28 June 2012

24 Hours in Belfast

So it's my birthday today. I didn't really do jack shit for my birthday except go shopping and make myself a birthday cake. I also listened to my 1 year old throw the mother of all tantrums in Mothercare because he wanted to take every single toy off the shelf in random toddler fashion and I wanted him to sit still in his stroller while he told me how pretty I am (it's my birthday after all). Lest you think I am the most pathetic birthday celebrator ever, my husband did give me a birthday trip to Belfast. A 24 hour trip to Belfast no less, which we arrived back from yesterday.

Belfast all came about as I, as always, wanted to go somewhere for my birthday. My first thought was Dublin. We needed somewhere that was both incredibly cheap and incredibly quick to get to from Liverpool and at 50 pounds round trip and a half hour long flight, Dublin fit the bill. It was looking at accommodations in Dublin that made me change my mind. Basically, if we didn't mind staying in a hostel with 4 other people in our room, we could have afforded to stay in Dublin. But since I'm neither 25 nor have a problem with noise when I try to sleep, Dublin was right out. Belfast hit our radar because it was still cheap to fly to, quick to get to, and neither Andy or I have ever been there. Not to mention, we have a couple friends from Belfast (who now currently live in CA) so it was easy to get suggestions on what to do and see when we were there.

Now, when you only have 24 hours in a place, you really have to prioritize what it is you all want to do. The most important thing, I feel, was seeing as many pubs as we could.

We went purely on recommendations when choosing our pubs. OK, there were some exceptions – like the hotel bar in the Premier Inn because I had an emergency toilet situation – and the rum bar because I liked the pirate on their sign - but otherwise, it was all places our friends told us to go. Some were good, some weren't, some were fantastic. I think hands down Kelly's Cellars was the favorite as noted that it was the first pub we went to and also the last. A note to Bernadette, the lovely young lady who was having her 2nd date with Stuart a whole year after having the first, hope it worked out for you – Stuart was pretty fit.

You'll like it here.

Worth going just for the architecture.

I may have stolen a Bushmills jug from here.  Maybe.

So many pubs, so little time.

In whiskey we trust.

That does bring up a thing about Belfast, the people there are super friendly. From the bus drivers to the bar patrons to the guy who sold me a bottle of water from Spur, everyone seemed really open to talking to strangers and get this, they even told us their names. Fuck, it was so nice to introduce myself, I think I seriously had forgotten how to do it at first.

Now, don't get me wrong, we did a few other things besides drink. We saw City Hall for example and we saw the Big Fish. I personally loved the Big Fish as it's becoming increasingly clear to me that I like seemingly pointless statues of over-sized animals...and poultry...and fish. Anyhow, I liked the Big Fish so much I gave it tongue.

City Hall

Yes, I know where that fish has been and I don't care.

The next morning was a bit brutal as far as the head situation went. Our flight was leaving at 2 PM so I wanted to cram some Belfast history in, if I could manage to open my burning eyeballs enough to do so. On yet another recommendation, we decided to do the Black Taxi Tour of Belfast. For 30 quid, a very knowledgeable taxi driver will take you around to the sights and give you a bit of history about The Troubles. While I thought the tour was fantastic and pretty neutral in regards to Catholic vs. Protestant, it was a lot to get your head around. Overwhelming, I believe is the word. Sad, is another. I'm posting some pictures from the tour very unbiasedly, as I do not support one side or another. I think what is amazing is the people of Belfast who live under these murals every day.

Andy and our tour guide.

So that was our 24 hours in Belfast. It went too quickly and there was so much more to see so I hope I can back one day. If nothing else, I really need to find out what happened with Bernadette and Stuart...and give more tongue to that lovely Big Fish.

 "Secret Lovers!  That's what we are!"

14 June 2012

Everything else that wasn't cheese rolling

So now that its been over a week since the Jubilee Weekend and no one gives a shit about it anymore, I think I shall talk about it. Your welcome. Actually, I'm not going to say much about the Jubilee itself, there isn't much to say. Queen sits on throne for 60 years, the people of Great Britain go ape shit over wearing Union Jack garb and attending crowded parades, flotillas, concerts and street parties where they serve little sandwiches with the crusts cut off. The End. What's really important is that we all got two days off of work (including me, since we dropped the kid off at his nan's those two days). That's cause for celebration right there.

Now, Andy and mine's original plan for our two wonderful days off was to head down to Stonehenge, then double back and go to Gloucester for the cheese rolling. Well, the original ORIGINAL plan was to take the entire week off and hit Cornwall and the Isle of Wight as well but our finances just didn't allow it. Obviously cheese rolling was a must and I've been wanting to see Stonehenge since we moved here so we cut it down to just that. However, on the day we left, neither of us had gotten much sleep (thanks Henry) and the drive down south was painful to say the least. I personally gave myself a panic attack by drinking caffeinated coffee to wake me up, then irritated the crap out of Andy by changing the radio stations every 10 seconds. In an effort to take my mind off of not freaking the fuck out, I started looking up the parking situation at Stonehenge on my smart phone. It was then that I ran into this very helpful article. After reading it and realizing that we had over 3 hours to go until we were able to look at some old rocks, I decided to change the plan. For clarification, I still do want to see Stonehenge one day, I just think that it's something to see if you happen to be passing through to somewhere else, that's all.

I may never see you...please open a pub near these particular stones and I may make the effort.

With the Stonehenge plans scrapped, we started looking at other places that we could go to before we went to Gloucester. And when I say 'we', but I really mean 'I'. It was when I was looking at the map that I decided that we would go to Cardiff. Being a big fan of 'Dr. Who', especially during the Eccleston/Tennant years, and consequentially 'Torchwood' to a lesser degree, I was really excited to see Cardiff.

