Expat Observations

England: One More Year!

Our long December shadows with StonehengeWell, I suppose it’s officially official now. We are staying in England for another year. Mark’s original contract was for two years and those two years are just about up. That time has flown by! A blip! Now, after months of promises and waiting for contract negotiations, coming up with an offer we could live with, it finally happened. One more year.

Honestly, we were getting a bit frustrated and just mere weeks ago we were uttering the words to ourselves, “maybe it is time to go home.” Mentally, we were starting to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead at home. We have plans, big plans, that we have been dreaming about for years. Hell, we picked up and lived abroad for two years, anything is possible, it’s just a matter of acting on it and doing things sooner rather than later.

Our minds are switching gears again, knowing now that we are staying. We have plans, big plans, places to go, people to see. We went ahead and actually bought a coffee maker, something we had been putting off for two years because, well, it is silly really, we were only going to be here so briefly, the French press was fine to tide us over.

As for me, I am now able to remain and finish my own contract with my job at the museum and I’ll get to see the “big move” into the new Darwin Center. I am actually going to be part of the new exhibit in the public offer. I’m working with a film team to create a video about insect preparation. (This will go along side two other videos by other people on slide preparation and plant mounting outside one of the many windows looking into “the cocoon” where people will be working). I’m excited to be a part of the staff that’s going to be captured in snippets and snapshots for the world to see what goes on behind those doors. And I’m excited that I’ll be there to witness its start.

One more year. Yeah, we can do that, we can do that standing on our heads.

(the photo above is one of the first we took after moving here in 2006, our long December shadows on nearly the shortest day of the year)

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England: Hinds Head

Tonight involved a jaunt into Bray, just a few miles away, to a fabulous dinner at the Hinds Head. I had tried to get reservations, the place is popular. I was advised to just show up and have a seat in the bar, they serve the same menu in the bar as they do in the restaurant.

If we ever have a night of wanting to go out to eat and need inspiration, we are so going here again. This is the pub that is owned by Heston Blumenthal and is across the street from his three-Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck. Bray is also home to another pair of Michelin starred restaurant and separate pub by a different owner.

We each started out with a bar snack of “Devils on Horseback.” There was no description on the menu, so we just had to ask. These are prunes, marinated in brandy, stuffed with a mango chutney and wrapped in pancetta, cooked until crispy. Unusual, but oh so good! I love the combination of fruit and meat, a balance of sweet and salty, creamy and crunchy.

I paired my meal with the house white wine. I imagine having the house white wine in Heston’s pub would be a pretty good house wine.

I opted to have one of the appetizers as an entree, the Goats Cheese, Onion and Red Pepper Tart (if you read my blog regularly, this should not surprise you as you know I have a hard time saying no to anything involving Goats cheese). This was also a dish involving those lovely balance of flavors and textures topped with a peppery rocket.

The real star of the show though, was the pudding. The Quaking Pudding! All of the puddings sounded wonderful, but a quick search on the interwebs from Mark’s phone revealed a recipe basically describing the ingredients for creme brulee with added brioche crumbs. A fancy bread pudding? I thought.

Heston’s concept for many of the traditional dishes in his pub is to take medieval recipes, for which generally there are few actual details and instruction for, and create modern versions of them. Jellies and Puddings used to be made inside various sac like organs to hold their shape while they were boiled, to help them maintain structural integrity but also allow to keep their wobbly nature. This pudding was not made in some ruminants stomach. No. Sweet puddings were made wrapped in linen cloth.

This was a heavenly pudding! It did come out on a wooden platter wibbling and wobbling about, finely sliced apples folded into a small heap besides. Imagine an extremely light custard, a smooth bread pudding, a creme brulee spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg in a creamy warm Jello-like texture. We were rewarded as we dipped our spoons into this delight to a pudding that enveloped us in creamy warmth, it is a comfort food for a chilly autumn night. Mark and I split one, I could have easily consumed another. It was just so good and so light.

Again I say, if we are ever at a loss for ideas for going out to dinner, we will return here and I will order the Quaking Pudding.

