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Archive for August, 2010

Family Journey Day Seven – Edinburgh

We decided to take in Edinburgh a couple of days since the Fringe Festival was going on and we didn’t want to spend each day in the car driving.

Our first stop of the day was for tea and scones. You can’t go to the UK and not have tea and scones.

Loopy Lorna’s Tea House was highly rated as one of the best Tea Houses in Edinburgh. It was also listed as quite kid friendly. Both seemed to be true. Located in an awesome neighborhood called Morningside, Loopy Lorna’s hit the spot. I had my tea and scone and Aaron had a full Scottish Breakfast (also a must for traveling to the UK). Elijah ate Cheerios.

However, I must say that after visiting Alice’s Tea Cup in NYC, it is difficult to find a tea house any where that can even compete….I’m afraid I still prefer Alice’s Tea Cup.

After our tea and scones, we took a little walk around the neighborhood of Morningside. I love the fact that there is a butcher, a fruit and veggie store, a cheese store, and many other speciality shops along the main street in Morningside. Since there is no Wal-Mart to compete with, the prices are actually quite reasonable.

One of the specialty shops we found was a cake shop. Here are some of their masterpieces:

This is a cake…..

These are both beautiful cakes as well, but this one takes the prize for the most creative….

…yes, ladies and gentlemen, this too is a cake!

It remains to be true that parking in any city comes with its fair share of risks…

…and we took a risk only to be given this lovely packed parking ticket. As urban dwellers, we should know better!

This is called the Impressionist Pond. Can’t you just envision a Monet painting of this scene?

Impressionist Pond

Another view of the Impressionist Pond.

Here’s our little cutie world traveler. Please disregard the snot crust under his nose. Did I mention that he was sick for pretty much the entire trip?

This is an evergreen that we found so interesting. It is very different that the evergreens that surround us.

Here’s a closer look at it’s perfect branches.

Elijah has a thing with doors right now. We had to tear him away from this building.

We thought this archway with the bushes was so lovely

The rain started to come again, so we headed home for some lunch and an afternoon nap.

This is the view from the house where we stayed. It was really beautiful.

After our naps, we headed back into the city center for a little more sight-seeing and some light shopping. We went by bus this time!

The house where Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone) was born.

This was a lovely old church and graveyard where many famous Scots were buried.

The inside of St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh along the Royal Mile.

This is the entrance to the Tattoo, which is a nightly performance of military style bands that takes place in front of the castle. It is a wildly popular event and you must get your tickets a year in advance! Needless to say, this is as close as we got to the festival.

This is one of the street performers from the Fringe. He was skillfully climbing this pole. It was pretty impressive.

The next few pictures will show you our dinner entertainment.

He’s quite the charmer.

Here’s a view of a street that shoots off the Royal Mile. I need to say once again, I LOVE THIS CITY!

Another day is complete. Our eighth day we head to St. Andrews!!!

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Family Journey Day Six – The Highlands

When we told others we were heading to Scotland, everyone said, “you have to go to the Highlands.” So, we rented a car, learned to drive on the other side of the road, and headed to the Highlands. Of course, since we were traveling with a 2 year old, we decided to keep our driving to a minimum. So, we didn’t get as far in the highlands as we would have liked, but we did see some amazing landscapes.

The other disadvantage that we had on day six was the weather. When traveling to Ireland and Scotland, you anticipate some rain (usually a little each day), but we had been so fortunate with our travels thus far. We had encountered very little rain. However, on day six it rained the entire day. So many of the lovely views were not as lovely as they might have been on a sunny day. Nonetheless, I thought it was fantastic and even a little mystical.

On our way to the Highlands we stopped in Stirling, Scotland. This is where the bloodiest battle was fought against the English led by William Wallace (i.e. Braveheart). This tower was lifted in honor of William Wallace.

This was by far my favorite scenic view. Loch Lubnaig is not as famous as some of the other Lochs and we just happen to pull over to find this. I could have stayed there all day. It was so beautiful even in the rain.

