January 22, 2007

January 21: Chicago

Honestly, why this little snow managed to bring such mayhem is beyond me.

Embassy Suites, Chicago: Monday

We ate breakfast, packed our stuff up and headed out Sunday morning. A taxi took us to the airport. (The taxi driver started out our conversation with, “Can I ask you a rather strange question?” It turns out that she wanted to know the names of any stores that might carry clothes for large women. Her son had gone to New York City for four days and hadn’t found anything, so she wanted to try online but she didn’t know what to look for. -- Speaking of being large. One of Roz’s friends, Bas, had a great line on size He’s originally from Hong Kong and though I wouldn’t call him fat, I’d say he was husky. He said that he goes to Hong Kong, looks around at everyone and says, “God I’m fat.” He goes to England, looks around and says, “God I’m fat.” He’s goes to America and looks around and says, “Yeah! I’m skinny!!!!!!!”) ;-)

The taxi only cost 35 quid. Apparently many taxi services have a fixed rate to the airport. The check in line was rather long and they only let us have one carry on item which ticked Rob off. He’s a regular traveler in the states where the rule is “one carry on and one personal item.” But the check-in gal was having none of that. (However, when we got on the plane later we saw several people with a large bag plus a suitcase as carry on. They obviously didn’t get the same check-in gal that we got.)

The security line was insane. There was a couple in front of us that probably missed their flight because of security.

Then when we got through security, we came out of the grumpy, drab, stressful security area into a world of light and color. It was the duty free shop and it looked like we had just been transported from some East German security checkpoint to some All American department store. It was very odd. And you had to get through the store to get to your flights. (So all those people who were running very late in getting to their flights had to fight their way past dreamy shoppers picking out cologne and bottles of Scotch.)

We got to our boarding gate where we had to go through a 3 point security check again (thankfully we weren’t pulled out for the last point which is where they go through all your carry on bags and check them for drugs, etc.)

Our flight to the States was fairly uneventful. We saw both Scotland and Ireland for the first time (just bitts of the coast as we flew over). And we landed on time at the Chicago airport.

As we were waiting to grab our bags to go through customs we saw one of the suitcases come down the center belt. Our luggage is distinctive not because it’s bright red (that seems to be a popular suitcase color these days) but because we had the kids draw pictures all over the suitcases before we left. We figured that that would not only be a pleasant reminder of them during our trip, but it would also help us to locate our luggage when picking it up. So we waited for that case to get off the center belt, then swing around till it reached us. But it never reached us. I started to get worried that someone else had taken it so I quickly buzzed about to the other side of the luggage carousel only to see a red suitcase heading down a long hallway past a security check point. As far as I could tell, our suitcase had just taken a trip without us.

Rob was pretty upset about it. But I figured that either the person would go to declare stuff and then realize that he had the wrong suitcase, or he’d take it through, not declare anything, and put it back on the luggage check-in belt and it would end up in Denver anyway, since that’s how it was tagged. Our only worry was if the guy was staying in Chicago. So we waited for the rest of our stuff (which took another 25 minutes) and right before we were getting ready to go fill out any paper work we might need to to say that our bag had been taken, there it was coming around the carousel. We’d been watching the center belt so we knew it hadn’t come down from there. So we’re guessing that the guy eventually got to the point where they tell you your gate change information. The people there would look at the tag on your bag and then tell you your gate based on that info. I can just picture the woman looking at the tag and saying, “You’re going to Denver?” and the guy’ slowly realizing that he’d screwed up. How he could grab a bag covered with pictures of kitties, doggies and lizards without noticing is beyond me, but there you go.

We took the train to our terminal and checked a television to make sure we were heading to the right gate.

What a shock. We found that our flight had been cancelled! We tried to find someone who could explain why (it certainly couldn’t be because there was a light snow in Chicago. Nothing was even sticking to the ground.)

After waiting in a couple of different lines, we finally calleda 1-800 number and found out that we’d already been rebooked on a Monday morning flight.

We were quite disappointed that we wouldn’t be getting back when planned. But I kept telling myself that the kids would have been asleep when we arrived and we’d only see them long enough in the morning to send them off to school. So we’re not missing kid time and the main bummers are the expense of the hotel (only $159 and we don’t have to worry about the wretched exchange rate!), the fact that Karen has to watch the kids one more day when she probably needs to catch up on work, and that my mom will have to wake my dad up to come get us. (My dad has been sleeping late in the mornings which is a blessing because it’s just that much less time that my mom has to cope with him.)

So we ended up at the Embassy Suites. We got a free drink in the evening and there’s supposed to be a continental breakfast this morning. And unlike Shendish, the television actually works, there’s a fridge in the room as well as a full length mirror and an iron and ironing board. We don’t need any of these things now, but it would have been nice to have them before the wedding and it’s comforting to be back in a land where these things are standard in a hotel room. It just helps to have a sense that you’ve got your bearings back. ;-)

January 20: Shendish Manor and the Wedding

Shendish Manor: Saturday -- link to Shendish

We slept in till 8, then we snitched some milk from the breakfast bar. (As with most hotels, they didn’t have a whole lot available for breakfast unless you ordered something from the kitchen. They did have some cornflakes, but I had my own cereal back in the room so we just grabbed milk for cereal and tea. Unfortunately they didn’t have enough milk out for anyone to have cereal, even though there were a few boxes of cornflakes out. I suppose cereal isn’t very British.)

We then took a walk down the hill and tried to find the magic round-a-bout so I could take a picture of the sign. Unfortunately we couldn’t find it and later when we passed it by car I realized we had gotten quite close. I don’t think we’ll have time tomorrow morning to catch it, though, since we have to leave by cab at 9.

We stopped in a coin and stamp shop to pick up a gift for a friend and while we were there the shop owner was thrilled to show us bank notes from the US. There were notes from the 1770’s that were Hand Written and had Three signatures on each one! They also had both pounds and dollars listed on them since the nation was switching over. There were some that were stamped from the confederacy, but they were signed and numbered by hand.

There were notes for as little as 3 cents and when we asked the guy about it he explained that all of the metal from the coins would have been needed to make cannons and bullets for the revolutionary war and later the civil war.

We got back to the manor in time to change into our wedding clothes and head down to the lobby to meet the couple that was going to drive us over to the church. After all of the beautiful old churches we’ve been in since we got here, it was a bit of a shock when I saw the church Roz and Alan were going to be married in. I’d say it was probably built in the 60s. Oh well.

During the wedding it was of course interesting to notice the difference between American and English weddings. The biggest difference, I think, was that Roz and Allen had to sign a church register During the ceremony. It’s apparently a big book that everyone that’s married in the church has to sign and it’s considered a legal document by the nation. I can only assume that it’s a result of the union of church and state. When I asked about it, it seems that this is done not only in Anglican churches (the state church) but in others as well. So in that way having a national church seems to also affect the other churches as well. (The whole church and state thing has been a regular topic of discussion between Rob and myself as we meet Christians in England and attend church services here. The Christian community here seems to have an over all rather different feel than the overall church community in America (and granted, that’s a huge chunk that covers many cultures within the church in each nation, but still I think there’s an underlying feeling or sense that is very different between the two).

We returned to Shendish at around 2 (the wedding started at 12) and there were appetizers and drinks available. Unfortunately there were no plates.... (Even one of the serving girls admitted that that was weird.)

There was a walnut and blue cheese paste wrapped in philo dough that Rocked! There was also asparagus, fresh veggies and chicken fingers. And though we saw other people drinking what looked like white wine, all we could locate was the mulled wine. It was good, but mulled wine has so much flavor that I really think it would have been better on it’s own, but I didn’t want to stop eating those lovely walnut pastries -- which presented quite a quandary. ;-)

At 3 we went through the receiving line and headed in for dinner. We started with watercress soup, which was fantastic. Apparently Hemel Hempstead area is known for their watercress (or at least it was back in the day). It apparently grew in a couple of the nearby rivers. (This according to the talk around the table as we ate our soup.)

