St. Giles Cathedral and Dancin’ Wednesday, Dec 31 2008 

St. Giles Cathedral in dappled light

30 December 2008

If we keep up this pace, we’re going to need a vacation when we get home from this vacation—just to rest up and be functional!

I can’t really remember ever doing this much walking! I know it’s very good for me, and I hope I’m going to actually go home in better shape than I arrived, for a change. But, wow! It’s tough!

So, except for the tired bones and aching feet—or is that tired feet and aching bones?—today was a wonderful day of shopping for gifts, taking photographs, visiting new pubs and trying new tastes, and finally, of experiencing all the fabulous free entertainment Edinburgh’s Hogmanay had to offer. Tonight’s event was called “The Dancin'” and it was the kick-off to what they are calling “Homecoming”—a major theme for tourism in 2009. The event took place on three different stages and was designed to represent festive, native dance from all over the world. We saw tap dancers, swing dancers, break dancers, burlesque dancers, salsa dancers, can-can dancers, morris dancers, and country-western dancers who not only performed, but also taught the whole crowd how to do a line dance!  Finally, an incredibly talented group called Bollywood Steps took the stage and performed a forty-five minute show, complete with props, multiple costume changes, flash pots, and other special effects.  Marvelous entertainment that kept us engaged even though it was only 28 degrees fahrenheit! 

We are both very tired tonight.  And tomorrow is the big day!  We’ll have what I’m sure will be another outstandingly delicious breakfast from Erlend and Helene, and then out into Edinburgh’s Hogmanay.   We are actually contemplating an afternoon nap, so we can stay up late.


Hogmanay Begins! Tuesday, Dec 30 2008 


29 December 2008

What a wonderful day, it was! 

We arrived in Scotland, today!

We began our day with breakfast at The Oaks Hotel, and then prepared to resume travel toward Edinburgh.  On the way out of the hotel, we asked our innkeeper if there was anything there, in Alnwick that we shouldn’t miss.  He replied without missing a beat, “The Castle.” Turns out Alnwick Castle is the real-life stand-in for Hogwarts, and is therefore, a major site used in the filming of the Harry Potter movies.  We drove into town to find it, but as with most historical properties, it was closed for the winter and will be until April. We snapped a few good pictures of it, anyway, and then headed out of town.  Seeing more of it will have to wait until another trip.

We stopped to take photos at the border as we left England and entered Scotland.  We stopped for a quick pint (and I had the most delicious cup of cream of vegetable soup) at a little place not far into Scotland called The First and Last.  It was charming with its maritime theme, and very comfortable atmosphere.  And we stopped for petrol once, and learned that our hired car takes diesel fuel, and has a retractable glass roof!   If the temperature wasn’t hovering right around freezing, it might be tempting to drive around Scotland in a convertible!

We arrived at our bed and breakfast — 2 Cambridge Street— right on time.  Our marvelous host met us at the door and greeted us by name, welcoming us in.  We were awestruck at the fact that as we shook his hand, we could look over our right shoulders, up the steep hill and see Edinburgh Castle!  We are staying, quite literally, in its shadow!

And this place is wonderful.  Erlend and Helene Clouston own 2 Cambridge Street and run this very classy, and yet incredibly comfortable B & B.  They made us a pot of tea and we all sat and chatted for at least an hour, before Kyle and I decided we really needed to change clothes and head out to get our bearings and prepare for the Torchlight Processs.  Erlend walked us to the High Street on his way to the library, and took this photo for us!

Once on the Royal Mile, we walked down a bit, and located what we had understood was the starting point for the Torchlight Procession—the City Chambers building, all lit up for the holiday season.  We walked up and down a few blocks of the High Street, and poked into some of the little shops with an eye toward the gift and souvenir buying we plan to do.  About the time the gathering for the procession was getting underway, we found a perfect street corner to stake out and wait, hoping to get some nice photos when things really got going.  It didn’t take long for the crowd, at first quite modest in size, to double, then triple, and finally become a sea of people.  Of course, our curb was soon engulfed in the throng, and we moved forward to a better, front row vantage point. (Actually, Kyle stayed behind me, a bit, but since I’m short, no one seemed to mind looking over my head.)  I took my photo of the day just as we were trying to decide where to really stand.

