Last London

 

 

Admiring the Rosetta Stone at the V&A.

Admiring the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum.

Sunday afternoon on Marlybone Street.

Sunday afternoon on Marlybone Street.

Hard to say goodbye to this amazing city—center of many universes that it is. But on with the schedule: we take the train to Lyon tomorrow morning. New apartment in new city in new country with new money and a new language. I have to admit that my plan to buff up my college French has not gone well, no fault to Duolingo, which is a great (and free) program.

But here’s our last look at London.  (small apology and quibble–this webserver doesn’t allow me to post any pics larger than 2 MB–I’m not happy with how fuzzy most of them look when they get converted down). But onward to some observations, then more pics.

Looking at the Thames Barrier to the west from south side of Thames.

Looking toward the Thames Barrier to the east from south side of Thames.

There are far more racially diverse couples and families here than in any US city we know. Most of the servers in the restaurants and pubs we’ve been to are not native-born English speakers. There are lots of all women groups in both pubs and restaurants. Beetroot jam! Two more bits of graffiti: “Patience is half way to happiness” and “Technology won’t impress me until it can download beer.”

 

It’s been a busy three weeks—museums, little trips out of town and lots of music. The out-of-town ventures were to Bletchley Park (the WWII decoder camp, most recently seen in the movie The Imitation Game) and Stonehenge and the neighboring standing stone circles at Avebury.

Bletchley Park was terrific—extremely well done exhibits and excellent explanations of very complicated stuff. We hadn’t seen the movie, but tried to watch it afterwards. Gave up about half way through—why couldn’t they just tell the true and totally amazing story?

Turing and Welshman's Enigma decoding machine "The Bombe"

Turing and Welshman’s Enigma decoding machine “The Bombe”

Stonehenge and Avebury similarly astounding and well explained. If you haven’t been, when you do go, be sure to include Avebury in the itinerary—it is three huge stone circles that you can walk around in and touch, which you can no longer do at Stonehenge. There was a little group of Druids there holding hands; later they stuck flowers into some of the stone crevices.

Stonehenge: notice the bump on one of the uprights: mortise and tenon construction!

Stonehenge: notice the bump on one of the uprights: mortise and tenon construction! (me, experimenting with B&W)

 

Avebury: three stones and a farmer's brick wall.

Avebury: three stones and a farmer’s brick wall.

Back in the city, more walks in the park, and a terrific nighttime light show that closed parts of the main streets (Piccadilly, Regent, Oxford). Museum exhibitions we visited included a wonderful Calder exhibit at the Tate Modern—he did a lot of stuff before mobiles—little wire sculptures of circus acts that moved. Very fun. Also new platinum prints of Hurley’s photos from the Shackleton Antarctica expedition, including some in color and some moving picture film, at the Royal Geographical Society. Also a terrific Charles and Ray Eames exhibit.

We trekked out to the Thames Barrier too. The engineering is quite amazing. Makes us eager to see the hold-the-water-back constructions in Venice.

Thames Barrier looking west. Not designed by Frank Gehry!

Thames Barrier looking west. Not designed by Frank Gehry!

Music was all classical—we heard Sir Simon Rattle conduct his new London Symphony Orchestra, Joshua Bell conduct and play with St Martins in the Field and Gustavo Dudamel conduct a Venezuelan orchestra. Each in a different venue around town.

Finally, we took the train, ferry and buses to spend a couple days on the Isle of Wight (since Peter’s turned 64—remember the Beatles’ song?). We walked 10 miles one day along the Coastal Path on the west side—huge windstorm, gusts well over 60 mph. At one point we had to hang on to a fence to stay upright.

Coastal Path on west side of IOW, on the way to The Needles.

Coastal Path on west side of IOW, on the way to The Needles.

 

Waves along the breakwater at Colwell Bay Coastal Path.

Waves along the breakwater at Colwell Bay Coastal Path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking down on The Needles from the Tennyson Downs.

Looking down on The Needles from the Tennyson Downs.

Can’t resist this final city picture:

Scooters on the railing of a preschool up the street from our flat.

Scooters on the railing of a preschool up the street from our flat.

London Snapshots, and Food, Glorious Food

A few more shots of our wanderings around this marvelous global capitol. Weather in January has not been as calm and pleasant as December’s but there’s enough breaks in the rain for us to venture out of our usual long walks (accompanied by our faithful Fitbits).

