Sunday, November 27, 2011

Trevor Cross is the New Rick Steves

My long time friend Trevor Cross spent this last year living in London, so I called him up to get suggestions on things to do.  We talked and talked and talked; he had so many great recommendations, and not just your typical tour-book must-sees... he even mixed in his personal favorite, off the beaten path, recomendations!  As if I wasn't excited enough, Trevor got me even more energetic about our trip!  If you know Trevor, you know that he could get you excited about dang near anything.  I swear he could turn a Cougar fan into a Husky, just give him 15 minutes!

With Trevor as our "guide," we mapped out our tour of London on the train ride into the city!  Conor had to work that morning, so we didn't get into the city til about 4pm.  We were determined to see everything on Trevor's list in one night, and we planned on walking everywhere.... Let the madness of London commence!

Our first stop was the Borough Market to get a late lunch.  This a beautiful outdoor market that Trevor said had a Pike Place Market feel but very London local.  Since it was already starting to get dark by the time we arrived, most of the stalls were shutting down.  We walked around as quickly as possible, taking in all the smells and delicious looking food.  I wish we could have ate about 10 meals there!  Our options were limited, so we decided on some "proper" fish and chips...and it did not disappoint!

We devoured every last bite of the fish....well almost every bite.  It came with the skin on...and that got a little gross towards the end of our meal!  We walked off our lunch on the way to Shakespeare's Globe Theater.  Since it was past 5pm on a Friday night, nothing was open.  So we began the walking look-from-the-outside tour of many of London's sites.  Obviously, you can't see much of the theater from the outside, so we moved on!

Next, we saw Big Ben!  I was actually really excited about this!  I looked for Peter Pan, but unfortunately he was nowhere in sight.  ;-)  Big Ben wasn't quite as "big" as I was expecting, but a beautiful sight nonetheless.

One of the highlights of the night was riding the London Eye.  Luckily, it wasn't too crowded, so we didn't have to lose any time waiting in line.  The views were spectacular, and I'm so glad that we did this at night...not that we had a choice.  This Ferris wheel, of sorts, is absolutely massive, and was such a fun experience.  I highly recommended it to anyone traveling to London, even though it's a little bit pricey!

We kept walking through the city and made our way to Parliament, Westminster Abbey, & Buckingham Palace.  It's a different experience to explore a city at night, but we really enjoyed it.  You never know what you'll run into walking around out there... For example, on the way to the Palace, we were suddenly overtaken by an impromptu rollerblade party! About 150 rollerbladers, some packing back-pack boom-boxes, and bike escorts. Awesome! As the evening went on, the drunks of London leaving the pubs were a sight to see.  Our favorite "gentlemen", became the one who stumbled out of pub, gave a huge belch, and then exclaimed while holding his gut: "Arg... pub pain!" Ah, how lovely!
Our final stop was The Jerusalem Tavern.  This pub came highly recommended by Trevor!  He explained it as off the beaten path and something straight out of a Dickens novel.  He was absolutely right!  With a little difficulty, we finally found the place.  The front door was completely blocked by patrons and tables, so we ventured into the alley that led us to a side door.  The place was so tiny, but exactly what we were hoping for.  We squished our way through the many pub goers to make our way to the bar.  It was so wonderful to sit down and enjoy my cider!  We had just finished at least 11 miles of walking and were pretty exhausted.  We called Trevor to tell him we had made it through London and found our way to the best pub ever!  He told Conor he had to try the honey porter, which he did...and it was delicious!  Even I had a few sips, so it had to be good!  We wanted to stay forever, but the pub was closing down.  We figured it was time to get back to the train station anyway, since our flight to Venice was at 6am. 

We arrived at the station at 11:45pm, perfect timing to catch the midnight train back to our hotel....or so we thought!  Apparently, we misread the train schedule, because the last train left at 11:25....big oops!  The next train wasn't until 4am, and it's an hour ride, so there was no way we would make our flight!  After a little bit of panicing, we went to the ticket booth to try and figure out another way to get back to our hotel.  We finally discovered there was a bus that could get us where we needed to go.  So we walked outside into the bitter cold, and waited...and waited.  Forty minutes later, we thought the bus was never going to arrive and frustration set in again.  Finally the bus pulled up to the stop, and we both gave a huge sigh of relief.  Little did we know, this bus ride was going to take about 2 1/2 hours.  Utterly exhausted, we finally made it to our hotel room.  We had a wonderful (or terrible...) hour of sleep, and then packed our bags Ryan-Air style... and walked to the airport to catch our flight.  Needless to say, the Keenans were sleepy for the their arrival in Italy!

