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!

 

Turning my back on politics for a day!

When the craziness of the political landscape is driving me to drink and getting me down (and how could it not?), then I turn to art and music to lift my spirits.  Okay, whiskey and wine work too but art and music are better for my soul AND my health. So, off to the museum we went for a day away from the madness of politics.

After waking up just in time to witness a tweet storm of epic proportions in real time on Saturday morning when “he who must not be named” thought it would be a good idea to take on esteemed Congressman John Lewis, I felt a need to disconnect from the nightmare that is about to begin.  So, taking advantage of a sunny, not-so-freezing day in Seattle, we set out to experience the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

Set in a gorgeous location in Volunteer Park near Capital Hill, we were blown away by the stunning collection in the 1933 Art Deco building.  Originally the site of the SAM, it now houses classic Asian art pieces and special exhibits like the contemporary Japanese artist Tabaimo Homage with thought-provoking video installations.  One made me think WTF but the piece set in a women’s bathroom was interesting and the crows were subtly freakish.  Art!

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The more classic art pieces featured such intricate details that you could look at just one piece all day to appreciate the artistry to make it.  Carvings, pottery, tapestries, etc. from ancient times to contemporary pieces are just for viewing but the cement replicas of Ming Dynasty camel statues that grace the entrance are meant to be climbed on by the kids and serve as a backdrop for fun photo ops.  We didn’t take the tours offered but there were two  on Sunday at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. which would probably be very informative.

While you are there, cross the street and check out the water tower observation deck.  Challenged by Thom, I chugged up the 107 stairs to enjoy the 360 degree view of Seattle.  Gorgeous!

We are SAM members but if you aren’t, the museum is open free on the first Thursday and Saturday of each month.  Tear yourself away from social media, turn your back on politics at least for a day and take advantage of the museum and the park-both gems in Seattle!

A Tale of Two Rats-A NYC Fairy Tale

There once lived two rats in very different parts of the big city that never sleeps.  Lucky me, I got to see them both up close and personal while out having Manhattan adventures.  One rat, we’ll call him Junior due to his petite size, lived by the lake in Central Park with a view to die for.  The other deserves a loftier title, perhaps Pony, as he was large enough to saddle up, and lives in Madison Square Park near the iconic Flatiron Building.

Now in the early fall in the Big Apple, they had very different experiences.  Junior was doing who knows what but got stuck in the sidewalk swell and was rescued by a tourist with no sense of self preservation or hygiene.  Slowing down to see why there was a crowd gathered, Thom and I stopped in our tracks when we saw this gent pick up Junior by the tip of his tail, freeing him from whatever he was trapped by and gently swinging him over to the bushes to set him free.  Run, Junior, run.  Run, Melinda, run.

Now Pony didn’t experience the same type of kindness by strangers.  Walking from Happy Hour at the Flat Iron Room to Fishs Eddy to shop, we were drawn into Madison Park, our old neighborhood haunt where Thom would take Izaak every day to play in the dog park when we lived at 27th and 7th in Chelsea.  Observing all the dogs playing was great but then, streaking from the dog area to the bushes in the middle of the park  right in front of us was a small dog or was that…wait a minute, that’s no dog.  Running like a bat (or rat in this case) out of Hell, Pony, aka the largest rat I have ever seen, took off like a shot from the fenced dog area probably after one of the dogs decided he had found a new playmate or tasty snack.  Run, Pony, run.  Run, Melinda, run.

Ultimately, both rats lived to see another day in the city that I love.  Who knows, maybe next time I visit we’ll meet again.  Or not.

 

Camping with Sexy Beast

Sexy Beast is back from the body shop after taking a vicious hit to the back quarter panel from a driver backing out without looking.  Very traumatic but she is now as gorgeous as ever and raring to take an adventure, so off we went to camp this weekend on the coast by the Olympic National Forest.

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Sexy Beast goes camping

“This looks like the trail” my wilderness wannabe hubby boldly proclaimed as he proceeded to lead us into the dark forest as sunset approached on the very trail where cougars had been sighted earlier, a warning that folks smarter than us had heeded as we saw no one else on the trail.  However as the trail abruptly ended and we pondered our next step, I suddenly had a new appreciation for those hikers I had previously labelled as “stupid” who get lost in the wilderness and need to be rescued.  It can happen.  Did we pack water, snacks, bear repellant, etc. when we set out for our hike?  NOPE.  After we decided we weren’t on the “real” trail and instead had ventured down a game trail that the deer had made, we bushwhacked out with me growing ever more hysterical that we would not make it out alive.  Finally, sweat pouring off us as we jumped downed trees and scrambled out of the thick fern undergrowth, we emerged onto the road where not 20 feet away was the sign for the real trail, which I chose not to take back to our tent and instead we hiked back to our campsite by the roadway.  Sure, we could get hit by a car but at least we wouldn’t have a cougar rip our throats out.  Win.  Who knew camping was this fun?  Glad I bought that flask which I put to good use as soon as we got back to our tent.