I noticed, as we ate our soup, that as people neared the end of their bowl, they tipped it away from themselves and scooped out the last bits. Not wanting to be the crass American that tips my bowl toward myself (which is I think how we’d do it in the States, yes? I don’t think it’s just me.) I didn’t tip my bowl one way or the other.

When we finally got our food (turkey, gammon (ham), potatoes and veggies, though I got a puff pastry with mushroom sauce and asparagus since I don’t eat meat) I also noticed that all of the Brits (and the Bermudans) ate with their fork in their left hand and their knife in their right I’d seen that before and even eat that way on occasion when it suits the food (as in, I’ll be cutting it alot). But when I tried eating that way tonight I had a very hard time getting the puff pastry onto my fork. So I finally gave up. June, the vegetarian on my right, managed it just fine. I was quite impressed. She and her husband commented on the fact that we were using our right hands for our forks and said that when they were at a business dinner in the states once, they noticed that the Americans from the east coast ate like they did, but the Americans from the west coast ate like I did. Hmmm, perhaps I should do a poll on this at some point, eh?

I should add, at this point, that there was no clinking of glasses. Not only do I think it’s not a custom here, but since we were in an oddly shaped room, we wouldn’t have seen the bride and groom kiss even if there was that custom here. Oh well. It’s never been my favorite part of a reception anyway.
Pudding (dessert) was either chocolate covered pear, strawberries and pineapple, banana cream pie, or fruit crumble (what I’d call a cobbler). I chose fruit crumble (as did most people, it seems). There was also custard (I think we’d call it vanilla pudding) to pour over it. Again, this was really delicious. (All the food was quite wonderful. I wish they’d publish a recipe booklet for us at the end of the event.)

For the dessert, I noticed that again everyone had their forks in their left hand and this time they had a large spoon in their right which they used to scoop their food onto their forks. Rob just ate his with a spoon and I just ate mine with a fork. We both seemed to do fine with only using one utensil. ;-)

Then they passed out the wedding cake as well as served tea, coffee and champagne. (They scrunched this part all together because serving the meal had taken a bit longer than they had intended.) There was a toast by the father of the bride, Peter. Then Alan (the groom) got up and thanked people while Roz and her nephew handed out gifts to those who had helped out with the wedding. Then James, the best man got up to speak. A friend of his had gone around to all of the tables earlier and taken bets on how long James would speak. I went for 6.5 minutes, knowing from last night that he liked to talk. But when I heard him say that he wasn’t going to talk long because he hadn’t gotten a moment to prepare, I knew my guess had just been tossed out the window. Sure enough, he talked for 8 minutes and Alan (the groom) won the pot. (We had each put in 50p - the “p” stands for pence but people just say the “p”.)

After all that Roz told us that we were free to get a bit of fresh air or do whatever we wanted until 7:30 when there would be dancing. So Rob and I came up to our room (it IS nice to be staying in the same building as the reception) and called the kids. Then I typed most of this up knowing that I wanted to catch those little details like the soup bowls being tilted forward and I’m afraid that all that is going to run right out of my head as I experience all the other things coming up that are going to be utterly different than weddings in the States. ;-)

Shendish Manor: Sunday 2:45 am

(Rob woke me up when he got up to go to the bathroom, so here I am finishing off today’s entry. The wind seems to have come back. I hope it’s not like this when our plane is getting ready to leave later today.)

We went back downstairs in time for Rob to try yet another English beer. This was named after a person (John Smith?) and was labeled “extra smooth” which we decided might mean it’s not quite as hoppy as most of the other beers we’d tried. It turned out to be rather like a lighter version of Guinness.

Alan looked like he only made it through the first dance because Roz was with him, but he looked like he was hoping desperately to escape by the time he was dancing with his mum. Roz, of course, was having the time of her life. Once others joined the dance floor she took some time out to pass out glowing necklaces to any kids that were still around, which turned out to be only two young ones who were coaxed out to the dance floor. (OK, so it didn’t really take much coaxing.)

There was a cash bar and later another room was opened with snacks and tables to sit around and gab. The snacks were all very greasy, which fit with what we’d been told earlier by one of Roz’s friends. After drinking a lot people like to stop off at KFC or something like that for something a bit greasy. It seemed like a recipe for disaster too me, but what do I know?

After chatting with some more folks, Rob and I snuck off to pack up and get ready to go. (I’m an introvert, remember. So hanging out with that many people that I don’t know for that long gets a bit draining. Everyone was very nice to us, though.)

Instead of packing, however, I ended up reading the newspaper. ;-) The “Big Brother” show seems to be a hot topic this week. Also there was a horrid article about a serial killer in Vancouver.

I’m rather bummed that Shendish doesn’t have wifi. Being up in the middle of the night is a perfect time to catch up on multiply surfing. But considering that tomorrow is going to be a long day (we get to live 7 hours twice), I probably should try getting some sleep.

January 19: Histon and Shendish Manor

I mentioned earlier that there's moss on everything. There's moss in the yards. Moss on the roofs. Moss on the walls. Moss on the sidewalk. There's also lichen everywhere. It's a very wet country. Especially in January. ;-)

(Rob and I loved it though. We like that misty, autumny feel.)

Last day in Cambridge/Histon

Vanessa went to work this morning and Rob and I slowly gathered up all of our stuff from throughout the house and gathered it together in the lounge (aka the living room). We ran a couple of loads of laundry (though the dryer works about as well as the dial-up). And we took a walk (where we actually saw many street signs. !!!) I took a shot of the moss that was growing on someone’s brick wall in their front yard. And we went by the house that Rob’s brother Ryan lived in when he was out here for a year. (At least, I think we got the right house. Did we, Ryan?)

I wrestled with slow upload times the rest of the morning and then Vanessa came home from work at 2 so we could pray for her.

The kids all got home from school (well, except Becca who, rumor had it, was stopping by the store to get some chocolate) so we could say good buy to them yet once again (we said goodbye last night thinking that we might not see them this afternoont -- but we hadn’t booked our bus tickets yet so we didn’t really know when we were leaving). Then Vanessa trundled us and all our stuff (lots and lots of tea as well as some hand-me-down clothes and goodies for presents along with all the stuff we hauled here in the first place) down to the Trumpington Park & Ride.

The bus was almost 15 minutes late, but he managed to make up the time along the way and we only ended up at our destination a few minutes late. Other than that, the ride was rather un-eventful.

Once at the Hemel Hempstead bus station we called Roz’s cell phone hoping she could find someone to come give us a lift, but she didn’t pick up. So then we considered walking, but we weren’t sure which direction to head out. So we finally hailed a cab and for 6 quid we were very glad we did. All it took was hitting the magic round-a-bout and we knew immediately that we would have been completely lost if we had tried to go it alone. And then it turned out that the bus station was rather far from Shendish afterall. Our cabbie was Indian, we think (as in, a person from India), had a very thick accent, and drove slightly more insanely than the typical Brit (which means I spent most of the ride praying).

Once at Shendish we signed in and were taken to our room which was on the second floor (which is the same as the third floor in the States). There was no lift (elevator) so we had to haul all of our lugguge up one flight up stairs, through a door and down a hall, up a second set of stairs, around a corner and down another hall, down some stairs and then back up some more stairs at the end. The manor director (or whatever she is) apologized several times (basically every time we hit another flight of stairs) but we ended up with a double room for the price of a single (which I think is 120 quid) because they had run out of rooms. (This also explains why our room was one of the furthest from the entrance.)

We got settled in, then headed downstairs to get something to eat. Shendish doesn’t have a lunch or dinner restaurant (though they apparently do take orders at breakfast and though they do serve catered food later in the day). So we started to walk back down towards town to grab a bite to eat. (The driveway is probably about 1/2 mile long.) About a third of the way down we ran across Roz and Alan (the soon to be newlyweds) driving up. They picked us up, took us back up to Shendish, rattled on about James (the best man) for a bit, and then drove us back down the hill. ;-) They eventually took us to Roz’s mom’s house and from there we walked over to an Indian restaurant where we met up with 16 or so other friends of Roz and Alan’s. (None of whom we’d ever met before since we knew Roz from San Francisco and they all knew her from England (or maybe Germany).)

