Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Spring Break: GLASGOW, EDINBURGH (3 weeks in US/UK/US)

We went to the Willow Tea Room, designed by Charles Rennie Macintosh, and ordered a real afternoon tea: scones, cucumber sandwiches, shortbread cookies. It all seemed very British. Macintosh's designs are quite similar to Frank Lloyd Wright's in America which we also seek out in our travels.

Other than the CRM architecture sites, we ended up not liking Glasgow very much. It must be the smoking capital of UK! Curt called Blackpool the cesspool and Glasgow the ashcan of the country.

Followed the usual signs to a Park & Ride location outside the city, but it turned out that it was their Grand Opening - lots of dignitaries and speeches and reporters. I offered to be their first customer (and was secretly hoping to get interviewed by the TV station) but there were no actual buses to take us into town. It wasn't open for business yet. So we went to a different Park & Ride further along that sadly lacked cameramen, politicians and personal fame.

We liked Edinburgh. Curt found a gold fountain that he would have liked to sketch but the sun wasn't shining in the right direction.

We went to the Scottish National Gallery and enjoyed their special exhibit of Impressionists. They also had a a nice permanent collection - a Boticelli, 3 Raphaels, a Monet haystack, and even a Fredrick Church (one of his landscapes was always our family's favourite at the Seattle Art Museum).

After the museum, Curt found a well-positioned bench and sketched the city skyline while I ate lunch and walked down the Royal Mile. I found a Christmas shop, bought an ornament, and walked up to the castle. When I got back to Curt, he was done already!

We walked to the the new Scottish Parliament Building next - a modern building that doesn't really fit in with the rest of Edinburgh. Curt says it's not iconic. But it's interesting, if a little wacky.

Our #3 son, a whiskey connoisseur, wanted us to buy him a bottle of "the good shit" while we were in Scotland, but we were too cheap to buy a bottle of Scotch and ship it to US from either Scotland or New Zealand. So we sent him a (free) post card from a whiskey shop instead.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Spring Break: BLACKPOOL, WINDERMERE (3 weeks in US/UK/US)

Stopped at a rest area on our way to Blackpool. A lady standing in the doorway lit her cigarette right as I was trying to exit the door. I coughed and choked and acted like I was dying as I walked through her smoke. Curt gave me the Stink Eye and thought I overdid it just a bit. We laughed and laughed for miles

Stopped for an hour in Blackpool which was all we could take. First of all, it was rainy and windy with huge waves. Secondly, the town is a hell hole. It may be OK in the sunshine with loys of people, but the "amusements" and activities would still be pathetic.
Curt had hoped to sketch the tower, but it was too friggin freezing
Ate fish and chips, though.

Arrived in Windermere, went for a short hike through the woods to the next village as our B&B hostess recommended. Curt went for another hike the next morning. Then we drove to a trail on our way out of town, and hiked up to a spectacular waterfall with a stone bridge. You know how Curt loves bridges. Curiously, there was also a log along the trail that had thousands of coins jammed in it. Does anyone know the story behind this?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Spring Break: IRONBRIDGE, SHREWSBURY (3 weeks in US/UK/US)

Left Woodstock, heading west

Stopped in the little Cotswold town of Stow, but didn't lock Curt in the stocks on the village green like every other tourist who's ever been here.

On to Hay-on-Wye, a tiny town just across the border in Wales. Had to take a quaint 50 cent toll bridge. Yes, the town is full of bookstores (more bookstores per capita than anywhere: 1450 people/39 bookstores), but I only bought one because I didn't want to carry too many in my suitcase for the next two weeks. Still, it's a perfect place for a bibliophile like me. And it even has a sketchworthy castle for Curt!

Stayed in Ludlow, but took a daytrip to Ironbridge and Shrewsbury the next day. Rained all day. Was hoping Curt would sketch the bridge in Ironbridge, but it was too rainy. Still, we both liked seeing it and learning more about the Industrial Revolution that started here. I sent a postcard to my fellow Social Studies teachers, to prove that I am working (and learning about the Industrial Revolution) even while I'm on holiday

Stopped in Shrewsbury on the way back - similar to Ludlow with half-timbered houses. Used a park-n-ride service again. Found a table inside Starbucks (needed someplace warm and dry) with a perfect view of some old buildings for Curt to sketch. I ordered hot chocolate and read my book and was perfectly content.

While driving around today, noticed:
Lots of sheep! Just like in NZ. Sheep look better than cows on the hillsides because they are white dots on green fields
Fields are divided by hedges, not fences so the hills are light green with dark green lines.
Distances are short between town. Even shorter than in NZ. Brits must really underestimate how far things are in the US!
Houses are built of brick, even new ones in big developments. American houses are usually wood.
More smokers here, it seems.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Spring Break: OXFORD, BLENHEIM (3 weeks in US/UK/US)

from Curt:

We left Bath after another "full English" at the B & B.  It sure doesn't take long to lose interest in the standard English breakfast:  muesli and dry cereal to start, banana, coffee and orange juice while the hot breakfast is cooked consisting of a fried egg, sausage link, ham, fried tomato, fried bread, saut├ęd mushrooms, baked beans, and toast.  That works really well the first time, but after a few days of the same menu, I'd be better off taking the juice and fruit and skipping the rest.  But of course I'm too cheap to pass up an opportunity to fill the tank and so I ploughed through the calories  - usually sufficient to last a whole day with just an afternoon snack and light grocery meal for dinner.

