Photoblog: Cardiff

After the Scottish Highlands tour, our next stop was Cardiff, Wales. This meant a long train ride.

If we caught the 6:07am train out of Edinburgh, the ride was six hours long with only one change of trains. Otherwise, the trip would be much longer, with several changes.

We got our tails out of bed in time to catch the 6:07am.

We headed due west to the coast of England. In Crewe, we were to change trains for Cardiff.

As we were approaching the station in Crewe, we knew our exchange was going to be close. We asked the conductor when the train to Cardiff was leaving. He looked it up and said it was leaving in six minutes.

On a different platform.

And, we had luggage.

And, we weren’t at the station yet.

If we missed the train, it meant a wait and probably several more train changes.

So, we had to either go up the stairs with the luggage or find the lift (a Limey elevator) and get to the other train in very little time.

To be honest, it’s all a blur and I don’t remember which we did, but we made the train. Completely out of breath, we squeezed onto the very full train. The ride into Cardiff was crowded, but uneventful.

The scenery around Cardiff wasn’t as nice as other parts of the United Kingdom. In fact, the term that comes to mind is “urban decay”.

We got off the train and caught a cab to our hotel, the Hilton Cardiff. It was in a much nicer area than the train station, and was literally across the street from Cardiff Castle.

We dropped our bags at the hotel, grabbed some food that took way too long, and headed over to the castle.

The Welsh start their partying early. By 3pm, several of the pubs in the area where packed to over-flowing.

As a boy growing up, you have a certain image of what a castle should look like. This is largely based upon the Arthurian tales.

Cardiff Castle matched this image perfectly.

It was essentially a high wall, with a large open area, and a Norman keep built on top of a man-made hill. You could practically see the jousting and games as you walked through the open area.

After several hours exploring the castle (and the area around it), we went back to our hotel to check into our room and clean up. At about 7:30pm, we went out looking for dinner.

We were surprised at how everything seemed to be shutting down. It wasn’t exactly late.

Little did we know that it was just a shift change for the partiers. The early drinkers were going home, but the second wave was coming out.

All the shops closed down, and the bars/pubs really got going.

We decided that Cardiff is the Bourbon Street of Wales. The big thing seemed to be bachelor and bachelorette parties.

In costumes.

With themes.

Of all sorts.

There was a bachelorette party dressed as World War II soldiers, and a bachelor party in pink tutus.

We found dinner then walked around for hours. It was a huge party area, probably ten blocks by ten blocks or so.

We liked how open everything was. You weren’t jammed together unless you went into one of the popular pubs. Otherwise, you could walk around and never be bumped into (unlike most such party areas).

The highlight of the night was probably the Welsh polka, Johnny Cash cover band. That was some good stuff.

We actually stayed out until nearly midnight. Considering we’d been up since about 4:30am, that was pretty impressive.

The next morning, we went down to Cardiff Bay. We’d been on an island for over a week and hadn’t seen salt water close up (only from a distance on the train).

Then, we took the train back to London, and got ready for the long flight back to Texas.

Tech Notes: All images shot on my Nikon D200 with either a Sigma 24-70 or a Sigma 15-30 lens. Images were processed in Photoshop Elements.

Photoblog: Scottish Highlands

After we explored Stirling Castle, it was back in the tour bus for the ride into the Scottish Highlands. Again, our tour guide did a great job telling stories the entire trip.

Our first stop was Doune Castle, which gained fame as the shooting location for several scenes in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I actually would have liked to have explored the place, but it was really just a potty break.

We stopped at a number of lochs whose names escape me, unfortunately. We had lunch at a small town at the foot of Ben Lomond, with the famous loch on the other side.

Then, we drove around Ben Lomond, passing countless more lochs on the way. We spent an hour or so at a quiet spot on Loch Lomond. It was peaceful and relaxing after a day cooped up in a bus.

