Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

October, 2011

October, 2011
Chess in Lausanne, Switzerland

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Well Celebrated in London

I'm beaming in to inform all interested parties that Halloween here for the Webers was great fun. Without Target, it did involve fewer costume and candy choices (think witches and goblins of all sizes, Mars and Milky Way galore).

Had I jumped on the Americana bandwagon and joined Costco no doubt we'd have been swimming in Halloween-ness. However, since we seem to operating just fine without whatever American food items we've been without for a year we'll continue on without them.

And on that note, can you believe it's been a year since we left Charlotte? It's been a great year of new experiences, and I like to think we've taken full advantage of our opportunity to live internationally. May we continue to enjoy the adventure!

Now back to Halloween...we got a jump on pumpkin carving so unfortunately by the time the big day rolled around ours had collapsed on themselves, looking moldy around the eyes and oozing whatever it is decomposing vegetables ooze.

HOWEVER, because the signal of Halloween participation here is a pumpkin, the kids insisted we leave ours out on the front porch. Clearly we win the grotesque house award. (Especially now that one is nearly flattened from some poor unfortunate kid sticking his foot in it.)

Claire and Ava both opted to be fairies this year because neither wanted to be a witch (at Sainsbury I sorted through all the ghoul and goblin outfits to find fairy props). So with plenty of pink, wings, wands, tiaras and sparkly shoes, they were costumed and ready to canvas the neighborhood in search of candy.

Joe took the kids out this time while I answered the door with, you guessed it, Mars and Milky Way in hand. (by the way, the mars don't have nuts in them; is that sacrilege or what?)

You cold tell the difference between the American and British trick or treaters; the former marched boldly up the stops with plastic pumpkin in hand, firmly called out trick or treat and, once treat secured, dashed off to the next house. The British kids came forward a bit more gingerly, many carrying plastic grocery bags for their candy, and most had to be prompted by parents to say "trick or treat." They seemed not to know what to do after they'd scored their candy.

Our kids and Joe came back an hour or so later with big smiles and plenty of candy. Apparently a few blocks over it was a Halloween fest, lines to get to doors and the whole bit. There's a larger concentration of Americans on some of those streets and in fact one British parent said his family drives over every year to trick or treat on that street because of the level of Halloween participation.

All of our Halloween visitors were on the young side, no egging or flour bombs or anything off color in our neck of the woods. (I'd been told and have been reading in the paper about pranks being problematic. Apparently not on our cozy little street, thankfully.)

In other Halloween goings-on this week, Claire's school had their Halloween costume parade Friday, which Ava and I attended. We also stopped in at the class party afterward. Ava, along with Claire and her classmaters, scored on a bag of treats, cupcakes and the like.

Halloween festivities will continue for Ava next week, as her school's Halloween party is November 7 (now that would clearly be a stretch in the U.S., though it's always good to get as much use out of the costume as possible).

She and I have a good fall break together. On Wed. we went to the British Museum for dead week activities. The place had some great crafts, so we hung out with friends and made all kinds of altar decor items (flours, skeletons, clay skulls, etc.). Sounds grotesque but they were all colorful and not terribly off-putting.

Claire got to hit the stables two days back to back last week, on Wed. for her lesson, Thurs. for pony day. Because she had the day off for parent/teacher conferences, she got to immerse herself in feeding, watering, washing, grooming, riding, shoveling manure, making straw beds, etc.

She and her friends were there from 10 to 4:30 and were happily exhausted -- and very smelly -- by the time we got home.

Meanwhile, I attended my Jane Austen class and Joe and I received a very good report regarding Claire's 2nd grade progress up to this point.

Ava got to spend some time at the park and ride her scooter with our lovely babysitter (who Ava's decided worries ALL the time). This would be because poor Miss Ewa is doing her best to keep her charge from falling into harm. Or falling period.

Yesterday Ava and I traipsed down to a slow food market near the Thames, sampled our way through (decadent truffles and incredible Polish salami among the highlights) and brought home some items for a chicken cacciatore dish.

Today...who knows what's on the agenda...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blog Catch Up

Ok it’s 10:44 on Tuesday, Ava’s still in her nightie, just finished a tea party with her stuffed animals and is now working on a bead project.

I am patiently (well ok maybe patient isn’t the best word to describe me) waiting for my fine friend the refrigerator guy, who is supposed to be coming sometime between 9 and 1 to fix the infamous appliance which is downstairs dripping.

After a long discussion last week about whose fault it was that my Fri. fridge appt. was cancelled, I was apparently put in the books for 11-3 today…but then yesterday when I placed my 33rd call (yes it seems like that many) I was informed the engineer would come between 9 and 1 today.

