Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wandering Around Faro by Myself

After geocaching was done, I used my little map to try and find some of the churches in town, working my way south to the main cathedral, called  simply Fe, in the walled Old City part of town.

I first found the Capuchin Church, which was simply adorned on the outside and dated from the 17th century.

Capuchin Church, Faro Portugal

Inside was a mystery, because a sign said it was closed until Monday (this was Saturday afternoon). Presumably they'd have services there over the weekend and they had to prepare.

The next church, Igreja do Carmo, was quite impressive from the outside but it had a sign directing people to other nearby churches for Sunday Mass. It seemed like it was closed for the winter. Also, homeless people were sleeping on the side of the church.

Famous for its Baroque ornamentation

There seemed to be a lot of recent construction or refurbishing of streets. Often, I saw designs in the mosaic like this picture.

This area was fixed up in 1970?

I made my way to the Old City, which has two main gates. The primary gate is the Arco da Vila, originally a Moorish gate refurbished in the 19th century by Dom Francisco Gomes de Avelar, bishop at the time. The statue overlooking the gate represents Thomas Aquinas, patron of the city.

The sun was in just the right spot

Bishop Francisco Gomes de Avelar, with orange trees

The bishop's statue is located in the Largo da Se, which is the plaza in front of the cathedral. The plaza is lined with orange trees (which had fruit on them even in mid-January!) and the Paco Epsicopal, or bishop's palace. The palace is closed to the public and the cathedral, like the rest of the churches before it, was closed till Monday unless we were coming to Mass.

It was a lot more ornate inside, but that's the blog of a later day

Museums were open, and I was able to go into a small, dark gallery exhibit maybe ten works in all. This work was the most striking and ingenious to me.

Wall horse

It's a horse made from peeled away layers of the wall! It struck me as a clever use of a rather odd medium. I went out of the city walls and discovered the Largo da Sao Francisco, which is in front of the church of St. Francis (also closed for the day). The plaza was a gigantic parking lot.

More of the old wall

Sao de Francisco

This car had a "do not enter" sign, good advice for sure

Going back to the old wall, I discovered the other main gate, the Arco do Repouso, or Arch of Repose. This 12th century arch was built by the Moors but later (19th century) a hermitage to Our Lady of Rest was built here, hence the name. Nearby the arch were two blue mosaics taken down from the walls and preserved for visitors to see.

Arco do Repouso

Wall decoration

Wall decoration

I walked around a bit inside the old city again, which was mostly deserted. I saw a man on the street but he was no help at all in giving advice on what to do.

Just like that guy by the geocache!

So I went to the Museu Municipal de Faro, but that was so impressive and extensive that it will have its own post, coming next!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Geocaching in Faro, Portugal

The first part of my adventuring alone was looking for geocaches in Faro. We want to geocache all over Europe if we can. Each vacation outside of England we'll try to find at least one geocache. It's a great way to explore an area too. Often caches are hidden in unique sites that have some history in or significance to the area.

The first cache I found in Portugal was Aboim Ascencao. The hide is what's called a microcache. The container is very small (usually a 35 mm film canister (if people even know what that is anymore) or smaller) and only has a log book for finders to sign. No room is available to swap items. I found the hiding spot relatively quickly though I thought the design was quite clever.

View of the Refugio from the cache

The Refugio Aboim Ascencao was started in 1933 but underwent massive reorganization in 1988, when its focus on "emergencia infantil" made it a model for infant and young child care. Read more about it at their web site.

Across the street was an optometrist. It made me nervous because I kept seeing this guy out of the corner of my eye and thought he was watching me. Part of geocaching is being stealthy so non-geocachers (called "muggles") don't stumble across caches accidentally or, worse yet, report your suspicious-looking activity to the local authorities ("I swear he was hiding a small box under that bridge, officer!"). The guy in question turned out to be entirely trustworthy.

They have eyes but they do not see...

I finished logging our visit and then moved on to the next cache, Posto No 23.

This cache was nearby an old police traffic enforcement station. Apparently farmers and other shippers of goods might have to give "a gift" in order to pass the gate into town if something was amiss. Now it is just an abandoned building in the middle of a traffic  circle.

View from the cache, the booth looks terribly small

Pic from the geocache page

I also discovered some interesting art and architecture as I was wandering around looking for these caches.