First a few delicious words about food. I’ve been wallowing in my Jamie Oliver fandom. We discovered him years ago, with his first TV show. So casual, so assured, so charming, so articulate and so cute and English. Now, years later, with 4 kids and an empire, he’s aging pretty darn well. Seems to have stuck to his principles of decent food for all, which is good to see. He definitely uses a lot of ingredients, but is pretty casual about quantities, encouraging of substitutions and experiments. It all adds up to making cooking seem more personal and creative.

Some food observations from our grocery store adventures:

  1. Tea is cheap and strong and flavorful
  2. The veggies are more adventurous and ones that are less common in the US are much more prevalent here, like leeks and parsnips, celeriac and swede (what they call rutabaga). Veggies and meat and eggs are all labeled with the country, and sometimes the county or farm, they come from.
  3. The butter!!! OMG, unbelievably wonderful. Lower water content than ours and so much creamier and flavorful.
  4. The flour (I’ve been making cookies) has a smoother, denser feeling and is more yellow than ours.
  5. Cheese—we’ve long loved British farm cheeses. The best are available in everyday grocery stores at very reasonable prices. Cheddars are white with those wonderful little crunchy bits and cost less than bland yellow US store brands.
  6. Eggs, as I mentioned before are not refrigerated, because they are not washed. The boxes are labeled with the kind of chicken they came from. Yolks deep yellow/orange. Sizes vary—the ones they call large seem larger than ours.
  7. Bread! Fabulous. Seeds and nuts and wholemeal and rye.
  8. Jam! A million kinds and combinations—rhubarb ginger now sits in our fridge. Again, very well priced.
  9. Not much choice in the peanut butter department though—we found one brand in several stores, though, that is better than our own organic top of the line stuff in the US.

There’s a lot written about “high welfare” meat—which means the animals are well treated and killed more humanely than otherwise. A million kinds of bacon, too—including lardons which I can personally testify are better than I’ve bought in the US.

Away from the grocery store, we had a long lunch at Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant called Dinner earlier this week. Blumenthal earned his stripes at The Fat Duck, which topped lists of the best restaurant in the world for several years. All about molecular gastronomy in those days, we ate there a couple of times years ago. His Dinner restaurant is more sedate but similarly intensely detailed and perfect. We sat next to the glassed-in kitchen and could look in to see the busy chefs (20 or so) or look the other way and see across the street into Hyde Park. Pretty darn nice.

The menu we had was very fun as it indicated the cookbook and the era the dish originated. It had things on it like “Meat Fruit: mandarin, chicken liver parfait & grilled bread” from c. 1500. Peter started with “Early Grey Tea cured Salmon: lemon salad, gentleman’s relish, wood sorrel & smoked roe” from 1730. My main course was also from 1730: “Braised celery: parmesan, chanterelles, vinaigrette, cider apple & smoked walnuts.” YUMMY!. For dessert we had Victorian specialties: spit roasted pineapple and brown bread ice cream with caramel, pears and malted yeast syrup.

Our local pub isn’t so bad either. Here’s my Cumberland sausage dinner from a couple nights ago. Actually, I’ve had it twice.

Cumberland sausage dinner at the Phoenix pub off the King's Road

Cumberland sausage dinner at the Phoenix pub off the King’s Road–about 4 blocks from our flat

 

Duck among early blooming daffodils in St James Park a couple days ago

Duck among early blooming daffodils in St James Park a couple days ago

 

Lest you think nothing modern is going on in London--the south bank of the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge

Lest you think nothing modern is going on in London–the south bank of the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge at sunset day before yesterday

London Calling

Happy last day of 2015. It’s sunny here in London; a little rain expected mid afternoon and then clear again for the nighttime fireworks. Brussels has canceled their fireworks, but not here. Even so, we’re not going out tonight. We plan a nice long walk this morning along the south bank of the Thames, west to east.  Then home to cook a modest meal of pork medallions, roasted potatoes with butter and parsley, and snap peas. And of course cheese. Meanwhile, here are a few London pictures from December.

Draycott Place our streetThis is our street–Draycott Place, looking NE toward Sloan Square and the back of Peter Jones Department Store, if you know the area. Wonderfully energetic Victorian buildings. Most are flats, but the Spanish consulate is also here. A couple weeks ago when Spain was holding elections there were long lines of Spanish expats here waiting to vote.

The store below is where Peter buys his daily ground coffee. The store is the purveyor to the Queen and it’s a tiny small space in Mayfair,  between Grosvenor Square and Oxford Street. It’s a nice walk from our place, up and across Hyde Park. We have several grocery stores nearby and a wonderful fishmonger.

