lillibet: (Default)
This year Alice requested that we not undertake a major trip for her Spring Break. She's been very busy and feeling the lack of downtime, so despite my regretting not getting a real vacation, we agreed we would stay home. But then I suggested that perhaps we could pop down to New York for a couple of days, which we haven't done with Alice in a couple of years and she thought that might be ok.

Trip, trap, trot. )

On the way home I asked Alice how she thought Spring Break is going and she said "Mama, it's amazing," so I'm counting this trip as a win.
lillibet: (Default)
Jason had a meeting in Finland the last week of school, so we decided that Alice and I would meet him in Reykjavik on his way home and spend a week showing her some of the country we fell in love with back in 2005.*

Iceland Day by Day )

Overall, it was a very good trip, despite Alice and I having colds for most of it. We ate lots of tasty food, had marvelous adventures and saw more of the amazing landscape that reminds us so much of Hawaii, only completely different. We're already talking about what we would do on our next trip--Jokulsarlon tops the list, I'm interested in snorkling in the rift, and I'd still like to see more puffins! It was good to have a break and to spend so much time together and now it's lovely to be back.

*There are several journal entries from the 2005 trip, starting here, if you're interested in seeing those.
lillibet: (Default)
...before I forget!

Last month we spent a week in Hawaii. Jason had a C++ meeting to attend in Kona, but decided that he didn't want to just hear about our adventures at dinner this time, so we all flew out for a week on Maui before Alice and I came home and he hopped over to the Big Island for his meeting.

TRANSIT
We flew from Logan to LAX and then straight to Maui. That broke the journey into two halves and our transfer gates were near to each other, so transitions were easy. In LA they had replaced the aircraft with a smaller one, so thirty people were getting bumped (they were offering $1000 credits to wait until later that night) and it briefly looked dicey for Jason, but we all made it on in the end.

HOTEL
We got a really great deal at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua and I was ready for some serious downtime, so we took it. It was hard to convince Jason to just hang around the resort and relax when there were still corners of the island to explore, but we managed it at least one full day!

Our room was great--enormous, with a separate living room so we could put Alice to bed and still have the lights on. There was a good kitchen (microwave, toaster, coffee, fridge & freezer, dishwasher, sink, reasonably stocked with glasses, utensils, etc.). If I were going back there I would stock up on breakfast food and do that in the room--we mostly ended up stopping by Starbucks for breakfast sandwiches on our way to wherever. I was amused to notice that our room was further from the front desk than our house is from the T, back here in Somerville.

The pools and hot tubs were lovely. The beach was about a quarter mile down the hill, with a cafe and towel stand right there. It was a lovely beach with great waves--a little too rough on our last day, after the storm, but otherwise perfect for bouncing. The food at the poolside restaurant, cafe and Club Lounge (where we were invited for breakfast one morning) was all very good. The staff were uniformly pleasant and eager to please. Alice and I got pedicures in their spa--it surprised me that it's tucked down under the hotel, rather than taking advantage of their relaxing views. I also took a very good Yoga Flow class one morning that really helped to work the kinks of travel out of my body--if that teacher were local, I would seek him out!

The one problem--and it turned out to be only temporary--was a power outage during the storms on Friday night. We arrived back at our hotel to be told there was no power (and therefore no AC) in our rooms. Power in the lobby and the hallways, but nothing in our rooms and the pathway lights throughout the resort were out. The staff gave us flashlights and glowsticks and used extra glowsticks to line all the paths. Jason and Alice hung out and read while I decided to go ahead back to the restaurant where we'd dined to collect the camera Alice had left behind, rather than wait for the next morning. By the time I returned, about an hour later, the staff were just coming down the hall to tell us the power was back on. More of an adventure than an inconvenience, but a memorable one.

If we were going back, we would probably try staying on the other side of the island, maybe in Kihei. While Kapalua was lovely, it felt far away from everything we wanted to do and we (and by "we" I mean "I") spent a lot of time driving back and forth around the island. But if you are a stay-at-the-resort type, I think the Ritz can't be beat.

THINGS WE DID
(in approximately chronological order)

Ziplining! I've been wanting to try ziplining forever and Alice enjoyed it at camp this summer. Many of the places won't allow kids under 10/under 70 lbs. but we were able to try Maui Zipline. The lines weren't terribly high and on a cloudy day the views weren't the greatest, but our guides were friendly and funny and made the whole thing a blast.

Snorkeling! We took Blue Water Rafting's Molokini Express Tour. Bounding over the waves, with Alice sitting on the pontoon of the boat, holding the lines with fingers and toes and laughing at the wind in her hair while the speakers blasted "All Right Now" was a moment of pure joy. And snorkeling in the Molokini crater was simply amazing--the water so deep and clear, the coral elaborate and brightly colored, the fish abundant...it really might be the best thing in the whole world.

Sugar Museum It's a small place, but a fascinating glimpse of life on the sugar plantations in the 19th and early 20th century, mostly before mechanization. The sugar industry demanded a huge labor force and was the driver of a lot of immigration from a wide variety of places around the globe. The thing that will probably stick in my mind was a mannequin dressed in the manner of a Chinese woman worker--on a day that was at least 90F, just looking at the layers and layers of clothing they wore to keep out the dust and the gigantic centipedes (don't look if you are at all squicked by many-legged bugs) made me sweat and shudder. Admission is $7 for adults and for $10 you get a pass that lets you into two other small museums in Lahaina.

Pineapple Tour! The only pineapple plantation left in the United States, the Maui Gold plantation in Hali'imaile is an impressive operation. They are doing a lot to create more sustainable and less wasteful production and their pineapples are delicious. We stood out in the field with our guide while he sliced and served us pineapples at varying degrees of ripeness until we couldn't eat another bite. When the pineapple's stay on the peduncle (the stalk) longer, they take on flavors of coconut and get much sweeter, so it's like eating solid pina colada fruit. The tour includes a boxed pineapple for each guest--Jason took one to his meeting, we shared one at home, and I took the third to Alice's classroom for a demonstration. On the tour, Alice made a friend--Ruby, from Dallas--and we decided to continue onto the separate distillery tour and then followed them to lunch, so the girls would have more time to play together.

Sunset at Haleakala! It was a grey, rainy afternoon as we started up the mountain. The well-maintained road is a series of tight switchbacks and as we approached 4000 feet, we could see the clouds right above us. We drove into the fog, back and forth, wondering if there were any point in continuing. The clouds were thick up past 6000 feet...7000 feet...8000 feet...9000 feet. And then we saw a small spot of blue above us and at 9600 feet we emerged into clear skies. Arriving at the summit, forty degrees cooler than sea level, we had about twenty minutes to enjoy a picnic supper as we watched the sun drop slowly and gloriously into the lake of clouds below us. I decided that I'd had enough hairpins for one day, so Jason took the wheel for the only time all week to drive us back down in the foggy dark.

Maui Ocean Center Ruby's 6th birthday was on Thursday and her family invited us to join them for breakfast in the Club Lounge, where the staff surprised her with balloons, a special dessert, and various presents from the Logo Shop. Her big present was a skateboard that her parents had brought from Dallas; Ruby and Alice had a great time finding ways to play with it on the lanai while the grown-ups chatted. Then we all piled into cars and went to the Maui Ocean Center. It was a nifty aquarium and we were sorry not to have more time there.

Trailriding! Alice loves riding and was very excited to do it in Hawaii. We had tried all week, but been thwarted by the weather and full rides. On Friday we decided to give up on the ranch near us and head to the other side of the island for a ride at the Mendes Ranch. They had said they'd ride, rain or shine, and they were good to their word: it was drizzling most of the time we were out and outright poured for about ten minutes. I don't think I have ever been that soaked while fully dressed in my life. The trails were steep and rocky and with streams of rainwater pouring down them, Alice said "Mama, it's like riding up a waterfall!" But warm rain's not so bad and it was definitely an adventure to remember!

Wo Hing House We tried a couple of times to get here, finally making it for the last half-hour of their day one afternoon. It's another very small place, but fascinating--I had never known that Sun Yat Sen was educated in the US and lived in Maui for some time. In the cookhouse they show vintage films of life in Hawaii, taken by Thomas Edison around the turn of the 20th century.

'Ulalena This cross between a hula show and Cirque du Soleil was a fascinating and beautiful explorations of some of the Hawaiian mythology. The dancers were very skilled and used puppetry, acrobatics, inventive costuming, and a good dash of humor to explore significant stories for us. Alice was very amused by Kamapua’a, the pig god who lusts after Pele, bouncing his hip-level pig snout after her all through the forest.

Shopping! We're not big holiday shoppers, but we did spend two afternoons wandering the shopping areas in Maalaea and Lahaina. In Maalaea we found quite reasonably priced, good quality t-shirts for all of us and a few other trinkets. There is a market of local craftspeople that was fun to explore, as well. In Lahaina I found another dress--I don't know whether it's a general shift, or if Maui just has wider selection, but it was much easier to find dresses in my size this time than when we were in Kona in 2012. In Lahaina we bought plumeria necklaces for me and for Alice and a book of the art of Victor Kush--beautiful, whimsical, surrealist paintings and sculptures. With that bag in hand we were catnip for the folks in the other galleries along the way and got the full "oh, let me show you this in a private room" treatment, which was kind of fun.

PLACES WE ATE

Sansei This excellent sushi place just a few minutes walk from the front door of our resort was an easy choice for dinner more than once, especially once Alice discovered that she loved their Dynamite Shrimp (tempura with a sweet & spicy aioli)--the first shrimp dish she's ordered since giving up seafood when she was three. We grown-ups enjoyed their sushi and excellent wine.

Beach Bum's We had a good lunch here, at the recommendation of our ziplining guide. Their portions are enormous--we ended up taking a bunch back to our room and being glad we had a kitchen to store it.

Flatbread We found the Paia location of a local fave. It was mostly just the same, but Alice decided she likes the Somerville one better--fresh mango juice apparently doesn't outweigh bowling. Not being air conditioned, it was a hot place on a very warm day, but an easy lunch.

Plantation House We got one of the best views of the week from our table at Plantation House, and a lovely meal just up the road from our resort.

Mama's Fish House We followed Ruby and her family to this local landmark just outside Paia and had a wonderful meal of fresh, local fish in a setting that manages to do full Polynesian style kitch in a way that seems natural and tasteful. The bathroom was decorated with pages from the local newspaper featuring ads for Mama's back to the 70's, alongside the movies that were playing and ads for what was surely very stylish clothing at the time. They have an inn as well and I'd consider staying there another time.

Mana Foods The local groovy grocery store (think Bread & Circus, circa 1978) provided a nice picnic meal for our excursion to the summit of Haleakala.

Japengo This award-winning fusion restaurant gave us a chance to explore the Hilton Ka'anapali, between Kapalua and Lahaina. We watched their lobby penguins bedding down for the night as we waited for our table and then had a really wonderful meal. Alice wanted the pizza, but I explained to her about learning to order the right thing in the right place and talked her into the chicken fried rice, which she adored, while we ate more amazing local fish.

Sale Pepe Having promised Alice we would find a pizza place for her, we tried this highly rated joint in the heart of Lahaina and were not disappointed.

Monkeypod We were told this place was worth the trip, and that we had to try the pie, so we stopped in Wailea on our way to the airport and had a tasty, casual dinner with amazing pie for dessert.

WEATHER
While we obviously have a lot of good stories to tell about our week, the weather was really oppressive. The first part of the week was in the 90s and very muggy if you got more than ten feet from the ocean. The latter half of the week was the same, with rain--heavy at times--added into the mix. I ended up driving through the same, extremely localized, torrential thunderstorm three times on Friday night. I know this is an unusual year, weather-wise, but I'd probably pick a different season to try Maui again.
lillibet: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] gilana and I just had a lovely mid-winter getaway to Las Vegas! She brought her camera (mine was at home recording [livejournal.com profile] daily_alice, which I’ll update soon, for all the baby-junkies out there who are jonesin’) and you can check out the full gallery here or click on any of the thumbnails below for larger versions of specific images.

We did so much every day that I think I’ll do this by category instead of chronology.

Transportation )

Weather )


Hotel(s) )

Shows )

Attractions )

Shopping )

Food )

Overall This was a really nice trip. Gilly and I turn out to be good travel partners—we have similar interests, both are willing to take the lead and make decisions and roll with whatever actually happens, and we communicate well about what we need.

This was my first time away from Alice and it was strange not to see someone I’ve spent time with every day for the past two years, but at the same time nice to have a break and to know that I can go away if I need or want to. She asked about me and missed me and seemed very glad to have me back today, but never got upset about my being gone, which is excellent. Poor Jason was sick as a dog the whole time I was gone—shades of his trip to Toronto last year, when I got summer flu—but the family and [livejournal.com profile] muffyjo were happy to help him through, as they do me.

Vegas is a great place for a short trip. After a few days the constant stimulus begins to be wearing—if I stayed longer, I’d definitely spend a day out at the Hoover Dam or the Grand Canyon, or just laze around the hotel pool for an afternoon—but it is a great place to be a tourist. There are so many nifty things and beautiful uses of glass and light and interesting architectural features and new uses of technology and outrageously tacky bits that just wandering around is an entertainment all by itself.

Oh, right! Gambling )
lillibet: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] gilana and I just had a lovely mid-winter getaway to Las Vegas! She brought her camera (mine was at home recording [livejournal.com profile] daily_alice, which I’ll update soon, for all the baby-junkies out there who are jonesin’) and you can check out the full gallery here or click on any of the thumbnails below for larger versions of specific images.

We did so much every day that I think I’ll do this by category instead of chronology.

Transportation )

Weather )


Hotel(s) )

Shows )

Attractions )

Shopping )

Food )

Overall This was a really nice trip. Gilly and I turn out to be good travel partners—we have similar interests, both are willing to take the lead and make decisions and roll with whatever actually happens, and we communicate well about what we need.

This was my first time away from Alice and it was strange not to see someone I’ve spent time with every day for the past two years, but at the same time nice to have a break and to know that I can go away if I need or want to. She asked about me and missed me and seemed very glad to have me back today, but never got upset about my being gone, which is excellent. Poor Jason was sick as a dog the whole time I was gone—shades of his trip to Toronto last year, when I got summer flu—but the family and [livejournal.com profile] muffyjo were happy to help him through, as they do me.

Vegas is a great place for a short trip. After a few days the constant stimulus begins to be wearing—if I stayed longer, I’d definitely spend a day out at the Hoover Dam or the Grand Canyon, or just laze around the hotel pool for an afternoon—but it is a great place to be a tourist. There are so many nifty things and beautiful uses of glass and light and interesting architectural features and new uses of technology and outrageously tacky bits that just wandering around is an entertainment all by itself.

Oh, right! Gambling )
lillibet: (Default)
The highlight of last week (ok, besides the season premiere of _Buffy: The
Vampire Slayer_) was the opportunity to attend the press reception for the
new Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum. Our guest--Sian
Gramates--had arranged for passes for the two of us through a friend who
writes for Science magazine, so I got to represent Science (it was on my
name badge and everything) as we explored the public areas, listened to a
couple of presentations and took a guided tour of the back rooms. The
centre's primary function is to provide storage for the 22 million items of
the museum's "Spirit Collection," specimens--mainly animal--stored in
alcohol. Vast as the collection is--it occupies 25 kilometres of
shelving--the new building is only the first phase of the centre. A second,
larger building will be constructed next door to store the Botany and
Entomology Collections--6 million plant specimens and 28 million bugs. We
had a great time talking to the bug guy, seeing a barracuda recently caught
by a fishing trawler off the coast of Cornwall, and getting close enough to
a real coelacanth that we could have touched it! For more information--I've
already gone on too long about it, but it's a very, very cool place--check
out their website at www.nhm.ac.uk/darwincentre/.

We thought the trip to Cornwall would be our last major excursion here
in England, but when we realized we didn't have any plans for this weekend,
we thought we should take advantage of our remaining time to check off a few
more items on our list of things we had hoped to see.

On Friday afternoon we picked up a car and headed southwest to Chawton, a
picturesque little village southeast of England. There we visited Chawton
Cottage where Jane Austen spent the last years of her short life. It's a
lovely place, set in beautiful gardens. The rooms are decorated in the
style of her period (early 19th century) and include several pieces of
furniture known to have been in the house at that time. Perhaps the most
touching is the tiny little table on which Jane liked to write. The room
had a creaky door, which was left that way at her request, so she would have
warning when someone was entering and could hide her manuscript. She never
admitted to authorship of her works during her lifetime. There were many
interesting tidbits of information--perhaps the most touching was the
original letter written by Cassandra to Jane's favorite niece, describing
Jane's death and her feelings on the occasion. It was also interesting to
see the exhibits of typical clothing of the era and items relating to other
members of her family.

After completing that pilgrimage, we went back up the road to the nearby
market town of Alton, where I had booked us a room at the Alton Grange
Hotel. We had a nap in our lovely room and then went down to dinner at
Truffles, their highly recommended restaurant. After an amuse bouche of
Lebanese style eggplant in pastry cups and Japanese style tuna tempura,
Jason enjoyed a starter of aubergine (eggplant) tempura layered with a salad
of asparagus and green grapes, while I had the smoked haddock on a bed of
spinach with a poached egg and creamy mustard sauce. For mains, Jason
ordered the caramelized fillet of beef with honey roasted root vegetables
and wild mushrooms, while I took the breast of Barbary duck in a red wine
demi-glace. I didn't much care for my duck, but Jason thought it plenty
tasty, so we switched plates halfway through the meal. For dessert we
shared a plum claufoutis (plums baked into a tarte-like thing) with roasted
almond ice cream.

Back in our rooms I was happy to relax in their deep tub before a very
pleasant night's sleep. In the morning our adorable young French waiter
from the previous evening served us a tasty English breakfast before we
headed on our way.

Our first stop was in Winchester. We visited the cathedral, largely built
in the 11th century, when Winchester was still an important city. It's a
beautiful church, with several interesting elements, including the site of
the tomb of St. Swithin, the Lady Chapel rebuilt by Elizabeth of York in the
16th century in honor of the birth of her son in Winchester, a series of
stained glass windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones, and the grave of Jane
Austen. Her stone, in one of the aisles of the church, doesn't mention her
literary endeavors, but on the wall nearby is a plaque and a memorial
window in her honor. As we wandered around the church, we were very pleased
to have the choir rehearsing in the background, lending ambience to our
visit.

After a stop in their excellent gift shop (I saw a plaque with a saying I
really liked: Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, today is a
gift--that's why it's called the present!), we strolled around the grounds
and spent a few minutes in the garden planted on the site of the former
monastery that was destroyed during Henry VIII's Dissolution. Then we
wandered up the High Street, past the 16th-century market cross, to the
Westgate--formerly one of the main gates in the city wall--where we visited
the room above the gate with it's elaborate Tudor ceiling, which was
transplanted from a nearby college. The gate is quite close to the site of
Winchester Castle, established by William the Conqueror, elaborated and
inhabited by many monarchs, eventually turned into army barracks and sold to
the city. What remains today are a few ruins and the Great Hall. That is
in the tourist guides mainly because of the Round Table which decorates one
of its walls. Believed for centuries to be the top of King Arthur's famed
table, it has been dated to the 13th century. Weighing 1.4 tons and painted
in Tudor times, it is still an impressive piece of work. At the opposite
end of the hall are steel gates erected in honor of the wedding of Charles
and Diana in 1981.

Leaving the hall, we returned to our car and headed on down the road to the
area that has been known as the New Forest since William the Conqueror
brought it under Forest Law (essentailly, claimed it for the Crown) in
1079. It consists of 145 square miles of forest, heath and bogs, including
the largest expanse of primeval oak forest remaining in England. After a
stop at the main Visitor Centre in Lyndhurst, we went up to an area known as
Bolderwood where there are waymarked paths. We picked the two-mile route
and enjoyed our walk, especially when we saw a young buck with a beautiful
rack of antlers and a large group of fawns being fed near one of the
platforms erected for visitors to view the deer without disturbing them. We
drove on across the heath, marvelling at the ponies that stand so fearlessly
near the roads. About 5,000 animals--ponies, cows and pigs--are pastured in
the forest by Commoners, according to Rights set down by law over the last
thousand years and administered by Verderers, Agisters and Foresters.

Back on the highway, we decided to make Portsmouth our next stop. There we
visited the Historic Dockyards. It was late in the day, but we were able to
see a couple of very interesting vessels. The first was the remaining half
of the hull of the Mary Rose, flagship of Henry VIII, sunk during battle in
1545. The remnant was raised from the seabed in 1982 and placed in a
purpose-built hall where it is showered twenty-four hours a day with
propylene glycol to replace the water in the timbers so they can dry out the
hull without it cracking. After seeing that we took a tour of the HMS
Victory, Admiral Nelson's flagship during the Battle of Trafalgar. Our
guide was a Sri Lankan navy man who enjoyed telling tales of the rigor of
19th-century naval life. It's an enormous vessel and there were lots of
stories to tell, so the tour took about an hour. By the time we were
finished, the dockyards were closing for the evening, so we headed on toward
Arundel through some very heavy traffic, the experience of which was
softened by a glorious sunset.

I had tried to book a room at Byass House in Arundel by email and got mail
back saying that they didn't have any room, but there was a room available
at Surrey House just down the block. That turned out to really be a private
home, but a very lovely one. Our bed for the night was a full four-poster
with a top and a gorgeous bath. The owner, Sylvia, had offered to make a
reservation for us at an excellent new restaurant, but warned that we might
not get in, as they only have seven tables.

Having eaten so well the night before, we were quite happy with the thought
of Chinese, but when we arrived and learned that we did have a table booked
at Duke's, it didn't seem polite to turn it down and we were glad we didn't.
I started with a langoustine bisque that was light and lovely, followed by
an amazing sliced chumpsteak of lamb over a bed of spinach, in a red-wine
demi-glace with rosti potatoes, carmelized onions and a mixture of eggplant
and roasted tomatoes that was divine. Jason started with the herbed goats
cheese on a bed of greens with sun-dried tomatoes, peppers, olives,
artichoke hearts and the toasted hazelnuts that he felt really added a
special touch to the dish. His main was two small fillets of red mullet
with langoustines in a tomato-y sauce with a touch of curry to it and a
couple of boiled new potatoes. He was disappointed in the potatoes, but
everything else was delicious and we traded many bites back and forth. We
were very impressed with how confident the chef's hand seemed, how perfectly
the complex flavors meshed, and we were quite surprised to learn from Sylvia
that he is only about 24. For dessert, Jason chose the coconut creme brulee,
which he enjoyed, but I found more custardy than I like. I chose the cheese
plate--slices of four different cheeses with grapes, celery and water
crackers--and enjoyed that very much. The restaurant is a family affair and
we had a pleasant chat with the owner's father, Mac, who lived in Sausalito
for a while, but was born and raised in Arundel--quite a character he was.

After a pleasant night in our lovely bed, we ate the full breakfast Sylvia
prepared for us and then drove up and parked our car near the pedestrian
entrance to the castle. It didn't open until noon, so we had a couple of
hours to wait. We peeked into the cathedral--a very lovely place--but they
were just starting mass, so we walked on. Arundel Park (the grounds
attached to the castle) are open to the public, so we walked there. The
family raises race horses, apparently, and we passed some of them out for
their morning exercise. We walked down the road that passes straight
through the middle of the park, passing only a very few other people. At
one point there is a small castle--perhaps a lookout tower from ages past,
or merely a folly--looking out over the valley beyond. When it came time to
turn back, we decided to take the bridle path instead, since it led through
the woods and the sun was beginning to get a bit hot. That was a lovely
trail and we saw a group of pheasants bobbling their way across the path and
into the underbrush. We got back to the castle gate with some time to spare
still, but our feet were ready for a break, so we sat on a pleasant shaded
bench and read until the gates opened.

Arundel Castle is the home of the Dukes of Norfolk, who have been the senior
Roman Catholic family in the UK since the 16th century split with Rome and
have included two cardinals and a saint in their family tree. The castle
was acquired by marriage along with the title of Earl of Arundel. The 17th
Duke of Norfolk died in June, so his son is now the reigning duke. The
castle was founded in the 11th century by one of William the Conqueror's
chief supporters and the Norman keep still stands. A group of medieval
re-enacters were preparing for a swordfighting exhibition in the keep as we
were climbing around it to enjoy the view. The castle was seriously damaged
by Cromwell's army in the 17th century, but repaired in the 18th century and
largely redecorated in the 19th. The family returned to live in the castle
about ten years ago and additional changes were made then, including a
lovely staircase made of oak and cedar from trees uprooted on the grounds of
the castle in the Great Storm of 1987. The State Rooms were lovely and
impressive, especially the Great Hall, with it's wooden cathedral ceiling
and the lovely Regency-period library. We spent just about an hour going
through all of those and were on the road just after one.

We made great time to Leeds Castle, about ninety miles away to the
northeast, near Maidstone. Leeds Castle was founded shortly after the
Conquest on an island in the River Len, near a fortified mill. Given to
Edward I, it remained in royal hands until the 16th century, when it passed
into private ownership. It was purchased in 1926 by the Hon. Olive, Lady
Baillie, eldest daughter of Almeric Paget Lord Queenborough and the American
heiress, Pauline Whitney. She restored and renovated the entire castle and
it passed to a foundation on her death in 1974. It has been used as a
conference center, most famously for talks between the foreign ministers of
Israel, Egypt and the U.S. during the preparation for the Camp David
agreement in 1978.

In addition to the castle--considered to be possibly the loveliest in
England--the Park is a treat all its own. We enjoyed a visit to the
extensive Aviary, which houses the descendants of Lady Baillie's collection
of exotic birds, and the Maze. Built of 2400 yew plants, it is the most
intricate and challenging of the garden mazes we have visited and it took us
quite some time to work our way to the center. The mound there allows
visitors to overlook the entire maze before descending into the grotto, with
its Green Man fountain, which leads through a corridor to the outside. We
didn't have time to visit the greenhouses, the vineyard, or any of the
several other gardens, but were delighted with the many lovely prospects the
grounds have to offer.

After all our walking, we were very happy to be able to catch a ride back to
the main entrance on the trams provided. We picked up gas at the service
station near the entrance to the motorway and decided to give a ride to the
young man hitching there. He had come from Prague, where he'd spent the
summer working in a youth hostel, and was headed home to his sister in
Manchester to pick up his mail and touch base before heading to Southeast
Asia to work there for the winter. We had feared traffic would be a mess,
but Jason mapped us a route through Greenwich that had us into London in
less than an hour. We dropped off our passenger at a tube station and
headed home, which took us another whole hour, due to construction
hold-ups.

We had a pizza and checked our email and then Jason loaded up the car with
computers and went up to Cambridge to swap machines with the office there.
I talked to various folk as I went through the mail and messages and fell
asleep before Jason got home. This morning I returned the car and he went
off to meet with the British C++ folks in preparation for the meeting in
Santa Cruz later this month.

So now I guess it's time to do some more packing. The removers come for our
things one week from today. It is unbelievable that our time here is over,
but when I look back on everything we've managed to do in two years, it's
equally hard to believe it hasn't been longer.
lillibet: (Default)
On Monday night we introduced Steve and Trish to the joys of YMing and to
our friend Jo, who joined us for dinner. Afterwards we raced home to watch
our new addiction, _Waking the Dead_, a BBC show somewhat like CSI.

On Tuesday I roasted the beef that had been taking up most of my freezer.
Jo was home all day awaiting builders and Jason's friend Lauren. The plan
had been that Lauren would arrive in London on Monday, spend that night in a
hotel with a friend, see the friend off to Greece, then stay with Jo for a
few nights until our guest room freed up. No word from her on Monday. No
word from her all day on Tuesday. Jo came over for dinner, figuring that
Lauren had her mobile number and our number. Still no word. We were really
beginning to get nervous when Jason got email from Lauren explaining that
she had suffered from a major panic attack and would not be coming. That
alleviated our concern on one front, at least, and got Jo off the hook on
housing guests with no kitchen. The roast beef turned out well, too.

Having decided that a big joint anniversary present would be more fun than
individual ones, and that this was the perfect occasion to use up the
Harrods gift certificates that Jason's cousin gave us as a wedding present,
we went down to Knightsbridge on Wednesday afternoon. Jason had never been
upstairs in Harrods, so that was half the fun, just wandering through the
miles of showrooms--who buys their refrigerator at Harrods?! We looked at
many pretty things, but quickly decided that a clock was the perfect gift
for ourselves. It's a very traditional, round wall-clock with a rim of
polished wood and brass, and on the face it has the maker's name and
"LONDON," so it will always remind us of our time here.

That decision made, we went downstairs, first to the Harrod's gift shop,
where Jason decided that he should have the Harrods 2002 bear, "Giles," in
his wooly jumper, and I got the peacock tin that has stuck in my head since
I was there with B. in July. Then we moved on to the food halls, where we
picked up various tasty bits that appealed to us including smoked wild
venison, spicy salami (spinata calabrese), smoked Spanish ham (jamon
serrano), herring in sour cream, squat lobster tails in brine, a selection
of pakoras and samosas (Indian dumplings), chicken fried rice, Thai
stir-fried vegetables, smoked trout and swordfish, cornichons, oak-smoked
cheddar and aged Emmenthal, a couple of baguettes, a roll of salmon stuffed
with minced prawn, a couple of lychees and a mangosteen, a box of chocolates
and a selection of single-serving tartes (raspberry mousse, fruit tarte,
chocolate cake, and caramel-apple cheesecake).

We hopped on the tube to come home, but there were massive delays on the
Picadilly line, so at Picadilly Circus we ran upstairs and jumped in a cab,
so we could get home to feed all our goodies to Steve & Trish, along with a
jar of lobster bisque from our Christmas hamper that we've never found
occasion to eat before. It was all delicious and there was plenty left for
lunch the next two days.

Trish's birthday is the 21st, but she would be home in Seattle by then, so
we decided that Thursday--their last day in London--would do as a stand-in.
We sent Steve & Trish off to the matinee of _Stones in His Pockets_ (which
they enjoyed very much) and met them afterwards at the Congress Centre on
Great Russell Street to see a reading by Iain Banks in the same venue where
we'd seen Neil Gaiman read last month. (Speaking of whom, did everyone hear
that he won the Hugo for his novel, _American Gods_?) I'd never seen Banks
before and it was a real eye-opener. He's very like many of the
40-something, shaggy sf fans I've known, but Scottish. Very Scottish.
Talking thick and quick, he took us through two bits of his new book, _Dead
Air_, and then answered questions for about an hour. It was great to hear
explanations of the structures of his works and his intentions and
inspirations. The overwhelming impression, however, was that I will have to
read his books faster in the future!

After the reading we grabbed a train from Tottenham Court Road up to Chalk
Farm and walked over the tracks to Odette's. It was noisier there than I've
ever known it to be, but the food was wonderful. They had substantially
changed their menu since our last visit, but still had the fried-oyster
starter with tuna and makerel sashimi, duck prosciutto, and small dabs of
pureed melon--it's such a wonderful combination of flavors and textures that
I couldn't pass up one more chance at it. Part of me really wanted the
fillet of beef, but I'd had so much red meat this week that I let Jason talk
me into the sea-bass, which was served on a "compote" of prawns and
lettuces, with a scoop of fresh, course tomato paste on top. For dessert I
had the grilled peaches with a slice of French toast (tho' they didn't call
it that) and a scoop of fresh pistachio ice cream. Steve & Trish asked what
we would recommend and we confessed that it's hard to know because nothing
we've had there hasn't been fabulous.