Pretty yet run down second story facade

This restaurant in the middle of town has a great view overlooking the port!

We will be sure to geocache more in future countries. After these two successes, I went to see some churches. Read about them in the next blog!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

They Love You For Your Brains

Just in time for Valentine's Day, The Walking Dead TV show is returning to AMC on February 12, 2012. A new trailer is on YouTube. Unfortunately, it's little more than a teaser, so who knows what will happen next after the big shoot up at the barn?

Two weeks to the return of the television zombies!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

First Morning in Faro

Like always, we were early risers on our first day in Faro, Portugal. The kids just don't know about sleeping in. Someday I may regret complaining about this, but right now it would be nice to sleep past 7 a.m. once in a while.

Our hotel's breakfast started at 7 a.m. so we were all washed and combed and ready to eat by the time they were ready to serve. We walked across the lovely little courtyard to the breakfast room.

Family with fountain

The fountain didn't run but it was swimming with fish

The breakfast was the typical continental breakfast: rolls, cold cuts, slices of cheese, a couple of cereals, coffee, tea, juice. The juice was exceptional because it was fresh-squeezed (or so the containers said) and the choice was orange juice or passion fruit juice. I've never seen passion fruit juice offered anywhere, let alone fresh squeezed for breakfast.

We had a leisurely meal. The kids ran around but that was fine because no other guests had come in yet. We chatted about plans for the day. Our primary objective was to find peanut butter and see some sights.

The front desk told us where a large grocery store was. A playground was near to it which was a plus for the kids. The walk was about thee-quarters of a mile, not too far for the kids under normal conditions. Unfortunately, Lucy was fighting a cold which meant she didn't want to walk. We eventually made it all the way. The playground came before the shopping center, so we stopped there first.

Approaching the happiest of all possible tourist destinations

Short climb to a quick slide

Lucy plays restaurant

Lookout, Lucy!

Across the street was Forum Algarve, where the promised grocery was located. It looked like it would be a big store.

Even the mall has a bell tower!

This is a sign for a supermarket, not a zoo

Walking over we discovered a large, elaborate water fountain that was not running and a lesser playground.

We saw "no climbing" signs on this...work of art? We did see spouts.

Pretty disappointing after what they had across the street

After a little fun, we headed into the store, which was indeed jumbo as the sign outside indicated. We found peanut butter and bought some other snacks and food for a picnic lunch. Also, a friend asked us to buy a bottle of white port (a dessert wine) which is only available in Portugal. We bought that too. Little did we know the doom that was to come to the bottle.

Outside, we found a more traditional and much larger water fountain and had a snack there. A couple of coffee shops dotted the perimeter. I walked to one to get a hot and tasty drink. Not being a coffee drinker, that left basically two options: tea and hot chocolate. I was feeling a little adventurous and asked for what looked like hot chocolate on the menu. The guy gave me a mug. Then he took a bottle of chocolate milk, took the lid off, and stuck that stick baristas use to steam milk into it. He took it off soon and handed me the bottle. You'd think that would be a bad idea, but the bottle was barely warm enough to notice. I went back to where my wife and children were enjoying their snack and shared my drink with my wife. I also shared an apology. It was lukewarm and not very chocolaty.

The kids decided to explore, so we tried out the outdoor escalators that went up to the second floor. More exciting were the escalators that went down to the garage. We took some pictures from above of explorers down below:

A lovely and relaxing spot with plenty of sunshine

Lucy, Daddy, and Jacob underwater (sort of)

Now that we were tired out and had a bunch of heavy groceries to shlep back to the hotel, we splurged on a cab to take us back for a picnic lunch by the hotel's fountain and nap time in our room. Nap time meant time for me to explore after lunch on my own, and I did see quite a few things and do a little geocaching, which we'll describe in the next blog.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Traveling to Faro, Portugal

Our last trip out of the country was to Faro, Portugal. The destination has several things to recommend it. It's a lot warmer and sunnier than Britain in January. It has lovely seafood and trees full of oranges, even in the dead of winter. And we found cheap flights from a nearby airport. Driving less than half an hour to catch a flight is pretty nice.

