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England: Lake District – Keswick

Today is the start of the Epic Road Trip. Our plan? To drive to the Lake District and beyond into the Scottish highlands and back by Friday night.

Mark stayed behind to take care of a few loose ends and would catch up to us later. It started off swimmingly, we were making excellent time.  Brian the sheep cookie, or rather the cookie sheep, joined us along the way.  We were thinking we would get there shortly after one or two in the afternoon. But then. Birmingham happened across our path. There was just nightmare traffic around t on the M5 and M6, and the ensuing horrible traffic spilling over through the city and on secondary roads getting away from the area. Apparently there was a large accident closing the motorway down to one lane and barely moving. At least we were good company in the car, making the best of the situation.

Things quickly changed as we passed into the Lake District National Park.  Watch as the countryside was transformed to rising fells through its boarders.   These hills were lined with a distinct variety of dry stone walls built from field stones and the vernacular building materials stand out as different from those in the Chilterns or the Cotswolds.  Darker tones of limestone and sandstone, and even slate.

We reached Keswick and found out that Mark, who had also be caught up in traffic, was still several hours off.  We made a brief stop in the town center.  It is an outdoors gadgetry buyers haven.  Every single store was sporting the latest in hiking and camping and water sports gear in the windows.  This is the sort of shopping on a High Street I could get into!

We continued to make the best of our time and went for a short walk around Derwentwater Lake.  We were on the shore opposite of Catsbells, the climb we would be taking on tomorrow.  I could live on one of the small islands in the lake.  Smoke climbing up out of the trees from a stone cottage  chimney looked so inviting.    We had the time on the way back to the B&B to climb up the much smaller fell, Castlehead.  Only reaching a height of 250 feet it sat dwarfed across the water from Catsbells.  As we hiked back down the hillside, we passed a much older couple walking up, leaning heavily on their walking sticks.  Clearly they were up to no good, it would be getting dark, I’m sure they were heading up there for a snog or otherwise get into trouble.

Mark finally caught up to us.  I was sitting out on the patio with a book waiting for his arrival.  I knew he was coming  long before he pulled up, the car has such a distinctive rumble :)

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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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England: Tour of London

We powered ourselves into the day with Eggs Benedict for breakfast.  After having my confidence shaken in my flawless hollandaise having failed catastrophically multiple times in a row, I’m back on the hollandaise saddle using a whisk and smaller batches (*whew* we’ve gone a couple weeks without this sauce of the gods, I can’t exist without it!).

We got a pretty late start but still managed to do and see quite a lot today.  We hopped on the train from Beaconsfield for a day in and around London.  I actually didn’t have my camera in tow today.  I figured that since most of the places we were going to I have well covered from previous trips into the city.  We started off in Trafalgar Square, walked down towards the Parliament building, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.  The usual sorts of sites for Suzanne’s benefit as this was her first time to  England and London.

We enjoyed hilarious commentary of the abbreviated city cruise, opting to hop out at the Tower of London where we treated to an excellent tour guide.  Honestly, our group slowly grew to about 150 people!  as individuals glommed on to listen to the Beefeater barking at the top of his lungs.

We hopped back on the city cruise ferry and hit the underground for a peek at the neon lit Piccadilly Circus, not terribly exciting.  After an unsuccessful jaunt through that side of town to find a branch of a particular bank we made our way to South Kensington for brief stop at Natural History museum.  We had enough time to for me to share this remarkable building that I work in and to spend some time in my favorite exhibits.  The old-school mineral hall and the Victorian era displays of birds, my favorite being the hummingbird display that is almost impossible to photograph.  If you want to see its awesomeness, you’ll just have to go there for your self.

We capped the day with dinner at the one thousand year old pub and free house Royal Standard that just happens to be a few miles from where we live and is one of our favorite places to eat (excellent food and atmosphere!).

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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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Whirlwind Trip “Home”

We are back home in the UK after an intensely busy and short visit home. The first few days involved taking an English friend around Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. I can’t tell you how much fun it was showing and talking about why I love the city and Pennsylvania in general. I was a cheerleader and it started to ignite that kernel of excitement of moving back and thinking about what’s next. Although, you can see my priorities when the top “sights” on my list involved food. We’ve gone months without good Mexican food, pizza, wings and pancakes. We ended up not eating a single meal at home, making sure to get our fill of favorites.

