Villandry 3 2015

Villandry and Gardens to be Jealous of…

Hard to believe but the Chateau of Villandry was once up for demolition.  Fortunately Joachim Carvallo and his wife Ann Coleman, a Spaniard and an American, bought it in 1906.  Pretty remarkable that they took this on but take it on they did.  They refurbished the buildings and uncovered and brought back to life the gardens.  And what an amazing place it is.

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So of course it was a must on our list.  It was well worth the trip.  They have acres of formal gardens, both vegetable and flowers.  I can’t lie, I’m envious of how well their veg patch is doing given theirs seems to be surviving without rabbit damage.  Unlike ours!

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The formal part of the garden “spells” out tender love, passionate love, fickle love, and tragic love.

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I do wonder how the family, who still lives there, find ways to enjoy the gardens.  I would find it difficult to have to stay out of sight until the masses have left.  But it would be a wonderful place to stroll with a glass of wine.  There are lovely spots to find whether it be the stone watchdog or the graceful swan swimming by.

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But my favourite spot was the sun garden.  I much prefer the gardens that follow the English cottage garden, rather than formal, straight, and narrow gardens.  Letting the flowers and plants do what they are meant to do naturally.

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One thing I really enjoyed while in France was the wonderful food you can get at the tourist stops.  At Villandry they had a restaurant that used the veg from the kitchen gardens.  I had a smoked duck fillet salad with roasted pine nuts and a violet vinaigrette for a dressing.

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It was delicious.  It was such a great day with the kids.  We created so many good memories on this trip that will last a lifetime.

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Chinon and Being Flung Back to Reality

They need to come up with a way of easing you back into reality after a fabulous holiday.  Air France does not know how to do this.  In fact their goal seems to be the opposite of my wish.  I thought my husband might have been over cautious about the time we headed out in the morning to begin the long journey back stateside.  I didn’t mind as I thought it would give us plenty of time to have dinner before boarding.  You would think I was a rookie at traveling or something.

Now flying over on Air France was pretty decent.  Newer plane, it even had foot rests back in the cattle section, and the crew was pleasant.  And, get this, the food was edible!  Well, for airplane food.  See why I thought everything would be civilised for the trip back?

Whole other story on the return trip.  If you aren’t first class or priority for Air France in Paris they become very lazy in providing help.  They expect us to do it all with kiosks and self checking the baggage.  Which means weighing it, scanning it, reshuffling stuff, stand around and hope you can get help.  Then finally watch your bags leave.  This took forever.  And we needed to change the seats.  The kiosk wouldn’t do it so we had to find someone to help.  Now we are feeling bedraggled as we work our way out of that area only to go past the priority where they have several people helping out the passengers as they sit comfortably at desks.  Grrr.

Nothing decent to eat really at the airport and we were running out of time even with the delay.  Now this was a 747 fully booked.  When we flew over they called boarding by rows.  Which prevents people from having to climb over each other.  Not this time.  Everyone queue up and hope for the best.  No surprise it took longer to board.  The delay was because the plane was late coming in and they had to clean it.  What they were cleaning I don’t know but I was lucky to have wipes with me so I could wipe the food and dirt off the tray table, arm rests, etc.  Just gross.  It was an old plane so things were broken and the entertainment system for my husband didn’t work so we switched back and forth during the flight.

Reality was a swift kick up the backside!

So forgive me if I want to wander back to France and enjoy the memories. :)  One of the places we visited was Chinon.  Everyone we spoke to said we should visit.  I’m glad we did as it was a neat place.  The imposing fortress overlooking the town dated from the 10th century though evidence suggests people have been there for a few thousand years.

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What was fascinating to me was that they were saying this was the seat of the Legend of Arthur.  I’ve seen a documentary that said there was some evidence that Arthur could have been a French legend but nothing for certain.  But by and large I’ve always thought of it as an English legend.  Of course some of our kings ruled from this area.  But this was what they were going with.  The kids had fun with it.