RyanAir is one of the famous cheap airlines in Europe. They try to make up for their cut rates by charging customers for some of the regular amenities you might expect. Do you want to check a bag? There's a fee for that. Do you want to board early,  e.g. you have small children or have some injury/infirmity? There's a fee for that. Forget to print out your boarding pass four hours before flight departure? There's a fee for that. You want beverage service during the flight? There's a fee for that. And not just beer and wine. If you want soda, coffee, or water, you'd better have some money on you. They also try to sell various items during the flight, including RyanAir lottery tickets. The extra announcements of all these sales are a little annoying, especially when a child (or two) is (are) sleeping on your lap or shoulder (possibly both).

We did buy one checked bag (we opted for 15 kilos rather than 20 kilos, which proved to be a problem on the way home) and the early seating so we didn't have to fight crowds to get four seats near each other. We packed our own snacks, which worked to a certain extent. Unfortunately, we carried on the jar of peanut butter. I mean, we tried to carry it on. At security, they claimed peanut butter is a liquid and is not allowed according to the rules. We explained it was for our four-year old to eat. The security officer checked with his boss to see if an exemption could be made under the "children's food" category. No luck. Since we had already checked our bag, we couldn't pack it in the checked bag. Luckily, we were able to find peanut butter at a supermarket in Faro.

Once at the gate, we had a long walk from the terminal to where the plane was parked on the tarmac. Jacob and Lucy walked rather slowly and we almost lost the advantage of our early boarding as others were able to walk around us. Interestingly, the plane had stairs in the front and the back, so you could enter on either end. We went for the closest stairs, i.e. in the front. On the plane, there was still plenty of space. We took the aisle and window seats of one row, hoping no one would have or want to sit in the middle seats. Our strategy worked like a charm!

The flight went fairly smoothly. It lasted about two and a half hours and the children were entertained by videos on the laptop and games on my new Android cell phone (in airplane mode, naturally). I read more than half of the book I brought with me since the children were swarming Mommy. Poor Mommy. They were more attentive to me on the return flight.

Deplaning at Faro wasn't too complicated. We had another long walk from the plane to the terminal. People passed us left and right. We were the last to go through customs. The agent had some problem with his stamp and had to restamp our passports with the right date. We met him again on our way home several days later.

Since we were only staying two and a half days and our hotel was in the middle of town, we eschewed a rental car and took a taxi to our hotel. The ride was fast, maybe fifteen minutes. The hotel was charming, though arriving after 9 p.m. meant we just went to sleep with visions of an early and full day tomorrow, coming in the next post!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Movie Review: In Bruges (2008)

In Bruges, written and directed by Martin McDonagh, 2008

MPAA rating: Rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language and some drug use

In Bruges is the story of two English hit men who are sent by their mob boss (Ralph Fiennes) to Bruges ("it's in Belgium" as they say in the movie several times) to lay low after a big job. Ray, the younger trigger man played by Colin Farrell, thinks they've been sent to a dump and only wants to get on with things. Ken, the older assassin played by Brendon Gleeson, is happy to explore and enjoy the storybook charms of the best preserved medieval city in Belgium. They run across a film crew where they meet a dwarf (Jordan Prentice) and Ray hits on an attractive local lady who is somehow involved with the production.

The story begins to unfold as we discover more about the hit and why they are hanging out in Bruges and not some quiet little town in Britain. Though the film is advertised as a comedy (and it is quite funny), it develops some very serious drama and themes as the characters struggle with the consequences of their actions and try to move forward in their lives. The film manages to blend the comedy and drama well. Neither seems tacked on or forced into the situation. Both come naturally from the characters, a sure sign of well written and well performed roles.

The moral motivation and wrestling of the characters is very engaging and very satisfying, again because it's so authentic to the people we meet in the film. Even a small character like the hotel's co-owner and front desk worker is well rounded (and not just because she's pregnant). She only has three or four scenes in the movie but is memorable and her role in the end of the film makes sense and is completely in character with who she is.

We meant to watch this movie before our Thanksgiving trip to Bruges, but we were not organized enough to pull it off. Now that we have watched it, I think it was more satisfying to see it after visiting. Watching the characters sightsee was like having a checklist of the best things that we saw and an affirmation that we did see the big sights. The belfry? We saw that. The Holy Blood Basilica? We saw that. Canal boat ride? We did that. At one point, the two hit men are in children's playground, which we hadn't seen. I said to my wife, "It's a good thing the kids aren't watching with us or they'd complain about not going to this playground!"

