Thursday, June 25, 2009

We Interrupt this Fascinating Travel Log...

The Graveyard Book The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
May I begin by telling my good friend Jenifer "thank you" for suggesting this book--especially in its audio form (a second plug by Grammar Girl was also appreciated).

I loved The Graveyard Book's originality, especially because it is geared towards younger readers. This book is exciting and charming. The main character, Bod (short for Nobody) is endearing, as are many of the other characters. After being untimely orphaned, Bod is taken in by the inhabitants of a graveyard. He grows up there and is taught a variety of lessons by those who are buried there. He often refers to the inhabitants by their name, birth and death dates and epitaph. He struggles with his desire to be among those who are breathing and his need to have the graveyard's protection from those who want him dead.

I can't pretend that I didn't wonder about certain things: where does he bathe?, who washes his clothing?, and, is there a restroom in the graveyard? But all of these questions seem unimportant in the end.

As an adult I was actually nervous bordering on down-right scared at times. It is a suspenseful and sometimes touching tale.

Audio review: I almost feel like you would be missing out more than a little bit by only reading this book. It is read by the author who does a very impressive job. The variations in language and accent are spot on. Excellent!

View all my reviews.

Monday, June 22, 2009

European Tour 2009 - Day 2

Conwy Castle

We set off on Saturday morning for North Wales and Conwy Castle. I think it was a pretty lengthy drive, but I was still struggling with the whole "stay awake in the car" thing. I hear that there was a lot of beautiful countryside and I'm sorry I missed it. Conwy Castle is amazing. It was rainy, windy and freezing, but that didn't dampen the experience. It's hard to believe that places like this still exist--especially being so used to the American "tear it down and build something new" mentality. This castle dates back to 1200 a.d. and was commissioned by King Edward I. It is almost maze-like and the views from the tops of the towers are incredible.
View of the countryside from Conwy Castle

These openings are called "murder holes." The archers could defend the castle here.

Looking down into what would have been several floors of a tower

View from a tower into the castle

Amazingly beautiful architechture in the castle chapel

Sister Hafen, me, Brother Hafen, Tina and Dan in the chapel area of the castle

Another view across Conwy Castle

Eric and Dan at the top of a tower

View of the bridge

Outside Conwy Castle

View from Conwy Castle of Conwy. You can still see the castle walls that once surrounded the city.

We then traveled to another castle in North Wales called Caernarfon. We travelled though the castle's walls and through a little town that surrounds the castle. We ate at a little cafe called Cally's. Caernarfon was also built by King Edward I. It is also significant because that is where King Edward's first son was born and where the tradition of making the eldest son of the king or queen the Prince of Wales. In fact, Prince Charles' coronation actually took place at Caernarfon Castle (do they call it a coronation if it is a prince?). I expected these two castles to be similar, as they were built around the same time. But Caernarfon had a French architect and a very different feel to it. Many of the basics were the same, but it was very different from Conwy.

Caernarfon Castle

I sort of wish I had counted all the stairs we climbed

Inside Caernarfon's walls

View from Caernarfon

View from the back of the van

The Hafen's flat in Lymm

It was a great day! After returning from the castles we walked over to the co-op for our first non-gift shop shopping experience. Things are so dissimilar! It was surprising to me--I'm not sure why it should be.

This was the worst night for me, as far as lack of sleep goes. I just couldn't fall asleep, so I watched Pride and Prejudice on my iPod. I nearly saw all six hours. That gives you an idea how much I slept.

What we ate today: Sister Hafen made pancakes and we ate them with some really yummy syrup called Golden Syrup--I put a little creme fraiche on mine as well--mmmmm; for lunch we all had sandwiches and a couple of us had baked potatoes; hot chocolate (still freezing); flapjacks (and thus began Dan's incessent search for more flapjacks); and for dinner, chicken, mashed potatoes and veggies--including my first experience with leeks (they were good, by the way).

Today I learned that most of the information regarding the Kings and Queens of England that I memorized in high school did not stay with me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Day One - European Tour 2009

Chatsworth House

As author of this little European travel log, I reserve the right to post or neglect to post photos as I choose (we took about 800 photos--so be happy about that). This fact will be demonstrated immediately, as I will not post the first picture that was taken on our vacation. Eric took a picture of me being frisked by a security officer at McCarren Airport. (Needless to say, I removed my insulin pump for every subsequent security check.) I would have posted this very flattering picture, but the security officer made it very clear that taking pictures of a security check are unacceptable.

We arrived in Manchester and were greeted by Tina's parents. They are serving a mission there and were our amazing hosts, cooks, tour guides and chauffeurs. After dropping off our luggage at their flat in Lymm, we immediately left for Chatsworth House, which is the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Amazing! Eric was more than a little jet-lagged and didn't love it as much as I did, but it was unlike anything I had seen before.

The front steps just inside Chatsworth.

The library--my favorite room

More library shots, and that violin--it's a painting

Various indoor shots including Eric's attempt at looking fascinated with period costumes

The staircase, dining room and a few of the many statues

Eric, Sister Hafen, Dan and Tina outside Chatsworth House

Dan and Tina

Gardens at Chatsworth

A few more outdoor shots

Chatsworth House is near a little town called Bakewell. I loved Bakewell! We actually went there in search of Bakewell's famous tarts, and found a very enchanting little town. It also had one of those great creepy churches complete with a graveyard (parts of the church were built in 1100).


A street in Bakewell

The creepy yet very cool church

Side-view of the church

I blame any bad karma for the rest of the trip on Dan and Eric

We also went on a little walking tour in the rain around the town of Lymm. The canal that runs through town is filled with barge-type houseboats. We picked up some authentic fish and chips and mushy peas on the way back to the flat.

Things we ate today: a couple of pretty good sandwiches in the Las Vegas and Philidelphia airports (Eric: sorry about your poor choice of McDonlads in the Philly airport!); some surprisingly good chicken and pasta on the airplane; french toast and honey--compliments of Sister Ann Hafen; ice cream in Bakewell; fish and chips and mushy peas; Bakewell tarts and some other kind of yummy coconut tart; and Galaxy Mintrels (a yummy English version of M&Ms--but WAY better).

Things I discovered: England can be freezing, even in the summer; I'm more than glad that I invested in my raincoat; I can't keep my eyes open during long car rides in any country; I was so glad we weren't driving with the whole "driver on the right hand side" thing.

I Think My Girls are Funny

I know I threatened to begin posting our vacations pictures, but, at the request of the big girls in the family, I am advertising their new video blog. Apparently they are planning to document--on video--this summer's road trips. View if you dare. I think they are kind of funny. The name of their blog is (That is "s and s," not "sands.") Or you can click here to go directly to the video.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Just a Little Warning

For those few of you who may attempt to keep up with my sadly neglected blog, I feel obligated to tell you that there are several updates coming at you. The warning part comes from the fact that Eric and I just returned from ten days in England and France and that said updates are mostly a travel log. Boring to most, but necessary for me to do while details are still fresh in my sieve of a brain.