In early December we finally made it to Castle Howard, an enormous manor home near York.

It has an impressive facade.

If the house looks familiar, it may be because it has been used in several films, including “Brideshead Revisited”.

The interior was just as impressive. The tour took us through several bedrooms, sitting rooms, dining rooms, the music room, the library, and some giant rooms for doing giant things. We had to move through at a rather brisk pace, as *someone* was in no mood for dawdling.

The house was in full-on Christmas mode. The front courtyard was hosting a small Christmas market. Inside, there were Christmas trees and garlands in almost every room and the fireplaces were all lit. In one of the giant rooms there was a piano player performing an arrangment of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. It was very festive.

After the tour we had a sandwich in the cafe before exploring some of the grounds. Neil enjoyed running around after have spent the entire tour being told he couldn’t touch anything.

We had a very enjoyable day out.

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We took a quick weekend trip down to Nottingham to cheer on some friends running the Nottingham Marathon.

Just outside of Nottingham is Sherwood Forest. We happened to visit while the forest was hosting re-enactors from various time periods in the forest’s history. The time periods ranged from the Romans to the 1980s. At times it felt a bit like we were in a Ye Olde Monty Python sketch.

Sherwood Forest is home to the Major Oak, an 800 year old tree. Legend has it that Robin Hood and his Merry Men camped beneath it.

The next day we visited Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, one of the pubs staking a claim to the oldest inn in England. A brewhouse has existed there since 1189!

We sat along the route and cheered for all the marathon runners. We saw the winners of the marathon race past several minutes ahead of the next fastest runners.

At the base of the cliffs that the castle sits on there is a little park. It was a gorgeous autumn day, so we played in the leaves for a while.

It was a short but fun trip!

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We traveled to the very tippy top of Scotland to visit the Orkney Islands. Orkney isn’t the easiest place to get to. We ended up taking the train to Edinburgh (with a stop to visit the zoo!) and flying the rest of the way to Orkney.

Kirkwall Airport is very small. In one room there is the check-in desk, cafe/shop, waiting lounge, security, car rental, baggage return, and of course, bar.

Our first night was spent getting settled into our self-catered flat and picking up some groceries.

The next morning we headed straight to Skara Brae, part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site!

Skara Brae is the ruins of a Neolithic village dating from 3180 BC. The houses were made of stacked stones and had stone furniture – beds, dressers, and storage boxes. The roofs are no longer there, but near the visitor center is a reconstructed house you can go in to see what it would have been like.

The walk to the ruins takes you along a beautiful stretch of the coast.

The houses in the village are too fragile for tourists to enter. The visitors’ path takes you along the outer perimeter so that you can look down into the structures. Seven of the houses had the same layout with a central dresser and a bed on each side. The eighth house is different, and it is hypothesized that it was some kind of workshop.

After leaving the ruins, the path takes you to Skaill House, the manor home whose property the ruins were discovered on.

We played in the gift shop for a while before we continued on.

Our next stop was the Maes Howe chambered cairn. It dates from 2800 BC and is one of the largest tombs on Orkney. We took a tour and got to go inside and see the runes carved by Viking graffiti artists.

Continuing on our tour of Neolithic sites, we stopped at the Ring of Brodgar. You can stop wondering why Neolithic people built stone circles. They are great for playing hide-and-seek with a one-year old! Most of the stones are still standing, but a few have fallen over or broken.

After an ice cream break we drove over to Stromness. It is not a very big town, but it was very charming.

The next morning we got an early start and headed for the Brough of Birsay. The views were gorgeous. You can walk across a land bridge at low tide to explore the ruins of Pictish and Norse settlements. We saw a dead pilot whale, which we thought was pretty interesting. It was incredibly windy on the sheltered Southern side of the island. We walked across to see the view from the Northern side but the wind was ridiculous so we didn’t stay for more than a quick look. Unfortunately it wasn’t puffin season, so we didn’t see any.

The sun was shining so we tried to take a walk along the Bay of Skaill. Neil did NOT like how windy it was, though, so we had to nix the hike.

Neil then fell asleep in the car, so we drove to the Yasnaby cliffs and then the Stones of Stenness and took turns looking around.

That evening we explored Kirkwall. The lammas festival was going on and there were pipers and a Cream cover band. We stopped in to see St Magnus Cathedral which had lots of interesting grave stones.

Randy got a battered, deep-fried haggis for dinner.

The next morning was rainy and even windier than the previous days. We headed south and drove across the Churchhill Barriers. The barriers are causeways and were built during WWII to protect Scapa Flow, the UK’s main naval base at that time.

Near the first of the Churchhill barriers is the Italian Chapel. It was built by Italian POWs during WWII. It is made from Nissen huts, but decorated with a concrete facade and painted the inside to look like marble blocks.

By this point it was too rainy and windy (are you sensing a theme?) to do anything outside, so we found a hotel serving Sunday lunch. We got to relax in the cozy lounge while our food was prepared.

We then took a tour of the Highland Park Distillery, conveniently right next door!

The next day we flew back to Edinburgh before taking a train the rest of the way home. Orkney was a beautiful and unique place.

Our little world traveler

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On the way up to Orkney we spent the night in Edinburgh and visited the zoo. We weren’t sure if Neil would “get it”, but he figured it out quickly and then was very excited to see the animals.

The zoo is famous for its daily penguin parade, where the zoo keepers open the doors to the penguin enclosure and let the penguins waddle out for a lap around the area. Five penguins decided they wanted a wander on the day we were there.

