Tuesday, 20 July 2010

July 13, 2010 Happy Birthday Gary!

Hello all! I am home alone again. Joe went out of town, only until tomorrow though. And he wonders why I want a dog! I am so torn on the issue because last week when he had to go to Bristol (about 2 hours away, close to Wales) I decided to go at the last minute and was able to shop at a nice mall that was near our hotel. I know if we had a pet that our spontaneity would be seriously affected. The RSPCA never did call. My application took longer because they had to write me and ask for email addresses for references since I didn't have any here. Maybe they use the volunteers as they need them and I am just lower on the list. I don't know. It was going to be a stretch for me to get there (3 miles each way) anyway.

Today is Gary's birthday. He is 27 years old. I can hardly believe it! Thursday is mine! Joe is taking me to London for a few days. Last time he was there for work he ended up going out with a few guys to an Irish pub where they had a couple of guys that sang and played Irish music all night. Apparently they are there every Thursday night so he made plans for us to go and hear them for my birthday. He says I will love it. I'm sure I will. I can't wait to go to Ireland for the REAL thing! We may be doing that sometime in August.

I doubt if any of you follow soccer, but Spain beat The Netherlands for the World Cup. I was rooting for Netherlands but Spain played a better game (and faked more fouls). Never thought I'd be watching soccer. There are just not that many sports here. Forget cricket! Boring! We can't figure that dang game out. Rugby is pretty exciting, but of course we don't know the rules. That's pretty much it! Oh yeah, Wimbledon was going on, we didn't pay any attention to that either.

Poor Melanie has really had to work at our house down at Lake Anna. She loves going down there in the summer so she started out this spring going down and taking care of the lawn for us. It didn't take long before the yard was getting overrun with weeds. We have a gravel driveway and it was apparently covered with weeds too. It got to be where she was spending 3-4 hours working in the yard while she was there. So we told her to go ahead and hire someone. She did a great job, interviewing a few and chose a retired gentleman who says he just takes a few jobs on to "keep himself out of trouble". He was reasonable and has done a fantastic job according to Melanie.

So Melanie has been going down and enjoying her time without having to work outside and the next thing she knows a mouse has come into the house. Now I don't know if you all know that I have a mouse phobia. I absolutely HATE them and so does Melanie. She was there for a whole weekend setting a million traps and hiding on the couch with her little dog before her friends showed up to help her. They laughed because she had all the traps set wrong and had put SO much peanut butter on the traps that it could have fed a colony. Once her friends got there and re-set them all they apparently still didn't catch any for a couple of days. I was so mad and told her that she probably got the mice all full and now they weren't hungry enough to go for the traps. But alas, the last night they caught it!! Of course Melanie and I were hoping there was only one. She cleaned out every cupboard and drawer that she saw mouse turds (GROSS)!

The next weekend she goes down she sees more mouse turds. She had friends down again but there was no mice to be caught. But she is sure that there were fresh turds. So we called and made an appointment with an exterminator and she had to go down again to meet him. He actually recommended that we not hire him yet. Wait and see if it gets worse. He told her he would basically do what she is doing. Traps. He can also go into our crawl space under the house (where he says they are getting in) and fill any holes with steel wool. At a cost of $100/hour. I think we can do that ourselves. So she has traps all over and poison under the house. He also told her to set the traps with gloves on so the mice don't smell her scent. Never thought of that! She is definitely the best Mousebuster in the world by now. We are so fortunate to have her down there taking care of things for us.

I almost forgot. She had to re-seal the toilets for us too! She was down there and noticed water leaking under one of them so went out and got the seals and re-did both the toilets. I was so impressed. She loves doing work like that and was glad to do it as she hadn't done it before and now she knows how! I should just put her on the payroll. Now you see why the boys called her when they couldn't get their washer working.

July 19, 2010

This blog has just gotten put on the back burner for some reason. We had a great time in London and going to the Irish pub. I thoroughly enjoyed the music and the company we had. There were two Irish girls in our group (the people Joe had met previously) and they joined in on a couple of songs. The guys who worked for Joe at Aireco got him a Flip video camera before we left home, so I brought that along. It is such a great little camera. So easy to use and as small as a cell phone. The videos were dark as we knew they would be because the place was pretty dark and crowded. We were so excited to get home and watch them. They downloaded fine to our laptops but we found one snag when trying to email them and put them on here. When Joe registered the Flip camera he was using his old computer which has since died. So he needs to re-register on his new computer. You need their site to be able to send the videos out. He sent their tech department an email and is waiting to hear back from them. So if I don't get the video on this blog, I will share it later.