The other big reason for being home? My younger brother’s wedding! He and his new bride are currently honeymooning in Scotland * waves at them to the north! * The wedding itself went off smoothly, once the priest arrived, being an hour late in starting. It was the perfect storm of traffic situations. We had a great time at the ballroom dancing fueled wedding, catching up with family and friends, and getting a few “blasts from the past” from some people I haven’t seen in over a decade. As a wedding gift, I painted a couple rooms in their new house, painting is my thing.

So as per so many recent entries, I have much to blog about and many photos forthcoming. I just need to recover a bit from this jet lag. Neither of us slept on the flight in, a redeye on Monday night. I usually can fall asleep during take off, we fly so much. But not this time. This followed by a night of little sleep. It’s always harder to recover from jet lag flying from the US to the UK.

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Day Three: Pancakes and Painting

Buttermilk pancakes! I make really awesome ricotta pancakes, yes.  But, buttermilk is not a common thing to find in the UK, so while home, it is important we eat buttermilk pancakes to get our fill. We took our British friends out to our favorite diner and had load of pancakes and other sweet breakfast goodies you just don’t see served in England. A good way to end their whirlwind tour of Pittsburgh, hopefully we didn’t inadvertently put them into diabetic coma’s for the long drive back to New York City.

After saying our goodbyes, I took my friend up on her offer to help me with the wedding gift I was giving my brother and his soon to be new wife. Painting rooms in his new house. It is something that I do love to do and can’t think of a better gift for them. I was worried I wasn’t going to have enough time on this trip home to get all that I wanted to get done done. She is awesome. She helped me get one room done. We were there until midnight. And in our innovative and avant garde style, apparently spent hours painting in relative darkness by the light of a small halogen desk lamp. My new sister in law must think I/we are completely insane. She came in with a lamp from another room and the difference in lighting was, well, like the difference between night and day. At least it was good to get a good look at the paint coverage before cleaning up for the night.

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Day Two Of Tour: Fallingwater

The second day of the tour and it’s more about south western Pennsylvania.  It was a mini road trip to Fallingwater.  Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece of a home for the Kaufman family set IN the rocks of the hillside, set over the water of the stream below.  This was my second trip here and it’s just as awe inspiring as it was the first time.

After the historic piece of architecture we drove nearby to a couple waterfalls at Ohiopyle.  First off were the Ohiopyle Falls, made up of the Youghiogheny River taking a twenty-foot fall with a roar.  It looks different in every season.  With it being spring, there was a great volume of water rushing over the falls.  On the road back home we stopped at Cucumber Falls, one of the higher and more elegant veils of water.  Water, rock, forest.  A theme for the day, no?

Dinner involved yet another delicacy we can’t get in the UK: buffalo wings from Fat Heads in the South Side. Oh, sweet, sweet, spicy parms! How I have missed you! It is still shocking to my own ears, having been a vegetarian for ten years, hearing myself announce my own cravings for beer and wings at Fat Heads!

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Tour Of Pittsburgh: Day One

The next few days I played tour guide for a friend for their first trip to this city.  The tour of Pittsburgh started off with the West End Overlook. This, IMHO, is the superior overlook in and of the city. You get that incredible “head on” view of The Point and the three rivers. You get a better sense of how close nit the down town area is relative to other cities due to the topography of the region. And, well, it’s just prettier. It also happens to right up the hill from my childhood home in the West End (well, Elliott really), where my parents still live. I took my friend to my old street and home and briefly chatted with my dad. I ruminated over how I used to know every single neighbor. Childhood and family friends have mostly moved away. It’s not the same cul de sac of my youth.

I continued the tour with the classic explosive view you get from the Fort Pitt Bridge, I went a little out of the way to make sure we drove through the tunnel for that stunning view. We drove into Oakland where we strolled through the Nationality Rooms of the Cathedral of Learning. Pausing to admire the Gothic style architecture in the main hall, my teacher friend and I compared the differences in education systems between the U.S. and the U.K. We had rather different experiences in University.