To be perfectly honest, we found the food to be rather bland. I’ve definitely had better saag paneer, the service was rather slow (although having 20 odd folks arrive all at once could have something to do with that, I’m sure) and my prawn curry was just OK. (They used little shrimps, the kind I’m used to only seeing in salads.) The rice pilaf had colored rices in it. And nothing else, just rice. (We’re used to our pilaf being entirely rice colored except for the bits of peas and other odds and ends that are thrown in.) All in all, I’d probably recommend the restaurant for the ambiance, but not the food. (And, as in all other cafes and dining areas, the room was filled with smoke.Apparently Britain (and the UK?) will be banning smoking in public places in July, so it looks like we just came a bit early in that regard.)

We ended up sitting with two friends of Roz and Alan’s, Sarah and Martin. The rest of the crew was at one long table, but they hadn’t made enough room for all of us so we were seated on the other side of the room. We had a lovely discussion with them. Once we were done eating we headed out with the rest of the crew on a theoretical pub crawl. I say theoretical because every time we came across a pub, we’d stand around out front and talk about going in, but then someone would mention a pub further up and we’d end up walking toward that one instead. I think they eventually did end up at a pub, but by that time we were by the Manor so Rob and I just pealed off from there.

We met a few more of Roz and Alan’s friends along the walk and I quickly came to realize that the reception today may be much more of a camcorder event than a camera event. As Sarah said at one point during the walk, “I’m sure you’re beginning to see the Thesbian theme here.” There were several flamboyant personalities and putting them all together was like gathering several comedians on stage and having a laugh-off contest.

Before turning in we thought we’d test out the Bush iD flat screen television in our room. We received a note that if it were too windy out, the digital tv might not work, in which case we were told to switch it over to regular tv. Well, despite the fact that I didn’t see much wind outside, our digital definitely didn’t work, so we tried to watch the beginning of Stigmata but the picture was so fuzzy that I could barely make out the subtitles. And the rest of the channel options were no better. There were two stations with comedians. One made horrible jokes and the other was the guy from the Office and then the clip of him talking ended and it turned out to be a critical review (with 5 or 6 speakers) of his comedy routine. (I am not making this up.)

Rob and I decided we had better things to do than watch horrible tv.

January 18: Cambridge and Histon

i thought this was hilarious. ;-)

Written from Histon

This morning Vanessa had to get to work right on time (for a meeting that ended up not happening, as it happens) so we could either get a ride to the park & ride and take a bus from there, or we could take a bus from Histon. Rob doesn’t like buses, though. So we walked in to Cambridge. (1 hour, 30 minutes. intermittant rain. wind. attacking thorn bushes.)

While walking we passed by some subway signs that we’d seen before. We thought it was odd that we saw signs for a subway, but Vanessa had never mentioned using the subway to get into Cambridge. (Plus we’d never seen these subway signs at any other place in the city besides this intersection.) Then we realized that the “subway” was really just a way for pedestrians to go under the round-a-bout and come back out on the other side. !!!

We decided to go to the cafe first so I could post three days worth of photos. (I only managed to get two posted. It takes awhile to check email, upload photos, add descriptions, etc.)

Then we headed off to the Fitzgerald Museum. Unfortunately, in an attempt to take a short cut, we went through one of the colleges only to find that all the gates on the far end were locked. :-P So we had to go all the way back out and around.

The museum was free (bonus!) but we had to check in our backpacks (which freaked Rob out because he had his computer in there). (I should add that for all of these places that we went in for free, we always gave a bit of a donation any way. So a 6 pound donation is $12 of free museum. ;-) ) We were a little disappointed that several galleries were either closed or under renovation. But there were several great pieces of artwork and by the end we were entirely overwhelmed all the same.

(Vanessa just mentioned that even Tony Blair doesn’t vacation in England because it’s so expensive. They go to Italy instead.)

After the museum we were pretty much wiped out. So we started to head back home. We stopped and got a microphone for Vanessa so she can Skype with her friends and family back in the states. And we picked up some t-shirts for the kids. (We also stopped in a less windy spot (I kid you not, the wind was CRAAAAAZY) and called the kids to say good morning.) Then we started back towards Histon.

We stopped at the Castle mound on the way, mostly because we just hadn’t seen it yet. Talk about windy. Rob actually got blown over while he was trying to take pictures of the wind whipping my hair arouind. It was insane on the mound and over the highway and it was just at an incredible level when we were walking along the streets. We saw a wooden fence and two brick walls that looked like the wind had torn chunks out of them. (We’ve walked up this road once or twice before and didn’t see the fences/walls messed up so we’re assuming it was from the wind.)

We stopped by several bars hoping to grab a pint but we’ve learned that many bars that aren’t in the center of Cambridge don’t open until 5. (They’re essentially open for lunch and dinner and not in between.) So we trudged on home and had a beer and cider at Vanessa’s (and some leftoever lentils).

Then Vanessa dropped us off at Patrick’s on her way to class. The kids were all at his house and I snapped a picture of Nathaniel with his famed (and favorite) chocolate spread sandwich. ;-) I helped Rebecca a little with her math homework while Rob and Patrick talked start-ups and Patrick served us some wonderful tea. (I had a gunpowder green. I think Rob had something black.)

Then the kids and Patrick ate a quick dinner and the girls started watching Legally Blond (gag!) while Nathaniel and I cruised around neopets>http://www.neopets.com%E2%80%9D">neopets.

After Vanessa’s class she came and picked Rob, Katie and I up but the other two stayed over at Patrick’s for the night.

January 18, 2007

January 17: Cambridge

Vanessa’s Dining Room: Histon and the mid-level of CB2: Cambridge: Wednesday 10:45 pm and Thursday 11 am GMT

Vanessa didn’t have to work today so she drove us in to Cambridge and we visited the round church. (I’ve posted pictures of the outside of it already.) The people that own the church use it to focus on the story of Christianity in England in general and Cambridge in particular, highlighting notable religious figures throughout the ages that have had interactions with Cambridge UIniversity.

Inside there are several (12 or so) large displays that start during the Roman period(and St. Alban) and tell the story of Christianity in England. Every time a famous person is mentioned, if they had attended Cambridge University, then their college name was included in parentheses just after their name.

After reading through these we went on a tour that the Round Church people put on which takes you through several of the Cambridge churches and chapels telling you the history of Christianity in Cambridge.

We started with the round church, of course. The church had been built after Crusaders had gone to Jersusalem and seen the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (which had been built by Constantine as a memorial that is supposedly over the location that Jesus was buried. We have a friend that used to work at the Garden Tomb which is another place Jesus might have been buried. So there are two locations that I suppose people believe may be The place.) which is a round church. In order to remind themselves of this great event in their lives (going and sacking Jerusalem seeing this great monument) they came back and built several little versions of the round church throughout England and this one in Cambridge is one of those.

Then another section was added on to the round church and that's where the stained glass window is that I took a photo of. The stained glass was put in just after WWII, I believe that each part had special significance. (Like the pelicans just over the cross. People used to think that they tore off their own flesh and fed it to their babies. So the birds came to represent Christ who gave of his own flesh, so to speak. The guide pointed out that you'll see pelicans carvings all over the city. Of course, now people realize that the pelicans are just pulling out bits of stored up fish to feed their babies. So there you go.)

We left the round church and headed over to the divinity school (where the grumpy old men picture was.) Just so you get a sense of how close together this all is, the round church is kitty corner from St. John's College (which was started by Henry VII's mother, Margaret Beaufort (who gave birth to him when she was 13). Across from St. John's College (and it would be just across the street from the round church except there was a shop in between) was the divinity school. So these buildings are all within spitting distance of each other.