One of the best parts of the day was the monkey house. The windows were very low and Neil could stand face to face with some little monkeys!

He thought the rhinoceroses (rhinoceri?) were fascinating. They were very close to the viewing platform.

It was a great day! We loved seeing the meerkats, rhinos, monkeys, and penguins the best!

Stay tuned for the rest of our trip!

After leaving Vienna we traveled by rail to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.

We arrived in the late afternoon and took a bus from the train station to the old town. After getting settled into our hotel (and finding the room keys that Neil had very helpful put in the trash can) we set out exploring.

Bratislava’s old town area is pretty compact, so we quickly learned the layout as we wandered around trying to get Neil to fall asleep in the stroller so mom and dad could eat a quiet dinner. He finally fell asleep once we gave up on that plan. So it all worked out in the end.

The next morning we went exploring a little further afield, wandering towards the castle. We passed some interesting street art and said hello to the Danube river.

The castle is situated atop a hill overlooking the old town and the river. As far as touristy castles go, it wasn’t that interesting. But the views were amazing.

We spent the afternoon shopping and relaxing in the old town. Neil loved splashing in a drinking fountain and walking around like a big boy.

During afternoon nap we got to sit in the shade and people watch while enjoying the local beer.

Neil loved experiencing Bratislava. In addition to his favorite fountain, a nice lady gave us a balloon (which was fun until the balloon popped) and the main square had cow bells that children could play with.

At dinner Neil demonstrated his newest skill – blowing raspberries!

The next morning we said goodbye to the amazing summer sunshine and headed back to England. We only had a short time in Bratislava, but we were very impressed by what a beautiful, vibrant city it was.

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We recently traveled to Vienna, Austria and Bratislava, Slovakia.

Before we arrived both cities had been experiencing a heat wave, with temperatures reaching 100F (37C). When we landed in Bratislava it was disgustingly hot. Luckily things cooled down a bit as the week went on.

We took the hour long train ride from Bratislava to Vienna. Thankfully we got seats in the air conditioned car. We made our way from Wien Hauptbanhoff (which was not on any of our maps) to our flat on the very efficient Viennese public transport system. After a long day of traveling we found a nearby playground and ate pizza in the park.

The next morning we decided to beat the heat by getting out of the city center. We headed to Schloss Schönbrunn (Schönbrunn Palace), another World Heritage Site!

The gardens were very large and beautiful. The views from the top looking back at the palace were unbeatable. Someone, who will remain nameless, slept through the whole walk up to the top.

In addition to the (free) formal gardens, the grounds of the palace had paid sections including a public pool (expensive), a zoo, and a maze. We visited the maze portion and took advantage of the playground.

In the afternoon a storm started to roll in so we headed back into the city. We took the U-Bahn to the naschmarkt and wandered through the delicious looking food stalls. We returned to the market several times during our visit for tasty things.

We had some fun playing in a park before wandering down towards Stephanplatz. We passed the Sacher Hotel, home of the sachertorte, but alas, we didn’t stop in for a taste. St. Stephen’s Cathedral was very tall and very crowded. Neil was not impressed.

That night we dined al fresco at a Viennese restaurant near our flat. The schnitzel was amazing (and not greasy) and the goulash came with a hotdog/weiner!

Saturday morning we started off the day with a visit to a traditional Viennese cafe. Cafe Sperl had a gorgeous old interior and was very “kinder” friendly! There was a table in the back corner reserved for families with a box of toys to play with. Neil had fun while we enjoyed our coffees and pastries.

We then headed to see the Hofburg Palace. It is actually more of a complex made up of many buildings serving a variety of purposes today.

Children’s author Marguerite Henry wrote a book, The White Stallions of Lipizza, about the famous dancing horses of the Spanish Riding School. We realized that the school is in Vienna and we were excited to see a rehearsal (performances must be booked months in advance). Unfortunately, children under 3 aren’t allowed in. But we did get to peak at the stables and we saw some of the stallions walking to practice.

Across from the palace is the Volksgarten (people’s garden) which had lots of roses and fountains full of ducks. We like ducks.

After grabbing some take-away sushi we found a playground in front of St Charles’s Church and had a picnic. For some reason the sculpture that is usually found in the reflecting pool in front of the church wasn’t there and in its place was a piano.

Continuing on, we passed the Soviet War Memorial, a WWII memorial to the Soviet soldiers who died in the battle for Vienna. It was very windy and the spray from the fountain was blowing everywhere.

We took advantage of naptime to pay a visit to the Belvedere Museum, housed in a former palace. We saw lots of art like Klimt’s The Kiss and Judith and some weird face sculptures

After nap ended we spent some time playing with rocks in the gardens of the Belvedere. For dinner we feasted on Weinerwurst from a Würstelstand (hot dog stand) washed down with beer.

Our final morning in Vienna was spent at the Prater a giant amusement park/public park/sports complex. We rode the ferris wheel, took a ride on the liliputbahn (little train), and went swimming.

We then made our way to the train station and left Vienna for Bratislava!

Auf Wiedersehen!

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It only took four years, but we finally made it to the Great Yorkshire Show!

The Great Yorkshire Show is the largest agricultural show in England. Even the Queen has been! There were a ridiculous number of cows, sheep, and pigs.

There were also large displays of farming equipment. Neil got to “drive” a big digger!

It was fun to finally experience something we had heard about for years!

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