This was another Loch that we stumbled upon on our way to Glencoe.

The next few pictures are from Glencoe. The pictures definitely don’t do the landscape justice. Since it was raining so much, we took many of these from the car, so we had a limited view. Nonetheless, it’s all still quite lovely.

This is the quaint little place where we ate lunch in Glencoe. We had a lovely view of the water and mountains…in the rain of course.

I had a Panini and Elijah ate another granola bar. He basically lived off of granola bars pretty much the whole trip. You can see that he’s flirting with some people over to the side of our table. That was definitely the way he won the hearts of Ireland and Scotland.

That ends our tour of Glencoe. Now we’re moving onto the famous Loch Lomand.

We have more clear pictures of Loch Lomand on day eight, but these are nice as well.

It was raining pretty hard at this point, but decided to just make the best of it and jump in the puddles!

Notice how wet Elijah’s pants legs are. Aaron was not so excited about my jump in the puddle idea!

That’s Loch Lomand.

Seeing that our last name is “Graham,” we decided to do a little research to see what we could find. We just happen to find the castle where the Graham clan lived at one time. It is now called the Buchanan Castle, and it is actually just the remains of a castle located in a residential neighborhood. We’re kind of shocked that we even found it.

Here’s a picture of the car we drove all over Scotland, on the opposite side of the car, on the opposite side of the road. Would you believe that they gave us a Mercedes? We were a little nervous at first…but thankfully we got the hang of it fairly quickly.

That concludes day six and our journey to the Highlands. It was fantastic (and a little wet)!!

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Family Journey Day Five – Edinburgh, Scotland

Our fifth day in the UK we flew from Belfast to Edinburgh, Scotland. When we arrived in Edinburgh I felt like “ahhh.” It just felt good. I fell in love with the city straight away.

After we went to the house where we were staying, and Elijah took a much needed two hour nap, we headed into downtown Edinburgh.

One of our first encounters was with William Wallace.

Well, perhaps not the REAL William Wallace, but a very good stand in!

Here’s one of the amazing views of Edinburgh from the castle on a hill!

Another beautiful view from the castle.

The flag flying over the castle

A stained glass window in honor of William Wallace located in the oldest chapel (and possibly the smallest)  in Scotland, which is on the grounds of the Edinburgh Castle.

The altar of the smallest chapel located on the castle grounds.

Our friends in Belfast, Sara and Mark, told us all about the Fringe Festival. It’s an international festival that takes places in Edinburgh every August. The population of Edinburgh actually triples during the festival. It was actually a really interesting experience. There were street performers all along the Royal Mile and we took in a few of them.

This performer totally freaked me out, but the idea was so cleaver.

We ate dinner at the famous Elephant House, which has a lovely view of the castle.

The food was so-so, but the view was priceless.

Another view from the Elephant House. It’s claim to fame is “the birthplace of Harry Potter.” Apparently J.K. Rowling would come into the Elephant House, gaze out at the castle, and write her famous novels.

See, claim to fame! 🙂

This is the statue of Bobby, the Greyfriars dog. The story goes that Bobby was so faithful to his master that when his master died of pneumonia the dog would not leave his master’s grave. There was a 1961 Disney movie called Greyfriars Bobby, that shared this story of loyalty.

Another view of Bobby.

This is a view of St. Giles cathedral from the Royal Mile. We were standing in a circle of people watching a street performer.

A view of the Royal Mile and all the people watching the street performer.

This is the crazy street performer that we happened upon. He was a bit ridiculous. Obviously he has on a mask of Michael Jackson and he was dancing to one of his songs, while approaching a woman sitting right beside Elijah. Elijah was terrified of the man in the mask. He was crying and visibly disturbed, but the guy kept coming towards the woman beside Elijah. The man actually actually tackled the woman sitting next to Elijah and it took me ten minutes to calm Elijah down. I’ve never seen him so upset.