The guide explained that the dude on the left of the entranceway (in that grumpy old men picture) was a famous Catholic named Fisher who invited Erasmus to Cambridge as Lady Margaret Professor. (Henry's mother not only started the Divinity school and St. John's but she provided endowments that would pay for a professorship and a divinity head (or something like that). Erasmus then made a parallel Greek and Latin New Testament (meaning that you could read the familiar Latin down one side and then compare it to the original Greek that was on the other side of the page). This was a beginning ingredient for the reformation as those who studied Scripture began to see the little changes that had taken place from the original text to the then present-day Latin translation. Fisher was later killed after Henry VIII led England out from under Rome.

The grumpy old man on the right was Cranmer, Henry VIII's archbishop (I believe he's the one that helped Henry secure his first divorce). He helped lead the reformation in England and I believe he was killed by Henry VIII's daughter, Queen Mary I (who was later renamed by her sister Elizabeth, Bloody Mary).

We did a quick stop into St. John's College Chapel which had a statue of Margaret B. out front stamping out ignorance and another of Fisher, I think it was, stamping out ignorance and something else. (I think I only took a pic of Fisher.) Inside there was a statue of Wilberforce who was instrumental in ending slavery in England. (And the anniversary of that date is coming up this summer so there are going to be several celebrations. I hope abolitionists of today's slavery make the most of that. I'll probably try to post something on it in the slave group at some point.)

From the divinity school we headed over to Trinity College which Isaac Newton attended. (There's an apple tree planted by the college entrance in his honor.) Trinity was also *cough* started by Henry VIII (hence the picture of him as a stubby little man holding an orb and a chair leg).

Near the end of Henry VIIIs life his wife (#6, I believe) said something to him along the lines of, "You really think you're going to get into heaven after splitting the church from Rome and beheading two wives?" Back in those days, one way to assure your entrance into heaven was to build a church or college. I'm sure that had been part of Margaret Beaufort's desire back when she started the divinity school and St. John's. And she was quite free with her money. Her grandson, Henry VIII, however, decided to take two old colleges, combine them, rip out a building or two and call it Trinity College. (Actually, it had a much more laborious name to say, but Trinity was in there and that's what it got shortened to.)

We went into the courtyard of Trinity and I think I snapped a shot of their dining hall. Far cry from the cafeterias most of us chowed at in our University days. And we visited the chapel where there were several statues of famous men.

We then went to see the Senate House where David Livingstone made a call to Englishmen to become missionaries to Africa.

Though the site of the White Horse Inn as well as many other churches were a part of the tour, we'd already covered our allotted hour and a half by this point so the guide took us quickly to one last church before leaving us. That was St. Edward's Church. This church is famous for being the heart of the Reformation in England. Because it was hosted by two University colleges and was not under the governance of the Anglican church, reformation preachers could preach freely here. (You'll notice that this is the church that now holds Goth Eucharists.)

Once the guide left us, Vanessa decided that we really should see the King's College Chapel. Rob decided to his a cafe rather than pay the 4.50 ($9) to get in. It wasn't worth it to him. But I enjoyed the Tudor history involved.

It was basically built by the Henrys and it was decorated during the time of Henry VIIIs short lived marriage to Anne Bolin (after 3 years he had her beheaded because he thought she was conspiring against him) so there are H's and A's all over the place. It reminded me of teenagers carving their initials everywhere only these were in stone and worked into all of the church decorations.

The ceiling was breathtaking. I wish there was something on the floor that I could lie on and take in the ceiling without getting a crink in my neck. The screen and wall decorations were wonderful (and matched the shot I took of the outside with the dragon and dog). But I have to admit that I really felt like they were grumpy at the door about making us pay (like they wish they could have charged more) and I felt a sense of the "Let's make the tourists pay to keep up England's national treasures." I really prefer the suggested donation thing. At least then you feel like you're helping as opposed to feeling used.)

After King's College we went and got some pasties for lunch. Rob Loves pasties. Have I mentioned that before? We found a really cute little shop right on the market where the workers all seemed to be from France, which Vanessa enjoyed since she was a French major.

After Cambridge we went to Tesco's again. This time Rob and I picked up a suitcase and goodies for the kids to fill it with. ;-) We also got more tea and biscuits for home.

Rob made lentils for dinner and since Nathaniel and Rebecca were at Patrick's it was just Ness, Rob, me and Katie for dinner. I don't know if Katie has ever had lentils before the way Rob makes them but she enjoyed them and she and I practically devoured and entire wheel of yummy, creamy cheese. :-)

January 16: Nottingham

Nessa’s dining room, Histon: Wednesday 9:30 GMT

On Tuesday we said goodbye to Nathaniel since he’ll be with his dad till we see him one last time right before we leave on Friday. Then Vanessa dropped us off at the Cambridge train station.

Before when she’d take us down to Cambridge, she’d go the long way about and when I asked her why she said it was because the traffic going straight into town was horrible. But this morning she went straight into town (the way that we walk back) and it was Craaaaazy!!! It took us forever just to leave Histon and another forever to get to the station. So we ended up setting off later than I had hoped.

We got our tickets without any problem, but then we had no idea which platform to go to. We couldn’t find any signs that told us (though I think if we’d been brave and just walked out to a platform, we would have found a tv out there that listed it... maybe. If we’d known what we were looking for. Which we didn’t.) The problem was that we knew we had to switch trains but the ticket agent hadn’t told us where. So we weren’t even sure which train to get onto. So Rob got back in line and asked and that got us to the right platform. Then we weren’t sure where to get off so we had to ask the conductor to help us out. Whew!

We managed to make our way to Nottingham and then got lost again trying to find out way out to the train station from the platforms. ivy basically guided us in via cell phone.

From the train station we promptly set out for the castle (and grabbed some food that we ate on the way).

The original castle was built in 1067 by William the Conquerer (apparently also called William the Bastard). When he realized that the Saxons up north (I think they were Saxons *shrug*) were not going to simply bow the knee to him, he decided to set up a fortress from which he’d gently and mercifully bend them to his will. It was a wooden structure built on top of a hill with sheer cliffs on three sides.

Later, one of the Henrys, I think it was, came up and tore down the wood structure and replaced it with stone. This was expanded several times by various Plantagenet kings (think Richards, Henrys and Edwards) who liked to come up to Nottingham to kick back and kill things (mostly animals out in the forest. “Forest” by the way, didn’t necessarily mean wooded areas like we Americans tend to assume, but any land that was covered under the king’s “Forest Laws” which could include not only woods but fields and heath as well.)

Edward II's wife, Isobel, took a lover at one point, Roger Mortimer. (They used to have secret meetings at the bar that we went to after visiting the castle.) Mortimer killed the king but forgot about doing away with this son, who became Edward III. The king knew of a back passage into the Nottingham castle so Mortimer and the queen thought they were safe but Edward snuck in and killed him.

Once Henry VII took the throne, the Nottingham castle fell into disrepair. (Mostly because all the Plantagenet fighting was, for the most part, done, and Henry had other things to do with his time than chase about game in the forest.)

Somewhere in the 1600 or 1700s the castle was passed on to some duke or earl or some such and eventually razed. Then some dude in the 1700s built his own little hideaway there and that’s the building we saw.

The building has been turned into a museum. One part holds the history of the castles that have been there. One part holds art (the kind that goes on walls, mostly). There’s a large display of Wedgwood Pottery. (Rob was majorly impressed by that.) And there was a room dedicated to the Sherwood Rangers including information on several rangers who had earned Victoria Crosses as well as equipment that they used or commandeered during various battles. (There was a really neat compass that some POW’s made during WWII that enabled them to escape. They used a razor blade, a button, a shoe polish container and a pin.)

After looking around inside the museum we wandered around the outside, noting where Ivy goes to school, where the English equivalent of the IRS is located, and getting queasy as we looked over the sides of the cliff.

