Naughtiness at the House of Lords

When in London after a long work day, tradition dictates that you go to the nearest pub and have a pint or two.  But I never take the traditional route and I don’t drink beer so after MY work day was over, I headed on over to the House of Lords to hear the Earl of Sandwich argue over the merits of an amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill.  Yep, I’m a political geek.

After not being able to just “drop in” last night as we walked by on the way home (due to the presence of a knife of the Swiss Army variety in Thom’s pocket), we left the weapons at the hotel and off we went.  The House Of Lords works late into the evening so by the time we cleared security after being searched, me so thoroughly that Thom asked if the security guard had asked for my #, up we climbed to the Stranger’s Gallery where visitors can sit quietly and observe.  To enforce that rule, you have to check in all your bags and cell phones with a guard before entering.

With gold-plated pretty much everything and knight statues glaring down from their lofty perches above the floor, the Earls, Ladies, Lords and such sit (and sleep) during the proceedings on red leather banquettes.  If they aren’t sleeping, they are looking at their iPads or speaking on the topic at hand.  All very formal, we snickered (quietly) when one Lord spoke of the “naughtiness” of the vigilante posse hiding wealth by buying up London real estate through LLC’s (owners anonymous) registered in British territories and driving up prices so that buying a home now costs 39x the median income of the average Londoner.  Citing one example in nearby Cambridge, a new development of 292 homes were snatched up by foreigners, primarily Chinese and Russians, with only 2 homes purchased by UK residents.  Shocking-sounds like Seattle.

I did feel quite young sitting there watching these old guys bicker and debate whether there should be stricter government control in this area of finance.  With the average age of about 70 years old and probably only 10% women, there was definitely a strict dress code with the men in suits and the ladies in skirts.  I was disappointed that the only person wearing a white ringlet wig was the youngest person in the room running the technology.  The clerks who run the notes to the Lords were very formally attired in tails and large metal medallions hanging from their bodies.  Posh.

Leaving as the debate was still raging at 7:30 p.m., Thom and I couldn’t wait to discuss the experience.  Yes, for political geeks, this was the highlight of our London trip.  Cheers!

 

Treacle Tarts at The Wolseley

Harry Potter fans will understand my fascination with treacle tarts.  Why did Harry and his gang love eating something with such a funny name?  What is a treacle?  Well, thanks to The Wolseley in London I can now answer those questions.  Treacle tarts are amazingly delicious and treacle is golden syrup.  Yum!

I owe a big thanks to my friend, Karmann, who turned me on to this elegant yet approachable restaurant near The Green Park and The Ritz.  After cheering on the late finishers in the London Marathon that ended at Buckingham Palace today, we made our way through The Green Park, filled with marathon fans soaking up the last of the sun.  What a beautiful day it was whether you ran a marathon (how do they do that??) or just enjoyed a walk through a market or park.

Seated as soon as we walked in to The Wolseley and starving, I ordered the recommended chicken soup with carrots and dumplings that was light yet deliciously rich at the same time.  With bits of chicken, I quickly finished it while Thom shared with me a few bites of his chicken, bacon, and avocado sandwich and pommes frites.  Not only was the service impeccable but the prices were not too expensive given that London in general is very expensive indeed.  Surrounded by marathon finishers still wearing their medals and celebrating with champagne, steak and caviar, we quickly moved on to dessert.

Treacle tart-what would it taste like?  I had done no research and had no expectations.  I wanted to be surprised. Well, it came warm with a side of clotted cream that actually helped cut some of the sweetness.  Think pecan pie without the pecans and with a flaky crust.  Very dense and delicious.  No wonder Harry, Ron and Hermione ate these up when they magically appeared at Hogwarts.  After seeing Platform 9 3/4 at the Kings Crossing station this morning, it was only fitting that I end my day with their favorite Hogwarts dessert.  London is definitely a magical place.