Of course, no one should watch this movie with their kids unless the children are grown up. In addition to the bloody violence of the hit men, there's a lot of swearing, a fair bit of drinking, some recreational drug use, some racist conversations (played for laughs which might take some of the offensiveness out), and two or three sex scenes (without nudity but one is in a brothel). But for adults, the well-drawn characters and the thoughtful moral musings make this a rewarding movie to watch. And it is pretty funny.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Burns Night Dinner Dance: The Dance

After we finished dinner at the Robert Burns Dinner Dance & Ceilidh Event last Saturday, the dancing began. The band was the excellent Cobblers Wax, a six piece band with fiddle, flute, accordion, keyboard, percussion, and caller. If you've never been to a folk or square dance, a caller is someone who riles up the crowd to get out and dance. More importantly, he guides the dancers by announcing the moves that go to the song. Our caller did a great job of getting people ready to dance, going over the moves, and then announcing the moves during the song so we could get them (mostly) right.

Calling all dancers!

The first dance was done in a group of four couples, which I don't remember that well. You may think I mean I don't remember the other couples, and you would be right. On the other hand, you may think I mean that I don't remember the name of the song/dance, and you would be right. Or you might think I don't remember the specific moves that we did in the dance. Again, you would be right. Odds are, whatever you thought I was referring to is a correct guess. Who doesn't love a multiple choice question where all the answers are right?

The next dance was called the Witch's Reel with five couples in a line. The head couple would sachet down the line and back, then everyone would cast down. The head couple makes an arch at the bottom of the line and the rest of the couples go through. Everyone joins hand except the head couple, making a horseshoe or U-shape. The top two men make an arch and the ladies go through followed by the men since everyone is holding hands. The second man spins around as the last to go through the arch. Then the top two ladies make an arch and the men go through with the ladies in tow. The second lady spins around and the set repeats with the new head couple sacheting down the line. Sound confusing? It was a little difficult to pick up but this video will show you the dance (except it has the ladies form the arch first!):

Our final dance before we had to head home involved three couples dancing together. After a set of moves, partners switch by shaking hands with the person across from you. The new couples promenade around the room in a random pattern. After a few bars of music, everyone forms new sets of threes with other couples and dance again. This goes on for a while, causing confusion for those not sharp enough or too inebriated. Also, the caller said it was very important to have three couples only, otherwise when partners switch you'd wind up with two guys dancing together. In my final set of three, somehow the two other guys wound up dancing with each other. I wish I could say that I wound up dancing with three ladies at once, but in truth I only had my proper partner. Two ladies became a couple. I'm not sure what went wrong. Still, it was a lot of fun, though I don't remember the name of that dance either.

We had to head home after that because our babysitters were only on duty till 10:30. Next year we will definitely arrange for later coverage.

From reports, the evening ended with drinking scotch and singing of Auld Lang Syne, written by that great poet of the Scottish race.

Happy Burns Night celebration to all!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Burns Night Dinner Dance: The Dinner

With my kilt on, we headed off to the Robert Burns Dinner Dance & Ceilidh Event last Saturday night. Naturally, the night began as you might imagine: a happy hour with drinks at the bar. After about 45 minutes (enough time for all the later comers and kilt-wearing-challenged people to arrive fashionably late), we were called in to dinner. 

The dinner began with the ceremonial presentation of the haggis. Three men came in. The first was a bagpiper. The second carried the haggis on a plate. The third followed him with two bottles of scotch (at least I assume it was scotch) which he would rotate in the air as if cranking a bicycle pedal. Arriving at the presentation table, the second man recited from memory Burns's Address to A Haggis. Burns calls the haggis "Great chieftain o' the puddin-race" among other praises in this poem. Check the link above for the complete text (which also provides a "translation" into contemporary English). He then cut it open with a great slash of his sword. The three men each had a shot of scotch. They then marched the haggis back out, presenting it to the delighted crowd.