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England: RSC Hamlet

Waiting for Hamlet to start in Sept.Today we traveled to Stratford-upon-Avon for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet. It seems appropriate that if one were to go see just one RSC show, you would pick Hamlet, you would pick seeing it in Stratford, the heart of Shakespeare country and you would want some heavy hitters in the lead roles.

Both David Tennant as Hamlet and Patrick Stewart as Claudius were phenomenal. Also, one of the bit players, David Ajala, happened to be from another show we watch in the UK. Throughout the play, I kept thinking about the setting. Of Denmark, of Helsignor, of our visit to this country last year, of our visit to Kronborg Slot, the castle said to be the inspiration for Helsignor. Not to sound like too much of a fan girl, but, Squeee! David Tennant was particularly brilliant. The cheers and applause for him at the end was electric and made me smile a big stupid grin.

It was simply THE most amazing production of Shakespeare I think I will ever see and in an intimately small theater. There is not a bad seat in all of the Courtyard Theater, performed in the round, the worst seat is 80 feet from the stage. It was fabulous to have actors that we were so familiar with/fans of in the primary roles too. What an incredible performance, an incredible day. Thanks again to my sweetie for finding the hard to get tickets.

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Sad Realization…

I realized, the last time that either Mark or I experienced lots of sunshine and hot summer like temperatures was on our trip to Turkey last September. Well, it’s a good thing we’re vacationing in Turkey next week then, we’re over due. I predict mighty sun burns for both of us as our pale England-living skin fries to a crisp. But first we’ll be showing our friends around our village and adopted home for a few days.

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Why I Love My Husband Reason #1277

Hammock + Orange Juice Ice Lolly in our back yardOn Friday I get a cryptic text message from Mark, “I have a present for you! Here’s a hint, it’s 12″ x 18″ x 84″ and about 100 lbs.” I had absolutely no idea what it could be. It was a gorgeous day, he asked that I stop at the local grocer for some supplies so we could grill out. Baguette, brie, courgettes, mushrooms and some Jacques cider in hand I headed off down the wooded footpath toward home. Little did I know it was a ruse to try to buy some time. I decided to just head for the backyard rather than going for the front door. I was shocked to find Mark assembling a hammock!

I had mentioned in passing how nice it would be to have a hammock in our yard, a place to lay down and relax in the sun comfortably. He’s so thoughtful all of the time, but this was an extra special bit of thoughtfulness. It’s big enough for both of us to fit with room to spare. Friday night, we brought out a couple of blankets and cuddled up under the stars and even fell asleep out there. How very sweet. It has been used quite a lot this weekend, it’s been gorgeous, one might even say it’s been summer like (finally!). Here I am enjoying the hammock and another recent find. An orange ice lolly. The ingredients? Orange juice and sugar. That’s it. Cold, juicy and refreshing.

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Pod People, Pod People…

I feel as if I’m in a the setting of some science fiction story. On the train in and in the streets, every one is walking around with these identical white ear pieces. As if it’s a part of some nefarious plot to control the humans. At some point all of these people will turn on the rest of us with the flick of a switch (sounds like an episode of Doctor Who actually). Yes, you know what I’m talking about. I have a pair of the best sort of ear bud technology, only, they don’t seem to want to stay in my ears, no matter how I position them, they also start to hurt after a while. So I decided to give the pair provided with the phone a try.

I never noticed before just how many people are wearing them out there. Only now, I’m one of them. I’m one of the Pod People, with my white ear bud head phones.

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Traffic Court in England

Out of all the outcomes that we had been hypothesizing about, none of them came close to how it was all resolved. It was over an incident that had occurred months ago and things went all pear shaped. Basically, it all boiled down to paperwork that allegedly was never filled out, not even about the original speed camera traffic offense.

The summons was for a court appearance at 1:45 in the afternoon, in Fleetwood, just north of Blackpool. We set out early. We worried we would lose too much time so we didn’t stop for lunch, nor did we even put the top up on the car for the last thirty miles or so of driving in the rain. “Those few minutes could cost us!” we thought.

We arrived early, having been advised to ask to speak to a duty solicitor for advice, as they are legally obligated to provide council. However, this apparently does not apply to traffic violations. It was 1:30. Once there, the guards told us they don’t get started until 2:00! There was one other individual there, he said his summons was for 1:30. We then thought we would be the second case heard that afternoon. “No worries!” we thought, “we’ll be in and out and off for some lunch!” We thought wrong.