We then decided to grab a pint and headed down to the oldest pub in England. Started in 1189, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem Inn may very well have been a stop along the way for the Crusaders as they left England for Jerusalem. The back of the pub was carved out of the same rock that the castle was atop of, and it is said that Mortimer and the Queen had secret trysts there.

After leaving the pub we hit a thrift shop or two (Rob is trying to find a cheap (lol!!!!) long coat made of wool here. So far the cheapest he’s found is about $200 or made of synthetics.) and then went and had crepes. I had a tomato, basil, mozzarella crepe. Rob had a ham and cheddar cheese crepe. And Ivy had a chocolate and banana crepe with some sort of shake. I think it had a cookie in it or something, right Ives?

We had to go soon after that so Ivy led us back to the train station. I should stop here and say that Nottingham has a very cute downtown with many marvelous old buildings in it. I didn’t snap any pictures of them, but they were certainly cool.

We got to the train station (we would have been sincerely lost without a guide) and headed back to Cambridge on the train.

On the first leg of the trip (we had to switch trains in Ely, pronounced either ee-lee or eh-lee) we ended up sitting across from a Scotsman who saw that I was reading How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest nation Created Our World & Everything in It. We ended up chatting with him for awhile. He had a wonderful sense of humor.

We got back to the Cambridge train station at 20:00 and Vanessa drove up just as we were walking out of the station. Perfect timing. We got home, had some dinner, chatted for awhile (and discussed what personality types Vanessa, Katie and Rebecca were) then went to bed.

January 17, 2007

January 15: Cambridge

The ducks were ducking themselves into the water then splashing all around. I thought the kids would enjoy this picture.

Vanessa’s Dining Room, Histon: Monday 7:45 pm GMT

Vanessa dropped us off by the William Fitzgerald Museum today. Unfortunately, it turns out that they’re open from Tuesday to Saturday. :-P So we ended up wandering around parts of Cambridge that we hadn’t seen yet (and some parts that we had).

We came across Little St. Mary’s Church and though we didn’t go in, we did walk around to the garden in the back and enjoy listening to the birds and looking at the back of Peterhouse College. (Peterhouse is the oldest college at Cambridge. It was started in 1284.)

As I sat looking at the greenery and the paving stones that were used to shore up the areas of the garden that where higher than other areas, it suddenly dawned on me that the rocks had writing on them. Then I realized that they were gravestones. Someone had rearranged the gravestones to make them into borders that held back the dirt behind them!!! I became convinced of this when I found a stone that had been set in place with the text sideways.

We then wandered over to St. Botolph’s Church, which was built in 1320. Believe it or not, the city of Boston (first the one on this side of the pond, then the one over in Massachusetts) got it’s name from St. Botolph.

After Botolph’s we found ourselves in an area that we’d seen already. But we knew where the internet cafe was from there, so we buzzed over there and uploaded pictures. On the way Rob grabbed a cornish pasty. I believe that’s his new favorite (or shoudl I say favouritie?) food. (See Mary. It’s not all complaining. Rob keeps throwing his hands in the air every time we pass a pasty shop. (He was pronouncing it as “paste-ey” then he changed it to “pahsty”))

From the cafe we tried to find St. Tibbs Row to take a picture of the sign, but it turns out they’re doing construction there. So the street sign (if there ever was one. Have I mentioned that the English don’t seem to like street signs?) was gone or hidden behind construction supplies. That was a pretty severe dissapointment because I knew the kids would have loved to see that. (Speaking of the kids. Nathan was diagnosed with strep. yesterday and now my mom tells me that she thinks Anna has it as well. :-P )

While we were wandering looking for St. Tibbs Row, though, we managed to find a funky rocky church. Again, it’s only about 100 years old, but it was still cool.

We passed by the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology and hoped to go in, but they’re not open on Mondays either. We did find a sign for another school of Economics, though. That’s always important. So we took a picture.

We made our way to the touristy part of town to find a place to exchange the rest of our dough. Then we hit the pub. This time I got cider. It was nothing to write home about.

We walked back to Histon and made it in record time. We tried to find the place that Rob’s brother Ryan had stayed when he was here (we only just today found out that he had lived in Histon when he attended Cambridge) but we couldn’t find it. (He later sent a map in an email so we’ll go hunt it down later.)

We grabbed some groceries at the mini-Tesco and headed home. For dinner we had leftovers over baked potatoes. Yum! And Rob, Nathaniel and Rebecca are now making brownies.

January 15, 2007

Mediterranean Chicken

This is the dish that Vanessa made for us the other night. We finished up the leftovers by pouring them over baked potatoes tonight. It was DELICIOUS! (or "Off the Richter scale" as Rob just said.) (I didn't eat any of the chicken, but Rob said that was also excellent. I just used the sauce and extras and they were wonderful.)

150 ml (2/3 cup) Red Wine Vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
30 ml (2 tbsp) freshly chopped oregano
salt and black pepper
150 ml (2/3 cup) olive oil
150g (6 oz) ready to eat dried prunes, quartered
150g (6 oz) ready to eat dried apricots, quartered
100g (4 oz) green olives
50g (2oz) capers
1 bayleaf
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
40g (1 1/2 oz) brown sugar
175 ml (6 fl oz) white wine

Mix together the vinegar, garlic, oregano, seasoning, oil; prunes, apricots olives, capers and bay leaves in a large bowl. Place the chicken in the marinade, cover, refrigerate and leave to marinate for 4 hours or overnight if possible.

Preheat the oven to 325 F (180 C, Gas Mark 4).

Arrange the chicken in a shallow baking dish in a single layer and pour over the marinade. Sprinkle the chicken with brown sugar and pour the wine around. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes until the chicken is well browned.

Serve over rice or cous cous.

January 14, 2007

January 14: Histon

Vanessa’s Dining Room, Histon, Cambridgeshire: Sunday 4:14 pm GMT

I finished reading a Garth Nix book this morning (I’ve finished 4 books so far on the trip) and had some tea and cereal while everyone else slept. I like mornings alone best. :-)

Then we got ready and headed off to church. Vanessa attends the Anglican church in the village. The building was put up some time in the 1600’s and was made from bits and pieces of two previous churches. There’s a cemetery surrounding the building but the oldest plots I saw were from the late 1800’s. There were several stones that were so worn down or so lichen covered that you couldn’t read the text.

After church we walked over to the Tesco express (a mini version of a larger grocery store chain) and Vanessa picked up some groceries while Rob and I snagged some tea that was on sale. We’re going to have to pick up another suitcase at the rate we’re going. But the tea that Rob bought today was twice the size and 1/4 the cost of what he buys online (and buying it online is cheaper than buying it in Fort Collins).

We walked home and had sandwiches (I had a brie and apple sandwich) and cheese and olives. Yum!

Then I tried to help Vanessa finish up a movie she’s made (with the help of her kids) on Windows Movie Maker. I found it rather frustrating after having worked with iMovie. I didn’t find it intuitive, but then again, part of the reason iMovie is easy for me is because it’s what I’m used to. So it’s hard to compare at this point.

Then we tried to upload it to her new multiply account, but with dial-up that’s easier said than done.

Vanessa’s Kitchen, Histon, Chambridgeshire: Sunday 8:30 pm GMT

Our first attempt at uploading the movie ended in an 8 second short. :-P
So we uploaded it again only to realize afterwards that some sections repeated. So we’re going to redo it and reupload later.

After doing all that we were a bit worn out so we stopped for tea and biscuits. Then Vanessa and I went for a walk while Rob played American football with Nathaniel and the girls worked on homework. Ness and I walked over to Impington, which is the village across the way.

(Impington may have derived its name from a sixth century tribe (yes, a tribe in England... well, it wasn’t really England then, was it?) called the Empings. Emp sounds like the Anglo-Saxon word for honey. It’s possible that the site was a Roman homestead before that.)

When we got back Vanessa started on dinner (marinated chicken over rice -- I’m hoping to post the recipe soon.) and I worked on a killer sudoku. I think I got one number entered in a half hour.