Coming up:Venice, Florence, & Rome!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Absolutely No Nasties!

Our European Vacation: Part I

Conor had to travel to England & France for work, so we planned a little vacation around it all!  The first week of our trip was in Cambridge, England where Conor was very busy with work all week. For me, however, it was just the beginning of my 3 week vacation!   We arrived on Saturday and walked around  for awhile to get our bearings and feel for Cambridge.  It's actually quite a small town with almost everything within walking distance.  Very small curvy streets and people everywhere!  We stopped at our first pub which was long, narrow, and absolutely packed.  When I ordered a hard cider, the bartender asked if I wanted a pint?  I must have given him a strange look because he proceeded to ask if I wanted a half pint or a pint!  Who wants a half pint?!  "Oh sure, just give me a little splash of beer please!" Silly English.

Although everyone speaks "English", half the time I felt like they were speaking a completely different language.  Some of the accents are very thick, and I frequently found myself asking people to repeat themselves. Some of their sayings just crack me up!  I noticed the label on a soda I was drinking that read: "Absolutely no nasties!" Nasties?  Is this something I should be worried about? Have other things I've drank had nasties?!  After trying to forget about "nasties", we went to an Indian place, aptly named The Gandhi, for dinner with a few of Conor's coworkers.  It was some of the best Indian food I have ever had!  We quickly learned that Indian cuisine is quite popular in England, so we ended up having it more than once!

Another thing I enjoyed about England: They drink lots of tea here!  Tea in the morning, tea at lunch, afternoon tea, tea after dinner.  If you're bored....make some tea!  To say the least, I drank a lot of tea and cider!  On Sunday, Conor had some work stuff, but luckily I got invited to join them!  We went to the Imperial War Museum where we had a private tour and got to see many different air craft from World War 1 and on.  Some early commercial airliners were there as well, like the Comet 4 and a Concord jet.  It was pretty interesting, but... we were there for 5 hours, so I got a little bored.  One can only look at parked airplanes for so long. :-)

Day three rolled around, and I still felt jet lagged.  Woke up early with Conor. Couldn't go back to sleep.  Tried to take a nap at noon, didn't work.  Took a nap at 4pm, finally slept til Conor got back from work.  Pretty exciting day!...  I hoped that the next few days would be better.  The food in Cambridge proved to be more and more interesting as the days went on.  The hotel had a great hot breakfast so I hit that up every morning.  However, I'm pretty sure they put tons of cream in the scrambled eggs because they are waaaay too good!  I found a fun place for lunch that wasn't too far from our hotel, but still proved difficult to find.  Its hard to find street signs here and the roads are so curvy.  I ate at a place called The Cow which is known for their pizza.  Thin crust, pretty similar to something you would see in the States except that the ingredients are just a little different.  Mine had prosciutto, marscapone, and red onions and it was delicious.  It wasn't cut into slices though, they just gave me a fork and steak knife....kinda interesting.  This was my first meal alone, and I think I did okay.  That glass of wine at noon helped! :-)

I got invited to one of Conor's work dinners at the Cambridge Chop House.  It was a very nice restaurant in quite an old building.  The main room was tiny with a bar and a few tables, then you took a wooden spiral staircase downstairs to a much larger room, and then down another half floor to the room where we ate.  So our room was more than an entire story below ground...little bit creepy.  The menu was fixed since we had such a large group and was definitely interesting.  I believe the choices for the main course were: a rump roast steak, sausage and mushroom pudding, fisherman's pie, some type of vegetable and cheese pasty, and "coil" which is pretty much a coiled up little sausage on a plate... Where's the chicken?!  I am starting to get more adventurous with my eating habits, but this was a little much.  I took the safe route and ordered the steak.

Conor and his coworkers
After dinner we went to the oldest pub in Cambridge called The Eagle.  This is supposedly where DNA was discovered as the men who discovered it frequently visited and talked over pints.  Exciting stuff!  Also, World War I soldiers took lighters and burned things into the ceiling which was very interesting to see.  Once again, I had my fill of cider while Conor got to work tasting every kind of warm beer he could find.  There are plenty of cask ales over here, some of which Conor thought were very different but good.