More people arrived, not many, but more arrived. All a bunch of locals, people in torn blue jeans. An announcement was made over the speaker, the local accent is something else, I couldn’t understand what was said. Apparently it was someone’s name being called and they recognized the language being spoken and entered the courtroom. One after another of these other people were called over the loud speaker and seen.

Remember, we didn’t stop for lunch because we thought we were going to be late. I was beyond hungry at this point, and if you know me, I get all squirrelly, shaky and easily upset to tears over the simplest things when I’m that hungry. “If one more person is called, I’m going to look for something as a snack,” Mark assured me, he was getting super hungry too. That was 3:30. Mark brought back some candy bars, it just made us more hungry but at least gave us both a boost to our blood sugar.

It was becoming clear we were going to be the last case heard that day. Good thing we rushed to drive four hours to Blackpool for this! Finally, just before 4:00, I was called in.

Mark had been peppering me with all sorts of questions, thinking if he were in this situation, what sorts of questions would he expect to be asked, and then some. Making sure I was prepared and wouldn’t sound flustered. I was all set to go in. I was walking into a courtroom on my own, Mark, as my witness, was to sit outside until called.

There I was in front of three magistrates (the “judges”), one solicitor there to advise the magistrates and the prosecuting solicitor. They prosecuting solicitor read aloud the charges and evidence. He then brought up the fact that my last name and my husband’s last name was misspelled in several different ways on various documents. This was enough cause for the case to be dismissed. All this was over in two minutes.

It was then noted that I was from the South, from Buckinghamshire, that I had come along way for this. I was asked to bring Mark in, where they asked about the exact distance we were from home and how much we spent on petrol to get there. They then awarded me £75 to cover the cost of petrol and apologized that they could not cover costs for missing a day at work.

And that was it. We were a bit beside ourselves as we made our way to a local cafe. We both ordered full English breakfasts that were served all day (read: huge piles of protein that we both desperately needed). In a haze of disbelief, we tucked in.

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On British Television

I really enjoyed watching the Dr. Who season finale, it wasn’t disappointing. Following it up with always watching “Dr. Who Confidential” I love seeing just how proud every one who is involved in the show are of the work they do. It is interesting to see how many connections are made and threads kept with the original series. Watching it in tandem with the main series illustrates the richness and depth of the storytelling, revealing details I would be hard pressed to remember.

I have fond memories of the original series. I watched so many of the old Dr.’s with my brother Joe, who was obsessed with the show which aired on PBS and Nickelodeon, when we were young. I remember they were often aired on Saturday’s, a day when my mom would use this crazy floor scrubber to mop the dining room floor. The dining room table would be moved into the living room and my brother and I would watch the show. It is possible one or two of my other brothers would be there, but I so strongly associate these memories with Joe. I also strongly associate a lemony floor cleaner scent with it too.

I have no desire to go back and re-watch any of the older series, I fear it would render these rose-colored fond memories into something else. Yes, the kitschiness is a part of the Doctor Who lore and ingrained in British culture. “Kitsch” isn’t quite the right word to express it, but I just don’t think I could bring myself to sit through those original episodes.

The point I’m trying to make is, I love that there are British television shows that I (we) will always associate with living in England. They will be memory triggers for us. Including the Doctor. Especially the Doctor.

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Happy Fourth of July!

Well, for the second year in a row, Mark and I will not be at my family picnic. This year will mark 35 years of this tradition, held at my aunt (my dad’s sister) and uncle’s home. We’re probably missing out on the matching t-shirts that have been printed up every five years! It is the biggest holiday in my family, practically a mini family reunion where, for some family members, this is the only time during the year that we see each other.

It is an all day affair, it always involves obscene amounts of grilled and prepared foods and desserts. There are always fierce volleyball games, rain or shine, some years everyone is covered in mud from head to toe. There is always a large bonfire in the evening, everyone crowds around chatting, roasting marshmallows and being pyromaniacs. There is always a new crop of children fascinated with collecting lightening bugs and setting off fireworks. Collages of photos are every where from previous years, those who have passed still grace our presence with their smiles all over the walls. There is always hours of catching up and reminiscing, sharing of photos and joys and sorrows, meeting new friends and greeting the newest additions to the extended family. Most years there are well over 50 people there.