Quickly around the rest of the table: Jason started with the soft-shelled
crab and smoked salmon, followed by the lamb with rosti potatoes, with the
apple tarte fine (no crust) for dessert. Steve & Trish split the native
lobster salad, then he had the lamb and she the Dover sole. Dessert was a
bit rushed, because unlike the 20-30 minutes it has taken in the past for a
taxi to arrive, this time--since I remembered to ask them to call when they
brought our desserts--it arrived before we finished our coffee or had our
bill. But it was nice to make it home so quickly and easily and we enjoyed
giving Trish the book of _Artists' Gardens_ we had found for her before
seeing them off to bed.

They spent Friday morning packing and preparing to leave and then we all
shared a last lunch, making sandwiches from the Harrods goodies, before it
was time for them to head toward Heathrow for the long journey back to
Seattle.

On Friday afternoon we got the final estimate from our contractors for the
work we need done on the house, which also included a lot of work they think
needs doing that we can do ourselves. It was a lot like the experience of
being swarmed by souvenir vendors in Egypt--you just have to keep saying
"No, no, no, no, no!" So we spent a while stressing about it all and
deciding that we can live without re-doing the bathroom and all will be
well.

We spent Friday evening with Jo, meeting her friend Justin, seeing her newly
re-ceilinged kitchen--the plaster is brown!--and going to see _Bourne
Identity_. We thought it was a fun chase, nothing to do with the book,
really, but streamlined and well-shot. Afterwards we picked up chicken
doner kebabs at a shop near the cinema before saying our farewells--Jo was
off to Boston the next day--and heading home again.

On Saturday we were lazy. The only thing we did was watch TV. Jason had
found two different pilots for Joss Whedon's new series, _Firefly_ (the one
Joss made originally, and another episode that FOX picked to show instead),
so we watched both of those and then one of the two episodes of CSI that we
missed the first time around. We ordered pizza and I talked to various
people and it was a generally relaxing day. Sian Gramatis came by for about
five minutes to drop off her bag--she's in England for meetings and with
Lauren bagging on us, our guest room is available for Monday and Tuesday,
when Sian gets back from Oxford, so we'll see her more then.

Having indulged our laziness, I was raring to go on Sunday. Once I got
Jason up and going, we went down to the Museum of London, which takes up the
corner of the Barbican Centre near St. Paul's. It's a nifty place--a very
modern building, set around an inner courtyard with a lovely garden and
looking out on various remaining bits of the old city walls--that traces the
history of the city from the time of the Romans. They're in the process of
setting up a gallery that will examine the pre-Roman settlements in the
area, but that won't be finished until Summer 2002, according to the signs
:) We started out slowly in the Roman galleries, moving more and more
quickly as we proceeded through the Saxon, Medieval, Tudor, Stuart and
Hanoverian sections. Near the entrance to the museum are markers denoting
the site of the "evangelical conversion" of the Wesley brothers, John and
Charles, the founders of the Methodist movement.

We had skipped lunch and the museum cafe held nothing to tempt us, so we set
off toward Holborn at a brisk pace. That end of town is pretty dead on
weekends (the City of London itself has only about 8000 residents, though
weekdays find over a million people there), so we walked quite a
ways--getting caught in a brief downpour along the way--before finding a
Cafe Pasta where we could get a bowl of mussels and some pizza. We had
thought about seeing a movie, but the one we most wanted to see had already
started by the time we finished our late lunch, so we went home and watched
the other episode of CSI that Jason had downloaded and I made a tuna
casserole for a late supper.

So, a relaxing weekend and only two more to go. Now it's time for me to get
going on the various tasks awaiting me. Without the need to pack for
ourselves, there's not a lot of pressure to this move, but there are still
things to accomplish before the appointed day.
lillibet: (Default)
Jason's parents have been with us this week, going and doing while Jason's
been working hard and I've been mostly resting and trying to recover
completely from my medical adventure earlier in the week. I did get out
with Steve & Trish on Thursday morning to finally visit the Sir John Soane
museum, which I'd been eager to see. Soane was an architect in the late
18th and early 19th century. He bought and redesigned a block of four
houses in Gray's Inn Fields and filled them with his collection of
antiquities and paintings. The rooms are whimsical and charming,
interconnected to create a maze of wonderful spaces. The collection
includes the original paintings of the Rake's Progress and Election series
by William Hogarth, zillions of Roman artifacts and even a sarcophagus--that
of Pharaoh Seti I.

We had hoped to take Steve & Trish to YMing, but they were booked on Friday
night, so we ended up back at The People's Palace. The food was amazing, as
always. After choosing his favorite starter--spiced smoked herring--Jason
decided to branch out and try their slow-roasted belly pork with clams and
turlu turlu (a South African inspired roasted ratatouille--listening to the
waiter describe it was a real treat), but I stuck to my standards, while
Trish had carrot soup with lemon thyme and creme fraiche followed by the
salmon with tomato and fennel, and Steve went with the baked goat cheese and
their fantastic rump of lamb with chorizo and black bean salad. For dessert
we shared the selection of raspberry desserts (a mousse, a jelly, a creme
brulee and a sorbet) which made a light sweet bite to top off the meal.

On Saturday morning the three Merrills picked up a rental car and headed out
to the Salisbury area. They spent that day around Stonehenge and Sunday in
the Avebury area, tramping about the plains and hills and exploring the
pre-historic remnants.

Meanwhile, I stayed home, caught up on some chores, talked to various folk
and generally took it easy. The highlight of Saturday night was watching
_Josie & The Pussycats_, a very silly fluff of a movie. It was a weekend
for light entertainment, as I joined Jo on Sunday afternoon to see _The
Guru_. That was also fun, but left me wondering who pulled what strings to
get it made.

After the movie, Jo and wandered down Oxford Street and found some fun
clothes at Evans before stopping by Tootsie's for burgers. I came home to
call Beckie on her birthday and before I knew it, Jason was coming in the
door, having taken the train back and left his folks to explore further on
their own.
lillibet: (Default)
Our time here begins to seem very short, with only six weeks left until we
return to the States. We are trying very hard to stay focused on being
here, not looking forward to the future too intently, and getting to as many
of the sights we've missed as we can in the time remaining.

We were very sorry to say goodbye to Andrew Rose on Saturday morning. He
was a truly excellent guest--he made us dinner (rainbow trout fillets in a
lemon-ginger sauce with wild rice and spinach), he did dishes, and he was a
very interesting conversationalist. Best of all, perhaps, he took us to see
the Lucian Freud retrospective at the Tate Britain and helped us to
appreciate Freud's work and understand why Freud is such a controversial
figure in the art world.

On Friday evening we met him downtown for dinner at Orso, an Italian place
near Covent Garden that I like very much. I had courgette flowers stuffed
wtih parma ham, cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes and then deep-fried, followed
by the pot-roasted rabbit in a tarragon wine sauce with asparagus and the
poached peach with mascarpone. Jason's salad and grilled lamb were good and
Andrew seemed to enjoy his broad bean soup with artichoke hearts and very
tender venison steaks, followed by a pear and almond tarte. It was nice to
have a chance to just sit and chat together.

He went off to join his family on Saturday and we spent the day at the
National Theatre, seeing Tom Stoppard's new trilogy of plays, _The Coast of
Utopia_. It's about a group of influential Russian intellectuals (Mikhail
Bakunin, Vissarion Berlinsky, Aleksandr Herzen, Nikolai Ogarev, Ivan
Turgenev, etc.) in the mid-19th century and the development of Russian
political philosophy during that time. The same actors played the same
characters throughout the three plays and it was a very talented group. The
trilogy was very interesting and quite clever, but not terribly coherent.
The first play could possibly be staged on its own, but it is hard to
imagine the other two being successful without the context provided by the
others. As usual with Stoppard, it's more about the ideas and the words
than the characters or the story. Twelve hours at the theatre (with two
ninety minute breaks) makes for a long day, but the seats were reasonably
comfortable and it was definitely the way to make sense of the project.

While we were off learning philosophy, Wes & Michelle (an old MIT friend and
his girlfriend) had arrived from San Francisco and found the keys we'd left
from them. By the time we got home, they had succumbed to jet lag and gone
to bed. We did see them briefly on Sunday morning before they went off to
Oxford to visit other friends and we took the train out to Windsor for the
day.

After picking up our tickets to the castle at the gate, we actually headed
out into the Home Park surrounding it to visit Frogmore House. This is a
mansion, built in the late 17th century, adjacent to the royal lands and
about a mile from the castle. It was purchased in the late 18th century by
George III, who started the tradition of keeping a dairy herd on its lands.
We passed some of the cows out standing in their field on our way onto the
estate.

George III gave the estate to his Queen and it passed to her daughter, from
whose estate it was purchased by the Crown in the mid 19th century and
formally annexed to the royal domain. Victoria's mother, the Duchess of
Kent, lived there for the last twenty years of her life, and various other
royals followed her. It is no longer a royal residence, but the house and
gardens are frequently used by the Royal Family and are only open to the
public on a few days of the year, so we were very lucky to see it.

Our first stop, as we walked through the lovely gardens, was the Royal
Mausolem, where Price Albert and Queen Victoria are buried. It is decorated
in an Italian Renaissance style, with the paintings in the style of Raphael,
whom Albert considered to be the greatest artist of all time. It is filled
with gorgeous marble, sculptures of various relatives of the royal couple,
and memorials all set in chapels around the central tomb, with its marble
effigies of Victoria & Albert. One of the most touching pieces was the
plaque in memory of John Brown, engraved with the verse from Matthew 25,
`Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little,
I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.'

Leaving there, we wound our way through the gardens, past the mausoleum for
the Duchess of Kent and the Swiss Seat alongside the lake, and up to the
main house. We went through the public rooms of the house, each of which
have been restored to their appearance after one of the major renovations to
the house by Queen Charlotte, the Duchess of Kent, or Queen Mary. After
seeing the rooms we walked out to see the other structures in the gardens--
Queen Victoria's Tea House, John Brown's Water Fountain, the Gothic Ruin and
the Indian Kiosk--and then made our way back to Windsor Castle, grabbing a
quick lunch along the way.

We went through the exhibition on the castle's history from William the
Conqueror to the present, which had an extensive section about the
restoration and renovation of the section of the castle destroyed by fire in
1992. Then we strolled through the Outer Ward and along the Northern
Terrace where we found the long line to visit Queen Mary's dollhouse and the
State Apartments. The dollhouse is impressive--it's enormous and everything
in it works (the electricity, the plumbing, etc.) and the paintings are all
originals and the books in the library are genuine. But far more impressive
are the State Apartments, where the ceremonial functions take place. The
new rooms are indistinguishable from the older ones and filled with
beautiful artworks from the Royal Collection, including many famous
portraits of the royal family and paintings by Van Dyck, Durer and
Rembrandt, among others.

Leaving the apartments, we considered strolling through the moat garden, but
decided that our feet were close to done for the day. We wandered out onto
the East Terrace to see that face of the castle--it is such an enormous
place! One of the oddest things about visiting Windsor is that it is hard
by Heathrow and there are planes descending right over the castle every
minute or two. It is strange to be gazing at a medieval castle and suddnely
have a Virgin Atlantic flight come roaring over the walls with landing gear
deployed, like some monstrous mechanical hunting falcon.

Sadly, St. George's Chapel was closed for the day, but I made Jason look at
a book of pictures of the interior in the gift shop before we walked back
down around the outer walls to the train station. We were pretty pooped by
the time we got back to the flat. There was a message from Jo Guthrie and
when I returned her call she said she desperately needed to get out of the
house and would we like to meet her for dinner. I suggested that she come
over for tuna casserole, if that didn't sound too boring. She did and we
had a fun, casual supper before taking the bus up to Wood Green to see
_Reign of Fire_ starring Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey. It had
gotten pretty bad reviews, but we enjoyed its tale of survivors fighting
back--with helicopters and explosives-- against the dragons who had risen
from their subterranean sleep to devastate the world, starting with London.

Monday was a bank holiday and our net connection was down, hampering Jason's
ability to work, so we went down to see the Dulwich Picture Gallery.
Getting there was a bit complicated and took us to Brixton for the first
time, but we made it eventually and had a nice lunch in their cafe before
entering the gallery proper. It is England's oldest picture gallery, built
to house the collection of Dulwich College, just over the road. The
extensive use of sky-lights by architect Sir John Soane made this a model for
most later art galleries. The collection includes wonderful works by
Canaletto, Poussin, Watteau, Claude, Murillo and Raphael, as well as three
pieces by Rembrandt. One of those, "Jacob II de Gheyn," has been stolen
from the gallery four times. There was a special exhibit on about the Dutch
Italianates, which was interesting, and we were glad to have made it there.

Wes & Michelle came back from Oxford late on Monday night and we stayed up
too late chatting on Monday night. Jason ran off to work on Tuesday
morning, but the rest of us were slow starting. Our guests eventually went
off to explore London and I went to the Islington Chiropractic Clinic to see
if someone there could do something for my right heel, which has been
hurting for a couple of months. The four of us joined back up in the
evening at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park to see _As You Like It_.
It was a good production, with the best Rosalind I've seen and a very
interesting take on the character of Jaques. The stage business added some
very interesting undertones to the play that enriched it without distracting
from the script. I had been afraid it would be as cold as it was the last
time we were there, but it was a very pleasant and enjoyable evening.

Jason is leaving tomorrow for a wedding in California, while I stay here and
look after our guests and get ready for the next ones--Jason's parents--who
will join us next week. So I'm making dinner tonight. Tomorrow We,
Michelle and I will go to see Michael Frayn's play, _Benefactors_, together
with Jo, who knows Wes, but doesn't know that he is in town. That should
make for a fun surprise!

Hope you are all well and have fun plans for Labor Day Weekend. If all goes
according to plan, we will own a house by 5pm tomorrow, so keep your fingers
crossed that nothing goes wrong.
lillibet: (Default)
I just can't believe how quickly this month is going!

I spent most of last week working on various projects and cleaning the
house. We did get out to see _About a Boy_, which we both enjoyed very
much. They had changed a lot of the details from the book, but really stuck
to the point and sense of it very well and Hugh Grant did a great job with
the lead role.

Our washing machine having decided once again to stop spinning the week
before, I had scheduled a tech to come look at it on Monday. He didn't
actually make it until Wednesday, which was a bit frustrating, and then
announced that it needed a new motor and timer and together with his time
that would cost two hundred quid. A quick call to the property manager
revealed that a new one would cost much less than that and he promised to
get on it right away. He called back in a few hours to say that the shop
wouldn't deliver until Saturday morning, would that be okay. When we said
no, he wrangled with them a bit and they agreed to do it first thing on
Friday morning, instead. They came through on their promise and the new
machine was installed and working by ten in the morning, so I was able to
have clean sheets for our next guest, after all.

Andrew Rose arrived on Friday evening. He's from New York City and is a
friend of a friend from California. Andrew is an artist and art historian,
who had been teaching in Spain for six weeks, followed by a week in Paris
and then a week in London on his own before his family arrive from L.A. this
Saturday. He's a fun, talkative, interesting person and we had a lovely
dinner together at YMing, which never fails to impress our guests. The head
waiter there has taken a personal interest in us and started lecturing us on
what to order and in what order to eat it, which is kind of fun.

On Saturday morning, Jason and I took the train up to York. Along the way,
our train came to a stop at one point and after a few minutes it was
explained that some kids had thrown stones at the front of the train and
shattered the outer layer of the windscreen. We proceeded at a reduced pace
to Peterborough, where we were able to switch to a different train and
continue our journey. Throughout the first part of the trip the many
children in the car had been very noisy and when we settled ourselves in the
new train, another family had taken the seats across from us, so we fled
into the next car, which had open seats and was much quieter.

We arrived in York about an hour late, around 12:30pm. We grabbed lunch at
a Pizza Express located on the ground floor of what we theorize was formerly
a grand hotel, on the banks of the River Ouse. We continued through the old
town and out the Monkbar (one of the gates in the wall that surrounds the
old town) to find our hotel--the Monkbar, as it happens--just around the
corner. We checked in and found our room to be very pleasant, with a
gorgeous four-poster bed.

Leaving our bags, we headed back into town towards the Jorvik Viking Centre.
Archeologists have unearthed a significant amount of material from the
Viking period of the town's history and the centre's exhibits about that
time are divided into four parts. First there is a fairly cheesy "time
travel" motion-movie bit that shows a couple proceeding back in time, their
clothing changing at each stop along the way. After that visitors are
loaded into cars--like the ones at the Haunted Mansion in Disneyworld--and
taken through a reconstruction of a section of the Viking town, complete
with riverfront, streets, shops, houses and backyards--complete with a man
straining in an outhouse. The lack of oxygen in the soil here has preserved
a remarkable amount of material for study. At the end of the ride is a
small exhibition hall explaining various aspects of Viking life in more
detail, with a young man in a reasonable facsimile of the clothing of a
Viking craftsman striking coins for the kids.

The last section is a bit difficult to describe in words. In a darker
hall, there were several glass cases displaying artifacts of the Vikings.
Each one was split on the diagonal by a two-way mirror. In front of the
mirror in each case was a collection of artifacts, artfully arranged on
black plinths and spot-lit. Every 20 seconds, the lights behind the mirror
would come on to reveal a scene in which this particular category of items
(toys, cooking implements, tools of various trades) might have been used,
with the reflections of the items fitting perfectly into the scene. This
was one of the most interesting forms of display we had ever seen.

Leaving the centre, we headed across town to the York Castle Museum. What
remains today of York Castle is Clifford's Tower (on the mound where William
the Conqueror first built a keep in 1068), the former Female Prison,
Debtors Prison, and the Court of Assizes. The former two
buildings--constructed in the 18th century--now house the museum. This was
based on the collection of a Dr. John Kirk, who wanted to chronicle the
changing face of domestic life that he saw around him at the turn of the
20th century. From this kernel, the museum has expanded to include two
reconstructions of street scenes--one Victorian, the other Edwardian,
several period rooms (a Victorian parlor, a 17th century dining hall, a
1950's front room, etc.), a collection of arms & armor,
historical/sociological exhibits about the impact of the Civil War and World
War II on York, collections of clothing and household goods over the past
300 years, a running water mill moved from elsewhere in the county, prison
cells and an exercise yard from the functioning era of the Debtors Prison.
It goes on and on and it's all remarkably interesting and well-presented.

After a few hours there, we climbed up to the top of Clifford's
Tower--or the shell thereof--to look out over the surrounding town. It is a
strange shape, like a four-leaf clover, leading to the local nickname, "The
Mince Pie," for its resemblance to a high meat pie.

By the time we were done there, we were beat, so we went back to the hotel
for a nap. Heading out again around seven, we walked the walls of the town
until they closed at dusk, then found our way along the River Foss and back
through the center of town until we found the restaurant we'd picked
earlier, The Limehouse. Jason chose the goat cheese salad, the fillet steak
with mushrooms and onions in a red wine sauce, and the "brandy snap basket
with pimms syllabub and strawberries," a concoction of crispy cookies, cream
and fruit, soaked in three different kinds of alcohol. My picks were the
scallops with garlic confit wrapped in filo; the pastry case filled with
fish, scallops, mussels and prawns in a dill cream sauce; and a couple of
scoops of vanilla and cinammon ice creams, with a glass of muscat to wash it
down. We agreed later that while it was an acceptable meal, each of the
dishes had fallen somewhat short of its potential mark, lacking the
finishing touch that would have made it great.

After a good night's sleep in our lovely bed, we started the next day with
breakfast at the hotel's buffet. We checked out, leaving our bags, and
heading along the town walls in the opposite direction from the one we'd
chosen the night before. That brought us around behind lovely gardens and
over to the York City Art Gallery. This was a better collection than we'd
expected. It included paintings from 1300-2000, a small collection of
studio pottery, and "Mechatronic Circus," a special exhibit consisting of
various scultures animated by sewing machines and other small motors.

From there we went through the former grounds of St. Mary's Abbey to the
Yorkshire Museum. This combines the functions of a science and local
history museum rolled into one, with exhibits about flight and the local
aquatic dinosaurs from the period when York was covered by a warm salty sea,
as well as displays of the artifacts and explanations of the events and
trends making up the complex history of the area. These included items
associated with the Brigantes, the Romans, the Britons, the Anglo-Saxons,
the Vikings, and the Normans, ending with a section detailing the history of
St. Mary's Abbey and including a spot where visitors can stand to look out
at the ruins of the abbey church.

Our last stop before lunch was the hall of the Merchant Adventurers Guild.
This is a gorgeous medieval building with interesting history about the
organization of traders who monopolized imports into York from the 14th to
19th centuries.

Then we tried to get lunch. We stopped at a Greek taverna, ordered food and
drinks, were brought our drinks, and then ignored completely for 30
minutes. At that point we asked if there were a problem and were told "is
coming soon." After another ten minutes, we said we'd like to pay for our
drinks and leave and the owner came out to our table, yelled at us, made
offensive remarks about our nationality and ordered us to leave his
restaurant and never return. Happy to oblige, we went on our way, the day's
mood somewhat soured.

We picked up Cornish pasties and ate them in a pretty little square as rain
began to spit down on us. We headed up to the Minster Area and went through
the Treasurer's House. Originally built for the Treasurer of the Minster,
the house was sold off after the post was discontinued during the
Dissolution. As the last holder of that office wrote, as all the treasure
was gone, there was no further need for a treasurer. The house was
massively renovated during the first part of the 20th century and the
National Trust now own and maintain it. There was a concert of Elizabethan
madrigals being performed in the gardens and we sat and listened to them
until the rain grew heavy enough to drive the singers indoors.

We took a brief detour into a nearby shopping street, where I had seen a
couple of dresses I was interested in trying. I started to have a very bad
headache, that was not improved either by retail therapy or the
administration of Advil, which we found at a nearby drug-store. Nonetheless
we headed over to the York Minster. We wandered around there for a while,
examining the nave and the chapter house. We went down into the crypt,
where there is an exhibit concerning the previous occupants of the site--a
Roman fortress, a Norman cathedral, etc. Sadly, my head was steadily
worsening and I needed to get outside, so we did not explore that area fully
and skipped climbing the tower.

Instead, we headed back to the hotel to use their facilities and sit for a
bit in a comfortable atmosphere. Jason found some decongestants for me and
my head slowly began to improve. We collected our bags and had a cab take
us down to the station. We were in time to catch the train before the one
we'd planned to take, but that one was very crowded and without reserved
seats, we couldn't be sure of sitting together. So we waited for the later
train and found our reserved seats. Instead of children, this time we were
kept awake by two girls gabbing on their cell-phones for almost the entire
trip, despite requests from other passengers to keep it down.

By the time we arrived back in London, my head was entirely better. We made
it home, had some pizza and watched a bit more of _Mansfield Park_ before
Andrew got home. We chatted with him for a bit and then I talked to my
parents, who were visiting my sisters in Boston for the weekend.

So that was our weekend in York. It went a bit sour just at the end, but
overall we had a lovely time and would recommend the place for a brief
visit.
lillibet: (Default)
After B. left on Tuesday, I mainly spent the rest of the week relaxing and
trying to catch up on the various little things that had been allowed to
slide during her visit. Regis & Claudia seemed quite happy to take
themselves off to enjoy London on their own. On Thursday they took a bus
tour out to Stonehenge, Salisbury and Avebury and then we all met at
Mornington Crescent for sushi at Asakusa.

On Friday morning we went back to the Houses of Parliament and went on a
tour of the Clock Tower. On our first tour of the palace, our guide had
told us that we could arrange to see the Clock Tower by contacting our MP.
We don't exactly have one--not being UK voters, after all--but the MP for
our area, David Lammy, was happy to set it up for us. We got to go in a
separate door from all the tourists touring the Houses of Parliament, which
made us feel privileged. Up to 16 people are allowed on each tour--there
are three each day--but there were only 8 total on ours and the other four
all had badges suggesting that they work there in some capacity. Our guide
met us at the far end of Westminster Hall and escorted us up the tower.
There are 344 steps. Whew! He explained to us the history of the palace
and the tower. It was originally intended to be called the Albert Tower, to
correspond with the Victoria Tower at the other end of the palace, but
following Prince Albert's death, everyone thought it would be too sad for
the Queen, who could see it from Buckingham Palace.

We had a brief stop in what was once the prison cell where recalcitrant MPs
were once imprisoned. One of the most famous occupants was Mrs. Pankhurst,
who chained herself to the gates of the palace--guess they figured if she
liked the place so much she could stay there! After we caught our breath we
went up to the clock faces. Since one usually sees only one face at a time,
it was somehow strange to circle around past all four at once. From there
we proceeded up to the belfry, arriving in plenty of time to watch the bells
toll eleven o'clock. The vibration of Big Ben--which wasn't as loud as I
had feared--seemed to resonate with our tear ducts, as well all got a bit
misty. The bell is called "Big Ben" because that was the nickname of the MP
who wrote up the original order to the foundry. The original bell cracked
during testing, so it was recast by another foundry, the one in Whitechapel
that also cast the Liberty Bell. No surprise then that it cracked after two
months of service. The managed to patch that crack, turn the bell and
switch to a lighter hammer and the bell has remained in place ever since.
The original bell would have been too large for the shaft in any case,
probably a result of the poor working relationship between the architect of
the palace and the designer of the clock. Our guide said that the only
evidence of communication between the two men comes from the archived
letters page of the London Times.

After the striking of the hour we descended slightly to the the clock room,
where the guide explained the mechanism to us and we watched the workings at
that end as the quarter-bells chimed the quarter hour. Possibly the most
fascinating aspect of the system is the integral part played by a stack of
old pre-rationalization pennies and ha'pennies, which are used to counteract
the stretching and shrinking of the 14-foot pendulum in different seasons.
One penny makes the clock two-fifths of a second faster over 24 hours.

We descended once more and got to use the pass-holders' entrance to access
the tube. Regis & Claudia headed off to the British Museum and I talked
Jason into accompanying me to South Kensington to help me carry back the
books I wanted to buy there. He got a Cornish pasty for lunch out of the
deal, so I think he felt it was a good arrangement. I picked up some
groceries at Sainsbury's and made a nice roast chicken with roasted
potatoes, broccoli and stuffing as a farewell dinner for our guests.

They left on Saturday and we got a call from our friends, Claudia & Jim,
saying that Jim had been asked to sit in for the drummer in a Grateful Dead
cover band at a Festival in Honor of Jerry Garcia at a pub not far from us.
So we left shortly after Regis & Claudia and walked up to Seven Sisters,
where we met Jim & Claudia at The Fountain. Things were slow getting
started in the very nice outdoor area at the back of the pub--there was free
barbecue, which would have been more entertaining if the food had been
better--and then there were interruptions due to rain. The band for which
Jim was drumming got to play only three numbers. He was fairly unhappy with
the experience, but we were reasonably impressed--at least his band was
miles better than the first one. Jim & Claudia walked home with us--we were
so glad they'd called--and then we realized in the excitement, we'd
forgotten about a barbecue we'd planned to attend up in Cambridge, at the
home of one of Jason's co-workers :( It was too late, so we just hung out
here and watched an hour of the BBC version of _Mansfield Park_.

Today was too pretty a day to sit indoors, so I pulled out the _Walking
London_ book and decided it was time to explore Chelsea. We took the tube
down there and walked along the high street, down to the river along
intensely picturesque streets, and along the water as far as the grounds of
the Royal Chelsea Hospital, where the annual Chelsea Flower Show is held.
It looks very different without the enormous pavilions and show gardens in
place. The hospital is London's version of the VA, but with lovely
architecture and gardens and monuments to the loyal dead of a hundred
different minor wars through the centuries. There were many old pensioners
in uniforms sitting on the benches--somehow it had the aura of a real
community.

We walked up to Knightsbridge and hopped on the tube to Leicester Square and
made a survey of the movies available at the seven local cinemas, finally
deciding on _Lovely & Amazing_. It starred Catherine Keener, Jake
Gyllenhaal, Dermot Mulroney, James Le Gros, etc. It was very well done,
although kind of depressing, being about a group of fairly dysfunctional,
neurotic people. But the acting was excellent and there were cute guys and
kissing. After the move we walked around exploring the dinner options and
finally settled on Pizza Express, where we had a quick meal. I wanted a bit
more walking, so we walked up to Holborn and then over to Russell Square,
past Bloomsbury Square and the British Museum. From there it was a quick
ride home on the tube.
lillibet: (Default)
We've been so delightfully busy for the past ten days that I haven't had a
chance to write. Beckie was here and we had a wonderful visit with her and
did so many wonderful things that it's hard to know where to start.

She arrived on the morning of Sunday 28 July. I let her take a nap for a
bit--like all our guests, she said she wasn't really tired and then fell
right to sleep. I woke her up again for a lunch of grilled lamb bits with
pita bread (the Brits spell it "pitta," by the way) and Greek salad. After
lunch Beckie accompanied me on a quick run to Sainsbury's. It was a very
warm day, so we thought we'd go to a movie, but the cinema's air
conditioning was on the fritz and it was too hot to contemplate being
trapped in an airless room for two hours. So we wandered through Piccadilly
Circus and then came home, thus rescuing Jason from having to make dinner.

We had a huge day on Monday, starting with the London Walks highlights tour
of the British Museum. Our guide, Tom, showed us the Great Court, the
Rosetta Stone and a few other Egyptian artifacts, the Parthenon Marbles, the
Assyrian lion hunt frieze, a couple of exhibits from Sumeria and Ur, and the
Lindow man (buried in a bog ~2000 years, possibly a ritual sacrifice).
Beckie felt like some of the choices were odd, but I thought he did a
reasonable job of hitting the things people come to the museum to see.

After a quick lunch--cold salmon with lime mayo and pasta salad, yum!--and
quick visits to the reading room in the center of the Great Court and a
couple of other artifacts, we hit the BBC Shop near Oxford Circus, then gave
our feet a break by hopping in a cab down to the National Gallery. I did my
own version of a highlights tour there, showing B. some of my favorites in
the medieval section, the Rembrandt room and the Impressionists. By the
time we finished there, it was almost time to meet Jason. We wandered
slowly through Leicester Square, picking up our show tickets on the way, and
made it to YMing only a few minutes before Jason arrived.

We had our standard delicious YMing meal--hot&sour soup, fried dumplings,
shredded duck with winter green, Tibetan garlic lamb, and chicken with fresh
mango--with the addition of a new starter, fried scallops with mashed prawn
stuffing. Then we went to see _Taboo!_, the musical based on the early
years in the life of Boy George and written by him. It's staged in The
Venue, a space in the crypt of a church on the edges of Leicester Square.
Until three weeks before the show opened, it was a nightclub and retains a
lot of that feeling. The show was conceived by George and he wrote the
music. They found a very convincing look-alike to play him and an excellent
cast with very good voices--even the bartender had a serious set of pipes
and got to wail on "Church of the Poison Mind." It was all kind of sad and
funny--a couple of the cast members spent interludes hassling the audience.
One of the guys came over and told Jason he looked familiar and asked him to
bow his head, then said "Nope, never seen you before in my life!" The
language and concepts were pretty adult. The woman next to us had her
ten-year-old with her and gave B. a couple of helpless "I didn't know!"
looks. The paper we picked up a couple of days later said that Rosie
O'Donnell is trying to bring the show to New York and I think it could do
well off-Broadway.