Dinner was fantastic, as usual. Dessert was also scrumptious. We had chocolate and apple crepes. I’m going to have to try to recreate them when I get home. Nessa bought them from some German place so I can’t just follow a recipe.

Then the kids were shuffled off to bed and I read through a history book on Histon and Impington. (In 1279, Histon’s population was about 1000 people. After the famines and black plague the city was down to 53 families and didn’t reach 1000 people again until 1800.)

January 13, 2007

January 13: Cambridge and Histon

CB2 Bistro: Saturday 1:20 pm GMT

We had our first real adventure today. Vanessa got two bikes ready and Rob and I biked in to Cambridge. We did our best to stay to the left hand side, but, as usual, the pedestrians and even other bicyclists didn’t.

Vanessa’s Kitchen, Histon: Saturday 8:55 pm GMT

Well, I didn’t get much more than that written because I spent the rest of my connection time fighting with Friday’s photo albums. :-P

We had just as much of an adventure coming back. After the cafe our directions were to swing by a grocery store and pick up a few items. So we headed back to Vanessa’s and hoped that we’d see a grocery store on the way. As we approached the bridge (btw, the bridge’s over the river Cam are what gave CamBridge it’s name, in case you hadn’t thought of that. ... I hadn’t.) I saw a nice pathway to the left away from the cars and another to the right of a hedge that went along the road. So I chose that nice looking pathway to the left... only to find that it led to the river and the underside of the bridge. (Whereas the right hand path had led across the bridge.)

So I stopped to take some pictures. When stuck where you hadn’t planned to be, take pictures, right?

We saw several teams of punters going past with their coaches biking alongside shouting out directions to them. Then we found a pedestrian bridge across the river and headed back the way we had been going. We weren’t seeing any grocery stores so we finally stopped to ask someone for directions. We’ve tried several times during our trip here to get help from people and they generally completely ignore us, but this gal was really nice and gave us rather good directions to the nearest Tesco. Unfortunately, those directions required us to go back the way we had come. :-P

So we headed back over the bridge and up the hill to a Tesco. Rob got lost in the tea aisle a couple of times (Rob loves English tea and generally has to order it from the UK online. So he’s hoping to stock up during this trip.) and I wandered through several aisles looking for red wine vinegar and finding other little odds and ends instead (like squash. No, I don’t mean the gourds that you cook and eat the flesh of. I mean glass bottles of juice. Juice presumably made from squashed fruit, yes?)

So we bought our items, packed up the bike bags and headed yet again for that bridge. We found Elizabeth street, managed our way around the round-a-bout onto Milton and cruised down Milton. I was just thinking to myself, “finally! a smooth stretch of road” when it dawned on me that we weren’t supposed to be on Milton very long. Somehow we’d missed Arbury at one of the round-a-bouts. (Have I mentioned that the English aren’t very good at labeling their streets?)

So we stopped and pulled out the map and determined that we were near Green something street. Which I couldn’t find anywhere on the map. But I did find Kings something or other on the map and it appeared we’d have to back track until we found that. So back we went until we hit the next street and I immediately recognized it as something on the map. I pull out my map again and realize that we had just been at the street we were looking for. But instead of seeing the King name, as it’s labeled on the map, we’d seen the Green name, which I finally found labeled on that road... after you travel aways down the map and around a corner. Bah! So not only are the street signs few and far between, but the maps aren’t labeled very well either.

We were using two of Vanessa’s bikes and we hadn’t adjusted the seats like we should have and by this point my legs felt like they were going to fall right off my body. Which would have been a relief because then I’d no longer feel the pain.

We pedaled on and finally crossed over the highway (see picture from previous day) and stopped at a light.

It was a red light.

We needed to turn left.

In America, you can turn right on red as long as the way is clear, right? So I figured that in the UK, you could turn left on red as long as the way was clear.

Well, you can’t.

And you really don’t want to do it when there’s a police car right there at the intersection. *sigh*

So I got pulled over and told that it was a 30 pound (read $60) fine and they were going to let me go this time but I shouldn’t do it again. :-P

As they pulled away Rob had a wonderful time ribbing me about it (and reminding me of the debacle in Nevada as well). Turkey.

So we headed home.

I’d just like to point out that as we cycled home we passed several cars that were parked right in the driving lane. Not off to the side as one might expect, but right in the lane (as there is not space to the side). This is normal.

Cars were also parked in the opposite direction of traffic. So for Americans who are trying hard to remember to ride on the left, having a car facing you (as would happen if you were driving on the left side in the States) is a little disconcerting... until you realize it’s parked.

And there are points in the road when the council (or whoever decides these things) has put in some poles... in the middle of the lane. They’re just there. I’ve got to take a picture. I haven’t done it yet, but I promise, I’ll get one on here soon. You won’t believe what you’re seeing.

And all these things are fine. But turning left on a read when there’s no one in the way, well that’s just wrong now, isn’t it?


Like I said. It was quite an adventure.

So once we got back I helped Katie look for a dress on eBay. Rob played frisbee with Nathaniel a bit. Then we had a macaroni dinner with salad. (Homemade macaroni with tuna and green olives. It was quite yummy.) And for dessert we had chocolate covered HobNobs and leftover cinnamon rolls.

Katie ended up winning her bid on one of the dresses. (It’s a long white prom dress with ties in the back that have little roses on them and a matching purse.)

Oh, and we finally had some good beers. ... Well, “finally” isn’t really appropriate because we liked the Abbot’s we had at the Tipperary Pub and at the Eagle. But today we had some McEwan’s Champion Scottish Ale (“which was wonderful”, Rob adds) and Broughton Champion Double Ale (“that was wonderful too”, says Rob). In general we’ve found that the beers we’ve had here have had less flavor, but the two we tried today (both Scottish ales) had much more flavor.

January 12: Cambridge

The Eagle in Cambridge: Friday 1:28 pm GMT

Vanessa dropped us off at an internet cafe this morning and I had a tea. Rob asked for a latte but what he got was the size of a cappaccino.

We walked around for a bit looking in thrift shops. Then we moved on toward the colleges, mostly just looking around and snapping photos. We plan to head back at 3 so we decided to stop for a leisurely beer at the Eagle. (We would have stopped somewhere else but we didn’t see anywhere else and came across this so we stopped.)

CB2 Bistro: Saturday 12:50 pm GMT

We walked back to Histon from Cambridge, which turned out to be almost an hour and a half walk. We got back just in time for popcorn and a movie (“Catch That Kid”) which we watched with Vanessa and the kids. Then Vanessa made dinner while Rob got a kick out of the kids’ slang (particularly the word manky meaning something along the lines of gross or ooey).

Dinner was spaghetti and salad and Ness made a batch of sauce for me without meat. :-) It was really good and was followed up with some homemade cinnamon rolls. Can’t beat that. We hung out and talked for a bit more and then hit the hay.

-- I’m making two photo albums for today. I took several pictures of the kids but I don’t want to post them to “everybody.” So if you’re a friend of Nessa’s and want to see the pics, let me know and I’ll send you an email key. --

January 12, 2007

January 10 - 11: London and Cambridge

Can you tell Rob took these pics? I took one of the war memorial and included the background building for context and because the background building was also interesting. Rob just takes a bunch of pictures of the memorial. There you have it.

Trumpington Park & Ride: Wednesday 12:55 pm GMT

Jennifer gave us a ride to the Hemel Hempstead bus stop and we caught a bus up towards Cambridge. I think I messed up, though. We should have called Vanessa on our way up and instead we’ve tried calling her from the station. But we have a feeling that she’s already left to get us at the other stop over in Cambridge.

Histon in Cambridgeshire: Thursday 8:45 am GMT

Turns out Ness was still at work and had just left her phone at her desk while she was away. And since we were calling from the station and not from Rob’s cell phone, she didn’t think it was us. I called back a bit after writing the above and got ahold of her and she spirited us away home (after taking us for a spin through Cambridge).

