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Monday, November 14, 2011

Off to Asia Again...

Hi everyone,

In another day and a half I will leave on another trip to Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand ... 34 days will seem way too short in that part of the world!  In the usual tradition for what happens when I plan trips, Thailand has had now-famous flooding, the worst in 50 years (which I am hoping will dry out by my arrival there in mid-December) but I hear that the other areas I am going to on the way are now trying to compete with huge squalls of rain.  There have also been several earthquakes ... not so much where I'm going, but surprisingly, right under the fault line on which I live.

Anyway, I will try to capture all the travel news and gossip that's fit for print :)  Photos may join up with the blog later.  Also,  I've added a link to my blog where I believe you can now subscribe to receive updates!

--Carol

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Loveliness of London!

So, I have to admit, even though I have friends from England, I had never been there before and frankly was in no rush to get there.  Prior to going there, I thought of it as an extremely expensive European place with crappy weather and a cold-ish demeanor.  Well, I'm glad to report that I was wrong about the demeanor!  ;-)  I was really struck by London as a place with tons of history (even the *trees* are way old and manicured,  the buildings are beautiful) and yet vibrant and modern and fun too!  3 days was definitely not enough time there, but enough to get a tiny taste of what it has to offer.  Part of the reason is was so much fun, of course, was my getting to meet up with three different friends each of whom I hadn't seen in a while!

I had booked ahead of time with a B and B enterprise called At Home In London (http://www.athomeinlondon.co.uk/detailsR.php?refno=236) where you stay in a host's home and they only have one or two rooms to let ... kinda like Couchsurfing but with a price tag and possibly nicer digs ... I'm happy to report that our room at Julia's lovely house in the Holland Park (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holland_park) neighborhood was really nice, spacious, and not gruesomely priced!



And she was an absolute dear, and made great breakfasts.  Plus her cute son loaned me an adaptor to charge my iPod Touch with when I realized I had forgotten to bring along an electrical adaptor suitable for England (my brain had only been planning out Israel really).  The one drawback, which my mom would be quick to mention if she were given a guest-editor role on this blog, is that most quaint multimillion-dollar homes in cute little neighborhoods of London are built more vertically than horizontally, and so our room was two flights up (or "4 damn flights" as my mom calculated using her Magnification-of-Difficulty Formula).  Anyway, the first night we were going to walk down the road to Notting Hill, which is just next door, to see if we could find Hugh Grant in a bookstore, and ended up going the wrong way and mistakenly ending up in Shepherd's Bush which we though was lovely too, but no Hugh Grant.  Oh well.  Great architecture and parks everywhere.




The next morning, we met up with my adorable friend Sabrina bright and early for a tour of the historic Tower of London (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_london).  This is another place with gobs of history -- a place that served as a fortress, a royal palace and a prison as well as a torture chamber and a place that is said to be quite haunted by all those ghosts of the past.








Oh, all that plus a display of the royal jewels which was very interesting.  Sabrina and I had dodged a bunch of queues by lifting up the velvet ropes and re-fastening them, but when I tried to take a few photos of the royal jewels while on a people-mover going past it (so people didn't just throng them and not move on, I suppose), the royal policemen/?guard told me loudly that there were 6 signs prohibiting photography (which I had not noticed due to being distracted chatting with Sabrina) and would I please delete all photos of the jewels AT ONCE.  And then he stood there and watched me to make certain I had deleted them.  Talk about taking one's job seriously!  They weren't that terrific anyway, the photos I mean, so you're really not missing anything... My mom got very tired out by this little tour, as Sabrina had forgotten that it included approximately 73 million steps, like the Old City of Jerusalem tour...  Oh!  to be 23 again!  She is a lovely person I travelled with in Malaysia last fall who it was great to catch up with!  BTW -- Anyone in the London area who needs an interior designer -- she's your gal!

Next we walked over the Tower Bridge (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_bridge),





 which was very funky to a beautifully decked out dim sum restaurant (http://www.dimt.co.uk/) and had lunch.   Sabrina, this place definitely wins for atmosphere and views, but I owe you a traditional Oakland Chinatown dim sum lunch! :)    I have to add, I was also stupefied by this incredible public art exhibition which was 250 different elephants scattered through London and each one decorated and painted in a different way!  It was like London's personalized welcome to me!!















Next, my mom and I decided to walk to Borough Market (http://www.boroughmarket.org.uk/), a very very cool food market, part open-air and part not, which my friend Koren had mentioned.  It, of course, in addition to being hip, has tons of history (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borough_Market).



 We walked around, tasted a few things, bought a thing or two, and then got on the Tube and headed to the Covent Garden area, where we were meeting my friend Vanessa.

