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.