We hung out at Nessa’s chatting for awhile, and then we took a walk to see Histon. We grabbed some groceries on the way home and I made omelette’s for everyone for dinner. (The kids were at Patrick’s so it was just the three of us.) My omelette had onions, peppers, and cheddar cheese. I added some chicken to Rob’s and Vanessa’s.

Then we drove into town and had a beer at The Eagle, one of the oldest pubs in Cambridge, and one that is notable for the writing on the ceiling done by RAF and USAF men during WWII. Rob got me a Greene King’s IPA, which I didn’t much care for (but then, I don’t generally care for IPAs) and he had a Speckled Hen (which I didn’t much care for, either. But Rob was trying to go for English beers and we’d already tried to the Abbot’s. He got a 1/2 pint afterwards of whatever the other one they had on draft was (another one with letters for a name - LBW?) and I didn’t like that one either.) We asked Vanessa where the local brew pubs were and she scrunched up her eyes and thought and then said, “I’ve never heard of something like that around here.” :-P What’s with that?!!

We came back home and Vanessa and I took another walk while we waited for Katie to get back from her dad’s house.

-- Pictures are from Wednesday and Thursday. I didn’t get Rob’s pics off his (my) camera yesterday. --

January 11, 2007

January 10: London (for real)

Kings Langley, Roz's living room: Wednesday 11:3 pm GMT

Once again we didn'€™t leave the house until after 10. We spent the time catching up on emails and preparing our travel plan for the day.

We took the train to Euston (pronounced like "€œHouston" only you don'™t make the sound of the "H"). From there we decided to walk down to our first and most illustrious stop of the day. (You'€™ll have to wait with hungry hearts until later for me to reveal this most wondrous of all tourist haunts.)

We walked past several University College London buildings. At first we saw only 1960s/70s monstrosities, but eventually we saw a building or two (whether of the University or not) that was beautiful and we ended up on a street that was filled with gorgeous architecture (which reminded me quite a bit of NYC). We stopped in a little grocer’s and Rob picked up some Hob Nobs which we munched as we walked.

We eventually started to sense that we were drawing near to our esteemed destination and asked at a shop or two for directions. It turns out we were placed exactly right and needed only to proceed forward to see this most noble of venues.

When at last we happened upon it, I wanted much to throw myself to the ground praising the heavens and sending up loud exclamations of thanks for the grandeur and status of that which lay before me.

I'm sure you'€™ve guessed by now our illustrious goal. Perhaps you'€™re weeping even now in grief and envy at what I have seen that you, so far in your lowly life have yet to behold. For on this day, 10 January 2007, I have walked through the campus of the London School of Economics.

*pauses to allow for cries of dismay, jealousy and perhaps even rancor at my recent good fortune*

After that, nothing more we could see, not St. Paul’s Cathedral, not the first pub in England to serve Guinness, not even the Tower of London could compare. The rest was but sorrowful denouement.

So after a time of worship in €œthe "Economist's Bookshop",€ (where I read through the script of "the Extras" and Rob purchased a copy of Intellectual Property Law (under English Law)) -- you can see who is the more devout between the two of us -- we wandered towards Saint Paul's Cathedral.

We were getting hungry, so we stopped on the way at a little Irish pub. The Tipperary turned out to be the oldest Irish pub in London. The food was excellent and our waitress (from Poland) was a kick.

We then finished our walk to St. Paul's. They were asking for 9.50 pounds (I’m sure I have a way to make the pound sign but I don'€™t feel like looking for it right now) per person to get in (which would be about $19 each), so we just looked around from the entranceway and headed back out.

We got a text message from Roz that she'd be meeting us at the Euston station soon, so we bustled off to the Tower as quickly as possible, snapped some photos, then sped back to the Euston Station. From there we went to TKTS and picked up some tickets for Twelfth Night.

We were getting hungry so we stopped and had tea. I had my first taste of clotted cream, which I had greatly anticipated after seeing an article about it in Saveur. And I have to admit that it was quite good. But I expected it to be a few more levels of heavenly than it was. I believe that if I had to choose between clotted cream and MouCo cheese, I might just go with the cheese.

After tea we stopped in at a bookshop. Then we headed across the Thames to the Old Vic theater and watched Twelfth Night. It was an all male cast, just as it would have been in Shakespeare'€™s day, and I think the guys played that off with wonderful effect. The acting was superb, the music beautiful and... well, at one point Rob, who has only read Shakespeare’s tragedies, leaned over and said, "I didn'€™t realize Shakespeare was so baudy!"

January 9, 2007

January 9: Verulamium and Saint Albans

Kings Langley, Roz’s living room: Tuesday 9:30 pm GMT (I had a glitch when trying to add this to the album description. Whenever the service folks get it fixed I'll probably move it there. The major bummer here is that everyone I send this to by email will miss out on the description unless they think to click through.) :-(

Today we met up with the Romans, the Normans, some Plantagenists, some Puritans, the Victorians, and by the end of the day we found ourselves in Southern India... so to speak.

Jennifer, Rosalind’s mother, came and picked us up at 10 am and took us first for a bit of a ride around the countryside. Then we went to the Verulamium museum. When the Romans came over to push the Saxons about a bit, they set up a few towns. One was London, built at the last point that a sizable ship could make it up the river Thames. The second was Verulamium, where there was good soil and the Romans could grow food for the empire. And I have no clue what the third was, but I’ve heard there’s one out there somewhere.

The museum tells about the lives of the people at the time and has several artifacts on display. There’s lots of pottery, but there was also some glass bottles and pitchers that looked like something you might find today (except for the extra wide and thick handles). There was a skeleton in a tin box that was very ornately decorated. And there were several mosaics that had adorned the floors of the wealthy Romans.

After the museum we walked over to a waffle shop and had soup and waffles. Rob had vegetable soup and a wholemeal waffle and I had sweet potato and coconut soup with a wholemeal waffle. For dessert we had regular waffles with apples. The restaurant was in an old mill with the river Vere running beneath it.

Then Jennifer remembered that she’d forgotten to pay for her parking spot at the museum. So we rushed back there to see if tragedy could be averted, to no avail. The ticket was already tucked under the wiper. :-(

So then we wandered up to the Saint Albans Abbey (which is now a Cathedral). The church is reputedly built on the site of the martyrdom of Alban, a Roman citizen who apparently harbored a Christian, was converted, helped the Christian off to safety and then was hauled off and killed by the Romans at Verulamium. The man he saved managed to escape from Veulamium but was caught soon after by some Romans elsewhere and summarily had the end of his life handed to him as well.

Miracles began to happen on the hill and soon pilgrims were coming there to venerate Alban. A church was built there by the Saxons and a few columns from that building were then used by the Normans in building the abbey that we saw today. The Normans didn’t have any stone to use, to they procured bricks from the old town of Verlulamium and covered them with plaster to make them look more like stone. They decorated these with paint. Later, fairly cheap stone (a rather chalky stone that couldn’t have been used outdoors) was brought in and used for a very beautiful expansion of the church with intricately detailed arches and decorations. And then, after a time of ridiculous disrepair fell upon the building and the congregants had to all meet up in one little bitty corner to avoid rainfall, and after part of a wall fell in and another part bowed out, the building was again repaired and remade in yet another style.

I don’t have any good pictures of the inside of the sanctuary of the church because the distances from floor to ceiling are so high that much of the building ends up in shadow. But you can get a very good sense of the hodge-podge of it all from the pictures of the outside of the building.

During the dissolution (when the Catholic church was banned in England and the Puritans gained sway) most of the images/statues were destroyed. These were mostly replaced by the Victorians later.

The building was a marvelous jumble of history, sociology, religion, politics and fancy. It seems like the kind of place you could visit over and over and over again and each time see something new and interesting.

Then we meandered up to the town of Saint Albans which had the cutest little alleys and shops I’ve seen yet (and all the high streets seem to have cute shops, so this is saying something). We stopped in a book store and Rob found a book on Tolkien that includes his letters to Ghandhi. (Well, I found it but Rob bought it.) Then we wandered over to a cafe and Rob got an Americano and Jennifer and I had hot cocoa and we each got a silly little biscuit.