We walked through South Oakland to indulge in a favorite of mine for lunch. Burritos at Mad Mex. This was the first trip of many on this trip home. I never get tired of my favorite: the chick pea chili burrito with sour cream and guac. I know everything on the menu is good. But I always get that burrito. Anytime I order anything else, I always wish I had just gone with the chick pea chili burrito. I make a fairly spot on facsimile, having teased apart and experimented with the recipe a dozen years ago or so. If only I could find tomatillos here! But there is always something so much better about getting the dish there. Maybe it’s the ambiance or the sangria, but to me, that is the ultimate comfort food. A trip home would not be complete without it.

After lunch we visited more of my old stomping grounds and went to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I was interested in seeing the renovations that had closed down a significant chunk of exhibits for two years. To be honest, I was disappointed with the new exhibit and space. In an institution where space is at a premium to every department, there seemed to be a lot of it wasted.

After a brief visit to our home. Have I mentioned how I love to tell people what we payed for our awesome house with its hard wood floors, slate roof, 3/4″ inch thick plaster walls, so much sweeter in the context of U.K. housing prices. Dinner was a trip into Station Square for a little fondue. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the Melting Pot is a chain. But it appeals to me in so many ways. I love being able to have a little bit of a lot of different dishes and the “Big Night Out” sampler with a group of friends is an excellent way to do that.

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Family Visit Over

Well, the family visit is over, I’m tracking their flight as I type this. They are safely on their way. I have a huge back log of blogging but this will be a little place holder for now in outline form.

My parents and brother Joe were here for eight days, my folks stayed in our guest bedroom and Joe we stuffed in the dining room at night (we have a small place and two visitors at once is much easier to deal with for space). This was their first trip abroad, so it was a really big deal for them and they had a blast!

Here was the itinerary, for my records and for any who may want to visit us, a taste of what staying at the Denovich B&B would be like :)

Day one, was a four mile walk around our village and along part of The Thames Foot Path (the walk and sunshine is key in combating jet lag), tea in Cookham, lounging and recovering from jet-lag watching Vicar of Dibley and then dinner at the 1000 year old, oldest pub in England: The Royal Standard, which happens to be right near where we live.

Day two, bagel breakfast, train into Windsor, toured the castle, walked around the Long Walk, around Windsor for some shopping, lunch and cream tea and then home for dinner where we made fillet steaks, baked potatoes and runner beans, and more Vicar before bed.

Day three, breakfast of Greek yogurt/muesli/honey/blueberries, train into London, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Westminster Abby, Parliament, a ride on the London Eye, trip on a City Cruise with hilarious commentary up to Greenwich where we took numerous silly photos on the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory, back home for dinner of our home made pasta with fresh basil, tomatoes and mozzarella.

Day four, my awesome eggs Benedict breakfast, Caves and amazing geology at Cheddar Gorge!, lunch at a 500 year old pub, Cheddar cheese made in Cheddar, nice drive through English countryside on the way (through the Cotswolds and Chilterns) seeing all sorts of varying vernacular architecture region to region. Home for dinner, our pork wiener schnitzel and Oreos! my folks brought over for us for dessert.

Day five, parents went to church (fortunately there is a Catholic church in our village, I wouldn’t have a clue where to send them otherwise). We drove south to the coast and hiked around the Seven Sisters Cliffs gorgeous white chalk cliffs, where you can endanger your own life by walking right up to the VERY EDGE it’s awesome! Picnic of sandwiches from Marks and Spark’s on the cliff edge. Stopped at Bodiam Castle on the way home. Saw many of the Oast houses in Kent, where hops are dried. Dinner at home consisted of Kung Pao beef followed by a very British Banoffee Pie

Day six, was very low key, we were experiencing gale force winds and periodic downpours, so we hunkered down for the day. We slept in and I made ricotta pancakes topped with bananas for breakfast. I did take the family out in the rain for a bit to go shop on our little High Street, and to the post office so they could send off their post cards. We made a Ploughman’s lunch, which consists of a baguette, cheeses, sliced apples, prosciutto, ploughman’s pickle, dates, blueberries, and fresh apple cider from our green grocer. Much Wii Bowling was played by the family. Dinner involved a big batch of sangria and build your own soft tacos (the smoked garlic we’ve been buying lately really added a wonderful flavor!)

