Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Final Chapter

This will probably do it for London. Not that I'm not ready to go back and really study the city, but for now, this will have to suffice. So, let's see a few more sights before we get back to reality. Please accept my apology for this order, I'm having some internet connection problems and decided while it was working I would upload every photo and just go with it.

Have you EVER seen a cuter ice cream truck in your life? Part of the summer happenings on the South Bank of the Thames. Ad nauseam, we've discussed how summer lasts forever in Florida; we not only don't appreciate hot weather, at times we abhor hot weather. English people welcome what they call hot weather.  As such, from what we saw, while they could, most folks were out enjoying the "warm" weather. Summer=ice cream, right?
Years ago Matt gave me a Tift Merritt cd which I adored. The name was Tambourine Man. Get it if you can. Apparently, she makes an annual visit to London, this time on the bill with Duane Allman. Last year it was Mary Chapin Carpenter. We were fortunate enough to have a concert-going genius on board who booked the tickets to a solo gig. Tom, the history buff, is not as much of a music buff. This is where Matt comes in. I have no idea how many concerts Matt has been to in his short life, but suffice it to say, it is more than most folks. He is introducing Tom to some of his favorites. Last year when they saw Tift, Tom fell in love. You would too if you saw her. I will say that I've yet to take a decent concert photo and below is no exception, but it does document our experience. She not only did a great show musically, but was charming as well. Check her out!
Remember how I told you how long we spent in the Museum of London? The place is huge. Having history that dates back to pre-historic times will do that. This costume display was simply amazing! I only wish the lighting conditions were a wee bit more photo friendly. Nonetheless, can you imagine wearing clothes like these? The HATS! Astonishing!
Back to the South Bank friends. I may have already mentioned all the amazing street performers. This guy was particularly fascinating. It's hard to describe, but although he wasn't actually holding the ball, he moved it from side to side between his hands. You had to be there.
Below are some performers who got the audience into the act. That darling little boy on the left was such a good sport as these crazy guys did all manner of gymnastics with him.
The other day I mentioned the Columbia Road Flower Market and the huge crowds that come to buy flowers. We could only wish to have these crowds at our market! Here is a great description of the action. Don't you just love the internet? You can find out anything! I was struck by how the vendors called out their prices, however, I apparently didn't know the correct term for the vendors. According to their site, they are called "barrow boys". I highly recommend that you check out the link to learn the history of the area. Good stuff.
 Soho below. Need I say more?
During our street art tour we saw some amazing work. Can you imagine that an artist chiseled this out of the wall? I can't. Think about it for a minute......he/she was right up against the wall, so how the artist could do this at such close proximity is beyond me. Those eyes are SO expressive. I am not a fan of the taggers though. How DARE they disfigure such an amazing piece of artwork?
Regular readers will remember that I got up in the pre-dawn hours to watch the "Royal Wedding" with Angela. I was very anxious to see Buckingham Palace for myself. I kept thinking about the hundreds of photographers stationed on this very fountain to get their shots. This sure is a cute picture of Mr. Bruce--not so much of Mrs. Gail.
Leaving the city, take a close look at these tiny little Costwold cottages. The flowers! I was thrilled to see the gorgeous coral fuchsia hanging baskets which do NOT grow in Florida. The sidewalk is so tiny isn't it? So are the doorways.
 More beautiful hanging baskets. Seriously, they were everywhere!
On an early morning walk in Bath I took this photo of a bandstand as I walked through the park.  It wasn't till a little later that I realized that someone was sleeping under the tiny blue hump you see in the middle.
Early morning is putting it mildly. What I believe I've yet to mention is the seagull population in Bath.
Although the city is inland, somehow seagulls by the hundreds have made their home there. Around here, near sunrise, my cardinals, the mockingbirds, finches, bluejays and woodpeckers start their chatter early. But not at 5 AM! Those seagulls are louder than you can imagine. Actually, that was just fine because Mrs. Camera Crazy pulled on some clothes, slung her cameras on her shoulder, and ventured out into the city streets to see what she could see. Don't let anyone ever tell you that the sun doesn't shine in England. The sky couldn't have been any bluer one of our mornings in Bath.
Our apartment was in in the block on the left. The streets are still wet from the previous evenings rain, but on this morning, there was not a cloud to be seen.

I hope you've enjoyed our trip through both my words and photographs. You already know how much Bruce and I did.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Getting Around

We've discussed the food, the street art, the landscape and the weather, but what we haven't discussed is how we got to see all the great sights. Transportation of all kinds will be our topic today.