I can say this is my favorite family holiday. I love the tradition of it. Today, Mark and I are taking a holiday for ourselves, we will be there in spirit and will be thinking of everyone today. We will cook out, I plan to make my Asian Pasta Salad with the innovation of adding soy beans, and we have plenty of beer and cider to occupy ourselves with. We need to go find some fireworks somewhere. If we had been more organized or knew the weather would be so nice, we would have planned to invite some folks over. But this way, we can stay in our pajamas all day, and that’s a fantastic way to spend the day :)

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Happy National Insect Week!

It’s National Insect Week in the UK this week. For our part, there will be an open house on Thursday and Friday afternoon from 12:30-4:30. Come see what entomologists at the Natural History Museum are up to and do. I’ll be there preparing crowd pleasing large and colorful beetles, talking about preparation, the importance of well prepared specimens in active scientific collections to preserve and conserve the condition of the specimens as best as possible and the exciting world of field work.

Happy National Insect Week everybody!

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Happy Solstice!

Longest DayHere it is, the longest day of the year, getting 18 hours and 13 minutes of daylight. Note that I said daylight and not sunlight, it is so dark and gloomy outside today. It would be one thing if was actually raining. That would be nice, it’s a warm-ish day out, my windows are open, I would love to sit and listen to the rain as my soundtrack and smell that rain cleansed scent the air gets during and after a good rain. It has that strange hue outside, that if I were back home this would signal a major thundering storm about to start. No, not here. It was briefly misting. It’s just so dark out on the longest day :)

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* Le Sigh *

My first week as a curator is finished. I. Love. My. Job. I feel like I don’t have enough hours in the day to get all that I want to get done, done (but want to leave at a reasonable time so I actually get home at a reasonable time with the long commute). This commute is going to be very hard, it is incredibly draining to spend that much of my day on trains and the underground. I’m completely knackered by the time I get home and have usually fallen asleep on the train. One of these days I’m going to wake up in Oxford or beyond :)

All I want to do right now is go out and celebrate, have a drink and share this good feeling with friends. Mark is in Germany (until 2am Sunday) and I’m far away from everyone I know (both UK and US friends). Because of this, for the first time in a long time, I’m a little homesick and really missing people.

I’m not going to drink alone, but I might cook up some Eggs Benedict for dinner as my own little celebration.

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Adventures In Commuting, the continuing saga

Now that I’m working full time, I must report, that although I don’t care for getting up so early, the commute is moderately better. By taking trains during peak hours, they are more frequent and marginally faster. I have a couple of time options of taking a train that goes directly from my village station straight into London. Not needing to change trains at Maidenhead leaves the potential of missing my connecting train out of the equation. Now to find the right balance, the “core hours” are easy enough, where I need to be at work between ten a.m. and four p.m., the rest of the hours to be pieced in as I see fit. This week has been this strategy: go in earlier so I can leave in time to catch that ideal evening train. So far it is working out beautifully, but a morning person I am not, and certainly not a very early person. At least the sun is up at 4:30 and sets around 10, I don’t feel as if I’m losing too much valuable daylight. I may be singing a different tune come autumn and winter though :)

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Talk About the Weather

June 2008 WeatherPictured left is a snapshot of this week’s forecast. In Pittsburgh, when you start having those warm spring days in the upper 50’s or low 60’s, everyone is outside in shorts and tank tops. Those days seem down right balmy compared to the sub-zero freezing winter temperatures. It’s the contrast that makes it so nice. I was thinking about this the other morning at the tube station. It was a sunny 60 degree day. But there I was, and everyone else around me, bundled up in sweaters. I was glad I had my wool socks on to keep my toes warm. As chilly as it feels, I still have the windows open to fill the house with fresh air.

This is June, all I’ve been hearing from the folks back home is how unbearably hot and sticky it has been. I almost can’t imagine it, I’m a native Pittsburgher, the very fiber of my being is telling me it should be getting uncomfortably hot right now. I see the blue skies and sunshine outside with its promise of warmth, and yet, I’m curled up under blankets and drinking hot chocolate or tea. I wanted to turn on the heat again and we still sleep with a down comforter. (We would sleep with a down comforter year round back home too, but we had Air Conditioning).