Day seven, after a breakfast of French toast made from left over baguette, we drove into Wiltshire. We went to Stonehenge, Woodhenge and Avebury Circle of Standing Stones, went into Salisbury, toured its Cathedral with the tallest spire in England filled with the tombs of illegitimate children of king’s of England, stopped at Sarum Castle, and found one of the many mysterious White Horses of Wiltshire. Dinner was a night out at the Bel and Dragon in Cookham and topped with some sticky toffee pudding.

Day eight, I made home made scones for breakfast with tea before their taxi arrived to whisk them off to Heathrow.

We all had a blast, it was a great vacation. There is just so much to do and see, they’ll just have to come back :) Photos will be forth coming with more detailed blog entries on the dates.

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Wiltshire

Salisbury CathedralAfter a breakfast of French toast made from left over baguette, we drove into Wiltshire.  It was a day of neolithic archeological sites, as well as castles and cathedrals. We went to Stonehenge, Woodhenge and Avebury Circle of Standing Stones. Circles of standing stones are scattered across England, but in Wiltshire, there just happens to be a concentration of them within a few miles. We went into Salisbury, toured its Cathedral. With the tallest cathedral spire in England it’s an impressive sight. Inside it is filled with the tombs of illegitimate children of king’s of England. Just outside Salisbury we stopped at Sarum Castle. On our drive home, without really looking for it we found one of the many mysterious White Horses of Wiltshire.  Dinner was a night out at another favorite restaurant of ours, the Bel and Dragon in Cookham and topped the night and their visit with some sticky toffee pudding.

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Seven Sisters Cliffs

Deb squishing the lighthouseMy parents went to church this morning (fortunately there is a Catholic church in our village, I wouldn’t have a clue where to send them otherwise).  Our adventure today took us south to the coast and hiked around the Seven Sisters Cliffs gorgeous white chalk cliffs, where you can endanger your own life by walking right up to the VERY EDGE it’s awesome!  Picnic of sandwiches from Marks and Spark’s (M&S being an institution in England), on the cliff edge.  What an amazing place. Sometime, Mark and I will need to return here because, if you time it right with the tide, you can hike a loop along the tops of the cliffs down to the beach below.

Bodiam Castle in KentWe found and stopped at Bodiam Castle on the way home. A castle that looks like what you would think a stereotypical castle would look like, complete with moat. I could live in a castle like this one :)  Driving home through the countryside, we saw many of the Oast houses in Kent, where hops are dried. 

Another spectacular dinner at home tonight which consisted of Kung Pao beef followed by a very British Banoffee Pie. After my own experience, I had to make sure to share this pie with them.

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England: Cheddar Gorge and Caves

DSC_5738After my awesome eggs Benedict for breakfast, we decided to head west. Our goal was to reach Cheddar. We ended up having a nice drive through English countryside on the way as we passed through the Cotswolds and Chilterns, seeing all sorts of varying vernacular architecture region to region. It is amazing that such a small country has so many different regional differences, be it the dialect or the building techniques.

As we drove along we could see the landscape changing in the distance, “that must be where we’re heading!” Following the singular road, we descended into Cheddar Gorge. It was such a dramatic change from what we were just driving through up on a plateau, all was flat and uniform. Here was a craggy narrow pass, Britain’s largest gorge and clearly a different sort of geology surrounding us. The caves and gorge are a product of million year old Ice Age river beds. It was here that Tolkien honeymooned with his new bride in 1916 and this landscape was the inspiration for “Helm’s Deep.” I can see how this place would fire the imagination.

Mark decided to go off on his own and hike around the steep hillsides. He was surrounded by Soay sheep, an ancient breed that makes its living well by living on these sorts of impossible looking cliff walls. My family and I entered and toured the caves. Inside we found Cathedral-like caves, spaces carved out by the action of water. Calcite structures, delicate and impressive. Ancient humans lived here in these caves 40,000 years ago, Cheddar Man is Britain’s oldest complete skeleton. We also had the luxury of the “self guided tour” devices again, which provided so much information on the history and geology of the caves.

