Monthly Archives: June 2012

Bonjour et Au Revoir, Bordeaux

We arrived in France on Tuesday. It was the first time in our travels where we traveled from one country into another, neither of which was our home country (UK to France). Entering France was remarkably easy compared to our entrance into the UK at Heathrow Airport where we spent at least an hour waiting to get through customs. I’m hoping this was not the norm for Heathrow, otherwise, the throngs of visitors that will be arriving for the Olympics will be in for an initial shock. Especially if they have to wait for hours in the long line for customs only to realize that they have to pay to pee afterwards as they run for the public restrooms. My hope is that they will find the money exchange stations before they get in line for customs or they will literally be up a creek.

But this story is suppose to be about our day in Bordeaux!

As I mentioned, we arrived in France with little fanfare. No customs card on the plane, no long lines at the plane exit. Just a border patrol policeman who stamped my passport with no questions. We headed from the airport to our hotel, the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux. It is part of the grand architecture of Bordeaux located across the street from the Opera House. While our time here did not allow us time to see an opera, it did a allow us a day to explore the history of some of the wineries of the Medoc region of France. We visited three wineries and did wine tastings — Chateau Phelan-Segur, Chateau Pontet-Canet, and Chateau Cantenac-Brown. I will review each of these for you in a moment, but if you look at my Facebook or Instagram, you will see that there are many more chateaus and vineyards that we did not get to visit, but we did stop by the side of the road for a “Instagram moment.” Most of these grand chateaus were built in the 18th and 19th centuries and some were built merely for show on the labels of the wine that were produced. A small portion of them are actually lived in by the owners of the vineyards today, but in most cases, it is only for a small portion of the year.

What I loved most about our visits to the vineyards was learning about the wine making process. Some of these processes have been in place for hundreds of years. When it came to the winemaking process, my favorite vineyard was Chateau Pontet-Canet. They are the only organic vineyard in Medoc and they also use all natural products as pesticides. In this case, their pesticide strategy is based in sage which is distributed over the vineyard by horse drawn carts. Five horses work the vineyard on a regular basis distributing the natural sage and maintaining the levels of the vines. While their process seems very primitive (grapes also continue to be hand picked and hand sorted), on their 2009 vintage, the renowned wine critic Robert Parker gave them a perfect score of 100 on their wine. Today a bottle of their 2009 vintage will sell for about $300USD.

But when it came to my favorite wine tasting, it was Chateau Phelan-Segur. The owner of this vineyard also owns Orange Groves in Florida and grows oranges for Tropicana, so we had a connection. What was great about this vineyard was that the tour was given by the winemaker himself. He taught us about blending the wine for taste and how that happens over the course of the winemaking process. At Phelan-Segur we also saw some of the newer technologies introduced into the winemaking such as an optical grape sorter that could scan the good berries from the bad and discard those that are not to standard. I also loved the wine tasting at Phelan-Segur the best. The wine maker allowed us to taste three or four vintages in a row so that we could see how wine tasted through the aging process. I love the younger wines and Craig loves the more mature wines, so we both agreed that we loved the Phelan-Segure wines, but just different vintage years.

Our day in Bordeaux was both wonderful and exhausting! We came back early and collapsed at the hotel. Tomorrow will be another travel day where we take the train to Paris to meet up with my sister Christy and her husband Erik. This will be the last leg of our trip before we head back to Florida on Monday. But we will be in Paris, so I’m sure there will be many adventures to come!!

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Our final day in Scotland

Keeping up with blogging is no easy challenge, especially with the scarcity of available internet on this trip. I’m sure 20 years from now, the availability of free internet will be a non-issue, but today it is still a challenge.

On our last full day in Scotland, we drove from on side of the country to the other, on the coastal route. We left our wonderful accommodations at Culzean Castle and headed for Melrose, home to Melrose and Dryburgh Abbeys. Two large abbeys that today stand in ruin, but are still beautiful examples of the architecture of the 13th-16th centuries. Our path took us through other small towns, ruins of other castles, and some amazingly beautiful countryside. We drove carefully through the valleys so as not to hit any sheep that might be crossing the roads, as they grazed with no fences on the beautiful hills and mountains.

Our evening destination brought us to our stay at the Dryburgh Abbey hotel. While the hotel itself was about a 2 star hotel, the food was amazing and the scenery was equally beautiful. After our five course dinner, we headed to bed in preparation for our early flight to Bordeaux, France.