 

Exploring London’s Parks

London has THE BEST parks.  Friday after checking into St. Ermin’s, we immediately set out to explore and push on to avoid the dreaded jet lag.  Unfortunately, we hadn’t gotten any local currency yet so when I tried to use the public loo later in St. James Park, I discovered there was a 20 pence coin required to gain entry.  WTH!  You have to pay to pee?  Thom’s solution was a suggestion to walk all the way back to the hotel.  NOT a  really timely choice so I went with my own solution-act really pathetic and prey on kind strangers who DID have the required coins.  Bingo!  Within seconds of asking the closest coffee kiosk barista in the park for directions to an ATM and explaining the situation, another customer quickly found the right coin and offered it to me, rolling her eyes at Thom and telling me there was no need to walk anywhere and she was happy to help me.  There you go!  Afterward, I promised Thom that I would “pee it forward” and help other desperate ladies out next time I go, keeping a stash of required coins just in case.  Ladies need to stick together!

Later, we checked out Golden Square on the way to Carnaby Street.  A park with stunning public art AND a communal ping pong table in heavy use, this may not be on visitor’s “hot” list to see but it was just lovely.   Shoe lovers will appreciate the largest stiletto you will ever see.  Now that’s art!  None of that crazy abstract crap you have to figure out in museums.

On Saturday, we headed out to the most popular spots:  The Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Garden.  Very close to our hotel, The Green Park showcases Buckingham Palace on it’s perimeter.  While we didn’t see the changing of the guards, we did check out the guards and the massive palace.  Really, who needs all that space???  Looks like a big money drain to me.  Walking through the Wellington Arch and checking out the many war memorials, you are reminded everywhere in London of WWI and WWII.  So many lives lost.

Right next door to The Green Park is Hyde Park, totally deserving of all the accolades I read out about it in the travel books.  From the cheap ($2 euros a day) bike rentals to the large lake with paddle boats and rowboats and horse trails, it is amazing.  Thom quickly got a hot dog to wolf down for energy before our long walk.  My only beef with the park system is the lack of trash cans in all the parks.  What’s up with that London?  Surprisingly given the lack of receptacles, the parks are very clean but the few trash cans overflow like crazy, the only unsightly view in the otherwise clean space.

Hyde Park even has chairs you can rent by the day to relax and gaze out at the water.  Very reminiscent of Central Park in NYC, one of my favorite places, people were stretched out on benches and the lawn enjoying the rare sunshine.  And can I say, the dogs here are SO well behaved it’s crazy.  Off leash in the parks, I have yet to see dogs growling or fighting.  They just walk docile and obedient with their owners by their side. Thom asked one dog owner why the dogs are so calm and he replied, “Lots of opium.”  Be calm and drug your dog?  I’m sure he was just kidding.  Probably.

Right next door to Hyde Park is Kensington Gardens.  We were needing a break from the sun so we ducked into the Serpentine Gallery on the park grounds to check out the spring show featuring the work of John Latham, a pioneer of British conceptual art (1921-2006).  Thought-provoking for sure, the use of books was prevalent in the conceptual art pieces.  Interesting exhibit but the bathrooms had the best technology I’ve seen.  Dyson water faucets also served as hand drying jet blasters–all in one and very cool.  Better than the art!  Heading over to the Prince Albert Memorial we enjoyed watching an intense street hockey game.  Damn, they were good.  Hockey scouts need to be checking these dudes out for their teams!

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John Latham’s art-these are books if you can’t tell

 

Moving on, we checked out Kensington Palace, with the beautiful Diana White Gardens to mark the 20th anniversary of her death.  We did feel that the security was pretty darn lax and gates were unguarded and would be too easy to hop over.  What?  In fact, walking down embassy row later in the day past all each country’s gorgeous building, we didn’t see any armed guards except for the Israeli post where they were armed with impressive weapons.  In China when we walked Embassy Row, you would see armed guards in front of every embassy.  Here, one guy came running out of an embassy yelling “YO!” to the Domino Pizza guy at the curb to deliver a hot pie.  Classy.

We tried walking by The Orangery next to Diana’s White Garden but a very fancy, or as the Brits would say “posh”, wedding was going on so here the security was tight and we were politely turned away.  So, they guard weddings better than they do embassies here in London?  With top hats and tails for the guys and long gowns for the ladies, this wedding was one fancy event.  We considered trying to crash it but thought better of it and moved along to continue our 11 mile hike that day.  What a great day!