Even today, the cheese that bears it’s namesake, is made in the caves of this region. The 500 year old pub we stopped at for lunch featured locally sourced produce and cheese. I opted for the ploughman’s lunch, with none other than a huge chunk of Cheddar holding the seat of honor.

We headed home for another lovely dinner, our pork wiener schnitzel and Oreos! my folks brought over for us for dessert. Oh, my, they were tasty! They are sold here, but as with many US products, they just are not quite the same.

At the end of the day, I do have to say, this is a place I want to visit again. It seems we never plan enough time to really enjoy some of the places we visit. Mark and I could easily go and camp and hike around the Cheddar area for a week and probably still would not have enough time to see all we want to see.

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England: The Family in London

Family with Big BenWe had a breakfast of Greek yogurt with muesli, honey and fresh blueberries. My family then got to experience what my commute into work is like. We took the local train into London, which it wasn’t one of the terribly fast trains, so they really got a feel for it. Then on to the underground, the Bakerloo line from Paddington over to Trafalgar Square. Here I took them around confidently, like I lived here or something, guiding them around the city seeing Big Ben, Westminster Abby and Parliament. A ride on the London Eye was an excellent way to get a birds eye view of London, to see how it sprawls and doesn’t have a distinct “down town” like so many other cities have. It was also a gorgeous day, clear blue skies and warm sunshine, making it possible to see for miles.

Deb's foot in two hemisphere'sFollowing the Eye, after a snack we hopped on a boat for a trip on a City Cruise with hilarious commentary up to Greenwich where we took numerous silly photos on the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory. Here we were in two hemispheres at once, something I think is a unique and memorable experience to have.

I would have liked to take my family to the Natural History Museum, to show them where I worked. But, it was closing time by the time we even got near the place. I’ll just have to take them there the next time they visit. We headed back home, with Mom and Joe taking a nap on the train ride home. Mark and I treated them to a dinner of our home made pasta with fresh basil, tomatoes and mozzarella. It was nice to cook so much for my family while they were here, a wonderful way to share one of our passions with them. I don’t think they fully understood just how much we enjoy cooking until spending a week living with us.

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Windsor

Mom and Dad portraitWe started off with a simple and quick bagel breakfast.  We needed to make it to the train into Windsor.  Here, we toured the castle.  I love the phenomenon of the personal tour guides.  They are these walkie-talkie like things that you punch in numbers that correspond to rooms or objects and you listen to a narrative about the history and significance.  It seems just about every museum and historical site has these offered for free.  Which is so excellent since with even doing some research ahead of time, you can’t possibly know everything ahead of time.  Unfortunately, photography is not aloud on the inside, so all the photos are of the exterior. Outside the castle we walked around part of the Long Walk, though they were not keen on the idea of actually walking the long walk :)

We puttered around Windsor for some shopping, lunch and cream tea.   We headed home for dinner and after a discussion about the taste differences between US and British beef,  we made fillet steaks, baked potatoes and runner beans, and more Vicar before bed.

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Deb’s Family Arrive

Tea in CookhamMy Mom, Dad and my brother arrived around noon and after the “ten p” tour of our flat we had a little sit down before heading out the door.

I started them out on the Cookham Loop, the favorite four mile walk around our village and the Thames foot path. The walk, fresh air and sunshine is key in combating jet lag. This was a nice little introduction to the area we live in, we talked about village life, the Thames and the walking culture- how everyone walks in England for fun, about Wellies and public foot paths. We walked up through the cemetery of the Holy Trinity Church of England, marveling at the simple beauty in the weathered head stones searching for the oldest dates.

We stopped and had tea in Cookham for a mid walk break. On the way home we stopped back in at the Green grocer on my local High Street for a few supplies and made our way back down the public footpath that leads practically to our front door. While we waited for Mark to arrive home from work we spent time lounging and recovering from jet-lag (and trying to keep the family awake) watching a couple episodes of a British show we have come to love, The Vicar of Dibley (which was set in a village nearby).