Ai yai yai.

Now regarding the machine, (which I must reiterate hates me) in addition to not cooling, has been beeping at odd intervals for the past several weeks. And this past week a voracious hum has been emanating from it. Clearly it wants to die.

At the moment all is silent because I was told to defrost again before service call…thus the dripping downstairs. Let’s hope the guy shows up.

As for food preservation of late, I’ve relied on the freezer, which has been in an increasingly sad state, some shelves still freezing, some hitting fridge temps, ice maker gone to pot.

This exercise has really been a foray into what is relatively shelf stable (isn’t cheese all bacteria anyway…). I have been tempted to put things outside at night but I did spot a fox slinking through the neighborhood last week, and Lord knows cats stop into our patio enough as it is (ask Joe how much he enjoys seeing them come and go).

Enough on the domestic scene.

Since mid-October Claire’s enjoyed a few more horse riding lessons, Ava got to go to the cinema (Cindermouse) with her class and I’ve been steeped in Jane Austen.

Our Austen group met to listen to a speaker share information about women’s roles during the Victorian age (essentially it was critical they marry money). We also watched video clips about Jane Austen and her books, choice of characters, settings, etc.

On the 22nd we tripped off to see her home in Chawton, a cottage given to her and her mother and sister by her brother, who came into wealth via distant relatives who raised him.

It was here, at this cottage, that Jane spent the last eight years of her life and did the majority of her “mature writing.” (I apparently am still in my immature writing phase.)

The house is a lovely red brick building across the street from a dainty little tea shop with cups decorating the walls and hanging from the ceiling. There we had tea/coffee, then walked down the lane to the “big” house (that of Jane’s brother) to admire the gardens.

Prior to Jane’s death, she had been involved with the family’s project of taking the existing gardens and landscaping them, moving the earth to create vistas and whatnot. The result is a lovely expanse of green with gravel walkways (not a result of the Austen’s ambitions), scenic viewing spots and gorgeous trees.

Back down to the cottage we then went for a tour of Jane’s home, where we wandered through bedrooms and living areas, saw the tiny desk at which she wrote, along with other furnishings.

We then adjourned to lunch at a nearby pub (lovely goat cheese tart) and onto Chawton House (now known as Chawton House Library). The House (of which we got a partial tour) is over 400 years old, and the recorded history of the land on which it stands stretches even further back.

About Chawton House…

During the 13th century there were frequent visits to Chawton by King Henry III and then his son, King Edward I, the manor having become an important staging post for royal journeys between London and Winchester.

In April 1551 the land was sold for £180 to John Knight, whose family had been tenant farmers in Chawton since the thirteenth century and who had prospered sufficiently to acquire a large estate.

The freehold has remained in the Knight family since the sixteenth century, though on many occasions the ownership passed laterally and sometimes by female descent, requiring several heirs to change their surnames to Knight.

In 1781, Thomas Knight II inherited and adopted a son of the Reverend George Austen, who was a cousin of Thomas Knight's. The Austens had six sons and two daughters, and the Knights adopted the third eldest son, Edward.

Edward Austen Knight eventually took over management of the estates at Godmersham and Chawton in 1797, living mostly at Godmersham and letting the Great House at Chawton to gentlemen tenants.

In 1809 he offered a house in the village to his mother and two sisters Cassandra and Jane, and it was there that Jane Austen began the most prolific period of her writing life. Her career as a novelist took off with the publication of Sense and Sensibility in 1811, and she went on to publish a further three of her novels while at Chawton (two more followed shortly after her death). She lived in Chawton almost until her death in 1817, only moving to Winchester near the end of her life to be nearer medical care.

Today Chawton House is a library with a mission “to promote study and research in early English women's writing; to protect and preserve Chawton House, an English manor house dating from the Elizabethan period; and to maintain a rural English working manor farm of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, for the benefit of everyone.”

Chawton House Library is a recent charity founded by the American entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sandy Lerner, via the charitable foundation established by her and her husband Leonard Bosack, the Leonard X. Bosack and Bette M. Kruger Foundation. The Library’s collection of books, which focuses on women's writing in English from 1600 to 1830, is available to the public for use.

(The House is leased to the charity and remains in the Knight family.)

We got to see some of the very old books in the collection, several open to specific passages and pictures having to do with Austen’s books. Wonderful stuff.
The house is very grand from the outside, much wood and many nooks and crannies, window seats and lovely views of the grounds within.