The Horse and Groom Pub - FUN!

Our hotel was right across the street from Windsor Castle. Joe told me that, but it just didn't register somehow. That castle is monstrous! I couldn't even get a good picture of it because of it's huge size. When you are on the street looking up it is just a huge stone wall for blocks and blocks! You couldn't get far enough away to get a picture of it all. It's by far the biggest castle I have seen yet. We went and toured it Saturday. We watched the changing of the guards (and videoed it) and went through the state apartments. It was really neat knowing that the Queen still spends most weekends (when she isn't traveling) there and considers it her home. When she is in residence they fly the Royal Standard flag (rather than the Union flag) from the tall round tower.

The Changing of the Guard

Bear with me for a little history. Windsor Castle is the largest and the oldest occupied castle in the world. William the Conqueror (again!) founded the castle in the 11th century. It was originally built to secure the western approach to London. But easy access to the capital and the close proximity to a royal hunting forest made it ideal as a royal residence. King Henry I had domestic quarters within the castle as early as 1110. Much building and changes have been made over the years but the original 'footprint' of the castle has remained the same since around 1070 when work began. The castle occupies 26 acres.

Just a couple of sections of the castle taken from the street.

Inside castle walls, not open to public.

One section of courtyard open to public.

Check out those cannons pointing out through the walls!

Taken inside castle walls. These were openings for guards to shoot enemies with arrows. Openings up and down so that they could aim low and high and slot in middle to aim side to side.

Unfortunately there are no pictures allowed inside the castle so I have taken some out of my souvenir book of various rooms for you to see. They have a glare and aren't the greatest, but it gives you some idea. They only allow people to tour a fraction of the castle. It is the most public part of the castle for sure. They call it The State Apartments. These included:

King's Drawing Room (below):
This was Charles II's withdrawing room where he received important visitors and held court assemblies. It divides the public ante-rooms and the King's private apartments. Queen Victoria regularly held theatrical performances here.

King's Bed Chamber:
Although there is a beautiful bed at one end of the room, the Kings didn't usually sleep there. The King met with his ministers, advisors and discussed secret affairs of the state. The bed was used mostly for important overnight guests.

King's Dressing Room:
A small intimate space that was Charles II's Little Bedchamber.

Green Drawing Room:
Originally planned as a library it is flanked by the White Drawing Room to the south and the Crimson Drawing Room to the north. It was George IV's favorite plan of a long room with a large window bay in the center at one side. The carpet is now considered too delicate to allow people to walk on it.

King's Closet:
A room created from two smaller rooms for George III in 1804. This was the site of Charles II Closet - his most private place which only he and his trusted servant had keys.

Queens Drawing Room:
This room was designed for Catherine of Braganza's Withdrawing Room. During the nineteenth century this room, then called the Picture Gallery, was densely hung with Old Masters.

King's Dining Room:
This was Charles II dining room, and the ceiling--one of three ceilings that remain from the 1680's--is painted with a banquet of gods. The King's Dining Room lies between the King's and Queen's apartments so that both the King and Queen could eat there.

St. George's Hall:
This was SO impressive. The room measures 185 x 30 feet. When they have state banquets the whole room is taken up by one long table that is 175 feet long and seats 162 people! The ceiling is hung with the coats of armor of all the Knights of the Garter since the foundation of the Order in 1348. The Order of the Garter is the pinnacle of the honors system in Britain. It is an order of chivalry or knighthood. There are a few blank shields on the ceilings. These represent the erased arms of those degraded Knights expelled from the Order at different times. The names of all the Knights past and present are also inscribed on their panels around the Hall, together with the date of their installation and the corresponding number of their coat of arms. The blank spaces on the ceiling have the numbers of the coat of arms only.

See the coats of armor on the ceilings.

Queen Mary's Doll House:
This doll house was built in the early 1920's for Queen Mary, wife of King George V. It is the most famous dolls' house in the world. It took three years and 1500 craftsmen, artists and authors to complete. The house has electric lighting, hot and cold running water, working lifts and even flushing toilets! It was made to a scale of 1 to 12. It is completely decorated, tables set with REAL silver, paintings, furniture. An exact miniature castle.

