicized Chex mix

4 cups Shreddies
2 cups Cheerios
2 cups mini pretzels
1 cup unsalted mixed nuts (I found cheap ones in the crisp aisle)
4 oz margarine or butter
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Aromat All Purpose Savoury Seasoning (with the spices)
1 tsp hot sauce

Melt the butter or margarine with the seasonings.  Dip a Shreddie in to see if you like it, and add a splash more of anything you feel necessary (I can't honestly remember the quantities I used, so this is only a rough guide!).

Put the cereals, pretzels and nuts in a large bowl.  Stir in the seasoned melted butter.  Spread on a couple of baking trays and bake at 120°C until crispy (maybe half an hour?  I messed up by putting it in too hot an oven, burning half a tray and then leaving the rest in the warming oven to kind of dry out, so I've no idea how long it really should have taken).  Or you can follow the manufacturer's recipe above and try microwaving it instead.

Try not to eat it all at once!

(By the way, the recipe I mostly based this one on had the marvellous name of Mountain Trash!  And yes, that was the same cookbook as the Surprise Salad.)

Friday, 6 June 2014

Tasty Cars and Vintage Ice Cream

On the recent bank holiday Monday, a village near us had a Transport Festival.  For Graham and Toby, any display of interesting cars within 20 miles is an opportunity not to be missed, and even I can admit they're quite photogenic.  So off we went.

It reminded me of the Wood, Wind and Waves event we visited in Texas, although of course with a British slant.  Instead of longhorned Cadillacs and shiny Mustangs, there were stripy Minis, bug-eyed Rolls-Royces and sleek Jaguars.




Over here, iced drinks come a distant second to a nice cup of tea.  One car owner had carefully set up a kettle next to his antique vehicle, complete with proper china mugs.  Someone else was handing out luscious slices of Victoria sponge cake to his friends from the back of a Landrover.


And naturally, a nice bottle of beer never goes amiss!  This specimen belongs to the National Brewery Centre, just down the road in Burton-on-Trent.


At least one American car had found its way across the Atlantic - this bright blue Mercury Monterey.  The friendly British couple who owned it said they use it to raise money for cancer research.



Oh, the vintage ice cream?  I guess I should have said vintage ice cream van.  Toby selected toffee fudge from their range of unvintage and very tasty ice creams.

He also enjoyed the giant Thomas the Tank Engine railway, set up in a tent.  Not touching it all was pretty hard, though.

To top off the day, the festival organisers were running free bus rides around the village on some nice old buses.  We sat upstairs and enjoyed our elevated view, enlivened by tree branches occasionally clonking on the roof.



 Just a few more photos for you (I told you the cars were photogenic!)





And in true English fashion, we escaped just before it started pouring with rain.  I think we've had the best of the day, don't you?