After wearing ourselves out on Monday, we had a pretty quiet day on Tuesday.
In the morning we went up to my clinic, so Beckie could discuss her strange
itching with one of the doctors--she didn't have a clue, but the
antihistimines recommended by the pharmacist the previous day started to
kick in and calm down B.'s skin. We got to work on dinner fairly
early--somehow it always seems that if I give myself more time to cook I
just increase the complexity and attention to detail to fill up the time
until our guests arrived. In addition to Beckie and us, we had Barbara and
Philip, Jo Guthrie and Beckie's former boss, Kelly, who has spent the last
six months here in London. Everyone arrived bearing champagne and Beckie
did a great job of keeping people in the living room, occupied with
introductions and snacking on dips and munchies while Jason helped me in the
kitchen. We had moved the table out onto the deck, because the kitchen was
too hot for dining, but just as we started to set out the salads, a huge
thunderstorm began to pour down on us. I quickly changed the plan and
served dinner in the living room, instead. I had made a nifty salad of
peaches, prosciutto and greens, with toasted almond flakes and balsamic
vinaigrette that came out very well for a first try. Our main course was my
chicken isabel stand-by, which seems to always impress. For dinner I served
honey ice cream with fresh fruit and cookies. The group seemed to meld
quite well and we had a nice time, before shooing everyone away around
eleven, so we could pack and sleep for an early start the next morning.

We didn't get out of the house quite as early as we had hoped and picking up
the rental car took forever, but we were on the road shortly after ten. We
got a Mitsubishi jeep and having an automatic made London driving much
easier. Beckie was very impressed with my left-side driving. We got up to
Nottingham by 12:30, checked into the Royal Moat House and then headed out
to see the town. Frankly, there's not a whole lot to see.

We had lunch at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, which bills itself as the oldest
pub in the UK, founded in the 12th century to serve pilgrims. That's at the
base of "Nottingham Castle," which we walked up to see after a tasty pub
lunch. On the way we passed a statue of Robin Hood, with some of his
legendary companions surrounding him.

Founded by the Normans in the 11th century, the castle was expanded,
rebuilt, abandoned and finally destroyed in the 17th century. The Dukes of
Newcastle razed the site and built a modern mansion there, but did not make
much use of it, and it was destroyed by fire in the 19th century. It has
now been renovated for use as a museum, but their collection is not of much
interest. The grounds are lovely, planted with gorgeous beds of roses and
other flowers, but as the board just inside the old gates says, "Where's the
castle?"

We took a van tour that proposed to show us the highlights of Nottingham,
but apart from what we had already seen, these were few and generally
unexciting. We saw the city hall, called The Council House, and The Park, a
tony development largely built in the 19th century and technically a
separate entity from the city. That was about it.

We went back to the hotel to nap--the rain seemed to be sapping us of all
our energy, although it was nice to have a break from the heat. Our timing
was good, as Beckie's assistant, Jan, called just as she walked in the room
for help on a work issue. After a refreshing bit of sleep, we strolled over
to the east side of town--like all of industrial England, Nottingham's burst
of construction and development is drawn like a thin veil over the grinding
down of the 80's on all of industrial England. The new ice centre shines
like a beacon and the area immediately surrounding it shows a greater depth
of new prosperity. The centre was built with money from the National
Lottery and with the public support of local heroes, Torville & Dean. The
complex includes two Olympic-sized rinks, as well as off-ice training and
educational facilities, which are intended to become an naitonal and
international centre for ice sports--hockey, sledge hockey and speed
skating, as well as free skating and ice dance.

The show this evening was "An International Skating Gala in the Presence of
Her Majesty the Queen," folding together a Golden Jubilee event with the
official opening of the centre and the plaza in front of it. There was a
fairly long queue when we arrived, but it moved quickly through the security
checkpoint. Our seats, although fairly high up, provided an excellent view
and the event-planners had arranged for the Nottingham Philharmonic to
entertain us with numbers including "Swan Lake," "Star Wars" and the "Harry
Potter Suite." We all had to be in our seats by 7pm for security reasons,
but the 45-minute wait gave us a chance to read our programs and watch Kurt
Browning clowning around on ice with the emcee.

Finally the emcee said "Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for the
queen," and we all rose while she entered in a gorgeous red dress to a
fanfare and the audience sang "God Save the Queen." The Lord Mayor welcomed
her and she spoke, officially opening the centre and thanking all of us for
being there to help celebrate her Golden Jubilee. I'm not sure why it was
so much more thrilling to hear her speak over the P.A. system than on TV,
but it really was exciting to feel that she was speaking to us.

The show was loads of fun. Emcee'd by Torville & Dean, it included numbers
by local skaters and synchronized skating team and the current British
National Champions, as well as international stars: Steven Cousins, Sasha
Cohen, Kurt Browning, Kristi Yamaguchi, Ilia Kulik, Anissina & Peizerat, and
Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze. Jason's favorite program was Sasha Cohen's
routine with a rhythm gymnastics ribbon--it is a very cool piece. My
personal favorite was a number choreographed by Christopher Dean for some of
the hockey players and speed skaters--that's something we're unlikely ever
to see again. At the end, Christopher Dean thanked the Queen for her first
fifty years and lead us all in three cheers for her. Then she descended to
the ice to speak with some of the skaters before heading off to a
reception. They held us in the arena for about ten minutes, giving her time
to get through the halls, then released us. We went out and stood at the
barricades on the street to watch her drive by in her Rolls, before heading
back to the hotel for an entirely passable dinner in the dining room there.
Beckie had a duck salad and chicken grilled with parma ham, while Jason
tried their goat cheese bruschetta and Thai green chicken curry, and I had a
prawn cocktail and better-than-average ribeye steak. By the time we were
through with that, we were all exhausted and went straight up to bed.

After a substantial breakfast at the hotel buffet, we dropped Jason at the
train station to head directly back to London, while we set off for
Althorp. Just west of Northampton, the Spencer family estate is down a
series of tinier and tinier roads through small villages and large fields of
grazing sheep. We arrived just as the gates opened and were welcomed by a
very friendly supervisor with a lovely baritone. He encouraged us to take
the tram up to the stable block, so we hopped on and he explained that this
is a prototype electric vehicle that "His Lordship" was essentially testing
this season to see if it is worth the #250,000 it would cost to buy. B. was
initially puzzled as to who "His Lordship" might be, but eventually caught
on that he meant Charles, 9th Earl Spencer, the brother of Diana and our
host.

The estate has been set up very well for the 2000 visitors who flock there
each day during the brief open season. The tram took us up a tree-lined
drive through the fields on either side to the stable block. Looking like a
mansion anywhere else, this building of rich, honey colored stone contains a
cafe--with tables set in the former horse-stalls--and shop, as well as a
five part exhibition about the life of Princess Diana. The different
sections give information about 1) her ancestry and childhood, complete with
home movies shot by her father, 2) the wedding, including her wedding dress,
3) her dresses, 4) her funeral (including the handwritten text of her
brother's initial statement to the press and his eulogy--very interesting
what he crossed out, mostly regarding Dodi--and the handwritten music and
lyrics of "Goodbye England's Rose") and a selection of the more than 150,000
condolence books that have poured in from all over the world, and 5) The
Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fund. We found the exhibits less
maudlin and bitter than they might have been, with less hagiography and more
emphasis on what a very human person she was. Having to walk out into the
courtyard to get between sections also kept the sadness from building up and
even B. didn't get more than misty-eyed in the process.

From there we walked up to the main house, a typical country manor, with
amazing rooms and furniture and art, including works by Van Dyck, Titian,
Rubens, Lely and Gainsborough. My favorite room was the library, a
wonderfully light room with built-in shelves running the more than 100 foot
length of the room. It was good to see not only antique volumes, but recent
novels and non-fiction works on the shelves and tables. It is a gorgeous
house, but very obviously a place where people still live.

Continuing on the visitors' route, we strolled through the park to the
"Round Oval Lake." Eavesdropping on other visitors, we found we were not
the only ones to wonder what a "Square Oval" might be like. It began to
pour down on us, but we were suitably equipped and the weather seemed
appropriate to the mood of the place. Diana is buried on an island in the
middle of the small, man-made lake, without any marker visible from the
shore. At the far side of the lake is a memorial in the form of a small
Grecian temple with a silhouette of the deceased and plaques displaying
quotations from her and her brother on the interior wall. Flowers left by
visitors are collected and dried and their petals added to a pile in the
"funeral" section of the exhibits.

We stopped back at the stable block to visit the shop, which has only a few,
very tasteful souvenirs to choose from. The cafe had a rather long line, so
we headed back to our car and went on down the road to a motorway rest area
before stopping to grab a sandwich.

We spent the afternoon in Oxford, looking up old haunts from the summer that
Beckie spent there with my parents in 1967. With no map, sketchy clues from
my father, and the help of a gentleman bicyclist, we managed to find the
house where they lived, the street where they shopped each day for food, the
duckpond that is B's primary memory of the place, the college where my
father was studying, and the church they attended. It was a busy day in
town and there were lots of busses for me to dodge, but the sun had emerged
and we had fun piecing it all together.

We made it back to London much more quickly than we had expected and I
gloried in my ability to drive all the way home without having to refer to
the map--after almost two years, its nice to have confidence in knowing
where I live! We ordered pizza and watched a BBC version of the Jane Austen
novel, _Northanger Abbey_.

On Friday it was back to the whirl of London. I made poached egg muffins
for breakfast and then Beckie and I returned the car. We hopped on the tube
and went down to South Kensington station. We were early, so we browsed the
shops around the station, finding a couple of wonderful places. We met
another London Walks guide, Helena, at the station and set off on a
highlights tour of the V&A. We made a couple of brief stops for Helena to
explain to us the history of the area around the museum and its development
as a center for culture and education, before entering the museum itself.
With over five million items in their collection and seven miles of gallery
space, Helena had to pick and choose what to show us. She mainly focused on
the new British Galleries, explaining to us at length the history of the
ornate music room saved from the demolition of Norfolk House, the
Macclesfield wine service, a statue of Handel, James II's wedding suit, the
Great Bed of Ware, a 17th century wassail set, the Dacre Beasts--large
carved wooden heraldic beasts, a 13th century embroidered bishop's cope, and
the largest Persian carpet in the world. After the tour Beckie and I took a
break for a drink in the cafe--B. got a free banana--and then I showed her
the Cast Courts, with their amazing centerpiece, a plaster cast of Trajan's
Column from Rome. We wandered through the 20th century galleries, the
silver collection and the jewelry vault before making a quick stop at the
shop and vacating the premises. On our way back to the tube we stopped in
the gardens of the Natural History Museum to see the exhibit of Yann
Arthus-Bertrand's stunning aerial photographs entitled "Earth from the Air."

We took the tube up to Bond Street and made it to Claridge's to meet Jason
for afternoon tea. Beckie seemed very impressed by the decor of this "art
deco jewel" and with their offerings of finger sandwiches, scones and
pastries, all washed down with endless cups of excellent tea. As usual, we
left there rolling--probably a good state in which to go grocery shopping.

Jason walked us to Green Park and then went back to the flat to work, while
we hit Harrods for snacks and souvenirs--Beckie even managed to find the
shrine to Dodi and Diana, with their last shared wineglass and the
engagement ring he had bought for her encased in glass.

On our way back to the flat, the train stopped at Finsbury Park, citing an
incident with the train ahead of us. We left the train, figuring to just
pop upstairs to catch the bus, but the stop there was closed for
construction, so we ended up dragging our tired feet for another four blocks
to the next stop. We made it home, still full from tea, and all read email
for several hours before breaking out the nosherai. We had picked up--hang
on while I get the list--squat lobster tails in brine (I think we'd call
them "rock shrimp"), cornichons (gherkin pickles), buffalo mozzarella with
cherry tomatoes in pesto, spinata calabrese (spicy salami, for Jason),
sliced rare roast beef, a lobster tail with salmon mouse in an avocado, an
enormous scallop shell stuffed with smoked scallops and wrapped in pastry,
crayfish & prawns in mustard-mayonnaise, boeuf bourguignon, smoked duck
breast, three kinds of cheese (Coolea from County Cork, Ireland; Oak-smoked
Cheddar from Somerset; and Caerphilly from Wales) with savory biscuits
described as "ideal with cheese," a baguette, and some florentines (cookies
of nuts and caramel on a chocolate base). We also cracked open some fois
gras, to make the meal complete. We didn't finish it all, but we managed to
sample everything, and mighty tasty, too.

On Saturday the three of us went down to the Palace of Westminster to tour
the Houses of Parliament. This was the first day of their Summer Opening
and they were still working the kinks out, but it was a good visit. Unlike
the last time we tried to go, the House of Lords was open, so we got to see
its neo-Gothic splendor, together with the only slightly less fabulous
robing room and peers' waiting room, as well as the main lobby, the House of
Commons, St. Stephen's Hall and Westminster Hall. Jason left us there,
lured by the thought of a hot salami sandwich at home, so Beckie and I had a
light lunch in their newly opened cafe. We tried to visit St. Margaret's,
the Westminster parish church, next to Westminster Abbey, but it was
inexplicably closed.

We had a nice walk down Whitehall, past Downing Street, the various lovely
government office buildings and the headquarters of the Horse Guards. We
passed through Trafalgar Square and down Northumberland Ave. to the Victoria
Embankment and strolled through the Embankment Gardens to the Savoy. I had
thought the show was at 3pm, so after picking up the tickets (idiotically,
without really looking at them), we explored the Savoy Hotel. We were
passing back by the theatre, thinking to walk along the Strand a bit before
showtime, when the chime sounded in the lobby asking all patrons to take
their seats, as the show would begin in 2 minutes. We dashed inside and
took our seats and _The Mikado_ began.

This was a revival of the production we had seen with Anne & George in
December of 2000. The cast had changed slightly. Poobah was the same, Koko
was not quite as good, but both Nankipoo and Yum-Yum were better than the
earlier version and this meant that the former two did not overshadow the
younger ones, creating a much more level cast. The woman playing Yum-Yum
was actually pretty this time, which helped a great deal.

After that delightful matinee, we strolled across Waterloo Bridge to the
Southbank Bankside complex that includes the National Theatre, National Film
Theatre, Hayward Gallery and Royal Festival Hall. We caught the last few
minutes of a puppet show outside the theatre, then browsed through the
bookstalls in front of the film theatre--protected from the returning rain
by the bridge abutment--until it was time for dinner. We met Jason at The
People's Palace inside the Royal Festival Hall for a repeat engagement of
the exquisite meal we'd had two weeks earlier with Susan & Daniel. I made
Beckie order the spiced herring starter and the chicken breast with bacon
and peas served over mash--she was dubious at first, but agreed that I had
not steered her wrong. Jason tried the the white gazpacho--a serious garlic
experience, with grapes!--and the salmon fillet. I had the carpaccio with
quail's egg again, but switched from the chicken to the veal cutlet, served
with an odd-but-good mixture of barley, chicory and grapes. For dessert
Beckie took the banana & pecan pudding with clotted cream and toffee sauce,
while I had the tarte creme with poached peach and Jason made do with a
glass of sauternes. The funniest moment came when we said no, we weren't
going to a show in the evening and our waiter said "I love you, too!" After
that delightful meal in that lovely atmosphere with a nice view of the
river, we rolled home on the bus that goes from the end of the bridge to
less than a block from our home.

We were expecting Regis & Claudia to arrive around ten-thirty, since their
flight landed around 8:30pm, but Immigration was all backed up and they
didn't make it to the tube until ten-thirty, so it was about midnight by the
time they got here. A glass of water and they were good for bed. Beckie
sacked out on one of our couches and her CPAP machine put her straight to
sleep.

On Sunday morning Beckie and I did a run to Sainsbury's, dropped everything
at home and hopped on the bus to Camden Town. We wandered through the
crafts section of the market and then down the Regent's Canal. Right after
passing through the London Zoo--the canal runs right by the aviary designed
by Lord Snowdon and the ungulate pens--we left the canal and crossed into
Regent's Park. We walked through the playing fields--a bunch of Americans
were playing softball amid the British cricketers and footballers--and the
waterfowl sanctuary to Queen Mary's Rose Gardens and out the George V gate to
Marylebone Road. Just as we passed Madame Tussaud's, with only a block to
go to the Baker Street station, it began to sprinkle, after being dry
through our whole walk. We ducked into the tube down to Oxford Circus,
where we changed from the Bakerloo line to the Victoria and when I sat down
on that train, Jason was right next to me. You just never know where you'll
find your husband!

We met up with Regis & Claudia (who had spent the past hour over at
Speaker's Corner, listening to rants) and Carol & Scott, who were passing
through London on their way to a cruise of the Baltic Sea, and saw _Bombay
Dreams_ the Andrew Lloyd Webber conceived-and-produced mixture of Western
musical traditions and Bollywood extravaganza with music, lyrics, book and
choreography by a host of talented folk. The reviews had been quite
negative, but we thought it was fabulous. It's a pretty standard story of a
poor boy becoming a star, finding love, and learning to respect his roots.
The music is wonderful and different, the actors were wonderful, the dancing
and staging were spectacular. I'm listening to the soundtrack right now and
it's fantastic and very danceable. We all thought it was a great show.

After the show we danced over to Olivo singing "Shakalaka Baby" the whole
way and piled into a corner of their small dining room. We had hoped
Barbara might join us, but that didn't work out. We all enjoyed a good meal
of Sardinian delights (more carpaccio and veal for me--other highlights
included cured venison with asparagus, linguine with crab, a couple of
excellent risottos, stuffed swordfish, and grilled lamb) and a chance to
catch up all around the table. Carol & Scott seem to be doing very well and
enjoying married life. She has just gotten excellent scores on the LSATs
and is thinking to go to law school next year, the renovations on their
house are finished, and they weren't singed in the recent Denver-area
fires, so life is good and it was great to see them, if only for an evening.

On Monday I started everybody off with a full English breakfast--complete
with grilled tomatoes, but I skipped the mushrooms and beans--knowing that
we were unlikely to get lunch. The five of us went down to Buckingham
Palace to visit the State Rooms on their first day of the short Summer
Opening, while the Royals are up at Balmoral. There was an enormous line,
but it moved along quite quickly. We bought guide books for the self-guided
tour, which took us in through the Ambassadors' Entrance, around the
Quadrangle courtyard at the center of the palace, and in past the Grand Hall
to the Grand Staircase with its portraits of Victoria's close relatives.
Through the Guard Room and the Green Drawing Room we passed into the Throne
Room with its elaborate gilt ceiling and a Grecian-style frieze depicting
key events in the War of the Roses. From there we went through the picture
gallery, with some lovely works by artists including Rembrandt, Van Dyck,
Canaletto, and Rubens. The State Dining Room is an elaborate fantasy in red
brocade and gilt silver plate, which leads to a series of galleries
connecting to the Ball Supper Room--currently displaying a selection of the
many gifts from foreign heads of state during the Queen's reign--and the
Ballroom, where the organ--originally built for the fabulous music room we
visited at the Royal Pavillion in Brighton--that has not worked for over a
century has finally been restored and was being played publically for the
first time during our visit. From there we passed back through the dining
room to a series of drawing rooms: the Blue, the Bow (now the Music Room),
and the White--where Victoria & Albert's gilt and painted grand piano
reminds visitors of the many concerts enjoyed by them in these rooms.
Through the Ante-Room and down the Minsters' Staircase, we passed through
the Marble Hall, alongside the Grand Hall, and into the Bow Room, where the
Queen Mum's 100th birthday luncheon was held in 2000. Doors lead outside and
down the steps to the garden, where Elizabeth's famous garden parties are
held each summer. The grounds of the palace are quite extensive and after a
brief stop in the shop--during which the thunderstorms began again--we were
lead down the garden path to the exit on the opposite side of the palace
complex from our next stop, the Royal Collection.

We made our way back around three sides of the square to the entrance to the
Queen's Gallery, which has just been reopened as part of the Jubilee
celebrations, after being closed for several years for renovation and
enlargement. The works now exhibited include paintings by Rembrandt,
Vermeer, Cuyp and Van Dyck; nifty and beautiful furnishings; works on paper
by Holbein the Younger, Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rubens; manuscripts from
the Royal Library; watercolor depictions of rooms in the various royal
palaces through the years, often including views of other works in the
collection, as they were displayed in those rooms at one time; fabulous
jewels--including Queen Mary's usual diadem and the Cullinan
Brooch--porcelain, silver plate, golden boxes, jewelled Indian metalwork and
seventy pieces by Faberge. Sadly, the Nash Gallery was closed, so we did
not get to see the works of art exhibited there, which include paintings by
Reynolds, Gainsborough, Lawrence and Copley; sculpture by Canova; furniture
from France, China and India; as well as the Jubilee portrait of the Queen
by Lucian Freud. The docent outside that door told B. that "there are a
variety of opinions" about that one, but I've only heard one--negative--view
expressed. Jason and I will hope to return to see that and the other works
for ourselves before we leave.

We were running a bit early for dinner, so took our time in the shop, where
I found a book containing the illustrations, translated text and commentary
on the _Padshahnama_ ("King of the World"), the unique official description
of part of the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who controlled much
of Northern India in the mid-17th century and is mainly famous to Westerners
for the construction of the Taj Mahal as a tomb for his favorite wife. Four
illustrations from this manuscript were my favorite pieces on display, so I
am excited by the opportunity to see the other 170 and read the accompanying
text.

Leaving the palace at last, we went back around it to Noura, a very nice,
modern Lebanese restaurant. We were too tired to choose from their list of
over fifty hot and cold meze (small plates, like tapas) and almost as many
mains, so we picked one of their set meals for the whole table. That got us
hoummus, moutabal (their version of babaganoush), tabouli, smoked eggplant
and tomatoes, cheese sticks, spinach dumplings and a variety of lamb ones,
with wonderful fresh pita. That was just for starters and was followed by a
mixed grill and lamb/cracked wheat balls in a yogurt-and-spinach sauce.
When we thought we couldn't eat any more, they brought us a selection of
own-made ice creams (mango, chocolate, pistachio, and rose-water) and a
plate of various baklava-like pastries. It was all delicious and deadly,
with so many little bites that we all ate more than enough before we'd even
realized it. We strolled up to Hyde Park Corner, with a brief detour
through Belgrave Square to see the building housing the new London RedHat
office, where Jason works on Thursdays.

Popping up to Leicester Square, we decided it was cool enough, even without
the air conditioning repaired, to see _Bend It Like Beckham_ at the Odeon
Mezzanine there. I had been trying to get Beckie to see it since she
arrived, so it was great to squeeze it in on her last night. Everyone
enjoyed it and it was fun to see the heroine of _Bombay Dreams_ playing a
BBA bitch from Hounslow. Jason didn't join us, deciding it might be good to
get some work done on a weekday.

In the morning, I managed to just about stagger everyone's schedule
correctly. I had gotten Regis & Claudia 10am tickets to tour the Houses of
Parliament, so they had to be out by nine, giving Jason a chance to shower
and be out by ten to catch his train to Cambridge, leaving Beckie an hour to
shower and be ready to leave at eleven for her flight home. Whew! It was
sad to see her go and the flat felt very strange so empty, but it was a bit
of a relief to have some time to myself. Claudia had clued me in to some
really excellent Spike-focused Buffy fan-fiction available online, so I
spent a lot of the day just reading that.

Wednesday was more of the same, with somewhat more productivity and a chance
to talk to my parents and sisters again. Beckie made it home pretty
smoothly, with the biggest hassle being an hour's wait for her luggage in
Boston. Regis & Claudia spent yesterday exploring London via a
hop-on-hop-off bus tour, followed by pub food and a ride on the Thames.
Today they are taking a tour of Salisbury, Stonehenge and Avesbury, with a
plan to meet for sushi at Mornington Crescent.
lillibet: (Default)
We had a wonderful week with Susan & Daniel. On Sunday evening we all met
up at Pierre Victoire in Soho. We hadn't been there in eons, but the lamb
steak is still tasty and their piano player is still marvelously
entertaining.

On Monday, Jason's 30th birthday, our guests went off to Kew Gardens during
the day--and ran into friends from Boston there--and then we all met up in
the evening to see _Lobby Hero_. Written by Kenneth Lonnergan, author of
_This Is Our Youth_, it starred David Tennant as a security guard in a New
York apartment building. He did such a good job playing a fairly whiny
loser that Susan was astonished to learn that he was the RSC's romantic lead
last year in _The Rivals_ and _Romeo & Juliet_. The script, like TIOY, is
very wordy, with lots of long monologues/rants. The situation the
playwright created was very clever and the actors did a good job of making
themselves believable, even with the added hurdle of New York accents.

After the show we strolled down to Drury Lane for supper at Sarastro. We've
seen their ads in most of the theatre programmes we've bought in the past
two years, but never made it there before. Run by an English opera
buff--a small man with an elaborately carved walking stick who reminded me
of Tom Waits' Renfield--Sarastro's dining room is a lavish den, draped and
festooned with rich fabrics. There is a loft built all around the edges,
with additional tables tucked into the "opera boxes" thus created.
Sequestered at a cave-like table in a rear corner, we had a fun meal. The
food wasn't particularly good, but the atmosphere is a hoot.

Susan & Daniel got out of the city on Tuesday and went up to see Oxford.
Jason went up to Cambridge to have Thai food with his officemates there and
they took him go-carting in the afternoon. In the evening I made chicken
Isabel (with mushrooms, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and capers in a
lemon wine sauce, over pasta) and Daniel beat us all at Trivial Pursuit.

On Wednesday, Susan & Daniel took the bus to Tottenham Court Road and
went book-shopping down Charing Cross Road. In the evening we all went over
to the lovely home of Linda Branagan's cousin, Jo Guthrie, in Little
Venice. She served us a tasty meal of cheeses and quiche and we were joined
in the evening by her friend, Christina, an American who has lived in the UK
for the last 16 years. The scheduled tube strike had begun, so Susan &
Daniel got a ride in a London black cab, always a treat.

They had wanted to see the Lucian Freud exhibit at the Tate Britain
(http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/freud/default.htm) and got
tickets for Thursday morning. With the tube strike on, they had quite an
adventure getting there, but eventually arrived. They enjoyed the
exhibition and then took a boat down the Thames to the Tower of London,
where Daniel got an adorable bear for his mother. It was dressed as a
member of the Welsh Guard, with a little poem on its tag that Susan amused
us all by reading, rap-style.

Fearing severe delays and heavy traffic, Jason and I left home at 4pm. We
caught the bus that goes from Manor House to Waterloo, which let us off at
the end of the bridge in just under 45 minutes--faster than we could have
done the trip by tube. With an hour to kill before our reservation, we
decided to visit the Hayward Gallery (http://www.hayward.org.uk/). Their
two exhibits of the work of Ansel Adams and William Eggleston provided a
very interesting comparison and contrast between the black and white
majestic elegance of Ansel's landscapes and the almost claustrophobic
intensity of Eggleston's color photographs.

We wandered around to the front of the Royal Festival Hall and stopped in
the bookshop there for a few minutes before going upstairs to The People's
Palace, where Susan & Daniel were waiting for us. The cavernous restaurant
with its enormous bank of windows--shaded by light-activated screens--was
surprisingly wonderful. Jason started with the tender and delicate spiced
pickled herring, while Susan had a smoked duck salad, Daniel tucked into the
arugula salad, and I couldn't resist the beef carpaccio with quail eggs.
Off to a good start, we moved on to the mains. Segregating by sex, the boys
had the lamb--marinated with mint and rosemary and served with lentils and
chorizo--while Susan and I had the roast breast of corn-fed chicken with
bacon on wonderfully smooth, buttery mash. The desserts were too good to
pass up, so Jason had the sherry trifle, while Susan took the hot chocolate
fondant, Daniel chose the lime parfait with coconut macaroon, and I had an
exquisite blackberry and apple bavarois.

Replete, we rolled next door to the National Theatre and saw _The
Mentalists_. It was presented in their new "Loft" space that has only 100
seats. It's an intimate, almost cramped space, and after a hot week it was
stifling up there in the rafters. Fortunately, the performance was
sufficiently engaging to take our minds off the heat. _The Mentalists_ is a
two-man show about old friends meeting in a hotel room in Finsbury Park to
film the utopian infomercial that one of them has concocted. The play is
interesting, but the real strength of this production was the wonderful
performances of the two actors. One interesting cultural note--early in the
play, the two characters mention that their relationship goes back to their
days at "Barnardo's," which English audience members would have recognized
as homes for orphaned/abandoned children.

By the time the show got out, the tube strike had ended, but the bus was so
easy that we returned home that way. Being on so many useful bus lines (to
Camden, to London Bridge, to Waterloo, to Trafalgar Square) is another
feature of our flat.

On Friday I went for a walk through the park and up Green Lanes a bit with
Susan & Daniel and then made my "Greek lunch" of stir-fried lamb with pita,
tzatziki and Greek salad for us to enjoy together before they needed to
leave. We were very sad to say goodbye to Susan & Daniel and see them off
to the airport. I got email to say that they made it home to New York
easily, but that their building was part of the black-out in Manhattan on
Saturday. Power restored, they should be getting back to their regular
schedule this week.

That evening we ordered Chinese food, but the chef at our favorite place is
on holiday and his replacement's attempts were sufficiently bad that we
gave up a few bites in and ordered pizza. We hope the head chef has a
lovely vacation and comes back very soon!

On Saturday we got to see Barbara and to meet her barrister beau, Philip,
for the first time. We arrived at her new flat in time to help her put away
the astonishing quantity and variety of fruit and veg she'd picked up at the
Portabello Road market, which is just around the corner. As she said, it's
like living next to Haymarket--no, of course you won't eat a whole flat of
plums, but when it's only a pound, what can you do? She had also gotten a
tasty assortment of salami, pate, chorizo and olives, so once Philip arrived
with champagne we moved out to her patio and had a lovely cocktail hour
getting to know one another before heading off to dinner.

Barbara had booked us a table at 192, a very trendy place not far from her
flat. Neither Philip nor I could pass up the seared fois gras starter,
while Barbara had the pecorino gnocchi and Jason chose the crab spring
roll. For mains, Barbara and Jason picked the sea bream, which they agreed
was delicious. Philip went with the grilled turbot and I had the "squab
pigeon" with lentils, which was fine, but not spectacular--I think it might
have been just a tad undercooked. Washed down by a citrusy Sancerre, it was
a very pleasant meal. It was hard to forego the roasted apricot crepes, but
Barbara promised us fresh fruit on the patio, so we went back to her place
and enjoyed berries over ginger ice cream with port. That was superb. We
had a great time and were so pleased to meet Philip, who is very pleasant
and seems intelligent, elegant and kind. Jason and I have decided that
Barbara may keep him, if she likes :)

We slept late on Sunday and didn't get much accomplished during the day. We
had been promising ourselves burgers for days, so we took ourselves down to
Bond Street to find the Tootsie's there. I think their burgers were not
quite as good as the ones we had at their restaurant in Brighton, but they
were still far better than anything else we've had since leaving
California.