 

Chechnya Protest in London

We just happened to wander by the Russian Embassy in London as a crowd gathered to show support for gays being rounded up and held in detention centers in the Russian republic of Chechnya.  Part of a purge by the Russian government in response to a planned gay pride parade, Londoners we saw wanted to spread the word of this atrocity so action and pressure by world leaders will hopefully stop it.  I am happy to help.

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One man carefully spread out a roll of paper to write his message, “Free Love.  If compassion is higher form of wisdom, how wise are you?” while others organizing the event spoke to policewomen and the crowd.  Photographers captured the moment and others wrote encouraging thoughts on the pink triangles.  I wrote “Love Trumps Hate”.  Thom explained to me that in Nazi Germany gays had to wear pink triangles on their clothing.  Frightening times when we see history repeating itself and our nation’s leaders are doing nothing to stop it and some are encouraging it with their hate-filled rhetoric.

Laying pink flowers on the sidewalk, the mood was somber but defiant.  A group of men allowed their pictures to be taken as Londoners stopped to read the signs.  We walked by later on our way home, happy to see the signs undisturbed and folks reading the messages.  Grassroots efforts like this work as we are finding in the U.S. with our protest marches, calls to Congress and other efforts trying to stop the madness that lies in POTUS.  Where we can support other countries with their efforts to stop the hate and embrace love, we most certainly will.  Never give up and never back down.London_April 2017-8261

London Shopping-Vintage to Vinyl

Eleven miles and 25,000 steps later, we had walked ALL over London.  Literally.  We embraced “shop till you drop” and had fun doing it.  Starting at our historic boutique hotel, St. Ermin’s, at noon after sleeping in (jet lag sucks) we walked to Notting Hill.  Yes, that Notting Hill but, alas, we didn’t run into Hugh Grant.  Buggers!BC655D29-FC10-4252-920C-07883DB7450F

This terribly charming area has shops galore including Portobello Market, a street filled with stalls featuring furs, teapots and more.  But first, it was National Record Store Day and we were looking for vinyl and lucky enough to stumble upon the Music & Goods Exchange.  Searching for treasures among the used vinyl, I found “Stompin’ at the Savoy”, a compilation of 19 classic cuts from the archives of the Savoy featuring pioneer jazz, be-bop, rhythm and blues.  Dedicated to and featuring Charlie Parker, the tracks are from 1940-1960.  Thom picked up singles from Elvis Costello as much for the covers, which we will frame, as for the music. Can’t wait to spin some tunes when we get home!

I love bookstores second to none so imagine my excitement to not only find the original bookstore featured in the movie, Notting Hill, but we also found a great sale at another bookstore.  Picking up a “Royal Snap” very British card game, I now have a plan to play cards with Mia next time we go to Boise.  “Albie and the Space Rocket” was another purchase.  “It seems like just another ordinary night to Albie until he wakes up to find…penguins stealing the furniture, moose tangoing in the toilet and zebras asleep in the kitchen cupboard.  But who has left a trail of baked beans?”  Can’t wait to read this silly tale of adventure to Mia!  Of course, I’ll have to explain what a “bloke” is and so on.  Love those British terms especially “cheeky”.   I got Thom “From Churchill’s War Rooms” as he plans to visit the actual war rooms while I am working this week.  Booorrring! He knows that would not be at the top of my “go do” list so off he goes by himself.   Yet another bookstore we stumbled on wasn’t open but we read the sign by the door which shared that this shop was the inspiration for the travel bookshop featured in the movie.WP_20170422_19_16_40_Pro

Finally reaching Portobello Market, we navigated the crowds to find Mary’s Living and Giving, a thrift store that benefits Save The Children.  I had read about this amazing shop and it did not disappoint.  From Kate Spade to DVF, there were bargains galore and a friendly clerk to assist.  I’ve decided to start a new tradition and get Hannah vintage fashion wherever I travel and this time she’ll be gaining a black sheath with fringe and zipper treatment.  Super cheeky and all proceeds to a worthy cause!

Around the corner, we found another vinyl store, Rough Trade, where we browsed until we were informed that closing time was upon us so basically, “GET OUT!” Now dark, we started our long journey home.  Walking in front of a group of millennials at one point, we chuckled at their conversation discussing a game they like to play in the pubs called, “Daddy or Sugar Daddy?” asking women with older companions to share the truth.  Wonder how many cocktails they get thrown in their faces while playing this cute game.  I’m betting quite a few.