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For me the real history was fascinating enough.  Joan of Arc was here.  Charles VII was staying at the fortress when she was having her visions and she went to him and convinced him to let her lead an army.

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They even have a transcript of her trial for heresy.

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Quite a bit of the fortress is still standing though extensive renovations have occurred here and there given the age.  The Royal quarters is where most of the exhibits were held.

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The views all around the site were breathtaking.  And it was such a gorgeous day where you could just see for miles and miles.

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Of course all this trekking can make you peckish so we headed into town to find a place to eat.  I wanted a place where you can try new things and we were able to find that.  I ordered for a starter some stuffed mushrooms with escargot.

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It was very earthy but good.  They did a decent job with the escargot.  That is an ingredient which is very hard to cook.  At least that is my impression given how often it is screwed up.  My husband and daughter were brave enough to try it but I don’t think they were impressed!  For the next course I ordered a brouillard of eggs.  No clue what it was but I saw that my father-in-law had it for his starter.  I didn’t think I’d like it given how his looked.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  I would say it was like burratta for eggs.  With bacon.  Can’t go wrong with that.

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We finished off the day going down the famous Medieval street.  They are private homes, many of which have been refurbished, but they survived the world wars.

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It was well worth the trip to Chinon.  It’s not a huge town but there is lots to see and it was great to wander round it.  Just a beautiful place.

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Smack Dab in the Middle of France and a Heatwave

Well we made it!  Actually we we’ve been here a couple of days but as I get older jet lag gets harsher.  We flew Air France this time round and I have to say it’s not too bad!  Food was edible, not a guarantee.  And the flight attendant presented the wine label when I asked for the Merlot.  Though for red wine it was that or nothing!

I’m stuggling with the French language.  The hearing part.  I saw what I thought was the drink cart coming down the aisle so I went over in my head what to say in French to ask for the merlot and water.  He rapidly said something and I responded with my sentence.  He looked blank.  Not a good start!  I asked my husband if I got it wrong and he pointed out I was asked what I want to eat.  Sigh.  I actually said the sentence correctly but was answering the wrong question.  Things haven’t improved much on that front but I’m forging ahead the best I can.  

 
Driving hasn’t been too difficult.  I went a bit overboard with printing out maps of our route because I don’t sleep on planes and it makes it difficult to do tasks.  We only struggled a bit round Paris because given the fact that the roads here can have 3 or more numbered names some weren’t on our maps from Google.  But we got it sorted.  There was a comedy of errors at the toll booth when it was time to pay.  Fortunately no one was behind us until the end, unfortunately not a soul to help us either.  We pull up, as you do, and put the ticket in.  Good so far.  Tried to pay with a credit card, didn’t recognise it, tried another with same result.  Eventually it spit out the ticket, just as the wind blew and it grabbed the ticket.  For about five minutes we were scrambling to find it.  We did just as a truck pulled in behind us.  We decided paying cash was the way to go.  

  
But other than that everything else was smooth going.  I do love the rest stops on the motorways in Europe, you can find real food.  And thank goodness we have air in our hire car.  It’s ranging from 90F/32C to 100F/38C this week.  The only saving grace is that the humidity is low.  If it was like it is back home we’d be having 95% humidity.  But it’s still a bit much.

    

We’re in a lovely gite.  It’s in the middle of nowhere so it is very quiet.  The villages are near ghost towns but I’m not sure if that’s because of the hot weather.  We have struggled to find a farmer’s market but we have it on good authority that there is one in Noyant tomorrow and a good one in Samaur on Saturday.  We’ve had to make do with the Super U.  Not impressed with that!  Can’t for the life of me find fresh herbs and when you buy produce you have to put them in individual plastic bags.  I’m not giving up though, this is France!  The good stuff is somewhere.

We did find a nice restaurant yesterday for lunch.  I had a delicious salad with bacon and a soft boiled egg.  The bacon was divine.

   

I tried for the first time duck confit.  Oh my that was good.  A bit heavy for the heat but worth having.  