While all this was going on, the house-buying continued. Beckie continues to
do a great job of managing the whole process. We all spent the early part
of the week biting our nails as the sellers puzzled everyone involved (their
agent and lawyer, as well as ours) with their uncooperative stance in the
purchase & sale negotiations. But in the end, it all worked out and we're
buying the place for slightly less than our offer! This week they say
they'd like to close as soon as possible, maybe by the 15th of August,
instead of the 30th. We have to see if our lenders and lawyers can actually
be ready by then, but it's fine with us. In the meantime I've been working
on finding contractors to do the minor work we'd like done on the house and
figuring out exactly what that is.

This week I'm doing house chores and getting ready for Beckie's arrival at
the end of the week. We have a very exciting visit planned for her and I'm
really looking forward to having fun together.
lillibet: (Default)
Anne & George arrived on Thursday 20 June and we had a lovely couple of days
with them. Our big adventure together was going to see _Rome & Jewels_ at
the Peacock Theatre, Sadler's Wells' West End venue. It is a very loose
adaptation of Shakespeare's _Romeo & Juliet_ in hip-hop style. Overall, the
effect was a lot like a ballet: what's happening on stage is interesting and
occasionally you figure out where in the plot they are now. One of the
different aspects was that there was no physical "Jewels," she is an idea
"conjured" by Rome--he talks to her and mimes interacting with her, but she
is invisible. The director's notes also said that he chose to spell it
"Jewels" in order to evoke the hip-hop community's fascination with jewelry.
So the woman becomes in some ways irrelevant, she is just the idea with
which the man justifies the violence in his life. I enjoyed a chance to see
the DJs spin--they had a video set-up such that we could really see what
they were doing. The dancing was incredible--such a combination of artistry
and athleticism. One interesting approach the director used was to slow
down some of the hip-hop elements, so that the audience can see the details
of the technique that are often lost in the speed of performance.

After the show we made our way through the rain to a new find in the area,
an Italian place called Orso. Everything there was very tasty--I especially
liked Jason's deep-fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and prociutto
and they served me the best carpaccio I've had in ages. George and I were
very happy with our veal in mushroom cream sauce and Anne was sure her roast
pork with cracklin' skin was the winner. Only Jason wasn't entirely happy
with his braised rabbit, but he agreed we could go there again when we need
to be in that neighborhood.

Having been out late, it was difficult to drag ourselves out of bed in time
to make the first tube at 5:30am, but we did it. There was some confusion
at the airport, since our British Midlands flight was actually a Lufthansa
flight and therefore in a different terminal from the BMI desks. But we
made our flight in plenty of time and got to Cologne easily enough. The
Hotel Cerano was on a quiet street about four blocks from the cathedral. It
was very hot in Cologne that day and we were tired, but after checking in
and dropping off our bags we valiantly headed out to catch a few of the
major sites on our one day there. We started at the extremely gothic
cathedral, where we saw lovely floor mosaics and interesting chapels. One
thing that made us laugh a bit was the "Schmuckenmadonna." The word
"schmuck" apparently means "jewel" in German and this is a jewel-encrusted
statue of Mary that is reputed to have accomplished many miracles through
the ages. Just across the plaza from the cathedral is a museum of Roman and
early German artifacts from all over the Cologne area. It was an important
Roman town and they have many interesting remnants to prove it. One of my
favorite items was an actual "milestone" that marked one of the roads around
Cologne.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat and then walked down the shady riverside
promenade for a ways before cutting back into the streets. We walked past
our first German "Rathaus," or city hall, to Gross St. Martin, the other
prominent tower of the Cologne skyline. The church was largely destroyed
during WWII, but has been rebuilt according to the original plans. Sadly,
very little of the interior decoration remains, but the stained-glass
windows were very creatively restored. It looked like they had taken the
pieces of glass they could conserve and replaced what was lost with clear
glass. The overall effect was of a very serene space and it was a cool
refuge from the day.

We meant to go to the art museum, but ended up in the wrong place--our
almost total lack of German was a handicap. So instead we spent an hour or
so in the design museum, which had particularly good exhibits in the Art
Nouveau style that we both love. By the time we were done there, we were
both done in, so we walked back to the hotel, took cold showers and passed
out for a couple of hours.

Emerging into the sultry evening, we strolled through the pedestrianized
shopping area a couple of blocks away and found an Italian restaurant
serving dinner at sidewalk tables. We shared a salad of arugula with fried
speck (somewhere between bacon and prociutto) that was tasty and then both
had the grilled fillet of lamb with rosemary potatoes. We thought of an
evening stroll, but decided we were still tired and needed to be up and out
early in the morning.

On Sunday we picked up our car at the main train station, conveniently
located next to the cathedral. Hopping in our silver Skoda hatchback, we
zipped down the Autobahn--love the no-speed-limit sections--to Koblenz and
turned west on the smaller road along the Mosel river. This is one of
Germany's biggest wine-producing regions and the vineyards grow up every
hillside at angles that made us wonder how they ever manage to harvest
them. We stopped briefly to take a picture of the castle overlooking
Cochem, but our first real break was in Zell, where we got some pizza and
tasted their famous "Schwarze Katz" wine. The story is that when some
wine-merchants came through the valley, trying to decide what wine to buy, a
black cat jumped on a wine-barrel and raised its hackles, spitting and
yowling, as if trying to save the best stuff for itself. The merchants
established a very lucrative relationship with the town and the cat became
their symbol. We tried the "trocken" (dry), "halbtrocken" (semi-dry) and
"lieblich" (sweet) varieties and decided to take a bottle of the dry home
with us.

Moving on from Zell, we stopped again briefly in Bernkastel-Kues to stroll
through the picturesque streets and get some ice cream before retreating to
our air conditioned car and continuing on to Trier. Despite our hotel
having a different name than we'd expected, we found it and checked in. Set
slightly outside of the main part of town, it is an older, American style
hotel--but without the benefits of air conditioning. We opened the windows
overlooking a gorgeous view across the Mosel and headed off again,
determined to see Luxemburg while we were so close.

In an hour we were in Luxemburg City, where we parked and strolled for an
hour. Having arrived so late in the day, the only thing that was open was
an interesting church, but we walked through the main square of the old
town, where a jazz band was entertaining the summer crowd, and went over to
look across what was once a river and is now a small stream through a
gorgeous park in the gorge east of the city. On the other side was a
building that looked like a castle or palace, but which our maps identified
as the headquarters of the national bank. Our curiosity satisfied and not
yet being hungry for dinner, we retrieved our car from the lot and headed
back to Germany.

There was a huge festival taking place in the pedestrianized old town of
Trier. In addition to hundreds of booths and stands--including several
impressive temporary bars--there were at least five different stages with
bands of various types performing for the crowds. The largest was set into
the main arch of the Porta Nigra, the remains of one of the gates in the
wall built by the Romans around what was then the northernmost outpost of
their empire. Trier thus lays claim to being the oldest city in Germany.
It is also the birthplace of Karl Marx. As we strolled around town, we came
across "Modehaus Marx," a decidedly bourgeois clothing store. We also saw
the basilica originally erected by Constantine, apparently extensively
restored and now attached to an alarmingly pink baroque church with lovely
gardens. Eventually we chose an Italian restaurant for dinner and had a
mediocre meal of veal saltimboca and gnocchi in meat sauce before heading
back to our hotel for the night.

Monday morning we were on the road reasonably early and made it back to
Koblenz on the Autobahn in good time. We had a bit of trouble finding
Ehrenbach castle, but eventually tracked it down on the eastern cliffs of
the Rhine. Ehrenbach castle itself wasn't terribly interesting, but the
views from its battlements were lovely and its strategic importance obvious,
as it overlooks the confluence of the Rhine and the Mosel. We could look
across and see the "Deutches Eck," or "German Corner," where the rivers
meet. It is decorated with a statue of Kaiser Wilhelm that was destroyed in
WWII, but has been replaced as a somewhat controversial symbol of German
unity. Leaving there, to the strains of Aida being rehearsed for a
performance that night, we crossed back to the western side of the Rhine and
went down that fabled road, enjoying stunning views around every bend.

Our only stop along the way was at St. Goar, where we visited Rheinfels
castle. Towering above the town, this was the fortress of one of the
robber-baron families who exacted tolls from the river traffic for
centuries. Little remains except ruins, but there's a mildly interesting
museum and they've built a hotel and restaurant into the outer walls. The
main keep is still mostly intact and the view from the top is breathtaking.
After scrambling about the walls, we were ready for lunch and found a place
on the pedestrianized shopping street of St. Goar that provided us with our
first bratwurst of the trip.

Continuing south and east, we swung around Mainz and crossed the river again
to Wiesbaden. Just west of the city is a monastery that was mentioned in
our guidebook as being the filming location for _The Name of the Rose_.
Intrigued, we found the place and were somewhat surprised to find it looked
nothing whatsoever like our memories of the movie. Instead of forbidding
grey stone, we found cheery whitewashed buildings. Touring the church and
dormitory, however, we found one familiar room, an enormous vaulted chamber
which served as the set of the scriptorium in the movie. There was also an
interesting German variation on the cloister, much less open to the elements
than its counterparts further south. The monastery also operates a winery,
so we sampled their wares, but got back on the road without taking any with
us.

The next stage on our journey took us through the charming wooded hills of
the Odenwald. We made one stop, at Michelstadt, to see their bizarre 15th
century Rathaus, set up off the ground on arches, and to peek into the
Gothic church behind it. Back on the road, we sped along the banks of the
lovely Main river, before finally reaching the Autobahn again and zooming
south to Rothenburg op der Tauber, a charming medieval walled town on the
banks of the Tauber river.

I had received confirmation of our reservation at the Hotel Gerberhaus, but
they had no record of us. Fortunately, they were able to find a room for us
a few blocks closer to the center of town, at the Gasthof Glocke.
Unfortunately, by the time we'd sorted out our accommodations, it was almost
10pm and everything in town was closed--except the McDonald's. Not gourmet
fare, but after a long day on the road we were just happy not to go to bed
hungry.

The next morning we followed the path outlined in the hotel's brochure,
which took us to the main square, with its two-section Rathaus in Gothic and
Renaissance styles. We climed the 60-meter tower to look out over the town.
It reminded us of San Gimignano, with all the towers over the various gates
in the medieval wall. Descending to the street, we saw the fountain of
St. George and visited an insanely enormous Christmas shop with millions of
different ornaments and decorations. From there we went on to the church of
St. Jacob, mainly famous for the elaborate carved wooded altarpiece created
to house the "Heilige Blut," or drop of Christ's blood, that made the church
a major pilgrimage site in its day. We found the Burggarten, on the site of
the former castle, looking out over the Tauber. Our last stop was the
Museum of Crime, which outlines legal procedures and--most
dramatically--punishments during the Middle Ages. Jason's favorites were
the elaborate "shame masks" forced upon the perpetrators of various
peace-disturbing infractions like gossipping, lying, and gambling.

Leaving Rothenburg o.d.T. (as it is marked on all the highway signs), we
found the "Romantische Strasse" or "Romantic Road." This led us south
through more picturesque towns, fields and woods, to the Ries Valley. The
valley is 20 km across and quite circular. It was believed to be the crater
of a long-gone volcano, but research earlier in this century proved that it
was created by a meteorite impact 15 million years ago. Apparently the
Apollo crews trained here as part of their moon-landing preparations.

On the southern rim of the crater, we found Harburg castle. The seat of the
Oettingen family, it was first mentioned in writing in 1150, although it
wasn't new at that point. Starving, we decided to take our chances at the
castle's cafe and were rewarded with a tasty bowl of tortellini in brodo and
some of the best bratwurst we had on the trip. After lunch, we were just in
time to make the 3pm tour of the castle. The tour before ours was a horde
of junior-high students and the tour after ours was a special event,
complete with a period-costumed troubadour, for a group of at least fifty
people. But there were only four people on our tour and since none of us
spoke German, the guide--a very friendly, cheerful woman in her 50's--simply
switched to English. We saw the castle's chapel, redone in the baroque
style in 1720, and the wall-walk. That had several interesting protective
features, including fender beams for the hook guns--early rifles with enough
recoil to throw shooters off the wall. Another set of slots looked suitable
for pouring oil or tar on would-be invaders below, but the guide explained
that those were expensive and dangerous, so they combined limestone with
water and poured the resulting acid down on their foes. The most ingenious
devices were wooden "eyeballs" set into holes in the wall. The central hole
was big enough for the barrel of a rifle and could be rotated to shoot in any
direction or to stopper the hole entirely, protecting the shooters from
return fire while they reloaded. After that set of intriguing stories, we
continued around the wall to two different towers used as prisons at various
times. One included two torture chambers, a "dark room" used for sensory
deprivation, and a "sweatroom" by which prisoners could be dehydrated and
tortured by heat. The last stop on the tour was a gorgeous, refurbished,
baroque ballroom.

Leaving Harburg, we continued down the Romantische Strasse, which actually
runs through a tunnel directly under the castle--under the chapel's
cemetary, to be precise. We made it to Augsburg and found our hotel despite
the name again being different from the one we'd been given. After checking
in, we went out to stroll through town. This was the night of Germany's
quarter-final victory in the World Cup, so there was much revelry, including
a huge mob making havoc on Maximillianstrasse, the main drag of the old
town. We edged our way around that, noticed the fairly boring facade of the
Fuggerhaus, and stopped into an interesting church at the end of the
street. The Fuggers were the wealthiest and most influential family in
Augsburg during its heyday as a banking capital in the 15th century. They
endowed a large complex of almshouses which are still inhabited by elderly
folk for "peppercorn rent" in exchange for their prayers for the souls of
the Fuggers. We found this complex, the "Fuggerei" and wandered through
what seemed to be a very pleasant senior community. Chalked on many of the
doors was "20+C+M+B+02," a mysterious symbol we would see again and again.

We passed by the cathedral, but it was closed for the evening. We were
amused to see a young girl in the adjacent park playing ball with a memorial
statue of some dead leader by bouncing her ball off its plinth.

Making our way back toward the hotel we passed a store having a sidewalk
sale and I found two light t-shirts at a bargain price. We hadn't found any
tempting dinner options on our walk, so we decided to try a Chinese place a
couple of blocks from the hotel. It was an adequate meal, but as greasy as
I remember German Chinese food from previous trips.

We were sorry not to be able to visit more of the places we'd found on our
walk, but we knew we had a big day of driving on Wednesday and wanted to get
an early start. On the road before 8am, we made it down to the Fuessen area
a little before ten. Here the Wittelsbach rulers of Bavaria built their
mountain getaways in the 19th century. With limited time, we passed up
Hohenschwangau--the 12th-century castle largely destroyed by Napoleon and
restored by Maximillian II--in favor of his son's fantasy castle,
Neuschwanstein. The model for the Disney castle, Neuschwanstein is an
outrageously beautiful building in a stunning setting. The bus up the hill
deposited us near the Marienbrucke, the bridge over the gorge above the
castle, which provides splendid views of the castle on its crag below. The
interior of the castle--the small section that was finished--is an elaborate
tribute to the operas of Richard Wagner. Ludwig II loved opera and theatre
and the look of the castle--inside and out--was the work of set designers.
Less than six months after he took up residence at the castle, Ludwig's
councillors tired of his penchant for building projects that drained
Bavaria's coffers--Neuschwanstein was the third of four Ludwig planned.
They seized him from the elaborately decorated bedroom here--the work of 14
woodcarvers over 4.5 years--and had him declared insane and deposed. Very
shortly afterward, he and his psychiatrist drowned under mysterious
circumstances, and the castle was opened to the public five weeks later.

Leaving the castle, we had a pleasant walk down the steep slopes to the
parking area. It was hot, but there was plenty of shade, a nice breeze,
and a convenient bratwurst stand along the way.

We set off again, climbing further up into the Alps as we crossed into
Austria and wound around and through the precipitous heights. The small,
red-roofed towns nestled in the high valleys between the peaks were
intensely charming and picturesque. We found the highway near Innsbruck and
turned north, passing back into Germany briefly on our way to Salzburg. At
the Hotel Carlton we were pleasantly surprised by a very nice room, with
lovely furnishings and a cozy sitting area. We dropped our bags there and
had a short nap before exploring the city. Starting with a stroll through
the Mirabell Gardens, we found our way to the Marktplatz, where the church
was still open. After a brief visit, we passed the Mozart Residence and
wandered out to the river. The bridge immediately ahead of us was closed
for a bike race and we watched the competitors whizzing across its span
before we turned to cross at the next bridge. We walked down Getreidegasse,
a busy pedestrian shopping street, past the Mozart Birthplace. Then we
passed through the Karajanplatz with its fancy horsepond built by one of the
prince archbishops who ruled Salzburg and walked by the Collegiate Church
built for the University around the turn of the 18th century. The
Franzsikanerkirche was open for a service, so we peeked in to see the
romanesque nave, elaborate round gothic chancel, and lavish baroque altar.

Continuing through the maze of streets and passageways, we looked at the
cathedral and at St. Peter's abbey church, both of which were closed. Next
to the latter was St. Peter's Stiftskeller, which claims to be the oldest
restaurant in Europe. It was mentioned in a letter from 803, when it was
the abbot's guesthouse and provided dinner to a traveler. We decided to
give it a try and were well rewarded with a very good meal. Jason had the
cream of parmesan soup with arugula, a wonderful thinly sliced steak stuffed
with mushrooms in a sherry cream sauce, and a delightful plate of
whiskey-marinated peaches for dessert. I started with the "variation on
carpaccio," which included a small scoop of cold garlic mashed potatoes,
continued with the traditional Hungarian goulash--stewed beef and a wiener
in a sauce heavy with paprika--with an enormous dumpling, and finished off
with the wonderful apple strudel. After dinner we continued our ramble,
taking in the Kapitalplatz, where we enjoyed seeing people playing a game of
chess on the large board in the pavement there, and wandering around the
back of the cathedral to the Residenzplatz and on into Mozartplatz, where an
unworthy busker was playing at the feet of the statue.

We found an internet cafe there--the first we'd come across in our
travels--so we dove in to check our email. We are in the process of looking
for a house in the Boston area, with Beckie spearheading the legwork back
there, so there was much news to get through. It was dark by the time we
left--so far north at this time of year it's not full dark until nearly
eleven--so we simply strolled back to the hotel. With our room on the
ground floor and the need to keep the windows open, it was fairly noisy, but
we got to sleep pretty easily.

On Thursday we retraced our steps somewhat and after a quick stop at the
post office to mail some cards we visited the Mozart Residence at the
Tanzmeisterhaus in Marktplatz, where Mozart lived with his parents and
sister, 1773-1787. The exhibits there are interesting, but the audioguide
is flaky and the rooms were warm and crowded, so we moved through pretty
quickly. We also visited Mozart's Birthplace, the third-floor apartment
where he was born in 1756. That was less crowded and had such interesting
items as Mozart's first violin. From there we went to the Residenz, the
seat of the price archbishops until the 19th century, and toured the
staterooms, lavishly decorated in baroque style, including highly decorated
enameled stoves for heating the high-ceilinged rooms. Upstairs is a small
art gallery, with a special exhibit on the tulip and a permanent collection
with a few good pieces and many unremarkable works.

From there we went across the platz to the cathedral, with its intricate
stucco work all outlined in black. We wandered through, looking at the
various artworks in the nave and dome, and went down to the crypt, to see
the Romanesque crucifix from the 13th century. We wound through the
cemetery next to St. Peter's abbey church, noticing a number of unusual
metal grave-markers and lovely flower beds planted over some of the graves.
We paid our one euro each to climb up into the "catacombs" in the adjacent
cliff, but felt like it was too much work for not enough interest. Finally,
we stopped into the church itself, which is a lovely, frothy baroque
creation. After that it was another visit to the internet cafe to check
email and grab pannini for lunch and then we picked up our car from the
hotel and sped toward Munich.

Well, we tried to speed, but were thwarted by a line of traffic several
miles long created by a merge down to one-lane for about 100 yards. After
that frustration was hurdled we made good time into the city and found the
Hotel Daniel. Through an Expedia screw-up they had *five* rooms reserved
for us, but were very gracious about only charging us for the one we used.
We took a short nap and then went in search of dinner. We walked through
the pedestrianized section of the old town, past the enormous and
fantastically gothic Rathaus, and found the Galleria restaurant on
Sparkassestrasse, which had sounded good in the guidebook.

This was easily the best meal of our trip. While they have a standard menu,
their specialty is a tasting menu of five or six courses, depending on
whether you want main dishes of meat or fish or both. We both chose "meat"
and the hostess asked if there were anything we didn't eat. That and
choosing wine were the only decisions we had to make. We started off with
glasses of prosecco--Italian sparkling wine--followed by a bottle of 1998
Monsordo Ceretto, a syrah from Alba. It was very good, with a buttery
aftertaste that we'd never before encountered in a red wine.

Our meal started with a small bowl of basil-infused broth with a ravioli
stuffed with roasted tomato. That was followed by a small portion of
monkfish served with chick-pea mash and parsley puree. Next came two small
pasta courses: twisted handmade pasta with octopus and roasted tomatoes and
spaghetti Amatriciana (with bacon and parmesan). Our main course was a
thick filet of veal, served in a wine demi-glace with very sweet new
potatoes and steamed vegetables. For dessert they served us a particularly
fine creme brulee with a small salad of strawberries, kiwi and those little
yellow fruit (the hostess said they're called something like "fizuli" in
Italian, but she doesn't know an English name for them), along with a glass
of moscato d'Asti, a sparkling dessert wine. It was too hot for us to order
coffee, but our check came with a plate of tiny little sweets, each
different and wonderful. Everything was delicious and the octopus was some
of the best I've ever had. The staff were very friendly and we found that
the hostess' boyfriend is the chef and her younger brother is the other
waiter. They are all from Venice and have their seafood flown in from there
every other day. What a delightful evening!

On Friday morning we returned our car at the main train station and then
walked up to the Alte Pinakothek, which houses a major collection of
European (mainly German, some Italian and Dutch, a few Spanish and English)
works. We particularly enjoyed the paintings by Durer and they had some
particularly good Raphaels, a couple of wonderful Titian portraits, a
substantial collection of Van Dycks and an interesting series of the
Stations of the Cross by Rembrandt, along with a tiny self-portrait. When
we were finished there we took the tram back to our hotel, grabbed
Polische-wurst (what we would call kielbase) from a stand in the subway
station and headed back to the Rathaus to meet our guide for the afternoon.

This was our day to go to the site of the Dachau concentration camp. Our
guide, Charlie, was excellent and very personally interested in his subject.
He managed to strike a good balance between recitation of the facts and
evocative anecdotes and details of the horror that took place there. There
were only two other people on our tour--recent Cornell grads--so we were
able to move quickly and get a lot of information in a short period of time.
Charlie led us through the train-and-bus route to Dachau, walked us through
the museum and then left us time to explore it on our own before the next
English showing of the film. The film includes photographs and films from
the camp during its operation and liberation and is simultaneously
dispassionate and horrifying. After the film Charlie guided us to the
"bunker" of cells for prisoners not held in the barracks for various
reasons, out to the gate with its gruesomely ironic slogan "Work Makes One
Free," and to the gas chamber and crematorium just outside the main camp.
The gas chamber there was never used, for reasons unknown, and Dachau was
not one of the "extermination camps," like Auschwitz. However, it was the
first camp and the model of organization and operation developed there
became the model for all the other camps. While there was no effort at mass
extinction here, there was plenty of suffering, torture, and
death--malnutrition, overwork, overcrowding, disease and the sadistic rules,
games, punishments, and executions meted out by the SS guards. The deaths
recorded in the camp records total just under 32,000 during its twelve years
of operation, but many more were not recorded and some estimate the actual
total to be closer to 200,000. As we walked over the grounds, I realized
that I was surprised at some level that there was no smell, that the charnel
stench of the place could ever have faded. Charlie returned again and again
to the twin themes of organization and secrecy, in which records were kept
and rules promulgated in extraordinary detail about the most vicious
activities, the obsessive compulsive rituals of a collective insanity.
Dachau is horrifying, terrifying, sickening, sobering, and sad beyond all
telling.

It had been a cool, grey day earlier, but by the time we returned to Munich,
the sun had come out and it was lovely. Charlie suggested that we should
really go to a beer garden and recommended the one at the Chinese Tower in
the Englischegarten. We strolled through the Italianate gardens of the
Residenz and then through the shady paths that reminded us both of Regents
Park, earning the title of "English gardens." We found the Chinese Tower
and ordered ourselves some beer and a grill platter for two that included a
chicken breast, a slice of roast suckling pig, a steak, potatoes, and
vegetables for each of us. After devouring that, we walked through the
increasingly chilly evening to the U-Bahn and took that back to the main
train station, where I went off to find an internet cafe while Jason went on
to the hotel to try to make their wireless networking system work with his
laptop.

We started off Saturday morning with the relatively long walk to the
Deutches Museum, located on an island in the Isar river. This is the most
enormous, comprehensive museum of science and technology I have ever
experienced. There is an entire reconstruction of a coal mine, a replica of
a Spanish cave with prehistoric paintings like the one in Lascaux, sections
on electric power, aeronautics, astronautics, astronomy, geology, geography,
technical toys, paper, ceramics, glass, boats of various sizes and types,
railways, carriages, bicycles, automobiles, bridges, hydroengineering, oil &
natural gas exploration/mining/refining, etc., etc., etc. It went on
forever. After several hours there, we had some lunch in their
restaurant--"inoffensive" chicken curry for Jason and wiener-wurst with
goulash soup for me--before heading back into town for another guided tour.

We met our guide at the Rathaus and she explained that she would do the tour
if there were four people. No one else arrived and she asked what we would
do. We said we would go ahead and visit the palaces included in the tour on
our own and she decided that since she wasn't doing anything else, she might
as well get paid, so she gave us the tour anyway. Elena is originally from
the Dominican Republic, where she met her German boyfriend while she was
still in high school. She came to Munich with him five years ago, studied
marketing for a while, dropped out, and is now planning to return to the
university in the fall to study translation. Her English wasn't perfect,
but it was okay. The biggest problem was that she is not the regular
guide--or even the back-up--for this tour, but normally does the city tour,
so she didn't really know very much about the palaces. She had done some
research in the two days since she'd been assigned to this tour and it was
definitely worthwhile to have someone else figuring out which trams to take
and dealing with tickets and looking up details in the guidebooks.

First we visited the Residenz, the city home of the Wittelsbach family who
ruled Bavaria from the 12th century until WWI. Much of the palace was
destroyed in WWII, but has been rebuilt in strict accordance with surviving
pictures and memories and is an impressive place. Much of what we saw was
high baroque rooms dripping with gilt stucco-work. The Hall of Ancestors,
where the Wittelsbachs traced their descent back to Charlemagne and beyond,
was one of the most successful versions of the baroque hall we've seen,
managing to achieve a harmony and balance that too many similar rooms topple
with ornament.

Next we took two trams out to Nymphenburg, the Wittelsbachs' summer mansion
in the western suburbs of Munich. It's a lovely, Italianate Villa, with
gorgeous grounds. The most striking feature of the main villa is the
"Schoenheitsgalerie," a collection of portraits of 36 beauties of the day,
painted for the viewing pleasure of Ludwig I. The grounds include several
whimsical hunting lodges and pavilions, including a pink rococco one built
for Maria Amalia and her beloved dogs, who had their own room with kennels
built into the walls. Our last stop was in the stables, where many of the
ornate carriages and sleighs are on display, along with a series of
portraits of particularly beloved mounts and their elaborate tack. It was
clear that Ludwig II's flights of fantasy were not limited to his
castles--one of his sleighs, decorated with nymphs, made Jason think of the
Snow Queen. Leaving there, we caught the train back into the city, checked
our email and headed back to the hotel to pack and nap.

We weren't quite sure what we wanted for dinner, but as we wandered through
the old town, we saw one restaurant specializing in fondue and that seemed
appealing. We shared an hors d'oeuvres plate of house-marinated salmon with
wonderful fresh horseradish, some ham, and a couple of different types of
pate, followed by an enormous cheese fondue with bread and vegetables to dip
in it. It wasn't quite as good as the one we had in Zurich, but it made a
good meal and the dark, cozy atmosphere of the restaurant was pleasant.

After dinner we walked the rest of the way back to the Deutches Museum where
we took in the IMAX 3D Cirque du Soleil movie. It was structured as a
journey through life and included performances of Taiko drumming, water
ballet, the "cube guy," an incredibly strong man and woman doing a
slow-motion evolution of poses, and a team of acrobats, as well as the
fantastic clowns and creatures typical of the Cirque. The whole thing was
filmed in various exotic locations--underwater, in a lush forest, amid the
red wind-carved rocks of the southwest, and in a neo-classical temple. The
whole thing was shorter than we had expected--only about half an hour--but
that meant we could get back to the hotel around midnight and not be too
tired on our last day.

We checked out on Sunday morning and left our luggage with the hotel while
we took the tram back out to the museum district to visit the Neue
Pinakothek, which houses a very fine collection of 18th- and 19th-century
works, from German Romantics to French Impressionists. Our favorite piece
was one by Franz von Stuck, a new name for us. We were disappointed that
the Pinakothek der Moderne is closed until September, but one of the sales
clerks in the Neue Pinakothek recommended that we try the Lenbachhaus. This
turned out to be an Italianate villa not far from the other museums. There
was a strange exhibit of works by Lisa Unger and a collection of epic
photographs by Thomas Ruff, as well as an uninspiring set of 19th century
landscapes and domestic scenes. One of the highlights is the Kandinsky
collection, which includes many of the artist's own works, as well many by
other members of the Blauer Reiter group of Expressionist painters. We were
especially enamored of the work of Franz Marc and bought a print of a
wonderful "Tiger" that is reminiscent of the work of the Italian Futurists
we enjoy. The other interesting section is the "historical rooms," filled
with paintings by Franz von Lenbach, the last owner of the house, whose
widow convinced the city to buy it and his collection. The villa was
substantially damaged during WWII and only a small suite of rooms have been
restored to something like their original appearance.

Jason had been interested in seeing one of the several toy museums we'd
passed on our journey, so we dashed back to the Marienplatz and visited the
Spielzeug Museum housed in the tower of the old town hall. They have quite
a collection of toys, including retired dolls, vintage model cars and
hundreds of teddy bears of different sizes, shapes, functions and
descriptions.