Interesting fact: The eggs are not refrigerated. Does anyone know why?

Higgins coffee purveyors

Kensington graffiti

This little graffiti was on a wall between our place and the coffee place. One day it was there and the next day it was gone.

 

 

Hyde Park December sunshine

 

Here’s Hyde Park’s Rose Garden on a sunny December afternoon. Roses in bloom, winter sun slanting across the park. It was in the high 50s F.

And here is a scene from Kensington park, some pretty amazing sailboat “toys” just finished their morning sail.

sailboats in Kensington garden

 

Oxford St holiday lights Selfridges

This is Oxford Street looking west across from Selfridges. The colored balls are strung all the way from Regent street to Marble Arch. Many other streets had amazing holiday displays as well–huge silver peacock feathers across Bond Street, giant gold discs on Regent street, etc. Magical and hard to photograph with cell phone.

For my birthday, we took the bus up to Oxford and spent a night at Le Manoir aux Quatr’ Saisons. Here are two pictures from our sunset stroll around the grounds at sunset and one looking up at the moon a few minutes later on Dec 20. And you wonder why I love England?

waterfall through the stone window

 

sunset at le manoir

tree and moon at le manoir

We went to the states for Christmas with the girls and their families. Tess and Ken, taking advantage of the crowd, had decided to get married. Small ceremony at their house on the 27th, signing of papers and much laughing and good cheer.

Tess and Ken

Happy 2016, one and all!

Brugge and Amsterdam–travel adventure #2

Brugge beginhof at sunsetWe had a huge dose of tourism last week, taking the Eurostar train onto the continent to spend two days in Brugge, Belgium and four days in Amsterdam. We’ve taken this trip through the Chunnel several times before, and this week there was clearly a LOT more barbed wire and security vehicles as we popped out onto the flat French countryside.

Our train ticket destination was labeled “Any Belgian station.” I guess it’s such a small country that it’s all the same to them. We changed in Brussels to a smaller train that took us to Brugge (which required a back-track, but basically everything has to go through Brussels). In the Brussels train station, we also saw much heightened security.

 

 

Brugge

Friends had told us to go to Brugge. It was a later add-on to our itinerary, so we didn’t do much if any research. An old town, we were told, very pretty, canals. Fun to walk around. And indeed that was an understatement. It’s amazingly medieval, all brick and cobblestone, pointy churches and spires sprouting weathervanes, every narrow street opening out to yet another small courtyard or plaza, canals and bridges and swans all around. Very atmospheric. And of course it being Christmas, there were lights and people and good cheer everywhere. We didn’t go to any museums or visit any churches—it was all about wandering around outdoors. We ate in pubs, had coffee in little cafes, visited chocolate shops.

Some Brugge photos:

 

December night in Brugge

December night in Brugge

Brugge Christmas  Market and bikes

Brugge Christmas Market and bikes

Actually, we did go to one museum: the Frites Museum. Very good; the story of the potato told from Peru to Belgium. Bottom line: the Flemish invented frites and they only came to be called French fries after World War II when the American GI’s thought the Belgians were French. Made you understand Hercule Poirot’s constant correction of everyone who assumed he was French.

Eat as many potatoes as you want!

Eat as many potatoes as you want!

Amsterdam

Peter’d been to Amsterdam for work several times years ago; I’d never been. A big city! Yes, cute narrow houses along canals, but not nearly as atmospheric as Brugge. Although we walked around quite a bit, the main goal here was to see the art. And goodness, what a treasure chest of paintings the Dutch have produced. We started by going to Rembrandt’s house. A friend of a friend works there, and we watched him demonstrate how paint colors were created and used

Rembrandt's raw paint materials

Rembrandt’s raw paint materials

in Rembrandt’s lifetime (1606-1669). Such a lot of work before you ever made a mark.

 

We moved on from there to the recently renovated van Gogh Museum, which made me cry. Such an earnest painter, tried so hard, worked like crazy, cared so much. The museum’s official story is still the suicide, although when I asked, they admitted that there is some controversy about that these days. Wonderful paintings there, though not the ones I’m most familiar with because, of course, they are in other museums where I’ve seen them in London, New York and DC. the van Gogh museum has his writing desk with the placard reading “This was Vincent’s writing desk before he became an artist. Naturally, e-mail and cell phones did not yet exist. That is why people who did not live near one another communicated through letters.”