Covent Garden is another really lovely and interesting if touristy area (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covent_Garden), where street perfomances about in the Piazza, and some nice shopping goes on.  My mother and I, in fact, decided to buy genunine pashmina ;-) shawls, at a bargain 2 for £5, as she complained about the bitter cold, which, apparently, was average for England but downright cold compared to Israel.  We could have definitely spent more time there people-watching!  (Maybe next time).












Our next little bit of fun was meeting up with my friend Vanessa, with whom I survived my Borneo adventure two years ago!  There was extreme bonding (bondage?) in that shared adversity, which those of humankind not on that trip will never completely understand.  It was terrific to see her again, and it wasn't even raining (oddly enough for London), much less typhoon conditions!  She cleans up real nice ;) -- as we knew each other from a flea-infested grungefest, it was lovely to see her in her home environment where in real life she is a women's clothing buyer for the British Home Store, jetting off to Milan and New York every now and then ...

And Vanessa had been super nice enough to get us tickets to see the Lion King musical in London!!!!  Yay!  I had not managed to see it in New York thus far, and had heard how great the music, costuming and sets were, and the London performance did *not* disappoint!  First we went out for a very nice seafood dinner at a place nearby called Live Bait (http://www.livebaitrestaurants.co.uk/) where Vanessa in true British fashion encouraged us to try the mushy peas along with the fish and chips!  I give the fish and chips 5 stars and so does my mom, but I think the mushy peas can be safely tried once per lifetime and that may be enough!  Apparently they put my mom into a minor coma (or maybe it was all the walking she did that day?) and sadly she fell asleep at times during the Lion King, as she has a tendency to do with all brilliant and expensively priced performances where the lights are dimmed ;)  For more on the spectacular Lion King, including a brief video, check out http://www.lyceum-theatre.co.uk/.  If I had more time (a recurrent theme) I'd definitely have done more shows and museums in London!  Anyway, fabulous to catch up with Vanessa and looking forward to an upcoming visit by her to the Left Coast of the US, even if it's not a fashion capital!




The next day, my mom was tuckered out still somewhat but felt better.  She checked out the Portobello Road Market (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portobello_Road) in Notting Hill, which she enjoyed and featured a lot of antiques, while I went on another great Sandemann's walking tour of London (http://www.newlondon-tours.com/), led by a very enthusiastic short-skirted and blue-nail-polished young woman named Jade!



This went on for 3+ hours and we walked all over from Wellington Arch to Hyde Park to Buckingham Palace right at the time of the changing of the guard (just got a glimpse, but did get to see the horseman's parade that followed) to St. James' Park, 10 Downing St., the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and all his big friends.  Got to hear about some very amusing break-and-enter stories that happened at Buckingham Palace (one version of the most amusing one can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Fagan_incident).
























After all that walking, met up with my mom and we then took the tube together to meet up with my dear friend Koren, whose friendship with me dates back to Thai cooking school, and her relatively new husband Frank, who sometimes live in Florida, sometimes England.  We found ourselves back at Borough Market, which we didn't mind at all --at least we knew how to get there!  We went to a very popular tapas bar called Brindisa and of course I meant to get photos of the four of us and forgot due to the heavy drinking that always occurs whenever I see Koren (I remember that evening fondly but slightly hazily :)  A great time was had by all!  And we got to see photos of her kitsch wedding at Costco in Jacksonville, along with the somewhat more formal one that took place in the Champagne region of France.  And Frank was a delight :)

The next morning was our last day in London -- so we grabbed in just a few more things like taking the Tube to St. Pauls Cathedral (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Paul%27s_Cathedral) -- pretty damn impressive and probably most famous for hosting the wedding festivities of Charles and Di.  They also have a really nice garden, and from there it's a hop-skip-and-a-jump to the Tate Modern museum over the Millenium Bridge.  So we did that walk.  I wish I had liked the Tate Modern more, there were some cool things within it but in retrospect we should have gone to the V and A and seen the Grace Kelly exhibit!  So many museums, so little time.




















And with that, we ran out of time, then made it to Heathrow in plenty of time, and flew to New York for an uneventful several days of decompression there, some heavy rains and strong winds, a bad cold picked up in the plane from London to New York which hit my mom harder than it did me, along with random chores like major work on my mother's garden, which she somehow convinced me would be "just as good" as going to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.  She's shrewd even when she's not feeling well.  I don't think the garden turned out quite as good as the BBG, so I will leave you with a link and a recommendation to that as I have no pictures since I didn't go this time around: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooklyn_Botanic_Garden.