Although during our previous two visits to the UK we used public transportation it was sometimes scary, or at least stress producing because we were constantly having to figure out maps, what line to get to where, how much it cost etc. Not so this time. Having not one, but two experts along will do that for tourists. Seriously, our travels were worry free thanks to Matt and Tom knowing just what to do at every turn. We marveled as we tagged along behind those two as they wove their way through the streets of London.

Tom works for the Mayor. Did you know that? Well, he does. Transport for London keeps him very, very busy, especially these days as he's a team member planning the transport for the upcoming Summer Olympics. He's a veritable encyclopedia with statistics on everything transportation related. We couldn't have been happier soaking up a wee bit of his knowledge. Furthermore, we were so interested we visited the London Transport museum in Covent Garden which explains the singer out front. Plenty of street musicians and such around there.
The museum was absolutely fascinating. There were old wagons and buses, train cars, and terrific displays on the underground, or as they call it in London, "the tube". We learned that an out of work graphic artist sent in an unsolicited design for marketing the tube which, today, is one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. The circle with the line through it. So simple and effective, it is used everywhere!
Before I go further, I took this shot of a tanker carrying cargo I presume, through the airplane window:
Absolutely off topic I know, but I liked it. Everywhere people and goods are on the move!

Previously I mentioned that this trip included bus rides, a better way to see the sights. Whenever possible we sat on the top in the front row--the better to see London you know. Naturally, my camera was on my lap.
Buses, cars, taxis, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians all share the roads. That, I didn't really need to tell you, however, while eating breakfast one morning on Bethnal Green Road, I was surprised to see this added to the mix:
What, exactly, the gentleman was doing pulling a cart like that, I'll never know.

Rarely did we see gigantic folks anywhere. Around here they are an everyday occurrence, however, I suspect all the walking people do in a big city helps to keep their weight down. I don't think it is their diet so much as it is the movement. French fries for breakfast, lunch or dinner anyone?

The scene below is from the Columbia Road Flower Market held on Sundays. The English love their flowers, coming out in droves! How I wish our market were so packed. What kind of outfits are those people on the left wearing you ask? Pearly Kings and Queens, or in this case Princes. Briefly, they are a charitable organization begun in the 19th century. Feel free to click on the link to learn more. Although Matt is familiar with them, he'd not seen any in person before--oddly enough, we saw a King and Queen at the tube station on another occasion during our visit.

Early one morning I went out with my camera, exploring Hackney Road. Even though it was before 7, there were already lots of folks, every one of them carrying some kind of tote or backpack.
You may notice the sign above the graffiti, Wholesale Handbags, which apparently was one of the dominant industries of the area. During our street art discussion I mentioned shop fronts, well here's an example of one.

Not all of the tube stations are underground as seen here:
You can also get around London on water. Every great city has a river running through it and I needn't tell you that London has the Thames:
which Bruce and I cruised down, or would that be up? Anyway we got on a boat, traveling to Greenwhich, of mean time fame. On the other side of the river is the now famous London Eye:
The lines were long when we passed by; fortunately we rode it on our last trip. To see it in a photo does it no justice--those cars are so large about 25 people can stand or sit in them! You may think it is gimmicky, but I'm here to tell you that it is a fantastic way to see London.

We saw lots of MINI Coopers around, but none as crazy as this one:
Can you believe someone actually painted a skeleton on the outside? I STILL missing having a MINI, however, if I ever have one again I can assure you it will not turn into an art piece!

Twice we took the train to destinations--both times the ride was terrific. Once the station was Paddington, the other was St. Pancras which looked like this:
Clean, bright, and efficient. As you can see the city is getting ready for the Olympics. Matt purchased our tickets a few weeks in advance online, ensuring we had good seats. The train showed up right on time, delivering us to Leicester in comfort. The way it all works is that underground trains from various parts of the city run into the railway station; from there you can go just about anywhere you like including Europe using the high speed Eurostar. On our first trip to Europe we flew into London for a few days, took the Eurostar to Paris, a bullet train to Annecy, France, ending our journey by renting a car in Annecy which Bruce drove at very high speeds to Zurich. That is where he got the BMW bug which still is in his blood.

