Nearly on the home stretch

After reluctantly farewelling Ireland we took the car ferry to Cairnryan we spent a very pleasant evening in a delightful B and B just a few minute from the car ferry. My first (and probably last) time ever staying somewhere with a  TV set into the bathroom wall, water-proof remote even!

Then a fairly long drive to North Dockenbush to spend a very quick day in York. We weren’t planning on making York a highlight, but we probably should have with the stunning York Minster and fascinating Shambles.

York Minster, one of the largest churches of its kind in Northern Europe, towers over the city. We were there on Sunday so its bells and those of the  also beautiful St Wilfred’s were pealing with joyous enthusiasm.

I had vaguely heard that The Shambles was worth visiting without really knowing what it was, so we dutifully Googled Mapped our way there and spent a very enjoyable hour wandering this crowded street with houses dating back as early as the 14th century. While now packed with tourists, the jostle and noise probably has some similarity to when it was a bustling market street.

 

Then on to Cambridge where we had a chance to spend four days with Christian, see his ‘dungeon’ digs for the year and be thoroughly entertained by the inrush of freshers for freshers’ week. Watching teenagers who had obviously never ridden a bike before negotiating the narrow streets, often with shopping dangling precariously from their handle bars (with I suspect with a beverage or two already consumed) was both entertaining and downright dangerous for the pedestrian spectator!

I love Cambridge. I love the fact that everyone cycles or walks. I love that the city is intertwined with the university. I love the individuality and beauty of all the colleges.  I love seeing that much maligned species “the youth of today” passionate and excited to learn. Observing  and listening to these young adults gives me great optimism for their generation.

For us it has been a huge sacrifice making the decision to let Christian follow his dream and study here but Im pretty sure its worth it. Already after a year here he has a world view  and experience that he wouldn’t have got if he stayed in NZ and he’s also making the most of every opportunity that comes his way. (Still sounds like a Kiwi though!)

We did a couple of days trips while here; firstly to yet another cathedral, this time at Ely. What a gorgeous town! We climbed the tower (vertigo alert!) which may not have been a good idea for me as by the time we got to the top of the last tiny flight of stone stairs I was fairly traumatised, but I got back down safely so  that was a good thing!

Then a visit to the delightful Audley End House, a (mainly) 17th century estate. With a fully working organic garden and the house beautifully restored to looking how it did at its heyday it was an excellent afternoon’s expedition. We had the added bonus of seeing the ‘Normans’ ride in as part of their journey to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.

Our trip now racing to its end, we headed down to London, dropping off our trusty and now very dirty hire car and keen to spend a week in that great city. We were still not really ready to go home!

 

 

 

 A castle, a boardwalk and some seals

Travelling around an unfamiliar country means you aren’t sure what you should go to see and should miss out. To be honest I’d never heard of Hearst Castle before researching this trip but as it was basically on our way up the Coast we decided to give it a visit.

The morning was foggy as we drove into the already fairly full car park. We bought tickets and got on a bus, having no idea that the castle was high on a hill. As we drove up, the excellent recorded commentary started to weave a magical story of a castle, a zoo, acres of gardens, and of William Randolph Hearst’s desire to create something perfect from a childhood memory (Citizen Kane anyone?).

To be honest we were expecting something a bit tacky, but as the first glimpses of the castle were revealed we realised this was way more than we had been expecting. We emerged from the mist into a perfect sky marred only by a hint of smoke from the forest fires devasting the area.

We spent an enchanting hour touring the castle and its magnificent art works. Hearst had bought whole ceilings from 16th Century Italian and Spanish churches and installed them here. Crazy arrogance but ironically now available for countless visitors to come and marvel at.

 It wasn’t hard to imagine it as it had been when Hearst entertained the powerful, the beautiful and the famous. The renowned Jupiter pool had been drained for repairs but the stunning indoor pool with its gold and Murano tiles more than made up for it.

We came down feeling that we had had a glimpse into a world that no longer exists. A well-chosen stop!
A couple of miles down the Coast and we took a brief stop to marvel at the elephant seals basking in the warm sand. Such a contrast to the manicured opulence we had just left.

Then on up the endlessly winding and spectacular Pacific Coast Highway. It was still very foggy (and smoky) but we were treated to glimpses of the craggy shoreline and endless crashing surf. On the way we passed several fire staging areas and saw fire fighters merging from the forest from time to time. It was a very sobering thought to think that not too far away from where we were driving people were losing their homes.

We were planning on spending some time in Carmel-by-the-Sea but had managed to chose the week of the Monterey Car Show. After a slightly nerve-wracking drive through the narrow streets trying to avoid Lamborghinis, Maseratis and Aston Martins, we grabbed a quick burger and heading back onto the relative peace and quiet of the open road. We arrived in Santa Cruz for one night in a delightful renovated Victorian Villa. Gorgeous. 

I knew that Santa Cruz had a board walk so we ventured out to see it. I was thinking of a boardwalk like back home – a nice walk along the beach, maybe see some more seals and other wildlife. To my delight it was a completely over the top carnival space – wooden roller coaster, merry go round, gondola, sideshows, arcades, lights. I love stuff like this! It was like being transported  back a hundred years.

A delicious cioppino at a funky restaurant on the wharf – fresh lobster, mussels and crab and I was in a very happy (if messy)place.
We walked back though the now packed board walk, resisted the urge to try and win an enormous teddy bear, grabbed a root beer float and decided we liked Santa Cruz very much.