Thursday, March 20, 2014

Weekend in the English Countryside with the Cousins!

Josh has a lot of family in England and Ireland and one of the advantages about us living in Europe has been being able to visit with them easier than we could when we lived Stateside.  During this time, we've become very close with Josh's cousin Fiona and her family in northern England.

Back in November, they met up with us in Edinburgh, Scotland - with the timing of events on their end and flights on ours, we only got one full day in, barely that.  And yet, they drove 4 hours to meet up with us.  It was a great chance for the kids to meet their cousins for the first time.  The best part was that they all hit it off immediately.

Our kids have no first cousins but embrace their extended family of mine and Josh's cousins.  Aidan, who takes a while to warm up, was laughing and joking with his cousins pretty quickly.  The bonus for him is that Eden and Angus are his age whereas his cousins on my side aren't even half his age.  I remember as a child being the oldest cousin as well and while it had it's positives, it could also be lonely.  I loved seeing him in his element with new family.

Because we had such a great time in Edinburgh, Fiona and I had been in touch trying to figure out another time we could all get together again, this time either in England or in Barcelona.  It was fun being in Edinburgh together but it didn't give the kids a whole lot of time or space to just run around and be kids when we were all staying in a hotel in the city.  Fiona and I finally figured out a weekend and with Josh meeting us there, the kids and I were off to Ripon, England!!

We flew into Leeds/Bradford and were whisked off to the English countryside by Colin.  It was a beautifully scenic 45 minute drive to their home in Ripon.  After a long, wet winter, everything was already getting green for springtime.  There were daffodils popping up and the fields were filled with sheep and their babies, cows and horses.  There is a reason England is one of my favorite countries and it isn't just because they speak my language.  The landscape here is just stunning at every turn. Unfortunately as we were driving, I didn't take any pictures of the scenery so you'll just have to take my word on it's beauty.

As we drove into Ripon, I remembered how when we were in Edinburgh, Fiona said if I loved Edinburgh then I would definitely love Ripon.  And she was right.  For a city, it's incredibly small, in fact it is the 4th smallest city in England.  Only about 20,000 people live here.  It gets it's city status from the Cathedral in the center of town.  The streets are narrow but not as narrow as others I've seen throughout our travels, but just narrow enough to make them quaint but not so narrow that you wonder how in the world this can possibly be a two way street when one car can barely fit down it!  You can tell that this is a city that has been around for a long, long time. As Fiona told me later, the smaller the bricks, the older the building.  And I saw a lot of small bricks.

In fact, the city of Ripon (located in Yorkshire) dates back 1300 years.  And while you can feel the history all around you, at the same time, the city is filled with beautiful shops and restaurants and it seems that no modern amenity is difficult to find.  Something that has been a challenge for us in Barcelona!

Upon arriving at their house, the kids were a little nervous to see their cousins again.  But not to worry, within moments, they were laughing and playing as though it had just been hours instead of months since they last saw each other.  Angus and Eden are not just the loveliest and most well mannered kids that I know, they are incredibly social and make you feel like a part of the group instantly.  They are such a pleasure to be around and were full of kind things to say and lots of hugs.  I feel like they are our surrogate niece and nephew, it just feels that comfortable with them.  Eden was definitely my BFF for the weekend and I loved every moment -  I love that I'm getting to know her better and spend some quality time with her.  

While the kids played, Fiona, Colin and I caught up on life.  Josh wasn't flying in until Saturday morning.  Eventually Fiona and I went into Ripon do a little touring around and to pick up dinner - fish and chips.  Yes, totally traditional English meal.  I'm not a huge fan of fish, but figured I'd get chicken. Only Aidan took a look at the fish (he's not always a fan of fried) and decided he wanted the chicken. So I had to take one for the team only I really didn't end up having to as it was delicious... more so than I anticipated.  Of course, it's hard to mess up anything fried, but even still, it was delectable and I can totally see myself eating it again.

Everyone stayed up late the first night and once again it says something about the openness of this family because there was never a moment with awkward silence or without something interesting to say.  I could have stayed up all night just talking away.  But as we had plans for Saturday and Josh was flying in, the conversations would have to wait til morning!!

After Colin picked up Josh from the airport, Fiona and I ran into Ripon again to do a little looking around in the daylight hours.  I got to check out the Cathedral and a few of the little shops before we stopped to pick up lunch - steak and chicken bakes, essentially a chicken or steak pot pie in a flaky hand held pastry.  Yeah, it was delicious too!!   The pictures below are all of the city center of Ripon.

After our yummy lunch, we drove 45 minutes to York.  As in the original and not "New" as Liam thought we were going to when we mentioned York ;)  And if I thought Ripon had some history, enter York at just about 2000 years old (founded in 71 AD).  Yeah, 2000 years old.  Talk about history.  But for all it's history, I was drawn to York for one reason - The Gap.  Seriously.  We don't have one in Barcelona - I'm not even sure if there is one in Spain, but definitely not one within any reasonable driving distance from here.

Ready to rock n roll to York for the day...

So we did a casual tour around York - no particular aim in mind (that I'm aware of), just wandering around and taking in the sights.  And of course, going to the Gap - despite only bringing carry on baggage for this trip, I made sure we would have ample room for our purchases!  This is a beautiful city full of history and adorable streets filled with equally adorable shops.  We saw a lot of candy shops and confectionaries including some fabulous fudge (unheard of in Spain).  Upon my research after the fact, it turns out that at one point in time, York was known for it's confections.  You learn something new every day!  It is also home to the shortest street in England with the longest name!