 
We did a bit of exploring today and went to the Château de Lathan.  A small family owned one but they are doing a lot of restoration of the parks and gardens. I don’t envy them!  But they seem to be getting through the large list.

 
I think we’re going to have a grand time here.  A much needed break! 

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A Getaway to Washington DC

I can’t seem to shake the pattern of being behind the 8 ball lately.  I have been set back by a bad back, tying up loose ends with the tax season,  and the usual every day things.  We did manage a break with a long weekend getaway to Washington DC, just the two of us.  Despite the scorching heat we had a fabulous time.  A few hiccups here and there but hey that’s traveling.

The beginning of the trip sent home to me that I should listen to my intuition.  We landed at Dulles with several areas to eat. I overrode my instinct to eat there.  Bad move.  Our first stop was the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center which is the Air and Space Annex for the Smithsonian.  All they had for food was McDonalds.  And the food was bad.  We didn’t even finish.  And we had to contend with a woman who was jumping the queue which is not a good idea when I’m hungry!  I pushed back!  The poor cashier had a deer in the headlights look.  She kept yelling over me to go ahead and order while ordering her coffee.  Very strange.  I said to the cashier that at least he has a story to tell now.

The museum itself was amazing.  The amount of aircraft and engines they had was incredible.  I would not like to be the one who had to figure out the puzzle of fitting it all together.

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For me the coolest thing was the Discovery.  When I was little I wanted to be an astronaut.  Aside from wearing glasses and having asthma I get sick on swings so that dream died a quick death!

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They even had a Hurricane there.  This plane was critical in the Battle of Britain, particularly how Britain had it down to quickly replace them as squadrons were destroyed.  Noon the next day replacements would arrive.  Pretty remarkable.  Behind it is the Enola Gay.

We found a hotel near the National Mall which was perfect so we could just walk about.  It was strange though, people were fabulous and very helpful and the place was very clean.  But it was trying to hard to be hip and cool.  Which seemed to attract the young party crowd.  The second night we were woken up to a drunk guy knocking on the door and calling out “Where you at?”  He passed out in front of our door.  We did get a free bottle of wine for our troubles and a new room.

The first day we wandered round the memorials.  A few we revisited such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial.  We also checked out the WWII Memorial.  While we were there they started a ceremony where vets from that war were wheeled in and honoured.  I was amazed at how many were there.  It was quite moving.  There are several organisations that bring in veterans from the wars and bring them round to the memorials.  It was tough to see at the Vietnam Memorial because they were seeing the names of their friends and family.  I was impressed with the Korean War Veterans Memorial.  It was graceful and powerful.

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As we wandered we had to have some ice cream.  Medicinal against the heat of course.  There was a beautiful duck who had the begging down to a science.  And he knew when you were done eating because he would then wander to the next table looking his cutest.  He reminded us of our dog Murphy.

There were a few more memorials before lunch.  The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial was very interesting and a lot larger than I thought it would be.  Same with the FDR Memorial, which is incredibly large.  They had outdoor rooms for each of his four terms.  The thing I enjoy about most of the memorials is the quotes.

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Too often people forget what is important.  It would be nice to think those that visit these memorials come away reminded of what should be our priorities.  I’m afraid I’m being optimistic.

The next stop was the Botanical Gardens.  It wasn’t very big like Kew Gardens and others I’ve been to but it was very enjoyable.  Aside from the varied and gorgeous orchids they had neat flowers like the banana flower which I’ve never seen before.

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Of course we searched for fabulous food!  Dinners went very well but with the exception of one breakfast the rest of the meals fell really flat.  Our mojo was letting us down!  The great breakfast I had was crab cake with poached egg and hollandaise sauce with old bay seasoning.  Fabulous flavour.  They just overcooked the eggs so the yolks weren’t runny.  Nuts.

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I did try something new which was a soft shell crab.  It was different.  Very tasty but the shells still had a bit of crunch to it.  I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’m glad I tried it.