It was almost exactly 6:30 p.m., right on schedule when the police escort started to roll, and torches got lit.  And just before the actual parade step-off, we were surprised by cannon fire from the castle behind us, immediately followed by a brief display of fireworks.  The official start to Hogmanay!  Then the procession began.  First the police on motorcycles, then the band of Viking warriors in impressive shiny mail and helmets and carrying targes and torches.  Then came the pipers!  And the drummers.  And, as if all that wasn’t exciting enough, that’s where the common folks got involved.  Behind all those official folks were people just like us, who had purchased a large “torch” made of wood and beeswax (the 6 pound cost went to charity) and wanted to walk in the procession.  We had seen the people gathering, and we knew there were alot of them.  But, we were completely unprepared for the overwhelmingly huge number of them! 

We watched them go by for a few minutes, followed along with them for a few more minutes, and took a few photos (yep, just a few! ;-))  We found a vantage point from which we could see across the carnival in the park, to Princes Street and we watched the bouncing points of torchlight  appear there, and progress down the street.  It wasn’t long before we decided to walk down to Princes Street and see the procession from there, up close and personal again.  By the time we got there, the front of the procession had reached the end of Princes street and turned a corner.  We could stand there, in the middle of the length of Princes Street and see a “sea” of torches—what had to be thousands of them, as far as the eye could see in both directions.   It was breathtaking.  Then, we realized that there was still no end to the procession!  Up the hill, we could still see torches.  Even, back down the High Street to where the procession began . . . we could still see torches.  They just kept coming, and coming . . . Amazingly beautiful.

We stood on a concrete sign pedestal for a long time, snapping photos.  But, they don’t do it justice.  I must have taken nearly a dozen, some ten or fifteen minutes apart from each other—-they all look the same!  The scene didn’t change, people and torches—only the faces of the people changed. It was phenomenal.  Finally we decided to go find some food and find a higher vantage point from which to watch for the bonfire and the fireworks we knew were still forthcoming.

We found food, staked out a spot for watching, and finally, about an hour and a half after the procession had begun, the bonfire glow began to light the sky.  The procession of torches had walked from the High Street, down The Mound, down Princes Street, and up Calton Hill—about a mile and a half. And it had taken over an hour and a half for the last torch to make it up that hill!

The bonfire grew for a little while (we could see the glow and the smoke, but the actual burning of the Viking ship was on the other side of the hill from where we were able to get to easily enough) and then the fireworks began!  Magic.   Absolute magic!

I’ve been very long-winded in telling all this, and yet, I know I still haven’t done justice to what we saw and experienced this evening.  The memories we’re making this week will live in our hearts forever.

