Monday, February 24, 2014

Hartshorne, UK

We took the train out of London to Leicester, pronounced Lester, in the East Midlands. We got brave and hired a car. Barb was brave enough to drive while I navigated. We left the car park hoping we could bring the car back in one piece.

21 round-a-bouts later we found the town that would be our base for the next couple of days, Ashby de la Zouch. Like much of Europe the origins of the town are a bit fuzzy, happening over 1000 years ago. Ashby, for short, is almost in the exact center of England. It is one of the areas that was controlled by The Lord Hastings in the 1400's. He built a castle and church in town. The church still stands, the castle, not so much.

The main purpose of the visit to the East Midlands was to check out my family's roots. My great grandfather immigrated from Hartshorne, Derbyshire, UK in April 1873 and homesteaded just south of where Barb & I live today.

We were supposed to stay at one of the pubs in Hartshorne, but the night before we left London I got an email that they had a mixup and they were double booked for our room. While not happy, they did find us a replacement room in Ashby, only about 5 miles (and 2 villages) away.

The first night we drove up to the church in Hartshorne, St. Peter's, where my family was baptized, married and buried. We walked around the churchyard, which is almost entirely covered in gravestones, and had almost given up hope when the last stone we looked at as the sun went down was my great great grandmother's, Sarah Pickering.

The next morning we also found the gravestone of her mother Elizabeth Evans.

We went to a historical society in the neighboring town of Swadlincote called The Magic Attic the first night. There were a number of very helpful volunteers working. They looked on one of their databases and discovered that my great grandfather's obituary had been published in the Derby Mercury on November 30, 1893.

We had a great time in Hartshorne and Ashby. It was great to get out into the country away from the big city atmophere of London. We were asked several times "Why did you come here?" They didn't understand why anyone would leave the city to come to a rural area. Little did they know that I live in a much more rural ara and felt happy out there.

Then we had to get back to our car rental agency in Leicester. Luckily the app I downloaded so I could have a map while offline recorded our trip out of Leicester, so"all" I had to do was keep Barb on the little blue line. 

Short story is we made it back and will happily let others drive from now on. We even managed to do this with a minimum of screaming at each other, other than "Watch out for the car from the right" and "Not this left, take the 4th (or 5th) left". Round-a-bout are nuts and even the Brits hate them. 

After a week of loving England we headed off to Germany, Barb's home country and where Cicely is studying for this year. Now she is the tour guide and I am merely along to enjoy.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

England 2014

We are in Jolly Old England for a week on holiday. We are having a wonderful time. Below are some of my first impressions and memories.

First misconception is the language. The British speak English, Americans speak American. The words look the same. They may even be pronounced the same, but the meaning may be entirely different. Here there are prams, not baby carriages, highways are carriageways, trunks are boots, hoods are bonnets, gas is petrol, trucks are lorries, subways are tube or Underground, first floor is actually second floor (it goes ground, first, second), etc.  Right off I learned not to look for red Exit signs, instead look for green Way Out signs. And "Mind the Gap" meant watch your step.

The British are even more confused about the metric system than we are. They buy their beer in pints, but their petrol in litres. They measure small things in centimeters, but roads in yards and miles. I don't know about weights, but lorries are weighed in tons, but how much is a ton?

London is a huge town full of people. It is very old and the streets and layout of the town reflect that. You need to remember that when England was settled you walked from village to village. Therefore the towns were close, 1-2 miles between villages. It didn't matter which direction the paths went so you just went straight. There was no planning commission making sure everything would work out in neat straight lines and square blocks.

Fast forward to today and those paths are now streets. The villages have all grown together into one huge metropolis. Streets meander here and there. Every passage is named, even if it is only an alleyway because there will be flats (apartments) located off of it. Streets start and stop for no apparent reason. Building numbers start at 1 and go up the street, Even on one side and odd the other. It doesn't matter that 50 is across the street from 71 or 131.

London is used to visitors from other countries that drive on the other side of the street. Every intersection has the words "Look Right" or "Look Left" painted on the street to remind us where the traffic is coming from, quickly. We have learned to wait for the "Green Man" signal to cross streets, even though many natives cross when they feel like it. London did install many map posts around the business districts for the 2012 Olympics for all the visitors. They are great.