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Chasing down our Family History

Father’s Day was super fun and special for all of us in different ways. One of the projects I have enjoyed working on is the family history for both sides of the family. I completed it years ago on my side, but just started working on in over the last year for Craig’s family in anticipation of this trip. I can easily spend a full day on Ancentry.com tracing down ancient family history.

I had lots of help on this project from a man I knew only briefly, Craig’s grandfather, Kenneth Maccubbin (Grandpop), who loved to document the history of the Maccubbin side, especially Nicolas Maccubbin, a famous relative who was a wealthy land owner in Baltimore and who played a large role in financing the Revolutionary War. And several generations before Nicolas, we had John Maccubbin known as John the colonist, who left Scotland for America in an argument with his father over religion.

But it was John the colonist and his father, Laird (Lord) Fergus Maccubbin, that we spent Father’s Day trying to find. Laird Fergus Maccubbin was the Lord of an area called Knockdolian. The Knockdolian castle still exists in ruins on private property outside a small town called Colmonell. John was born in the castle and as the story goes, Laird Fergus Maccubbin also established the family burial vault in the cemetery of the Church of Colmonell in 1663.

So we headed out on Father’s Day to find both the church (and the cemetery) as well as the castle. To be honest, I expected we would either find gold, or it would be a total dead end. We were after all looking for history that is over 300 years old and in ruins. Our path landed us at the church, as they were just finishing up morning services. We met a wonderful lady who was locking up and asked us what name we were looking for on the gravestones. I told her “Maccubbin.” “Let me check the book,” she said.

After a few moments she came out to tell us there were no Maccubbins in the book. “But” she said, “There is a vault in the back of the cemetery. It is really old and locked. It is currently used by the Duke of Wellington for his family. But Billy Maccubbin (a local resident), swears his relatives are buried under there.”

We headed back to the cemetery and sure enough there it was. Carved at the top of the entrance was 1663 and a picture of a coat of arms. From my research on Ancestry.com:

Fergus McCubbin erected the tomb of the Knockdolian family in the church yard of Colmonell in 1663, and bears the armorial standards of the McCubbin’s.

So after we paid our respects to our ancestors, we moved on to see where they lived. The nice lady at the church, said it wasn’t against the law to enter someone’s private property as long as we were respectful of their stuff, so an unnamed member of our family took her up on this when we got to the castle and jumped a stone wall to get some better pictures. However, in this case the property they entered was owned by the Duke and Duchess of Wellington.

We all made it out just fine and a few unnamed members of the family got some great pictures of the ancestral home of the Maccubbins, Knockdolian Castle. I’m posting one from the internet, but when they are available from the other cameras, I will post them here as well.

While we didn’t get to bring Donald on this trip with us I know that he would have loved, loved, loved this portion of our journey. Grandpop would have too! And while I have not been a member of this family for that long compared to the rest of these folks (only 18 years), it was super fun for me to see all this history as well.

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Sleeping in the Eisenhower Apartment

On Saturday, we left Edinburgh and traveled across Scotland to West Kilbride. West Kilbride is known for its artisans and crafters, so we got a chance to see some beautiful art in a variety of mediums. The craft town is based in a restored old church in the center of down. While the outside of the church looks to be hundreds of years old, the inside was renovated and modern and provided shared space for artists to display and sell their work.

After leaving West Kilbride, we journeyed through the countryside of Scotland. At one point, we fought the GPS and took the back roads that allowed us to drive along the coast. While we have gone against the advice of the GPS in other countries and paid dearly for it, this time we saw beautiful countryside and even ran into the ruins of an old castle in Dunscore, which belonged to the Kennedy clan in the 14th-16th centuries. The castle had been abandon since the middle of the 17th century, but the city had created a park around it and if you wanted to, you could climb through the ruins of the castle. Craig and his mom took on the challenge and both came back raving about how wonderful it was. I have a feeling we will be climbing through alot more abandoned castles in this country!

After leaving Dunscore, we traveled on to our destination for the evening — Culzean Castle, also a Kennedy castle. Craig made an amazing online find when he found this castle and the Eisenhower Apartment. This 6 bedroom apartment and living area was given to General Eisenhower in 1946 as a thank you from the people of Scotland. The story goes that in 1945, the Kennedy family gave the castle and its grounds to the National Trust for Scotland. In doing so, they stipulated that the apartment at the top of the castle be given to General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, for use during his lifetime, in recognition of his role as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during the Second World War. The General first visited Culzean Castle in 1946 and stayed there four times, including once while President of the United States.

We have truly enjoyed staying in 2 of the 6 bedrooms of this apartment. The drawing room, although round, has the feeling of the Oval Office when you step into it. And our accommodations definitely have the feeling of being in the White House.