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My favourite was the baked oyster dish with pancetta, pecorino, garlic, and breadcrumbs.  It was served over salt and peppercorns.  It was amazing.

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I had calamari sauteed in a spicy tomato broth.  The interesting highlight was the crostini with squid ink.  I have never had squid ink so I was looking forward to this. It wasn’t a strong or fishy flavour but it made for an intriguing crostini.  Very delicious.

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One dessert was a goat cheese cheesecake with rhubarb jam and rhubarb sorbet over a ginger strudel.  Oh my.  We need to figure out how to recreate that.  The strange but good dessert was a honey panna cotta parfait with basil gelee.

Washington DC 9 2015We weren’t sure what to make of it but we liked it.  Not sure we’ll try to recreate it though.

Our waiter for two of the nights was French.  We were enjoying cocktails and wondered how to say cocktails in French.  He said cocktails!  I may be ok on our trip to France. :)

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Arrr Matey, Time to Plunder Treasure at the RenFest!

For our second venture to the Texas RenFest we chose the Pirate Weekend and what fun it was!  And in picking an earlier weekend we had our fingers crossed it wouldn’t be as cold as the first time we went.  We still had the set up with the tent, air mattress and electric blanket.  I’m a high end camper.  Then we lucked out the second night as friends who joined us then had a heater safe for tents.  Score!

I had fun picking out my costumes.  How often do you have the chance to be a saucy pirate?  Without getting strange looks?  This was my costume on the first day.

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It is so fun wandering round people watching.  For the most part the costumes are great.  Though this year it seemed that Games of Thrones was popular.  Unfortunately some thought dressing like the unsullied was a good idea.  Just the leather loin clothe and face mask.  Um, no.  Not a good idea!  Saturday was the best for costumes.  For some reason, a lot of people who went on Sunday were in modern clothes.  No fun!

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Aside from food served on sticks and decent beer we go for the shows.  Tartanic is a great one of bagpipes and drums.  I dare you to sit still through that show.  Fabulous music.

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We see Iris and Rose twice when we go to RenFest.  First their regular bawdy show then we go to the last on on Sunday as it is interactive with people contributing jokes, limericks, and the sort.  Here is the thing, I am always amazed at how many people bring their kids to the RenFest.  They do have things for kids but most adults are there to let their hair down which means some costumes are holy moly, and many of the shows are adult themed.  This doesn’t stop some parents though.  All the shows that are not kid friendly will remind the audience of this.  They say this is not for kids.  I have lost count of how many parents just sit there.  And you’ll see some kids just squirm.  I believe that kids need sex education but this is not the way to go about doing it!  But Iris and Rose, if you are old enough, is a must see.  They make your sides hurt.  :)

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The second day of pirating was a bit warmer so that was the corset day!  Our friends were concerned with my Casper the Ghost skin so I got sprayed with very cold sunscreen.  But it did the trick.

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Adam Crack is another fun show.  They added some things to the show so it’s not all whip cracking but still fun.  I would not want to be the assistant because she would hold things in her mouth that he would split with the whip.  No thank you!

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Fireworks are always a big draw.  The first night we sat in the cold to watch them.  The second night we sat by our campfire and looked on from a distant with all our layers on.  The days were warm but once that sun went down, brrr.

One show I didn’t get a picture of was Arsene Dupin.  He is a silent juggler, comedian, and magician from Paris.  He’s genius and always makes us laugh when we go see him.  He doesn’t speak until the end when he introduces himself.  Just an amazing talent.

We’ll be going in a few years again, it’s always a blast.  And I’ll admit, I love dressing up!

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Having Fun Deep in the Heart of Texas

My husband and I had a much needed getaway to Texas for the Texas RenFest this past week.  We’re exhausted after it all but it was good to have some fun and let our hair down.  It was also nice to catch up with friends.

Our friends have three horses and a pony and they are characters.  The funniest thing to discover was that there is a 1000lb horse who is an overgrown Murphy.  It’s one thing to see the antics in a 50lb dog but quite another to see it in a horse!

