June 19, 2010

Black Diamond (or Big Foot) Ahead

With a name like Snowdonia, you would think that this area in North Wales is known only for winterland bliss; however Snowdonia delivers summertime excitement as well. And not just on the black diamond level, although you can find that extreme entertainment as well.

Upon our arrival at Graig Wen, where we are tucked away in a glorious yurt. Some of you may be asking, what's a yurt. Imagine the luxurious large round tents that Ghengis Khan and company stayed in and you'll get the idea...ours comes complete with oriental rugs, plenty of fur, plus a gas burning stove and wood burning stove for heat. The area around our yurt, and all through Snowdonia, is lush...huge stands of pine forest surrounded by tangles of oak and ash cut with walking paths. I half expect Big Foot to pop out of the bushes.

At the yurt, Heath from Firefox stops by to give us a crash course in outdoor survival, skills necessary to the major hikes and climbs that are so popular in this area. The boys love learning to start a fire...what boy wouldn't?...and learning to put a "basher"...a small shelter. After we bid Heath goodbye, we embark on our own hike, but I think the large flock of sheep are more in need of survival skills than we are as the boys attempt to heard them.

We can't come to SNOWdonia and not try skiing, and the slopes are calling, the dry slopes that is. At Plas y Brenin, they offer courses in kayaking, mountain climbing and skiing. So the boys pop on the Rossis and head down a grassy slope covered in a white netting and sprayed with water. Skiing without freezing, the cold wimp in me approves!

We end the trip just outside Snowdonia in the medieval town of Conwy where we stay within the still intact town walls just down the street from a towering castle! History comes alive as the kids solve the mystery of the Children's Trail through the castle, which includes a ramble along ramparts and a climb up to a soaring tower...hundreds of feet high!

Snowdonia's adventure land has been lots of family fun, but tomorrow we're off for a different sort of adventure...a journey down the Llangollen Canal. If you see us floating by, be sure to say Hello!

June 18, 2010

A Knight in Eco-Friendly, Very Green Armor

Wales is known for it's legends... most notoriously that of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, but are there real knights stl living in Wales? Today we're exploring legends from a by gone era and the heroes of Wales today.

Nearby Bantwen cottage, we stumbled upon Merlin's hill...a place where Merlin was supposedly captured and at night residents claim to hear him moaning to this day. The kids get caught up in the mythical legends of Wales...stories that include wizards (Merlin is the most famous of them), giants, dragons and more. Just north of Pembrokesire, near Machynlleth, we voyage below ground to explore King Arthur's Labyrinth, a boat journey and walk through abandonded slate mines with still life scenes, light and audio displays, and a medieval guide to tell the Just Just down the road from Bantwen cottage, we discover the place Merlin was captured, Merlin's Hill, the final resting place of Wales' most famous wizard. Locals say you can still hear him moan at night. It really makes the stories come alive for the boys, who, of course, want to buy wizard wands in the gift shop and try the magic out for themselves.

Just down the road from King Arthur's Labyrinth we discover green Wales at the Centre for Alternative Technology. The interactive exhibits at this outdoor museum inform visitors about energy usage, conservation choices, and alternative methods of doing things in an easy to understand and translate to your own life sort of way. For example it tells you how much water a bath uses vs a shower, and how much energy it takes to put a computer to sleep instead of turning it off...real life facts that can be incorporated easily into everyday life. The kids like all the hands-on exhibits and the ride up to the museum on a water-weight, pulley system tram.

Another area of Wales known for it's green-ness is Pembrokeshire. The coastal path that winds over 100 miles down the dramatic coastline here is popular for weeks long hiking breaks and St. David's, Britain's smallest city, is about to be it's first carbon neutral city as well. Our hotel here is in a restored barn, but very luxurious, and is very Eco-friendly. The Asheston House has solar warmed water and wind powered electrcity but plenty of creature comforts too with fluffy beds, a full kitchen and amazing views of the Welsh countryside.

One of the main promoters of St. David's greenitude is Pembokeshire's own enviro-knight...protector of the environment, Andy Middleton. He rides his bike to work, when he does drive it's in a car powered by leftover cooking fat, and he's currently working on a turbine project that creates energy from the tidal shifts. So, you may be thinking this guy's an eccentric, but he looks just like anyone else walking down the street. He also runs a coasteering company, a sport which he founded in the 1990's because of his love of exploring his childhood coast. It basically combines kayaking, mountain climbing and surfing skills. So we suit up, in full wetsuits to protect us from the cold waters and sharp rocks, and scramble down and over cliffs, swim through bays, and exore sea caves before kayaking back to base.

June 16, 2010

Wales in Wonderland

I don't know whether we've just fallen down a Welsh rabbit hole, but the countryside here in Wales is as intriguing and mythical as any Lewis Carrol story. Just after The Big Pit we went below ground again at Dan-yr-ogof Caves where we saw soaring rock formations, six foot pillars and ribbons, straw formations and more. There are three caves, one of which was hosting a wedding, but what really brought home the history of the location for the kids were the dinosaurs...at least fifty almost life-sized statues of dinosaurs fill the jungly surrounds of the park. The kids loved exploring and posing for super scared pictures with them!