While Conor was working, I spent most of the days walking around, figuring out where I was going, and taking in everything around me.  Such a fun and fascinating place to be.  The weather had been sunny and clear skies most days, which is so rare for the London area.  I enjoyed being out in the Fall weather and seeing all the old buildings at many colleges and universities.  My days pretty much centered around my meals, and I spent time in-between out exploring. :-)  The streets are packed here everyday since it is a college town.  Everybody rides a bike and has these massive wicker baskets on the front.  Even the manliest guy out there has this cute little basket on his bike.  But there is nothing cute about these cyclists!  They are crazier than the cars on the road and stop for no one.  One day I even saw a bike wreck!

One evening when Conor had to work particularly late, I had dinner by myself at a sit down Thai restaurant (I had to get away from all the English food for a night).  I have to say this is the very first time I have gone out to dinner alone.  I sat at a table in the corner by myself.  I had a glass of wine while waiting for my food, and I have to say it was pretty awkward.  Finally, I pulled my kindle out of my bag and just started reading.  I had become the person that I always feel bad for at restaurants.  The old maid reading alone in the corner with her wine... :-)  I survived though and my meal was delicious.

Eventually Friday afternoon arrived and after our driver dropped us off at our airport hotel, Conor & I took a train into London for one crazy night of sightseeing!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Back to Back: Part II

Conor went into work really early that Friday, so that we could get on the road to San Diego a little earlier than usual.  I drove the first half, making excellent time...even though Conor had his eye on my speedometer constantly!  After a brief bathroom stop and the purchase of a couple "travelers," we continued the drive.  The radio stations driving through the dessert are always a little interesting. But lucky for us we heard Party Rock at least 6 times during our drive.  Nonetheless, when we arrived we were ready to party!

As I reached my hand over the fence to open the gate to The Hanson's house, I found an unwanted surprise.  Curt had artfully placed two Smirnoff Ice's on the ledge....very sneaky Curt!  A stomach ache later, I decided the icing needs to stop!  We'll see if that really happens or not.  That night we all went to El Camino for drinks and the hopes of some good music.  Well, the drinks were delicious as always, but the DJ was absolutely awful!  Such a disappointment.  But that didn't stop us from having fun.  Here is just a small sampling of all the crazy pictures we took that night.

The next day we walked to the local street market just a couple blocks from their house and then spent the next 2 hours talking about what we should do.... No big decision makers in the group...!  Finally,we decided on one my now favorite activities of the summer: paddle boarding!  Conor & I had never done it before and were very excited to try it out!  It was a beautiful sunny day in San Diego, just perfect weather to be out on the water.  I've heard from many people that paddle boarding is a really good workout...but not for this group!  We took the more leisurly approach, just casually paddling along and then stopping for mini naps on our boards.  It was incredible....but next time, I'd bring a cooler! ;-)

That night, it was TJ & Erin's turn to take us to their favorite Thai spot!  We ordered a ridiculous amount of food, so as to be able to try as many things as possible.  It was all so delicious, albeit a little spicy!  Erin ordered a glass of reisling with dinner which seemed odd at first, until I realized what a perfect match the sweetness of the wine with the spiciness of the food is!  How did I not know this?!  Since then, no Thai meal is complete without that glass of Riesling.  Thank you Erin!

After dinner, we turned on the Wii for some Family Feud!  I can;t believe I never knew about this game before, it is awesome!  I highly recommed that every household purchase it!  Such a fun time full of many  laughs....Survey says: "Laura & Erin win....again!"

Sunday morning, chef TJ got up early and made everyone some delicious crepes.  Since I have now been to France and had crepes there, I can say with confidence that TJ made the best crepes I've ever had.  Paris crepe stands have nothing on him!  I enjoyed every little bite.  Afterwards, the boys played some whiffle ball  to work off their breakfast.  It was a beautiful morning and felt like fall was in the air!  I was dreading the drive back to Arizona where our temperatures were still in the upper 90s.

Before we left San Diego, Curt wanted to show us his place...and I was really excited to see his cat, Leo, who is a maine coon (one big cat)!  He was just adorable and of course I now really want one.  However, we are not crazy cat people and cannot become a 3 cat household.  Someday I suppose...

Next few blogs: Our Euro Trip!