This is a lovely garden area along Princess St., just at the foot of the castle.

Here’s a view of the castle from Princess St. It’s one of many things that makes Edinburgh magical.

A lovely city.

It’s been a fantastic day, but we’re ready to take the bus home!

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Family Journey Day Four – Northern Coast Ireland

Our fourth day in Northern Ireland we went along the northern coast. It was amazing! There will be less commentary on this post. I’m just going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

This is a castle in a small town along the northern coast. It is actually still functioning as a castle with English aristocracy occupying the grounds.

The view from the front of the castle.

This is the quaint town where the castle was located.

We had to make a pit stop for the restrooms and our friends Sara and Mark knew of a retreat center along the way where we stopped. There just happened to be an awesome playground for Elijah to take part in. He LOVED this slide.

When I sent Elijah down the slide he was sitting on his bum. I had no idea how fast the slide was until…

…I went down the slide myself. The look on my face says it all. It was way faster than I anticipated.

After driving a bit more, we stopped off for lunch at a little pub near the Giant’s Causeway. Elijah is getting all ready for his Toddler GQ photo shoot.

Here he’s trying his “don’t look at the camera” shot. Cutie!!

We set off for a little hike on the Giant’s Causeway. The Ergo came in mighty handy.

Unlike many of our other stops, the Giant’s Causeway is a major tourist attraction. And you’ll see why.

The rocks that surround the area are perfectly shaped like a hexagon. It’s the most bizarre thing. Apparently there was a volcano that erupted a very long time ago and the lava cooled very quickly which created this phenomenon.

There’s also a very cleaver story about why it’s called the Giant’s Causeway. The legend has to do with a giant on the coast of Ireland concerned about a giant on the coast of Scotland. So he built the “causeway” to get rid of the Scottish giant. There are many more details making up the silly story, but I’ll just leave it at that.

Can you believe this is all natural? It’s fascinating.

Our fantastic friends Mark and Sara who toured us all around Northern Ireland and let us invade their house for three days! Thank you both!

There you have it ladies and gents, the Northern Coast of Ireland….it’s simply breathtaking!

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Family Journey Day Three – Belfast

I have to just mention that Elijah was a fantastic traveler. He far exceeded my expectations. Mind you, he was sick with a terrible cold for most of the trip, but he didn’t let it bring him down.

On the third day of our journey we took on Belfast. Aaron, Elijah and I started the day off on our own and then Sara, my friend from social work school, met up with us and gave us a complete tour of the city.

There are murals throughout the city of Belfast. The murals depict the many things that the city is known for (good and bad) and they also try to beautify all the “peace keeping walls” throughout the city.

On our walk from Sara’s house into town, we passed this mural

One of the city’s claims to fame is the building of the R.M.S. Titanic. Over 30,000 men worked for H & W during the building of the Titanic, now H & W only has 300 employees. This is a sign of the times in Belfast.

Here’s a picture of the two cranes that were used to build the Titanic. I’ll share a little more about the Titanic in a minute.

We continued our walk into town. One thing that I loved about our trip was how much walking we did. We also took a lot of public transportation, which seems so much more efficiently run in Ireland and the UK.

One of the most beautiful buildings in Belfast is the main building to The Queens University of Belfast. I find it fascinating that all of the universities in the UK are very affordable for anyone to attend. Each student only has to pay the equivalent of $1,500 for tuition and then pays for room and board.

Here’s another look at the main building. It was very “old world European” looking. I loved it!

The Botanical Gardens is located right beside the university. So we took a little stroll through them (there was a playground on the other side…which was our main goal). Elijah was not too excited to have his picture taken here, but as you can see the gardens were lovely.

