March 28, 2006

Abingworth Hall Walking Holiday

To celebrate Carrie's retirement and Kris's birthday, we set off on a HF (Holiday Fellowship) "Classic Walking Holiday" based at the lovely Abingworth Hall in West Sussex. We arrived at Pulborough Station late Friday and learned Lesson #1 - always book a taxi well in advance when arriving in small stations, especially on rainy Friday evenings. We missed dinner but did get to meet our fellow hikers and leaders. We opted for the "medium" hike because the "easy" was not offered.

The next morning, we enjoyed a hearty cooked English breakfast. We then packed our lunches from a huge spread of sandwiches, cookies, trail mix, fruits, snacks - anything you could want. Our group (aka "Slackers") were dropped off in Arundel where we eventually returned - 9 miles and 30+ stiles later. We did get a short break at a pub where we enjoyed a drink and our picnic lunch. The countryside was beautiful but it rained quite hard in the afternoon. Arundel Castle does not open until April and we want to return to see it and other sites such as a RSPB (Royal Society for Protection of Birds) park, Arundel Wildlife and Wetlands Centre, and Wakehurst. We returned to the inn in time for tea, a nap, and a tasty dinner. After documenting our preference for an "easy" walk, despite that not being an option, we went to bed early.

The next morning, we thought we had "plenty of time" until we realised we had forgotten about Daylight Savings Time and were one hour behind schedule. We did manage to pack our lunch and eat breakfast and pick up our gear from the drying room. Our fellow travelers were serious walkers and we learned about all kinds of things we can buy for rambling in the English weather - mud guards, knapsack covers, seats, and more. We were pleased to learn that there had been a mutiny the night before and that the hike was reduced to 6 miles. For such a short walk, I decided to leave my walking stick and camera behind - much to my regret. This walk was up and down through the mud, with almost as many stiles as the day before. I really missed my camera when we saw a mother licking her newly born lamb who then struggled to its feet for the very first time. We stopped at a pub for a drink and visited an 11th century Norman church, replete with stockyard and whipping post out front. We returned in time for a "proper cream tea" (only cakes had been served the day before), a nap, and another fine dinner. Despite the tough hikes, we suspect we did not burn up more calories than consumed.

All in all, this holiday was a great way to celebrate a retirement and a birthday.

March 19, 2006

La Dolce Vita

We were given complimentary tickets to La Dolce Vita, an Italian extravaganza at Kensington Olympia. The travel booths were interesting but the highlight was the winetasting. Buy a glass for £3 and you were entitled to unlimited winetasting from 40 wineries. We counterbalanced that great value with a £10 pizza, £9 olives (2 small boxes), and £3.50 for two small scoops of gelati.

Next year it will be straight to the winetasting.

March 16, 2006

Book Club

We are a small group of Brits and Americans (we do welcome members of all nationalities) who meet monthly to discuss a book chosen by consensus. LtoR: Nancy, Cathy, Terri, Loreen, Kim, Miriam - missing are Connie (in US) and Carrie (photographer).

We meet in someone's home - usually Loreen or Cathy - but we are bravely talking about venturing outside Zone 1 to meet in other members' homes when the days get longer - and our chances of getting there and back home are better. We all grab something to bring to eat on the way in and the host provides very generous quantities of wine and dessert.

This month we discussed "Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons" by Lorna Landvik. This was a book about a group of women who lived on the same street and held themed book club meetings for decades. This was a VERY American book and the Brits just "didn't get it". They might (but might not) confide such things to family or close friends but NEVER to neighbors. The Americans admitted they might be quicker to share personal information with family, friends, neighbors, book club, at parties and on long flights.

After this lesson in cultural diversity, we have agreed to read a BRITISH book - "In a Land of Plenty" by Tim Pears.

March 12, 2006

Thames Tunnel Tour

Based on Annie Mole's (London Underground BLOG) recommendation, we made the long trek from Kew Gardens to Rotherhithe station for the Thames Tunnel Tour sponsored by the Brunel Engine House Museum. We were 10 minutes late in getting to Rotherhithe but just as we were getting off at Rotherhithe, the tour group was getting on the same train and we joined them. We were never introduced to the tour guide (should have been Robert Hulse per Annie's BLOG) but he was VERY enthusiastic about the amazing contributions and sacrifices made by Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The guide said he was from Rotherhithe where he grew up thinking Brunel rhymed with tunnel. The highlight of the tour was when the guide convinced the tube driver to drive very slowly through the tunnel from Wapping to Rotherhithe so we could admire the arches. We ended at the Brunel Engine House museum which is small but very well done.

After I bought my requisite postcard, we set off to explore the area. It was quiet, gentrified, COLD. We quickly moved to the historic Mayflower pub but it was packed with no available tables. Alas, we had to go home and ponder what life would have been like in Rotherhithe (only 12 minute commute to Waterloo) instead of Kew Gardens (always have to give ourselves an hour).