I think my favorite stop may have been Loch Katrine. Our tour guide pulled out his bagpipes, sat down by the loch, and played. It was amazing.

Our last stop was Lake Menteith, supposedly the only lake in Scotland. According to our tour guide, it was the clan home of Sir John Menteith of Ruskie, who betrayed William Wallace (it was not Robert the Bruce, no matter what Braveheart said).

After the betrayal, they changed it from the Celtic word “Loch”, to the English word “Lake”, because he didn’t deserve to be known as a Scot any longer.

Tech Notes: All images shot on my Nikon D200 with either a Sigma 24-70 or a Sigma 15-30 lens. Images were processed in Photoshop Elements.

Photoblog: Stirling Castle

For our second day in Scotland, we did the Loch Lomand and Stirling Castle tour from Rabbie’s Tours. Our first stop on the tour was Stirling Castle.

The is the castle that overlooks the battleground of the famous Battle of Stirling Bridge from Braveheart. Of course, reality was nothing like Braveheart, but that’s a story for another time.

Of all the castles we visited on our UK Holiday (and I think there were six total), this had the most picturesque views. Looking down from the castle was amazing from every direction.

The look back up at Stirling Castle wasn’t bad either, but I’d give the nod on that to Edinburgh Castle by just a hair.

They were also the most laid back about photography, allowing indoor photography from just about everywhere. In general, the Scots were much more relaxed about this than the English. What a surprise.

I’ll post more about Loch Lomand and the Highlands tour in general in the next day or so.

Tech Notes: All images shot on my Nikon D200 with either a Sigma 24-70 or a Sigma 15-30 lens. Images were processed in Photoshop Elements.

Photoblog: Edinburgh

After our road trip around County Durham, we jumped back on the train and headed up to Scotland.

Our first destination was Edinburgh.

We dropped our bags off at the hotel, and then walked up to Edinburgh Castle. We walked around the back side, toured the castle (after standing in the longest line of the entire trip), and then walked back down the front side of the castle (through the touristy section of town).

It’s imposing, to say the least. Given the steep cliffs on three sides, I don’t really understand how it changed hands so often.

We stayed at the Rutland Hotel, a boutique hotel with amazing views of Edinburgh Castle. The last couple of nighttime shots of the castle are from our room.

Tech Notes: All images shot on my Nikon D200 with either a Sigma 24-70 or a Sigma 15-30 lens. Images were processed in Photoshop Elements.

Photoblog: Raby Castle

Our second day in Durham, we rented a car so we could get around. The top priority of the day was to visit Sockburn, but we weren’t going to be able to access that property until the afternoon.

So, in the morning, we headed to Raby Castle.

Raby Castle was built in the 12th century by the powerful Neville family. Joan Beaufort married Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, and Joan is my half 3rd cousin, 21 times removed.

That makes the Neville (other than Joan’s kids), well, no blood relation to me at all, but they’re some sort of cousin-in-law or something.

The Nevilles held Raby Castle until the Rising of the North. They led the rebellion supporting Mary, Queen of Scots, and were stripped of titles and land when Elizabeth I put the rebellion down.

First of all, let me say something about driving in England… Driving on the right side of the road wasn’t hard. We all drive on one-way streets, so it’s not that big a deal.

What was tough was tracking through the lane properly. More than 25 years of driving was screaming at me that I should have the left edge of the lane just over my left shoulder. I kept drifting that way.

The Wife was sure I was going to take the mirror off the car. And, as she was sitting on the left side, she had a good view!

We got the full insurance, but there was a 100 pound deductible. I seriously thought about offering them 80 pounds, in exchange for paying the deductible up front.

In any case, I never hit anything. But I did come close.

The roundabouts are everywhere. We had a GPS, so it told us when we were coming up on them. But they don’t all look like roundabouts. Once, I was through the roundabout before I even knew we were there.

Another time, I missed my turn out of the roundabout. I was supposed to take the third exit, but never even saw the first two.