We headed north toward our next destination of the small village of Woodstock.  Our route took us by Oxford so we wisely opted to leave the car at a park-and-ride on the outskirts of the city, and took a bus into the pedestrian-only city centre.  It was a crisp, sunny autumn day and I was keen to sit on a quiet bench away from the throng so I could enjoy a coffee and read the Sunday newspaper.  Megan headed toward the campus to explore the halls of higher education.  The streets were crawling with tourists so it must have been the weekend before the term begins.  After catching the return bus to the car park, we passed a train station with about five hundred bicycles parked outside.  We also passed a group of about 50 people on motor scooters headed the other way toward the city centre.  These old cities are not car-friendly so alternate means of transportation are the rule rather than the exception.

We resumed our journey to Woodstock and then found our next stop at Gorselands Hall B & B just a few rural kilometres outside of the village.  It was still early afternoon, so we drove to Blenheim Palace, famous as the birthplace of Winston Churchill.  The palace was a gift from the Queen to Churchill's ancestor for winning a decisive battle that saved the day a long time ago.  It seems extravagant for just one battle so it must have been pretty important.  The place is huge.

When we arrived, there was an organised event in progress on the palace grounds.  The event was a bicycle fair with hundreds of families participating in a relay race (complete with coloured team regalia).  Some were even playing bicycle polo.  I say, how very British.  Jolly good show.  We navigated our way through the cordoned course to the palace courtyard and wandered around the vast gardens looking for sketchworthy statues or bridges.  I finally settled on a gate abutment which gave me a perch and a decent perspective of a palace clock tower.  Megan headed off to the Secret Gardens and then went to the Churchill exhibit while I sketched.

After a short rest, tea and biscuits back at the B & B, we drove back to Woodstock for a fine meal at an Italian restaurant which was all very tasty but more food than we needed.  It was one of the few times during the trip that we actually ate at a restaurant.  Fine dining is not high on our priority list for cultural experiences in foreign lands.  We choose to travel light instead.

Friday, October 17, 2008


1. Picked up rental car.

2. ESCAPED LONDON! Eventually. After a few "adventures" getting onto the ring road. And a few choice swear words from Curt.

3. Stopped in Salisbury to see the famous cathedral. Having read Edward Rutherford's epic "Sarum" last year, it was especially pertinent to see the area. Besides the impressive nave, we really liked the photogenic cloisters and the artsy baptismal font.

4. Saw Stonehenge from the motorway. It's big. Stopped for a few quick pics.

5. Spent 2 days in Bath. Stayed at a serene B&B, a welcome break from the frenetic pace of London. Besides the usual tourist sites, we took a walk along the canal one misty morning and took loads of pictures of bridges and houseboats and fog. Curt loves bridges. In London, he liked 2 modern pedestrian bridges: the Millenium Bridge that links St Pauls and the Tate Modern, and the Jubilee Bridge that leads to the London Eye. But everywhere else in England, he liked the old stone arch bridges. He only sketched one - this one in Bath - but he stopped and took pictures of dozens more, along every road all over the country.

6. Took a day trip to Glastonbury. Thanks to the annual music festival (imagine a supersized Woodstock), the town has turned into a hippie haven full of crystals, incense, and vegetarian cafes. But it also has Roman ruins of its abbey, which were peaceful and yes, photoworthy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Spring Break: LONDON (3 weeks in US/UK/US)

In London, we went to quite a few churches including St Martin in the Fields - where Curt sketched a baptism font - and St Paul's cathedral. St Martin in the Fields turned out to be a unexpectedly sweet little place that we'd never been to before (but had heard its name many times when listening to classical music). The interior was friendly, with a gorgeous crypt underneath, and I especially liked the stained glass window that warped into the shape of a cross. The volunteer was exceptionally friendly, too, which is not necessarily a good thing for Curt while he's sketching. The man kept coming over and telling Curt interesting but unwanted stories about the origins of the font, railing, and chest. While sketching, Curt is always zoned out and dislikes interruptions, so it's my job as The Artist's Personal Assistant to get rid of people who try to strike up conversations.

We also went to lots of museums, including the Tate Modern, the National Gallery, the Courtauld Gallery (a nice little museum with a great collection of Cezannes), and the British Museum (to see the Rosetta Stone, and to see the Elgin Marbles which were stolen from the Parthenon).

We enjoyed our tour of Parliament, but a fire alarm went off while we were there so everyone had to evacuate, including the MPs and Lords. I shamelessly snapped this photo of Lord Sebastian Coe (former Olympian and head of the 2012 London Olympic committee) while he was evacuated with us. By the way, entering Parliament was the only time we had to go through a security check. In comparison, every museum, government building, and even the Statue of Liberty requires a security check in America.