March 09, 2006


Ranthambhore (February 2006)

One of the advantages of moving to London for us is that London is midway between Houston and India (where Kris still has family).

We recently spent two weeks in Mumbai, Coimbatore (Tea Plantation), Pune, New Delhi, Bharatpur (Bird Sanctuary) and Ranthambhore (Tiger Sanctuary).

We never saw a tiger (although those who went on the afternoon jeep tour instead of the morning did see tiger - and had their pictures to prove it) but Kris did get up close to some of the wildlife!

Banjo & Doggy Day-Care

We would like to know what Banjo does at Waggy Tales to tire him out so much. Miniature Schnauzers are an energetic breed, and Banjo is no exception.

One day, we took multiple forms of public transport and walked a mile to get to the starting point of a hike. We hiked 9 miles, and sometimes Banjo was up to his elbows in muck. He rested briefly (10 minutes) and then the food was brought out. Banjo personally kept the floor free of anything edible that was dropped for over 2 hours. Then we took multiple forms of transportation home (by now you have figured out - we don't have a car). The next day we could barely move but Banjo was up and ready to go on another long hike.

Andrew (the owner of Waggy Tales) picks him up on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Banjo runs enthusiastically to the door to be scooped up and placed in a kennel in a van. Banjo and other dogs are driven to a farm with 3 barns and a pond. When we enquire as to what Banjo does all day, Andrew replies that Banjo "explores" and "follows me around". Apparently Banjo is more of a people-dog than a dog-dog. I know he doesn't swim (he jumps incredible distances over puddles to avoid getting his paws wet) nor retrieves.

When Banjo comes home in the afternoon, all he does is drink water and go to bed. He wakes up to eat dinner and goes to bed. He comes upstairs with us and gets right into his crate. He sleeps soundly through the night and is still sleepy the next morning. He is completely KNACKERED (a British term)! We need to learn and apply a few Waggy Tales tricks so that Banjo may sleep in a little longer on the weekends.

Orchid Passion at Kew Gardens

One of the highlights of living in Kew Gardens is the Royal Botanical Gardens (RGB). There are always enough changes to keep us interested throughout the year.

In February, when it is cold and bleak outside, the Orchid Passion Festival is a welcome respite. Over 250,000 orchids are put out in a variety of creative displays. We have made it an annual tradition to attend one of the special evenings which includes a tour through the Princess of Wales Conservatory with wine and canapes followed by a nice dinner with live music.

March 08, 2006

Tatras - Poland Slovakia Hungary

Posted by Picasa Spissky Hrad - Slovakia (July 2005)

This is the largest medieval castle in Central Europe and is a UNESCO World heritage site. We toured with Exodus from Krakow, over the Tatras through Slovakia and ending in Budapest. Fabulous scenery, hiking in the Tatras, cultural city tours, beautiful churches, caves, spas, wine-tasting and LOTS of beer & hearty country food (think sausage, rye bread, and goulash).

March 06, 2006


Posted by Picasa Cappadocia Turkey (April 2005)

One great advantage to living in London is our proximity to new places to explore. Here we are in Cappadocia Turkey - part of our 1900 km escorted tour (Pacha Tours) to many of the archeological sites throughout western Turkey.

Someone (cannot remember who) said that Turkey has more cultural sights than any one country has a right to - this may be true!

March 05, 2006

Banjo Immigrates to Kew

Posted by Picasa Banjo with his "How can you leave me?" look. (May 2004)

Banjo was one of the early beneficiaries of the moderated defra policy on pet immigration to the UK. Although he did not have to languish for 6 months in a UK kennel, the process was daunting. He had to be microchipped (euro chip), have a blood sample sent to a special lab, and get another rabies vaccination. He spent 4 months with a foster family in the US. Exactly 24 - 48 hours before he was scheduled to fly to the UK, he had to get tick and tapeworm treatment. The entire process required reams of paperwork on both sides of the Atlantic.

Although not necessary, his foster parents decided to accompany him on the 9 hour flight to the UK. They brought him to the airport 3 hours before departure and found they had to purchase a new crate that appeared to be large enough for a labrador retriever. Upon their arrival, I signed the papers and then we humans went home to wait 3 hours for Banjo to go through the immigration process and be delivered to our home. The foster parents looked like hell after this ordeal but Banjo looked like he had been on a 20 minute car ride. Banjo looked confused and then delighted as his 4 favorite people welcomed him into his new home.

Banjo has adapted well to life in Kew and especially enjoys the London climate - cool, no fleas, and only a few mosquitoes. Ideal for schnauzers who have sensitive skin and are prone to skin allergies.