China Museum:
If you like china, this would be the place for you. Tons and tons of china used over the years by the different monarchs. Each with information on when it was made, who made it, who it was made for. There was a particularly unusual set that was ordered made by William IV on his accession in 1830. However it was such an undertaking that the set wasn't finished until 1837, the year of his death. It ended up being used first by his niece, Queen Victoria. The company that made the set was ruined by the expense of it and went out of business.

I can't remember which room had the suit of armor that belonged to King Henry VIII. Amazing how they could even move in that stuff! The sign said that the armor shows the King's impressive proportions, which were quite exceptional in the sixteenth century.

They had a special exhibition of royal portraits by Marcus Adams, who photographed four generations of the Royal Family between 1926 - 1956. There were some really beautiful portraits and gave you an idea of the royal family outside of the media. There were many of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret taken in the 1920's and 30's. I really enjoyed that.

Unfortunately we did not see St. George's Chapel which was there too. I guess we were just too tired at the end of the day. I am sorry now of course. The outside was just gorgeous and the inside is supposed to be among the finest examples of late medieval architecture. Ten monarchs are buried in the chapel including Henry VIII with his wife Jane Seymour and Charles I. Darn I would have liked to see them (if they are in sight for the public). Next time.

St. George's Chapel

It was an interesting day. Of course there are tapestries, paintings, paintings and more paintings all over the walls, along with lavish artifacts and furniture throughout. We saw some beautiful silver furniture (tables and mirrors). I was kind of surprised because so much of everything from that time is gold. But our headphones that talk us through the self guided tour said that very little silver survives over the years because it is so easy to melt down into currency. Never thought of that!

I am still disappointed about one thing when it comes to castles. I have always thought about seeing castles in far off countries. For many years. So when we found out we were moving here I was very excited about that. However, I have yet to see the part of the castles that I REALLY want to see. The dungeons, the long winding stone steps and all the little bedrooms and hidden tunnels, servants quarters, kitchens, etc. I want to see the behind the scenes castle, like it was in the day. All the spooky stuff. So far all we've seen are the public rooms and the areas where the rich ate, relaxed, entertained. That is all fine and good and I do love the history, but my quest is to find one that will let you go anywhere you want!

I LOVE the beautiful baskets of flowers that some of the stores put out in the summer. Pretty way to end my blog today!

Restaurant near the castle on the River Thames:

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Happy July 4th USA!!!

Well, I'm home alone. Joe is off to London again this week. Meetings and a day of golf. He is traveling with Andrew (the GM) so I stayed home. Joe still gets his own room of course but will be spending all his time out with Andrew so it really wouldn't be worth it for me to go. He will be back Friday and mentioned that we could do something this weekend if I wanted to figure something out. Maybe we'll head down to the Cotswolds again and try that walk that didn't pan out last time. We'll see what the weather calls for.

I have been reading and reading online information for Ireland. We really want to go for a few days and it has been difficult to try and plan for some reason. First you have to take a several hour ferry ride. That's not a problem as you can bring your car, but it does take up most of one day to get to the ferry and across the Irish Sea. I have poured over websites about places to go in Ireland and my mind is seriously boggled at all the advice!! There is an abundance of places that are "the best" over there! First its Northern or Southern. (Northern Ireland is the only part that is included in the United Kingdom.) Then east or west. West sounds really beautiful but farther away. We don't really want to go to just Dublin (which is right across the sea from us and where most of the ferries land). It is very touristy. We want to see the REAL Ireland. I am starting to think that we are going to need like a week to do it right. But then we wanted to do a week in Scotland. Oh my, decisions...

Joe gets 4 weeks of vacation here. So a week home during the summer, a week at Christmas and then two weeks for us to travel. We haven't used any vacation days yet on our weekends, because we were using the holidays to make three days weekend trips. We still have one of them the end of August. Too bad we don't get the upcoming July 4th weekend!! Dang! Guess that's too much to ask for here in the UK! Ha!

We are expecting company next year as many of our friends and family wanted to wait until we had one year under our belts to get settled and find our way around. I will be the ready and waiting tour guide! My first rookie job is coming up October 1st when my two girlfriends Cathy and Sarah are coming out for 10 days. They are brave enough to come while my touring skills are still being finessed. They are well traveled, so if I can't find my way around, they will! We are very excited for their visit. They are our friends from Poolesville we've known for over 20 years. When the three of us girls get together we've been nick named "the volume sisters" so you can imagine poor Joe's jumbled brain by the end of their visit!

