Sunday, 26 October 2008

The Poshest Zoo We've Ever Been To. (Sorry Boise!)

So - yesterday Judah turned 4! And his birthday expedition was to the Cotswold Wildlife Park. We had never been there before - so we weren't sure what to expect. But wow! This is an old beautiful estate - complete with massive grounds, walled gardens, stone walls, etc. And they've turned the whole thing into a zoo! And a darned good zoo at that - there were all kinds of crazy animals! (Note the rhino above. Hilarious to see a rhino and a herd of zebra grazing out in front of that house!)

I loved the house. So first I'm going to post up some pictures of that.

This was the conservatory which had been turned into a restaurant. The outside . . .

. . . and then the inside.

Just outside the house, sort of off the terrace - were the giant tortoises.

And there were peacocks sort of roaming about loose.

There was a fabulous little train that took you all around the grounds - and we did that right at the beginning. It was terrific - you could see everything from the train, and then go back and look at the animals up close on foot later.

Judah adored the train. Here he is - the birthday boy himself - on the train.

And here is the only photographic evidence that I was actually along on this trip!

After the train we got out and walked all over the grounds. Inside the walled garden they had most of the birds. Here is Judah at the penguins.

This was some strange little bird that wandered loose around in the jungle room. There was supposedly a sloth in there somewhere too - but we couldn't ever find it. There were however, lots of crazy birds like this guy.

Next we hit the Madagascar exhibit. This was downright wild. They had lemurs running loose all over the place . . . and they would sprint around and jump all over the rails right in front of us. I kept trying to get a picture of the kids with the lemurs - but the things were so ridiculously fast I never managed to get a good shot. Here is a series of attempts.

There's one right behind Knox right here which of course you can't see. Then the goofy black and white one - and in the back if you look closely there are 2 ring tail lemurs up at the top.

These things were nuts. What are lemurs anyway? They seemed like some bizarre cross between a monkey and a cat.

But then there were these things. I have no idea what these are - I don't remember. Knox of course knew right what they were, where they were from, how they are spelled, and told us that they are the world's largest rodent. Then again, I might be wrong. The world's largest rodent might have been a different one. These might have been the wild pigs. I am clearly not the expert.

Perhaps this is the world's largest rodent?

Here were some wallabies. That was fun - there were bunches of them all curled up having a nap in the leaves.

Here's Judah in front of the wallabies - with some random duck. He is holding 2 handfuls of grass that he was saving to feed to the rhino. He held onto this grass for about an hour - seriously - and even wiped out on his face once and didn't let go of the grass.

Here were the wolves - terrible picture, but fun to see them in real life.

A flamingo pond . . .
Judah and the flamingos - still with the grass.

Bel and the zebras - which the English were all pronouncing with a short e sound!

Here was a mother zebra and her baby in their little shed, staying out of the rain.

They even had camels!

Here's Judah - still with his grass - being disappointed that the rhino is napping about a mile away and not really anxious to be fed grass.

Daddy helped him sort of throw the grass in the general direction of the rhino.

Then there was the reptile house.

The crocodiles were a huge hit. (Or croc-idols as Judah has always called them and now that's the standard Merkle pronunciation.) There was a classic moment at this exhibit. The had a whole display of items made with crocodile skin that had been seized by Her Majesty's Customs. Purses, boots, sandals, etc. Some of them were really weird little things - like purses that had an entire crocodile head as the flap . . . that kind of thing. There was a big sign up that said that if you buy crocodile skin items that you are contributing to their extinction. It was really quite crowded in this part of the reptile house - and Bel yelled excitedly across to us, "Mom! Dad! Look at all the projects you can make with crocodile skin!" Not exactly the moral everyone was hoping would be drawn from the display . . .

Last of all, Judah had to ride the Merry Go Round once - and of course drive the "Ferrarri!" He's been telling us lately that he's a Ferrarri boy . . .

The zoo was fabulous - and there were skads of things I didn't get pictures of . . . lions, leopards, monkeys, insects, bats . . . loads of fun, and a really great birthday expedition!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Hup Holland!

So we were never under any illusions that we are addicted to blogging. But a 5 month lapse is a little extreme, even for us!

Quick update: We're back in the States (three rousing cheers!) and having a whale of a time with American sized packages. Kids are in school, life is fun, and we have only 1 more month until we head back to Oxford. So practically time to be packing.

But BEFORE we came home to the States (back at the end of June) we had a completely fantastic trip to the Netherlands. When we got home from Holland we had only a week until we left for America, which is why getting the pictures of our trip up on the blog sort of fell by the wayside. Then we were back in Idaho, life was crazy, we were busy seeing everyone, going on roadtrips, and this is all to say . . . here are the pictures of Holland finally!

