Sunday, November 30, 2008

Travel Journal Days Five and Six: Edinburgh

On Thanksgiving Day, we made our way to King's Cross Station at 6:30am to catch our train to Edinburgh, Scotland. It was a beautiful 4 1/2 hour train ride through England and then up the east coast of Scotland.

We saw some lovely scenery. We are now using my big, heavy camera as we are desperate to get pictures of our great adventures. Here's a shot through the train window of the east coast of Scotland.
After our long train ride, we were pleasantly
surprised to find our hotel located right
outside the train station AND our rooms were
ready at 11:30 in the morning.
Here's a shot of our hotel, The Balmoral,
from the North Bridge at dusk
After freshening up at the hotel, we took a walking
tour called "Secrets of the Royal Mile". The Royal
Mile is the cobblestone road in Edinburgh that leads
from Edinburgh Castle (no longer in use by the Royals),
to Holyrood House (home of the queen and Royal family
while in Edinburgh--they also have a Scottish summer
home called Balmoral--not to be
confused with the hotel of the same name).
We learned a lot about the history of
Edinburgh. What a great city and the tour
was full of great stories, especially the story
of Deacon Brodie, the real character behind
Robert Louis Stevenson's fictional
Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.
After our tour, we stopped back at
our hotel for a "spot of tea"

On Friday, we headed straight up the
Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle.
Entrance to the Castle
Joey in his newly purchased Christmas
themed outfit from Uniqlo
You can see our hotel, The Balmoral,
through the Cannon hole in the castle wall
New Edinburgh in the background
"The Boys" standing in front of the oldest
building in Edinburgh, the little St. Margaret's 
Chapel at the top of the Edinburgh Castle grounds
dates back to the early 12th century
Brotherly Love

After the Castle we headed down the Royal Mile
If you get a chance to visit one of these on any of
your travels--do so. This particular Camera Obscura
had about three floors of very cool illusions and then
the top floor had fantastic views and the Camera Obscura
itself, with a telescope lens
and mirrors they projected an image of Edinburgh onto
a white wood table. Lots of fun.
Harnessing the power of electricity

After Camera Obscura Michael wanted to visit
the Scottish History Museum. On the way we
passed the Elephant House coffee shop where J.K.
Rowlings, divorced single mother sat with her infant
daughter drinking coffee and looking
up at Edinburgh Castle for inspiration while
 writing the Harry Potter novels.

We caught the 5:00pm train back to London and
back to our little apartment.

Travel Journal Day Four: Windsor Castle

So, Wednesday November 26, 2008 will go down as the day Joey left Michael's camera on the train to Windsor Castle (along with all our pictures thus far). We are still hoping to get it back.... but in the meantime, more about the rest of our day. Michael had meetings in London all morning and afternoon, so the boys and I hopped a train at Paddington Station.....

...and headed off to Windsor/Eton. We spent a good two hours exploring The Royal Residences > Windsor Castle and it was a highlight of our trip to England.

This picture is actually taken from the main part of
town with all the shops and restaurants. The castle
is THAT close to town... a two minute walk to the
train station. The statue is Queen Victoria
who made Windsor Castle her primary residence
during her reign in the 1800's.
Interior grounds of the castle

St. George's Chapel

One of the coolest things in Windsor Castle,
The dollhouse is amazing with working plumbing and
electricity as well as miniature paintings by famous artists
and miniatures novels written by famous authors
(including Rudyard Kipling)--it was amazing.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Travel Journal Day Three: London

We started our day on Tuesday back on the On/Off bus to finish the other half of the city tour. We exited at Trafalgar Square in search of the authentic pub experience.

We ended up at a very respectable
place right off Trafalgar Square and
had a decent plate of fish and chips.

After lunch we visited the The Tower of London -- History
We saw the crown jewels and learned a lot
about torture devices.