Address to a Haggis

Exit of the haggis, smelling nice

Next came grace, also composed by Burns:
The Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.
The meal was served in three courses. The first course had a choice of Scotch broth or Scottish smoked salmon. My wife and I both chose the salmon. It came with a salad and brown bread and was excellent.

The second course was the main entree. We had a choice of chicken breast stuffed with haggis or braised beef in rich onion gravy. We wimped out and got the beef. I feel justified since I had haggis in Edinburgh a few months back. Following on my principle of trying out new things at least once, I had fulfilled my haggis duty back in November (I also had it five years ago on a previous trip to the British Isles). It tastes alright but conceptually it's, shall we say, hard to swallow. We might buy some this week to serve on Wednesday, but I wouldn't bet anything valuable on it. A medley of vegetables were served, along with boiled potatoes and roasted potatoes.

The final course was dessert, with a choice of chocolate and macaroon flan or the more traditional cranachan (toasted oats, raspberries, honey and whiskey bound with cream). My wife had the flan and I had the cranachan. We shared tastes of the desserts. The usual coffee and tea was provided.

The meal was excellent, though for us it took too long because we wanted to get to the dancing. For a three course meal, I thought it was served quite efficiently considering the size of the crowd (about 150 people).

If you want to host your own Burns Night supper, check out the guidance here. They have recipes for the menu and advice on music, poems, toasts, and tartans.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Burns Night Dinner Dance: The Outfit

This past weekend we celebrated Burns Night by attending the Robert Burns Dinner Dance & Ceilidh Event. Our party was on the 21st of January, though the actual Burns Night is January 25, the poet's birthday. The dress code said either formal evening wear or Scottish Traditional dress. Of course, Scottish Traditional means a kilt. Our friend (and the event organizer) Colleen encouraged me to rent the whole kilt outfit from one of the local stores.

I considered the options. I own the tuxedo I was married in, so it would be very easy to just wear that. All I'd have to do was iron the tux shirt, everything else was ready. BUT, this might be a once in a life time opportunity to try out wearing a kilt. Most guys I know wouldn't be caught dead, alive, or, most importantly, on film in what looks like a skirt. I realize it's not a skirt and the kilt has a fine and long tradition among unquestionably manly men. What made the final decision for me is my principle to try out new things at least once as long as they are not morally questionable. So I toddled off to the nearby department store to rent a kilt.

The lady at the store was very nice but not very familiar with her new computerized system for ordering formal outfits. She had a hard time getting my account set up and selecting all the different pieces I needed. The outfit includes about a dozen items, several of which needed measurements. The lady measured me with her tape. Jacob was worried I'd get a paper cut from her tape, just like he got a paper cut at Ikea from their tape measure. I was uninjured by the measurements.

The next week, I picked up the outfit. I tried the jacket and kilt to make sure they weren't too small. They seemed fine, so I left the store with the whole outfit, which weighed seemingly fifty or sixty pounds. Luckily we had driven to the store otherwise it would have been a long walk home.

The next day was the dance. As I opened the garment bag and took out all the parts, I realized I had no idea how to dress myself. The lady at the store never mentioned anything. You'd think they'd have some handout or small book or pamphlet to get a guy started.

I couldn't unsheath the Sgain Dubh (little knife)--bummer!

YouTube came through for me. This video shows how to put on a Prince Charlie outfit (the style that I rented). It was very useful for me!

It was almost completely useful, except that I also had a belt. This video, you may have noticed (if you watched the video), mentions nothing about a belt. You'd think a belt would be no problem, but a kilt doesn't have belt loops. YouTube came to the rescue again!

Even with all this help, it took a long time to get ready. Tying the brogues (shoes) was not tricky but was time consuming. The laces go around the calves a few times, though the effect was lost on me since I had black laces on black hose. Also, getting the sporran to hang right took a little effort. I think this was the first time it took me longer to prepare to go out than my wife. She did not give me a hard time about it. I have the best wife ever!

The babysitter came over and took our photo just before we headed out to the dinner dance.

My Scottish look, sans my bride

Oh, and I didn't go as an authentic Scotsman, if you were wondering. More on the dinner and the dancing in the next posts!

