Saturday, July 31, 2010

Back in the USA!

After a thirty hour day (!) most of us are back home this morning.  Five of the group remained behind for further travels while the rest of us rolled out at 3:30 am Alnwick time Friday morning to board the coach for the Newcastle airport.   No pictures of that pretty scene!!

 Most of us were operating on two or three hours of sleep because of the program banquet on Thursday night. We gathered at Lilburn's downtown for a delicious send off meal.  Guests joining us included Phillip Deakin and Glynn and Sue Payne.  Good conversation and flavorful food abounded.

 The evening was concluded with a Reader's Theatre performance of "The Library."  Who knew that we had such hidden talents in our group.

All did not go well at Newcastle.  For unknown reasons, the desk attendants had trouble accessing our reservations, which resulted in excruciatingly slow processing.  We started in an already long line, and by the time that the last person was processed, there was less than 15 minutes until the plane departed.  Emilie made it to her FIRST CLASS seat (there are some perks to being subjected to stressful long waits) but she begged the flight attendants to not shut the door because her professor was behind her, and he needed to be on board!  He made it just, gray, shaking and perspiring profusely.  In addition to the desk delay, security made him unpack his carry on three times--those multivitamins are dangerous contraband apparently.

After a five hour wait in Amsterdam, we boarded the plane and took off on time,  Although our flight was 9 hours long, it was very smooth and blessedly uneventful.  Customs was a breeze, all luggage was claimed,  and everyone is now resting up!

We look forward to our last class gathering on Saturday, August 14, when we share the final portfolio projects and enjoy a last group meal at our home in St. Cloud.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lake District Saga

Where to begin?!  It's been three days since I had computer access to post our adventures and they have been three days packed with sights and sounds.  On Monday morning, we boarded a coach for the Lake District in Cumbria, which is to the southwest of Northumberland where we are based.  The weather looked promising as we pulled away from the Castle, but as we got closer to our destination of Grasmere, the weather turned very Lake District like:  low clouds, mists and light rain, then periods of brightness with the sun seemingly about to break through.  Our first stop in Grasmere was at the Glenthorne Guest House  where we started the check in process.  Glenthorne is a Quaker run facility which offers an oasis of quiet and peacefulness in the midst of our busy schedule.  We also enjoyed two delicious cooked breakfasts and two three course evening meals.  (Click to find out more about Glenthorne.)

Rydal Mount, home of William Wordsworth, was our first afternoon site.  We toured the house first, hoping that the weather would improve before we hit the garden.  Clearing didn't happen, so we just forged ahead with walking the grounds and photographing. 

The rain and mist actually gave a special atmosphere to many of the plants and flowers.  We encouraged students to return to Grasmere by walking the Coffin Path from Rydal Mount, and despite the less than stellar weather, everyone trooped down the Path.  We found out later that some of the students took unintended detours out on to the fells (the steep hills of the Lake District) but everyone eventually made it to the village.

Our second afternoon site was the Northern Storytelling Centre, where storyteller Jean Hilton, entertained us with stories from many countries.  Because of the damp weather, we could not sit in the Storyteller's Garden, so we gathered indoors in the Listening Room, where the electric fire and cups of hot tea kept us cozy as Jean entertained.

Tuesday was Beatrix Potter Day.  We visited Hawkshead in the morning, where we toured the Beatrix Potter Gallery which is housed in the former law offices of Beatrix's husband, William Heelis. Many of the featured drawings were from The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse, which is celebrating it's 100th anniversary this year. After the Gallery, many of us enjoyed shopping in Hawkshead.

Hilltop Farm  in Near Sawry was the afternoon destination.  We got there in time for plenty of photography, village exploration and gift shop browsing before our scheduled entry time in to the house itself.   After everyone had been in the house and  thoroughly enjoyed it, we returned to Glenthorne just in time for afternoon tea.  The sun also came out, making it ideal for photography, and shopping in the village of Grasmere.

This morning, we packed our bags and boarded the coach for Keswick, which is located on Derwent Water. It is one of the Lake District's busiest tourist towns.  Many of us visited The Derwent Pencil Museum  where we learned that author/illustrator Raymond Briggs used Derwent colored pencils to create the illustrations in The Snowman The informational video included a clip from the video of The Snowman.