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You have to be careful because he’ll leap about with all four hoofs off the ground.  But he is really sweet and like Murphy he just wants to be loved.  Once he is comfortable with you he loves his face rubbed.  I was doing that and he slipped into neutral with just enough energy to try to nibble my ear.  Just like Murphy!

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These horses will do anything for a treat, especially carrots.  They see the orange sticks and it doesn’t take long for them to circle round.  At one point Major had carrot orange lips that matched his coat!

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There is all sorts of wildlife including this road runner.  Of course my husband quipped it was running from the Wiley Coyote.  Sad to say it took me a second to cotton on.  I must be slipping!

There are bits of Texas that show a kind of raw rough beauty.  I can’t lie, I prefer the rolling hills of the UK or the gorgeous colours of autumn in New England, the lush green, and the four seasons.  The crsipiness of the landscape I find harsh but it gives rise to spots of stark beauty.  This tree was about 200 years old when the drought killed it.

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Fortunately most survive and provide small canopies here and there, shelter from the harsh sun.

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One spot on their property I’ve never really noticed but should have is under the canopy of a very old and large live oak.  They set up a cosy area for relaxing and grilling.  It’s fabulous!  It’s like an adult fort to hide out in.  I want one.  :)

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Of course we found time for good drink and food.  One restaurant we went to is called Sway in Ausin and it’s a modern Thai restaurant.  The food was out of this world amazing.  I had raw oysters for the first time and it had a spicy citrus cold “broth” with crispy shallots and micro greens.  I couldn’t get enough.  And their curries were very spicy but absolutely balanced in their flavour.  I will be trying to recreate some of the dishes.  I didn’t get any photos because I spaced but the lighting wasn’t good enough and they would have been washed out with the flash.

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As icing on the cake on a great trip we enjoyed this excellent French hard cider to finish our holiday.  I’ll have to see if we can get it here in NH at our liquor store.

We got back very late Tuesday night and it was back to reality yesterday but it was great to see the kids and now it’s back to the everyday routine.  Until our next adventure.  :)

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Nothing Beats Family Time!

It’s hard to believe it is that time of year again. We pack up the kids and head to Lake Champlain to celebrate my dad’s birthday. It’s been a whirlwind summer for the kids so it gives us a few days of downtime. This year we had my sister and her family join us so it was a treat for our dad.

The tricky part was there were 11 of us at the RV during the rainstorm! Fortunately the weather improved and it was absolutely gorgeous! Plus my dad got a large new grill and I got to break it in. What fun!

Per tradition we usually do something with the kids on our way back. Because we didn’t have a lot of time we decided to check out the rail trails in Burlington along the lake.

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Along the shore they have placed carved stones showing dragons, mermaids, roller skates, and the like.

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We walked about 3.5 miles round trip. It was so refreshing with the wind blowing the cobwebs away. There was even a pseudo stone henge!

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Of course we worked up an appetite so we found a restaurant that played really cheesy island music. Who knows why when there is some great music out there. Thank goodness the food was very good! And we got to enjoy the boats coming in and out. I miss the sailing my family did when I was a kid. So many memories. For now I get my fix boat watching.

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After lunch we drove to another park that led to the beach so the kids could dip their toes in and practice stone skipping.

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It was a wonderful weekend catching up with family and hanging out with the kids. Hard to believe school starts next week and then we’re back into a routine again. Wish we could slow summer down!

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Over The Hills We Go…

The weather was up in the air today but it looked like we would avoid major rain so we decided to take the kids on a hike on the ridge from Swanage to Corfe. It’s a lovely walk once you get up the steep bit and you can see for miles. We did miss the path for the Nine Barrows from the Iron Age so the kids only saw bits as we walked by unfortunately.

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Dorset is such a gorgeous part of the world. You are hard pressed to find a bad walk. Purbeck is especially beautiful. You find all sorts of flowers on your journey.

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As soon as we get to the top the views are breathtaking as we overlook the bay.