It’s amazing how quickly one acclimates to a new climate. On a daily basis there is little fluctuation between the high and low temperatures. It’s similar on the yearly scale, it’s just so mild here. If I had just emerged from the frozen depths of a Pittsburgh winter, I would be reveling in this weather, I would be wishing for this weather all year round it’s just that perfect.

We also recently had a couple days in the low 70’s, all I could think is how hot it seemed. I’m not complaining. It’s just funny how my perception of temperature has changed.

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You Don’t Hear *That* Everyday!

I was hearing the most amazing announcements on the underground today. Several lines, including the Circle line, were effected, having delays or portions of travel canceled. But trains had interrupted service due to “an unexploded WWII bomb!

Coworkers inform me this happens one or two times a year. Usually they are found in someone’s garden. This one in Bromley-by-Bow is the largest one they’ve found since the 1970’s. Apparently it was making ticking and fizzing sounds during the removal and defusing process. Of course, service will still be disrupted tomorrow morning. This is something that Americans have a hard time imagining. So many bombs were dropped here and a significant proportion never went off.

Very strange experience from my perspective, certainly.

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Goodwood Supercar Breakfast

_DSC7559Sunday morning in England, now that’s something I’ve personally never seen. We woke up insanely early and hopped in our blue Lotus and drove to the Goodwood Supercar Breakfast. Even Mark nearly talked himself out of not going because it was just so early! But who could resist the lure of bacon rolls, coffee and Supercars? I didn’t know what to expect at all. Once there we were directed to park in the “themed cars” parking, while the ordinary folk were shepherded elsewhere. We’re at a race track, were there going to be races or was this just a lookie-loo? Turns out to be a lookie-loo on a large scale. Mark was in car-guy-heaven. There was a moment when he actually gasped at the sight of an Alfa Romeo 8C (there were actually two of them there which is what really surprised him).

The highlight for me? The SmartCar slash coffee maker! Oh how I *heart* SmartCars! My only comment from this experience, clearly the *next* supercar we purchase needs to be orange.

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England: Duxford Imperial War Museum

And now for something completely different. Suzanne’s husband made the suggestion for today’s adventure. It’s a place he remembers fondly visiting in his youth, the Duxford Imperial War Museum. I honestly never would have thought to look for a place like this, but I was impressed.

There were huge hangars full of displays of airplanes. One for British aircraft and one for American.  Once inside, some part of me did not find the heavy cables suspending some of these enormous crafts from the ceiling terribly confidence inspiring.  And my first thought standing at eye level with the helicopter blades went something like this, “if that helicopter were to start up for no apparent reason right now, we would lose our heads.” Just to give a glimpse into the inner workings of my brain.

One of the first Concorde’s was open for visitor’s to walk through, so I can officially say I’ve been on the Concorde. I also found it a bit disconcerting to be allowed to walk under and so close to the planes. How strange to be poking my head into these nooks, inches from engines, when my life’s experience with aircraft has kept these areas verboten.

Entering the doors to another hangar, the strong smells of solvents, oil and paint waft over you. There were three or four hangars dedicated to the restoration of planes. The signs reading, “Please do not disturb the engineers more than necessary” as I’m sure they get riddled with questions about the plane they are working on, what they are doing or about the tools and equipment they are surrounded by. Can someone tell me why so many aircraft are painted bright yellow?

Even the very last hangar, which was at the end of a mile long row of hangars, that contained the land combat vehicles was fascinating. The place was packed with vehicles. It was the kind of exhibit that reminded me of the more old school museum exhibits where there are huge numbers of actual specimens to look at. There were no flashing screens or buttons to push. Just specimens. These just happened to be combat vehicles arranged in chronological order and by what war. Each made to look like the setting they were used in. Pale golden sand spread beneath the similarly golden paint for Northern African vehicles; Jungle scenes and mud for Pacific conflicts. The “Normandy Experience” was a bit much though.

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The Journey Is The Destination

We are back from the epic road trip that involved the Lake District, the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye.  Much to write about, many photos to share, you know the drill, it’s a backlog here when we’re busy experiencing life.