Not sure what this is but it was at the top of a hill that was covered in daffodils - it looks like perhaps it was a lookout tower.

The boys!

We start our walk thru York

Beautiful old buildings

We especially liked the sheep being hung over the door

Chocolate heaven??  Why yes it is!!

We saw a lot of statues of cats - not sure of the symbolism of them but there were enough to see it's a trend of some kind.

What you can't see is that this "dog" is actually holding his leg up to "pee" on the pole next too him.  Notice the look on Aidan's face!

Watching how fudge is made

Every city we go to has these human statues - the kids never get tired of it... and this guy was great!

Odd devil statue

Awww so cute - Liam and Angus are adorable ... but then Aidan photobombed the next one!

Fiona, Eden and Julie

Another human statue kind of deal only this "Yoda" was "floating" somehow.  The kids figured it out (there was a pole going thru his cane and thru his pant leg to a platform he was sitting on) and had fun trying to solve the mystery!

This was near The Gap - my happy place :)

yoga bunny detox???

This is the shortest street in England with the longest name - see the description below...

After a fun afternoon in York we headed back to Ripon.  The kids ran and played outside which they needed!  By evening they were spent!  And for dinner, the most amazing meatballs ever!  The secret ingredient?  Apples!  I need to make them and think I could actually attempt to do so based on the somewhat simple recipe that Fiona told me (though going to need a refresher on that recipe!).  With Josh now with us, we had yet another late night chatting which was so great!!

Aidan's new thing is photobombing... 

I know this pic is out of proportion with the rest of the day in York but it was too pretty to not blow up a bit bigger than the rest.  Ahhhh the beauty of sunset in the English countryside!

Four very tired kids...

We were up early on Sunday with a busy day ahead of us.  After a proper English breakfast, we headed into Ripon because there are shops open on Sundays here.  Woo hoo!  We don't get that in Barcelona.  And it's taken us a long time to get used to and while we definitely like it now that we have to just chill out and relax on a Sunday afternoon, when we are on vacation it's nice to have stores open the entire time you are visiting!  However, that doesn't mean that all the stores were open and Eden was especially disappointed to not be able to show me one of her favorite shops - I guess that means we'll have to go back to Ripon one of these days!!

After doing a little shopping, we went to Fountains Abbey.  I think this was by far the best part of the trip (aside from visiting with our family of course!).  Green grass as far as the eye can see.  Words nor pictures can accurately describe the beauty of this park.  Set amongst fields and woods with a small river running alongside the ruins of an Abbey that dates back to the 1100s and walking trails everywhere.  Not only was this the perfect place for the kids to just run and run and run some more, but it's a photographer's dream.  The lighting was beautiful and we were lucky to have a sunny day.  The kids made up games, climbed on the ruins, ran some more and just had a great time!  The smiles on their faces were priceless!  This is what our kids need more of and no matter where we land for our next home, I think it's time to move out of the city and into the burbs where we can get more time like this. Though it will be hard to top Fountains Abbey for sure!

Cousins united!

Action shot!

That's part of the Abbey behind Liam

What is it with boys and sticks??

Ready, set, go!!

Running across the field - full of energy!

The Abbey

Another view

Little river that flows amongst the ruins

Tiny waterfall

I love how the river runs right alongside the ruin

Happy kids getting to run around

How high can you climb? (answer: not far)

A good place to hide while playing hide n seek



Great cousin picture!

Aside from great lighting, I love that the river is running alongside the ruin again

This would be an awesome family pic if it weren't for the bunny ears Aidan is giving me (and is doing in all the other pictures we took!)

Planning out a new game

The new game involves running a lot!

Aidan so happy!  And Eden and Liam as well!

Off to chase Eden and Liam!


Such a beauty!


Another great cousin shot!

After running around for a bit, we started to make our way back to the car.  But no park is complete unless you've hit the playground too!

We headed back to the house for yet another fabulous meal made by Fiona before Josh had to head to the airport around 3:30.  As he left, Eden and I went into town to do some shopping - a girl after my own heart :)  Our first stop was the grocery store where I bought absolutely nothing of any healthy redeeming value - but that I couldn't get in Barcelona.  And then we did a little clothes shopping,  my new favorite store now being Fat Face.

The kids were in bed at a normal time on Sun as Fiona had her radio show and quite honestly, they were all very obviously tired.  School for Fiona's kids on Monday and the boys and I just chilled out til we had to head to the airport around 12:30.  Colin took Liam's puking in his car incredibly well - and for that I'm thankful!!  It's not a good time unless Liam throws up at least once!!

The best part of the trip?  Well, there were so many that it's hard to pin down.  I love that the kids all bonded.  I love that the whole weekend I felt like we were with old friends rather than family that we've hung out with on the rare occasion (and only the 2nd time for the kids).  I loved the beauty of the city but also of the countryside.  I really loved it all.  But my favorite part?  It was such a great time that while we were hanging out on Saturday night, Colin and Fiona booked a trip with the kids to come and see us in Barcelona over the Easter break.  We are all so excited to get to show them our home!! Something to look forward to in just a matter of weeks!


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