Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Visit from the Kinders

Our dear friends Ashley and Dustin came to visit us over the Easter break. As always, we had a fabulous time with them. Our time with them reminded us how much we miss all of our friends back in Texas.

Their visit started with a couple of days in Oxford:

Dustin and I exchanging our customary greeting

Our beautiful (and patient) wives

Ashley and Dustin at Christ Church College

After Oxford, we headed to London for a whirlwind tour of the big city:

Jared, Dustin and Ben

Dinner at the Texas Embassy!

Then off to Deutschland...

Our first German town: Munich, Bavaria

Of course, we had to spend the evening at the HofbrÀuhaus.  The ladies had weissbier...

...but I went for the real deal--a full liter of dunkel

After Munich, we drove across the Austrian border to Salzburg:

"Some people just aren't cut out for life on the road."--Lloyd Christmas

The streets of Salzburg

Salzburg's most famous resident: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

After Salzburg, we drove along the German-Austrian border to Mad King Ludwig's castles:

Our stop for lunch at the Andechs Monastery. For the first time in our lives, Dustin and I considered becoming monks.

Neuschwanstein Castle...almost like a fairy tale

The views from the castle were amazing...

...but Dustin and I were more amazed by our hotel owner's mustache

After Neuschwanstein, we drove up the 'Romantic Road' for two nights in medieval town of Rothenburg:

The streets of Rothenburg

While Ashley and Leah enjoyed shopping in Rothenburg...

...Dustin and I walked the city walls

But to Dustin and me, the most impressive sight was our new personal hero: The Night Watchman of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Our final day in Germany was spent driving in along the Rhine River:

A castle and terraced vineyard on the Rhine

The magnificent Rhine Valley
We were sad to see our friends go, but we are thankful for the wonderful time that we got to spend with them.  It was one of the highlights of our year!

Leah's Birthday

Yes, I realize that Leah's birthday was a long time ago. Three months to be exact. However, it was a special time for us and I wanted to share a couple of pictures.

Our friends Madeleine and Adam hosted a party for Leah at their flat:

Kahli gave Leah a book full of great recipes (including homemade tortillas)!

Leah and her ice cream cake from G&D's.  That's alot of candles!

Our group of American friends

Leah also received several surprises from other people:

Flowers from Ashley and Dustin

Flowers from her co-workers at Emmanuel Christian School

My present to Leah was a trip to London to see The Lion King:

An added bonus was dinner at a Mexican food restaurant to satisfy our long-overdue Tex-Mex craving!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Original Hot Springs

For the past three years, I have taken an annual trip with my law firm and some clients to play golf and watch the horse races in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We always joke that Hot Springs never changes, but it has nothing on the original resort town--Bath, England.

The River Avon as it flows under Pulteney Bridge in Bath

The Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, commonly known as Bath Abbey

The angels climb Jacob's Ladder on the west front

Bath is about an hour and a half from Oxford by train. We went for a day trip one Saturday. A trip to Bath is a good reminder of how far the Roman Empire stretched in its peak. There is archaeological evidence that there was human activity around the hot springs from as far back as 8000 B.C. The city was first established as a spa resort by the Romans in AD 43. In AD 70, the Romans built a reservoir around the hot springs, and then a sophisticated series of baths and a temple dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva.

Part of the Roman Temple reconstructed from ruins

I thought this would make a nice souvenir, but unfortunately it was not for sale

The view from within the Roman Baths

After the withdrawal of the Romans in 410, the town fell into decline. Although the use of the baths continued, they again became famous as a result of frequent royal visits. Legend has it that King James II's wife was  finally able to conceive as a result of the healing properties of the baths. Also, Queen Anne visited Bath regularly. These visits set in motion a period of development in which Bath became 'the premier resort of frivolity and fashion', and led to a great rebuilding of the city. In the late 1700's, excavations for new buildings led to the re-discovery of the previous Roman sites.

The Royal Crescent is a residential row of 30 houses laid out in a  crescent.  It is said to be one of the greatest examples of Georgian architecture.

One of the magnificent chandeliers that the aristocrats danced under during Bath's heyday

Of course, our day was not all history...

Our tour guide on the absolutely hilarious Bizarre Bath Tour.  According to Rick Steves, this tour has ‘absolutely no history or culture' and is ‘careful to insult all kinds of minorities and sensitivities.’  As Texans, we gave him plenty of ammunition!

As we were leaving, we learned a little bit of UK geography on the gigantic map in front of the Abbey:

Livingston is on the map!

Monday, May 2, 2011

May Morning

This past Sunday, Leah and I woke up early (4:30 AM) to observe a 500-year-old Oxford tradition. "May Morning" is celebrated here every year at dawn on May Day (May 1st). The tradition begins at 6:00 AM with the Magdalen College Choir singing the hymn, Hymnus Eucharisticus, from the top of Magdalen Tower.

If you look really closely, you can see the choir on top of the tower

Most students start the festivities the night before as the pubs in Oxford stay open all night before May Morning. As 6:00 approached, a large crowd began to gather under the tower along the High Street and on Magdalen Bridge. Since we had actually gone to bed the night before, we were a bit more sober than those surrounding us.

The crowd on Magdalen Bridge.  A recent "tradition" has been for students to jump from the bridge into the very shallow river below.  To prevent this, the bridge is lined with security guards (the ones in the bright yellow coats).

After the concert (which lasted about 10 minutes), there was all sorts of festivities going on in the City Center such as Morris dancing (traditional English folk dancing) and several forms of music.

Folk dancing under Hertford Bridge (aka Oxford's "Bridge of Sighs")

The lady in the sheep mask was dancing around and handing out golden thread.  A little too much weirdness for me that early in morning.

More dancing on High Street

After waking around for a while, we grabbed breakfast with our Australian friend, Jono, and then...went back to BED!