Saturday morning. My turn (Kas speaking here) for the Premier Inn all you can devour full English breakfast: 2 poached eggs, 3 veggie sausages, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, crumpet, coffee, orange juice, and organic yogurt. Kids eat free, which for our two comprises a total volume of my breakfast. Kids just don't understand the value of a free meal. For Susan, I purloin a croissant, organic yogurt, package of bran flakes and milk, and a coffee, exactly the same as my breakfast yesterday.
We march into town in search of the shoes Sunny is anxious to weigh herself down with for the next 3 months, at a market right next to the Shambles. Sunny gets them for 13 pounds, a reduction of 2 quid because the nice Englishman is pleased that the girls are so well behaved. Finally, all that good parenting is paying off!
Back to the hotel, get our packs, off to the train station (4 minutes walk), and wait for the train which leaves 10 minutes late. Arrive at Manchester Piccadilly Station 30 minutes late. We have missed our connection to Chester, so we catch a Virgin train (of Richard Branson fame, good luck with the new house) to Crewe. At Crewe, they try to jam 100 passengers into two cars designed for maybe fifty people. We are standing cheek to jowl when they decide to hook up two other cars. We get on the last car and share it with three other people. The signs on the train are bilingual, English and Welsh. At Chester, as instructed by the hotel website, we turn right and walk five minutes.
Lloyd's of Chester (no relation). Susan's spidey sense is a-tingling when the proprietor tells us we only made a 20 pound deposit and still owe 60, and we didn't order breakfast, but quickly changes his mind on both counts when we reach for the printed confirmation from hostelworld. It turns out that Saleh Yusef is a friendly, helpful fellow. He tells us which is his favourite Indian take away (Chester Tandoori, a bit too fancy and a pound per dish too much for our liking), lets us use his phone to call Alison in Golborne, and micromanages his staff to provide a splendid English breakfast (included).
Anyway, Chester is really really lovely, in a fairytale-y Tudor-y way. The city centre is structured around a cross shape (as laid out by the Romans) with lovely cobbled streets lined with Tudor buildings. The main street, called The Rows, is unique in having an arcade of second story balconies on each building. The streets were packed with pedestrians. We found the city walls and walked about halfway around them, past the river and the site of the Roman quay before the river silted up, after which it was used as agricultural land in the medieval era and is now the site of the Chester Racecourse. Right in the race grounds there are the remains of the Roman harbour wall, which the sign noted was one of the most significant examples of Roman Engineering still extant in Britain. I was suitably impressed but Kas said it just looked like an old pile of stones (such a Philistine...).
Alison had to pee desperately by this point (lots of Vimto on the train) so we power-walked back to the hotel. Despite Saleh's recommendation, we chose another Indian restaurant from the many along our street (seriously, there were about 10 in 3 blocks) for our dinner. Awesome and hilarious waiter who finally got tired of us laughing at him and sent his brother out to bring our dinner.
Next morning (Sunday), after a good sleep and a good breakfast, we went to the Roman Experience. We had been really impressed with the Viking Experience in York and thought we might be disappointed, but it was a great museum as well. It was situated over an archeological site where they had exposed the four main layers of historical stuff under Chester - Roman, Saxon, Medieval, and post-medieval. They have quite a few good bits in their museum, tho the best stuff has been sent to the British Museum. I would highly recommend it, especially for families as it had a good hands-on area where one can try on Roman armour (it's unbelievably heavy), make mosaics, fire a little catapult at pictures of savages, smell the smells of Roman latrines and the foot-stink of the legionaires, test your knowledge of Roman numerals, etc.
After the museum, we had another look around the town, bought some goodies at the Pound Bakery, which is like a dollar store for baked goods, and then collected our bags from Saleh and caught the bus to Newton-Le-Willows. It should have been a train, but they are doing work on the line in these parts so they put buses on instead. Those of us in the group with weak stomachs felt quite ill after the trip.
Alison met us at the train station and took us to Auntie Barbara and Uncle Peter's. It was so nice for the girls to see where they live. All the cousins and their kids (that's about 12 cousins plus our family) and AB and UP gathered for dinner at Alison's. It was tons of fun and the girls love hanging out with their cousins. Sunny has a twin-like thing going with Joe, who was born the same day as she was, and Alison is really enjoying big Alison's boys, who are just younger and older than she is.
Alison and I slept on an air bed that slowly deflated overnight, creating a big dent where I was and which Alison kept rolling into - I kept having to push her uphill back to her side of the bed all night. It seemed funnier in the light of day than it did at 3 in the morning... Today (Monday) is a bank holiday in England and big Alison said it's traditional to either do DIY or to go rambling on bank holidays. Naturally, we were more interested in rambling than in working on Alison's house, so we went for a soggy walk along the Liverpool/Leeds canal and to The Flash, a pond where there are lots of birds in sanctuary. We were on the lookout for rats but didn't see any.