There are new city trains which do not go underground at all which they call the Overground, a name I think is perfect. So often these days, folks think they need to get all clever when the obvious would suffice. One of the not so new overground trains is the Docklands Light Railway which we used to go to the Olympic Park viewing area. If my memory serves me right (always suspect!), it travels to a revitalized area of the city known as Canary Wharf. Lots of sleek buildings there. The station was sleek as well. All this talk about getting around, but so far none about going up and going down. Believe me, there are lots of stairs and gigantic escalators like this one:
A good many of the ones we were on had lots more folks than this! One of the sleek buildings is in the left hand corner.

I've already mentioned bikes as a popular form of transportation. No, we didn't ride any bikes, however, if we'd wanted to do so we could have rented them by the hour from Transport for London. Several areas of the city (Tom would know the exact count), you will see racks that look like this one pictured on the left:
Below the logo are maps which are another great feature we saw. Lots of good maps to help you get around. Matthew has his own bike which now that I've seen the jumble of the streets for myself, makes me a wee bit nervous. Of course, he is a man and all, but for this mom, he will always be my boy. Actually it was Matthew who dreamed up all the activities, got us there without further ado, and made our stay comfortable in every way. He's a good son.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Away from the City

Around here Nancy still has me cleaning out closets. Yesterday we took everything out of what used to be Dave and Bill's closet, trashing some things, others are awaiting their removal from the garage. Not only are there baseball cards, but all of their modeling pictures, advertisements they were in, tax returns from when Dave was trading online, original photos from Bill's cd, Internal Flames and the list goes on. Calling both of them I gave them a three day ultimatum to get their stuff.  I'm pretty confidant that the threat of their high school yearbooks going out to the trash will do the trick! We shall see.

I'm up early today, a little before 5 because Mr. Baxter felt the need to go out. Probably because Bruce was already gone, having to catch a 5:30AM flight. For whatever reason, I'm up and ready to show you a few sights outside the city.

Mostly a photographer's job is best done solo, or at least for me, that is what works best. I can compose in my head, not worrying about lagging behind others, and more importantly, pick my timing. As such, traveling via train and working within a set time table, not to mention, less than ideal light conditions--I think I could do better, but here's what we've got--I hope you like them.

Traveling just outside London, immediately the lush green countryside appears, albeit at 100 miles an hour and through a tinted window no less which explains some of the coloring below.
I, of course, snagged the window seat on our way to Bath. I never did get a good picture of the hedgerows, a term I've read about in countless books, although I did recognize them immediately. So very lovely and straight--my word they were straight as was all the plowing. Goodness me I was impressed.

So you know we went to Stonehenge but did you know we saw other cool sights? Driving through the countryside our tour guide pulled off the road long enough for photography enthusiasts to take a few shots of this:
You may be wondering right about now, what the heck is that? I'm not sure if this is the same one or not, but the link does give you a little bit of info on this strange and wonderful phenomenon of horses carved into the chalk hillside.

From there we continued traveling until we came to another amazing sight, Silbury Hill, a chalk mound which scientists think is over 4,000 years old. It's hard to fathom a man-made hill covering over 5,000 acres, but we saw it with our very own eyes and camera.
We learned that at one point there were tunnels dug through it in search of gold. No luck---only chalk.

Avebury was our next stop. You've never heard of it? Neither had I. On our way, showers came and went just before our arrival. A really remarkable feature of this area were the stones lining the road, much like you'd see a tree lined drive. Apparently, in earlier, and I mean much earlier times, the stones were used to lead the worshipers to the stone circle. Obviously there's no way, short of an aerial photo to show you the circle, so we'll just have to content ourselves with small portions.
Matt and Tom began the walk around it, however, time got the better of that plan. Here's another view that I particularly like:
The great thing about Avebury is that you can touch the stones all you like. There's something about being out in the landscape with these weird huge stones that is very appealing. One last link which explains the term henge for those who like all the information they can get!

While Matt and Tom were walking amongst the stones, I wandered behind the museum and could NOT get over how beautiful this house is:
Perfection right? The lavender lining the walk just about took my breath away. Don't you just wonder what it looks like inside? Oh, if only we'd had more time....

That, of course, is the bad thing about being part of a tour, however, in this case the good things prevailed. Like as in, he knew where he was going. Furthermore, some of the roads we took were so narrow, for the life of me, I don't know how he managed.

The following day we took our "Costwolds Discovery Tour", covering some of the same ground as the day before. Our first guide, John, was very chatty. Tom, on day two, not so much, which suited some just fine. Me, I'm all for chatty. Chatty or not, Tom drove like a champ. At one point he pulled onto the tiniest little drive, heading into what seemed like a field to show us a house used for filming a British television show, of which I was unfamiliar. Who I am familiar with is Joanne Trollope, an excellent British writer who lives down the lane as well. Plus, we got to see these cute llamas:
Everyone on the bus was charmed with their freshly-shorn coats and lively personalities. Swiftly they came right up to the fence to say hi to the curious onlookers.