We felt silly not to have gotten inside the Frauenkirche, whose onion-domed
towers are one of the most noticeable landmarks of Munich, so we ducked in
there for a quick look around before dashing back to the hotel, grabbing a
bite of food along the way. We thought we'd left plenty of time, but we
were delayed in a search for the right change for the train ticket machines
and the ride out to the airport was longer than we'd expected, so we ran up
to the check-in desk only 35 minutes before our flight was scheduled to
depart. The clerk checked us in and assured us the bags would be on the
flight and we ran for our gate. Of course, then we were held up by a family
in front of us at passport control, who paused right in front of the window
after they'd been checked through, to take a cellphone call. Then the
passport official's phone rang and he talked while processing our passports
with some delay. Then the guy ahead of us in the security line was slowly
emptying all his pockets in front of the x-ray machine and the guard
wouldn't let Jason go ahead of him. When Jason was allowed to put his pack
on the conveyor belt, the guard made him take out his laptop and put that
through separately. Then the metal detector went off as I went through and
I had to wait while the only female guard wanded the woman who'd been
talking on the cellphone at the passport desk. Then she had to wand me up,
down and sideways--and get no bleeps whatsoever. Finally we ran up to our
gate, were passed through and were the last people onto the bus out to our
plane. As we got on, breathing heavily, with adrenaline racing, I sat down
and said to Jason "There! Now we're not late anymore." We were very
relieved, as we boarded, to actually see our bags going onto the plane.

Our flight was smooth and there were lovely views of the countryside across
Germany and Belgium and we approached London City Airport straight up the
Thames. The M25 was backed up as far as the eye could see to the south,
making us very glad this wasn't the day we were trying to drive back from
Dover. We arrived, passed through immigration uneventfully, and walked into
the baggage hall just in time to grab our bags off the belt. We took a
shuttle bus to Canary Wharf, changed to the tube and were home about 75
minutes after landing, which makes it about 45 minutes closer than
Heathrow. Anne & George were off having dinner with Barbara, which gave us
a chance to catch our breaths, read our email, and begin to settle back into
the demands of being home. They had bought us a gorgeous bunch of flowers
to welcome us back and seem to have had a great time while we were gone.
lillibet: (Default)
On Wednesday morning, Jason's second cousin, Kit Furey, arrived with her
son, Austen. They spent the afternoon at the British Museum and then
wandering around the Leicester Square area. In the evening I made tarragon
chicken with mushrooms anad broccoli and we had a pleasant time getting to
know one another before jet lag set in.

On Thursday Austen had what the Brits call "a bit of a lie-in," so they
didn't get out of the house until noon. They'd wanted to get to Harrod's
and ended up spending the whole afternoon there, just making it back here in
time to head about again. We met Jason--who'd gone down to the new London
office to work for the day--at Brown's and had a nice meal of pies and
puddings and then raced across Covent Garden to see _The Lion King_ at the
Lyceum. The show was very good, especially the masks/costumes/puppets used
to portray the various animals.

On Friday Jason and I spent the day at home while Kit & Austen took an all
day bus tour of London that included visits to Westminster Abbey and the
Tower, pub lunch and a boatride down the Thames.

We all managed to be up early on Saturday morning and headed out by 8:30am.
There was a huge line at the Europcar rental office near Victoria and it
turned out that the only automatic they had available was a minivan. I
agreed to that before realizing it was a Kia :( Compared to all the little
cars I've been driving, it was HUGE, but it was a relief not to have to deal
with a manual transmission.

We drove straight out to Stonehenge, with very light traffic except for the
mile before the henge. It is really nifty to be inching along the highway
and see the henge perched up on the hill. We grabbed sandwiches and some
soup at the snack bar before heading up there. They've done a really nice
job of siting the road and support building (ticket booth, snack bar, gift
shop) such that once you go through the tunnel over to the henge, all of
that is invisible and only the windswept plain meets the gaze.

Stonehenge was smaller than I had imagined it, but still lovely and
mysterious. Visitors are kept about fifty feet back from the stones by a
low rope, so while it's not permitted to actually wander among the stones,
the view isn't blocked and it feels close. We listened to the audio guide
and strolled around for about an hour.

Our next stop was Old Sarum, the area's original cathedral town. It was
founded by the Romans and was a thriving place until various factors
precipitated the decision to move the cathedral about a mile down the river
and the whole town moved with it. We wandered among the ruins of the
cathedral and castle--mainly low stone walls--for a while, enjoying the
lovely day.

We drove on into Salisbury, parked the car, and walked along a lovely stream
admiring the baby ducks and other waterfowl. We poked our heads into
St. Thomas' church to admire the medieval "doom" painting of Christ sitting
in judgment with the blessed rising from their graves on his right and the
damned being fed to hellbeasts on his left. It was painted in 1470 and then
whitewashed over during the Reformation and restored in 1893.

From there we walked on to Salisbury Cathedral with its enormous spire
visible for miles around. A service was in progress as we arrived, so we
walked around the cloister to the chapterhouse, which has a lovely vaulted
ceiling and medieval carvings, as well as one of the four extant copies of
the Magna Carta. By the time we finished up there and looked in the shop,
the service was ending and we were able to visit the church. It's a lovely
gothic edifice with the canonical soaring columns. The east end of the nave
is decorated by two very differently beautiful windows--the higher one done
in 1781 in enamel on clear glass, depicting Moses and the serpent, and the
lower one, in Trinity Chapel, done by Gabriel Loire of Chartres in rich
blues, dedicated to prisoners of conscience throughout the world.

Leaving the cathedral, we walked back through the town, picked up the car
and dropped Kit & Austen at the train station to catch the next train to
Bath. We headed in the opposite direction and made it to Brighton by 7pm.
We parked and walked down the main street, along the water, until we found
rooms at the Royal Albion Hotel. Dropping off our bags, we went back out to
wandered through the section of town known as "The Lanes"--little streets,
largely pedestrianized, with shops and restaurants--until we were seduced by
a sign promsing "the best burgers you've ever tasted." Having had several
disappointing hamburgers here in England, we were dubious, but they were
truly delicious. Maybe they weren't the very best we've ever had, but
certainly the best since leaving California. It turned out that the
restaurant--Tootsies--is part of a chain and there are a couple in London
that we will have to check out.

After dinner we decided to stroll out the Brighton Pier. We made our way
past booths selling various foods and through two areas of games and slot
machines, to the amusment park rides at the end of the pier. We did a VR
rollercoaster ride--not as viscerally thrilling as the real thing, but with
the added fun of jumping gaps in the tracks. Next we tried the Crazy Mouse,
a fairly tame roller coaster, but with single, round cars that spun around
whenever the track had a sharp curve. That was really fun, especially since
it got us a view of the whole pier and sometimes felt like we would be flung
off into the darkness. After that we wandered a bit and got a sugar & lemon
crepe to share. We decided to do one more ride before the promised
fireworks display and ended up watching the show from the Ranger--kind of
like the old pirate ship ride, but instead of stopping at perpendicular, it
swings you all the way around. That was thrilling!

After all that excitement, it was time to return to our hotel, right across
the street from the pier. We took advantage of the large jacuzzi tub and
went to bed. When we woke up before our alarm at 7:15, I thought Jason
should get up to shower, but he insisted on sleeping until the alarm went
off at 8:30. When we got down to breakfast we realized that the alarm clock
had not been reset correctly, so it was an hour earlier than we'd thought.
Jason said "Isn't it good we didn't get up at *six*!"

We checked out after breakfast and took our bags back to the car. Then we
wandered around until the Royal Pavilion opened at ten. It is a bizarre and
beautiful remnant of the Regency age, having been built for the Prince
Regent's lavish seaside entertainments in the 1820's. The outside was
inspired by Indian and Arabic motifs, but the inside was decorated in an
elaborate "chinoiserie" style. It's extreme and ornate and stunning. It
was used by the Prince Regent and his heir, William IV, but Victoria found
it too public and sold it to the town of Brighton for just #50,000 (quite a
bargain, considering it cost more than #700,000 to build), but not before
stripping the place of all its furnishings and fixtures. It was redecorated
a number of times and used by the town in various ways, including as a
hospital during the war. Beginning in the 1950's it was renovated and
refurbished according to the original plans, paintings, inventories and
notes. Many of the original pieces were returned "on permanent loan from
Her Majesty the Queen." There were setbacks, including arson in the music
room--one of the real showpieces of the place--and a hurricane, but today it
is a truly fabulous place.

We had hoped to visit the Brighton Museum of Art & History, newly housed in
the equally fabulous stables in the recently restored gardens, but it
doesn't open until 2pm on Sundays, so we collected our car and went on down
the road. The weather was glorious in the morning, but as we rounded the
southeastern edge of England, clouds rolled in and it began to rain
fitfully. We stopped at a roadside restaurant and pub just past Hastings
for a pleasant lunch--roast lamb with Yorkshire pudding for Jason and a
small sirloin for me--before continuing up the coast to Dover. It's lambing
season--or just past--here in England and the fields along the road were
filled with sheep and hundreds of tiny little lambs!

By the time we arrived in Dover there was serious wind and cold rain, but we
did catch a nice view of the famous white cliffs. We went on up to the
castle and explored the inside areas there. In the keep they had a very
clever exhibit based on the idea that it was the day before the arrival of
Henry VIII on an inspection tour in 1539 and everyone was busily trying to
make the place ready. There were recordings of various craftsmen at work
and at one place in the Watching Room--a large hall--light was shone on a
wall with shadows of people rushing around in preparations. We also visited
the medieval siege tunnels, built after the Great Siege of 1216. The Secret
War Tunnels, used as the English headquarters during the Dunkirk Evacuation,
have only been declassified and opened to the public recently. We were
unable to visit them, as the guided tours were sold out for the rest of the
day by the time we arrived. We started to walk down the hill to the best
lookout spot, but the wind was blowing so hard it hurt the back of my head
and I wasn't looking forward to the climb back up to the parking lot, so we
gave it up and headed home.

Hopping on the motorway, we were able to zoom right along and made it back
to the house in under two hours. Today I'm planning to get to the grocery
store for a big run before we return the car. We're preparing to welcome
Jason's former co-worker, Benjamin, and his girlfriend, Abigail, on Friday,
so it's time to get the house back in shape for guests. And then next week
we'll be heading for Boston.
lillibet: (Default)
We had a wonderful weekend in Belgium, a trip where everything went not
merely as expected, but better.

Our flight from Heathrow was slightly delayed, but we made it with no
problems, picked up our rental car--a burgundy Fiat that I quite liked--and
followed the signs out of the airport to the Novotel. Our room was
perfectly reasonable and the bed was comfortable.

On Saturday morning we grabbed breakfast from the buffet downstairs. It
turned out later we were at the wrong buffet of the two, but it wasn't a
problem. We headed out and made the drive to Antwerp in about half an hour,
finding our way through the city to the Royal Museum of Fine Art. We
arrived about twenty minutes before they opened, so we wandered around the
museum building and down a nearby street to the next plaza.

When the museum's doors opened, we were the first through them. We spent a
very pleasant couple of hours wandering through their collection, admiring
the Flemish masters and getting to know the work of Rik Wouters and James
Ensor. One of the interesting aspects of the museum was the glimpse into
the inner workings (two restoration workshops and a warehouse section)
visible from various corners of the galleries.

Leaving the museum, we headed back to an Asian fusion place we'd noticed on
our earlier wanderings. Lucy Chang provided us with a delicious
meal--crispy spring rolls and tuna triangles, Korean beef with sesame and
wontons & egg noodles with roast pork in a rich broth. It was one of the
best accidental finds in all our travels.

After lunch we drove into the Groen-plaats, in the old section of town.
Despite the sign a block earlier saying the carpark there was full, we saw
the car ahead of us go in, decided to take a chance, and found an empty
space right at the entrance.

From there it was just around the corner to the Cathedral of Our Lady, an
enormous, seven-aisled church and the largest Gothic construction in the low
country. Its interior is very light, with soaring white columns and
white-washed ceilings contrasting with the darker, more intimate spaces of
the chapels on either side. The church was constructed on the site of a
12th-century chapel and finished in 1521. It has suffered the ravages of
fire, looting, iconoclasm and invasion. Most of its treasures were
auctioned off under Napoleon. But that left room for some wonderful 19th-
and early 20th-century pre-Raphaelite style works and for three altarpieces
by Rubens created for other churches that have since been demolished. There
are also wonderful stained glass windows and a pamphlet explaining their
themes.

After exploring the cathedral thoroughly, we wandered out into the Grote
Markt, the central market of Antwerp's medieval ascendancy, lined with
guildhouses. I bought 100g of the famous praline chocolates and we savored
those as we wandered. We paused to look at the Vleeshuis or Butcher's Hall,
built of alternating stripes of white and red bricks for an appearance our
guide book described as "streaky bacon." From there we wandered over to the
river and admired the Steen, the small 13th-century castle that now houses
the National Maritime Museum. We continued our walk back through the Grote
Markt, stopped briefly into the St. Carolus Borromeuskerk, and then wandered
down the long, pedestrianized shopping street to the Opera House, before
hopping on the metro back to the Groen-plaats.

From there it was a short walk to the Museum Plantin-Moretus. This was the
home of the Plantin family and of the "Officina Plantiniana," the most
famous printing works in 17th-century Europe. Founded by Christopher
Platijn in 1555 and raised to even greater glory by his grandson, Balthasar
Moretus, the printing business gained great fame from its collaboration with
Rubens as an illustrator. He also painted portraits of most of the family
and these are hung throughout the rooms of The Golden Compass, as the
labyrinthine building was called. Other interesting exhibits include a
Gutenberg 36-line Bible, the polyglot Bible printed by Plantijn in five
languages, original copper etchings--together with prepatory sketches and
prints--of Rubens' illustrations and a series of maps from the 16th and 17th
centuries, and many interesting set of punches (the originals from which
type was cast in lead) including one carved by Garamont in his eponymous
font, a Hebrew set, and Latin sets in all manner of sizes and fonts. All of
this is set in rooms that could have figured in Vermeer paintings, with
mullioned windows, tile floors and beamed ceilings. There's also a lovely
garden in the central courtyard of the house that makes a pleasant spot for
a rest after clambering up and down the creaky steps of the exhibition
spaces.

We wandered around town for a while longer, trying to decide what, if
anything, we wanted to eat. Eventually we decided that it made more sense
to wait and grab something at our next destination, so we collected the car
and headed for Heist-op-den-Berg. Just as we pulled out of the carpark, the
heavens--which had been threatening and spattering off and on all day,
between periods of bright sunshine--opened up and began to pour down on us.
Pleased with our timing, we threaded our way out of Antwerp.

Traffic made the forty-five minute drive into an hour, but we pulled up to
the Cultureel Centrum Zwaneberg and walked in to find Wes Carroll and the
rest of the House Jacks eating dinner in the center's restaurant. He was
gratifyingly surprised and pleased to see us walk in :) We got some food and
chatted with him for an hour before it was time for him to do sound checks
and get ready for their a capella rock concert. It was their last gig on a
two-week tour of Germany and Belgium (with a side-trip to Florida thrown
in), so they were pretty tired, but they put on a very fun show. They've
got some new numbers and have re-worked some old ones and sounded very good
and relaxed. During their "request" segment (they take requests, but only
for songs that aren't in their repertoire) they did some very good stuff
("Proud Mary," "Stayin' Alive," "Purple Rain," "Beat It," etc.) mixed in
with some very silly stuff (a thrash metal version of "Summer of '69," for
example) and wrapped it up with a surprisingly good impromptu cover of the
full length of "Bohemian Rhapsody." Wes has figured out some new drum
sounds--he does a great "woodblock"--and was using them to great effect.

After the show we hung around and took pictures with the guys and caught up
with Wes a little more. They were leaving the next day and needed to get
some sleep before the 18 hour transit from Brussels via Munich to San
Francisco, so we said goodbye around midnight and zipped back down the
highway to our hotel.

In the morning we found the right breakfast buffet (the one with bacon!) and
filled up before dropping off the car and our bags at the airport. We took
the train into the center of Brussels and went straight up the hill from the
station to the art museums. The "ancient" (13th- to 18th-century) art
museum and the modern art museum are linked by a tunnel and combined
admission. Given our limited time, we decided to start with the modern
wing, which is ENORMOUS. The 19th century is represented on floors 0-3 and
the 20th century takes up floors -1 to -8. We moved through it at a fairly
quick pace, getting an overview of their collection and pausing to take a
more leisurely stroll through the extensive exhibit of work by Rene
Magritte, an old favorite.

Tearing ourselves away, we took the elevator (with rows of seats on either
side, it's rated for up to 48 passengers) back up to ground level and
scooted down the hill to the Grande Place, Brussels' own Grote Markt. It is
lined by guild halls and other municipal buildings, most dating from the
17th century, after much of the square was destroyed by fire. We found a
seat on the facade of the Hotel de Ville--city hall--and waited for
Catherine.

Catherine de Vos was a Rotary exchange student from Brussels who lived with
my family in 1972. My parents and I visited her parents during a trip to
Europe in 1982, but she was out of the country at the time. So I hadn't
seen her in thirty years, since I was three years old. I've seen pictures
in the interim, but all of her at 16 or 17. I was afraid we might never
find each other, but when she walked up to us, I knew this could be no one
but Catherine. She is still the very cute, very funny, but intelligent and
serious person that my family loved.

Catherine took us to a traditional restaurant in the Gallerie St. Hubert,
Europe's first shopping arcade, built in 1847. It's a lovely, glass-roofed
corridor of high-end specialty shops, not yet invaded by the same old brands
that fill most of the world's high streets. We had another very tasty lunch
of scallops meuniere (with breadcrumbs and butter), white asparagus, steak
au poivre, and waterzooi, a traditional Flemish chicken stew. Catherine
entertained us with stories from the last ten years of renovating a
16th-century farmhouse south of the city and we exchanged news of our
families.

After lunch we wandered back up the hill to the Old England building, an Art
Nouveau masterpiece built in 1899 as a department store, that is now the
home of the Musical Instruments Museum. The collection, begun in 1877,
includes thousands of examples of musical instruments from all over the
world. The ground floor exhibits traditional wind, string and percussion
instruments from around the world. The second floor traces the development
of the modern orchestra. This section includes a selection of the
instruments developed by Belgian inventor Adolphe Sax, creator of the
saxophone as well as saxhorns and other variations. The third floor focuses
on string and keyboard instruments. We never made it to the basement, where
music boxes, pianolas and 20th-century instruments are on display. This is
definitely the best museum of musical instruments I have ever explored.
Visitors are given headphones and most display cases transmit the music of
the instruments shown there, providing a wonderful private soundtrack. The
funniest transition was from a case of Mexican mariachi instruments to one
of Tibetan temple instruments. We had a wonderful time wandering together
through the exhibits, occasionally distracted from the displays by the
gorgeous architecture of the recently renovated building.

When the staff chased us out at closing time, we made our way over to the
cathedral. Catherine left us there--she had to get home to take her son,
Paul, to badminton--and we wandered in for a look. They had some gorgeous
stained glass and the soaring architecture, but not very much in the way of
interesting art. After the Antwerp cathedral, this one seemed a bit small.

We had half an hour before we needed to catch our train, so we went back to
the Gallerie St. Hubert and visited Neuhaus, one of the chocolatiers
recommended by our guidebook. I'm not a big chocolate fan, but the Belgians
certainly raise it to an art, displaying their wares with the reverence
reserved for jewels in the shops of other cities. We selected a small box
of chocolates and a bag of florentines (wonderful cookie-like agglomerations
of toffee and almonds cemented together with a chocolate base) under the
stern eye of the clerk and then headed back to the Central Station.

Back at the airport we collected our bags from their locker, checked in for
our flight and then sat around reading in the various lounges until it was
time to board. Our flight was more delayed in this direction, but we got a
marvelous sunset-on-clouds view and an exciting rollercoaster ride into
London. With no bags to collect, we zipped through Heathrow and onto the
tube. There was a bit of delay there, but we made it home by 10:30pm.

It was a quick trip--and we hope to get back--but we managed to pack in
enough to make us feel that we had really been to Belgium. All our travel
arrangements worked like a charm and we managed to see the people we'd hoped
to see and spend some quality time with them.
lillibet: (Default)
We had a lovely weekend away here in England, something we've been meaning
to do more often.

On Friday I went down to King's Cross and picked up a rental car. They were
having a weekend deal, such that I had to pick it up that day, even though
we weren't planning to leave until Saturday morning.

After dropping the car back at our place, we took the tube into town and had
dinner at Yo Sushi! It was the best we'd ever had there and they even had
hamachi, my favorite, which is very hard to find here.

We strolled down Charing Cross Road, stopping into Blackwell's to buy some
books, and got to the Garrick Theatre just a few minutes before the
curtain. The play was _This Is Our Youth_, a drama about two stoner New
York Jewish kids and this girl they know. The three actors were Anna Paquin
(who won a Best Supporting Oscar for her role in _The Piano_), Jake
Gyllenhaal (who starred in _October Sky_ and _Donnie Darko_), and Hayden
Christensen (who plays Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode II). That was
the real reason I wanted to see the show, to form an opinion of
Christensen's acting ability before seeing him on the big screen. He was
pretty good, although Gyllenhaal's performance was the real stand-out.

On Saturday morning we left the house around nine and drove straight to
Cheddar, arriving around noon. We got some fish & chips and then bought our
Explorer Ticket that covered our admission to most of the sights in town.
We started with a visit to Gough's Cave. Re-discovered in the late 19th
century, the cave held the remains of "Cheddar Man," a 9,000 year-old
skeleton, as well as other bones and artifacts indicating that the cave was
used intermittently by prehistoric humans. It was carved out by an
underground river and had some very lovely rock formations. After that we
walked through the smaller Cox's Cave just down the hill. We decided to
skip the "Crystal Quest" medieval adventure cave and went back to our car
and headed off to Chewton Mendip, trying to find a dairy that offers tours.
We had a lovely drive between the rockfaces at the narrow end of the gorge,
but found that the Chewton Dairy no longer gives tours. So we went back to
the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Factory--a fairly touristy place on the main
street--to see their explanation of how the local cheese is made. This
includes the process called "cheddaring" that involves cutting the drained
curd into blocks and squeezing it to eliminate more of the whey before
milling it and pressing it into "truckles," or wheels. We decided to skip
the cheese store, figuring it was better not to set out on a three-mile hike
with a couple of pounds of cheese in our pockets.

Climbing up the stairs to the rim of the gorge, we set out on the route
around "the largest gorge in England." It was a pretty steep climb, both up
and down, but we got some lovely views of the gorge and of the surrounding
plain. South of the mouth of the gorge is an enormous reservoir that is
circular and raised--it took us a long time to figure out what it must be,
since it most resembles some kind of UFO landing pad when seen from above.

By the time we worked our way around the gorge and back to the main street
running through its center, the sidewalks were rolled up and
everything--including the cheese store--were closed. We picked up our car
again and drove into the center of the village to the Market Cross Hotel
(across from the medieval market cross, appropriately enough). We settled
into our room--small, but lovely, with a very comfy bed--and then went down
for dinner. We had two choices at each course, so we'd ordered one of
each. I ended up with the rich tomato soup with basil, a lovely salmon
steak with hollandaise sauce, and a sweet sponge pudding for dessert. Jason
had the grilled portobello mushroom with tomato and cheese, a very moist
pork chop with apple chutney, and a rich berry summer pudding. The sides
were cheesy mashed potatoes, broccoli with parmesan and carrots with
tarragon. It was all very tasty. We were the only ones having dinner that
evening, despite the hotel being all but full--three separate people stopped
by to check on availability while we were at table, but decided against the
one room available, as it did not have a private bath.

We went back up to our room right after dinner and went right to bed. It
was really nice to just sleep and sleep, without all the usual distractions
that keep us awake too late at home.

In the morning we were treated to one of the best full English breakfasts
we've had, complete with wonderfully creamy local yogurt. Fed up, we headed
out for the day.

Our first destination was Glastonbury and we could see the tor (hill) and
its tower from miles away, across the Somerset Levels. The levels are/were
wetlands and marshes until people drained them extensively, starting in the
11th century and continuing today. Before that, Glastonbury Tor would have
been essentially an island and legend connects it with the fabled island of
Avalon. At one point a grave was uncovered at the abbey that was alleged at
the time to be that of King Arthur. Legend also says that Joseph of
Arimathea came to the area trading for lead and tin and brought the young
Jesus with him (inspiring William Blake's poem, "Jerusalem"). Supposedly
Joseph returned after the crucifixion with the holy grail and built a small
church on the site of the abbey. Some of this legend was certainly enhanced
by St. Dunstan, Abbot of Glastonbury and Archbishop of Canterbury in the
10th century.

We started at the abbey museum, then strolled out around the ruins of the
abbey church. It was an enormous place in its time, but was destroyed after
the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII and its buildings used
as a quarry for stones needed for local building projects. Very little
remains today.

Hopping on "The Tor Bus," we were whisked out through the fields surrounding
the town and dropped off at the foot of the path leading up to the top of
the tor, where the 14th-century tower of St. Michael's is all that remains
of the church that once occupied the summit. The wind was very strong and
after a look around at the charming countryside, we headed down the other
side of the hill, back toward town.

Just as we were approaching the bottom, I slipped and skinned my knee pretty
badly. So our first stop back in Glastonbury was the Safeway, where I could
buy band-aids and use their restroom to clean up. That task completed, we
found a nice little cafe for lunch. I had a very comforting bowl of
vegetable soup with a sandwich, while Jason devoured a Cornish pasty.

After lunch we hopped back in the car and went up the road to Wells. As we
arrived, the bells at St. Cuthbert's were playing and we were overtaken by
the post-lunch nap impulse, so we stayed in the car drowsing for about half
an hour. Reinvigorated, we wandered through town to the cathedral complex.
We went inside the cathedral and listened to the beginning of evensong
before deciding to visit the other areas of the complex and return to the
church after services, when more of it would be open to visitors.

The Bishop's Palace is a lovely place. The outer walls are still surrounded
by a moat fed by St. Andrew's Well, from which the city takes its name. The
ruins of the Great Hall are very picturesque. The bishop's chapel and the
formal rooms open to the public are not terribly exciting, but the walk out
around the well is both beautiful and interesting and the view of the
cathedral from the gardens is stunning. The archbishop of Bath & Wells
still lives in part of the palace complex.

We wandered back through the churchyard and gardens, parts of which surround
the ruins of previous chapels on the site. By the time we got back into the
church, the service was just ending and we were able to see the famous
14th-century clock chiming the quarter hour, when four wooden knights emerge
and joust. We continued through the quire and the eastern end of the church
and then up into the stunning chapterhouse, with its gorgeous 14th-century
ribbed ceiling, a predecessor of true fan vaulting.

Leaving the complex, we wandered back to the car and drove over to Bristol
in search of dinner. After strolling across Queen Square--the largest true
square in Europe and somewhat reminiscent of Harvard Yard--we sat by the
harbor to enjoy the sunset for a bit and then found pizza at a place called
"Bed." We got back to Cheddar just before nine and read for a bit before
turning in.

This morning we had another full English breakfast and then got on the
road. We drove through town, hoping to find the cheese store open, but it
wasn't. So we managed to spend the whole weekend in Cheddar without ever
having any of their cheese! :(

The drive back to London was fairly painless, except for some heavy traffic
just past Heathrow. I dropped Jason at home with our stuff so that he could
accept the grocery delivery and drove back over to King's Cross to drop of
the car and tube home.
lillibet: (Default)
With the adrenaline rush fading along with the time pressure of the morning,
Jason and I continued west along the Costa del Sol through Torremolinos, a
bleak tourist town that did not seem on cursory inspection to have improved
since my last visit. We stopped at a McDonald's outside Marbella for a
quick lunch and headed on toward Gibraltar. The town on the Spanish side of
the border is called "La Linea," an amusingly appropriate name for the place
where one has to queue to enter and exit the country. We sat in line for
about half an hour before being waved through at the sight of our US
passports. We drove across the airport runway and into town.

The guidebooks had been emphatic about the terrible parking situation
in Gibraltar and had urged us to park in La Linea and walk over the border,
but it had clouded up and was windy and cold and I wasn't interested in
carrying our packs that far. So it was with great satisfaction, after
following the signs to our hotel through tiny, winding streets up the hill,
to arrive at the Elliot Hotel to find an ample car park for hotel guests.

We checked in and were very pleased with our room, which included a
queen-sized bed, lovely furniture and a view of the sea. Jason turned on
the TV to see what channels were available and we got sucked in by the
original pilot of "Battlestar Galactica" for twenty minutes or so before
marshalling our energy to explore the town. We wandered up the hill a bit
and then along Main Street, which was completely shuttered for the day and
partially under construction. We stopped in briefly at King's Chapel
attached to The Convent, a former Franciscan monastery. It has been the
official residence of the Governor of Gibraltar since the Brits took control
during the War of Spanish Succession in the 18th century. Continuing out
through the Southport Gate, we paused by the Trafalgar Cemetery, where we
were accosted by a minivan tour driver looking to fill up his bus for the
last tour of the day. This was exactly what we'd been looking to find, so
we piled in along with a Finnish couple and their ~11 year-old daughter.

Our guide drove us up to the entrance of the Upper Rock Nature Reserve and
let us out to take pictures from the spot marked with a bronze plaque
commemorating Gibraltar's ancient identity as one of the Pillars of
Hercules. Having bought our tickets into the reserve, the guide loaded us
back into the van and we continued up the Rock to St. Michael's Cave. A
natural cave of stunning beauty, it was outfitted as a hospital during WWII,
but was never needed. Today, in addition to allowing tourists to wander
around and admire the intricate rock formations, they also have an
auditorium where concerts are held during the summer. Audience members
would want to bring along good hats, since the water that created the cave's
beauties is still actively seeping through the ceiling.

Leaving the cave, we continued on up the Rock to a spot where one of the
packs of "Barbary Apes" congregate near a feeding station. They are
actually tail-less monkeys, or macaques, native to Morocco and Algeria, who
were apparently brought to Gibraltar by the British in the 18th century.
They are said to be a symbol of British sovereignty on the Rock and it is
told that if they disappear, so will the Brits. When numbers were dwindling
in the early 20th century, Winston Churchill gave the order that they should
be fed and maintained and their numbers have swelled to over 200 living in
five packs all over the Rock. They are not shy and allow people to get
quite close to them, although tourists are warned not to touch them and risk
a bite. We saw about ten monkeys, including two babies. They have pale fur
that looks soft and disturbingly bare, flattened bottoms. They seemed
entirely bored with us, but we were thrilled with them.

Our pictures from that spot are not exclusively of the monkeys, as this was
the point at which you can look down to see the waters of the Mediterranean
on the left and the Atlantic on the right. Gibraltar is considered the
dividing point, even though it is not the southernmost point of the
penisula--that's further west, back in Spain. The winds there were fierce
and we enjoyed watching the seagulls playing in it, flying into the gusts so
as to hover in the same spot. The views weren't spectacular and we could
only barely see the mountains across the straight in Africa, because of the
weather. Still, there is something exciting about standing on one continent
and looking at another. There was a bizarre cloud formation, with a line of
clouds approaching the Rock from the south and seeming to turn black as they
touched its peak, before continuing on in a regimented column over Spain.

Descending from that point, down switchback roads so steep and narrow that
our driver made three-point turns at the curves, we reached the Moorish
Castle, which has dominated the landward approach to Gibraltar since 1333.
The only section accessible today is the Tower of Homage, which contains a
display of various typical Moorish artifacts--including Berber and Arabian
rugs and translations of phrases from the Koran painted throughout the
castle--and the room used as a miniature mosque during sieges. The castle
withstood ten sieges during its history, thanks in part to a very deep well
supplying fresh water to the defenders.