After a little while on the playground, we had lunch at a lovely little coffee shop near the university. Since it was such a beautiful day, we decided to eat outside. Elijah’s new thing is making eye contact and smiling at everyone around us. Being in Ireland and Scotland, I was a little apprehensive at how people might receive our family. Transracial adoption is not very common in these countries. However, with Elijah’s outgoing personality, he won over the hearts of almost everyone.

We were in the student union of the university, and Elijah was definitely out to get some attention. 🙂

Sara met up with us and our driving tour of the city began. Just to give a little background, Northern Ireland has had conflict since 1920. In the late 1960’s the fighting rose substantially. The fighting is between the Catholics and the Protestants. There is a lot of detailed history that I won’t go into, but the conflict has very much defined Northern Ireland. The politicians would say the country has reached a peace agreement, and on some levels there is more peace, but the conflict still remains and the city is covered in constant reminders of the conflict.

The city is covered in “peace keeping walls” that divide Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. Unlike Germany where there was a wall that divided the East from the West (until it came down), these walls are throughout the city and divides up neighborhoods in the  most strange ways. For instance, if there is one street with 10 houses where Catholics live, and the surrounding streets have Protestants, there would be a wall built around those 10 Catholic houses. It’s so bizarre.

Here’s a mural marking the territory for a group of Protestants

This is a poll with surveillance cameras on it. The Protestants (British military) have used a lot of high tech equipment to spy on the Catholics (Irish Republican Army). Since the peace agreements there has been a lot less spying, but the ability to do so obviously still remains.

Belfast is such a lovely city that has just been marked with so much turmoil

Here’s a view overlooking East Belfast.

Several of the Catholic IRA volunteers were put in jail during the conflict. Bobby Sands was known as a revolutionary and even got elected to office while he was held as a prisoner. The Catholic IRA volunteers decided to hold a hunger fast in protest of their imprisonment. When Bobby got elected, many thought that the British army would put an end to the hunger fast and let them go. However, Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister at time and she was a tough cookie. She would not release the prisoners and therefore Bobby Sands died of starvation while in prison.

As I mentioned before, the Titanic was built in Belfast and as they like to say, “She was fine when She left here!”

Behind where I’m standing is the place where the ship was built. The pictures don’t quite do the space justice. It is HUGE!

Here’s another view. There is a model of a man at the bottom of the building area, you can see in the picture above. The model is supposed to help give you an idea of the scale of the space.

This wall is holding back the water from entering into building area.

Here’s the water where the Titanic first set sail.

Another interesting Belfast claim to fame, is C.S. Lewis. He was born in Belfast and grew up there as a child until he went off to England for boarding school. Much of his writing was influenced by the landscape and places of Northern Ireland.

Another mural in honor of C.S. Lewis

For dinner that evening we went to a restaurant/pub that C.S. Lewis frequented for a drink with his friends. This is where I had my first Fish and Chips of the trip, and it was pretty tasty.

After dinner we took a stroll through the woods knowing that this….

…was waiting for us on the other side.

The sun was shining bright and it was lovely. There was a massive house sitting on the hillside. What an awesome view to wake up to each morning.

Lovely

On our way back through the woods, we took a different path and found this beautiful waterfall.

We decided it was family photo time. After six tries, we finally got one decent picture. (Thanks Sara!)

This was the end of day three. It was full and fantastic!

It was time to turn in because tomorrow we journey up to the Northern Coast!

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Family Journey Day Two – Dublin part 2

With jetlag obviously heavy on our bodies, we tried our best to get up and out the door early on Wednesday morning. We were out the hotel door by 9:30AM and took off on our 1.5 mile walk into the city centre. We had a couple of things on the agenda before we jumped on the train to Belfast.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral was among the top on the list.

Once again, it was such a beautiful day. There was a lovely park on the grounds of the cathedral, and we Elijah thoroughly enjoyed it.

The flowers were so vibrant and plentiful.

Elijah was so tempted to jump in every fountain we came upon. I was very thankful that he used some restrain. Of course, it did not keep him from examining the fish!

