Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The appropriately named Bath

Where the Romans built a Bath around a hot spring ...
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... home to an abbey called "The Lantern of the West" for its vast expanse of glass ....
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... and the only standing bridge that Paul the Irish Tour Guide has seen that still has buildings on it.
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You could probably spend a weekend here, but alas, we got but two hours.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

St. Paul's and other historical sites

Our Saturday walking tour with OK's family took us past numerous points of interest, including St. Clement Danes ...
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... the home church of the Royal Air Force.
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A kneeler cushion

We stopped in for lunch and a pint at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Samuel Johnson's favorite haunt ...
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... which burned down and was rebuilt before virtually everything of European origin in the Americas was built (a staggering thought to this American).

The tour did take us past Samuel Johnson's home, which is a museum of interest mostly to Johnson aficionados (we didn't go in). However, the square nearest Johnson's house had a cool sculpture of his cat.

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St. Paul's Cathedral from the west.

The climb up to the Golden Gallery above the dome was worth it to me ...
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... even with a windblown mist, although I found my legs were shaking once I reached the bottom from the climb up and the climb down. (Five-hundred-some steps all the way to the top.)

Tuesday catblogging

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Relaxed cat on the grounds of St. Cyriac church, in the charming little town of Lacock.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Quick hit Stonehenge blog

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Tis a magic place where the moon doth rise
With a dragon's face
Where the virgins lie
And the prayer of devils fill the midnight sky
And you my love, won't you take my hand
We'll go back in time to that mystic land

(With apologies to Spinal Tap, as well as our readers, for having to read their awful lyrics.)

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Walking among Stonehenge's rocks is mostly forbidden nowadays, because of the graffiti and because they fear the ground is too unstable to take the weight of 1 million visitors a year. But each day, a select group (in our case, 50) that pays extra is allowed to walk among the rocks after hours (and, some days, before hours).

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The best preserved section of the outer circle of stones, through which you can see the "heel stone." The heel stone marks the "Sacred Avenue" through which Stonehenge's visitors walked their processional

This was a special experience. Years ago, when I was 4 years old, my family and I traveled to England, and we visited Stonehenge. It's one of the only clear memories I have from that trip. I was disappointed some years back to learn that access to the stones was forbidden and that the most anybody could do was walk the perimeter. So when I learned of the opportunity to walk among the rocks (thanks to a reader--and you know who you are) I was jazzed to do it.

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Nobody knows who built Stonehenge, nor how they got the rocks, some of them weighing more than 50 tons, up to 200 miles to the now-desolate location on the Salisbury Plain before the invention of the wheel.
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They also don't know what purpose it served, other than as a calendar to mark the two solstices. As Paul, our droll Irish guide, put it, "It could have been a village hall or an ice-skating rink, for all we know."

Sunday, May 28, 2006

First guests

Mrs. W and I are hosting our first guests since our migration here, the poster known on this blog as Oldest Kid and OK's family, which consists of OK, Mr. OK, OK's Oldest Kid and OK's Youngest Kid. Yesterday we walked The Strand from Westminster to St. Paul's, taking in, among other things, Samuel Johnson's house, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (Johnson's favorite haunt), St. Paul's Cathedral (including the Golden Gallery in a driving mist), with a side trip down to Borough Market. Pictures later.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Light blogging

Hi. Um, we've been doing a lot around the flat to get ready for some very important guests, and in addition, I've had a lot of work lately. We hope to resume a fairly regular blogging schedule soon.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The part of the beer that you didn't drink

One test of your "English-ness" is how you feel about Marmite, a yeast-extract spread similar to the Australians' Vegemite. Those of you familiar with mid-1980s popular music will remember the song by the Australian popsters Men At Work called Land Down Under, which had a verse:
Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six foot four and full of muscles
I said, "Do you speak-a my language?"
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich

I've sampled Vegemite, which is possibly the foulest foodstuff that has ever touched my tastebuds. But I'm here to embrace a culture, so I picked up a jar of Marmite.

Wikipedia's entry on Marmite calls it a "sticky, dark brown paste with a distinctive, powerful taste." Another site, which compares Marmite and Vegemite, notes:
The stuff which leaves the brewery is the scrapings from the bottom of the fermenting tank. Like solidified froth it goes off in open topped barrels to the Marmite factory. Each barrel is filled no more than 1/3 full because if the stuff gets damp it starts frothing like mad as the yeast is reactivated. The horses in the brewery love it and some of the old draymen liked a taste too.