What a long day of driving, but, we were in Scotland this morning!

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Scotland: Stirling and The Long Drive Home

We were in Scotland this morning! How weird is that? We had one last lovely drive through the Highlands. It was raining when we left Glencoe, but it quickly let up. It was surprising as we were driving out how quickly the mountains were gone. We were taking them for granted I think. We missed them when they were gone from our sight.

We met up in Stirling at Stirling Castle. We didn’t take the tour, just walked around the grounds and tried to get as far away from the group of annoying tourists. They were a group from the US who were singing religious songs at the top of their lungs clad in fluorescent yellow ponchos. The streets of Stirling leading up to the castle are idyllic. Cobble stone streets, many of the buildings built with similar dark colored stones. The castle in the center of the town rose high above on a rocky crag. Those cobbled streets wound in narrow switch backs to reach the top.

From here, we worked out a strategy for getting home. The plan, to drive through Northumberland National Park. We left the relative plateau of the lowlands and entered the rolling hills of Northumberland and large swaths of forests. Since we would be driving parallel to it for some time, perhaps a stop at Hadrian’s wall would be in order. We’ve been to Hadrian’s Arch in Athens, might as well cap it with a stop at the wall. It turned into a fly by of Hadrian’s Wall. If we had more time, I would have loved to hike along the suggested trails. But the long day of driving, after several long days of driving, I just wanted to get home. Perhaps there will be a next time and more time.

Two miles before we reached a service station, we needed to pull off to the side of the motorway to put the soft top back on. The skies were looking incredibly threatening. It would be the first time we needed the top on for the entire trip! Eventually this proved a good strategy, but the rain did hold off for quite a while. We ended up meeting our traveling companions part way at that service stop, completely randomly. We thought we would be way ahead of them. They were getting ready to hit the road just as we were pulling in the lot. We took our time leaving, doing things like rainx-ing the window, getting fuel. They had a least a half hour head start on us.

We entertained ourselves on this last stretch by texting our positions along the way. “We are looking for you! Where are you?” I imagined this is a sing song Bugs Bunny accent, but I doubt that’s how in translated in the text. Mile markers were counting down, they were in slow traffic and as luck would have it, they needed to make a pit stop to refuel. “We may catch up to them yet!” as I joked about our refueling stop strategy as if we were in an F1 race. Despite a 40 mile headstart we made it home seconds after they reached our house. Ha ha!

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Scotland: Highlands and Isle of Skye

What was intended to not be a day of driving turned into yet another day of driving.  We weighed our options and decided on heading out separately.  We would meet up at Eilean Donan Castle, regroup and make for the Isle of Skye.  On which we would drive a circular circuit going clockwise.

The drive to Eilean Donan was, again, incredibly lovely, through the Scottish highlands.  We drove right by Ben Nevis, at 4,409 feet it is the highest peak in the U.K.   The surrounding rocky range piercing the skyline.  The twisty roads are so well suited for a zippy sporty convertible.  I have to repeat the phrase that while driving through such an amazing landscape, the journey really is the destination.

Eilean Donan Castle was interesting, it stands on an island where three lochs meet.  The site has been occupied for 1500 years or so with the first fortified building erected in 13th century.  It has a long and colorful history and is the seat of the clan MacCrae.  It wasn’t the best castle we’ve visited, but there were certainly details of it that I loved.  All the built in window seats overlooking the mountains and water.  Each room had it’s own little fireplace.  And there were just so many little nooks and crannies to explore.

What I found most interesting was that as you walked through the rooms, with all the family photos on the walls and sitting on furniture, you really felt like you were in someone’s home.  Suzanne commented that it was like going through an “open house” of a property for sale.  I had to ask about the photos, who they were.  The room guard/guide explained that they were photos of the current owner’s family.  The matriarch, a MacCrae pictured in an oil painting above the fire place in the room, had five daughters, 20 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The castle was the family home until the mid 1980’s.  They occasionally opened it’s doors to visitors from time to time.  But when it became obvious that the property would be more suited as a historic tourist attraction, the family moved into the servent quarters.  The castle is still used frequently for family gatherings, the matriarch will be celebrating her 80th birthday there next month and her oldest daughter recently turned 50.