Once again, we were all very thankful to see a playground on the church grounds. Elijah can’t get enough of the swings.

As you can read, this is the site where it was supposed that St. Patrick baptized many locals in the 5th century A.D. You may or may not know that St. Patrick was actually Protestant. This famous cathedral is part of the Church of Ireland which is Anglican.

Here’s another picture of the cathedral grounds.

Since we did this trip on a shoestring budget, we didn’t pay extra to do too many things. However, we decided that St. Patrick’s Cathedral was one we wanted to see on the inside as well.

Here’s the main sanctuary of St. Patrick’s

It was so beautiful and well worth the few Euros we had to pay.

Christ’s Church Cathedral Dublin. This was also on our agenda for the day. We decided it was not worth the Euros to see the inside.

But the outside was quite lovely.

Another lovely church that’s a little less famous.

We made another little pit stop before heading to the train station. The National Museum, which was free!! There was an awesome Celtic Cross display. We were unable to take pictures inside, but this is the outside of the building. I love how little Elijah looks in the midst of this massive courtyard.

We then took the train from Dublin to Belfast. Once again, our planning paid off and Elijah took a nap for most of the train ride.

Elijah was SO good with all the travel and changes. I was pleasantly surprised with how well he did.

A view of Belfast from the home where we were staying. It’s an interesting city, which I’ll share a little more about in my next post.

We ended the evening with some pizza at a trendy local place. Another full and wonderful day complete!

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Family Journey Day One – Dublin, Ireland

As we set off on our journey to Ireland and Scotland, I knew the plane rides with Elijah would be challenging, but I was determined to do everything I could to make the trip go as smoothly as possible. Once I’m finished documenting each day of our journey, I’ll write a post about all the things we did to prepare for our trip, just in case anyone else wants to attempt a similar journey of their own.

When we left DC en route to JFK (in NYC), we began to regret things already. It was supposed to be a 40 minute flight, and we were on the plane for a total of 3 hours…our trip was already getting off on the wrong foot.

However, things began to look up as we went to check in our flight to Dublin and the agent had put our family together (we were not supposed to be sitting together), and we were in the first row just past business class. Which meant we had a lot of floor room in front of us. So, as we set off to fly at 10:40PM on Tuesday evening, Elijah was in his pajamas and settling in for the flight.

This was our starting position. Elijah was out before the plane took off. Whew…stress averted! I thought I was going to have to do the whole transatlantic flight just like this, but….

…thankfully, with ample foot room in front of our seats, Elijah slept on the floor for the entire flight! It was awesome! I even got maybe 20 minutes of sleep on that flight myself.

We arrived in Dublin, without too many hiccups, around 10:30AM local time.

We took the bus from the airport into Dublin’s city centre. Elijah loved sitting like a big boy on the bus looking out.

Our first meal was in the Guinness Pub. It was a traditional Irish meal with meat, potatoes (two kinds), carrots, and cabbage. It was way too much for one person to eat. Elijah ate a granola bar.

After we all took a nap in our hotel room, we headed into the downtown area of Dublin.

My favorite spot in Dublin was St. Stephen’s Green, which is a lovely park in the middle of the city. It was almost magical.

It was such a beautiful day (with rain showers here and there), everyone was out enjoying the sunshine.

Elijah was fascinated with all the pigeons.

Everything in the park was so well manicured. It was simply beautiful.

Elijah’s favorite part of the park was definitely the playground we happened upon. You know you’ve moved to a new stage of life when you get just as excited about finding a playground as you do an old Cathedral. Right after this picture was taken the heavens opened up and rain came pouring down. While we all had on proper rain gear, we still got quite wet! Welcome to Ireland.

We had some dinner at a local burger joint in the Temple Bar area of Dublin. It’s a famous neighborhood for all it’s pubs and nightlife. We got there a little before all the nightlife activities began.

Our first day ended with a beautiful rainbow covering the city. It was such a great first day!

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