Torches Pass the Balmoral Tuesday, Dec 30 2008 

29 December 2008
We left the Oaks Hotel in Alnwick (the castle of which, I am told, had substantial Harry Potter scenes shot here) and headed coastward on the A1. The drive from Alnwick to Edinburgh takes you through some truly superb landscape; it’s no real wonder that early man settled this area. Plenty of arid land for agricultural endeavours and easy access to both winding burns and creeks and the North Sea. It’s very definitely a windswept area and I was glad of the constant “Sidewind” warning signs along the road. We stopped once to fill up with Diesel at .99p per litre (somewhere near $7.00 per gallon if I did my numbers right), once more when we drove near enough the coast that we could see Bamburgh Castle and one last time at the First & Last pub on the Scotland/England border (on the Scottish side). We had promised our B&B hosts a 1500 arrival and after fighting horrible Edinburgh traffic (between visitors arriving for Hogmanay and the roadworks all over the place as Edinburgh puts in a city-wide tram system, how could it not be horrible?) we pulled into a slot in front of #2 Cambridge Street and gave the door a few hard knocks. Our fascinating host, Erlend, greeted us warmly calling us by name and invited us in. The road in front of his absolutely fabulous flat is private so after unloading quickly, I drove the car across the street to the carpark. We enjoyed a quick spot of tea with Erlend and Helene then walked on up to the Royal Mile (Erlend headed to the library, so accompanied us part of the way). The Hogmanay torchlight procession is held two nights before Hogmanay each year. The Council sells torches for charity and invites all torch-bearers to march from the City Chambers on High Street to Calton Hill via the Mound, Princes Street and Waterloo street. Marita Beth and I chose not to march in, but instead to marvel at the magnificent procession. We started on High Street with all the marchers, but we took a different path to Princes street. By the time we got to Princes Street (approximately midway along the processional route) the Vikings that headed the parade had already begun the assent of Calton Hill. Looking back South and West, we could see the Mound and the steady stream of torches still coming down it. It was truly a sight to behold. We stood on Princes Street and goggled at the sheer number of people bearing torches. For a full 20 minutes we watched; the Vikings crested Calton Hill and still there were people marching down the mound. This lasted long enough that Marita Beth and I wended our way back up North Bridge, up High Street to Bank Street where we roosted to watch the remainder. The last torches were just exiting Princes street onto Calton Hill as we settled in. We did miss the end on Calton Hill where they burn a Viking ship in effigy as it was on the far side of the hill; but even from our vantage point a great ways away we could see the massive bonfire and we did have a most excellent view of the fireworks display. Balmoral Hotel & Torchlight Procession (The photo is of the tochlight procession as it passes the Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street – this is not where we are staying; we are staying somewhere much better) After the incredible display, we returned to the B&B where Erlend offered to escort us to a free park zone some ways away. Since we had long ago decided we wouldn’t need a car while in Edinburgh, this was eagerly agreed to (the price for parking at the Castle carpark is £18.00 per day) and off we went. It’s a ways away, but in a safe zone near a police HQ. We returned to the B&B in Erlend’s care and visited with them briefly while MB showed off some of the photos from the torchlight procession. Then, it was off to bed. Exhausted, and very, very happy. (I’m sure I’ve left stuff out, if I remember bits, I’ll update) Cheers. ~KR (Written on 30 December 2008 )

We Head North Tuesday, Dec 30 2008 

28 December 2008
We got up rather early this morning as I had scheduled to pick up the hired car at 0900. I walked over to the bus stop at around 0830 just in time to watch #285 (the bus I needed) go screaming past with not even a hint of stopping. On Sundays this bus only runs every 20 minutes and I knew where I was going, so I hoofed it. I arrived at my destination about 15 steps ahead of the next #285 and felt pretty good about it. The Avis rental location was just another 100 paces or so beyond the bus stop and I had lost no time by deciding to walk rather than wait for the bus. I walked in to Avis, saw my name and slot on the board and had I not needed to make a change to the reservation, I could have gotten into my already-running (did I mention it was -1 degree celsius?) Renault Mergane and driven off. Eventually I did get in to the warm car, familiarised myself with its workings and drove off. This may only be my 7th time in the U.K. but driving here is so familiar and easy for me; I fell into the routine immediately of round-a-bouts, driving on the left, looking right-left-right rather than left-right-left as we are taught from an early age in the U.S. and my favourite, the brief yellow light that warns you the light is turning green. I love driving over here.
We got our bearing, turned the car North and headed toward Scotland on the M1. We made several loo and food stops along the way (The Cock in Potterspury being exceptionally delightful) with the final stop being in Alnwick (pronounced “ann-nick”). We pulled into a charming hotel on the outskirts of the Village called the Oaks Hotel and tucked right into a dinner of Gammon & Eggs which we washed down with Marston’s Pedigree and a fine Winter Ale.
Dinner Ale
It was a beautiful, wonderful if exhausting day made the better by knowing that only another 30 miles or so to Scotland and another 50-60 miles beyond that lie Edinburgh, the ultimate destination of our trip. We are tired, but having a great time and very much in love both with this island country and each other.