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And we have to be mindful that we are walking through farmland and we encounter animals. This time we just saw some sheep but last time we had to make our way through a large herd of cows blocking a gate.

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It helps to be mindful of the tiniest of creatures, even the bane of English gardens everywhere. This one was pointing towards my mother in law’s but the rate it was going it would take at least a year!

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We had storms come through last night so it was still very gusty at the top. These trees are used to it though and present all sorts of bendy shapes.

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Despite the clouds coming in and some misting we were able to enjoy the walk keeping in mind there was cream tea at the end. The castle was the beacon getting closer and closer.

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After a several mile hike we rested at the base of Corfe Castle with the sparrows zipping in and out at high speed while enjoying the cream tea. Wish I could have gotten a picture of these birds but they were zooming about buzzing very close to us. I could feel the wings as they went by!

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When asked why we would move back to England I would point to this. Why wouldn’t we?

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My London Fix

Half a lifetime ago I lived in London. It’s one of my favourite cities. Even living there for a year I think I only scratched the surface of what to see. When we decided to visit with the kids it was hard to narrow down what to see. We still had a whirlwind visit.

For the most part we were lucky with the weather with the exception of the first day. Gorgeous until we were ready to see the sights then it got cold and rainy. There was a scramble for umbrellas, shawls, and jumpers. It wasn’t too bad until the Tower of London when the skies opened up. Tipping down. We saw that the first day as there is a 2 for 1 if you see it the day you arrive on train. There are loads of sights that offer the deal. I think it was day out guide.

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We did get in to see the Crown Jewels which was great timing as we had to escape the downpour. All the kids thought it was an adventure. My friend from up north came down with her family to visit. We’ve known each other for 40 years now. So we had to celebrate! Been too long as we hadn’t seen each other since 2009.

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The next day was quite the adventure. We found out about the hop on and off river cruises that included tickets to the Tower Bridge Exhibition. It stops at a ton of piers on the river including Greenwich. We had a picnic at the park looking at the Royal Observatory. It was perfect for getting away from the crowds.

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It was discovered that the Tower of London was a bit of a jinx with the weather as we had to walk by it to get to the Tower Bridge and it began raining again! As luck would have it it was the 120th anniversary of the bridge that day so we got a free guide book. I recommend going into the tower as you get fabulous views and you get to see how the steam engine rooms were like.

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The sun came out as we were exploring and finishing the tour. As soon as we got near the tower again the skies opened up. We avoided the tower for the rest of the trip.

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On our son’s bucket list was the London Eye. We couldn’t have picked a better day for it! We could see for miles. Buckingham Palace looked tiny as did Big Ben.

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We managed the British Museum, the Science Museum, and the Transport Museum so we were walked off our feet by the time we caught the train back to Swanage. It was a great visit and a good introduction for the kids. They will have to come back!

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Tanks Everywhere!!

We are having a wonderful visit here in England. Getting my fix on proper fish and chips, pork pies, and crisps. The weather for the most part has been gorgeous with roses in bloom everywhere.

On the day the weather was a bit wonky we decided to check out the Tank Museum in Bovington. What a place! Because it is the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI this summer and last Thursday was the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand the museum had a large exhibit of WWI tanks.

Parts of the museum were quite sobering with the displays about the horses being involved against the tanks. What a waste of those beautiful animals. They also had a display of items and letters that were given by loved ones, including embroidered silk.

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The Marks were the first tanks to be a success on the battlefield. There were female ones with machine guns and male ones with cannon.

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Here is a bit of Corunna which was a female tank.

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An interesting and sad fact was that more men died of carbon monoxide poisoning than bullets or mortar when they were assigned tank duty. No wonder when you see how the engine was set up in the tank.

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No surprise that by the time WWII came about technology was such that tanks were tailored to different needs. So the exhibit for the tanks from that era was massive. This tank helps clear mines. Can you imagine the racket it made?

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This tank was a small two man that brought supplies round with a trailor attached.

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They had a separate building housing many tanks awaiting refurbishment.

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It was an impressive place to visit and would be worth another go round.