We took them out for dinner to a favorite pub of ours. It just happens to be 1000 years old, the oldest pub in England: The Royal Standard, which happens to be right near where we live as well. We have never been disappointed with the fish and chips there, no where else compares, and where else would be a better start to a visit to England than fish and chips in the oldest pub.

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Still No Luggage

We got an IM from the Baggage Express folks around 2:00 saying our luggage arrived in England.  I called and confirmed using the automated service.  I’ve been checking online to track our luggage. 

It’s 6:00pm Friday.  Still no luggage.  Still no sign of our luggage on the tracking system either.

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Trifecta of Flight F*** -Ups

Let’s recap. So, when we flew in this past December 16th, you may remember that it was the fourth time we’ve ended up driving from D.C. to Pgh due to our connecting flight having problems. Strike one for this trip.

Well. Fast forward to yesterday (Wednesday). All was going swimmingly. We showed up at the airport for our 7:32 flight to Chicago where we would have plenty of time to make our connection to London Heathrow. Over dinner we even remarked how lucky we were that the skies were perfectly clear. Weather could not be to blame. We were both perfectly tired and exhausted, planning on sleeping the entire red-eye.

Then came the announcement that the plane we were to be on was late leaving Chicago. Concerned, we went to the desk to check just how late. Late, but according to the customer service person, making our connection would still, “be doable.”

Then came the announcement that it would be an hour late, maybe a little more. We would not be able to make our connection. Strike two for this trip.

After much deliberation, we ended up staying at the Hyatt at the airport where the airline put us up for the night. We would be flying out at 6:20 am (Thursday) to Dulles, then on to London. It was either that or stay overnight in Chicago waiting for a 4:30pm flight. No Thank You. They assured us that our 200 lbs. of checked bags would be re-tagged and on our new flight. We asked about this EXPLICITLY.

We arrived safe and sound in London at 9pm instead of the expected 11am. At the baggage claim we waited. Ours were probably among the first bags put on the plane, maybe the last to come off and hopefully all together. We would feel better once we saw the first of our four bags. We waited. And waited. And waited. Until the turnstile stopped.

The punchline?

OUR BAGS ARE IN CHICAGO! Strike three.

Hopefully they’ll show up tomorrow.

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Blurbing Book Mania

The Turkey travel book is done, which has a total of 164 pages! Not a bad size for a photo and travel journal book of a two week trip. It’s currently in the proof reading and editing phase in Mark’s hands.

Today I finished book number two, the “Adventures through Europe: 2006-2007” up through our trip to Austria. Since we’ll be in Germany the first week of December and I want the book to be inclusive of all of this year; I’ve laid out a number of pages pre-formatted and ready for entries. It’s already 247 pages. Despite some complaints I now have with Blurb, a product of just using it for hours on end, I still find using it to be fun and easy.

I can’t wait to get my hands on the finished products. The previews look gorgeous.

I think I need to take a break from the Blurb book making mania though. I had a difficult time getting to sleep the other night. When I was so close to finishing, I could just see what I had left to do, trying to hold it all in my head. I was imagining that I was blurbing and then I was blurbing in my dreams. That’s when I know I’m doing something a bit too much. When I can’t even escape it in my sleep.

Although, I already have a good idea for what and how the third volume will unfold. The “Moving Abroad and Life in England” book. But it will probably have to wait until next year. Or it should really be an ongoing project until we actually leave. All I can say, this would have been such a daunting project if I haven’t been keeping this blog. A huge chunk of the writing is already done.

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I can’t keep quiet about Blurb

I’ve put in hours and hours of work, but 162 pages later, and two squinty head achy eyes from spending too much time in front of this laptop screen, I have created a book. This is a book that includes just about all the photos from our trip to Turkey interlaced with my blog entries and quite a few of those I expanded upon the writing as I went along.

Mark pointed me to this this book making tool: Blurb that works in conjunction with Flickr. I was able to upload the full photo set plus additional individual photos into the Booksmart tool. From there I was presented with dozens of page layouts for text and photos. I would pick my layout for each page, drag and drop photos into place and copy and paste my text out of my blog where I wanted it. I went with the 8×10 hardback version for this particular book, but there are several size options that can also be made into soft cover books.