We refueled with some soup and bread. Although I was curious about the Cullin Skink that was on the menu, my imagination was telling me it was probably something awful.  On the road again, we reached the Isle of Skye.  It was different.  Different scenery.  Flatter.  We stoppd a while to commune with the sheep.  Which made me wonder about a few statistics.  There are a lot of sheep, I mean A LOT of sheep on the Isle.  The general population of sheep is high across the whole of the U.K. but on Skye, it just seemed inordinately high.  I’m wondering about the ratio of sheep to people on this island.

The whole place,  at least the north west region we circuited, seemed rather barren.  I started also wondering what the species diversity overall was for the island (I need to look up some checklists for these statistics).   This apparent barrenness combined with the widespread large scale clear cutting of the pine trees was making me a little depressed.   Fields chewed to the nub and swaths of recently cut tree stumps does not paint the best picture of the island.  We decided we like the main land better and made the executive decision to head back to the mainland, where it was prettier, cutting our loop short.  It was the right thing to do.  We were able to get back to Glencoe relatively early and relax over dinner (and another football game, this time between two teams from Scotland).

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England: Leeds Castle and Cliffs of Dover

I had wanted to make my ricotta pancakes for breakfast, but after a look in the local markets this morning, there was no ricotta in sight.  The blueberries were looking exceptional, so in lieu of pancakes we had greek yogurt, honey, meusli and blueberries to eat.  Quite tasty, but not pancakes.

After a minor side trip through Guildford (someone had put in the wrong coordinates for the destination after poo pooing my suggestion of just entering the post code for sat nav);  Leeds Castle was the destination for today.  Supposedly, one of the best castles to visit.  It was attractive and photogenic, certainly.  The grounds outside, however, I think were the stars of the visit.  It has a Duckery!  A Duckery!  Lot’s of ducks of numerous species were contained in part of a small lake that was fed by the meandering stream that leads away from the lake/mote of the castle.

And wouldn’t you know it!  The hedge maze was closed yesterday for the week for maintenance!  I do love a good maze and was disappointed by this fact.  Unable to romp in the hedge, it did give us enough time to watch the falconry display.

I had to ask, but you too could rent out Leeds castle starting at only a mere £10,000 for your wedding or other engagement!  You and your guests get to sleep in the museum like rooms.  And that’s only the starting asking price.

Since we were fairly close by, we headed over to the White Cliffs of Dover.  In my humble opinion, the Seven Sister’s cliffs are a far more impressive sight.   What is up with fences near the cliff edges and all this development disrupting the view?  I can say I’ve been there and soon would travel to the opposite corner of the UK in a few days time!

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Adventures in Commuting

In the near future, there is a non-zero chance that I will be employed full time at the Natural History Museum. To that end, if I’m going to be commuting every day into London, I need to explore ways to shorten my commute, or at least make it more tolerable. I can tell you that this long of a commute does wear on me, but the upcoming full time-ness would be for six months, I can tolerate it for that long… I think.

Today was day one of the great “commuting in from the second closest train station (Beaconsfield)” experiment. From there I have many options of getting to where I need to go. I tried the Central Line via West Ruislip today. In the morning, it worked perfectly, there are tube trains leaving West Ruislip every five minutes or so, and that train stop is only 14 minutes away from my starting point. I was at work in one hour and ten minutes, record time for me.

This route for the journey home is not confidence inspiring. Due largely in part to very few trains stopping at West Ruislip in the evening. I had *just* missed my train. As the Central Line pulled into the station, my train was pulling away. I stood there watching train after train pass me by every five to ten minutes. Twenty minutes later I was on a train that terminated at Gerrard’s Cross, where I then transfered to yet another train five minutes later. Today, it was a wash.

Day two will involve just heading straight into Marylebone and biting the bullet and sticking with the seemingly always troublesome Circle Line via Edgeware Road *fingers crossed*

On the plus side of things for Bourne End: I can walk home from the train station, I’ve been using the FGW line long enough I know every time of every possible train I could take to get me where I need to go and easily plan my exit from work, i.e. it’s better because it’s the Devil I know. The plus side for Beaconsfield: many more trains and faster transit time into the city. The downside of Beaconsfield is that I would need to rely on Mark to get me to and from the station, keeping him later at work and sitting through traffic, not too mention the sleeping policemen riddling the entry way drive to the station (not the most fun when your vehicle is inches above the ground).

