Sunday, February 27, 2011

Interesting things from the week

A couple of weeks ago, a group of Morris Dancers came to the college to entertain us for an evening.  Morris dancing is an English folk dance, accompanied by accordian music, that incorporates bells (strapped to the men's shins), handkerchiefs, and rhythm sticks. 
And the men were all wearing hats with flowers on them.  ??

Later in the evening, as they were heading down the the Bistro (the pub in the basement of the castle) to continue the revelry, they looked like this:

A group of female clog dancers also performed for us, in much less flamboyant costumes:

Sort of like tap dancing with wooden-soled shoes:

Unrelated to the dancing (but just the right number of photos to round out a blog post) -- I went with some friends walking on the footpaths through the area.  Footpaths are public right-of-ways that criss cross the entire country. 
(That's Jack.)

Land owners are required to maintain these footpaths, including stiles to help people cross over fences:
(Jack and his mom Nancy.) 

Even through agricultural land or back yards, people must maintain these public walkways:

Friday, February 25, 2011


When Jerry, Carol, and Jonathan were here, we took a train up to Edinburgh Scotland.  The countryside, even just from the train, was beautiful with rolling green hills everywhere.  But other than the train ride, we spent the whole weekend in the city.  I think we all have plans to take another vacation to Scotland so we can explore more both in and out of Edinburgh.

Anyway, Alan and I are quickly coming to realize that it's difficult to sightsee with a now-4-year-old.  He's too big to just strap in a stroller or backpack and carry where we want to go.  But he's too little to walk as far and as fast as we would sometimes like.  And he's just not all that interested in the history of United Kingdom castles and cathedrals.  So our visit to Edinburgh probably doesn't look much like Edinburgh.  But we had a great time, which is key.

First, here is Edinburgh Castle.  Alan, Coop, and I didn't go in, but the others did, and they really enjoyed it.
It sits atop an extinct volcano, which I think is cool.  And it also holds the One O'clock Gun, which is fired every day at (you guessed it) 1:00pm (except for Sunday, Good Friday, and Christmas).  You can read more about the castle, if you're so inclined, here.

While Jerry, Carol, and Jon were touring the castle, I was left with these two grumps:
(Cooper tires quickly of all my picture-taking.  Too bad for you, bub. Better just deal with it.)

We three found the perfect place to spend a couple of hours -- Camera Obscura and World of Illusions.  "Camera obscura" is Latin for darkened chamber, and it refers to a series of lenses and mirrors that can project an image into another surface.  Sort of like a camera + periscope.  The camera obscura in Edinburgh was actually set up in the 1850s, up on the roof of the building that it's currently in.  We started our visit with a show to demonstrate the camera obscura.  The tour guide panned the camera 360 degrees around the city to give us a bird's eye tour.

The rest of the building is now an optical illusion/magic museum, and Coop had a great time.  (Ok, so did the grown-ups.)

This was some kind of computerized floor mat that responded to touch (or stepping).
So the picture here is like you're looking into a pond -- water ripples, big rocks, and little fish swimming around.  Wherever you stepped, the water rippled and the fish swam away from you.

This was a traffic scene and Coop caused all sorts of car accidents by stepping on the vehicles.

There was a whole floor of holograms, which unfortunately don't make for great photos.  And an entire room of those magic eye things that I still can't figure out.

Here's Alan's head on a platter:

And GIANT Alan with tiny Cooper:

Notice that when it's Coop's turn to be BIG, he flexes his muscles.  Well played, son.

One whole floor was various light/mirror displays including the maze of mirrors:

After we left Camera Obscura and the others were done in the castle, we took a double-decker bus tour around the city:

Other than a stop for lunch and a stop to buy a souvenir, we didn't really see much else.  This trip anyway.  But we started a list of things to do next time!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day trip to London

One of the benefits of our location is that we're a short one-hour (and change) train ride from London.  So one Saturday, we decided to go to London for the day to get our feet wet with the train and the Tube and the city.

Coop was excited.  His first train ride in England!
The magic green box next to him is called "100 Things for Little Children to Do on a Trip."  Score.

Our plan was to start taking bit-sized chunks out of our "Things to Do in London" list.  We quickly discovered that bite-sized chunks is the only way any of it will be doable with a 4-year-old.  The city, despite its fantastic public transportation, is pretty big for small kids.  Even going to station A, taking the train to station B, switching trains to station C, and walking to an attraction puts about a mile on your shoes.  Poor Coop!