The serving suggestion is to spread toasted bread with butter first, then Marmite thinly on the bread.

It's not bad. It's kind of like a salty, slightly bitter peanut butter. I remember Vegemite as being extremely bitter by comparison.

Perhaps Aussie Sarah and I can do a Marmite-Vegemite exchange and compare the qualities of our adoptive lands' favorite condiments.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

McCartney vs. Kanye

The big news in London today was the marital strife of Paul McCartney, everyone's favorite Beatle except for me (I'm a Ringo girl).

The man who sang "We can work it out" and "Take a sad song and make it better" apparently can't. Which made me think he needed to listen to some Kanye West. And I quote:

If you aint no punk holla We Want Prenupt
It's something that you need to have
Cause when she leave yo *ss she gone leave with half

Unfortunately for Sir Paul, prenuptial agreements don't hold up in UK courts, so I am told. The talking heads on the Beeb wasted no time in talking about how much Sir Paul might be on the hook for if they get divorced (he's worth 800-850 million pounds, or more than $1 billion). But I'm not sayin' she's a gold digger...

The discussion around the water cooler prompted me to bring up Kanye's apt lyrics (or "dope rhymes") but the Brits in the crowd seemed a bit confused. I got the same look from them as I do when I call someone "dude." More to come on the pop culture gap.

Driving Miss Lucy

No, not this:*
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I've joined Streetcar, a car-sharing club in London, which gave me a second go at driving in London. We needed to go (where else?) to the Ikea as we get our flat in shape for some very important visitors in the coming weeks. The nearest car is parked near the Archway Tube stop. It's a black VW Golf, codenamed Lucy.

The second attempt at driving went a little more smoothly than the first. The car did have a stick, and upon pulling out of its designated parking spot I did go to the right, rather than the left, of an oncoming car, but other than that I made no mistakes--perhaps it was because we weren't driving in Central London, or perhaps it was because I never had to try a right hand turn from a full on stop with the stickshift on a 10 percent uphill grade, or perhaps it was because plenty of bicycle riding has trained me to British road etiquette. In addition, we were on some major thoroughfares up to the North Circular Road, a sort of Inner Beltway for London, so it was harder to make wrong turns.

I'm in no hurry to buy a car, but I think I will drive with greater confidence in the future.

*This being our beloved calico Lucy, who is now in a happy new home in Chicago.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


I was advised by a colleague that Whitecross St. was a good place to get decent food at lunchtime (which in London seems to be 1pm). Alas for me, I had left my London A to Z (said: ZED) on my desk, and I found myself lost in the maze of London streets. Getting lost has its upside: I find I often discover cool things when I am wrong way bound, and yesterday lunchtime was no exception.

I ended up on Fore St. (where there's a golf course, haha, just kidding). And as I was trying to pick my way around the Barbican Centre, I spied something that looked like a crumbled wall. In fact, it was one of the few standing sections of the old Roman wall around the city of London. As I learned from the handy plaque nearby (God bless Londoners' obsession with plaques), the wall was incorporated into the Church of St. Alphage, named for the 29th archbishop of Canterbury who was martyred by Vikings. The church no longer stands, but the section of wall does.

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And what's cooler is that you can take a 1.75 mile walk along the perimeter of the old London wall starting from either the Tower of London or the Museum of London, with 14 or so plaques along the way. I can't wait to don my walkin' shoes.

As if that wasn't enough history for one day, I rounded the corner of Fore St. and saw engraved in the side of the nondescript concrete edifice there: "On this site at 12:15 am, 25 August 1940 the first bomb fell on London in the Second World War." At that moment, I forgot about finding Whitecross St.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Friday Viewblogging

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On the Seine River.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Note to self

When walking outside at midday, and seeing two young men in shirts, ties and slacks walking down the street, it's probably not these:

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It's probably these:

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And so if one doesn't want to be known as the neighborhood weirdo, it might be a good idea to suppress the Mormon fear that manifested itself by running back up the steps and slamming the door behind me.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Singapore, the sequel

A little more about Singapore, according to that noted authority, my taxi driver to the airport:

About 75 percent of the population (4.4 million) is Chinese, 15 percent is Malay, and 8 percent is Indian. The rest are other Asians and European/American ex-pats.

The main languages are Mandarin Chinese, Malay and English (it IS a former British colony and part of the Commonwealth).

In the early 1970s, the island opened its first freeway. Now there are 8, almost 9. Rarely does a traffic jam delay you for more than 15 minutes (take that, I-95!).