At one point along a lonely, creepy stretch of road, I was ready to try to hail a cab.  My back hurt, my feet ached and I was a little bit scared.  “Princess Snowflake get your ass moving” was my compassionate husband’s response to that idea.  Hitting 11 miles on my overworked Fitbit, we finally arrived back at St. Ermin’s.  Time for an adult beverage.  Cheers!

B Day in London

B Day was today in London with Theresa May cutting Britain loose from the European Union.  Thom and I had experienced a celebration of the EU in Munich last Sunday and now we were on hand to witness this historic Brexit moment in London.  Two sides of an important issue affecting so many people.

We walked across the Westminster Bridge one week after the terrorist attack and thanked the Muslims who were peacefully standing by the memorials and advocating love and unity.  Right on!  Later in the day, the police blocked off the bridge and marched in solidarity to show support for their officer who died in the attack.

We walked by Big Ben to see all the news teams who had taken over a local park to broadcast.  With Parliament across the street. it made for a good backdrop for the news personalities to discuss B Day.  Back at the hotel after 20,000+ steps (9 miles) of walking all over London on my only day off here before I head to work tomorrow, it was fun to watch the news broadcasts from where we had just been.

All the news shows are discussing Brexit and the effect it will have on London and the EU.  There seems to be so much uncertainty and confusion.  Of course, there were protestors making a statement on our crazy POTUS too-it is all one tangled mess.  Seems like our leaders could get their act together and actually take care of their citizens but people here are shaking their heads in dismay just like we are in the US.  What.  The.  Hell.

Happy EU Anniversary!

Of course, wherever Thom goes, he finds a protest or a rally.  He is a magnet for all things political.  So it came as no surprise when we stumbled upon a guy wearing a EU flag setting up for a rally while we were on our walking tour of Munich on Sunday.  After our tour ended, we circled back to the square, which by this time was packed with pro-EU flag-waving supporters.

While the speeches were in German, I wasn’t surprised to hear them call out “Trump” and then “women’s march” no doubt alluding to our idiot POTUS and the successful protests in the US against him and his pro-Russian regime.  Thom was wearing his “sorry about our President” t-shirt in 13 languages.  As we walked around the crowd, many were amused as they read the sentiments, some even asking for photos with Thom.  That’s my guy-always making a political statement!

Amidst the chants, cheers, marching and flag-waving, it was obvious that Germany embraces the EU.  We found the merch table and loaded up on EU stickers, pins and bags for souvenirs and to support the cause.  When in Rome and all.  I can only hope that the US steps up their political activism and pours on the protests to make a difference.  We won’t give up and neither will the Germans apparently in their support of the EU.  Go forth and rally people!

Walking Munich

With only one day to explore Munich, we chose to take a historic walking tour offered by InMunich.  My brain is in overload with all the cool facts and interesting stories that our tour guide, Hein, shared with us.  Meeting in Marienplatz Square at 10:45 a.m., we got a quick summary of the history of Munich before the glockenspiel went off at 11 a.m. serenading the huge crowd with music, bells and the moving characters that illustrate the history of Munich.  Fantastic.

Hein guided us over the next three hours through the streets of Munich, pointing out the beautiful buildings and giving us the backstory of each one.  Admittedly, I am the ignorant American who obviously never paid attention in history classes as I learned more about Hitler and WWII from Hein than I did in school.  Munich lost 80% of their buildings to the war but they rebuilt beautifully.  The few buildings and parts of buildings that did survive the raining down of bombs were on the tour.  As Hein asked various questions, the answer was always “beer”.  To distract a pet monkey who saved a royal baby from a rampaging baboon, what did they offer?  Beer.  When the town folk didn’t have enough gold to get the Swedish King to leave them alone during a takeover, what did they offer him?  Liquid gold, aka beer.  And so on.

Along with six other couples, all Americans, we learned of Hitler’s early years as an aspiring artist.  Hein told us that if he could go back in history, he would make sure Hitler made it into art school vs. getting rejected which led to his career in government and killing.  Most powerful moment was seeing “dodger alley” where the Resistance would run to get around the mandatory saluting to the Nazi regime off the major square where Hitler made campaign speeches.  Seeing the beer hall where Hitler had one of his first major oratory moments as he came into power was also chilling.  So many times over the course of the tour, Thom and I would look at each other and mouth “Trump moment” because it feels like history is repeating itself with our lying, power hungry, amoral POTUS who would rather let citizens die if it meant his agenda was approved.  Terrifying.