I’m sorry that I have not posted as many pictures on my blog as I usually do. I am working off my iPad and it is more challenging to post the pictures than it is with my computer. If you want to see pictures that correspond with all my posts, please see my Facebook or Instagram pages.

Today is Father’s Day — Happy Father’s Day, Dad! We are heading out to find the historic ruins of the Maccubbin family castle called Knockdolian castle and a corresponding family cemetery that is located in an adjoining town called Colmenoll. All created by Laird (Lord) Fergus Maccubbin in the 1600s. Research says these places exist. I will report back in my next post.

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Scottish Street Musicians

Amazing Grace!

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June 15, 2012 · 6:16 pm

Welcome to Scotland

At around noon on Thursday we crossed the border between England and Scotland.  Our train left King’s Cross Station from Platform 9 3/4’s (ok, actually it was Platform 2, but it makes the story better) at about 11 AM on Thursday and we arrived in Edinburgh around 3.  We will spend the next 2 days here on the Royal Mile which leads up to the Castle Edinburgh.  This castle dates as far back as 600 AD and has been home to Scottish Kings and Queens of the Canmore Dynasty, the Balliol and Bruce and the Stewart Dynasty.  King James I was born in the Castle to Mary Queen of Scots and became King a year later. Lots of good old history in this castle.  We even got to see the crowned jewels of Scotland, although as with many of these historical sites, we were not allowed to take pictures of them.  

After arriving last night, it was too late too visit the castle, so we searched for a place to have dinner.  We came across a new resturant that was opening called Michael Neave, Kitchen and Whiskey Bar.  We got to meet Michael, who was 21 years old and had just opened his resturant 3 days earlier.  He was a former executive chef at another highly respected resturant in town and we might have been his only customers that night.  The food was excellent and the deserts were even more excellent!  Micheal recommended the steak as the best item on the menu, but at least two of us had the pork which I thought was even better.  You didn’t even need a knife to eat it.  

Tomorrow we head for the Scottish Countryside where we will spend our first night at Culzean Castle in the Eisenhower Apartment.            

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Starbucks, maybe more prevalent in London than America

Day 3 started out with us oversleeping. This cannot happen tomorrow as our booked tour departs at 8 AM. While yesterday was raining and cool, today was just cold. I laughed out loud when the girls said, it is June…its suppose to be warm everywhere! I love that our world travels remind us that the world can be vastly different wherever we go. Today was in the 50s and windy and to put this in perspective, this is about as cold as it gets in the winter in Florida.

Our morning started out with a visit to the Tate Modern Museum. What I love about the London Museums are that they have impressive exhibits available for no cost. The Tate Modern does a great job at presenting art in the periods of time in which they happened. Today we looked at artists from both the surrealist and the realist styles of art. One of my favorite things was the Tate Modern timeline that gave us a view of the different styles of art that were in play throughout the world during the 20th century.

We had to have lunch and leave quickly afterwards from the Tate Modern so we could make it to the Globe Theatre in time to watch our afternoon show of Hamlet. The Globe is a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre and the company performing Hamlet did an excellent job (Mr. Levine, is it too late to get extra credit in English for seeing a Shakespeare play at the Globe?). As we left the Globe, it was getting colder, so we walked across the Millieum Bridge and got a glimpse of St. Paul’s cathedral, famous for the Prince Charles and Princess Diana wedding.

But it was cold, so we decided to take a cab to Harrod’s and shop! At Harrod’s you can shop for anything. And we did…for shoes, clothes, wedding dresses, chocolate and food. It was pretty amazing.

As we finished our trip to Harrods and headed to the Chelsa neighborhood for dinner. And then home to get to bed before we visit Oxford, Stonehenge and Windsor Castle tomorrow.

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We made it to England!

We arrived in London early Sunday morning after flying all night and despite our strong desire to attend church, due to long lines in customs, we missed services at both Westminister Abbey and Hillsong London (although we are are sure the Abbey would have won because we attend an amazing Hillsong-like church every weekend in Florida).

As for sleep on the flight… it did not happen for most of us (except for Craig). So Sunday was a day to see how long we could fight the jetlag. At about 2 PM, the jetlag won. But before that we checked in to our wonderful hotel; saw Westminster Abbey and Parliament from the outside and walked across the Thames to the Eye of London. This is where we collapsed, returned to our hotel, took a two hour nap and got up to spend the evening in the nightlife of London.