We had our hottest day here the other day. It got up to 86 degrees F (30c as they say here) last Sunday. There is no humidity so it doesn't even feel like 86 degrees. But you should have seen everyone! The papers were talking about a heat wave. People were getting heat stroke out in the sun at a concert in London. The hardest time I have is while inside. Outside is fine, but we are used to everything inside being air conditioned so it feels quite warm. We open the windows and there is usually a breeze but it doesn't compare to A/C. The stores don't really have much A/C either although the bigger ones do. But it's not very efficient. Joe tells me they don't have forced air systems because they don't have duct work. All the houses and buildings are built out of brick and stone and the walls are some kind hard as rock plaster, so there has never been any duct work and you really can't do it now, after the fact. They do have the option of a mini-split system that uses no duct work, Joe's company sells a lot of those systems. He tells me that his little company is only 50 or so units being sold behind the #1 company over here. So the manufacturer is really pleased with United. Theoretically, since the #1 company is about 10 times as large as United, they should be selling ten times more. For the most part it doesn't get up to 86 that often so people just wait it out. Plus, it cools off at night so that's nice. I am also having some hay fever which I had not had for several years back in the US. I had pretty much grown out of it. I was not happy when it reared its ugly head again!

We have a castle ruin in our village. It's called Kirby Muxloe castle. I walked down there after we first moved in but it is only open during the summer months. Joe and I went down there Sunday and went through it. It's only about a mile from our house.

In 1474 King Edward IV gave William Lord Hastings the land to build himself a castle and acres of land for hunting purposes in the village of Kirby Muxloe, county of Leicestershire. There were reasons for this generous gift. William Hastings was born in 1430. His father, Sir Leonard Hastings (d.1455) had served the duke of York in the dynastic struggle for the throne known as the War of the Roses. William followed his father's allegiance to the house of York and was knighted in 1461 by the duke of York's heir, Edward IV. Hastings was loyal to the King and in 1470-71 when the King was briefly deposed by the Earl of Warwick, Lord Hastings fled with Edward IV to plot his return to power. By March 1471 they had an army ready with Lord Hastings providing the first complement of men, 3,000. When Edward IV was back on the throne, Lord Hastings was given more power. Royalty were usually very generous with the nobles who proved their loyalty showering them with gifts of lands and riches.

Not only was Lord Hastings given land for the Kirby Muxloe castle, he was given three manor houses in the area to build great castles of. This was the heartland of the king's political power, the Midlands. (The area of England where we live). He became fairly famous then. The duke of Burgundy bought his favor with a gift of 1,000 ecus (French coins bearing the figure of a shield). The French king offered him a pension of 2,000 gold crowns. He was even respected by many of his rivals.

Lord Hastings started work on Kirby Muxloe castle in 1480. The castle was to be a splendid courtyard residence surrounded by a large moat. The moat was built with a medieval bridge that led to the gatehouse. A replica of the old bridge has been built as that is the only way to get across the moat to the castle. The gatehouse would have been the first thing you entered when you crossed the moat. It was just an entry hall with small stone rooms to either side. The castle was to be rectangular in plan with two towers, which only one remains. We walked up the circular tower steps to the top and looked through the little stone windows. It's just ruins so there aren't any floors between the levels anymore. We were able to get up to the top by the tower stairs only. Traced in the back lawn are stone foundations that are believed to belong to the old manor buildings. The accounts suggest that these were used while the new buildings were being built.

As is the way with history in these old countries, the ruling families last only as long as their lives (sometimes extremely short) or as long as they can keep their thrones from being taken. Unfortunately for Lord Hastings, King Edward IV was executed because he was an obstacle to the ambitions of the Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III in 1483. Shortly thereafter Richard III had Lord Hastings beheaded for treason, smoothing his way to the throne. The castle was never finished and fell to ruins over the years.

I am fascinated by the history and all the rulers of this country. Actually I have always enjoyed reading about the Kings and Queens of England for years. I can hardly believe I'm actually here! I need a good history of the whole country because I can never keep track of the years and names of all the dynasties. The Stewarts, the Tudors, the Yorkists, King Arthur in the dark ages, House of Windsor of course, just to name a thimbleful! I want to learn more about one of the fiercest battles for the crown, the War of the Roses, which lasted nearly a century. I just want to know MORE about all of it. And keeping with my personality, I am impatient to do so!

Kirby Muxloe Castle:  FRONT: