14 moments from our summer 2014 trip to the UK


Just a few days after Peabody’s last day of 5th grade, we headed to the UK for two weeks. Leaving right after school usually means better weather and smaller crowds, especially when travelling to Europe. It also starts the summer off big and sets the tone for the next couple months. Here are a few of the adventures we had in our two weeks in Stratford-upon-Avon, York, Edinburgh and London.

  • Calling on Sir John Soane
  • Meeting Henry VIII and George II at their home in Hampton Court
  • Stepping onto the set of a 18th century TV pilot
  • Visiting the Land Rover assembly plant in Solihul
  • Staying at the Ace and having tea in the lobby every morning
  • Touring the RSC’s theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and seeing Roaring Girl
  • Exploring Lincoln’s Inn with LEG
  • Shopping and eating in Shoreditch
  • Playing games at the National Museum of Scotland
  • Walking the York Wall at dusk
  • Time travelling to Roman Britannia
  • Mudlarking for clay pipes, roof tiles and potsherds
  • Saving the world in 60 minutes and 45 seconds
  • Drinking homebrew with friends and getting inspired to make our own

Calling on Sir John Soane

London is filled with an endless supply of quirky museums and on this trip, we found one right out of an HP Lovecraft story. One of England’s great architects, Sir John Soane (1753-1837), collects artifacts from around the world, decorates every wall, ceiling and floor of his home with them and opens his doors to the public. He turns the wine cellar into a Roman burial crypt, complete with an Egyptian sarcophagus. And in his yard, he buries an imaginary monk in the ruins of his imaginary monastery. Soane’s collection remains just where it was when he died in 1837. If Indiana Jones had a great-great-grandfather, the Soane Museum is where you would find him. Yes, it’s free, but you should buy a guide book or something from the gift shop to support the ongoing upkeep and restoration of this awesome home. (Photo courtesy of the Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum)

Exploring Roman Britain in York and St. Albans


Sting sings, “The teachers told us, the Romans built this place. They built a wall and a temple, an edge of the empire.” With every trip to the UK, we look for opportunities to walk along those walls and touch the foundations of those temples. In 2012, we walked through the remains of the Roman baths in Bath, and in 2010, we visited the Museum of London and followed the Roman Wall trail in London. This year we visited two museums which had some great Roman displays. The Yorkshire Museum in York has a very nice collection of artifacts and some surprisingly good exhibits. While there is a gorgeous theater with a nice movie on the history of the town and a high-tech display that lets you meet a number of locals from York’s Roman past, our favorite presentation was a video produced by some local students on the story behind the museum’s interesting bust of Constantine the Great. The Yorkshire Museum is one of York’s best attractions. While in London we took a quick day trip to St. Albans to visit the Verulamium Museum. The museum was built in 2005 and holds a great collection of Roman archaeology pulled from the surrounding area. The current city of St. Albans grew next to, not on top of, the old Roman city of Verulanium, so the collection is remarkably well preserved. We loved the mosaic floors (much better than the British Museum’s collection) and the drawers full of little Roman artifacts. St. Albans also has a gorgeous cathedral and shrine to England’s first martyr. If you visit, have lunch at Baked Nation, about half way on the walk between the train station and the center of town. For explorers of Roman Britain, St. Albans is very much worth a visit!

Hitting the Road in the UK

We got summer off to a quick start this year, heading straight to the UK just days after Peabody’s last day of fifth grade and Nettie’s high school graduation. It was our longest trip yet, almost two weeks that would take us as far north as Edinburgh. Our first stop was Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown and a typical destination on many English holiday itineraries. While we enjoyed the Elizabethan sites, a fun production at the RSC and a nice B&B, the highlight of this stop for me and Peabody was a tour of the Land Rover factory in nearby Solihul. We were the only civilians on the tour – the other half dozen people were car dealers from Russia and South Africa. The three hour tour started off in the modern plant where massive robots assemble hundreds of Range Rovers each day. It’s impressive to see how a vehicle is put together piece-by-piece over a 15 hour span. Across the complex we also visited the original factory building which still bares some of its of WWII era camouflage paint from when they made airplane engines. This is where the classic Defender is built in basically the same, human intensive, manner it was in the 1950′s. There was a line of military spec trucks being prepped for shipment to Iraq. These are some of the last Defenders to ever be built as the vehicle is being discontinued in 2015. While we were there we also got a sneak peek at what they’ll be making instead – a new Jaguar. It’s the end of an era. Anyone can visit the facility for a fee. Information can be found here.

Last Day of Crime Science Camp


For the past two weeks I’ve been going to Crime Camp at the Lawrence Hall of Science in the Berkeley Hills. We started out with fingerprinting and invisible ink, but quickly got into blowing things up. One of the best things we did was fill a balloon with hydrogen and put a candle under it to make it explode. We also took a field trip to the Cal campus police station. On our last day we worked on codes and ciphers. We ended the day by throwing cabbages that had been frozen with liquid nitrogen off the top of the museum. They shattered like glass when they hit the cement. In this picture I’m putting a marshmallow that’s been frozen by liquid hydrogen in my mouth and breathing out. The three other people in the picture are our awesome teachers/camp counselors – Randal, Justine and Wes. Wes, in the yellow shirt, plays the drums in the Cal marching band!

Some Summer Library Books

Here are some books that I have been reading recently. Mail-order Mysteries is a book where they take the ads from old comic books and send-away for what’s being advertised. When they get it back, they compare it with the description in the ad. Most of them, like the giant seven foot ghost and the “thousand toy soldiers” were nothing like the ad. It was written by a guy who collected things from comic books when he was a kid. The book in the middle, Fantastic Voyage, is about a small group of people who go inside a scientist’s body in a shrunken submarine in an attempt to clear a blood clot from his brain. It was a very descriptive book, especially when they are being shrunken down. The Time Pirate is the second book in the Nick of Time series. The book starts in 1940 on the British Channel Islands. Nick, a 13 year old boy, will end up fighting pirates, bombing Nazis, and meeting George Washington. All three of these are good books but I really liked the Time Pirate, especially the description of Nick fixing his dad’s Sopwith Camel.

Fireworks from our roof

This was our first July 4th in our new home and thanks to the clear weather we were able to watch fireworks from all over the Bay area. Even from a distance, the San Francisco fireworks were spectacular.

Norse Mythology

Runemarks by Derringdos

I was recently searching for a new book to read and came across Runemarks by Joanne Harris. I enjoyed it immensely and it is now one of my favorite books. It centers on a fourteen year old girl named Maddie who lives in a village in a sort of fantasy world five hundred years after Ragnarok. Because of the magical symbol, or runemark, on her hand which marks her as one who can use magic, she is an outcast and rumored to be a witch. The book follows her story as she meets various figures from Norse mythology and discover her destiny. I love mythology of any sort so I really liked meeting all the characters and learning more about their back-stories and laughing at all of the little jokes the author has slipped in. I can’t wait to read the sequel! After finishing Runemarks, I still craved more Norse mythology, so I dug out our old copy of the d’Aulaires’ Norse Gods and Giants to read up on my myths and draw several of the gods and goddesses. Above you can see Loki and baby Hel, Odin and Frigg, and Bragi and Idunn. Even after all this I was still hungry for more, so I began to watch one of the most entertaining shows I have ever seen: “The Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok,” an anime that focuses on Loki, exiled to Earth by Odin in the form of a young boy, where he must evade being killed by various Norse gods and monsters while simultaneously running a detective agency to try to return to Asgard. It is super fun to watch, although lacking in a few respects, mainly female empowerment, but hopefully that will change as I continue watching (on Hulu). I’m so glad I found Runemarks and rediscovered my love of Norse mythology!

Lodge log books

When you’re on an overnight trip with 30 fourth and fifth graders (see Peabody’s earlier post), it’s a pleasure to find a safe place for a bit of peace and quiet. At the Clair Tappaan Lodge in the Sierras, that place is the Library, a medium sized reading room with a cozy wood stove and eclectic collection of donated fiction, travel and natural history books. On one of the lower shelves, are large Tupperware containers filled with visitor log books dating back to the 1930s. The oldest books simply list names and dates. But many are packed with the personal accounts of the Boy Scout troops, nature clubs, families, couples and individuals who have used the lodge as a base for exploring the area. My favorites were illustrated with maps and pictures or random doodles. Check out a few pictures here.

Donner Pass Overnight

My class went to the Sierras for the last week of school. We went there because we were studying the transcontinental railroad which went through this area. On the first day we went on a hike to the snowsheds, which are structures that were used to keep snow off the tracks. The tracks aren’t there, but I found a big hunk of metal which might be a piece of the Transcontinental railway. We hiked through the tunnel which was very cold, wet and dark. There was even some snow. Nearby there are Native America petroglyphs that you can walk right up to. People aren’t positive what they actually mean. We stayed at Clair Tappan Lodge, which was built by Sierra Club volunteers in the 1930s. The first thing we did when we got to the lodge was to drop all our clothes and sleeping bag in our rooms. There was one bunk bed and two triple bunk beds in my room. Then we went down to the basement to play ping pong. All guests who stay at the lodge have to sign up for a chore. Some of the chores are cleaning dishes, taking out the trash, setting the table – just like home, but instead of setting the table for four you’re doing it for 30. On the next day we woke up and made our lunches for that day’s long hike. It had rained the night before so there were billions of mosquitoes out. Halfway through the hike, we did a solo where you went for part of the way by yourself. After that we went to the top of the mountain and found a large patch of snow. In seconds there was a huge snowball fight. After that we had lunch, went back to the lodge, packed-up and drove back to school. Sometime I would like to go back in the winter when there is more snow.