We were staying with a fabulous Dutch family whom we had met the previous year at Oxford. They very kindly put us up, fed us, and toured us all over their country and gave us the time of our lives! We got to eat traditional Dutch food, see real live people in wooden shoes, take a tour through a windmill, visit Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague, and a spectacular little village called Giethoorn which is built on canals like a tiny little Dutch Venice. The kids got to see original Rembrandts and Vermeers, eat real Gouda, go to a little Dutch Reformed Church, shop at The Hema, visit the flower market in Amsterdam, see the Anne Frank House, ride the train (gasp!) and see crazy megalithic stone burial mounds called Dolmens. All in all it was a completely fabulous trip, and we enjoyed every minute of it! Thanks Deckers!

And here are the fabulous Deckers (Wilbert, Esther, Anna, and Charlotte) on the streets of The Hague, in front of the Queen's Palace.

The Hague was spectacular. They were having some sort of music festival while we were there, with an enormous stage (on the left) floating on the lake, as well as a floating grandstand for the audience (on the right) and the tuba soloist was charging about in a boat in the middle while he played. Super fun to watch as we ate our picnic lunch! The building across the lake on the right is their parliment . . . and the little turret in the middle there is the Prime Minister's office. The building on the left is the Mauritshuis museum where we got to see . . .

. . . and that was awfully fun!

Here we are by the lake. And then, as we walked through the streets, what should come trucking past, but . . .

Yes. A woman playing a grand piano, driving along behind a car. And then . . . reinforcing the idea that the Dutch are thinking outside the box . . . we ran across this little unit.

Are you drinking this in here? It's a beer bike. A full blown 8-seater bar . . . complete with keg, tap, and bartender in the middle . . . but each seat is equipped with a set of peddles. The bartender appears to also be responsible for the steering. And what the purpose is I'm not entirely sure . . . I guess you can have a beer, chat with friends, take in the city sights, and also burn some calories while you're at it. Multi-tasking at it's most creative!

Here was a fun contraption . . . a ginormous music box, towed by a horse. On the back side of it there was a man turning a crank . . .

Here's the gang out in front of the Queen's Palace . . .

And Knox and Jemima in front of the crown prince's front door! (Cool door, huh?)

And this was a terrific old medieval building in the center of The Hague - and the kids loved the fountain!

And here was the cathedral at Utrecht. Unbelievably beautiful - and had the most incredible cloisters.


And then there was Amsterdam.

We got to see the Anne Frank House (of which I unaccountably have no pictures) and a fabulous cathedral (also no pictures for some reason.) But here is Ben, in the center of Amsterdam . . . the square which is actually called the Dam.

Then there was the flower market. (No, we didn't buy any tulip bulbs, because we didn't think they'd let us back into the country if we did.)

And here we have the Merkles doing Amsterdam! Mom looking exceptionally devious for some reason . . . and everyone else . . . well . . . we're not sure.

And how fun is this? The Deckers bought the kids bubbles, and we stopped in a beautiful, quiet, convent and blew bubbles for a while!

And check this out. The Dutch are not kidding around with their biking. They mean business! (This was only one row of bike parking!)

Here's the long walk down the lane to the little church where Wilbert is the pastor . . .

And here he is after the sermon. (This church was completed before Columbus discovered America . . . )

And then there was Guithoorn. Totally amazing little village with no roads - only canals. Apparently when someone here has to go to the hospital, they chuck them into a wheelbarrow and run them out on the path to where the ambulance is waiting on the nearest road . . .

Don't you love the little bridges over the canal to the houses? We're standing next to the footpath - it's not accesible by car.

We took a little boat through the canals, and then out into the lake next to the village. The kids had a total blast, and got ice cream cones to boot!

And of course, the windmill. It was amazing. Completely show-stopping. It was in the little neighboring village called Nijeveen (which isn't pronounced a thing like the way it looks!) and was utterly amazing. The Deckers got us a tour all through it . . . and not only that, they made us pancakes out of the flour ground in this mill, and milk and eggs from a neighboring farm. Truly incredible.

Ben and I got to go all the way up to the top - really cool, but incredibly freaky!

Here we are next to the man who runs the mill. Very cool guy - and totally amazing how he can operate this huge and incredibly old piece of machinery! (A piece of machinery that scared the dickens out of me I must admit!)

Here's a picture of me reading the kids the riot act about NOT RUNNING up there in the middle of grindstones and gears and ladders and large drops from great heights and enormous wooden beams that are hooked up to the wind!

And finally - the crazy megalithic stone burial thingies. Really amazing - sort of the Dutch version of Stonehenge. The kids had a blast climbing all over them.

Look how ridiculously big this thing is.

Be sure to note Judah's "Hup Holland" hat! He got very attached to it and it's still one of his favorite pieces of headgear.

All in all a completely stupendous trip! Thanks for everything Deckers!