We were dropped off back at the Trafalgar Cemetery and wandered around it
for a few minutes. Although named in honor of the British victory against
Napoleon's fleet off Cape Trafalgar, only two of the people buried there
died from that battle.

Jason convinced me that we should go take a look at the "100 Ton Gun" before
returning to the hotel, so we walked quite a ways out past the shipyards,
only to find that it is not visible from the street and the gates to it had
shut for the day. We sat for a while in a cannon notch of an old battery
that is now a car park, looking out over the water, before turning back
toward the center of town. It was interesting, as we walked, to notice the
little touches of Britain--like post boxes and telephone booths and the
accents of some of the passersby--transplanted here and looking somewhat out
of place amid the palm trees and tropical flowers. All the flags in town
were at half-mast, in honor of the passing of the Queen Mum the day before.

Since Jason was slightly sick--mostly just sniffles and lethargy--and since
very little in town was open, we had decided to eat in the Palm Court at the
hotel. We were firmly on the Spanish schedule of eating around nine or ten,
so we stopped into an internet cafe a block from the hotel. Jason went back
to the room after an hour to work on his laptop, but I stayed for a second
hour, catching up on email and news, including obituaries for the Queen Mum.
My favorite description of her was "a bonbon in a frilly cup" and my
favorite anecdote was the time she called down to the mostly-gay palace
staff to ask "is there an old queen down there who would bring a gin & tonic
to the old queen up here?"

Back at the hotel I called steve briefly and then we went down to dinner.
The dining room was fairly deserted, but we had a nice meal of scallops
seared with five-spice powder, served on a bed of leeks with herbed
butter, and fillet steak. For dessert we split an almond parfait, which was
light and lovely. Jason talked to his mother, in Salmon for her mother's
funeral the day before, and then we went to bed. With the grey weather and
illness sapping our energy, it seemed like a very long day. Fortunately,
the bed was very comfortable, contributing to Jason's pick of the Hotel
Elliot as his favorite of the trip.

On Monday morning we had breakfast at the hotel's buffet, which was very
crowded with athletes, in town for tournaments of both ice hockey and
soccer. The ones I talked with in the elevator happened to be from Dublin.

Sting sings "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone," and it certainly seemed
that John & Sonja had taken our sunshine with them. We left Gibraltar under
heavy cloud and encountered rain as we drove up the coast toward Cadiz, so
apparently they don't manage to make it all stay on the plain. It did give
us a chance to play with a feature of the car that Jason had discovered in
the manual: the variable-speed setting on the windshield wipers is
automatic, somehow sensing the heaviness of the rain and adjusting fairly
appropriately to the needs of the moment. We also enjoyed the vast ranks of
modern windmills arrayed on many of the ridges to catch the ocean breeze.
We made our way out to Cadiz, dropped off the car and took advantage of the
car park's toilets--a fine tradition I would like to encourage throughout
the world--before heading into the older section of town. The intermittent
rain was becoming heavier, so we were glad to duck into a cafe in the
cathedral square to share a salad with tuna and shrimp and a platter of
fried seafood.

On my previous trip to Spain we had stopped in Cadiz only for lunch and I
had hoped to see more of the town on this visit. Unfortunately, all the
tourist sights were closed on Mondays and the weather made a stroll through
the old quarter a bleak proposition. The rain failed to let up while we
were at lunch, so we simply walked back to the car and waved goodbye to
Cadiz. Up the road in Jerez, the weather had cleared a bit and we were able
to take a tour of the Gonzales y Byass "bodega" where they make brandy and
sherry, including Tio Pepe, the best-selling dry sherry in the world. It
was interesting to see their facilities and gain an understanding of the
process. We also saw the amusing-but-disturbing sight of mice drinking
sherry left out for them in a wine glass with a little ladder propped up
against it. It makes a cute picture, but our guide admitted in an aside to
Jason and me that cirrhosis of the liver gives them a life expectancy of
three months or less. We tasted Tio Pepe and their Soberano sweet sherry,
but decided that neither of us liked either of them enough to buy a bottle.

Continuing inland, we arrived in Seville. Jason did a marvelous job of
navigating us through the maze of tiny streets in the old part of town to
reach the Hotel Cervantes. Parking had been promised and one of the staff
came out to direct me. That was a real challenge. From the street I had to
make a hairpin turn between two dumpsters filled with construction rubble to
enter the elevator just barely wider than the car. Exiting the elevator, I
then had to turn about 270 degrees in order to back into the corner spot.
The guy from the hotel kept insisting that I not look around me, but focus
on him and he did give me excellent direction and got me into the spot.
Whew!

The hotel upstairs was beautiful, with a marbled lobby that reminded us both
of our boat on the Nile. Our room overlooked a patio at the back, that was
covered with a glass roof, but open to the air high up on the far side, over
the building next door. We were back to single beds, but they were
reasonably comfortable and we had a pleasant stay there.

After a nap, we headed out to explore Seville by night. It was relatively
warm and we enjoyed making our way through the labyrinth on foot. We walked
around the cathedral and the Alcazar and out to one of the boulevards of the
modern city, where we stopped in briefly at an internet cafe. We checked
out several of the restaurants recommended by our guidebooks and ended up at
the Casa Robles. I had a plate of ham and lamb cutlets that were tasty, but
served with a sauce that was too gluey for my taste. Jason started with
roasted peppers with cod fish (the famous "bacalao") followed by a delicious
dish called "Cazuela Tio Pepe," a mix of mushrooms, shrimp and ham baked in
a sherry sauce that was wonderful when soaked up with bread. The waiter
convinced us to try their dessert sampler, with small bites of about six
different variations on cheesecake and mousse-cake. Then we strolled back
to our hotel through the quiet alleyways to map out our plan for the next
day.

In the morning, after a quick breakfast in the hotel's buffet, we walked
over to the Casa Pilatos, a 16th-century merchant's "mudejar" style mansion
supposedly built according to the same plan as the home of Pilate in
Jerusalem. This is one of the second-tier attractions of Seville, but I
would rate it as a must-see. In style it is very much like what we saw at
the Nasrid Palace of the Alhambra and although smaller in scale, it is much
better preserved. The intricate plaster moldings on the upper walls
maintain the geometric patterns of the Moors, while leaving out or stylizing
the Koranic verses. The tiles covering the lower walls are more elborately
painted and somehow manage to mix patterns without creating a sense of
chaos. The main stairway is crowned with an intricately carved dome. The
whole thing is built around a lovely colonnaded patio, with gardens at the
back of the house brimming with exuberant bougainvillea. We didn't have
time to wait for the next tour of the upstairs rooms, but perusing a
souvenir guide we saw that the upper section was decorated in a more typical
Renaissance style and we weren't especially disappointed to miss that.

We hurried through the cobbled streets, dodging cars and scooters, to reach
the Alcazar just as it opened at 10:30am. We eschewed the audio guide and
made our own way through the Patio of Lions, Hall of Justice and Hall of
Ambassadors to the Mudejar Palace, built for Pedro the Cruel by Moorish
workmen in the mid-14th century. We vastly prefered this delicate
architecture and intricate decoration to the baroque stylings of the Palace
of Charles V next door. We did enjoy the lovely gardens, but did not spend
much time wandering there.

Our last stop was the cathedral--since it didn't open until 11:00--and this
was our favorite church in Spain, as well as being the largest. Somehow it
achieved a much more vital and welcoming atmosphere than the cathedrals of
Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo and Granada. One of the most intriguing sights is
a temporary one, the collar of steel rings surrounding two of the columns in
the nave that are currently under repair. But there were very interesting
elements of the permanent structure, as well, including the back of the
choir, which is made of different marbles pieced together. The overall
impression of that wall reminded us both of the pietra dura inlaid desks
made in Florence. One of the treasuries is an oval neo-classical
masterpiece, supposedly designed by Michelangelo for a project in Italy that
was never built. The cathedral also houses the tomb of Christopher
Columbus. One of its claims to fame is the largest "retablo" or altarpiece
in the world, depicting 45 scenes from the life of Christ carved in wood and
framed in gold. We did not climb the Giralda, the church's belltower that
was the minaret of the Great Mosque that previously occupied this site,
since Jason's knee was hurting and we were pressed for time.

Fortunately it was much easier getting out of the hotel's parking lot than
it had been to get in. We had hoped to leave Seville at noon, but given all
we'd accomplished we were happy to be driving out of the city by 12:30pm.
We made good time to Cordoba and there was good signage directing us to the
Hotel Alfaros, which had a much more easily navigable car park beneath it
than we'd encountered in Seville. We dropped off our bags, admired the
lovely courtyard and wished it were warm enough for the pool to be
inviting. Then we headed out into the old quarter of town, known as the
Juderia for the Jews who lived there until their expulsion from the country
in 1492. We found baguette sandwiches and patatas ali oli (potato salad
with garlic) at a cafe outside the walls of the Mezquita before heading into
what is probably my favorite place in all of Spain.

Cordoba was the capital of Roman Spain (under the name "Corduba") and
continued to be a major city under the Visigoths. They tore down the temple
of the Romans to build a church, which was torn down in its turn by the
Moors, who built the second largest mosque in the Islamic world using
columns taken from both Roman and Christian buildings. Begun in 780, the
mosque was expanded until its forest of columns numbered over 1200 by the
turn of the last millennium. After the reconquest of Cordoba, the mosque
was converted into a cathedral, by building chapels around the outer walls
and a nave into the center. Charles V is said to have remarked on seeing
the finished product "you have destroyed something unique to create
something commonplace," and more than one of our guidebooks labelled it an
abomination. While it would certainly be nice to see the mosque
unadulterated, it is probably its conversion that has allowed it to remain
standing at all, and if they had to do it, they did it well.

One enters the Mezquita from the Patio de Naranjos, still filled with orange
trees and fountains, where the Moors performed the ritual ablutions before
prayer. The cool, dark maze of columns, topped with double-tiered arches,
is a peaceful and meditative space. Wandering amid the columns, one
eventually notices the Christian chapels around the edges of the space,
filling in the arches that once opened onto the patio. At the back of the
mosque is the mihram, which amplified the imam's words and supposedly
indicated the direction of Mecca. This one is off-course, pointing too far
south, but its ceiling--carved from a single block of marble--and gold
mosaics are lovely. In the center of the building is the cathedral's choir
and high altar, which are fairly restrained as these things go. I had told
Jason how wonderful the Mezquita is and I was very pleased that he seemed to
appreciate it as much as I do. Leaving the mosque, I was struck by how the
columns inside echo the pattern of the orange trees in the courtyard,
another indication of the Moors' integration of nature with their
architecture. From outside, the intrusion of the church is more obvious
than from inside, with the dome rising up from the flat-roofed mosque and
the minaret sheathed in a Baroque shell to create the church's belltower.

We walked over to the Alcazar and stood in line there for a while. We were
surprised by how cheap the entry fee is (1.87 euros--you find a lot of odd
numbers these days, because they were required by law to convert from their
former currencies without changing the actual prices). Once we got inside,
we realized that although the gardens are very lovely, there is almost
nothing left of the palace built for Alfonso XI in the early 14th century.
What is left houses a collection of Roman mosaics and a sarcophagus
unearthed in the area. We admired the towers and descended to the fairly
shabby Arab-style baths before going on our way.

Our last stop was the Museo de Arqueologia, built around a lovely colonnaded
patio and displaying artifacts of the Moorish and Roman civilizations in
Cordoba. One of the interesting things about the city's history is the trio
of famous philosophers born there: Seneca of Rome; the Moorish physician,
Averroes; and the Jewish scholar, Maimonides. According to our guidebooks,
Cordoba was the most wealthy and brilliant city in Europe during the Dark
Ages and is only now beginning to recover from it's slump as a backwater
under the Christians with modern industrial and tourist development.

We passed the time between tourist sites closing and restaurants opening
with a lovely nap back at the hotel. Emerging into the evening, we
investigated a few dinner options before going with El Caballo Rojo. They
brought us complementary glasses of a sherry much nicer than Tio Pepe and a
little plate of fish goujons. My starter was a cold cream of vegetable soup
garnished with chunks of Iberian ham, while Jason had the gazpacho. He
adventurously tried one of the dishes in the "local specialties" section of
the menu, duck stewed with almonds, and although he wasn't thrilled with the
flavor of the first bite, the taste grew on him and he was glad to have
ordered it. I couldn't pass up my last chance for solomillo--served with
fried potatoes and a red pepper sauce--and it was almost as good as the
first one I'd had back in Bilbao. With it we enjoyed the house wine, which
was the best we'd had on our whole trip. Despite the temptations of the
dessert trolley, we skipped the sweets and headed back to the hotel for our
last night in Spain.

In the morning, having breakfasted at the hotel's buffet, we managed to be
in the car and on the highway by 10:00am, as we'd hoped. With only a couple
of pitstops, we made it to the Madrid airport to drop off our car right at
2:00pm. We checked in for our flight with a guy on his second day and went
through security to find sandwiches for lunch. I strolled around the duty
free area without finding anything I needed, while Jason had a very
productive hour on his laptop. We were on a bigger jet for our flight to
Heathrow and the seats were comfortable enough that I slept the whole way,
only waking up for a perfect view of Windsor Castle on our final approach.

We landed right on time and zipped right through Immigration, but then had
to wait about twenty minutes for our flight to be assigned a baggage
carousel. Once bags started to appear, however, our packs were in the first
ten. We headed down to the tube where we were surprised to find no train
waiting and we had another ten-minute wait before the last leg of our
journey. Once on board, Jason handed over the laptop and I typed up the
Bilbao portion of our trip for the third time, having given up on posting it
from Spain after losing the first two attempts.

We arrived back at the flat to find it still outrageously yellow and with
an entryway full of mail. We split up to check email and, due to my mistake
in turning off the forwarding to my web-accessible account, when Jason sent
the draft of the report from his laptop to mine, it got deleted. So I hope
you find the opening section very polished, as this is my fourth version of
it.

So now we're home and enjoying the prospect of being here for at least a
couple of weeks before heading out again. We're planning to see a movie
with a friend on Sunday and to attend the Queen Mum's lying-in-state on
Monday before they haul away the very old dear. Otherwise we have no plans
and that's a fine thing.
lillibet: (Default)
We're back in London and have gone through all the piles that accumulate in
our absence, so it's time for me to collect my thoughts and decipher my
notes on our two weeks in Spain. Despite a few problems, we had a great
trip, but as always, it's nice to be home again. A warning--I think this is
probably the longest report I have ever written, given that this is the
longest trip I have chronicled in a single message. [When I transferred it into LJ, they made me cut it in half.] I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to any questions or comments that you have.

Our trip began with a Thameslink train ride to Gatwick Airport. We hadn't
flown from there before, so it was interesting to figure out the best way to
get there and to find our way around. We checked in and went through
security. The guard on the other side of the metal detector asked if I
would mind submitting to a "random" search (it seemed fairly methodical to
me :) which was over quickly. We spent an hour in the duty free area,
waiting for our gate to be posted, during which time I bought too many books
and we admired the fountain in the shape of an asymmetrical cone that led
down to one of the gate wings.

The plane was a fairly small one, with wings over the body, instead of out
from the sides. Our seats were toward the back, where the plane tapers, and
were the most cramped, uncomfortable seats we've encountered. I love
Jason's elbows, but by the time we landed in Bilbao I was ready to whack off
the one that had been planted in my side throughout the flight for lack of
anywhere else to be.

We landed in the midst of one of the most glorious sunsets of our
experience, making for a lovely welcome to this new place. Neither of us
knew what to expect from Bilbao and really enjoyed it. It's a small city of
about 300,000 people, on the northern coast of Spain, where it juts out into
the Bay of Biscay. It's the capital of the Basque (Euskadi) region, so we
got to see many signs in Euskara. It looks very different from any other
language we know and sounds something like Russian in a Spanish accent, with
lots of 'dzh' sounds. The Euskara name for the city is "Bilbo," making us
feel like we were in Hobbiton.

Immigration was a quick process and we were able to pick up our bags almost
immediately. Following the EXIT signs, we were a bit startled to be spit
out directly from the baggage hall onto the sidewalk, but that made for a
short walk to the taxi stand. In the cab our driver explained--with the
help of a line of traffic as a visual aid--that it was rush hour and a
roundabout way would probably be quicker than the straight shot to our
hotel. We agreed to that plan and were pleasantly surprised when the scenic
route lived up to its name, offering us views of lush, rolling hills in the
full bloom of a spring twilight and then a lovely panorama of the city,
nestled into the bowl of the river valley and just lighting up for the
evening.

The Hotel Nervion, on the bank of the river of the same name, was one of the
best hotels we've stayed in during our travels. The decor was elegant, in a
simple modern style, and our room was lovely and comfortable although not
large. Our stay included a sumptuous breakfast buffet, all for only about
$70. We were tempted by their restaurant's set-menu of three courses for
under $15, prepared by their Michelin-starred chef, but decided that we
really should spend our one evening in Bilbao seeing a bit more of the town.

Leaving the hotel, we first walked over to the Guggenheim Museum, our real
destination here. It was about a ten minute walk from the hotel across the
river on a gleaming white suspension bridge for pedestrians. Approaching
the museum we discovered "Maman," a twenty-foot high bronze spider by Louise
Bourgeois. Standing in its menacing shadow, we nearly jumped out of our
skin when huge jets of flame erupted in the reflecting pool next to us.
Catching our breath, we admired how the fire created dancing reflections in
the glistening titanium skin of the museum.

Continuing on around the closed building, we came to the main entrance, with
the museum's mascot--a fifty-foot high puppy made of flowering
plants--gleaming fluorescently in the streetlight. Leaving the museum, we
wandered through the well-lit streets, seeking dinner. Eventually we
decided on the Etxeko Tavern, recommended by the local guidebook we'd picked
up at the hotel. It was a brightly lit bar, with a few tables for diners in
the back room. The bar area was crowded with locals eating tapas and
drinking Murphy's Irish Red beer, but we were the only people in the dining
room until another group sat down about halfway through our meal. We shared
a sampler of Iberian ham and salami and some giant white asparagus with
garlic mayonnaise. The latter was tasty, but got boring about halfway
through. Both of us were excited by the "solomillo" on the menu, so we
ordered two of them: thick fillets of beef marinated, grilled to a perfect
"rare" and served with grilled pimientos and fried potatoes. Entirely
sated, we were glad to have a post-prandial stroll back across the river to
the hotel.

My favorite thing on the breakfast buffet the next morning was the fresh
churros--sugared twists of deep-fried dough--but there was a huge variety of
fruits, yogurt, cold cuts, cheeses, cereals and pastries, as well as a
scrambled egg station. Fortified for a day of art, we headed back to the
Guggenheim. Frank Gehry designed the building, which manages somehow to fit
into and stand out from its surroundings at the same time. His work is the
star of the place, accounting not only for the building but also for a
retrospective exhibit of his architectural designs that occupies the entire
middle floor. On the ground floor there is a room of works by Joseph Beuys,
a piece by Jenny Holzer (cryptic messages on LED displays), and a room of
German post-WWII painting (where I confirmed my sense that I really like
Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke's work is erratically pleasing to me, and I'm
completely bored by Georg Baselitz). There's also an enormous gallery of
large-scale works dominated by Richard Serra's "Snake," three curved slabs
of rusted steel, perhaps fifteen feet high and thirty feet long, set far
enough apart for people to walk between them and play with the echoes.
Upstairs there are more pieces by Bourgeois, a conceptual art installation
in travertine and television by Fabrizio Plessi, and a couple of rooms of
smaller-scale paintings on the the theme of "The Modern City" by Delaunay,
Gleizes and Grosz accompanied by videos on the same theme. There was also a
small collection of works by Barcelona native Antoni Tapies and our real
discovery of the museum, Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida. His piece in
alabaster, "How Profound Is the Air" was Jason's favorite of those
exhibited.

After two hours there, we went on to the Bilbao Museum of Fine Arts and
explored their collection, split into three segments. Their permanent
collection of classic works is unremarkable, but interestingly included a
few modern pieces mixed in almost as commentary on the earlier works. The
contemporary art galleries left us fairly cold, except for a sound
installation of speakers down the hallway connecting the sections, entitled
"Where is House?" Our favorite gallery was the temporary exhibit of
photography on modern urban life that included some wonderful images from a
variety of photographers and cities.

Full of art, we needed food. The restaurant at the Guggenheim was
recommended, so we went back there for lunch. Their set-menu for about $8
per person offered chicken salad or cream of vegetable soup, stewed veal
cheeks in red wine sauce on a bed of artichoke hearts or courgettes stuffed
with hake on a bed of caramelized onions, and an eggy cake-like dessert with
lemon sorbet. We had one of each and were quite pleased.

We strolled back to the hotel, enjoying the almost-too-warm day, picked up
our bags and waited in their very comfortable lobby until it was time to
head back to the airport. The cab ride was much quicker in that direction
and the check-in window for our flight was not yet open when we arrived. We
sat around in the cavernous ticketing hall until we were allowed to check in
and then went down to sit around at the gate. We hadn't been assigned seats
together, but were able to switch with another passenger, and even though
the plane on this leg was smaller than the one from London, our seats were
much more comfortable. Bilbao gave us another glorious sunset as a send-off
and in an hour we were landing in Barcelona.

Another cab whisked us to the Hotel Urquinaona, next to the plaza of the
same name and about four blocks from Las Ramblas, the main drag of touristic
Barcelona. The hotel was more typical of European urban hotels--slightly
bare bones--but we actually got a double bed in this one and had a tiny
balcony overlooking the street with sufficiently glazed glass to keep out
almost all the traffic noise. Best of all, they had a computer in their
lounge with free internet access, so we were able to check our email.

Having dropped off our bags, we headed out to stroll Las Ramblas. It's a
long boulevard with a sidewalk in the middle of the lanes filled with cafe
seating, street musicians, flower stalls and souvenir stands. We
investigated two of the restaurants our guidebook recommended, but one was
gone and the other was full, so we fell back on a quaint-looking little
place that smelled good. We shared some Iberian ham and had garlic soup and
a mixed salad for starters. I chose the roasted lamb and after he found out
that there was no rabbit left, Jason took the waitress' recommendation of
the "cochinillo," or roasted leg of suckling pig. The meats were tender,
without being too greasy, and we were very satisfied with our find. It was
a balmy evening and we enjoyed the short stroll back to the hotel.

In the morning we grabbed a bite from the fairly meagre breakfast buffet and
headed out to see the city by daylight. We started down Las Ramblas again
and joined the line for the Palau Guell (pronouned almost like "way"),
Antoni Gaudi's first major architectural project. We had a guided tour in
English and Catalan (the native language of the area, a separate Romance
language similar to both Spanish and French) of the building built as an
annex to the main Guell palace fronting on Las Ramblas, around the corner,
and used mainly for socializing. There were many interesting rooms and
decorative bits, but the really intriguing section of the house was the
roof, where the family never went and Gaudi felt free to run riot and
develop his broken-tile mosaic or "trencadis" style in decorating the twenty
chimney-tops.

From the Palau Guell we walked through the streets of the old town or "Barri
Gotic" to the cathedral. The most remarkable feature there was the fairly
plain cloister, surrounded by chapels--several of which had been closed up
for use as offices--but with trees and fountains in its center serving as a
refuge for a variety of geese and other birds. It was a cool, peaceful
place. Outside the walls there were street musicians tucked into almost
every corner, including one of the worst pairings we've encountered:
hammered dulcimer and accordion. They did give a fun rendition of "The
Barber of Seville," but other numbers were less inspiring.

We checked out the Museum of the History of the City, but decided that too
little time remained to see it before it closed for lunch. A restaurant on
our path had caught my eye with the promise of raw oysters, so we ducked
back there for a lunch of tapas, including some tasty oysters as well as
some Iberian ham, salmon blinis and pintxos (little bites) of toast with
some more ham and delicious pickled herring.

Back at our hotel, we had time for a brief lie-down before Sonja and John
arrived. They are friends from Maryland who visited us in London last
year. We had so much fun during that trip that we decided we should try
travelling together and they agreed to join us for their spring break from
the university where they both work. They'd had a long trip from DC via
Newark and Paris, but were ready to get started on tourism, so we walked
back to the Museum of the History of the City and started there.

There are a few relics of the pre-Roman Iberian settlement of the area, but
most of the museum focuses on the ruins of the Roman town that have been
excavated beneath the museum--including a winery and a fish-paste processing
plant, and some of the ecclesiastical buildings of the medieval period,
pre-dating the current cathedral. Besides that there was a special exhibit
on the geometrical aspects of Gaudi's architecture.

Leaving there, we made a brief stop at the cathedral and then split up, with
Sonja & John heading back to the hotel to rest while Jason and I hit the
Museu Picasso. Their collection is not large, and mainly focuses on the
artist's very early works, but it also includes most of his obsessive series
of paintings interpreting "Las Menininas" by Velasquez, and makes an
interesting complement to the larger collection of the Musee Picasso in
Paris, which we visited in January.

We met the others back at the hotel and decided to find dinner in that area,
rather than venturing further afield on their first evening. We ended up a
couple of blocks away at the Antic Olympic. We shared plates of Iberian
ham and I had a salad of tomatoes and anchovies, while Jason had their
grilled mushrooms in garlic butter. John's main dish was a mixed grill,
while the rest of us had individual paellas. It was getting pretty hot, but
we decided to stay for dessert, and I had a refreshing dish of sorbets,
while John and Jason had creme brulees and Sonja tried the lemon mousse
cake. By that point the crowd (and the smoke and the heat) had increased,
while the service-level had decreased, so we were happy to escape to the
cooler street and get back to our hotel.

On Sunday morning we figured out the metro system and made our way up to the
Monastery/Museum of Pedralbes. It is a still-functioning convent of Poor
St. Claires, but their cloister and some of the areas of the convent are
open to the public, including the refectory, kitchen, and cistern. The
former infirmary houses an exhibit of information on the founding of the
convent by Queen Elisenda of Montcada in 1326 and the evolution of the place
since that time. There's also an exhibit of what Jason described as "the
most artistic set of dioramas I've ever seen," depicting various key moments
in the life of Christ. In the former dormitory, for a separate entry fee,
there are 90 works from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, the rest of which
is in Madrid. This smaller selection focuses on Italian works of the
13th-17th centuries and a few European baroque works. We left the convent
just as mass was getting out at the attached church and got to see everyone
waving the giant bundles of palm fronds, many elaborately woven into shaped
arrangements, that mark Palm Sunday there.

Hopping back on the tube, we went down toward the harbor and caught the
funicular up to the top of Montjuic, the hill on the south side of Barcelona
that provides the setting for various museums and attractions, as well as
the main Olympic stadium and pools from the 1992 Summer Games. Our first
stop was the Fundacio Miro, which houses many works by native son Joan Miro,
as well as works by other artists inspired by him and temporary
exhibitions. I had hoped that seeing enough of his art would increase my
appreciation of it, but while some of the pieces were interesting and there
are definitely periods of his work I enjoy more than others, I still liked
the few Calder pieces better than the Miro works. They kicked us out when
they closed for the afternoon, by which time we were all starving.

We made our way around and down the hill to the Poble Espaynol. Created for
the World's Fair in 1929, Poble Espaynol is an assemblage of buildings
representing the traditional architectural styles of the various regions of
Spain. It's not terribly exciting, but they do have restaurants and many
interesting shops to browse through. We had a wide variety of tapas for
lunch and then wandered through the whole place. The most interesting
structure was the Catalonian church, which was assembled using a bell tower,
front entry, cloister and nave all from different churches in the area to
create a surprisingly unified whole.

Making our way back up the slope via the extremely welcome escalators set
into the hillside, we walked by the Olympic complex and around to the
teleferic station. As we swooped across the harbor in the little gondola,
we were treated to a sunset view of the city, including the famous statue of
Christopher Columbus, inexplicably pointing at Libya. We walked along the
beach, admiring the waves of the western Mediterranean, for as long as we
could stand the wind. Then we headed around the marina to the aquarium. We
considered an IMAX film, rejected the opportunity to spend $10 each for an
hour in the aquarium, and decided to go back to the hotel instead.

After a short rest, we went down to a restaurant that was recommended by one
of our guidebooks. Housed amid the columns of the former Natural History
Museum, Taxidermista seemed like a great find. We shared a plate of Iberian
ham (are you sensing a trend yet?), Jason started with veggie empanadas,
while I had the fish soup, which Sonja also chose. I can't remember John's
starter, but I think he had roast pork as a main, while Sonja had duck and
Jason and I both went with the poularde, a small chicken breast stuffed with
spinach and served with crispy leeks. Jason and Sonja split what they said
was a fabulous tarte tatin, while John had something chocolately and I tried
the excellent lemon ginger sorbet. As we walked back to the hotel, we all
remarked on what an outstanding meal it had been, especially for such a
reasonable price--about $20 per person, including wine.

That evaluation was somewhat revised when both Jason and I woke up around
5am with our bodies clamoring to get whatever we had mistakenly ingested
OUT. Out, out, out. Out. It was nasty, but after about five hours, we
started to think we might actually have cleared our systems. John and Sonja
were both fine and very patient with us as we figured out what to do. We
were scheduled to check out that day by noon, but I talked to the clerk and
while they needed our room, they had another room they couldn't rent because
the lock was broken, but they were happy to let me spend the day sleeping
there, for no extra charge. So I stayed in and caught up on my sleep while
Jason soldiered on, going with Sonja & John to visit Gaudi's Park Guell and
unfinished masterpiece, the church of La Sagrada Familia, and to stroll
through the Eixample to see various other Modernist buildings designed by
Gaudi and his contemporaries.

Jason came back and took a short nap with me while Sonja went to the post
office and John listened to music on his new Ipod. We reassembled to walk
down to the Palau de la Musica Catala for the six o'clock tour for which we
had bought tickets on Saturday. Designed by Lluis Domenech y Montaner and
completed in 1908, the palau is the home of the Orfeo Catala, a choral
society founded during the choral music craze of the late 19th century and
surviving into the present day. It is a stunning building and the main
hall, with its gorgeous stained glass ceiling, is breathtaking. Definitely
worth getting out of bed to see it!

After the tour, we picked up sandwiches at a Pans & Company shop--well,
Sonja & John had sandwiches, Jason ate about half of his and I just ate the
bread. Then we picked up our bags and took the metro to the train station,
where we spent an hour or so waiting to board our train to Madrid. Our
sleeping cabins were compact and overheated, but we made do. Sonja and
Jason both reported sleeping soundly, while John's description of his night
as "an endless series of catnaps" summed up my experience perfectly. But by
the time we arrived, I felt so much better than I had the previous morning
that I was raring to go.

We hadn't had anything on the train, so after we put our bags in a locker,
we stopped by the cafe in the station. I ordered sandwiches and drinks for
Jason and me and we sat down at a table. After five minutes or so, I looked
around to see what was keeping the others. Apparently, Sonja had become
invisible. She had been standing at the counter the whole time, trying to
catch the attention of the counterman without success. I stepped forward,
caught the guy's eye and he immediately asked what he could get me. Weird.