I need to give this experiment a little more time.

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A Drive and Sorbet

Green Apple and Calvados sorbetWe went for a little drive in our “new to us” car and stopped for a light meal that included this amazing Green Apple and Calvados sorbet (I want to return to try the Strawberry and Basil sorbet!). What a gorgeous and hot day! Perfect for a drive with the top down and a cold pudding :)

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Revisiting Blue Bell Woods

On our taxi ride back from the airport we saw them out of the corner of our eyes. Splashes of blue. The bluebells were out in force. That meant we needed to get out again to see them. This time, it was a visit to Philipshill Wood in Chorleywood.

On the motorcycle ride out, we caught glimpses of several dense pockets. I gasped at the sight of some of them. A mere sample of what was to come once we entered the wood. A few words come to mind with this phenomenon. Stunning. Breath taking. Amazing. This truly is an incredible and remarkable natural display. We hiked in, found a clear spot and just sat under the beech trees with their new leaves amongst the blue haze. The sun dappling through the canopy.

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London Commuting

This is a post I’ve been meaning to post since February, but kept adding to it.

Deb on train into LondonAs I’ve been settling in to a regular schedule at work, I’ve had some time to reflect on the train and on commuting. I promise, I really don’t mean to sound trite when I say this, but, honestly, I feel like I’m getting the full Londoner experience. Before, when I wasn’t working, I spent a lot of time on my own, often not wandering far from my village. Only occasional jaunts into London where I felt like a tourist, like an outsider.

Now I feel like I am a part of that living, breathing, city machine, with its cogs that are in constant motion. It’s not a special trip, it’s just my way to get to work. Along the way there are the little details that make this ordinary activity special to me.

First I hop on to my local little train. It’s two train carriages long and takes ten minutes to travel to the station on the main line in Maidenhead. From there I catch any train heading inbound to Paddington, some being faster than others. Usually, I saunter off my local train right across the platform and have just a couple minute wait for the next train. Occasionally, I need to sprint across to a train waiting because my first train hesitated a second too long in getting rolling or failing catching that train, the next one arrives about twenty minutes later. This is part of what makes my commuting time into work fluctuate wildly.

Bourne End trainOne of my favorite parts of my morning commute involves looking down into the almost comically long and narrow back yards and seeing which ones seemed to be inspired by Ground Force. The ones with a rose arbor dividing the yard in two, the little painted garden sheds, the tastefully outfitted stone patios. They stand out between the ones that are simply long stretches of grass.

I am puzzled though, at the sheer numbers of trampolines in the yards. If my commute is at all a representative sample, England must be blanketed in trampolines. Mark and I joke about this all the time. There was an old SNL skit, Rob Lowe impersonating Stone Phillips on Nightline or some other hour long evening news shows with three twenty-minute vignette stories. Imagine in a serious voice, “Trampolines. Children’s play toy… or vicious back yard killer?” Although, most I see do have a “cage” around them to keep the kidlets from falling to their doom.

I imagine most other people get annoyed by fellow passengers having loud animated conversations on their cell phones or even with the person in the next seat. When we’re crammed in like sardines, you know everyone is listening in to that one fantastically loud person speaking. I actually enjoy listening to the spectrum of English accents out there. I can sit there staring at my book, all the while linguistically teasing apart the language in my mind. It took me a moment to realize that the two teenagers were not simply mimicking Katherine Tate’s character Lauren in an ironic manner, but rather, that was really the way they spoke. I smile to myself, adding further to my ruminations on language.

Then there’s the “Metro,” the daily paper that is made for the cars of public transport. I see them on trains and in the underground. It’s distributed in piles in the morning. It’s full of gossip pages and extremely brief news stories and reviews of movies and shows. Not a very meaty product but it serves its purpose well, to fill the short spans of time between stops with something to read or to read over someone’s shoulder in the cramped close quarters during the morning rush hour. A copy always seems to make it into work on the lunch table.

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