~KR (Written on 30 December 2008 )

Listening to:
Classical FM in a B&B in Edinburgh

Welcome to Scotland Monday, Dec 29 2008 

Welcome to Scotland, Kyle!

29 December 2008

I’ll write more later.  I may even post another picture from today, because there are simply too many to choose from tonight!  But, I had to get this adorable photo of my husband online, now!

I mean really, does  it get any cuter?  This is a photo of a very happy man!


Holiday Lights Along the Way Monday, Dec 29 2008 

Christmas Lights in Morpeth

28 December 2008

We left London today.  I’d have never guessed three days ago, that I’d be really sad to leave London.  But, never before have we simply “enjoyed” London.  London has always been a place to “pass through” and maybe see a show.  We have learned on this trip to appreciate it much more, and find ourselves looking forward to returning in a week or so. 

But, with Hogmanay coming quickly, we are off to parts north.  Kyle went out this morning and picked up the rental car.  We had originally planned to take a train north, but the cost of doing so outweighed the advantages, so Avis was the answer.  We had a completely relaxed and uneventful trip today—even getting out of the London area was no problem.  We took it slow—stopping very frequently for food and loo breaks.  Once, we even stopped just to see if we could find a better map than the one we had.  We didn’t have a plan or know how far we’d get in one day, but we knew we wanted to put well over half the trip behind us before sleeping.

Fairly early in the trip, we were hungry, and decided to get off the big road to find food.  We happened across the  adorable little town of Potterspury, where we found a charming little pub called The Cock.  We were easily drawn in by the sign that read, “Fine Ale — Home -Cooked Food.”  Kyle had Cottage Pie, and I had my favourite English comfort food:  plaice and chips.  I fell in love with plaice as an eleven-year-old when I was fortunate enough to visit the UK for the first time with my family.  We didn’t linger long, because we had just barely beat the after church crowd into the tiny pub, and we knew our table was valuable real estate!  We traveled our way up the M1 and then the A1, and decided to start to look for a place to stay just north of Newcastle Upon Tyne.  Having gotten that far, we knew we were only about an hour and a half from Edinburgh—perfect!  We searched for a hotel or B&B in Morpeth, a very cute little town with few vacancies, all of them fairly expensive.  I did insist on taking some photos of their pretty holiday lights, one of which I’ve chosen to be today’s picture.  But, after that, we decided to continue on up the road and see if further afield the prices would be lower.  The next little town on the beaten path, was Alnwick, so we headed there.  By the time we’d driven that twenty minutes, Kyle had gone from “doing okay” to “really tired,” so we pulled into the first charming place we found. 

So, we are at The Oaks Hotel, with the most sporadic internet connection known to man! (Okay, that’s probably an exaggeration that will come back to haunt me.  Ignore that.)  The pub here is lovely, and the food we shared was tasty.  Our room is simple, but clean, and after all —what do we really need besides a bed (and maybe a hot shower!)  Here, we have both, and in the pub, at least, we can be online, too. 

Tomorrow morning we’ll explore Alnwick (pronounced a-nick, with the “a” as in “cat”) and then head into Edinburgh.  The Hogmanay festivities begin tomorrow night with a Torchlight Procession!  I’m so excited!


Bravissimo and Tex Mex Sunday, Dec 28 2008 

The Texas Embassy in London

27 December 2008

Literally, “bravissimo!” means “splendid!” or “very well done!”  It is “bravo” on steroids!  But, today, it was a destination. 

In an effort to humour me a bit, I think, my dear husband decided this morning that today we would search out one of the three Bravissimo stores here in London.  I have longed for the pretty things in their catalogue for years, but without trying things on, ordering clothes from the UK is just a little too . . . uncertain.  Recently, another dear friend has discovered these folks and has already taken the plunge, and I have been a bit envious.  So, at some point on this trip, I really wanted to visit one of these stores!