Our first stop in Madrid had to be the Prado. We got there just before ten,
while the lines weren't too bad. We wandered through rooms and rooms of
Velasquez and Rubens and Goya and discovered Ribera and Muro and Murillo to
go with them. With a short break for lunch in the basement cafeteria, we
covered the whole place in five hours, developing a nodding acquaintance
with the 18th and 19th century Spanish monarchs along the way. Escaping the
galleries at last, we took refuge in the Botanical Gardens next door for a
pleasant hour strolling along the shady walks. Sonja & John were
experiencing artburn and ready for a rest, but I had some stamina left and
Jason was willing to take on the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection with me.

The Thyssen-Bornemisza is one of the best museums I've visited in the
world. The works span the last eight centuries, well-grouped and displayed
for easy viewing, chronicling all the major movements of Western European
art. We were pushed to see it in two hours, but we made it through with
time to spare for the gift shop before the museum closed.

From there it was a short walk up to the Hostal Playa, near the Plaza del
Sol. The hotel was another step down from the Urquinaona, but at 45 euros
per night, close to the metro, it was just fine. Our room actually had
three beds in it--one full-size and two singles--and felt fairly cavernous.
I'm sure the tile floors are nice in the heat of summer, but cold and
unwelcoming the rest of the time. The biggest flaw was not discovered until
the next morning, when I got what was apparently the last hot shower of the
day. But it was clean and convenient and well worth what we were paying.

Sonja & John had already checked in and Jason went off with his laptop to
download Sonja's pictures from her digital camera and compare notes on their
shots while I took a short nap. Then we headed back out to the train
station to collect our bags. Arriving back at the hotel, I sent Jason
upstairs with my bag while I went around the corner to a little grocery
Sonja & John had found, to stock up on drinks and snacks. On my way back I
noticed a restaurant on the corner that looked nice and when we'd reunited,
the others agreed we should try "The Museum of Wine."

Their wine was okay. I enjoyed their chicken noodle soup and solomillo,
while Jason was less happy with the sopa castellano (tomatoey garlic soup
with bread and egg in it) and grilled lamb chops. John also had the lamb
chops, while Sonja had scrambled eggs with mushrooms to start and a
disappointing salmon steak as her main.

On Wednesday we split up for the morning. Sonja wanted to spend more time
at the Prado, to have a chance to commune with the art without the pressure
of a group's momentum (or, I dare say, my disparaging comments about
Rubens). The rest of us tried to visit the Convent of the Royal Barefoot
Nuns, but it was closed for Holy Week. We wandered through the Plaza Mayor
and then tried another monastery--also closed. The cathedral next to the
Royal Palace was open, so we went in there. It was started in the 19th
century and finished in 1993, so there is an interesting mix of fairly
modern styles. I particularly enjoyed the geometric patterns on the
ceilings and was somewhat astonished by the statue of God in the Chapel of
the Holy Trinity.

We wandered around the back, heading down the hill into the gardens, but
when the first gate was closed, we decided not to risk finding ourselves at
the bottom of the steep hill in front of another closed gate. John decided
to sit for a while in front of the Royal Palace, while Jason and I went on
into the complex to visit the free exhibit of works painted by Luca Giordano
during his ten years in Spain around the turn of the 18th century. He was a
disciple of Ribera, a Caravaggisti painter of shadowed saints, but picked up
enough of the Bernini-style exuberance to make his later works excessively
florid. If you've never heard of him before, now I know why.

Re-emerging from the palace, we found John and Sonja met us a few minutes
later, as we waited on line for tickets to the main parts of the palace.
This is one of the most opulent palaces I've seen, with lots of ornately
decorated rooms, including a small one decorated with porcelain from the
Royal Factory in Granja. The dining room is absolutely cavernous. One of
the most interesting sections was the music rooms, which house several small
pianos and intricately inlaid guitars, as well as a complete string quartet
by Stradivarius, which musicians performing for the Spanish Royal Family may
play. The palace has not been used as royal residence since 1931 and the
current royals live in much more modest accommodations north of the city.

The complex also includes an armory with a relatively interesting collection
of armor and weapons, but I was tired by that point and let the others take
their time inside while I found a shady spot in the courtyard to sit. The
others agreed that sitting seemed like a good idea, so we went out to the
Plaza Oriente, in front of the palace, and had a protracted lunch under the
awnings of the Cafe Oriente. It had been quite warm throughout the morning,
but was cooling off quickly and by the time we had finished our pizzas, we
were ready to be walking again.

We hopped on the metro and went back down to the museum area to visit the
Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. This modern art museum in a former hospital is
vast and cavernous. Its most famous piece is Picasso's "Guernica," which I
appreciated the opportunity to see in person. I'm coming to the conclusion
that painterly technique is one of the most important aspects of painting
for me and while this is certainly an important work, with a strong concept
that makes a deep impression, I find its execution cold and perfunctory in a
way that weakens its effect. The permanent collection is enormous and there
is a wide variety of art to see there. We enjoyed more of Chillida's work,
especially "The Table of Omar Khayyam." One of the best parts for us was
the gallery exhibiting early works of Salvador Dali, mainly before his
Surrealist period.

John & Sonja headed back to the hotel after we'd done the permanent
collection, but Jason persuaded me to stay for a quick pass through the
temporary exhibits, which included a display of Cubist sculpture, works by
a Japanese-born photographer living in Wisconsin, and a series of works done
by Warhol-Basquiat-Clemente that stretch my boundaries of the word
"collaboration." Having seen it all, we headed back to the hotel. Dinner
nearby was proposed, so we set out walking and quickly settled on a place
advertising crepes and paellas. I had a small bowl of fish soup, while
Sonja got ham croquettes and John had brie with berry sauce to start. Then
the four of us split a paella, since they would only do them for whole
tables. Sadly, it was an inferior specimen and none of us ate very much of
it. Dessert was a better story, offering apple crepes with berry sauce that
were quite tasty. Best of all, we were only two blocks from our beds.

We had agreed to be up and out early on Thursday, but Jason and I failed to
wake up on time. He ran through the shower while I threw our stuff together
and we were out the door about twenty minutes after the others knocked. We
went down to the Atocha train station, much closer than the one where our
train arrived, and picked up our rental car, a silver Peugeot sedan. The
cold that had been threatening Sonja the day before had really arrived and
she was fairly low energy, which a grey, blustery day did not help.

We made it down to Toledo just after ten. The old, walled section of town
is perched up on a hill and we were very pleased to be able to park down
below and take escalators up to the streets. Our first stop was the
cathedral, the center of Spanish Catholicism. Particularly notable features
were the intensely baroque froth on the back of the high altar, the
overwhelmingly gold altarpiece, and the exquisite carvings in the choir.
The treasury's biggest claim to fame was an autograph of Pope John Paul II
from his last visit. There was a fairly impressive collection of paintings
in the sacristy, most of which were in need of cleaning and restoration. In
general, the cathedral really failed to feel like a sacred space and Jason
named it the most depressing cathedral he's ever visited.

On leaving there my biggest priority was to find a toilet. Fortunately, the
Damasceno (a local tradition of gold inlaid metalwork) shop we stopped into
had just such a service, making me very happy and willing to spend money
there. Walking on, we found one of the two synagogues left in Spain--closed
for renovation. We paused to overlook the Tagus River valley (the same
river that Lisbon is on) and then wandered over to the other synagogue, now
a church. The mudejar (Moorish-style, by non-Moors) style sections that
were the synagogue are lovely, with serene white columns and beautiful
carved sections that make the baroque altar and side chapels along the
eastern wall seem like tacky intruders by comparison.

We continued on to the Convento de los Reyes, founded by The Catholic
Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. It was closed for lunch. I bought some
tiles in a nearby shop and when I emerged, Sonja had decided that she was
done and would go back to the car to read and rest. John, Jason and I found
a reasonable place for lunch and got--respectively--rabbit stew, beef stew
and sliced veal. The boys wanted flan, so I went ahead and ordered the
marzipan cake. Marzipan is a local specialty and this was a yummy
application of it.

By the time we'd finished lunch, the convent was open and we walked
through. The coffered wooden ceiling in the cloister was beautiful and some
of the many gargoyles were inventive and even whimsical. My favorite was in
the shape of an acrobat, with his feet extended over his head to form the
spout. The chapel was fairly plain, but included the tomb of monks martyred
during the Civil War, and on the outside it was hung with chains supposedly
removed from prisoners freed from the Moors when the Christians took
Toledo.

We stopped back by the car to check on Sonja and use the WC there and John
decided to stay with her while Jason and I went back for one more go. We
had thought to visit the Museum of Santa Cruz, but it was closed. We then
spent a fairly long time trying to find the Cristo de la Luz mosque, the
oldest Moorish relic in Toledo, built in 1000 CE. We finally found it, but
couldn't see much through the white tarp engulfing it during renovation. We
took this as a sign that it was time to go and headed back to the car out
the Puerta de Bisagra and along the city walls.

Despite the grey day, it had been dry in Toledo, but as we descended into
the plains, we found the rain. It was only another hour or so to our hotel,
the Tryp Hidalgo. A roadside motel of fairly shabby exterior appearance, it
had surprisingly comfortable rooms. The dining room looked fairly
promising, but didn't open for another hour and I'd found a recommendation
for a restaurant in a town a few miles away, so we decided to see if we
could find it. La Solana was a fairly small town, out in the middle of
nowhere, but in its main square we found our first Semana Santa (Holy Week)
procession, which was fascinating.

Essentially, the processions consist of a series of floats, carried by
people underneath, and consisting of the central figure, surrounded by
flowers and ornate candelabra. While I gather there can be more floats, all
the parades we saw had four, communicating the Easter story, Spanish style:
Jesus was tied to a column and whipped, then he had to carry the cross, then
he was crucified, so Mary gets to be Queen of Heaven. In between the floats
march bands, churchmen with censors or crosses, "Black Marias" (women all in
black with mantillas and rosaries) and crowds of people called "penitents"
dressed in white robes and pointy hoods in different colors (black, red,
green and purple) carrying lamps or candles. The KKK-similarity made the
penitents kind of creepy to me, although our guidebook says that the
tradition goes back at least as far as victims of the Inquisition. The
whole thing moves very slowly. It was all very interesting to watch and we
were glad to have the opportunity to see the processions.

After the parade was over--having failed to find the restaurant on the first
pass and realizing that with the crowds out, it probably wasn't the best
night to be trying to eat out in La Solana--we headed back to the motel. As
we walked in, the clerk gave me the message that steve had called from
Boston and would try again later. We had a very nice dinner, with excellent
service. They started us off with an amuse bouche in the form of a small
cup of chicken consomme. I enjoyed that so much that I continued with a
bowl of chicken noodle soup with bits of ham in it and then went on to
rabbit fried with garlic. It was a bit of a pain to get off the small
bones, but very tasty. Jason started with roasted red peppers filled with
salmon paste, followed by a tangy duck a l'orange. John had a
simple-but-delicious spaghetti bolognese with roasted pork as his main.
Sonja went with scrambled eggs again, followed by meatballs. Just as we
were finishing, the clerk came to tell me that steve was on the line, so I
went back to the room to return his call. I had planned to use my calling
card, but was thwarted by the rotary dial phone, so we didn't talk for long,
but it was good to touch base and hear about the trial that Tom had juried
over the last few weeks--turned out it was a first-degree murder trial.
When we got off the line, the others still weren't back from dinner, so I
decided to take advantage of the deep tub and have a nice bubble bath.

In the morning, John came by to explain that Sonja's illness had either
taken a turn toward stomach flu or else she'd been struck by bad food, as
well. So the three of us were alone at the breakfast buffet. We made a
leisurely morning of it and then headed straight for the flat we'd reserved
in Granada. We had a small glitch, when the car park we'd been told to use
was full, but I dropped off the others with the bags and then Jason came
with me to find another car park--we had to get about a twenty-minute walk
away before finding an open one. We had a nice stroll back along the Gran
Via, stopped by the flat to get John, and then the three of us headed out
while Sonja slept.

We got grilled ham & cheese sandwiches at a place on the corner of our
street and went over to visit the cathedral. It was quite different from
others we'd seen, not built on the cross pattern and very white and light
inside. The central piers had huge, ornate pipe organs facing each other
with trumpets that must be deafening at full volume. The Royal Chapel was
closed, so we walked along the Darro River, in the groove between the hills
of the Alhambra and the Albaicin, and then up into the Albaicin to the
Mirador (Lookout) San Nicolas, with its stunning views of the Alhambra.
From there we wandered downhill, passing by the route of another Semana
Santa procession, and back to the flat for a nap.

The flat was fine, inexpensive (150 euros for two nights), and very
conveniently located. It included two bedrooms, a living room, a galley
kitchen with a washing machine (there was a line just out the window in the
air shaft), and a bathroom. The inner bedroom, where John & Sonja were, was
apparently reasonably quiet, despite the music pumping up from the bar
downstairs, which we also think provided the smoky smell coming up through
the pipes. The only real problem was with our bedroom, which looked out
over the street and, more specifically, the glass-recycling bin. About
every twenty minutes, someone would come out from the bar with a load of
bottles and dump them into the bin. CRASH! Around 5am on the first night,
a guy came out with a shovel and proceeded to SMASH down the contents of the
bin so as to fit in more glass. That went on for at least an hour--SMASH!
CRASH! SMASH! CRASH!--until the truck came along, already half filled with
bottles, RATTLE! RATTLE!, to pick up the bin with a small crane, GROAN!
RATTLE! CREAK! CRUNCH! GROAN!, and dump it, CRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASH!,
into the truckbed with the rest. The website for the flat had mentioned
that this was a busy neighborhood and we should expect some street noise and
no refunds would be provided for noise complaints. So I don't expect any
compensation, but I'm definitely going to let them know that in no way could
this be described as anything but a very noisy apartment.

After our break, the three of us went out to find some dinner. Our guidebook
recommended a place called the Via Colon, very near our apartment. We
shared some Iberian ham and salami and Jason had the cream of vegetable
soup, while John had the onion soup (I think) and I tried their version of
fish soup. I didn't like it, so after a few bites I had the waiter take it
away. Our main courses were very simple grilled meats--John and I split the
mixed grill for two and Jason had the pork tips, but we pretty much shared
it all and it was very tasty. We skipped dessert in favor of heading out to
see why a crowd was gathering and ended up watching yet another Semana Santa
procession. At this one we were particularly struck by the way the crowd
would applaud as each float came out of the cathedral. After the Queen of
Heaven float passed us, we got ahead of the procession and crossed back to
our side of the Gran Via to get back to our flat on a little side street.

We were out very early on Saturday morning, since our tickets to the
Alhambra were for 8:30am. I left the flat a few minutes ahead of the others
and picked up pastries at the corner for breakfast. Sonja seemed to be
feeling much better, but still not quite ready for food that early in the
day. It was so great to have her back with us and feeling somewhat better
and it made me realize how much I had missed her presence and conversation
over the previous two days.

In the plaza a couple of blocks away we caught a bus up to the Alhambra,
very glad not to be climbing that hill on our own. We joined the short line
for reserved tickets, claimed ours and went on into the palace complex.

Briefly, the Visigoths came down out of northern Europe in the 4th century
BC, during the breakup of the Roman Empire, and made Toledo the capital of
their domain. In 711, the Moors crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, as part of
their expansion from the Middle East across northern Africa. By 732 they
had occupied all of the Iberian peninsula except for Asturias, in the
northwest, and gotten across the Pyrrenees as far as Tours, where they were
defeated by the Franks under Charles Martel, and retreated back to the
peninsula. After a couple of hundred years at least nominally under the
authority of the Caliphate of Baghdad, a separate caliphate was established
with its headquarters in Cordoba. That was taken by the Christians in 1236,
along with most of the rest of Spain and Portugal, until only the kingdom of
Granada remained. It was after the fall of Cordoba that the Alhambra ("The
Red Palace") was built in Granada--although the hill had been fortified
since the time of the Romans--and it held against the Christians until
Boabdil's defeat in January of 1492 by the armies of Ferdinand and Isabel.

The palace complex consists of a number of different buildings, built over
the course of four or five centuries, now in various states of repair. We
approached past the ruins of the Tower of Seven Floors, exploded by the
troops of Napoleon when they abandoned the Alhambra in the 19th century.
The troops did a great deal of damage throughout the complex during their
occupation. We then walked into the colonnaded, round courtyard of the
palace constructed in the middle of the complex under the reign of Charles
V. He was the grandson of Ferdinand & Isabella and Holy Roman Emperor,
where he got his V, since he confusingly predated Charles II-IV of Spain.
We went on to explore the remains of the Alcazaba, the original Moorish
fortress, and to climb the Torre de la Vela (Tower of the Sail) with its
rooftop view of Granada.

We had a few minutes before our timed entry into the Nasrid Palace (named
for the dynasty which ruled Granada), so Jason and I ducked into the small
Museum of Archeology housed in a section of the Palace of Charles V. There
were a few interesting pieces there, including a gorgeous fluted alabaster
fountain, but we were able to move through pretty quickly.

Finally, it was time to enter the Nasrid Palace. I remember being very
impressed with it during my last visit to Spain in 1986 and I think I
appreciate it even more now, having a much greater understanding of the
history and architecture. The graceful arches and columns, the trickling
fountains and serene pools, the intricate moldings of geometrical shapes and
Arabic praises with traces of their original vibrant colors still clinging
to the plaster, the brilliant tiles so cleverly arranged in complex
patterns, the integration of nature and artifice throughout the palace, and
the panoramas of the surrounding mountains and the valley below--all of
these elements combine to make the Alhambra more than live up to its
reputation of beauty. One of the things that strikes me about the various
remnants of the Moorish domination of Spain is the sense of peace and
tranquility that pervades them, even when filled with the bustle and chatter
of tour groups.

Leaving the palace, we wandered for a time in the Generalife gardens. The
Palace of Generalife, higher up on the slope, where the rulers passed their
summers, is currently closed for renovation. Finally, after noon, we left
the complex, passing by the long lines of people hoping to buy tickets for
the afternoon. We swung around the outer walls and down to the Darro.
Jason wanted to visit the Museo de Arqueologia there, but the rest of us
were eager for a break, so we went on. Our eye was caught by a shop along
the way, so we stopped in and got a few souvenirs, including a gorgeous
platter for Sonja & John. By the time we got back to the flat, Jason had
beaten us there, even though he'd also made a quick stop at the Arabian
Baths.

We picked up sandwiches at the corner shop and it was then I realized that I
had lost my glasses on the way down from the Alhambra. I went back to the
shop where we'd stopped, on the off chance that they'd fallen out of my
pocket there, but no luck. Fortuitously, Sonja travels with a spare set of
glasses (my spare pair are my sunglasses) and her prescription matches mine
very closely, so I was able to use her spares for the rest of the trip.

After a rest, we walked over to the Royal Chapel, at the back of the main
cathedral and predating it by about a century. It's not a terribly
impressive place, but includes the tombs of Ferdinand & Isabella; their
daughter, Juana the Mad; her husband, Phillip the Fair, a Hapsburg; and
their eldest son, who died young. Interestingly, their bodies are not
inside the elaborate tombs of Carrara marble topped with their effigies, but
rather in fairly plain caskets visible in the crypt below. Isabella's
personal collection of early Renaissance religious painting is on display in
the sacristy.

Sonja headed back to the flat to rest, while I went with John and Jason to
find the Convent of St. Jerome. On our way, we noticed people going into a
building with an attractive courtyard, so we followed them into a lovely--if
somewhat run-down--patio surrounded by columns, with a fountain in the
center framed by orange trees, and frescoes on the theme of healing
throughout the ages covering the walls. We were in a hospital, with signs
pointing to the various departments. It was very surreal. Jason wondered
if the patients get to eat the oranges.

We did find the convent, which included one of the more interesting churches
we saw in Spain. The back of the nave is very low-ceilinged and then opens
up toward the center, creating a spectacular effect and highlighting the
four-story gold altarpiece. Unlike most of the religious sites we visited,
this one was covered with frescoes of saints, angels, and historical
figures. A stroll around the main cloister and a look into the refectory
completed our tour and we headed back to change for dinner.

The four of us hopped in a cab and zipped out to the lot where we'd parked
the car. We first tried to visit the Carthusian monastery on the north side
of the city, which our guidebooks indicated would be open until 8pm. Sadly,
we were deceived and it had just closed as we arrived at six. The gift shop
was still open and I found a copy of Washington Irving's _Tales from the
Alhambra_ complete with some lovely photographs of the complex. Earlier in
the day we had seen the room in the palace where he stayed during his time
in Granada.

With several hours before our dinner reservation and not wanting to deal
with redepositing the car, we decided to drive up into the Sierra Nevada.
We followed the road south and east from Granada that eventually led us up
to a ski resort. It was strange to go from a warm day up into snow, but the
mountains were lovely and we got a nice view of the sunset from up there.
Descending back into the valley, we got gas and made it to the restaurant
only a few minutes early.

La Ruta de Veleta, in Cenes de la Vega, just barely outside of Granada, had
been recommended by a couple of our guidebooks as just the best restaurant
in the area. We enjoyed our meal, but it wasn't spectacularly better than
other meals we had along the way. John and Sonja both started with onion
soup, while Jason had the baked goat cheese with honey and I tried a
delicious "cazuela," a loose casserole of spinach, mushrooms and golden
thistle, with a fried egg in it. Our main dishes were solomillo for John,
wild boar for Sonja, partridge stuffed with onions for Jason and cochinillo
for me, which I didn't think was as good as the one we'd had in Barcelona.
for dessert I think John had the tiramisu, while Sonja and Jason & I had
crispy apple slices served with ice cream and a mixture of creme anglaise
and berry sauce that was very nice.

Tired from our long day, we headed back into Granada, dropped John & Sonja
off, took the car back out to La Caleta (the two closer lots being full
again), hopped a cab back to the flat, and packed up before bed. The bar was
still emitting music and smoke and there was the occasional CRASH! of glass,
but apparently the truck doesn't pick up on Sundays and rather than smashing
down the glass in the bin, they simply placed supernumerary bags of bottles
alongside. Between the decrease in noise and the increase in exhaustion, I
slept much more solidly than I had the night before.

In the morning, I walked out to La Caleta to fetch the car--it was a lovely
morning and I enjoyed some time alone on the quiet streets--and picked the
others up with luggage. After a quick stop at the post box and ATM
conveniently located at the end of the block, we were on our way to Malaga.
We had aimed to arrive at the airport by 10:30am so Sonja & John could
easily catch their 12:15pm flight to Paris, continuing on to Newark and then
taking the train home to DC. As we walked from the parking area toward the
terminal, Sonja noticed the big clock on the wall saying that it was 11:30
and it was only then that I remembered that Daylight Savings Time was
kicking in and all of Europe had sprung forward that morning. With a
mounting sense of panic we ran into the ticketing hall, but they were able
to check in quickly and head toward the gate with half an hour until their
departure. Not the leisurely farewell we'd hoped for, but it worked out in
the end.
lillibet: (Default)
We had an easy trip to Greece. On our way out, we tried Luton Airport and
EasyJet Airline for the first time. It took about as long to get there
from our place as to Heathrow and while there are more transportation
changes (tube to Thameslink train to shuttle bus), the airport itself is so
much smaller and less complex. EasyJet only does e-tickets and hands out
plastic numbered boarding passes--like Southwest does--with no seat
assignments. We managed to get seats in the third row on the flight to
Athens, which was rather nice. The cabin crew chief on our outbound
journey was very silly and fun, joking that "in case of emergency oxygen
will be provided, free of charge, unlike everything else" and announcing
that "the cabin lights will be dimmed for landing--everyone please keep
your hands to yourselves." In some ways it felt more like the local bus
than an airplane flight. On the way back it was informal, but without the
jokes. EasyJet keeps their costs down by providing no free food or
beverages (except water), so the flights are pretty calm without the
interruptions of mass cabin service.

On arrival at the very modern, clean and spacious Athens International
airport, we were met by Juliette, our transfer agent, and taken by cab to
the Titania Hotel on Panepistimou (University) street. She checked us into
the hotel, confirmed the times at which we would be picked up for our
various tours, promised to call us every day to be sure all was well--then
she left and we didn't hear from her again until our final day.

We were too exhausted to brave a new city in search of food, so we just
went up to the Olive Garden restaurant on the roof of the hotel. Not part
of the American chain, this was a fairly high-class, lovely place with a
gorgeous view of the Parthenon. After eating in many Greek restaurants
with murals of the Acropolis on the walls, it's startling to look up and
realize that's the real thing you're seeing. I had some chicken broth with
querelles ("dollops") of white bean paste that was slightly bland, while
Jason really enjoyed his spinach salad with katiki, a soft Macedonian
cheese. That was followed by chicken stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, goats cheese,
pancetta and asparagus. I had grilled lamb cutlets in a wine sauce that
was good enough, but slightly too sweet.

Sadly, I seem to have developed a problem with flying that results in very
bad headaches within 24 hours of landing. In some ways, it was fortunate
that it hit quickly, so that I could get it out of the way and move on to
better things. I'm trying different combinations of
decongestants/antihistamines on each flight, working to stay hydrated and
the like (suggestions welcome). But that was a bad night and we were to be
picked up at 7:15am. Luckily--on that day--the first hour of every tour
involves a circuit of Athenian hotels, so I was able to catch a bit more
sleep before things really got started.

Our bus was filled with a variety of different folk, from different
companies, divided each night of the trip between two hotels, depending on
which agency had booked their travel. There was an Austrian couple, of
which the woman had apparently gotten some bad fish the night before and had
to call for emergency stops three times in the first couple of hours. They
were staying in our hotels, so we shared most of our meals with them and a
couple from Minnesota travelling with their son who is spending the term
studying on Crete. There was a very pleasant couple from Dallas, who were
planning to go to Cairo for the weekend, so we enjoyed sharing our stories
of Egypt with them. There was a French couple, celebrating their 20th
anniversary, and a couple of Greek girls in training as guides. There was
one Indian man--from Madras, but currently living in Birmingham,
UK--travelling alone, and another travelling with a very tall, very blonde,
kind of wacky Scotswoman. Then there were two brothers and a sister whose
family name was Bletzacker, together with their spouses. Two of the couples
live in Salt Lake City, where they grew up, while Danny and his wife, Julie,
live in Irvine, CA. They were lots of fun and kept us all laughing. In
general, the other travellers were in their 40's and 50's. I was amused
that they all seemed to think that Jason and I were much younger than we
are--when the subject came up, the consensus was that we were both in our
mid-twenties.

Our driver, George, was amazing. He took that bus up and down tiny little
mountain roadways, judging every angle right the first time, in and out of
torturous parking lots and many tight spots. He had better English than he
really let on and was always very pleasant. Our guide, Viki, was a woman
in her 50's, with gelled, magenta hair and enormous Onassis sunglasses, who
would not be hurried. She would caution us to hurry, to be prompt, not to
be late--but when we were all ready to go ten minutes before the time, she
would be sitting at a table in the corner, enjoying another cigarette, or
two, or three, until the stated time arrived--or passed. Her information
was sometimes questionable--I don't know much about Greek archeology, but I
know enough to find her stories more entertaining than factual--and either her
non-scripted English wasn't very strong, or she just wasn't very friendly.
On the other hand, the one conversation she and I had resulted in my
telling her that Jason's loves to act and she made him a present the next
morning of a nice booklet about the annual theatre festival at Epidaurus.

Our mornings started quite early at the various hotels' breakfast buffet,
which typically included various breads, cereals, yogurt, fruit, scrambled
eggs, some form of hot meat, cold cuts and cheeses. The yogurt was very
thick and unsweetened, but we found that mixing it with some honey and the
juice of canned peaches worked to provide us with something we liked.
Despite the orange trees we saw everywhere, bulging with fruit, what was
served at breakfast was orange drink, rather than juice. Each day we were
on the bus and underway by 8:30am at the latest.

In the mornings we visited various sites of interest. On our first day, we
started at the Corinth Canal, which connects the Aegean and Ionian seas at
the narrow point of the isthmus between the Peloponnese and the rest of
mainland Greece. Supposedly the first spadeful of dirt was dug in the 1st
century CE by the Emperor Nero with a golden shovel, but it was not
completed until French engineers undertook the task at the end of the 19th
century. It's very deep and cut through solid rock with beautiful
stratification.

After the canal, we went on to the theatre at Epidaurus. Constructed
during the Classical period of the 5th century BCE, it is considered the
best-preserved theatre of the period and is still used during the annual
festival. The most interesting aspect to us was the doorways on either
side of the stage area, which Viki explained that Classical audiences would
have automatically used to identify characters as "strangers" or "locals"
depending on which entrance the actors used. We enjoyed the singing of
another guide from the goat stone (where goats were sacrificed before
plays--according to Viki the word "tragedy" comes from "song of the goat,"
after the chants sung to accompany the sacrifices), but I couldn't convince
Jason that we should sing.

Following Epidaurus, we continued to Mycenae, where we stopped first at the
beehive tomb known as the Treasury of Atreus before moving up the hill to
the site of the royal palace. The most interesting spots there were the
nobles' cemetery, which yielded rich archeological finds, and the Lion Gate,
named for the lintel depicting two lions on either side of the column
representing the earth goddess central to Mycenaen religion. The lions
were supposedly beheaded when the Dorians sacked the city during their
takeover of the region in the 12th century BCE. Agamemnon was identified
by Homer and Euripides as the king of Mycenae and looking down over the
hills to the sea it was easy to imagine his triumphant and fateful
procession home from the Trojan War. We made a brief stop in Nafplion to
take pictures of the lovely bay with its three castles and then pushed on to
Olympia for the night.

Lunch each day involved stopping at a tourist-restaurant, where we could
choose what we wanted from a buffet or carts of traditional dishes. Over
the course of the tour these included moussaka, barbecued
lamb/chicken/pork, beef with orzo in tomato sauce, pork in lemon-dill
sauce, and various forms of baked chicken. It tended to be edible, but not
spectacular, and quite heavy. After lunch each day, Viki would tell us
about the next day's stop at great length, first in English and then in
French, while most of us fell asleep.

Our second day's focus was Olympia, where the Temple to Zeus was considered
one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and where the Olympic games
were founded about 3000 years ago. Excavated by German archeologists in the
late 19th century, the ruins are scattered over an enormous site and include
training facilities for the athletes, housing for them and other important
guests, temples to various deities, "treasuries" holding the contributions
of various cities to the glory of the games, workshops for the artists
involved in construction, and various Roman structures (baths, a villa for
Nero, etc.) from later periods, as well as the famous Olympic stadium.
There are also plinths dotted around that once supported the thousands of
statues decorating the complex, almost all of which were lost to Christian
iconoclasm. After wandering around there for almost two hours, we crossed
the road to the museum where finds from the complex are housed, including
the lovely Nike, the winged spirit of victory, and the Hermes of Praxiteles,
one of the most famous sculptors of the Classical period.

Our days usually also included a shopping stop. These were generally rather
awkward, as we are not big shoppers and resent the sense of pressure to buy.
It was somewhat easier with a group and it was interesting to hear the
vendors describe their products. It was especially nifty to watch a
demonstration of how the frames of the Byzantine-style religious icons are
covered in gold leaf. We visited a store specializing in various styles of
traditional ceramics, one offering a variety of wool, cotton and silk
products, and one dealing mainly in icons. We thought that last the least
likely to tempt us, but we actually ended up buying more there than anywhere
else, although not icons. They did have a lovely icon of the Archangel
Michael, but it was from the 19th century and priced at over 250 euros. Our
purchases included a pear-shaped, mother-of-pearl covered box, a couple of
pottery replicas, and a book that has photographs of archeological sites
together with transparent overlays of hypothetical reconstructions of those
sites' original appearance.

