Sunday, March 4, 2018

The 'Beast from the East' visits Bristol

Growing up in Wisconsin, snow is something we're quite used to, and I miss having been away for over 7 years now. So I was thrilled to hear the 'Beast from the East' and storm Emma were set to unleash a rare snowstorm in Bristol. We rarely get snow here and when we do, it's the lightest of dustings that melts within a few hours. Even that causes traffic headaches as there just isn't the snow equipment readily available to deal with the situation. I've seen it snow 3 times so far in our 18 months here and each time, it's been over night with the dusting melting before morning rush hour.

But the Beast and Emma were different. It started snowing on Wednesday afternoon, but wasn't sticking - just gorgeous fluffy flakes that melted as soon as they hit the ground. But the warnings were out saying we were in for a few inches, high winds and below freezing temps. So lots were planning to work from home on Thursday to avoid getting stuck.

We came in, of course as we're very used to driving in snow, I had a class to teach and most of Brian's colleagues walk in so he knew the office would be full. And the morning was just fine - cold and windy but no snow yet. It started snowing and sticking around 10am and was really pretty to watch, but you could feel those in the office getting nervous. I was thrilled and enjoyed my walk to another building in the falling snow.

I had a class from 1:00-2:30 and in the middle of it, the University sent an announcement they were closing at 2pm and all day Friday. Really? A snow day? I'd never had one of those before and certainly didn't expect to have one in Bristol! So we packed up class and I headed to Brian's office for the remainder of the day.

A few pics from my walk to the Epic office.

By the time we headed home, there was less than an inch on the roads, but because there wasn't much salt or grit yet and no one has winter tires, the going was pretty slippery. We actually had to turn around on one road as it's a gradual incline and cars weren't able to make it up. Luckily, we had another route that was more flat and made it home without incident.

Our cat, Petra, from UAE couldn't quite figure out what that white stuff was. And she's remained leery of it through the weekend. Her first foray she bounded out and was stuck up to her knees and then realized it was wet, cold and very unpleasant!

The next morning, we had another inch. I had a snow day so was planning on staying put, but Brian wanted to head in so we drove to the train station - no way we would make it all the way to city centre to his office and there did seem to be at least one train running.

We got stuck coming into the train station and got some help from some very nice passersby who pushed us out. Brian headed to the train and my job was to drive home. What a mess! There were only maybe 2 inches of snow, but imagine that with no snowplows, salt or winter tires. Slip sliding away!  In fact, I had to park the car at a nearby convenience store as I couldn't make the slight rise into our cul du sac!

The whole city was shut down - no buses were running at all. Trains were on significantly reduced schedules and many many businesses were closed for the day. Nothing to do but sit on the couch and watch the snow fall.

Brian ended up taking a taxi home as there were no trains running by the end of the day (it has snowed another good inch during the afternoon).

Saturday dawned a bit warmer and clearer so we walked to the grocery store to find bare shelves and long lines. Today, Sunday, is even warmer and it's forecast to rain. The streets are clear again as much of the accumulation has melted and businesses are open again as normal. The snowstorm of 2018 seems to be coming to an end.

(sigh) And now I'll probably have to wait another 20 years to see snow again in Bristol - glad I was around for this one.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Family Visit: Stonehenge & Wells Cathedral

The following day greeted us with some of the best weather you'll find in England. Mild temps, bright sun and a crystal clear blue sky. The day's adventure included Stonehenge and a visit to Wells Cathedral.

Stonehenge was amazing and the photos don't do it justice. The visitor centre provides a few theories about who built the structure and why, but the bottom line is that no one knows for sure. But even with the buses of tourists, you can feel that there's something mysterious and serene about the place.

After a visit to the gift shop - man those visitors can shop - we headed off to Wells. Someone at work had told me it was a pretty little town with a nice Cathedral. Boy, was that an understatement. The cathedral was massive and gorgeous.

We had also wanted to visit the Bishop's gardens, but apparently the Bishop's son was getting married so the gardens were closed to visitors. We walked around the outside instead and saw some lovely views here as well.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Family Visit: Bath

After a well deserved 'lie in' as the Brits would say, we headed off to Bath for a walking tour and some traditional British pub fare.

