Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Sunday Road Trip: The Cotswolds

Another Sunday, another Sunday road trip - this time to the Cotswolds, which are pretty much just out our front door. For this trip we did a route up to Burton on the Water and then over to Blenheim Castle before heading back home. It was a really nice day too - not like all the cold rainy weather we've been having in August.  Here are a few pics of our adventures.

We stopped for breakfast and a stroll around Burton on the Water - a very cute little town with a shallow canal running through the centre. Very pretty.

We then spent the afternoon at Blenheim Castle walking through parts of the castle itself and then around the grounds. We barely scratched the surface as the place is huge. Luckily the tickets are good for a year so we'll try to come back and explore a bit more.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Tales of a UK Driving License

With our year anniversary of living in Bristol, came the expiration of our legal permission to drive in the UK on our US driving licenses. After that year grace, we're required to apply for a UK driving license, and unfortunately, that means starting from scratch like all the 16 year olds! Ugh.

The process starts with an application (and fee) for a provisional license, which can take up to 3 weeks. Mine took about a week and Brian's almost 3. Your provisional allows you to drive with a qualified driver (21+ years old with a valid license for at least 3 years) and anywhere except on the motorway. You also need to display a big red L on your car front and back to indicate you're a learner.
To avoid these requirements, we needed to make sure we had our UK license before our US ones expired, otherwise, it would be back to taking the bus to work!

Step 2 is the theory test and another fee.  Once you have your provisional license, you can schedule your theory test. This can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, depending on how busy the testing centres are. I ended up driving 40 min to Newport to get in earlier as we were starting to run out of time on our US licenses.

The theory test consists of 50 multiple choice questions (you need 86% to pass) and a hazard perception test where you watch a video and indicate potential road hazards as they appear. You can practice both tests online in advance, which is highly recommended and really helped us with some of the UK language and those darn roundabouts.
Go on, give it a try!

The good news is that we both passed on our first try, but I tell you, it was stressful. We both practiced a lot the week before our test - can you imagine the embarrassment of failing at our age!!

And that took us to step 3, the practical driving test - and yes, another fee! This is what we were most nervous about. Yes, of course we can drive and had been in the UK now for almost a year. But driving to the public's standards and driving to the standard of passing a UK driving test seemed like two very different things. On top of that, I was getting lots of US acquaintances on Facebook and other venues tell me they had failed their first and sometimes second time, which made me more nervous. I even took a driving lesson which ended up being validation and confidence boosting more than anything else but helpful to calm the nerves. We created some additional pressure by procrastinating the whole thing and having an upcoming road trip to Scotland planned.  Luckily, I passed on my first try and the day before my US license was set to expire!

Next, we had Brian to worry about. His provisional took 2 weeks longer than mine for some reason, so he was behind schedule and our road trip was coming up soon. We now knew I would be able to drive us, but Brian wasn't so keen on being a passenger for a 5 day road trip. He was able to get a quick theory test appointment and just around the corner from his office - great! He then arrived to be told the tests for that day had been cancelled because of a computer malfunction. He was rescheduled to the following week, and the day before our trip was to start. Looked like I would be driving to Scotland.

He passed his theory test with no trouble and logged on that evening (the night before our trip) to see when he could schedule his practical test. Believe it or not, there was 1 appointment the following morning at our preferred test site. Fate had intervened and all we had to do was leave a couple of hours later for Scotland.

He passed the following morning and off we went on holiday!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sunday Road Trip: Cardiff Castle

Cardiff, the capital of Wales is less than an hour away, so one Sunday, we jumped in the car for a road trip to the Cardiff Castle and a boat tour around the bay.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Sunday Adventure: Bristol Balloon Fiesta

One of Bristol's most well known attractions is the annual international balloon fiesta. A free event (although if you want to park at the site, you pay for that) that attracts thousands of people from all over the world. And creates a dilemma for us - a must see and do for sure, but we really HATE crowds and heavy traffic - both of which the fiesta is very well known for. A lucky compromise for us is the morning mass ascent, which is scheduled to start each morning at 6am. An early morning yes, but so worth it to still see the balloons but avoid the traffic and chaos. And Sunday this year was a picture perfect morning for it as you'll see below.

 One of the first up and away was this special shapes balloon. And I love that the moon is captured in the photo as well. It was probably about 6:30am at this point and this was the second balloon to launch.

Around 104 balloons launched over a 75 minute or so period that morning and all from a relatively small field. They would lift in batches so you saw continuous launches for more than an hour - just incredible.

 If we get a chance to go up in one, we figure this would be the best choice!

Another special shapes balloon from Longleat Animal Safari Park (on our list for Sunday road trip adventures).

 Yep, there's even a minion balloon. The thing was HUGE and took forever to inflate.

 All shapes and sizes, this was one of three that we saw that were piloted by a single person sitting in what looks like a harness chair of some kind. These are a little smaller and didn't rise as high or go as far, but still pretty impressive.

 Even a square!

 And a round one.
The Royal Navy showed off their skills by having a hang glider and a sky diver take off from their launched balloon. Unfortunately, my photos didn't turn out of the jump or the hang glider, but here's their balloon taking off.

An amazing morning and worth getting up so early on a Sunday! And there was very little traffic to contend with. Yes, there was a crowd but not really bad at all and plenty of room for everyone there. So glad we decided to go and I expect we'll make this a yearly tradition.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tales of Malta: Blue Lagoon

Out last Malta post takes us to the south west corner of the island and the Blue Lagoon. You can only see it from a boat so after a very steep walk down to the water, we got in one of the small boats and headed out to see the lagoon.

 Unfortunately, a rocking boat means blurry photos!

 The attraction is the bright blue color of the water. Hard to capture in photos, but really amazing in person.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Tales of Malta: M'dina old town

Yes, I know, I've been rubbish at keeping up to date - too many fun things to do and not enough time to blog about them. :)

So, continuing on with our Malta adventure, these photos are from M'dina old town, which is a medieval town perched on one of the hills in Malta - a good defensive point. There are people still living here, but for the most part, it's a tourist attraction with shops and restaurants.
 One of the side gates into the city.

 A larger main gate in.

 Beautiful sky but it was hot hot hot that day.

 More old buildings.
 View from the ramparts.

 A good idea of the streets - and this one is actually pretty wide relatively.