Sheep. Sheep. But not as many as there used to be. The Costwolds fortunes were made from sheep's wool long ago when wool was the primary fabric used for everything. Not so much anymore what with all the choices to be had, however, the legacy remains. I mentioned that we took a little walk through what I'm calling a sheep meadow. This time, instead of the boys I was traveling with, I'll show you some lovely sheep surrounded by wildflowers which, by the way, were everywhere!
The lyrics from the Eagle's song, "peaceful, easy feeling" come to mind for me. So now you know there is chalk, seran stones, and wildflowers growing everywhere. Another very strong feature of this are are a different kind of stone made from limestone. They are used for not only homes, but fences (the actual term escapes me), both the sides and the tops. Amazingly, all done without any type of mortar--I believe the term is "dry stone." What craftmanship!
According to our guides, the walls were built just to the height that a sheep can jump. I sure wouldn't want to climb over this would you? I could go on and on about the beauty of that region!

So, Melton Mowbray is not really the country. Nor is Jane's garden, however, beauty is where you find it and we found it there. There was a koi pond with water lilies, an apple espalier, a term Tom taught me while we were at the Geffrye Museum, climbing roses just a wee past their peak, and more, and more, and more. Lavender pots!
There's that sweet kitty again too. What's more, there were flowers I'd never seen before, not surprising given our wildly disparate climates.
Lovely, lovely, lovely--that's all I can say about the tiny bit of English countryside we experienced. Just as the English people are polite and civilized, the countryside seemed that way as well. Straight lines, clean and neat. Nancy would be impressed.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Food

Let's go back to England shall we? Although it was eight years ago since our last visit to England, I'd still not forgotten how bad the food was, or at least the places we went. As such, there was the slightest bit of trepidation regarding ten days of English food. Alas, that was yet another misplaced concern, much like the weather worries. That said, in an email from Matt he wrote that it's been raining steadily since our departure with sunshine finally making an appearance yesterday. My word we were lucky weren't we?

So just what changed since our last trip? Apparently there's a new emphasis on food in England, as well as many more chain restaurants. Now, I know what you're thinking....chains are not a good thing, however, I beg to disagree and with good cause! Without chain restaurants we would never have been able to afford this trip which is my selfish reason for debating the issue. On a different level, the genius of chain restaurants is consistency. You know what your hard earned money is buying most every time. Enough on that....

Bruce was so looking forward to trying all sorts of what the English call "bitters". His favorite beer in America is Bass Pale Ale, which is not to be found in England, however, there were more than enough others for his tasting pleasure. His first one came from this pub:
This was on Saturday afternoon following our walk through Broadway Market, London Fields, and the Hackney Museum.  Later in the week we learned from one of our tour guides that if you see the term "Free House" on a pub it means the owners may sell what they want. Otherwise, pubs are owned/subsidized by specific breweries, selling only their product. As well, we learned from Tom that you do not tip the bartender after ordering your drinks. If food is brought to the table that is another matter as far as tipping is concerned.

The next day we attended an Independence Day picnic in a beautiful small square in an area of London I can't recall.
Because we're talking food I'm showing you this one of Matt with his tacos, Tom had ribs, and both Bruce and I had terrific bar-b-que. These were all from food tents.
Seriously, that brisket was delicious, as was the drink you see on the grass. I believe they called it a Firecracker made from Maker's Mark and ginger beer. I've pretty much never had whiskey before, but  I decided to be bold and give it a try. An excellent refreshing summer drink. The picnic was very relaxing with lots of children running around on the soft grass along with live musical acts. A very nice way to spend Sunday afternoon with other Americans.
Matt and Tom took off for a concert in Hyde Park, seeing I believe Pulp, while Bruce and I made our way over to the hustle and bustle of Soho. Not before we strolled, if you can call it that, through the massive crowds on Oxford Street. As I mentioned before, the folks didn't run you down like in New York.