So on our first day trip, we managed to do two things.  First, visit the famous Tower Bridge:
We paid the seven pounds per adult to go up in the tower, walk across the upper level walkway, and see some exhibits about how the bridge was built.

The Tower Bridge (which actually is *not* the London Bridge) is a suspension bridge that crosses the Thames River.  Construction on the bridge started in 1886 and took eight years to complete.  It is 800 feet long and has two towers, each 213 feet high, built on piers.

Originally, the bridge had two giant steam engines to raise and lower the draw bridge for passing ships.  Here, Alan is feeding Cooper into showing Cooper the coal bin.

The steam engine:
In 1974, the bridge was modernized and a hydraulic system was installed to raise and lower the bridge.

Coop was most taken with the "stunts on the bridge" display that showed a drawing of a double-decker bus that had accidentally driven on the bridge when it was open (to let a big ship pass underneath) and was forced to jump the gap.  And there was a big display of a motorcycle rider (ala Evel Knievel) who jumped the bridge and then donated his bike and his outfit to the museum showcase.  Coop's up next, it looks like!

Alan sitting by a fountain with lots of naked girls.  (He requested this photo.)

Our second big attraction of the day (not counting the naked-girl fountain) was the Tower of London.  It's a spectacular place (a prison, which always intrigues me!), and could easily become my favorite London spot.  Admittedly, I've only been to two London "spots" so far (this tower and the bridge; wait -- three if you could the airport!), but still...

There's so much good stuff about the Tower of London; a blog post just can't do it justice, particularly because so much that makes the place interesting are the stories of people who were imprisoned there.  I even ponied up the five pounds to buy the official Tower of London souvenir guidebook so I could revisit all the stories and the places of the Tower.

Anyway, the Tower of London is technically a castle fortress, made up of several different buildings and towers.  It gets its name from the White Tower, the most prominent part of the castle grounds, which was built by William the Conqueror in 1078.  (Like the Lincoln Castle, this place was founded by William the Conqueror after his coronation at the conclusion of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.)

As a castle, the whole place had various defense systems in place, including a moat and tons of soldiers with cross bows.
Probably none with four-year-old kids playing hide-and-seek nearby, but you get the idea.

The most interesting part of the castle's history for me is its use as a prison, which really came to fruition in the 16th Century.  Famous people were incarcerated at the Tower, including Sir Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes, and Elizabeth (before she became Queen Elizabeth I).  And, of course, Cooper:

Walking through some of the prison areas today, you can still see fairly extensive graffiti that prisoners left:

Ten people were beheaded on the grounds of the castle, including three English queens:  Anne Boleyn, one of Henry VIII's wives; Catherine Howard, Henry V's wife; and Lady Jane Gray, queen for only nine days when she was sixteen years old.

Since the 1300s, the Tower of London has also held the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, including the crowns of various royal family members as well as scepters, orbs (small fancy Christmas-ornament-looking balls that the king or queen holds), rings, swords, spoons, plates, and the largest soup tureen I have ever seen (seriously, you could stuff a whole person inside it!).  We couldn't take photos inside that exhibit, but it was pretty glitzy!  This website has a few photos if you want to browse a bit.

All in all, a busy day.  We were on our feet for about six solid hours, and much of that was spent looking at things targeted at grown-ups.  Next time we go, we'll try to hit the science museum and the natural history museum for Cooper!

Monday, February 21, 2011

More interior photos

This is the inside of the front door of our castle.  It's actually always locked, except special occasions (our arrival, the day the manor hosted a wedding, etc.).

The front foyer:

A close-up of the guys with headaches that are all around the Great Hall.

A lovely intricate ceiling in one room.  (I can't remember which now, and I'm too lazy to walk all through the castle to find it.)

There's a separate building for sports-related activities.  (I laughed at the personalized sign.  Impressive.)

The exercise area:
And there's also a basketball court available to students -- the Harlaxton Lions, our team is called!  And they play in some area rec league.

One night, I unlocked the magic that is the Bosendorfer piano:
I left all of my music at home, so I set my laptop on top of the piano and pulled up music on-line.  It was fantastic, and I played until my laptop battery died.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Lincoln Cathedral

Seen one, seen 'em all?  Maybe a little for Cooper.  And certainly the initial shock of being in a building so big and so old and so majestic has worn off a bit for Alan and I.  But holy moly.  These places are amazing.  The sheer size is just overwhelming.  And the level of craftsmanship is unbelievable, particularly given the age of these places.