We had dinner at a traditional British pub in the shopping district on High Street. I had forgotten how good Fish and Chips tasted with Malt Vinegar. The streets were bustling when we entered the pub at 6 pm and when we left at 8 pm, the city was empty and we enjoyed a quiet cab ride back to the St. Ermins hotel.

Monday morning started out early (for us). Breakfast at 9 AM followed by a trip to the concierge to book tickets for the evenings. Craig was able to score tickets for Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre in the West End on Monday night and 2 PM tickets to see Hamlet in the Globe Theatre on Tuesday. Wednesday we will visit Oxford, Windsor Castle and Stonehenge.

The rest of our Monday was spent revisiting Westminster Abbey (the inside) and Trafalgar Square and while tea at Kensington Palace was not available, we did manage to score an afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason, in the Jubilee Room. Fortnum and Mason has to compete with Harrod’s for an amazing historic shopping experience.

After tea we returned to the hotel to prepare for our evening in the West End Theatre district. What I loved about the theatre that Craig chose for us was that it was the perfect combination of intimate theatre and highly professional talent. I’ve seen Les Mis several times, but never quite as good as this!

Its late and the end of an amazing evening!! We’ve had little internet access here in London, so I will post this when I can. 🙂 More to come…..

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Our last day in London

Wednesday was our last day in London, so we launched out on a full day tour of the countryside. Our first stop was Windsor Castle one of the three castles owned by the Royal Family (Windsor, Kensington and Buckingham). Windsor is the oldest continually inhabited castle in the world. As long as the queen is on the throne, these three castles are hers because she is queen, but when she decides to pass the throne on to the next generation, she will have to make do with her privately owned castles, like Balmoral (we see this one later in the trip).

After we left Windsor Castle, we headed to the English Countryside to find Stonehenge. To be honest, no one knows why it exists or how long it has really existed, but it was an archological site when the Romans invaded England around 45 AD. Some of the first stone placements and animal bones found there date to around 3000 BC. It was cool to look at and read about all the theories, but in reality, there are really no stories here about why someone put a bunch of stones out in the middle of nowhere.

Our last stop in the trip took us back toward London to Oxford, England, home of the great Oxford University, one of the top 10 universities in the world. It is a very old institution made up of dozens of colleges. You don’t actually apply to Oxford University, you actually apply to the specific college you are interested in, such as Trinity College or Christ College. If accepted to one of these schools, then you can say that you attend Oxford. Tuition is not bad, as it is public university and is subsidized by the state. If you are citizen of this country, you can attend for about 3,000 british pounds a year or about $5,000. If you are an international student, that cost goes to about 20,000 british pounds per year or about $30,000. Of course that’s assuming you can get admitted in the first place. 🙂

There have been things in this country that have surprised me and some that have made me feel pretty blessed. The cost of tuition and some goods in this country were definitely lower than I expected. But you also have to pay to use a public toilet. I have put this on my top ten list of things that the Brits need to change before the Olympic Games. I’m pretty sure the rest of the world does not pay to pee. Also, the Brits incorporate the tip into the bill for you, but the standard tip in the UK is about 12%. The first few days we added on additional tips and then we realized that this is not part of the culture, so we just stopped paying the extra. I recommend those Brits increase their standart to 15% for the Olympics before the American’s arrive. 🙂

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Our upcoming trip to Europe

It’s hard to believe that we have reached the end of yet another school year. Sydney, approaching her 16th birthday this summer, is driving and finishing up the 10th grade and Summer, 14 years old, has just completed her final year in middle school. Its hard to believe that I am the mother of two high schoolers!

Some of my fondest memories growing up were the trips my parents took us on to visit historical sites. The things I learned and saw on those trips were a great influence on what I chose to study in college and in the career I chose to pursue. So I am really excited about the trip we are taking this summer and especially the chance to share it with my girls at this time in their lives.

On Saturday we leave for a 16-day trip to Europe. Our first stop is in London, where we will struggle with the decision of attending church at Westminster Abbey or Hillsong London. 4 days later we will travel to Edinburgh, Scotland and will spend a week visiting the Scottish Lowlands, including stops at castles and small towns, some of the places where the Maccubbin ancestors made their home in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Our next leg has us traveling by train to Bordeaux, France where we will investigate the vineyards of Medoc region. And finally we will travel to Paris, where we will meet up with Christy and Erik (my sister and brother-in-law) for 4 days of touring the city, including dining on the Eiffel Tower.

We will then return by train to London for our final day and a flight home.

My hope is to post daily updates from the road. I’m sure it will depend on wifi connections and the such, but I so enjoyed blogging from the China Olympics. I love to share all my experiences with my friends. In the meantime have a wonderful last week of school!!

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