day eighteen: london / home
Well, this was it. The end. Our flight out of Heathrow is at 1:30pm, so we didn't have to get up so dreadfully early as some of our other travel days.
- As planned, we hit the Zetter's restaurant for breakfast. Just like in Paris, we are the only ones there right after they open. Robin has been dying to try the featured ricotta pancakes since we arrived. They live up to expectations.
- Today is bank holiday in England, so the city is still very quiet. This also means that the Underground stations and trains are not crowded at all, which is great since we are lugging our bags around.
- The train ride to Heathrow is quiet and takes about 45 minutes.
- After checking in, we roam some airport shops and settle down for one more pre-packaged sandwich from a coffee shop. It is about this time that we start noticing small groups of young, obnoxiously loud, American girls milling about. It turns out that we will be sharing the flight with a bunch of the cheerleaders from one of the groups performing in yesterday's parade. I overhear one genius tell her giggling friends "GAWD, it is so AWESOME! They don't charge tax here. We are saving SO much money!" I just wish I was a fly on the wall when she (or her parents) see her credit card bill and she learns that a pound is not quite equal to a dollar.
- The flight is loooooong. No sleep for me. The only decent, working movie to watch is Just Like Heaven and Robin and I play "Guess the Ending" throughout. I think Robin peeked in on Pride and Prejudice a bit later as well.
- We eat twice on the place, including a really tasty spinach and tomato risotto with red wine. Sadly, no oreo cheesecake on this flight.
- Lys and Carl meet us after we get through customs and give us a ride home.
- Once in the house and the kitties have been given the appropriate amount of lovin', I head out to run some pre-Robin's-birthday errands, and pick up Q-Doba. We have been missing the queso dip somethin fierce.
We are now home safe and sound. Our own bed feels wonderful, especially with the added warmth of the two cats.
day seventeen: london, new years day
We actaully fell asleep after 3am so we are a little surprised that we both pop awake around 10. We said we would get in touch with Reid around 10:30, but it doesn't actually happen till 11:30, which was OK. He was still asleep. We decide to meet up and try to catch some of the highly-touted London New Years Day Parade.
- Everything is closed in our neighborhood, including Starbucks, so we have to grab juice and pre-packaged muffin in a quickie-grocery across the street from the tube stop.
- We meet Reid at his Underground station and decide to hop on train heading towards the center area near the parade route. We hop on the wrong train. Getting back on the right track takes a little longer due to some stations still being closed.
- We arrive at Oxfrd Circus and start walking to Piccadilly Circus, with a brief stop in the Apple Store, aka "Geek Mecca".
- When we finally hit the parade, we are, the say the least, underwhelmed. We were expecting something rivalling the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. It felt more like the Founder's Day Parade for Alma Colorado. No pomp. No flair. No style. The weirdest thing to me was that ALL the bands were American high school marching bands. There wasn't a single band from the UK. There were, however, British baton twirlers and cheerleaders, but we don't want to go there.
- We walk down Piccadilly checking to make sure some of the better locations to get High Tea were closed (Fortnum & Mason, The Ritz, etc)
- Feeling a bit thirsty and peckish, we stop in the Rose & Crown pub for a pint and some nachos and chips. This will not be our last visit to this location today.
- It is now dusk, and we walk through the east end of Hyde Park and find a fair happening along the northern border of the park.
- About halfway through the fair, just when Robin is trying to decide which carnival ride we should get on, I realize that my wallet (passport and all) is not where it should be. I instantly remember not picking it up before leaving the pub, so, we head back.
- The wallet is recovered and we then tube it back to Leicester Square to find a spot for dinner. Five minutes off the Underground, and Robin realizes a purchase from the day's shopping is gone. It too was left back at the pub. This item was left when she popped into the ladies room when I made us go back for my wallet. Two train trips and a lot of quick walking and we rejoin Reid with all possessions safely in hand.
- Our last meal in London is very similar to our first. We hit the Wagamama in Leicester Square for asian noodle bowls. Mine is so spicy, my mouth needs a recess midway through.
- Back to the hotel to pack for the trip HOME. We say adieu to Reid. He will be staying here till Thursday.
OK. That's it. We are done. At least with the remote trip reports. Keep checking back, as we hope to revise, expand, and fill in the gaps of these reports. Also, there will be tons of photos. 680 in fact, many which correspond to blog entries.
Time to finish packing then get some sleep. Like in Paris, we want to hit the very nice restaurant for breakfast before we head out to he arport. We should be on the ground in Denver by 4:30pm.
day sixteen: london, new years eve
Wow! Day sixteen. Very hard to believe...
Well, it is a little after noon on Saturday and we still have only tentative plans for tonight with Reid, Shawn, and Anna. It is kinda difficult to plan anything right now since a 24-hour London Underground strike started at 12. They claim the trains are gonna run until they lose too many workers.
That's all I got for now on today. More later.
Robin and I decided to head out and brave the Underground strike. Apparently just the station staff are striking, not the train drivers. It is now just a matter of keeping enough stations open. Our closest station is open but not very active, and the trains are running less frequently.