This is the cathedral in Lincoln.  It towers over the city---we could see it from the highway as we were driving in.

Portions of this side of the cathedral (below) date back to the 11th Century, but much of the cathedral was rebuilt in 1186 after fire and an earthquake destroyed it.
You can also notice the change in architectural styles as the cathedral was expanded.  The round arches in the center of the building are traditional Norman style.  But the pointed arches on the right and left sides are typical Gothic style, dating from 1200-1400.

Inside the main part of the cathedral.
This cathedral, like the others we've seen, has several smaller chapels throughout, as well as regular church service things (like a lectern, choir loft, altar, and hymnals), in addition to a scattering of tombs.

This is the front door of the cathedral:

An example of some of the ornate stone carving:

This cathedral, like many others I assume, is incredibly expensive to maintain.  Through the cathedral, there were these signs (along with financial support information):
Alan was impressed with the annual fabric budget.  (Roughly, about $1.6 million.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lincoln Castle

We took a college-sponsored day trip to Lincoln, a town about an hour away, with all of the college students.  It was a trip for their required British Studies course, so it was full of history and culture.

One fantastically interesting place we visited was Lincoln Castle.  In 1066, William the Conqueror was crowned King of England after the Battle of Hastings.  He began taking over the country by building a network of castles, including this one in Lincoln, built in 1068.

For over 900 years, Lincoln Castle was used as a court and a prison, so its history is rich with stories of trials and bad guys and executions.  Lincoln Castle was the place of the first long-drop hanging, where the prisoner stands on a trap door and the length of rope on the noose is long enough that the prisoner drops a distance great enough to break his neck.  Clearly a more humane way of executing people than letting them strangle at the end of a short rope.
The view above is of the main prison building (red brick), the observatory tower and turret (with the flag), and the Lincoln Cathedral in the way back.  (More on the cathedral in my next post.)

Observatory Tower:

The hill below is Lucy Tower, an original fortress that served as the last defense station of the castle, complete with a steep hill, slick clay terrain, and soldiers shooting down at you from on top.  Up on top of Lucy Tower are grave stones of some of the last prisoners executed in Lincoln Castle in the 1800s.

Lincoln Castle is also home to one of the four remaining original copies of the Magna Carta (1215).  This is not a photo of the Magna Carta.
You couldn't take pictures of the Magna Carta, but this is Cooper sticking his head in a soldier's helmet, presumably to protest war and taxes in preparation for writing the Magna Carta.

We had the afternoon to wander around Lincoln.  One of the main shopping drags is this street, appropriately named Steep Hill.
Yes.  Yes, indeed.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Harlaxton kids

We were so lucky to find some other kiddos here at Harlaxton when we arrived.

This is Cooper's friend Jack, who's 2.5.

And these girls became fast friends.  Tilda and Abby (Jack's sister) are both 6 and go to school in Harlaxton Village together:
Tilda, Abby, and Jack are seasoned Harlaxton kids -- Tilda and her parents were here over the summer, and Abby, Jack, and their family were here last fall.  So the girls have fun showing Cooper all the secret passageways and telling him all about the castle ghost Mischief.  And Jack knows all about cool British cartoons including Fireman Sam and his firetruck Jupiter, and Postman Pat and his cat Jess.  And Jack has been so kind to share his train set with Cooper since we didn't bring ours from Kansas.

Cooper and Jack again:

And walking to school together:

The four.  Jack, Cooper (with a feather and a rock), Abby, and Tilda.

The kids are all so good-natured, and have done a great job so far enjoying the adventure!

And we've had some fun family nights together.  We hired a college kid to babysit these four in Tilda's family's apartment, and the six parents went to Jack and Abby's apartment for dinner and grown-up conversation.

Most fun of all, though -- we took the four to a local play place to celebrate Cooper's birthday.  Fun Farm is an indoor play area with slides and a ball pit and soft things to jump on and mechanical things to ride on.

And slushies!

Then we came back to our place for a pirate themed party, complete with pirate ship cake:

And pirate napkins and pirate plates and pirate blowers and pirate cupcakes.  (Because I so rarely do anything in moderation.)

And thus endeth Cooper's 4th birthday celebrations.