Bravissimo is a company specializing in lingerie and other clothing, for what they call “D-K cup” women!  And the super cool thing is that they make these cup sizes in normal torso/back sizes like 32 and 34 and 36!  Okay, so I don’t really want The Daily KRuMB to be all about my bra-shopping experience, but it was a focal point of my day and it was pretty darned fabulous!

In the process of plotting our course for our travels, today,  Kyle and I also discussed the fact that it would be wonderful to find a “market” or “street fair” to walk around and shop.  After all, we’re here on a Saturday, and well, thanks to our childhood memories of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, we both wanted the experience.

We didn’t find Portobello Road, but we did discover that the famous Covent Garden is just such a market area, and that’s exactly where my Bravissimo store was!   And not only that, but it’s all just another easy walk from the Picadilly Square area.  I think we’re both just realising that these wonderful little pockets of this city we’re growing to love, are really so close together and intertwined. 

So, we had a wonderful time shopping around Covent Garden.  We bought Kyle and lovely hat and scarf—it’s a sexy scarf! 😉  And we found a pub where we just had to stop in and enjoy a pint—for Laura!  The Maple Leaf was charmingly decorated rather lodge-style, with Toronto Blue Jays jerseys on the wall,  Canadian newspapers on the tables, and hockey on the telly! 

And that wasn’t the only non-London-like experience we had today.  While Kyle was killing the hour I was being “fitted,” he picked up a local advertising publication—a little  magazine-type thing listing sights, and shows, and restaurants . . . and one caught my eye as I flipped the pages (while we warmed up at yet another pub) . . . The Texas Embassy.  Upon closer investigation, I realized it was a TexMex restaurant and I was immediately ravenous for enchiladas and nothing but a margarita would quench my thirst!  We knew it was risky—after all, we’re in London!—but we decided it was worth the gamble. 

It sure was!  We had an absolutely fabulous experience at this great little pocket of Texas in downtown London.  The building is old and convincing on the outside, complete with the Texas flag flying proudly.   But, it’s inside that’s really impressive.  We walked in and almost immediately looked at each other with the same thought:  “it smells like home!”  Then, we focused on the sights.  Faux finished walls, painted with “cocina” and various other Mexican words, just like you would see on dozens of TexMex restaurants stateside.  A bar, well-stocked with tequilas, and Lone Star, Corona, Bud,  Dos Equis, and a smattering of other appropriate beers.  American college football on the television.  Bumper stickers saying “Don’t mess with Texas” and  “Kinky Friedman for Governor,” and a TABC alchohol regulation sign on the wall.  And even, a burnt orange, Texas Longhorn sticker on the bar.  Terrill, we immediately thought of you! You and Mike Klobe and Mary Dane and anyone else we know who travels to London, and might get a little homesick for the Lone Star State. You’ve gotta experience this little slice of home the next time you’re in London!

The margaritas were okay—especially the free one! (I struck up a connection with the bartender when I told him the margarita he was pouring wouldn’t last me five minutes! He made me a larger one for the same price and I thanked him with a modest tip. He later delivered a second one to the table at no charge!) And the food was actually delicious!  I was prepared to be less than impressed, and exactly the opposite is what we got!  It was a perfect TexMex experience.

We left the “embassy” and walked around Trafalgar Square again, taking even more photos than we did the night before.  We were tired, though, and decided to head back toward the Tube and ultimately the hotel.  I’m finishing this post, now, while Kyle gets a head start on some sleep, since he’s the one who has to drive us north tomorrow.  I’m just the navigator.

I can hardly wait to get to Edinburgh, but I actually find myself not really wanting to leave London!