The day after the dinner dance, my wife and my son Jacob had this conversation at snack time:

J:  When I'm a grownup I'm going to wear a kilt and go to the Scottish Dinner Dance like Daddy!
M:  That's a great idea!
J:  But I'll go with the person that God knows about.  You know, you said God already knows about the person who'll be the Mommy.
M:  ?
J:  When I'm a Daddy she will be the Mommy.  You said God already knows who she is.
M:  (wipes tear) Yes!  God already knows who you will marry and go to the dinner dance with.
J:  (chomp chomp on graham cracker, unconcerned)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Book Review: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Robopocalypse: A Novel by Daniel H. Wilson

A British hacker, a U.S. congresswomen, and a Japanese scientist walk into an apocalypse...Sounds like the beginning of one of those jokes you remember hearing but can't repeat because it is far too complicated and if you try to tell it, you'll miss some key set ups for the punchline. How did that punchline go again?

Like a fine tuned joke, Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse is a tightly intertwined narrative of a near-future robot uprising lead by the malicious artificial intelligence Archos. Archos is a program that some computer scientists have been trying and trying to perfect but can't quite seem to get right. Eventually, Archos manages to free himself from his captors/creators. He is able to direct all the other robots (who have been integrated into almost every facet of life) and begins a war against humanity. The robot apocalypse has begun.

The story is told through a variety of personal narratives that have been collected after the end of the war, much like Max Brooks' World War Z. At first the different stories don't seem related. A British hacker named Lurker stumbles into contact with the villianous AI. A U. S. congresswomen supports a "robot defense act" that would put limits on robot use (and thus frustrate Archos's plans); her children are threatened by their toy robots. A Japanese factory worker has a companion robot that runs amok.  Many other characters populate the story. Eventually, they come in contact with each other and all contribute to the war on robots in one way or another.

The story moves quickly and is an exciting read. Thematically it isn't too deep--the standard stuff about what it is to be human and can robots be human, etc., is presented but no new insights or ideas come up. The book earns a place in the pantheon of technothrillers like Jurassic Park and The Cardinal of the Kremlin.

Oh yeah, and there's a new sort of zombie towards the end of the book that was scary and gross and well done. Thanks Dr. Wilson!

For parents: there is some bloody violence throughout the book, some minor sexual innuendo, and swearing. You know your child best, but I would say this is good for young teenagers and up.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Jacob Levels Up

Jacob is no longer a preschooler! He has started nursery school, which is a sort of pre-kindergarten school. So I guess it really is a preschool. So I guess he really is still a preschooler. He certainly doesn't think so.

He has been walking around claiming superpowers because he is in school now. He doesn't need the step stool to wash his hands at our bathroom sink. He can carry groceries around the house. He can help out more than ever before. And he can boss around his little sister. Well, he did that before, but now he has the excuse that he's in school and she isn't. Clearly he is older and wiser than she.

So far, he's only gone to nursery for an hour at a time. We were nervous about him being on his own. He was nervous initially. But with experience, he is loving it. He plays with sand. He plays with water. He rides bicycles and scooters. He has fruit for a snack (today it was oranges). He even put on a smock and did some painting.

Portrait by the Artist When a Young Man

The experience has been great for him and he is still enthusiastic. Next week he goes from 8:50 to 11:50 each morning. Wednesday mornings are not available (they're full already), so he will just go on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. I think that will work well, leaving us a day to explore more of England or to run fun errands together or go visit Kidzplay.

This will definitely help him for when he starts reception next Fall, which will involve a full week of full days of school. He currently still takes a long afternoon nap, which will be the big challenge in the new school year.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

More Bits of Lincoln

I realized looking through my pictures that there's still some parts of Lincoln I'd like to share.

When we first arrived, we looked for a tea shop to get some refreshment. We found Dennetts Ice Cream Parlour that had a tea room downstairs. The downstairs was quite traditional, by that I mean it felt quite medieval. The cellar dates back to the 14th century!

It was chilly (we were the first customers) but the food was great

Door without stairs!

The town gate leading from the ice cream shoppe to the cathedral was quite impressive.

One out of three looking at the camera ain't bad

The building on the right in the picture above is the church of Mary Magdalen. Though a small church, the people inside were quite welcoming. We admired their nativity scene and Jacob got to see their bell ropes. Lucy was given a piece of candy (Jacob politely refused). They even have a historic sign over the street sign.