Initially, I thought I would keep quiet about this book making. I was making them in mind for when we are home over the holidays visiting with family who do not have computers or for those who don’t visit our photo’s or blog’s, to see our adventures. But it is so cool, I can’t keep quiet. I plan to start working on two additional volumes, one that will be about our moving abroad and the things we’ve done around England and another for all our other European travels.

It’s exactly what I wanted to do with my travel blog posts anyway, only this way I can also include all the photos to go along with the story.

Book making
Expat Observations
Travel
Travel: Turkey

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Spain: Madrid – Parque del Retiro

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Travel
Travel: Spain

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Travel, coming home to England, miscellaneous notes

I sit here, in a rather lovely hotel room, in Didsbury, just outside of Manchester, about to head out to the Fletcher Moss Botanical Garden. (I should really add a “botanical garden” category with as many as I visit).

We’ve been busy, 10 days of Mark’s mom and grandmother visiting with us in the U.K. Followed by three, not the previously planned two, weeks in Pittsburgh, from landing Sunday morning in London to now being outside Manchester.

It is very surreal, coming “home” to England, but home it is, it *feels* like home.

I enjoyed being in our house again and being able to fuss with house and garden stuff. I planted and transplanted many more perennial flowering plants, the idea being the more I plant now, the more filled out and mature the garden will look when we actually return to living there. My brother is doing an excellent job taking care of the place (and our stuff!), I feel much more relaxed about this whole renting situation then I did when we first moved.

It was wonderful to visit with friends and family. I’ve never felt more popular! We should have left the country sooner! We were never this busy before we left, everyone wanted to make the most of the time we were there and it felt good to have a few weeks of being intensely social after a few months of (mostly) entertaining ourselves. Now we just need to see some follow through with all the promises of coming to visit!

Greenbean, Greenbean, Greenbean! We both loved having three weeks to spend with our kitty, Bean. Even on the first night we were home, she fell right back into all her old habits and routines. Nothing could make me feel more loved and missed than a buzzing Fuzzy Bean sleeping on my pillow next to me in the night like we never left her behind. *sniff* It will be months until we see her again. Mark’s mom is the best we could have hoped for in a foster home for Bean while we’re away. She sends us photos and shares little stories of her adventures with us almost daily. It’s so sweet and reassures us that she is being well cared for in our absence.

We came to the U.S. with three empty suitcases and managed to fill four, with a total weight of 208 lbs for the return trip home (with a weight limit of ~50lbs per bag, how did we know to buy just what we did :) Everything in the U.K. is extraordinarily expensive and I will never complain about prices of goods in the U.S. ever again. Hence, the orgy of spending for items we needed, which we bought in the U.S. and carted them back with us.

The coming weeks are promising to be interesting, with a week in Madrid and a week in Athens. I honestly do feel guilty that I get to explore and experience these places during the day while Mark is at work, knowing how much we enjoy each other’s company on adventures. But, such as the situation is, I’m making the most of it.

For now, I’m off to explore what Manchester has to offer, starting with the botanical garden.

Greenbean
Travel

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Denmark: Kronborg Slot

Kronborg SlotWe left the Cliffs of Mon and drove back towards Copenhagen, we decided to head a little further to Helsingor and visit the Kronborg Slot. This castle is purported to be the inspiration and setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. We toured the castle, through the rooms arranged as they would have been for the kings and their families who had once lived there. We walked through the opulent halls bedecked with artwork worthy of being an art history museum.

Deb by oil lampThe most interesting part of the castle were the casements. These were the chambers and passageways that lay beneath the castle, it was here where munitions were stored or prisoners were held. These narrow low ceilinged cave like passages were dimly lit by oil lanterns, casting a warm glow in a small radius and eerie shadows. So many of the rooms and carved out nooks were not lit. I think there should be a ghost story tour, telling tales of the goings on in these mysterious looking passages, surely there must be some interesting history that happened here.

Historic Sites & Monuments
Travel
Travel: Denmark

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Lund University and Natural History Museum

A museum of museumsThe Natural History Museum in Lund is available to view by appointment only. When I arrived I was treated to a personal tour by a staff member, as I was the only person in the museum at the time, he needed to unlock the doors and turn on the lights.