- We take the train down to the river's edge.
- It is a cool, sunny day (what a difference from yesterday!)so we grab some baguette sandwiches and a cup of soup to enjoy on a bench in the Victoria Embankment Gardens under a statue of Robert Burns.
- We then checked out Cleopatra's Needle, a 3000 year old Egyptian obelisk adjacent to the park.
- From the river, we walk back up to Covent Garden, and Leicester Square for more shopping.
- Time for a couple half paints in a pub before heading back to the hotel to start getting ready for the evening. I have an Abbot's Ale which is some of the tastiest Brittish beer I have had so far.
- Back at the hotel we cancel our tentative reservation for dinner here which would have set everyone back £65 ($114) a person. OUCH! We made the group decision to just walk north of the hotel to a nearby area full of restaurants, clubs, and bars.
- We finally decide on Italian for our last meal of 2005. The restaurant is very busy and the staff is running ragged, and when we ask for a table, they look at us oddly as if to say, "You want to eat here? Now? At a table?? Well, I guess so..." The tales of this dinner could go on, but just know it was delicious, and we wound up ringing in the New Year with a bottle of champagne and the predominantly Polish staff.
- We begin wandering back to our neighborhood in the light rain, all the way trying to find a club with an after-midnight cover charge less than £20. We find one near the hotel and do a little dancin' till we decide to turn in around 2:30am
- We say goodbye to Anna and Shawn who are heading home in few short hours.
day fifteen: london
Today we are hitting some sights with the whole group. It is a miserable day with constant rain and a lot chillier than the reports said it would be. I get scolded over and over for leaving my hat and "muff" behind.
- We meet Shawn and Anna in the lobby of the Zetter at 8:45 am, an early morning for us, especially after all the drinks with them the night before.
- Next, we meet Reid at the nearest Tube stop and decide to hit Starbucks for a warm-up and tuck into some muffins before heading to the London Eye.
- Tube to Embankment, the jog across a bridge spanning the river to the London Eye for a rainy, bird's-eye view of London.
- Boat ride, boat ride, boat ride up the Thames to the Tower of London.
- Since Shawn and Anna did the Tower a few days prior, we all head across the Tower Bridge to possibly check out the London Dungeon, a cheesy, haunted house-type attraction showcasing terrible things in London's past. The line is WAY too long. The others break off to satisfy some shopping desires.
- Robin and I find a great pub in which we warm up over veggie pie, veggie bangers and mash, a pint of bitter, and a cuppa...
- We tube it back under the river to the Tower of London where we (along with getting soaked all over again) see the old armories (shining armor, swords, etc.), the crown jewels, torture chambers, and of course, the giant ravens.
- Back to the hotel for a rest before meeting the gang for dinner.
- We had to Soho with Shawn and Anna and discover Mantra, a great, all-veggie Indian restaurant where they make some dishes with Quorn, my favorite chicken substitute. No complaints about lack of flavor here.
- We are all kinda pooped, so we head back to the hotel with one small detour into a quickie grocery so Shawn can finally try out the fabulous "Kit Kat Chunky", a true European delicacy.
That's it for today, y'all.
day fourteen: amsterdam / london
This is a travel day, so not a lot to speak of till we arrive back in the UK. Here are the notes.
- Up before light and out of the studio before the vendors have their stalls set up in the market.
- We take a quick tram to Centraal Station and then a 25 minute regional train to Schipol Airport outside of Amsterdam.
- Brunch is pre-packaged gouda and pickle (similar to a chutney) sandwiches with Lays chips and sodas. Actually better than you would think. We have learned that Europeans love their sandwiches, especially if they are on the go. In England and France, many bakeries will have cases full of pre-made baguette sandwiches made with hard crunchy french bread or ciabatta. Coffee shops, petrol stations, and grocery stores will stock their coolers with pre-packaged sandwiches like the ones we Americans would normaly see in a hospital vending machines, sealed in the little plastic triangle. The difference is that these are made fresh that day with quality ingredients. We actually enjoyed several examples of both types on this trip.
- The flight to the UK is an hour long and smooth. We then get a train from Luton airport (35 miles north of London) straight to the station closest to our hotel. From here we actually got to see a good bit of the lovely, snow-covered English country-side.
- We unpack and I go explore for supplies and to get the lay of the land. We then have a little picnic of hummus, pita, cheese, fruit, and sodas I found at a local grocery.
- Shawn and Anna have arrived from Paris and we all meet Reid in the lobby for drinks. We hit the local area for Italian food and wine. Next, we find a club for more drinks, dancing, and a few more drinks.
- Bedtime arrives around 1am-ish.
The hotel we are in is very hip and has interactive TVs which include free music library and web access in addition to the normal TV and movie features. The internet feature is free on the weekends so no more internet cafes.
day thirteen: amsterdam
I am having trouble recalling this day right now. The "big blur effect" is really kicking in now. This is our last full day in Amsterdam (sniff sniff).
- I receive a text message from Rodney at 5:20am (i heard it but didn't read it till after 7). He wants to know if we are up for lunch later that day. He arrived Christmas Eve and his body refuses to adjust.