Piccadilly Tube, Texas Embassy and Bravissimo Sunday, Dec 28 2008 

27 December 2008 Yesterday we tubed into London, got off at Piccadilly Circus and stayed there…sort of. Today, we established a wee bit more of a plan and by the time we left the hotel (too late for breakfast again) we had decided to head to Covent Garden and then on to Portebello Road or some other outdoor market area that sprinkle London on the week-ends. Hah! We went to Covent Garden and while searching around for the singular store that was the purpose of our visit, we found that parts of it were outdoor market. Two birds – one stone, as they say. We wandered about a bit trying to get our bearings and narrow down the specific location of the shop we were seeking. Eventually we found it, Marita Beth arranged for a return visit (for a fitting) and off we went…back to the market. We were treated to a large variety of buskers from re-imagined pan pipes, to a tightrope walker, to jugglers, to an astonishing vagabond opera display in the atrium. I’m not unused to buskers, but the sheer quality and skill of these reset the busker bar for me. Eventually, after purchasing a hat and scarf for me (I’d somehow managed to leave Texas without both of these necessary items) and a purse for Marita Beth (don’t ask) it was time for her fitting. I escorted her back to Bravissimo, then went in search of a pub and some footy. I didn’t find the footy, but I found a plethora of pubs. Unfortunately, I only had an hour, so only visited two pubs. First up was the Punch & Judy where I enjoyed a fine winter ale called Rosey Nosey. The pub itself was nestled in the cellar of a Coventry Garden building and the table I occupied while people watching was in the atrium. Quite lovely, really. When done with Rosey Nosey, I mosied on over to a pub called the Marquess of Anglesey where I enjoyed a Young’s Winter Warmer while I waited out the hour I had promised my wife. When time was up, I went to collect my wife and begin the trek back “home” to the Radisson. On our trip back to the tube station, we spotted a pub called the Coal Hole that looked too inviting to pass up. The pub building itself is Victorian and used to be the home of the Wolves Club. Gilbert & Sullivan frequented this place as did several other lesser notables. While I enjoyed the Dirty Dick ale and MB her half Strongbow she located a listing in a Covent Garden flyer I’d picked up for a Tex-Mex restaurant. Hmmm. Intrigued and hungry we basically said, “what the hell” and walked on over to it as it wasn’t all that far and we’ve gotten quite used to walking. The Texas Embassy, for so it was called, was, in a word, fantastic. From the huge Texas flag outside to the “Come and Get It”Come and Take It” (Update: Thanks, Da, for the correction) flag inside. From the University of Texas banner to the Rice University banner. From the “Don’t Mess With Texas” bumper sticker to the “Kinky Friedman for Governor” bumper sticker. From the tortilla chips and hotsauce to the sizzling plates of fajitas. This restaurant could have easily existed, and made a good go of it, next to Abuelo’s or Mexican Inn or El Rancho Verde. If you find yourself in London and are feeling a little “London Homesick Blues” head on over to the Texas Embassy for some great Tex-Mex. Enough of the commercial. From the restaurant we had to head back to the hotel as it was nearing 2300 and we had to pick up the car in the early morning. I took this photo in Piccadilly Tube station just as our cars arrived. Piccadilly Tube After 55 minutes of tube riding, two missed stops and a miscommunication with the bus driver, we arrived back at the hotel where I retired immediately. That was our day. Cheers. ~KR (Written on 28 December 2008 ) Watching: The Big Fat Quiz Oaks Hotel in Alnwick, England. Camera: Canon PowerShot SD850 IS Exposure: 2 sec (2) Aperture: f/8 Focal Length: 5.8 mm ISO Speed: 80 Exposure Bias: 0/3 EV Flash: Flash did not fire

Snowmen on Carnaby Street Saturday, Dec 27 2008 

Kyle on Carnaby Street

26 December 2008

I am learning about myself.  I am learning that I am really not good at not having a plan.  🙂  But, I want to be!

We had an absolutely wonderful day in downtown London.  I enjoyed it all immensely.  But, I am not wired to create the sort of day we just had.   I found myself constantly asking (in my head, if not out loud), “so, what next?”  I kept trying to find something for us to “do.”  A show to go see, a gift to seek out for someone.  It really took some time for me to relax into the “nonplan” of our day. Once I did, of course,  it was wonderful!  So, although I’m no good at making this sort of day happen, I’m awfully good at enjoying it!