Butterflies of Sweden displayThis museum could be a museum about museums. You’ll find no flashing lights or blaring modern exhibits, it’s strictly an old school museum full of articulated skeletons and stuffed organisms. I was directed to remains of note, one of the few remaining complete skeletons of an Aurochs and Tasmanian Wolf. I was pleased to see displays of Scandinavian fauna, including a display of Swedish butterflies. The forms and colors of which was reminiscent of a display of Pennsylvanian butterflies. I also made a visit to the entomology department, although most of the staff were away at a seminar, I had a guide that directed me around the aisles. I was surrounded by familiar sights and *smells*, once you’ve been in one bug room you’ve seen them all :)

Insect FamiliesBefore my museum appointment I decided to explore the University of Lund campus. In the central library, there was display of papers and artifacts relating to Linnaeus. He had attended this university in 1727. He was only there for a year, and apparently not a terribly good student. He had worked in the botanical gardens while he was there.

The exhibit had letters he had written to his mentor Stobaeus and a class room roster with his signature, in addition to a copy of an edition of Systema Naturae. I really should have gone to the lecture on campus the other night that was on Linnaeus, even if it was in Swedish, it would have been a fascinating context. I didn’t go because it was right at dinner time to meet back up with Mark.

Botanical Gardens
Museums
Travel
Travel: Sweden
Wildlife

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Lund, Botanical Garden

Botaniska trädgården , the botanical garden associated with the University of Lund. The greenhouses are open to the public for free 12-3 daily. A warm oasis in the cold Scandinavian air. Highlights, the passion flowers filling one of the rooms with an amazing fragrance, cacti (oh how I adore photographing cacti!), and it’s just large enough to spend a few hours appreciating the plants.

Although there was some snow coving the grounds outside, there were a few flowers in bloom, or starting to emerge from the snow, with the evergreen trees and bushes along the footpaths it made strolling through the gardens worthwhile, I would love to return to see everything else in bloom.

Passion Flower Scandanavian winter flowers Garden paths lined with stone and conifers

The complete photo set

Botanical Gardens
Travel
Travel: Sweden
Wildlife

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Kew Botanical Gardens

DSC_4303Okay, I can officially say that Kew is my favorite place in England (so far, and really, no surprise there). It was lovely and sunny and not too terribly busy.

We only were able to see a fraction of the gardens in the few hours we were there. We hit the photography paradise that is inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which houses 10 climatic zones, and includes the room full of orchids. I additionally love photographing cacti and ferns. Those fortunate enough to be in a ray of sunlight were particularly radiant.

DSC_4237We strolled the grounds for a bit, with the aim of heading toward the Temperate Glasshouse, but kept getting side tracked by interesting and impossibly large old trees. We managed a quick tour of the Temperate house and made sure to go up to the sky walk up the narrow spiral staircase before the conservatories were closed fifteen minutes prior to the Gardens closing. Looking down on the umbrellas of tree ferns I snapped a shot and was reminded of a photo I captured staring up into a dizzying array of fern leaves in Costa Rica, the play of light creating an optical illusion.

As the Gardens were closing, we made our way through the Witch Hazel that is in bloom this time of year. Over all I was amazed and impressed with just how many flowering plants were flowering now, in January. I am in awe of this place, of how so many hundreds of species from around the world grow on the grounds and thrive in alien environmental conditions.

Since we know this is a place we’ll want to visit again and again, we’ve decided to become “Premier Friends of Kew” This will allow us unlimited visits to Kew (and over a dozen other gardens in England) along with a number of guest passes, as we’ll definitely want to take guests there when they visit us.

I wonder how far we walked with several hours of solid walking? I also wonder just how many different species of trees are on the grounds? The Kew FAQ site mentions there are over 14,000 trees on its 300 acres, but I have not seen a quote anywhere of just how many different species there are.

A few of my favorite shots (hard to just pick a few):
Cactus in sunlight DSC_4275 DSC_4298

The complete photo set here

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Botanical Gardens
England Sites
Travel
Travel: England
Wildlife

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