After dinner, we moved from our hotel in
the rather posh neighborhood of Grosvenor
Square to a vacation rental apartment in the
more modest King's Cross area. The apartment
is only a couple blocks from the tube and railway
stations and has plenty of space and amenities.
For Harry Potter fans, Kings Cross is the station
with track 9 3/4 and the Hogwart's Express.
Our home for the rest of the week... a 3 bedroom,
2 bath flat (with free high speed wireless internet) for less than
half the price of a decent hotel.

The "flat" is actually on four stories with a little
narrow staircase. The kitchen is in the basement,
but I guess that is normal?
Things about the apartment we are
definitely taking advantage of: the 3 bedrooms,
the internet, the proximity to the rail system. Things we
wish we had more time to take advantage
of: the parklike common area out back,
the gourmet kitchen, and the steam shower.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

We're on a train (with free Wifi, obviously) from King's Cross London to Edinburgh Scotland. We hope everyone has a very Happy Thanksgiving. Sammy is playing games on his laptop, Joey is reading Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter (homework) and telling Michael about our trip to Windsor & Eton (Michael was in meetings all day yesterday). Michael is creating a story line for which Sammy and Joey will spend next year at Eton College (Private Boys High School, basically for English Royalty) and instead of rowing with the rest of the English boys, they will be rowing in a canoe wearing coon skin hats and singing Davy Crockett. Michael is so weird.

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Travel Journal Day Two: London

So, we arrived in London and slept most of the first day as previously discussed--a 6 hour nap to be exact.

We did take our walk around Grosvenor Square/Oxford Street before retiring to bed. We discovered a flurry of activity on Oxford street at 9:00pm on a Sunday night. Lots of people out shopping, eating and generally hanging out. As a matter of fact, there was a huge Gap store about a block from our hotel (big cringe from Joey and Sammy who, for some unknown reason, hate the Gap). We also happened upon a really fun department store, excruciatingly expensive (with its own Tiffany department), but fun for window shopping. As it turned out, the kids did not bring enough warm clothing (obvious when we arrived to snow, remember we were expecting 55, not 35), however this was not the store to pick up a reasonably priced winter coat.

Selfridges Department Store, Oxford street London:
So, the kids were still without warm coats, but Monday morning we did wake up early to begin our adventures in London.

Our hotel in Grosvenor Square:

We bought ourselves Oyster Cards (week passes) for the Tube
(underground subway system) and hopped on the subway
at Bond Street heading for Charing Cross where we
picked up the On/Off bus for a tour around town.
Lots of European Cities have the double decker
red On/Off tour busses. They are most fun when
you can sit on top and see everything (actually they
are not that much fun if you have to sit down below.
It is hard to see, but when you are on top, you can
see everything). Unfortunately, when it is 40 degrees
with bone chilling cold winds, the top ain't so great
either. But we weathered the storm and got through
half of one whole route before we had to get off to
go to Tea at the Ritz.

Most anyone will tell you that if you want to
experience London, you need to have High Tea and
what better place than the Ritziest joint in town, The Ritz.
It was lovely although when Michael came back from the
bathroom he did grab the table a little too hard and jostled
everyone's tea cups so violently that a good couple of teaspoons
of tea spilled on the saucers. So every time I picked up my
tea cup, tea dripped all over everything. It did not, however,
ruin the experience or the tea sandwiches, scones and
tiny little desserts.

After tea, it was becoming more and more
obvious that the kids needed coats. So, we headed
to Uniqlo. Uniqlo is a reasonably priced
Japanese clothing line with stores all over London.
It is like the Japanese version of Old Navy but geared
pretty solely for the teens and twenties crowd. The kids
went wild. I wish we had been paying dollars instead
of pounds, but we still got a bargain and they were
happy, and best of all, warm!
Like New York, London has fantastic
Theatre. When Michael and I were
in London in February, we saw Wicked
and Billy Elliot, the Musical. Both were
great and the London Theatre experience
was fun. Casual attire, bring in all the
food you want, people hooting and
hollering and really getting into the mood.
Since the kids hadn't seen "Joseph" yet,
I decided to go for it. London's version
was crazy--more crazy than anything
we had seen in the US. Plus the fact that
Joseph was being played by some guy
who won a reality show contest or something
like that, so the crowd was especially
After dinner Joey really wanted to find
an authentic old pub to eat at. Unfortunately,
it seems a lot of the pubs don't accept children
at night, so we searched and searched....