Oh, I should add that on our way over to the town of Saint Albans we saw lots of ducks and geese, but we also saw coots, moor hens, and some geese who’s name I never did learn. We wandered back past the birds and the river Vere in the dark to get back to the car. It gets dark rather early over here since we’re north of the 45 parallel.

Then we headed over to Jennifer’s for tea (well, Rob had some Christmas cake, too) while we waited for Alan to get back from work. Then we headed off for some south Indian food that was quite good.

And our special treat for the day, though Rob closed his eyes for it as much as possible, was to drive through the magic round-a-bout almost every time we went from one of these places to another. (The magic round-a-bout, of which there are apparently only three in the UK) is basically one large round-a-bout made with several smaller round-a-bouts at each intersection. It makes quite a lot of sense once you’ve managed to begin to understand the insanity that is the British psyche. (The same psyche, I should add, that detests a proper labeling of streets in London, that allows parking within driving lanes, and that juts a bit of sidewalk into the street forcing a car driver to veer over into the lane of oncoming traffic to get around it, in the name of safety.)

January 8, 2007

January 8: Kings Langley and London

Roz and Alan's property is along the left hand side.

Kings Langley, Roz's living room: Tuesday 7:30 am GMT

We took our time getting up and about on Monday. We are, after all, on vacation. So after emailing the kids and the rest of the family, having some tea and eating some breakfast, we headed off for the train station to London.

I took a photo of the canal behind Roz'€™s house. They own a fair little plot of land along the left hand side of this pic. Then we walked past the façade of the old Ovaltine factory (which is being made into ultra contemporary apartments). From the train station in Kings Langley till we popped out of the underground at Charing Cross station was only 45 minutes. I stopped and took a picture of a "Way Out" sign. We got quite a kick out of that. As in, groovy, dude.

Once we were in London, I got the feeling that we weren'€™t really. I believe we spent most of the time in the City of Westminster.

We saw Trafalgar square and got a picture of me in front of one of the lions so the kids could see. The main thing that interested me there was the statue of Charles I that his son managed to save from destruction by Cromwell. I'd love to know the story of how that happened. It'€™s not like he could stuff the thing under the corner of his rain slicker on his way out of the country.

We walked down to Buckingham Palace and saw some sort of pomp (Roz says it was the changing of the guard, though the man with the gun stayed in one place the whole time and didn'€™t change in the least bit). I got a couple of pictures of horses there as that's what the kids would be most interested in. The men with hats came out blurry. And I thought my brother-in-law, Ryan, might be interested in the submachine gun.

From there we wandered toward Westminster Abbey, where I found several lizard type figures that I thought Nathan might enjoy seeing) and, of course, Big Ben, which Garfield saw on his visit so I figured we should check it out as well. ;-)

We were starving at this point and every little sandwich shop I saw Rob went sprinting past so we hopped on the underground and arrived somewhere near the Japanese embassy where we found a yummy Lebanese restaurant that was rather expensive and posh (and here we are with our massive backpacks that looked very out of place there). We ordered up a deal where we got 6 appetizers: hummous, falafel, sausages, tabbouli, spinach pies and something incredibly yummy that I don'€™t have a name for, but it tasted similar to an au gratin and was incredibly yummy. It was 40 pounds, though, which means we spent $80 on appetizers. !!! (The exchange rate just happens to suck pretty bad at the moment.)

We got back on the underground and came out onto Oxford street which was exactly the sort of place Rob had been hoping for. We hit several book shops and then found a cafe (Nero'€™s) and stopped and had some tea and read awhile. We were astounded by how many Body Shops we saw. And we were even more in shock by the English distaste for road signs. Though many buildings had the street names plastered on them, several of the newer buildings had nothing of the sort. And the maps are incredibly difficult to read because there’s not a decent amount of space between streets so all of the lines and words get munched together.

We caught the 6:09 train back to Kings Langley and just happened to see Roz as she coming toward the train so we called her on to join us. We had stir fry for dinner (made with cous cous instead of rice, which was very good) and then were introduced to several delightful little books, the first of which is a travel guide by lonely planet called Micro Nations. I a€™m considering becoming a citizen of Lovely now. ;-) We also discovered Ben Schott€™s three books of Miscellany: Schott'€™s Original Miscellany, Schott's Food & Drink Miscellany and Schott's Sporting, Gaming & Idling Miscellany.

And I had the best night of sleep I've had since last Thursday night. :-)

January 6-7: from Denver to Kings Langley

I got a picture of Rob in front of the house, but I had the shutterspeed set to some crazy thing (from taking to take pictures of Brownies skating past me at the Cookie Rally last friday). So that turned out as nothing more than a Rob shaped blur. I got a couple of blurry Roz's as well until I got to this one.

Denver International Airport: Saturday 4:30 pm MST

I had gotten a lot of packing done on Thursday and Friday which meant Saturday was fairly laid back. I ran out to a couple of drug stores in the morning trying to find saline in a 3 oz. or less container (the only allowable size for a liquid or gel on airlines these days). I ended up buying some expensive multi-purpose solution in a 2 oz. container having no luck finding the saline. :-P

When I returned I found Rob up on a ladder (which was firmly planted on a bunch of snow and ice) scraping the 5 inches of ice off the top of the gutters and removing as much snow as he could reach from the roof.

My sister came over around noon to switch out cars with my cousin (my cousin wasn’t comfortable being left with our manual transmission) and I gave her a hefty packet of child care info. (what time school starts. when the kids have extracurriculars. etc. )

My mom arrived at 1:30 and we packed up her mini-van and were ready to go. Next came the hard part.

When Anna woke up this morning the first thing she said to me was, “I don’t want you to go. I’m going to miss you.” She cried for a teeny bit, but then seemed to get over it. Later in the morning Nathan pulled me aside and told me that he was really go to miss me. (I managed to keep it together then, but when I told my sister about it later on the phone I got all choked up.)

So we gave hugs before leaving. But then the kids got busy with Lego Star Wars on the computer and playing with Mary and it seemed that they were content to go back to life as usual.

Rob and I have been amazed at the wonderful feeling of lightness at traveling without having to keep tabs on 3 little monkeys (and help them schlep their stuff). We checked our luggage in without any problems. The “normal people” line moved 2 or 3 times as fast as the first class line. Woo hoo! Even security went smoothly. The only boo boo so far is that we didn’t exchange our cash before hitting security. (I had no idea where the exchange was and Rob didn’t mention that it was before security until we’d already taken the train away from security. :-P So I sent him back with the cash and he’ll just have to do security again. But this time I have all his stuff so at least he won’t have to worry about that.)

Kings Langsley: Monday 3:20 am GMT

Our flight in Denver ended up leaving an hour late and since we had only an hour layover in Chicago we raced from one plane to the other. But we ended up sitting on that second plane for about 45 minutes before taking off. :-P

We got in to Heathrow on time and buzzed through rather quickly to Roz. We were a little taken aback by the state of the airport, though. As we walked off the plane we were greeted by buckets on the floor catching the rain as it dripped into the building.

Roz drove us back to her place in Kings Langley (though no one seems to know what a “Langley” is) and we met Alan for the first time. After some good conversation we headed out for a bit of a walk in the misty rain along the canal that runs behind their house. We saw ducks and two swans and I thought I saw a pheasant but Roz says it must have been something else because they don’t have pheasants around here. (And it was a bit small for a pheasant, but didn’t look very chickeny.)

Then we went to Hemel Hempsted for high tea with Roz’s parents and more great conversation. Rob and I were definitely drooping by this time (after having not slept more than a couple of hours on the plane) but Roz is a hard task master and told us that we shouldn’t go to bed until 9 each night if we hoped to adjust to the time change within 3 days. Otherwise she says it takes 4 days.

We have hopes of taking the train in to London tomorrow and bumming around a bit.