Bath is a lovely city - full of history and gorgeous buildings. The walking tour we went on was free and provided by the Mayor's office - highly recommended. And after all that walking we stopped for a beer and a pie at a traditional British pub. It should go without saying that we ate too much and as a result, slept all the way back to Bristol with poor Brian left at the wheel.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Family Visit: Whirlwind London

After visiting Windsor, the 'boys' went back to London for the night and we stayed in an Airbnb in Cheswick. It was a bit cheaper and allowed us to stay parked the next day and take the train into London, which of course is an adventure all its own for us Yanks.

London was a whirlwind and something you can not begin to do justice with only one day, but we fortified with a large breakfast and did as much as we could fit in!

We started by waiting way too long for the Big Bus Tour to take us over to Buckingham Palace. We thought the Big Bus would allow us to get from one attraction to the other while learning a bit on the way, but in hindsight, we might have been better off taking the tube or even hailing a taxi. At least we had a nice view while waiting.

The scaffolding was just going up around Big Ben and is planned to last until 2020.

Our first adventure was Buckingham Palace. Alas, no photos, which is a real shame because the palace was amazing. Much more interesting and beautiful than I imagined it would be. And a really well designed audio tour that walks you through the rooms, paintings and exhibits. Definitely worth the price of admission.

After Buckingham, we got back on the Big Bus and headed over to the London Tower. Another great tour with a very theatrical guide. All the guides there actually work at the Tower, a position that is handed down through the family line. A very proud group of men.

And from there, we had a good view of the Tower Bridge so a family photo was in order!

Included with our Big Bus tour was a ferry ride back over the Thames, which was relaxing and gave us all a chance to rest for a bit.

And that took us to our last adventure, the London Eye and it's breathtaking views of London.

We left London to catch the train back to Cheswick to pick up the van and then the drive back to Bristol. A full day and plans to sleep in the next day!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Family Visit: Windsor Castle

Next to arrive, this time in Bristol, were my parents and their friends. After a day of rest (jet lag really stinks!) we headed off to meet my brother and partner at Windsor castle, which is about a 2 hour drive. We rented a huge van, big enough for the 6 of us and headed out.

Windsor is a cute little town. albeit full of tourist shops. And Windsor castle is very pretty and interesting. An audio guide comes with your ticket so you can get a bit of the history of the palace while you walk around.

It was a rainy day, but we were all armed with our brollies!

All the lamp posts had crowns on the top.

We weren't allowed to take any photos inside the palace, which is always so annoying to me. The main exhibit is a huge doll house replica of the palace that was a gift to Queen Elizabeth. It was really amazing.

And of course the palace is well guarded at all times!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Family Visit: Paris - Versailles

Paris has so many sites to see it can be really hard to choose, especially when you only have a few days. Visiting Versailles takes the better part of a day, but is so worth the investment. It's an amazing palace.

This is the chapel of the palace. King Louis didn't spare any expense on this place!

I'm not sure if you can tell from the photo, but this is a series of rooms pretty much identical, but in different colors. They all hold various art objects now, but were receiving rooms and parlors at the time. The wallpaper alone is impressive.

And the famous hall of mirrors. It's so hard to get a photo because the place was mobbed with people. We had buy ahead tickets and still waiting in line outside for over an hour - and we arrived relatively early. Luckily, it was a lovely sunny day and the people watching kept us entertained.

Just a random, boring staircase. 

But the real beauty of Versailles is the gardens and their fountains. A huge expanse with trees, grassy areas, walkways and lots of fountains. Just think of the engineering required at that time to pull all this off.

2017 was unfortunately a dry summer for Paris so they were rationing water, which meant only a few fountains were running and only for a very short period of time. We missed a few, but captured my favorite in the photo below.

This is one of the main and probably most well known of the fountains. Just amazing!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Family Visit: Paris - The Eiffel Tower

Our next adventure was an organized tour of the Eiffel Tower. We met our guide just outside the grounds and were able to skip the lines with our guide who provided information about Paris' most iconic monument. Did you know the Eiffel Tower was originally red? And that the citizen's of Paris hated it because it interrupted the skyline and was red?

View from the top. And we were happy to have the guide and skip the line. The place was packed with people and the lines were really long.

So long in fact that we decided to take the stairs down for the last level. And while down was probably a whole lot easier than up, our legs were shaking by the time we reached the ground.

We had some dinner and then came back so we could get some night shots. Such a beautiful structure - there is just nothing else like it.