Speaking of euros, it's very handy for us that so many countries have
switched to the euro now, since it means that we basically have one "travel
currency" that's close enough to the dollar to make evaluating prices fairly
simple for us. We ran into a bit of trouble because our transfer agent
wouldn't let us take the time to get money at the airport and for the first
few days we were eking out what we had left from the last jaunt to Ireland.
But once we found an ATM, we were fine.

Our afternoon drives were lovely and we were glad to have the chance to see
so much of the territory--what we managed to stay awake for, anyway. Much
of the time we spent just staring out the windows trying to read the signs
in Greek. That was like having a fairly simple, but ever-changing puzzle to
challenge us. The trickiest part was trying to remember/decipher which
lower-case letters go with which upper-case letters. For example, the thing
that looks like our lower-case 'y' is the lower-case 'g' while the
upper-case 'Y' is almost the same as our 'Y' and the upper-case 'G' looks
like an 'L' upside-down. And there are two different lower-case sigmas
('S'), depending on its position in the word. But between what we each
remembered from math, Russian and fraternities, we managed to piece it
together. It was also interesting to be reminded that so many of our words
come from Greek roots like "acro," "pyro," and "paleo" so that we could
often figure out not only what the signs said, but what they meant. Many of
the city names were also familiar, from history (Lepanto, Missalonghi), myth
(Olympia, Lamia, Thebes), and personal names (Melissa, Daphne, Larissa).
Complicating things slightly is that there is no consensus on
transliteration, so that Latin p's, b's and v's are interchangeable, as are d's
and t's, depending on which map or guide book you're reading.

The best drive was from Olympia to Delphi on our second day. We stopped
briefly in Patras and were running early enough to stop at the church of
St. Andrew, one of the loveliest Byzantine churches I've ever visited. At
Rio we boarded the ferry, bus and all, to cross the Gulf of Patras. The
departure was very dramatic, as the driver of a car denied passage tried to
start a fistfight and a motorcyclist leapt on board as the boat was already
moving. On our crossing we passed the pylons of the bridge which is
intended to replace the ferries in time for the increased traffic expected
around the Olympic Summer Games in 2004. The trip was quick--twenty-five
minutes we were told, although it seemed faster--and we disembarked in
Antirio and drove on our way. We drove through Lepanto, with its lovely
harbor, and stopped briefly to appreciate the view of Galaxides (and duck
behind some handy pine trees) before heading into the mountains. There were
very few times on our drive that we could not see both mountains and sea,
making for stunning vistas, although the landscape itself was generally
scrubby and dry. We were puzzled by the lack of running water and the
number of dry riverbeds we saw, since the whole Mediterranean had a very
wet, cold winter. In many areas, the dirt was the reddest I have ever seen,
a dark maroon that Viki explained came from bauxite, which is extracted
around the city of Itea, on the coast at the foot of Mt. Parnassus, below
Delphi.

In ancient times, the city there was called Chrissos. They had a habit of
charging outrageous sums in taxes to travellers heading for Delphi. The
Delphians fought four separate wars with Chrissos over this issue, before
accepting the assistance of Phillip of Macedonia (father of Alexander the
Great), who flattened Chrissos for them. Thus Phillip earned the privilege
of building a structure within the sanctuary at Delphi and placing statues
of his family, including his son, within it. Everyone else was restricted
to statues of the gods and other mythical figures or famous athletes.

From Itea we climbed up through endless olive groves to Delphi. There are
supposedly more than five million trees in the region. The town of Delphi
is perched on the side of the mountain with its hairpin streets connected by
steps.

Each evening, after hours of driving, we would arrive at our hotel. We were
booked into the Hotel Amalia chain, together with the Austrian couple and
the Minnesotan family. The rest of the group were always at another hotel.
Except in Delphi, these hotels were outside of town and since the tourist
season won't officially get under way for another month, they were pretty
deserted. So after dinner we went to our rooms and ended up getting a lot
of sleep despite our early risings. In Delphi we really enjoyed the chance
to wander the streets and the shops were open late, so we could browse on
our own. The hotels were all enormous, sprawling complexes, slightly
different in decor, but much the same when it came down to the rooms. All
but one night we had two twin beds, which is fairly typical all over Europe.
The rooms were larger than we usually get--the first night at the Titania
our room was bizarrely huge with vast unused space, but the smallest
bathroom of all our hotels. We were sorry, on our return to Athens, to give
up its balcony, but having a smaller room was actually more comfortable for
us. All of the rooms were overheated, so we had to sleep with the windows
open, leading to nasty bug bites for both of us.

On our third day we toured the site at Delphi, on the slopes of
Mt. Parnassus. We started off at the very modern museum that houses some of
the finds from the site. The we moved up the hill, past the former agora,
or row of shops, which had later been turned into a Byzantine church, of
which very little remains, and the partially reconstructed "treasury" of
Athens, the only structure of marble amid the limestone edifices. We saw
the rock on which the pre-Apollonian sibyls sat to prophesy before Delphi
was absorbed by the Dorian priests after the collapse of the Mycenaen
civilization and their earth goddess worship in the 12th c. BCE. Further up
the slope is the main Temple of Apollo, where the sibyls were sequestered in
a central chamber while priests mediated between them and the supplicants.
Our guide said that supplicants could only come during a nine-day period
each year to ask their questions, because "the priests needed the rest of
the year to send out their spies to learn what the right answers should be."
Past the temple ruins is a theatre hewn into the rock of the mountain, and
beyond that, near the top of that ridge, is a stadium where the annual games
in honor of the god would have been held. Down at the bottom, further along
the modern road, is the sacred spring where worshippers had to purify
themselves before approaching the temple from their campgrounds in the olive
groves below. On the other side of the road is a smaller temple, called a
tholos for its round shape, erected by the followers of Athena and Dionysus
in the 4th c. BCE, by which time the popularity of the Apollonians up the
hill was waning. We sat for a while in the cafe at the top of the stairs
down to the tholos, enjoying a drink on their terrace looking down into the
alley, and basking in the sun. The natural setting of Delphi is gorgeous
and the views are amazing. It's easy to see why it was such a popular spot
through the ages.

Our weather the whole week was much warmer than we had expected--about 75F
most days, instead of the 50's the weather report had predicted--and
generally sunny. Fortunately, we always pack to dress in layers, so we were
able to keep cool most of the time and our bus was well air-conditioned.

Before we left Delphi the family of Minnesotans switched to a bus going
directly back to Athens and we picked up a group of seven Japanese college
students, another French couple, a couple about our age from Latvia, and a
retired Australian banker from Brisbane in his seventies. He was the only
one of the new group in our hotel, so he joined us for dinner in the
evening.

Dinners were fairly mediocre and provided no choice. There would be a
small starter course of some form of pasta (pastitsio, stuffed crepes or
canelloni), a main course of meat and starch (pork and rice, beef and orzo,
pot roast and potatoes) with a shredded cabbage and carrot salad, and then
an underwhelming dessert (usually soggy cake, but one night we got flan).
It was a relief to get back to Athens and be able to make our own choices.

Our last night on the road was spent in Kalambaka, in the valley below
Meteora. In the morning, after a shopping stop, we visited the monastery of
Gran Meteora, perched on one of the free-standing spires of rock that dot
the landscape there. There are several other eyrie monasteries, but Gran
Meteora is the largest and is still home to about fifteen monks. From the
parking lot there are about 100 steps down to the crossing and then about
200 up. All the women had to wear skirts, which wasn't a problem for me,
but several of the others hadn't brought one along and there was much
hilarity over the choices offered at the entrance. The monastery is a
fairly simple construction of brick, with a central church lavishly
decorated with frescoes depicting martyrdoms and miracles of various saints.
The views are amazing and thinking of monks climbing the rocks to reach the
monasteries in the days before the steps were installed is fairly
awe-inspiring.

From Kalambaka it was about a five hour drive back to Athens. We were
dropped off back at the Titania and spent about an hour settling in before
heading out to find dinner. Jason had chosen from the guidebook a place
called "Ermou and Asomaton" and described as offering "an extensive menu of
Greek and international dishes, including...smoked eel and chicken in
yogurt, mint and lemon sauce." Ermou is one of the major street, partly
pedestrianized. We hadn't figured out the metro system yet and we were
eager for a walk after so much time on the bus, so we set out. We ended up
walking away from the center, on a road mostly under construction, past the
excavated potters' quarter/cemetery of Keramikos, and being very startled by
a dog barking viciously right at our elbows. We passed a whole fleet of
tour busses, and started to wonder if we were ever going to find the place.

Finally we got to the address, to find a square grey building with no
obvious doors, just large frosted plate glass windows between metal garage
doors. There were letters on the wall giving the address and the name
"Restaurant Interni." Eventually, Jason waved a hand at one of the
windows--having cleverly noticed a motion detector above it--and it slid
aside to reveal an empty restaurant. The decor was fairly industrial,
high-ceilings, all gray, with huge round white paper light fixtures.
Although the kitchen wasn't due to open for another fifteen minutes (it
wasn't nine yet, after all) we were seated and allowed to entertain
ourselves with drinks. Jason asked for ouzo, but they didn't have any--I
said "too Greek" and the waiter agreed, making it clear we were in for a
different dinner than we'd expected. I wondered aloud if this might be a
Japanese restaurant and we both laughed when the first entry in the menu was
sushi. The concept seemed to be Eurasian fusion and they did a very good
job with it.

We started by sharing the sushi plate, which included one nigiri (fish slice
on rice) each of maguro (tuna), hamachi (yellowtail), sake (salmon), and ebi
(shrimp), of which Jason generously let me have the first two. There was
also a tasty maki (seaweed roll) with avocado and some kind of fish we
didn't recognize. For mains, Jason had salmon in a "curry jacket" with rice
and a Thai red curry style sauce, while I had tuna with a black pepper
crust, served over fried noodles in a lemongrass-ginger-garlic-soy sauce.
We were both extremely happy with our choices and they were certainly very
different from what we'd been getting on the road. For dessert we split a
plate of wok-fried beignets filled with chocolate ganache, served in a nest
of spun sugar with a very thin cookie dusted with cocoa in the shape of a
butterfly, an appple doused in strawberry-chocolate sauce, and a scoop of
yogurt ice cream.

It was a delightful meal and we were glad to have a walk back to the hotel
to work off some of it. It was the first night of Carnaval, since the
Orthodox Easter isn't until May 5th this year, and as we strolled through
the pedestrianized section of Ermou to Syntagma Square, we saw people in
silly costumes carrying plastic clubs with squeakers in them, shooting silly
string, and tossing confetti everywhere.

On Friday we spent the morning on a guided tour of the main sights of
Athens. Once again, our driver's name was George and our guide's name was
Viki, leading us to suspect a plot. We stopped at the Temple of Zeus and
Hadrian's Arch and briefly at the stadium built in the classical style for
the first modern Olympic games in 1896. We drove around the block past the
residences of the prime minister and president and the national gardens.
Then it was time, at last, for the Acropolis. As we paused to use the WC's
near the gate, we ran into the Bletzackers and the Japanese kids. Viki led
us up the slope to a point looking out over the rebuilt odeon (theatre) of
Herodes Atticus, a leading Athenian who built several public monuments in
the 2nd c. CE including the fountain we'd seen in ruins in Olympia which
contained a bull engraved with a testament of his devotion to his wife with
the first extant use of the heart symbol in the context of love. The
theatre in Athens is where various big names (Yanni, Pavarotti, Vanessa Mae,
etc.) have played.

Viki explained to us some of the history of the Acropolis and the buildings
on the top. Our group included a party of Islamic men, with their wives in
headscarves. When the guide turned the story of the contest between Athena
and Poseidon to prove by their gifts that they were the best patron deity of
Athens into a funny story of a young girl getting the better of an older,
powerful man, the wives all giggled while the men looked stern. There was
an awkward moment when an American man tried to get into an argument with
Viki's fairly vitriolic comments about Lord Elgin's removal of reliefs and
statues from the Acropolis to England. That's a very sore spot for the
Greeks, but Viki managed to move on with her lecture. After another brief
stop in front of the Propylaia (entrance) to explain exactly what the
different buildings were that we'd be seeing, she let us go. If we'd wanted
a ride back to the hotel, we could have met the bus in the parking lot 45
minutes later, but we decided to take our time and strike off on our own.

Moving up through the columns of the Propylaia, we emerged onto the plateau
and were struck by our first close-up view of the Parthenon, the Temple of
Athena. Its Doric columns are so simple and yet so precise and complex.
They are curved to eliminate the bowing effects of perspective, as is almost
every line of the temple. It is largely framed by the scaffolding and
cranes of the UNESCO project to reconstruct and protect the monument, but it
is still breathtaking and visually stunning. From there we wandered over to
the Erechtheion, the temple for the rest of the pantheon of Olympic
deities. The six famous caryatids supporting one section of the temple have
been replaced by concrete casts, while five of the originals are in the
museum onsite and the other is in the British Museum. The difference is
visible to the naked eye, as the one from London still has much of the
detail of her hair and draperies, while the ones that remained exposed to
the elements and pollution in Athens are much more severely weathered.

We visited the museum and enjoyed seeing the chronological progression of
styles among the statues and reliefs from several of the many previous
temples and smaller buildings that used to adorn the Acropolis. The most
impressive was a statue of Athena with her cloak of snakes from the pediment
of a previous temple to her. Leaving there, we wandered out on the eastern
point to view the city stretching out in all directions. It is hard not to
think of barbarians living amid the ruins of civilization. On the other
hand, the view also takes in the hilltop plaza of the Pnix, where the
Athenian Assembly met to listen to orators and vote on their proposals in
the original "democracy." The other building we had expected to see on the
Acropolis, the Temple of Nike, has been deconstructed by the UNESCO workers,
but will be replaced over the next few years. They have presented a report
that without intervention, the monuments will probably crumble within the
next fifty years, as the smog turns their marble to dust at an
ever-increasing rate. So they are currently experimenting with a
transparent sealant that they hope will protect the stone against further
degradation.

Leaving the Acropolis, we strolled down around its northern side to the tiny
streets of the Plaka. These are filled with souvenir shops, tavernas and
cafes. We browsed some of the shops and I bought a bunch of Olympic pins.
A great deal of construction is going on, all over the country, all aimed at
completion for 2004, but according to an article in the paper we picked up,
the IOC is still very concerned that Athens may not manage to get ready in
time to host the games. We found a cafe on the corner of Adrianou and
Kidathinaion streets advertising gyros and sat at an outside table to enjoy
our lunch. What we got, after our starter salad, were "gyros plates" with
pita, lamb, tomatoes, onions and tzatziki (yogurt mixed with cucumber, dill
and lemon). The meat was of excellent quality and the pita was so good! We
were very glad that Jason had insisted on ordering extra tzatziki to spread
on it.

After lunch we decided that we would try to get out to Cape Sounion. There
were guided tours we could have joined, but we were somewhat tired of being
in groups of tourists and our guidebook said there was a city bus we could
catch. We walked up to Syntagma Square and dove into the metro system. The
new sections of the system have only been open for two years and are very
clean and lovely. At two different stations we came across displays of the
various artifacts unearthed during construction. We found the place where
the busses all terminate at the base of Mavromateon street and when we asked
for the bus to Sounion, the ticket guy came out of his booth to point across
the square to the right bus, saying "3:30! Leaves now! Run, run!" So we
ran, and made it with time to spare.

We had no idea how long a trip it would be--it turned out to be two hours
out to the point of the peninsula where the majestic Temple of Poseidon sits
on the headland surveying the Aegean. It was a hazy day and the sun on the
water along the way turned the surface of the sea to silver. We arrived in
time to get one shot of the sun shining through the columns of the temple,
but by the time we had walked up the hill to the site, the sun had
disappeared behind a low bank of thick clouds and we were denied the
spectacular sunset we'd hoped to see. The busses run every hour, so we
wandered over the headland until the staff chased us out, and were just in
time to catch the next bus headed back. It was very full--I got the
ticket-taker's seat, perpendicular to the other seats at the rear door, with
a little desk in front of me--and there was a horde of Spanish students
taking over the rear of the bus and sitting in the aisles. Jason ended up
standing the whole way. The kids were singing and clapping and generally
annoying the other passengers and the ticket taker, who kept having to wade
back through them to collect the fares of people who crowded on at later
stops. The Spanish kids were really excited when even the Japanese kids
could sing along to the Macarena. I eventually started talking to the girl
in front of me, Sara, and found out that the kids were all from a school in
Galicia, in northern Spain. She had very good English, having spend the
previous year as an exchange student in Atlanta, but she let me speak
Spanish, which was a real treat. That passed the time back to Athens pretty
pleasantly, despite the crowding. There was only one scary moment, when the
bus stopped and wouldn't start again for a couple of minutes. But
eventually the motor caught and we were on our way again. As we came back
into the city, through Syntagma Square, the guards were changing in front of
the Parliament building, silhouetted against the lit wall of the Tomb of the
Unknown Soldier, like a commedia dell'arte pantomime with their skirts and
tassles and pom-pommed shoes. The bus made a stop right in front of our
hotel, so we hopped off and were home.

We were very tired and needed to be up early the next morning, but we hauled
ourselves out and took the subway from Omonia Square (pronouned just like
"ammonia," it actually means "harmony") down to Monastiraki, where the
streets are lined with one taverna after another. We took our guidebook's
recommendation of one called Sigala and had a fine meal of grilled meats.
Jason's lamb chops weren't really enough food for him, but my mixed grill
(sliced lamb, lamb sausage, chicken skewers and pork bits with pita) was
huge and between the two, along with a starter salad (Greek, of course :) we
did very well. At the table next to us were two guitarists and a bouzouki
player entertaining the diners with traditional tunes. Most of the other diners
seemed to be Greek, so we felt like we were getting a very authentic
experience. That was probably our best chance to try ouzo or retsina, but
we were both too tired to think of alcohol.

We had bought an English version of the Athens News and enjoyed reading
through it over dinner for some local color and hints of world news. One of
the most fascinating bits was that a television program had uncovered a link
between the president and an illegal gambling club. The report was
generating intense criticism of their sensationalist journalism and a
re-examination of the current system of television. Apparently until a few
years ago there were only two channels in Greece, both run by the government
and very much the mouthpieces of the ruling party. The system was
deregulated, but new channels are required to have licenses from the state
channels, which the state channels, piqued at losing their monopoly, refuse
to grant. So there are ten new channels, all technically broadcasting
illegally.

Saturday was taken up by a cruise of the Saronic Gulf. We were picked up by
bus at our hotel and after the usual whistle-stop tour around Athens, got
out to Piraeus in time for the 8:30am departure of the boat. It was very
windy, so all the inside rooms were very crowded and at first we could only
find seats in the lowest deck, that had tiny windows. But after an hour,
the sun had come out and people were moving on deck and consolidating, so we
were able to find better seats upstairs. They did a simple demonstration of
a couple of traditional Greek dances and I got what I hope will be fun
pictures of Jason taking part. He had bought an International Herald
Tribune that morning and we passed some time catching up on current events.

After about three hours, we landed on Poros, where we had about 45 minutes
to wander the small port town. We strolled up and down tiny hillside
streets of shops and picked up a cheese pastry at a bakery to tide us over
until lunchtime. Then it was back on the boat for the two-hour cruise to
Hydra while the first lunch seating had their meal. At first we sat out on
deck, but after a bit the wind was too much for us (my throat had been
slightly sore since the previous afternoon and I was afraid of coming down
with something, so I was trying to take it fairly easy) so we went into the
quiet upper bar where we found an empty booth, put our heads down on the
table and napped until we arrived. As we pulled up to the quay, a flood of
cats came running down to meet us, jumping over each other to be in front.
Everywhere we went in Greece there were feral cats and sleeping dogs in
various states of manginess.

Hydra was lovely and avoiding the offers of a donkey ride we walked out
around the harbor and the adjacent cliff, where we found a nice bench where
we could sit in the sun and admire the view. We strolled back through town
and were very amused by a little boy walking along with a tiny puppy clamped
onto the hem of his trousers by its teeth.

Back on the boat, it was our turn for lunch. That consisted of a little
bowl of shredded cabbage and carrots with olives and French dressing and a
shell full of pasta salad, followed by plates of white & wild rice with some
chicken in a lemony sauce and vastly overcooked broccoli. Dessert was a
tough, overly sweet thing like a profiterole. We were seated with an
English couple, a younger, burly Australian businessman and a reporter from
Washington, DC. They weren't the most talkative group and the band started
playing loud, cheesy muzak, so we finished up and went out on deck.

Eventually we arrived on Aegina, the largest island of the Saronic Gulf,
with a population of 15,000. It's the closest island to Athens and a very
popular spot for Athenian summer homes. It's also the source of "the best
pistachios in the world" and has hundreds of trees. According to our guide,
youths from all over the country come to Aegina in August to help with the
harvest of 25-30 kilos of nuts from each tree. We had signed up for the
"optional" (i.e. "for an extra charge") tour of the island, so we got off
the boat directly onto a bus mainly filled with Spanish speakers. In
general, there seemed to be relatively few Americans out and about in
Europe.

We were taken by bus across the island to the Temple of Aphaia. She was a
nymph in the court of Aphrodite, but her identity was subsumed into that of
Athena at some point. The temple provides the third point for the "sacred
triangle," together with the Parthenon and the temple at Sounion, and is in
sufficiently good condition that the complex inner structure is visible.
Across the road we visited the gift shop to buy pistachios and try their
over-sugary pistachio ice cream.

On the way back to the port, we stopped at the Cathedral of St. Nectarios.
He was a member of the monastery on the island, famous for his skills as a
healer, who died in 1921 and was canonized as a saint in 1961. As the last
saint of the Orthodox church, St. Nectarios' remains are the focal point of
a pilgrimage that all Greek Orthodox believers are supposed to make at least
once in their lives, preferably on November 9th, his name day and that off a
majority of the inhabitants of the island. The monastery has been closed to
visitors since the construction of a huge cathedral next door about 25 years
ago. The outside is finished, but the inside is still in the process of
being decorated, so no photos are permitted. The saint's remains in its
silver reliquary are housed in an impressively carved marble bier and there
is a gorgeous mosaic in the chancel showing the Saronic Gulf with its
islands and octopus and fish in the water. The bus dropped us off at the
edge of town, so that we could stroll back to the boat past the shops. We
walked out to the end of the pier to see the tiny, whitewashed Byzantine
chapel, and then boarded again for the trip back to Piraeus. The sunset was
lovely that evening. Our bus had us back to the hotel half-an-hour after we
docked. It had been a fun day and we saw some pretty places, but spending
eleven hours out in order to do a total of three hours on the islands didn't
seem like a good value-for-time deal. If I had known, I would have skipped
the cruise and just taken a ferry over to Aegina for the day.

We were exhausted again and needed to pack, so we decided to go back up to
the Olive Garden and enjoy their lovely view and tasty food. Jason wanted
the spinach salad with katiki cheese again, but I went for the rock fish
broth with ravioli this time and was delighted with its rich and subtle
flavors. Jason tried the yogurt crusted roast lamb--the Greeks seem to
believe that all lamb must be cooked very thoroughly--with mushrooms and
potatoes while I went for the shrimp risotto with salmon roe on the side.
That was light and tasty, while Jason found his somewhat too rich and
overwhelming. We skipped dessert and went out on the terrace to attempt
some pictures of the Acropolis by night before going down to sleep.

In the morning we packed up and were out of the hotel just after 8:30am. I
was very tired of the breakfast buffet by then, so we skipped that and got
pastries at a place around the corner instead. We walked up to the National
Archeological Museum, not far from our hotel, and spent a couple of hours
moving steadily ahead of a tourist group through the collection. They have
some very beautiful things and it's interesting to see the development from
one period to the next and the degree to which the Renaissance re-enacted
that process. By that time I had noticed an interesting phenomenon: over
and over, as we toured these different archeological museums, my eye would
be caught by statues or fragments of a woman and it would turn out to be
Aphrodite, every time. In this collection, one of my favorite pieces was a
fragment of a relief, about a foot in diameter, showing her face in profile,
against an 18" circular backing board. Down in the gift shop, I was
surprised to see a high-quality plaster cast of it for sale and even more
surprised when I saw the price--about a third of what I would have guessed.
As I tried to figure out how on earth I could get it home (the shop doesn't
ship and as it was Sunday, I couldn't ship it myself, and it would never fit
in the overhead compartment and I wouldn't trust it to the baggage
handlers), the clerk mentioned that the backing board wasn't included, just
the fragment, which could be packaged so I could carry it onto a plane. I
was so pleased to walk out of there with it under my arm!

We dropped the package off at the hotel to wait with the rest of our
luggage, and went on down the street to the Panepistimou metro station. One
long block includes three monumental buildings, each built in a slightly
different take on a classical temple. The first is the National Library,
with its sweeping stairways. Next is the University's main building, with
Ionic columns and frescoes representing the various branches of knowledge.
Last is the Athenian Academy, flanked by giant columns topped by statues of
Athena and Apollo, and fronted by statues of Socrates and Plato, seated in
thought. We took some photos and got on the metro down to the Akropoli
stop. Coming out of it, we were right below the Acropolis, near the Theatre
of Dionysus. We wandered up and explored that for a bit before trying to
figure out where the main entrance to the Acropolis Study Center might be.
Eventually we found it, but it was closed, contrary to their posted hours.
Someone later speculated that it might have been closed to repair damage
from a recent fire in the subway tunnel underneath the building.

Thwarted, we wandered back into the Plaka and over to the Agora. It was
used as a cemetery in the 6th c. BCE, but by the 5th c. BCE had become a
marketplace. The western side became the neighborhood of smiths and
metalworkers and a Temple to Hephaistos was built there around 445 BCE,
launching the Golden Age of public works under Pericles that also included
the Parthenon. The temple is also known as the Thiseion, because some of
its friezes depict Theseus. It is one of the best preserved temples in all
of Greece. On the eastern edge is the reconstructed Stoa (corridor)
Attalou, originally built in the 2nd c. BCE, which houses the site's museum.
The southern edge is overlooked by the Areopagos, a big rock where the
Athenian supreme court once stood and where the Apostle Paul first preached
to the Athenians in 54 CE.

After a pleasant hour in the Agora, we headed back through the Monastiraki
fleamarket along its northern edge and into the Plaka. We bought some
shirts at one of the shops and made our way back to our favorite cafe. This
time we knew to order "gyros pita" in order to get the wraps we had in mind.
They were so good that we each had two. While we were sitting there, I
looked up and recognized some of the Spanish students from the Sounion bus.
I called out to the girl we had talked to the most and she came and said hi
and sat with us for a few minutes. She left with her group and we strolled
up Filellino street to Syntagma Square to catch the changing of the guard in
front of the Parliament building. In daylight we could see all the
beautiful details of their traditional uniforms of embroidered black jackets
over white shirts, pleated skirts and tights. Their red fez-like hats are
each decorated with a long tassle hanging past their shoulders and their red
shoes have metal hobnails on the bottom that click on the marble as they
parade and enormous pom-poms on the toes that flip in unison as they do
their stylized march. When they had finished and the new pair guards were
on their silent duty, Jason took my picture standing next to one of them.

At that point we were somewhat stumped. Without a stop at the Acropolis
Study Center to take up our time, it was only 2pm, the hour at which the
museums open at all on Sundays close. So we had three hours to kill before
meeting Juliette at our hotel. We wandered into the National Gardens, which
stretch between the Parliament building and the ministerial residences of
the Kolonaki district. There were zillions of families out with their kids
in costume--a little Minnie Mouse re-enacted Marilyn Monroe's famous
blown-skirt moment for us as we all passed over a subway grating--so we sat
in the park and watched them running around the playground in their get-ups.
Eventually we decided to leave--the gardens are not very well maintained and
tend towards the jungly and buggy. When we emerged on the opposite side of
the park, in front of the president's house, we decided to walk around
rather than retracing our steps. We saw a detachment of honor guards
marching down the sidewalk to relieve the ones on duty at the residence, and
then we passed their barracks, where a soldier in modern uniform at the gate
was flirting with a bus-load of teenagers. We walked back through the
square one last time and down Panepistimou to our hotel.

We sat up on the roof terrace for an hour, enjoying a last view of the
Acropolis and the city. At 4:45pm we went down to the lobby and got our
bags. Our transfer agent, Juliette, had said to meet her there at 5:00pm.
Of course, she had also said she would call us every day, so we were a
little nervous. At 4:55, we were paged. I went to the house phone and when
I got back, Jason was talking to the couple from Dallas, the Dollys, who
were back from their whirlwind weekend in Cairo. They'd had a great time
and were completely exhausted, but wanted to try to catch the end of the
Carnaval parade. So they left and we sat down again and Jason said "So who
was on the phone" and I realized I'd forgotten to tell him about Juliette's
call to say she couldn't make it to the hotel in time, but had arranged to
have our taxi driver pick us up on time and meet her along the way to the
airport.

We were dubious, but it all worked out. Traffic was very light and Juliette
was right at the point where she and the driver had arranged to meet. She
hopped in and debriefed us during the rest of the quick trip. We checked in
and said goodbye and then wandered around the shops for a bit. We decided
to get some food and McDonald's seemed like the easiest option. I had one
of the best fish fillets of my life! Our flight was late boarding and we
ended up sitting over the wing. Jason was reading _The Adventures of
Kavalier & Clay_, which had been very funny at the beginning, while the book
I was reading, Amy Tan's _The Bonesetter's Daughter_ was grim and grueling.
Halfway through his started getting grim and mine lightened up, so our moods
were shifting in opposite directions. It seemed to take forever to get back
to Luton, but in fact we landed right on time. It was pouring and we had to
get down the metal stairs and run across the tarmac. Welcome back to
England.

We picked up our bags, bought Thameslink tickets and took the shuttle back
over to the train station. Then we had almost 45 minutes until our train.
Fortunately, there were seats indoors and a little shop so we could get
drinks and a movie magazine, since I had finished my book. The train
finally arrived and we settled in for the trip back to London. It was the
last train of the evening, so we made all the local stops. We made the tube
(we hadn't been sure we would) and arrived back at the flat right around
midnight.

Running through our email, we got the news that Jason's grandmother had died
on Saturday. She's been declining steadily over the past few years and much
worse in the past month, so it wasn't a surprise, but we were sad to hear
it. She was a lovely woman and there are so many friends and family to miss
her and treasure her memory. I am so glad that I could meet her and she
could attend our wedding before she died. Jason called his mother and
talked to her for quite a while, as I sorted through the mail and read
email. We are planning not to travel to Idaho for the funeral, but to plan
to attend the family reunion there this summer, when they are thinking to
re-inter Trish's parents together. It will be good to be all together at
that time.

I've spent the past couple of days catching up and starting to figure out
everything that needs to happen before we leave again for Spain in ten days.

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