Many of us also found that along with a beautiful lakeshore, featuring the award winning Hope Park garden, there is also an excellent chocolatier in the High Street. Check out Ye Old Friars of Keswick--they deliver via post.

One more time on the coach, with a destination of Housesteads, a Roman fort ruin along Hadrian's Wall. The scenery along the way was breathtaking, as were the narrow roads!! We arrived just in time for a brief squall, but undaunted we climbed to the top to explore the ruins and the wall remains. The vistas were breathtaking.

Tomorrow is our last day here at the Castle.  We will have a formal group photo taken at 9 am, then enjoy some photo sharing in class.  The rest of the day will be spent in tying up loose ends and trying to fit everything into those suitcases we arrived with 18 days ago.  Tomorrow evening will be our group banquet at Lilburn's, a local restaurant.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Weekend Rambles

Luther did such a grand job of blogging the Seven Stories Centre and the Newcastle walking tour that I will only add a couple of things. I am including a group photo that we took on Friday evening in the garden of our friends, Glynn and Sue Payne.  (If we look a little goofy, it's because we were all laughing so hard over the self timer antics.) Glynn and Sue hosted us for a fine dinner which was topped off with four different desserts: English Trifle, Normandy Apple Pie, Meringues with Cream Filling, and Summer Pudding. After the cafeteria fare served in the Dining Hall, the meal was a real treat. We also toasted Jessica's birthday and gave her a surprise (not!) card signed by all. 

When the rest of the group boarded the bus to return to Alnwick, Merton and I stayed behind with the Paynes. Saturday, we did some research for future programs. We explored young adult author Robert Westall, via the 2.5 mile Westall Walk. We started in North Shields at Westall’s birthplace at 7 Vicarage Street and proceeded through a series of 8 stops that featured buildings and landscapes in Westall’s books, including the Fish Quay and the graveyard at Tynemouth Priory. The 2.5 mile tour involved lots of photography, two stops for refreshments, and so much conversation that it took us about 5 hours to complete!

Today, we returned to Tynemouth to the Market which takes place in the Victorian Tynemouth metro station. Stalls and stalls of old books, old and new jewelry, dishes, crafts, food and much more. I saw the most beautiful cupcakes at Elizabeth and Oliver’s Fine Foods-they have even shipped cupcakes to Texas for a wedding! Glynn and Merton tried the cupcakes, and Sue and I bought a Chocolate Fudge Cake with decadent icing studded with chocolate chips and white chocolate which we enjoyed with coffee late this afternoon. Feast  your eyes on Elizabeth and Oliver's website.

Glynn and Sue delivered us to the Castle tonight, so it's back to reality after two days of being chauffered and catered to by our dear friends!

Tomorrow, it is off to the Lake District and more adventures as we enter the last week of our program.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Newcastle Trip - Seven Stories Museum & City of Newcastle

Friday found us on the road again - this time to sunny Newcastle-Upon-Tyne! Does anyone know why it's called "Newcastle"? It's a fascinating story: In 1080 the Normans advanced North to consolidate their conquest of Britain and built a new castle there. Clever, that.

Our time in the city began with a visit to the Seven Stories Museum for children's books. No pics allowed so you'll have to follow this link to see more about it. But know that it was an engrossing experience and a place that's as welcoming to kids as to their attendant adults (as well as to a group of enraptured book lovers from the States!).

After several hours at the museum we were met by Glynn Payne, a retired Northumberland librarian who squired us about the town. Amongst the sights were its bustling city center (centre?) including the restored Central Arcade city market, several churches/cathedrals, the refurbished central train station, the remains of that now 'not-so-new' castle from the Middle Ages, and finally 'the quayside' where Newcastle the port has now become a lovely riverside walk (see the pics -- BTW: Did you know you can click on any blog pic to see a full-sized version?).

Besides vestiges of the castle and other medieval buildings there are many other buildings from the city's industrial age heyday of coal, steel, and grain shipping. The city's 'seven bridges' span several periods (as well as the river Tyne, of course), right up to its ultra-modern Millenium Bridge that pivots on its axis to allow boats to pass under -- which it proceeded to do for our benefit just as we were about to leave quayside.