Every male has to do a 2-year stint in the military.

And then this is what some of my colleagues there told me about the city:

Singapore's relationship with Malaysia is kind of like the U.S. relationship with Canada: They love to deride each other, but ultimately, they are good neighbors.

To ensure racial harmony, the government ruled that public housing blocks have no more than 25 percent of any ethnic minority living there.

It's 3 degrees north of the equator, so it really doesn't ever cool down.

You can live well on the cheap there. One British pound is worth almost 3 Singapore dollars.

It's a good place to get places from, with Phuket, Perth and other cities about 4 hours away by plane (so less time than it takes to get from NJ to FL, for example).

And on the subject of taxi drivers, I find them to be a great resource for learning about places. Especially here in London, where they have to take an exam called The Knowledge, for which they have to know really almost every London street, hotel, church, and much, much more.

There's something in the air

The Mars bar has temporarily changed its name to Believe. The red-cross-on-white-background England flag has begun cropping up everywhere, but especially outside bars and on car windows. And newspaper articles have begun obsessing about broken metatarsals and 17-year-old phenoms without work experience, rather than worrying about a near collapse in Tony Blair's Labour government. It must be time for that quadrennial experience known as the La Coupe du Monde de la Federation Internationale de Football Association, known in American English as the Soccer World Cup.

We're a month away from the first games, but the coverage has already reached a fever pitch here on the far side of the Atlantic. This football-mad nation seems to need a constant fix of football--the regular season is wrapping up, with the dizzying number of adjuvant competitions that are sprinkled throughout the regular season. And here we are, kicking off yet another football contest.

England seems to accept nothing but complete victory, which is a shame, since it hasn't won the World Cup since 1966. But here we are, whipping up the frenzy again.

Do you believe? I believe! As long as it's an excuse to go to the pub, I'll believe!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Out of sequence Monday Scooterblogging

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A Parisian Piaggio.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Singapore slinger

We here at AA believe in truth in advertising. We call ourselves Americans Amuck, and dangit, we are. Last week the States, this week Singapore, next week, back in jolly old England. Wheeeeeeeeeee!

This was my first trip to Asia. It was fantastic. My only regret is that since I was here for business, I didn't get to do much that was touristy. I did, however, have one of these in the famous Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel. Mmmmmmmmmmm. And the best Asian food that has ever passed my lips and not come back up, like pepper crab from Sri Lanka and some kind of crunchy fried squid thingy (which was kinda sweet). And excellent hospitality from strangers and colleagues alike. Really, I must confess, I'm a little reluctant to depart.

The weather was hot, more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and let me say this: it was NOT a dry heat. For someone who has adjusted to a cool climate, it was rather a shock to my sweat glands. And my hair never looked frizzier. Thank God the British brought air conditioning here.

I'll post more on my impressions of the island nation, which is having elections tomorrow, and of Asia in general, after I return to London and recover from jet lag. Whenever that is!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Answer: Lots of pasty white English skin

Question: What do you get to see when the temperature hits 25 degrees C in London in early May?

(And by mid-afternoon, a lot of that pasty white skin is turning a dark shade of pink ...)

Uh, hi, we're back ...

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Smitty recovers from jetlag.

Whooey. Well, what with me taking naps at odd times of the day and Mrs. W off on her world travels, it's been hard to squeeze in any blogging. My apologies. I'd hoped never to let it go this long.

Monday, May 01, 2006

How to comment--a primer

Certain of our readers have mentioned that they don't know how to leave comments (and we encourage–nay, revel in–comments). It's not very intuitive, I will acknowledge, but quite easy once you get the hang of it.

Basically, below each post is a link that states the number of comments on each post. Click that link, like any other hyperlink. A pop-up window will appear, containing a form in which you can fill in your comments. At the bottom, you are given the option of signing your comment as anonymous, under a name you've registered with Blogger, our blog host, or some other name (your own or a pseudonym). At the bottom is a button that you can use to publish. It's as easy as that. I don't include word verification, because it's user-unfriendly, which explains why I keep getting spammed on my comments board (it's like pulling frigging nightshade, I swear!).

Just so you know, I'm notified by email each time somebody comments. So far, I've only needed to moderate the spam on here, but just be aware that any troll who comes over from another board I comment on and becomes belligerent on my comments board will be moderated with a heavy hand. This is our blog, and I am not interfering with your free speech if I throw you off my property for being a jerk. If you want to exercise free speech, it's very easy. Click here.