- I got up a little early so I could do one more trip to the "Wash-O-Matic". Almost all the restaurants in Amsterdam are completely devoid of any type of non-smoking section, so I want to head to London with as few articles of stinky clothes as possible.
- After breakfast in the studio we go for a more casual stroll through the huge market out the front door. The weather is slightly warmer and the sun is out today, although it stays so low we rarely see it except between buildings.
- We walk a zig-zag line towards Dam Square wandering past more touristy gift shops and new hidden alleys.
- We finally hook up with Rodney and Ursula. She takes us to what becomes Robin's most favorite lunch spot on this whole trip. Check back later, as she would like to expand on this experience.
- After we say goodbye to R & U, we walk back in the direction of the apartment through a, shall we say, neighborhood with a certain color scheme to the lighting.
- We spend a little relaxation time at home and begin packing for our trip back to London.
- On our way to dinner, we stop into another brown cafe and get a couple beers that are much darker than the lagers we had been getting used to in Holland.
- Golden Temple is an all-veggie restaurant not far from our studio. It has been on our list of places to hit, but didn't notice till halfway through the trip that we walk past it all the time. It serves Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mexican. Wahoo! We are glad we decided to save this for our last meal.
Up early tomorrow. Later.
day twelve: amsterdam
OK, same thing. Up late and breakfast in the studio. Remember, this is the slowed-down, relaxed portion of the trip. We have decided to make today Typical Tourist Day.
YAY! The Heineken Experience is open! This is great because the dumping snow has returned and we don't really want to walk around in it right now. 10 euros gets us a cheesy tour of the original brewery with lots of advertising, 3 beers each, and a free gift. The funny this is they don't give you the gift till the very end, after you have left the giftshop. In the shop we contemplated buying a couple of the trademark Heineken beer glasses but decided against it due to packing constraints. Turns out, our free gift is one free glass apiece. Guess we'll have to find a way.
From there, we grab a Canal Boat Tour. Very nice, especially since it is quite frigid outside, although, it did finally stop snowing. We see the seven bridges canal, quaint house-boats, Amsterdam harbor, several canal mansions, and a HUGE line outside the Anne Frank house. We can't help but laugh at the suckers who weren't smart enough to go Christmas Day, when there was no line.
Lunch is a quick, but messy, falafel and more fries with curry sauce at MAOZ Vegetarian. This is our second visit to this fast food chain since arriving. I wonder how I can get some franchise info. They got one in Philly...
A bit of shopping follows, but the cold soon chases us into a small bruine kroeg or brown cafe (cozy beer pub) on a side street for a couple small Brand biers. We can tell it is the owner behind the bar because there are photos of her sprinkled throughout the place on the walls. She was something of a looker (not that she isn't anymore) and a few of the images border on Glamour Shots. Most of the pubs here will offer only one beer on tap. Usually it is either Heineken or Amstel (owned by Heineken), we have come across a couple variations. When they pour the beer, it is always given a thick head and the excess is scraped off with a wet knife. Ahhhh, tradition.
We make the final push for home, and finally make it to the warm studio and decide to stay in for dinner. We have some salad, soup, toasted bread, and a bottle of Bordeaux that cost us only 3 euros (yet was still very tasty).
p.s. This is probably the last post from Amsterdam. I don't know if we will find access at our new place in London. We'll try if we can. If not, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
day eleven: amsterdam
Today is what the Dutch simply refer to as Christmas, Day Two or Second Christmas. For us, it is more wandering, more eating, and more sights to see. As before, we slept in a bit. I am sure this has been due more to the short hours of daylight than anything else. We head out around 11:30 after breakfast in the studio.
- A brisk walk to Museumplein where the Van Gogh Museum is located as well as the Rijksmuseum. In this park they have installed a temporary skating rink.
- We spend about 2 hours in the Van Gogh Museum and both fall in love with the same painting, Van Gogh's Trees and Undergrowth. We think it would look great over our couch, but they won't take 150 euros for it. The jerks. We settle for a post card of it although the color on it (and the image here) is far off from the original.
- We have pizza and salads for lunch at the cozy Italian cafe called Il Palio in the Leidesplein area. There are tons of little italian pizza cafes. I wish I had 2 months and an endless pizza budget.
- More wandering, but it is getting really cold now, so we decide to go back to the studio to rest for a bit.
- On the way back, we check to see if the Heineken Experience is open, but it isn't so we put it on our list for tomorrow.
- Dinner is at a Mexican restaurant called Alfonso's. My first burrito since leaving home. Not too shabby, but not as many beans as I like. The Coronas and guac were pretty tasty.
- After dinner, instead of walking towards home, we head in the opposite direction towards Rembrantplein for some tasty chocolate and strawberry frosting covered waffles from a Oliebollen stand.
- On the walk back the the studio it begins to snow quite heavily. By the time we get back they are HUGE flakes. It lets up after there is about a quarter inch on the ground.
Pizza, art, AND burritos in one day. WHEW!
p.s. Robin and I are currently tag-team posting. She is in the stall next to me posting about Christmas Eve.