As if leading a city tour for a bunch of chatty Yanks wasn't enough, Glynn then escorted us onto the city's bus system and to his very English home in the 'burbs to meet his beautiful wife Sue who proceeded to treat all of us to supper in their garden. The weather cooperated wonderfully (again!) and a good time was had by all. Our most heartfelt thanks go out to Glynn and Sue Payne for their generous hospitality!

The weekend now finds the group scattering to the winds -- to Edinburgh and other interesting areas in this part of the UK. Perhaps they will share their experiences on the blog (hint, hint).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Map of Travels

Here is a quick snapshot of the various locations in Northeast England that we visit.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thursday Thoughts...

A cold but dry day today.  The temperature was forecast to be a high of 11 degrees C, which translates to about 50 degrees.  Did I mention that there was also a wind blowing?!  Luckily all of us came pretty well prepared with layers.

This morning was in the classroom prepping for the field trip to Newcastle tomorrow and the field trip to the Lake District next Monday through Wednesday.  We talked literature, and then everyone shared two photos that they have taken since arriving.  The photo sharing was such a big hit that we will have another session when we return from the Lake District.

Tonight we went as a group to The Treehouse Restaurant that adjoins Alnwick Garden.
The Treehouse is a unique structure that serves a lot of fresh, local foods.  It was fun to eat together –good conversation and good food. 

The desserts were especially delicious, as you can see.

I may not be able to blog again until Sunday evening because Merton and I are staying in Newcastle with friends after the field trip tomorrow.  We will return to the Castle just in time to pack up for the Lake District field trip.  Time is going by very quickly!!

Do check out the puffin video that Luther has posted below.  It gives a great audio of the ferocious wind out on the Farne Islands last Saturday, and a great video of the bird colonies on the Inner Farne where our boat landed.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wednesday on the Waves

It just poured down rain all last evening and all during the night, so what a surprise to see clearing skies when we got up this morning.  Good news for a day where we again explored the North Sea coast.  We got off to a bit of a late start for a variety of reasons, so our coach driver gave us a thrilling ride to Seahouses, a small coastal town about 15 miles from Alnwick. 

We made it on time to board The Glad Tidings VII, which we had completely to ourselves! We headed out to the Farne Islands, where we saw even more birds than Saturday, possibly due to calm seas.

About three miles out, we landed on Longstone Island, from which, in 1838,  Grace Darling and her father William, launched their coble to rescue victims of the steamer Forfarshire, which had run aground on the rocks of Big Harker Island.
We thoroughly explored Longstone, taking many pictures.  We were struck by the strength of the seas and the desolation of the island.  We had read the young adult historical fiction Grace by Jill Paton Walsh in preparation for the Longstone visit but I think the isolation and bare rock of Longstone was something that we had to physically experience in order to understand how remarkable Grace's part in the sea rescue actually was. (Note the light haze that surrounded everything while we were on the water)

After more bird viewing on the return trip, we arrived back in  Seahouses in time to eat our packed lunches before the coach arrived to drive us to Bamburgh, where we visited the Grace Darling Museum. 

We also visited St. Aidan's Church and graveyard, where Grace is buried.  Her grave is marked with a very ornate monument.  There is also a beautiful memorial stained glass window in the church itself. 

After the Grace Darling sites, students did a variety of things, ranging from dipping toes into the North Sea to photographing imposing Bamburgh Castle to enjoying a cup of tea and a scone at a Bamburgh tea shop.

 Merton and I got away tonight for a bit of exploration of one of our favorite Alnwick spots from our very first study program here in 1994. After Michelle was so kind as to photograph us on the Lion's Bridge (we wanted to prove that we were both really along on the trip), we walked to the northwest part of Alnwick to an area called "the summer seats".  From there it is possible to see all the way to the North Sea, which is the bit of light blue on the horizon in the upper left third of the picture. On the way home, we passed the Duke's Middle School, which both our daughters have attended (Melissa in 94-95 and Melanie in 97-98).  We also passed a very beautiful home garden that just begged to be photographed!

Classroom time tomorrow in preparation for our field trip to the Seven Stories Centre on Friday and to the Lake District next week.