We started the day by oversleeping (can you really do that on a vacation?) and what should have been breakfast at the nearby Pheasant pub, became lunch.  And a delightful lunch it was, of jacket potatoes (that’s British for “baked potatoes”) filled with yumminess.  Then, we were off on the adventure that taking buses and subways always is, when you only do it three or four times a decade!  We caught the bus that was suggested we take, to the Tube station.  And, there, we bought two one-day passes a piece, to allow us to travel anywhere in London on the Underground for the two days we’ll be here.  Then, down the stairs and onto the train!  Picadilly line, all the way to Picadilly Square!  We knew many shops and businesses (and indeed all the museums and tourist attractions) would be closed, but we figured if anything anywhere would be open, it would be in Picadilly Square.  And, we were right.  We emerged from the Tube tunnel into a bustling city of lights and people and cars and buses.

We made a quick trip into a Boots store (think CVS and Walgreen’s added together and you’ll imagine both the type of store, and the overwhelming abundance of them in this city), to buy a new SD card for Kyle’s camera, and then we were back out in the cold (I love my new coat!—I believe coats are “wrappers” here) and off on our walkabout with no particular place to go. 

And did we walk!  We kept thinking how good this was for us . . . and how sore we’ll likely be in about a day and half!  We walked, and took pictures, and walked and took more pictures . . . all afternoon, and into the evening. 

We walked past monuments and along St. James’ Park.  We walked exclusive streets of merchants to the Queen and saw such beautiful elegant homes and stately old buildings.  The architecture alone in this part of town is breathtaking. 

I specifically wanted to be in that zone of London after sundown while the Christmas lights were all still lit for the holidays.  I am so glad we got to see it.  It was amazing to me, how much work must go into making the twinkling wonderland happen.  Giant “nets” of lights covered the whole of Regent Street and down every little nook and close (alley) were more lights and more decorations.  All the stores had holiday displays in their windows, and a few select stores had outstanding, eye candy for us.  One in particular, seemed to be a giant candy company—I don’t think I ever found the name—but they had six giant window displays filled with three dimensional dioramas telling the story of a fairy tale, complete with a wicked queen and a flying sleigh and love’s kiss curing all.  It was truly beautiful.  We did get sucked in by one bookstore.  But, the sign telling us they’d been a bookstore for over two hundred years was a little too much to pass by! 

As we were getting a bit cold and hungry, and we could see the end of the bright lights, I asked my question out loud: “So, what do we want to do, next?”  And, Kyle, totally on a whim, said, “Let’s cross here!”  So, cross we did, and immediately were treated to the sight depicted in my photo of the day.  Giant, all-white, snowmen “balloons” floating overhead, all the way down the street ahead of us.  We both wanted photos, so we stopped to do that, and while Kyle was shooting, I rounded the corner and had a moment of recognition.  There was a pub—exactly what we were really looking for—that seemed familiar.  I talked myself out of that notion quickly (I mean, what are the odds?) and went back around the corner to tell Kyle I’d found a pub.  As he rounded the corner with me, this time, he said, “I know exactly where I am!  We’ve been here.”

And indeed we had.  The pub, The Clachan, was the very same pub where he and I had grabbed a quick bite and a pint before going to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the West End in June of 2005.  These places that have been there for a hundred years don’t change much in only three-and-a half!

So, I realized then, of course, that this had been one of my favourite zones in all of London!  We were in Soho, specifically on Carnaby Street.  The little shops that line these streets are all unique and wonderful!  It was here that I found an “Office” store—fabulous fun shoes!  And a Camper store—um . . . fabulous fun shoes!  Unfortunately, even in this foot-traffic-only, specialty shopping zone, many merchants were closed for Boxing Day, or closing early.  So, shopping didn’t really happen this time.  But, I wouldn’t have missed seeing the place at Christmastime, for anything!