In addition, we went to a musical called Jersey Boys about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, which was full of great music.

And we went up in the London Eye to see the city, albeit on a grey day.

So it sounds like a fine time, doesn't it.
Unfortunately there were a few snafus:

The first snafu was when I washed my hair with hand lotion instead of shampoo. Yes, this may sound familiar because embarrasingly, I must admit I have done this before - on the day of my dad's memorial service. Talk about stupid.

Snafu deuxieme was that I got confused about what day it was. It wasn't until Curt showed me the newspaper that I was convinced it was really Wednesday. Sadly, we hadn't gone to the Shakespeare play that afternoon at the Globe Theatre (that I had already purchased tickets for!) because I thought it was only Tuesday. I was so mad at myself because a) it wasted money, b) it was an experience I was looking forward to and c) I felt pretty stupid. Again.

Snafu numero tres was the most harrowing. This one didn't make me feel stupid; it just made me feel pain. I got hit by a taxi cab while walking across the street. Luckily, the cab only hit my side, which spun me around. My knee and my right arm were bruised, but that was about all. I was eating a scrumptious yoghurt and pecan muffin from Pret at the time, and it went flying out of my hand onto the road.
Here's how it happened: We were a part of a mob of about 30 pedestrians who were trying to cross The Strand near Trafalgar Square. The mob all stepped off the curb and started across, so I stepped off too. Perhaps the cab was trying to run the yellow/red light? Or perhaps the mob had started out a second before the WALK signal? I just started walking with everyone else and then I felt the cab's impact. All the other pedestrians yelled at him and shook their fists so I think he was at fault. I saw my glorious muffin smashed on the street with tire marks through it and thought, that could have been me. Curt said he thought I was goners.

You might think that I got hit because I was American and therefore looking the wrong way, but remember, I've been living in New Zealand and driving on the left for 3 years now. The direction of London traffic was familiar to me. (I had more trouble when I tried to drive in Portland the following week) By the way, aren't London cabbies supposed to be the greatest ever?!? Maybe the one I encountered was talking on his cellphone instead. I don't know. He didn't really stop. But for the remainder of the trip, whenever I saw a cab, I wondered if that was the one who had hit me. And I was very careful crossing the street thereafter.

As for the muffin, we went to many more Pret-a-Manger stores and bought many more yoghurt pecan muffins over the next few weeks, but I couldn't help thinking about the poor muffin smashed somewhere on The Strand. Perhaps the pigeons appreciated it.

So London turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than Curt or I expected. Overall it just seemed too high-pressured. We were happy to get out in the countryside next.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Spring Break: BELLINGHAM, WA (3 weeks in US/UK/US)

On September 20, we departed for a 3 week trip. September 20th is also Curt's birthday, and it lasted 43 hours this year! Having an extra-long birthday sounds pretty cool until you consider that his 6'2" frame was mercilessly folded into an airplane seat. Actually, it was his birthday ... and then when we crossed the International Date Line, it wasn't his birthday .. and then it was his birthday again. Got that? So he kinda had 2 birthdays. Does that mean he's one year older or two years older?

We stopped in Bellingham for a day to see 3 of the boys (the other one lives in Phoenix), my mom, and my brother & his family. It was great to catch up on everyone's lives: Nolan is taking the exam for admission to law school next week, Austin quizzed us about life in New Zealand, we got to see Boone's house, and my brother is getting a new house built on Chuckanut Bay. We went to see his steep lot where the house will be, and Curt the engineer evaluated the retaining walls, drainage system, etc. As you do.

While visiting his property, we also walked down a trail to Teddy Bear Cove, which used to be the local nudist beach but was turned into a county park a few years back so the nude sunbathers now go elsewhere. I hadn't been to Teddy Bear Cove since my senior year in high school, when I attended a big kegger down there. (besides being the nudist beach, Teddy Bear Cove's isolated location was perfect for underage beer parties) It was 33 years ago, but I still remember the musclebound football players gallantly carrying the heavy kegs down the long, steep trail. My most vivid memory of that night, however, is colliding with a log down on the beach, and the log won. My klutzmanship resulted in massive, multicoloured bruises on my shins and a limping gait for the next few weeks. What's funny is that I was about the only teenager there who wasn't drinking, yet I managed to incur the only injury. Imagine me trying to convince everyone that no, I wasn't drunk; I just tripped. Imagine the scoffing. For the record, I truly was sober. It was dark out, OK?

Besides reminiscing about parties from decades ago, I spent time with all the family and ate too much of their good food. My mom made Ross cookies for me, Gwen made Snickerdoodles, and Scott made a huge brunch plus a typically outstanding dinner for 12. That evening, my mom and I stayed up til 1:00 a.m. - long past everyone else. Having some quality time with her so we could have a deep conversation was precious. We talked about her coming out to NZ again this Christmas, and about her living all alone once my brother's family moves to their new house overlooking the bay. She's been surrounded by my brother's family since my dad died in 2007, so she hasn't yet had to experience the loneliness that usually comes with being a widow. But she seems strong and eager to face it, especially since she knows she can go live in my brother's new bayside house whenever she's ready.