I would be a damn liar if I told you I didn't squeal like a little girl the first time we drove past the main site in Cardiff.

Like all things television vs. reality, there was a bit of a disappointment seeing it all up close and NOT having the Doctor, Rose, Captain Jack and the like running around chasing aliens (or even impersonators, I would have accepted impersonators!) but that is sadly television vs. reality. It was still cool to see and we even found the entrance to Torchwood – both of them actually.

Television vs. Reality:







 REALITY (with Lady Boys)

What really was the highlight though was that we met Iggle Piggle. From here on end, we can torture our child and say that Andy is Iggle Piggle's best friend and here is the proof.


After having a pint, a walk around, a chat with Iggle Piggle and lunch, we finally headed out to Gloucester. I would like to state for the record that unless you plan to go to the cheese rolling (which I have already stated that you most definitely should) or if you are a big Beatrix Potter buff (and I mean, a seriously addict for all things Peter Rabbit) there is no logical reason to ever vacation in Gloucester. After being there for two days, I honestly started to wonder why we didn't stay in Cardiff and just jot over to Gloucester for the cheese rolling. Poor planning on my part I think. Gloucester is nice, but it's no different from any other medium sized village in the rest of England. There isn't much to see there on the way of attractions (cheese rolling aside). I think for my Wisconsin peeps, it's the equivalent of deciding to stay in Waukesha for two days...just because.

Beatrix Potter Fans, I've just saved you a trip.

That said, we did happen to have the best pub food I've ever eaten in England thus far. I don't know if Gloucester in general has really great pub food or if we just got really fucking lucky, but the food was excellent. If you go to Gloucester (for the cheese rolling) make sure to stop at the Fountain Inn and Cafe Rene for food. Both are located down little cobblestone alleys but have plenty of signage out front so they aren't hard to find.

So what else did we do in Gloucester besides the cheese rolling? Why drink and make asses of ourselves of course.

 I believe that drink was called 'Sex on the Docks'

Help!  I'm stuck in a phone booth on Jubilee Weekend!

Or maybe you can go to Gloucester just to hang out here.

05 June 2012

How I Got Twatted on Cooper's Hill

So I'm going to write about our Jubilee weekend break in full when I have more time. However, I really felt that this part needed to out there in the world as soon as humanly possible. (Please note that my laptop died this past week and I'm just in the process of rebuilding it - thus, I do not have Word installed yet to correct all my spelling mistakes - sorry!)

Before Andy and I decided to make the big jump across the pond, we had spent an evening trolling the internet for unusual festivals and events that go on in England. I have to give England credit where credit is due, they had more crazy things going on than one girl could hope to dream. The one event that had stuck out in our heads though was the Gloucester Cheese Rolling on Cooper's Hill. Once we finally moved here, it was always on our minds that we would someday go see it. Opportunity was at hand this year so we went.

The cheese rolling happens once a year in Gloucester on the late spring bank holiday. The whole premise is that they take a wheel of cheese and roll it down a very steep hill. People chase the cheese down the very steep hill and who ever gets to the bottom first (whether still on their feet or not) wins the cheese. It's typically not an "organized event", meaning that no one is paying for this to happen. People just order some wheels of cheese and show up on the hill on the day to chase it. If I had wanted to chase after the cheese, I could have. I didn't have to sign up or clear a waiver or go through training. I could have just plopped my ass on top of that hill and went for it. I had actually toyed with the idea of doing the actual cheese chasing but once I saw that hill up close and personal, no fucking way.

The hill in all it's glory.

The event started at 12 noon. If you ever decide to go, and I can't stress enough to you how much you NEED to go, head over there early. There are only 5 races and the whole thing is over in an hour. Parking is a pain (even if you go early) and you'll have to park on the side of the road and walk. Obviously since Cooper's Hill is in fact A HILL, you will have to pretend you didn't have those 3 double vodkas the night before as you hoof it up to the top. Also good to know is that since it's an unorganized event, there are no beer tents or more importantly, no toilets. It's a hill. That's it. Pee before you leave and don't drink a damn thing the entire time (unless you don't mind peeing in the woods, which to clarify, I don't, as long as I've drunk enough).

The start of the long walk up to the hill.

If you get there early (and you should), you can get a pretty good seat along the side. Mind, the hill is steep and there are brambles. Basically, it's not going to be comfortable but if you compare sitting your ass on a bramble compared to falling ass over tit down the hill after some cheese, you've actually got it made. Maybe.

Here we are 25 minutes before the start of the cheese rolling:

But come on, what you really want to see is yours truly getting twatted by a wayward cheese roller - which is exactly what happened:

Well, I think that's what happened because all I really know is that I was happily filming the very first race of the day ... and then I wasn't. What makes this event so cool is that when I finally stopped rolling down the very muddy slope of the hill (I took Andy down with me by the way) is that the cheese roller that ran into the spectators actually stopped and took the time to ask if I was alright. Once I finally got to my feet again, I happily showed the above video to everyone around me and we all had a good laugh. It was that sort of event.

There will be at least one "Ooof!" person in each of these photos.

Usually there is more than one "ooof!"

I don't know why this particular "ooof!" makes me laugh so hard, but it does.

We watched one more race from that location - in which I kept a very stern eye out for cheese rollers coming my way - then went to the bottom of the hill to access our injuries (I won!) and to stop Andy's legs from cramping. I have a pouty face in this picture but it was one of those happy war wounds - a bit like the ones I used to get playing hurling.

It seriously hurts worse than it looks, I promise.

So yes, cheese rolling. One of those things that really should be on everyone's bucket list.