Some of the country roads are quite narrow, but we were fortunate in that we never came across anyone going the opposite direction when it was that narrow.

So, we made it to Raby Castle, intact, but with slightly elevated blood pressure. We were a bit worried, as the last three castles we had gone to had been closed to visitors.

Fortunately, our luck had turned and the castle was open.

The grounds were immaculate, with perfectly manicured lawns and gardens. There were herds of semi-domesticated deer all over the place.

The inside was just as amazing, although photography was not allowed. There was one disturbing rug, however. It was made from a cocker spaniel, that I can only assume was once a family pet.

Tech Notes: All images shot on my Nikon D200 with either a Sigma 24-70 or a Sigma 15-30 lens. Images were processed in Photoshop Elements.

Photoblog: Durham, England

Our third morning in the United Kingdom, we took the train from London Kings Cross Station to Durham, England.

This is where the extra we spent for the first class BritRail Pass paid off. The standard class cars were packed and seemed to be standing room only, while the first class had plenty of room.

And free coffee. Delivered to my big, comfy seat.

I’m referring to my chair. My posterior is neither big nor comfy. And I rarely have coffee delivered to it.

In any case, as we pulled into the Durham train station, the center piece of the town came into site: Durham Cathedral.

Durham Cathedral is considered by most to be the finest example of Norman architecture in the entire British Isles. The Durham Cathedral tower is visible from most anywhere in town.

As you walk up to the Cathedral, the site is impressive. Durham Cathedral is dark and imposing, made of very solid looking stone.

But when you go inside, and walk around the first column so you can see the nave, it takes your breath away. The vaulted ceiling soars more than seventy feet over the floor.

Apparently, there are 325 steps to the top of the tower, and the view is amazing. It was closed when we went, so I didn’t have to decide whether I wanted to climb it.

We visited the Treasures of St. Cuthbert exhibit, primarily to see the Conyers Falchion. This is a sword that was carried by Sir John Conyers, my 27th Great Grandfather.

Legend has it that he used this sword to kill the Sockburn Worm, a dragon that was terrorizing the township of Sockburn, south of Durham. The Conyers Falchion is used to this day in a ceremony to welcome any new Bishop of Durham to County Durham.

Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in the Treasures of St. Cuthbert, so I was not able to get any pictures.

The Cloisters of Durham Cathedral was used to represent parts of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies.

Durham Castle was closed for tours when we were there. This was the third castle that had been closed to us. We were starting to worry that it was becoming a trend.

Tech Notes: All images shot on my Nikon D200 with either a Sigma 24-70 or a Sigma 15-30 lens. Images were processed in Photoshop Elements.

Photoblog: London

Today we’re jumping backwards in our trip. Our first stop on our United Kingdom tour was actually London. We spent two days there before heading up the east coast in a train.

It’s amazing how much you can see in two days with an unlimited London Underground pass.

We went to Kensington Palace, but it was mostly closed due to renovations being made for the impending move-in of Prince William and his bride. There was some kiddie tour (find the seven princesses or something), but we skipped that.

Next, we headed over to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard. We were running a bit late, so knew we wouldn’t have the best view of the proceedings.

Little did we know how crowded it would be. There must have been five to ten thousand people there. Apparently, interest has shot up since the royal wedding.

The only pictures I could get were by holding the camera up and shooting randomly, and as we walked by the gates (where people weren’t allowed to stand still).

For me, the highlight of the London portion of the trip was the Tower of London. I do believe we walked ever foot of the place, including a couple of very claustrophobic staircases.

We checked out the London Bridge and the London Eye from a distance, then walked around Big Ben, Parliment, and Westminster Abbey.

And we only really got rained on once (as we came out of the Tower of London)!

Tech Notes: All images shot on my Nikon D200 with either a Sigma 24-70 or a Sigma 15-30 lens. Images were processed in Photoshop Elements.