After the caves, we drove through fields and fields of rolling green hills bordered with stone walls and dotted with sheep. It looks much like Ireland...though we never saw an actvity center like Llangorse Actvity Centre when we were there. The center hosts huge obstacle and ropes courses and the kids enjoyed riding horses, zip lining and mountain climbing through an indoor wonderland, but took a miss on the Dingle Scramble, which would entail soldier crawling through very chilly mountain water.

Our accommodation in Brecon Beacons consisted of a beautiful restored farmhouse, Brynich Farm Holiday Cottages, still run by the man who grow up on the farm followed by a stay in a traditional thatched roof hut. With a vaulted twiggy ceiling and tiny doorways Bantwen Cottage felt very much like the White Rabbit's house...though with cable for the World Cup and Wifi to stay in touch with the outside world.

Next, we're off to explore the west coast of Wales with very green, in the environmental sense and the landscape, St. David's, and the dramatic Pembrokeshire Coast. Stay tuned...

June 10, 2010

Wales Old and New

So, we reached Wales none too worse for the wear. Our flight was a bit delayed, so we had to run...full speed...to catch our connection. But, we made it. We flew on American Airlines' new 777, which had movies and games in each seat back, so the kids were well entertained. The transfer from the airport was simple...Heathrow Express train in from the airport in London and hop a train to Cardiff. No problems there and as always the kids loved watching the fields, sheep and castles drift past the window.

Cardiff is a wonderful city. Vast modern pedestrian areas lined with shops and sidewalk cafes are dotted with tiny 19th century arcades and ancient churches. A real mix of old and new. The kids had a ball exploring Cardiff Castle, pretending to be knights scaling the castle keep, and going on the castle's treasure hunt for animals in each room. A short drive outside Cardiff took us to Welsh Hawking Center, where the kids had a chance to pet a three week old owl and fly hawks. Seeing a hawk, almost as big as they are, land on their leather clad arm in the green fields of an old farm, while a young, modern chap relayed the history of hawking was just brilliant. Again, very much a mix of old and new. Nearby, we hit the beach...not like the ones they are used to at home. This one was filled with small stones instead of sand and is famous for its fossils. It seems every other rock had a clam or small animal imprint on it. Jeremy's pockets were loaded down with souvenirs.

Next day, we learned more about the fossils at the National Museum, which has extensive exhibits on Welsh geography. Nathan loved the dinosaur room with its sound effects and mechanical displays, while Seamus was agape at the jewel room...next trip he's looking for geodes instead of fossils!

The Roman ruins in Caerleon let the kids use their gladiator souvenirs (bought at Cardiff Castle, which also has a history as a Roman fort)as they ran through the tunnels previously used by gladiators and lions and had sword fights on the auditorium floor.

The Big Pit was a big hit! After kitting up with a hard hat and light, we traveled almost 300 ft. underground to check out the old coal mine that is such a big part of Welsh history. The kids were suprised to learn about kids their age that worked the mines back in the 19th century (with no DS or television to boot!) and were excited to mine their own bits of coal...more souvenirs for Jeremy's pockets (his jacket must weigh a good 10 lbs now!). The Big Pit mining museum was very impressive as well...with interactive displays using light and surround sound that enthralled the kids!

Today, we're off to explore the natural side of Wales with a climb through the National Showcaves and a hike around Brecon Beacons National Park. Stay tuned for more from beautiful Wales.

June 1, 2010

Travel With Kids Wales

Great news...Travel With Kids is now airing on television in 30 countries and still growing. This summer Travel With Kids hits the road again with a production trip to Wales. And now, with the advent of incredible technology, you won't have to wait for the T.V. or DVD versions to experience all the rich history and culture and fun family-friendly activities of this country. The Roberts family will be providing updates from the road right here on our blog and on our Facebook page and Twitter. So, be sure you are signed up to receive pictures and updates from the road. Here's a sampling from the Wales itinerary:

- Live the legend of King Arthur with a journey through King Arthur's Labyrinth and a hike to unlock the mystery of Merlin's Hill. Plus, watch as the Roberts boys learn to fly a falcon.

- Take to the hills. Discover one favorite Welsh pastime, hill walking. Oh and there's biking, horseback riding, coasteering, climbing...

- Learn how Wales is keeping green (and not just in the hills) at the Center for Alternative Technology and in Britain's first carbon-zero town, St. David's.

- Take in the beauty of the landscape above the ground on-board scenic rail journeys in Snowdonia, hiking through Pembrokeshire and below the ground with tours through old mines and natural caves.

Wales is packed with exciting activities, both outdoors and cultural, just waiting for families to explore. So, be sure to follow the Roberts as they discover it all in Travel With Kids Wales. Because really, where else are you going to learn to say "Sut ydych chi?", which means "How are you?", in Welsh?

Find out more about the Travel With Kids series at www.travelwithkids.tv and more about Wales at www.visitwales.com.