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Drinking Cab from a flask..not elegant but works

My NYC born and bred husband has always been fascinated by the great outdoors.  We even lived on a mountain for a while in Idaho (his dream) and he got to camp to his heart content, hiking up into the mountains to fly fish on a regular basis.  By himself, of course.  I on the other hand, a Hoosier raised in the heartland of Indiana, have never embraced the camping culture.  Sure, I appreciate the great outdoors from afar but sleeping in a flimsy tent with strangers close by and animals wandering around who could select me for a tasty meal has never been attractive as a vacation alternative.  Roughing it for me is a 3 star hotel.  But love conquers all and Thom likes to camp so I thought we would give it a whirl.  Life is short and all.  So, I got a used tent from the company buy/sell site and picked up 2 sleeping bags at Goodwill, not wanting to invest a lot in what could be a one and done experience.  Getting an awesome camping site is quite difficult so when a guy was selling his reservation at work that he couldn’t use, I paid the $56 for 2 nights and considered it fate.  Time to camp!

Come to find out, that dirt forest floor is damn hard.  We had taken yoga mats to put under the sleeping bags (city folk) and no pillows as we had little space for supplies since we were driving Sexy Beast.  There would be no stove to cook food or make coffee.  Thank God we are not foodies as sandwiches were on our menu for the next two days.  Yes, people in the Salt Creek Campground on the Olympic coast were walking by our campsite staring at our teeny tiny car and wondering who would camp in such a vehicle, most of them driving the more sensible option of a Subaru or truck.  Not us!

The first night was rough needless to say ending in the morning with my pronouncement that we would either go pick up air mattresses and pillows in town or leave immediately.  Off to Wal-Mart we went to the monster big box, which I hate to patronize but desperate times call for desperate shopping.  Inflated and filling up the entire tiny tent, we slept so much better the second and final night-my max camping experience is limited to 2 nights.  One can only eat so many s’mores and take woodland hikes of terror.  Yes, it was mighty beautiful and we had a great time but I do appreciate my view apartment with indoor plumbing and our memory foam mattress even more now.

On the way home, we stopped at a lovely lavender field near Sequim and blared the Black Keys as we drove with the top down and enjoyed the sunshine.  Heaven!  One odd sight while we were still driving in the heavily forested area was the preponderance of Elk Crossing signs.  Now, I’ve seen lots of deer leaping signs but not many elk ones and after we saw a few, we actually came upon one that was flashing warning lights.  WTF!  Do the elk hit a magical forest button when they are approaching the highway so motorists will stop for them as they cross?  Is there a Kinect hooked up that scans their body type and sets off the alarm?  Really, I want to know what/who activates those flashing lights for the elk???  I will have to investigate and find out the story behind those flashing lights.  Someone has to know the woodland creature warning back story.

Now we are home and enjoying having James back from Madrid and the start of the Dem Convention.  Go Hillary!

 

Downtown Seattle Park Fun

Last year in NYC, we frequented Bryant Park near the library and wandered through their reading room area where you can pick up a book or magazine and relax.  The gaming area was teaming with energetic groups enjoying ping pong and boce ball.  The café style setting allowed weary travelers a place to chill out.  I remember telling Thom that Seattle should try this out and make better use of public space for everyone to enjoy.  Now you can visit Westlake Park in downtown Seattle and experience the same family fun atmosphere!WP_20160416_16_31_29_Pro 1

We wandered through today on our way back home after picking up a book being held for me at the Seattle library-Mozart in the Jungle (now a fantastic series on Amazon).  All I can say is:  About bloody time, Seattle!  Once a place only for junkies and protests and a place to be avoided at all costs, now Westtlake Park is equipped with fun stuff and might even become a destination for both locals and tourists after shopping downtown at Pike Place Market.

From ping pong and foosball tables, lawn chess and table chess, and a bean bag toss that Thom and I tried out, there was something for everyone in the crowd from kids to seniors.  In addition to those activities, there were magazines to read and a jungle gym for the youth to climb all over and exert some energy.  I love it!