At our break halfway through the tour, Hein encouraged us to make use of the public bathrooms and Starbucks but I chose a different path.  Cold and needing an instant warm-up, I got a shot of good whiskey at an Irish pub.  No ice just whiskey.  My friends, Kurt and Ernie, would be so proud of me.  Later, we would fill up on a good German dinner of sausages/sauerkraut/potatoes for Thom and white asparagus/potatoes with hollandaise sauce for me with a side of pretzels, of course, and a carafe of wine.  Cheers!

Creating Indian Bracelets

In the basement of my hotel outside one of the many restaurants, a turbaned gent sits cross-legged in front of a small charcoal fire taking requests to make bracelets.  If you dine in the restaurant, you get a complimentary bracelet.  Of course, I’m not eating in India so I was told to just tip the craftsman a few dollars and he will make some for me.  I decided to tip him with all my remaining rupees.

Picking out the colors I wanted from the blocks on sticks, he melts each color, smearing them onto his tool one at a time .  After sizing up the two thin pieces of copper onto my wrist which he will curl the melted colors around to form a circle, he expertly rolls out the colors somehow manipulating the swirls of black, gold and silver to form a gorgeous and unique piece of art.  After some banging and more sizing, the bracelet is finished and hot.  Literally.  Allowing it to cool off, I proceeded to get others made for Mia and co-workers.  When I proudly wear mine, I will always remember my incredible adventure in India.

Eating Challenges in India

I ate fish on a plane.  Not wise.  After spending a week in India only drinking bottled water and eating Cliff bars, I was so hungry I tempted fate and took a bite of the offered meal on my Emirates flight out of India.    After 2 bites, common sense took over and I put down the fork.  Facing 2 long flights to get to Munich from Hyderabad, I couldn’t afford to be sick so all eating airplane food had to cease.  Too risky.  But with an aching back, I did order up an OJ with a side of whiskey to loosen up my muscles.  Starving but wise I am and 5 pounds lighter too.WP_20170320_18_14_30_Pro (2)

Life on the road with a weak stomach is a challenge.  First, I have to pack enough food to last me and scads of Imodium.  Cliff bars are heavy thus the aching back from my backpack full of snacks.  Then, you have to get used to explaining to everyone inviting you to eat that you just can’t partake and try not to share too many medical details but just enough to get them to stop pushing food on you even though they are just trying to be hospitable.  Socially it’s awkward at best to tag along with those of strong stomachs as they go to the “hot” restaurants and sample the local cuisine and you can’t join in.  I have to keep explaining that it all looks delicious so as not to offend our hosts.  But, no thank you, if I eat the lamb curry and lentils, I’ll die. 

Unfortunately, one of our team members did partake and felt like dying for at least a day.  She tempted fate and lost.  Checking on her and sending up Gatorade and antacids, we all knew it could happen to any of us.  Nothing worse than being on the road and getting ill.  No one to hold your head as you puke your guts out or get the hotel doctor for a house call.  Luckily, she recovered in time to fly home.

Okay, besides Cliff bars I did happen to sample wine in every city including a nice Chateau St. Michelle Syrah in Delhi.  I certainly eyed the morning breakfast buffets at the hotels as they were over-the-top with offerings from all around the world.  Thom would have gorged himself had he accompanied me.  He likes a good buffet.   One day I did go down and got a plain waffle.  Very boring but it was hot and delicious.

The work cafeterias offered a wide variety of options daily from Indian cuisine to Subway.  Since the locals eat with their hands, there are washing stations for easy clean up.  Ice cream is a big hit too and necessary to cleanse the palate after a hot and spicy meal.  The coffee cart was interesting with delicious (I’m told) boiled sugar cane sweetened drinks served in small clay pots (biodegradable).  The barista was kind enough to just give me one of the little cups to take home as a souvenir.

Now I’m off to Germany where I will try not to gain back the 5 pounds when I grab a pretzel or two.