The Rijksmuseum, also recently renovated, was pretty stunning too. You can’t take it all in; like the Louvre, you have to pick and choose and decide to come back another day. We stuck mainly to the Rembrandts, van Goghs, Vermeers and quick run through the delft porcelain. Loved all the portraits. Lots of elementary school groups there; what lucky kids! The pride of the place is Rembrandt’s Nightwatch. Incredible! Again, it gave me a lump in my throat to see such amazing work.

Dutch kids in front of Rembrandt's Nightwatch

 

Rijksmuseum holiday tree hologram in main courtyard

Rijksmuseum holiday tree hologram in main courtyard

Also visited the Stedelijk museum, which is their modern art museum. Some good, some beyond us. Peter most interested in the furniture—Gerrit Rietfeld (1888-1964) designed several of the chairs that Peter has built, and various versions of them were in the museum. Fun to see how he modified his thoughts over time. The zigzag chair is one of his best known. Rietfeld was from Utrecht, so we took a commuter train out there to see a house he’d built. Interesting—the house is basically a big piece of furniture. Very good tour provided. Utrecht also has canals and cobblestones; we walked through a Sunday street market where Santa was simmering and dispensing gluvein.

Rietfelt Schroder house in Utrecht. 1920s.

Rietfelt Schroder house in Utrecht. 1920s.

We ate great food in Amsterdam, having made reservations at places several foodie friends recommended. The Dutch are wizards with veggies, also ham and pork and cheese. What’s not to like? Peter had a selection of oysters at one place, a couple were similar to our PNW and Japanese oysters but one was large and startlingly different—he liked it.

What we didn’t do was spend time learning more about all the engineering that allows the country to stay above water. There was visible water everywhere—the country is basically flat, green and wet. But the guy at the Rembrandt house, who’s lived in Amsterdam for 18 years says he’s never seen the canal water rise or lower by even an inch in any weather ever.

Amsterdam mom and kid (but not everyone was blond, honest!)

Amsterdam mom and kid (but not everyone was blond, honest!)

Oh, and those bikes. Yes, lots of them. The scooters and motorcycles sometimes use the bike lanes. Saw one guy carrying his Christmas tree home on his bike. Bikes have zero to three gears tops—no hills. We took a taxi ride once and learned that one of the taxi companies had bought 300 Tesla’s for their airport runs, but the drivers don’t like them because they didn’t have enough range for a day’s work—so they lose money having to sit around and charge up.

 

 

Back to our London flat via bus, plane, train, tube and feet. A little laundry and shopping for a few days, then to State College where we are all gathering for Christmas. Hope yours is warm and wonderful and full of stories, peace and fun.

One more picture: from the Stedelijk modern museum.

Travels #2: December 4, 2015

First week high point is two days in Copenhagen to eat at Noma! Amazing, friendly, delicious and all-around incredible. About 50 people in the kitchen, including the outdoor BBQ, fermenting rooms and space for plucking the ducks. 25 are paid, 25 are 13-week unpaid interns, everyone very friendly and easy to chat with in English. There are 14 or 15 nationalities amongst the staff; only 3 are Danish. We were treated to a kitchen tour by Luke, a tattooed Seattleite who grew up on Queen Anne, and has worked at Noma for 4 years. And yes, they do have a pacojet (we had roasted kelp ice cream which tasted uncannily like salted caramel) but use it mostly for sauces and savory bits. They hardly ever sous vide anything.

Menu was 18 courses. Even Kit ate the seaweed and the Danish ants and grasshoppers, but balked at the monkfish liver, clam and sea urchin. The bread was amazing and the butter was unbelievably wonderful–first churn or virgin butter. Never heard of it before, but ambrosial. Oh, also, Kit didn’t eat the duck brains or tongue. Peter ate both.

100 year old mahogany clam

100 year old mahogany clam

Translucent cabbage leaves sandwiching seaweed--yummy!

Translucent cabbage leaves sandwiching seaweed–yummy!

Looking into Noma kitchen from back alley

Looking into Noma kitchen from back alley

Peter and Noma chef from Seattle

Peter and Noma chef from Seattle

Plucking the ducks out back

Plucking the ducks out back

Roasted duck at Noma

Roasted duck at Noma

Chocolate covered moss!

Chocolate covered moss!