Enjoying Vondelpark in Amsterdam

The sun was shining so off we went to the park to enjoy life as the locals do on our last full day here in Amsterdam.  Damn, they’re healthy here!  Not only do the folks who live here bike/walk everywhere but on the weekends they take to the park to do yoga outside, bootcamp, jog, walk their dogs and enjoy the great outdoors. 

In Vondelpark, we saw it all but especially laughed when the pregnant ladies lined up around the tree bench we were sitting on and proceeded to do push ups as part of the Moms in Balance group exercise.  One old guy rode by on his bike and said something off color-it was in Danish but you could just tell he was being bad and the ladies just laughed!!

Vondelpark in Amsterdam
Vondelpark in Amsterdam

Thom stalked a couple with their Vizsla out playing ball.  This dog was young and much better behaved than our Izaak-he stayed with them even off leash.  Izaak would have been a menace to all the joggers/bikers filling the park lanes.  I miss my puppies!

Poffertjes-little pancakes with butter and sugar!
Poffertjes-little pancakes with butter and sugar!

After we experienced the lakes and trees, we cut back into the city, promptly got a bit lost but, as usual, ended up just where we wanted to be six miles later.  We love open air markets and this one on Albert Cuypstraat was a huge one filled with fruits/vegs, cheese, clothes, and anything you could want.  We ended up buying an extra carry on bag for all our stuff we bought and Thom promptly found a vinyl store and bought 3 albums that he couldn’t have gotten in the US.  More music!

I had been told that poffertjes were everywhere over here but I was having a hard time finding the little pancakes covered in butter and powdered sugar.  EURECKA-they were in the market and hot off the press.  Thom and I gorged on a large order loving every sinful bite.  Hey, we’re walking 10 miles a day so bring on the sweets!

Now, we are off to the Foam, which is a photography museum.  More walking and fun on our last day in Amsterdam!

A haze settles on Seattle-Hempfest Weekend is upon us!

Groovy times on the Seattle waterfront this weekend at Hempfest!  We live near the festival so we just had to check it out on our walk home after shopping downtown at two of our favorite stores, World Market and Mud Bay.  Thor was needing a big boy diaper so a trip to Mud Bay was required–he’s one year old now and still prone to accidents so on goes the protection until such time as he can control his little self.  But enough about Thor’s incontinence and on to a more popular topic, Hempfest!

Hop aboard the Canna-bus and take a ride!  Guaranteed you'll smoke a pipe!
Hop aboard the Canna-bus and take a ride! Guaranteed you’ll smoke a pipe!

Trying to avoid the line to herd people into security for bag check, we tried skirting Hempfest crowd to walk along the waterfront.  Quickly stopped by a friendly Staffing Pro gal, her supervisor immediately intervened after taking one look at us and waved us by without further ado.  Guess we didn’t fit the Hempfest profile and he could instantly ascertain we were just wandering by on our way home with some purchases.  Glad to keep on walking (my Fitbit is such a step whore–10,000 or more to be happy!) we quickly fell into the crowd walking as slow as humanly possible so they could smoke, eat and chat while strolling.  Amazing how slow you can be when stoned I guess because I was weaving in and out like a madwoman just trying to move along.  Seeing the food truck featuring fried PB&J and other fried delicacies was just info overload for their weed-laden brains.  Squirrel!

“Is weed really legal to just smoke in public?” I innocently asked Thom.  He explained that while it is not technically legal to light up in general, there certainly weren’t enough cops in Seattle to enforce any type of law so unless there was trouble, it was pretty much a smokefest of weed in the park.  CHILL!  The Canna-bus was quite the attraction selling branded apparel and booking events on the weed party bus.  Just had to pose for a picture with it.  Bet they have to have lots of fridges and microwaves in that bus to crank out the munchies!

Grass...enough said...
Grass…enough said…

James just got a pt job with a security company and his first assignment was yesterday in the pouring rain and lightning checking bags at Hempfest for alcohol, which was NOT allowed but a small handful of weed was cool.  Interesting standards but at least the crowd was subdued vs. hyped up and crazy.  After the worst working day of his life, James crawled home for hot food and rest before another fun day keeping the peace at Hempfest.  Jobs like these will help him stay focused on excelling at law school, which he starts next week.  I’m super proud he persevered through a ten hour day of Hell.  He is surely my son with that type of work ethic!

As the haze settles on Seattle, we are looking forward to seeing how Amsterdam embraces their pot culture by comparison to Seattle.  We leave in four weeks for our Netherlands adventure and I cannot wait!