The people of England are very polite. They treat everybody as if they were Royal guests. My goal is to bring some of this niceness back to the States. Even the buses are polite. We saw one bus being towed with the sign "I'm sorry, I'm out of order."

If you are looking for a water fountain to get a drink, just forget about it. Haven't seen one yet. Restrooms are toilets but you go to the loo, not the toilet. Expect toilets to be either upstairs or downstairs, and rather steep stairs at that. Same with kitchens at pubs, never on the same floor as the eating area.

The food has been fantastic. Different than the States, but you need to expect that when traveling. After all why travel if everything stays the same. We have enjoyed the traditional English breakfast of sausage, bacon (ham), eggs (scambled or poached), mushrooms, toast, croissant, orange juice, coffee or tea, and baked beans. Yes baked beans. They are a breakfast item. No idea when and how that started and who was first, Americans with hot dogs or British with breakfast.

Cicely has discovered a rule of affordable restaurants. If the glasses are already on tables covered with linen, we don't need to look at a menu, above our price range. Pubs are more our style. The general rules for pubs are 1. Find your own table, 2. The menus are on the table, 3. Go to the bar, order and pay for your food giving your table number, 4. Enjoy your beer, 5. Repeat.

If you require Bud Light or Coors Lite, forget it. I have seen Budweiser listed at one pub, but never Lite beer. Here you get ales, stouts, ciders or bitters. I've discovered I'm an ale or stout kind of guy. Bitters and ciders no. 

Note about the food. Chips are french fries (actually makes as much sense), a crisp is a potato chip, a biscuit is a cookie. You put mayo on your fries or you may use ketchup. HP sauce is for everything.

Our credit cards are mostly out of date in Europe. We still use swipe cards and the Europeans now use chip cards. Hasn't been a problem, except ours don't work in the automated machines. I have learned to let cashiers know right off that it is a swipe card. The really sharp ones assume they will be swipe once they hear our accent.

And the accent. I love listening to some of the barmaids talk. I wish I had recorded some of them talking to each other. I had a hard time not laughing at them and the terms they used with each other. The British think all Americans sound the same, just like I think all British sound similar. 

They don't understand where Nebraska is, but that's OK, I don't understand where all their counties are either. I just tell them I'm frrom the middle of the States and they nod OK. They are shocked when I tell them how few people live in our area and that Lexington at 10,000 people is a larger town in Nebraska.

Next post will be about our trip to the East Midlands where one branch of my family originated from.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


I have a confession to make: I am a sports junkie! 

I love to watch sports, of all kinds. Football and basketball, of course, but I've been known to spend an hour watching rugby, lacrosse and cricket trying to figure out their rules.

Every two years I get a 2-week fix called the Olympics. I love watching all the sports involved. I admire the athletes who are in the best shape of their lives competing against the the world's best in their sport.

I am not, nor have I ever been, an athlete myself. In high school I could barely walk and chew gum at the same time. But raising two daughters who were athletes gave me an appreciation of the hard work and dedication it takes to be great.

Right now the 2014 Winter Olympics are being held in Sochi, Russia. There are numerous problems and lots of issues swirling around these Olympics, but this is not what I care about. I love the sports and athletes we get to watch compete.

I am amazed how these Olympians make what I would consider impossible look easy. Cross-country skiing for 10 kilometers and then shooting a rifle at 1" targets. How the heck do they hold the gun steady? And the Gold medal went to a 40-year old man? Wow.

The new event called slopestyle skiing is amazing, not only the acrobatics, but the athletes themselves. They are obviously free-spirited indivuals, but they have an attitude that we all need to admire and emulate.

During the finals, one of the women had a horrible crash that broke her helmit. The look of horror on the faces of her competitors showed they were also friends as well. When she was finally able to ski to the bottom they were there to welcome her with hugs.

As each skiier came down with higher and higher scores, the new leader was congratulated by her competitors with high fives and hugs, led by the girl who used to be the leader and now was off the podium.

They recognized talent and great accomplishments, irregardless of their country of origin. This is the true spirit of sport, in my opinion. Do the best you possibly can, trying to beat your opposition. But when the competition is over, recognize and reward those who had a better day than you.