 

We are staying in a hotel that is on the edge of Tivoli Gardens—our windows look right onto a wonderland of twinkly lights. It’s really an amusement park, not a garden. The little kids are all blond and dressed in winter jumpsuits. They do a lovely light and water show to parts of The Nutcracker. (Tivoli, not the little kids)

Christmas lights at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen

Christmas lights at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen

Now back in our London flat, sorting out the washer/dryer (it takes 4-5 hours to do one load that is about half of what I can do at home in a quarter of the time). We’re been to the local grocery store (Waitrose) a couple times—wonderful cheese, jam, chutney, tea selections, as you can imagine. Sunny this morning—we’ll be heading out later, no big plans for today; we’re looking for a local pub we can call our own.

So far: we are VERY luckymanandlady.

Egads, day after tomorrow!

Happy Thanksgiving!

And we have so much to be grateful for: we leave day after tomorrow for our SIX MONTH adventure in Europe! Very long in the planning, it’s now down to whatever we can get done on all the lists we’ve generated, written and re-written for over a year, in the next two days.

The list is getting shorter though. Raked leaves yesterday. The weather’s turned cool and crisp, and relatively dry too, so that’s good. We had a lovely little neighborhood gathering at Spring and Richard’s house on Sunday. We brought Michael, who is going to housesit for us. It was nice for him to meet the neighbors, and for them to meet him. Besides us, there were 14 adults and 7 little kids. Very fun.

What’s being packed? Well, not much yet; after all, we don’t leave until day after tomorrow.

Empty suitcase

Empty suitcase

One thing it will be good to miss is that our next door neighbors to the south are about to have their house jacked up and basement redone. Much construction noise that we will happily avoid. They brought over a “renovation emergency pack” for Michael—ear plugs, a bottle of wine and a gift card for the coffee shop down the street. We love our neighbors.

Back to thinking about packing—we’re breaking our usual pattern by planning to check baggage. Probably three suitcases, plus a duffel and a small backpack. Maybe that’s too much? It’s not like we’re leaving civilization behind. Well, maybe Europe isn’t quite so civilized as we used to think…

A number of our friends have asked if we are going to write a blog and post photos of our trip. Our girls put together a website for us for this very sort of thing. Here’s the link.

We’ll post items from time to time. You can look at them (or not) on your own.

Our itinerary is London for 2 months, Lyon for 2 months, Croatia for 1 month and Venice for 1 month. We’ve rented apartments for London, Lyon and Venice. Besides enjoying these places (none, except Croatia, is new to us) we’ll use them as jumping off places. In December, we’re already set for a trip to Copenhagen (we have lunch reservations at Noma, the best restaurant in the world for several years running—expect pictures for that one!), and a stay in Amsterdam and Bruges. We have symphony tickets in Amsterdam and London. We’ll also be back on the US east coast for Christmas with our kids.

Enough for now!

Goodbye, little house

Goodbye, little house

Wild flowers in a hostile environment

Recent road trip to southern Utah, Arizona and New Mexico was very fun. Loved the hiking for the views of the sculptural mesas and hoodoos, the tiny wild flowers anchored in the rock, blooming their hearts away, growing and surviving, and visiting three sets of friends–in Las Cruces, San Diego and Montecito. Also drove unexpectedly right through the middle of the Very Large Array which is very large indeed. And a sign in NM saying “Future home of America’s Space X spaceport.” Also lots of solar arrays, one of which was being constructed of parabolic mirrors and included a sign saying it was to be the largest such solar farm in North America. It was being built by a Spanish company.

Here are a few of the flowers, also one tree and a rock formation we climbed down into and through

.Peter and the slot       desert wildflowers3:

DSC02179desert wildflowers7desert wildflowers4

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Vancouver!

We spent 3 days in our favorite city in North America this past weekend. Vancouver BC is a treat–a terrific walking city, wonderfully integrated water, beaches, mountains and urban buzz. We’ve enjoyed it for decades. I think the first time we went up there together was for our delayed honeymoon. Gary Carpenter was working in the hotel biz in those days and he helped us get a reduced rate at the Four Seasons there. We were blown away with it all. Fruit in the room and everything. We really felt like grown ups.

This time, the hotel we stayed at had games in the room–pick up sticks, yoyo, a slinky, a kaleidoscope (see pic). Guess we’re regressing in our old age.

Here are some pictures of our walks this past weekend. It was sunny and high 50s/low 60s. We also went to the Vancouver Art Museum. They had an amazing exhibit by modern Chinese artists (there’s one pic of one wall in the room by Sun Xun–it was projections of classical landscape scrolls overlaid with moving birds and fish, also in the classical style. Just incredible!)

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