Awesome name for a road, though it would be terrible to get in a spelling bee

Down the hill from the Cathedral is a narrow street that leads past a school with a pretty awesome motto over its door.

Disce aut discede--learn or get out!

Lincoln had a large Jewish population in the middle ages and one of the 12th century buildings is called Jews House.

It's a restaurant now!

This house is on a road called Steep Hill because it is in fact a steep hill. We walked up the hill, though we did need a rest when we made it to the top.

Mommy and Lucy look down the hill they just climbed.

Jacob's choice of resting spot is great!

The book store wasn't open, which is another reason that we'll probably head back to Lincoln some day.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lincoln Castle

On the day after New Year's, we went went to Lincoln Castle. It's not as impressive as it once was (the Civil War took a heavy toll) but it still contains much history and charm, in spite of the time it served as a gaol (that's a jail for you American readers) and the place for executions.

We entered through the East Gate, which had some impressive cannons from the 18th century.

I wish I could claim that I took the picture just as the ball was coming out!

Here is where Jacob found the ultimate souvenir. It doesn't need batteries and is extremely low maintenance. And it didn't cost a thing. Since he found it, he's been showing it to everyone we meet. He even took it with him on our recent trip to Portugal, which will show up in the blog soon, I hope. What is this great souvenir? Let him show you:

"This is the rock I found in Lincoln!"

Entering the gate brought us to the ticket booth/gift shop, where the children tried out some of the more kitschy wares.

Or is that kitschy wears?

The great defender

Once inside the castle, we proceeded to the left to find Cobb Hall, the northeastern defense tower that was also used for public executions in the 19th century. Many birds lived inside the hall, to the delight of Jacob. We saw the various slits where crossbows and short bows were used to defend the castle.

Cobb Hall entrance

Interior with defender's window

That window looks like a nice target!

Down below is where prisoners were kept in chains. Executions were held on the roof, where we accessed the walls of the castle.

Iron ring for chains, ball for cannon shot

The ladder is a tight squeeze

View of the Cathedral from Cobb Hall

We enjoyed the view from the walls but were unable to circumnavigate them because of work on Lucy Tower. It is named after Lucy Taillebois, who was first married to the Sheriff of Lincoln. Subsequent marriages brought her more wealth and she built the tower to assert her authority at the castle.

View from the castle wall

View of the West Gate from above

Lucy Tower under repair!

We retreated to Cobb Hall and then went to the Magna Carta exhibit. The Cathedral's original 1215 AD copy of Magna Carta is on display, along with several informational exhibits on the history and impact of the document.  Naturally, no photographs were allowed.

We also saw an ornately carved stump in the middle of the bailey or inner courtyard.

Lucy and possibly her namesake from the tower

Jacob tries to point but his mitten does not cooperate

Also in the bailey is the castle's well. The bath house just up the slope served as the prison laundry when the castle was primarily used as a jail.

A favorite spot for the children

The bath house, conveniently near the well

Also nearby is a magnificent bust of King George III. The bust was formerly part of a statue on a column 90 feet high that overlooked Dunston Heath to the southeast. When World War II began it was deemed a hazard for aircraft and the statue was taken down. The bust came to the castle in 1973.

Thanks for letting us American colonists go!

We also visited the 18th century gaol, of which the most striking feature is the chapel. It has individual cubicles for the inmates to attend services so they can't see each other. Grimly the chapel is decorated with an empty coffin under the pulpit.

Mommy and Lucy join the women's prison!

View from the chapel cubicles

View from the chapel pulpit (those are manikins)

Two other features are found in the castle. First is the court house, which is still in use and is not available for touring.

The court house

Second is the base of an Eleanor Cross. It is named after Eleanor of Castile, the bride of King Edward I. She married him when he was 15 (and only a prince) and she was 10. They had a fruitful marriage (16 children!) and was a devoted wife to Edward. When she died, her body was embalmed in Lincoln and slowly made its way to London. Everywhere it stayed overnight a cross was erected in her honor. The cross at the castle was one of the many casualties of the Civil War.

The base of the Eleanor Cross at Lincoln Castle

After our visit, we headed out for lunch at a nearby restaurant and then drove home. Lincoln was a great adventure and I imagine we might come back, especially if they have jousting at the castle!