and finally came upon (not a pub), but a Northern
African Food Restaurant named Momo. I was so tired,
cold and hungry that I said let's go here. It was full of loud
music and hookah pipes. The food was just alright
and the bathrooms were scary (like pirate themed or
something. The toilet paper in the women's room
was hanging by a huge rope)
We enjoyed ourselves nonetheless and were
full when we left. We grabbed a cab and called it a night.

By the way, you may be noticing that there are no
personalized pictures... I had not downloaded the
pictures off Michael's camera and today Joey
left the camera on the train when we were
going from London to Windsor... big frowny face here....

Sunday, November 23, 2008

We've Arrived

A couple people told us that late November was a fine time to visit London. Now, I was skeptical but not deterred and since we live in Portland, we certainly weren't concerned, but everything I could find led me to believe that the weather would be approx. 50-55 degrees and generally cloudy to sunny. On there had been no precipitation during this week for the past, at least, seven years.

Guess what, we arrived this morning to snow. When the plane landed it was 31 degrees on the ground... and snowing.

On the drive to the hotel it was snowing, but like Portland weather, the temperature was climbing and nothing was sticking, but it was fun to watch.

I think it got to 43 degrees and sunny by the afternoon, but since we were sleeping all day, who would really know.

We did wake up just in time to go have a fantastic steak dinner at Gordon Ramsey's Maze Grill, which is conveniently located at our hotel.

Now we are off for a brisk walk in dark, cold Grosvenor Square. Tomorrow, we will be up bright and early for some heavy duty sightseeing.

Lily's Newest Discovery

That our bed is way more comfortable than hers!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Birthday and Buzz Cut

This past Sunday my Mom had a birthday (Happy Birthday Mom!):

Oh yeah, and Sammy got a buzz cut. I was sad to see the curls go, but he does look handsome in his new haircut (much more practical for basketball season too).

A New Day--Indeed!

Since most people know I am a relatively (cough, cough) liberal democrat, it is no surprise that the politics of last night brought joy to my heart, HOPE, if you will. I thought Barack Obama's speech was inspirational and his election to President a truly historical event. For this night alone, I wish Joey had been 10 months older so he could have participated. Now, I have been around the block a few times and I know Presidents rarely keep promises they make during the campaign process. I like the fact that Obama has reminded us that it may take a little sacrifice (this is reality folks) and that he will need help (hello increased taxes) and he is not promising to fix this mess overnight. We all need a little dose of reality now and then. Now, I would like to be saying right now--okay, so we got some tax breaks over the past 8 years and now it is our turn to pay back--however, we DID NOT get any tax breaks over the past 8 years, we got SLAMMED! I can only hope that the increased taxes we will pay will improve the position of our country and the lives of Americans. Maybe they will, maybe they won't, but I have HOPE.

I am not particularly fond of the political process, the slander--the millions of dollars spent to try and smear another American... I am not so fond of what most times seems to be a drive for power instead of a true desire to make America better. I am proud, however, that the majority of Americans decided to embrace something different this time around. I supported Obama from the beginning because I do believe he is different and not just because of the color of his skin. There is no perfect world, or perfect leader. There are no easy answers--but there is HOPE.

After the last two presidential elections I felt utterly depressed and I turned inward generally not wanting to discuss politics or the president or the horror that is our economy. Moving to Canada has been discussed quite a few times in our household (not too seriously, but it was discussed). The first time Bush was elected I was devastated. The second time I was disgusted. I am so happy to have HOPE back. Thank you Barack Obama for giving me some HOPE!