While we sat at The Clachan, we perused our little London map, and got our bearings a bit better.  We were learning to realize how close all these famous and familiar places really are, and when we left the pub, we were on a quest to see Trafalgar Square. (Aha!  At last, a plan! <wink>)  Neither of us had seen it on our last couple of trips to London, so we wanted an updated picture of it in our heads.  So, after more walking, on what were now fast becoming emptier streets, we found it, and were not disappointed!  The giant Christmas tree that stands there as a gift from the city of Oslo, I believe, covered in lights; the beautiful fountains, the huge column atop which sits Nelson on his horse,  all against the backdrop of the National Gallery and the London lights . . . it was magical. 

We made one more brief stop at a pub—-the first pub of the trip that Kyle had never been to before!—The Harp.  Wonderful little place with friendly people, one of whom, after we inquired,  informed us that we might want to hurry to the station if we wanted a train home tonight.  So, not really ready to give up on our day, but, fearing a $200 cab ride, we bopped back to the nearest Tube station, and forty minutes or so later, we were getting off a bus in front of our hotel. 

I could really get spoiled by too many of these days of no plans, no obligations and therefore no disappointments!


Pretty Blue Lights Friday, Dec 26 2008 

26 December 2008
We decadently slept in this morning as we had nothing specific planned for the day. After we did emerge from slumber, we took a stroll down to the Pheasant – a local pub that I’d been in on a previous trip – where we had wonderful jacket potatoes (mine with salmon & cream cheese, Marita Beth’s with avocado and prawns) and I had a Greenman IPA which I heartily endorse as a fine CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) beer. On our way out the door, we checked with the publican who confirmed that to get to Piccadilly/Trafalgar/Leicester we needed to take the local bus to the tube station and hop the tube to Charing Cross station. Off we set to do just that. I should point out here, that the city in which we live has NO public transportation system, and neither MB nor I are walkers. We’re not in bad shape, we just don’t walk nearly enough. The Pheasant is an 8 minute walk from the Radisson and the bus stop is an 8 minute walk from the Pheasant. We will most certainly get our walking in on this trip.
We got to Hatton Cross, purchased our travel cards and loaded up. 40 minutes later, we emerged at Piccadilly Circus – which for lack of a better description seems to be London’s equivalent of Times Square. We walked and walked and walked. Up and down Regent Street, St. James’ Street, Pall Mall and more.
Sparkly Blue Lights
This photo was taken on Regent Street. I love it. It shows the delightful Christmas decorations still in full bloom here, and it plainly shows the childlike wonder on my wife’s face. Ask her sometime about “pretty blue lights” and you’ll discover another reason that this photo appeals to me.
Eventually I got hungry enough that I said, “we’re crossing here, I need to eat.” We crossed the heavy traffic on Regency and entered a walking area called Carnaby. I stood agog. I’d been in one pub so far on the trip (I don’t count the Polo Lounge in the hotel) and here I was facing another pub, The Clachan, that I’d been in on a different trip. What are the odds? My goal suddenly shifted: I needed to find a pub in which I had not already had a pint. We did enter the Clachan where I had two beers that I’d never previously had (Pudding Top & Cheswick) while MB had some mulled wine (did I mention it’s 30 degrees here?). We also ordered some Fish & Chips that had been battered in Fuller’s London Pride ale and were damned fine. After eating, we grudgingly began the trek back to a tube station to head to the hotel, but not before finding a pub I’d never been in. We did, eventually, find a delightful pub just off Charing Cross north of the Strand. The pub, The Welsh Harp (or just The Harp), was small, cozy and filled with locals – just what the Kyle needed. However, we did realize at this time that it was post 2100 and the tube does not run all night, especially on Boxing Day. We threw back our ales (another one I’d never had called Blacksheep) and near trotted to the Charing Cross station. After a brief heartache as we saw the iron gate barriers lowered, we found our way in, presented our Travel Cards and boarded the tube bound for Hatton Cross. Easy Peasy. Now, I’m sitting in the Polo Lounge with my wife watching Cricket on the telly, uploading the many photos I took to Flickr, savoring a Guinness and munching on a Ham and Mustard sandwich. Happy Boxing Day to me!

~KR (Written on 27 December 2008 )

Cricket (Australia vs South Africa)

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