Because the weather was pleasant, there were loads and loads of people eating at sidewalk cafes. By the time we were ready to eat again, most all of the outdoor tables were full, so we settled for one just inside the open doors of Giraffe, which later on Matt told us was another small chain. They were playing great music on their sounds system, what the host called his "American Anthem" collection. Between eating and drinking our wine, we were kept busy guessing who the artists were.
Not every meal was eaten at chain restaurants. Most mornings I walked about two blocks to Columbia Road to buy fresh croissants for breakfast at a small shop. A few mornings we walked the block or two to local places including Cafe 338 on Bethnal Green Road.
and this one on Hackney Road:
We opted for simple food, eggs on toast, rather than the "full English breakfast". While at Matt's flat Bruce tried freeze dried coffee for the first time which he thoroughly enjoyed. As a matter of fact, once we were home he went on a mission to find some at Publix, not an easy feat, however, he's drinking a cup of it as I type. Because I have my handy, dandy kettle, he just heats the water and is get to go!

Before seeing Tift Merritt in Soho on Monday night  Pizza Express was a good choice for all of us.
In the forefront you'll see a bottle of tonic which is brought to you when you order a gin and tonic. Please note there IS ice in the glass. From there we walked a block or so to the Pillars of Hercules for yet another beer tasting by Bruce with Tom giving invaluable advice. The link provides some details that my literary friends will find very interesting.

Then we were off to Bath, celebrating Matt's birthday at Demuths which was not only a lovely spot, but the vegetarian/vegan food was delicious! Tom is set to taste his entree in this one:
I can't remember what he ordered, but I can say that it was very attractive. Plus, I think he liked it. Doesn't he have the sweetest little smile?

Our first meal in Bath was lunch at Market pictured here:
Tom, Bruce and I all had terrific hamburgers, while Matt had a scrumptious veggie burger. What was such a pleasant surprise was that everywhere we went there were vegan options for Matthew. Did I mention that chips are on the menu everywhere for breakfast, lunch and dinner? I kept getting chips (fries) and crisps (potato chips) confused.

While Matt and Tom went to the Bath spa Wednesday night, Bruce and I ventured out on our own, dining on our worst meal of the trip in a pub called Crystal Palace. Instead, we should have gone to Beaujolais for dinner, rather than only a glass of wine, however, if we'd done that, we wouldn't have met the wildly entertaining bartender:
He was quite the taskmaster, barking out orders to the wait staff who claimed, with a smile, that he was awful! The corner coat rack held all manner of hat styles for him to don depending on his mood. Another plus--the location just around the corner from the apartment we rented for our stay in Bath.

For both of our tour days lunch was pre-scheduled in pubs, The George Inn located in Lacock, has had a license since 1362! There I had the ploughman's lunch which was a hunk of fresh, local white cheddar, bread, slaw and what they called pickles. I did not recognize them as such.
Our group (aside from the young girls) just outside The George with the tour guide standing in front of Matt.

The next day we went to the Queen's Head in Stow-on-the-Wold, where they served Bruce's favorite beer of the trip, Donnington Ales. I ate the only traditional English food of the trip there, bangers and mash. Delicious!
Are you hungry yet? I'm almost done, however, eating out for ten days creates lots of writing material.

One night we went to Leon where all of us thoroughly enjoyed our meal. Ours had some things we'd never tried before, Matt had some old favorites from there. Two years ago he gave me the cookbook from this charming restaurant which is one of those cookbooks that begs you to read it and look at the cool photographs.
The great sign is enough to make you want to eat there isn't it?

The lunch Jane made for our visit to Melton Mowbray was not only delicious, but beautiful as well:
Those are wonderful roasted vegetables in case you're wondering. We enjoyed our meal in this lovely setting:
On the table, adjacent to the salad, is the food for which Melton Mowbray is famous--a pork pie! Prior to our departure for England, every English person I told we were going to MM remarked upon the pie. Up till then, I only knew Stilton cheese came from there, which regrettably, there was no time to sample. Another time...

Another great meal was eaten at Paddington Station upon our return from Melton Mowbray. I'm delighted to see there are locations in America.

Yikes, I'm getting all out of order...

Saturday evening, before seeing "War Horse", we ate at Nandos. I'm still raving about that place. Because I was so taken with the peri-peri spice I wondered if it was available to purchase. Matt was kind enough to go to the local Tesco, returning with multiple versions which I've used twice already, once on a whole chicken, and last evening sprinkled on home made french fries.

Lastly, located all over London, another quick take away spot, for fresh fruit, chips, and sandwiches is
simply called Eat.

Well now, I suspect you never imagined that I'd be all crazy for the food, but I was. Having a local guide you makes all the difference in the world. For your next trip to London or Bath, if you want good, fresh food that won't break the bank, try any, or for that matter, all of the above.

If all else fails, there's always KFC.

You Just Never Know