Back at the bus, we resumed our Austen fest, this time watching Persuasion on the return trip. (We watched Northanger Abbey en route.)

I could get used to these Jane Austen outings.

Also recently, I attended the Frieze Art Fair, which is a HUGE event in Regents Park (in tents, some sculptures outdoors).

I went w/ a group that organized a tour so as to get a better handle on the fair given its enormity. (More than 150 contemporary art galleries exhibit, and special projects, talks and educational events are part of the affair, as well.)

It’s a great event, I’m very glad I went, very glad I took a tour and very glad we went early as by mid afternoon it was overwhelming (crowd + exhibits = overload).
After perusing the sculptures in great, sunny weather, I made my way back to the peace and quiet of home before school let out.

On Monday, Oct. 19, I headed off to the railway station to meet up with a group of women for a hike in the woods (really a chatty walk). It was so nice to get out of London and enjoy fresh air, good conversation and quite pleasant weather – not cold and a slight drizzle for maybe 45 minutes.

In the middle of our 8 mile walk we stopped at a pub for a leisurely lunch, then continued on through Seven Oaks & Idle Hill…here is the description:

This walk explores a very rural area of Kent and passes through a pattern of small woods and fields to reach Ide Hill, the only village on the route. Ide Hill is charming as well as being, at 800 feet, the highest village in the county. Henry VIII used to go hunting hereabouts when he was courting Anne Boleyn.

No doubt Anne has less romantic notions about the area now.

On Oct. 21st I met up w/ a friend for one of the infamous London Walks (walks of various parts of town, museums, etc., led by tour guides – generally 2 hours of insight). The one we chose was “Legal and Illegal London.”

This tour took us to the Inns of Court, a “warren of cloisters, courtyards and passageways set amongst some of the best gardens in London.”

We wandered through the four inns, peeking in gardens (some public, some restricted access), then into the Royal Court building, which is gorgeous. We caught glimpses of barristers in their wigs and gowns and learned a bit about the legal system.
Frankly I’m still a bit mystified…enjoyable outing nonetheless.

And that brings me to the end of last week (gee I’m doing pretty good here given it’s only Tuesday…am I (gulp) caught up on this blog for the time being???). We ended the week with dinner and drinks with friends at a local Italian restaurant we’ve enjoyed a few times.

Over the weekend Claire and I, together with two of her friends and another mom, went down to the British Museum for a group “backpack” activity(essentially a bag filled with various activities based on age/theme).

We opted for the Ancient Greeks, so our activities led us through various parts of the museum, where the girls put on costumes the Ancient Greeks would have worn, then struck poses like those in many of the statues, played knuckle bones (games played with the ankle bones of sheep and goats), put puzzles together based on architectural exhibits, discerned stories on pots and matched up depictions of modern day Olympic events with those of old.

It was a great outing and we’ll definitely seek out backpack activities at area museums again! (I’m thinking they should do the same for adults...)

On Sunday the time changed so we had a more leisurely morning (so how was it we walked into Mass late?!?). We then hit the Marylebone market for relatively shelf stable food and had lunch at a café in the area.

Yesterday was Ava’s first day of fall break so off we went to see Up. It’s a great children’s movie that everyone should see.

With errands, lunch at McDonald’s, library stop and Claire retrieval, it was a busy day out, and today has been a lazy one in.

As I wrap up this diatribe, I’m knocking on wood that the fridge is indeed up and running (the engineer visited a couple hours ago). I haven’t yet heard any beeps or buzzes from below…who knows if that’s good or bad at this point.

Cheers and may all your appliances be cooperating!

Friday, October 23, 2009

October and Germany

My Jane Austen class kicked off in early October; I slogged through Emma (preferred her other novels) but had a great discussion and a lovely day out at Box Hill, site of an important passage in the novel.

About Box Hill: it is a well known beauty spot in the North Downs of Surrey, England, close to the southern outskirts of London, overlooking Dorking to the south-west.

The hill is named after box trees which can be found on its steep southern and western flanks, notably around the "Whites", chalk cliffs cut by the River Mole.

It truly is a gorgeous place, especially on a sunny autumn day, like Oct. 8. We took a bus there, hiked around with a guide who shared a bit of information about the area's history, had a glass of champagne at the top of the hill overlooking the valley (why not toast Jane and her novel characters), then hiked down and had lunch at a lovely little restaurant in town (The Dining Room in Reigate). Then back to London with Clueless (updated LA version of Emma story) for entertainment.

Ava, too, had a field trip – hers to the Horniman Museum to check out masks, among other things. She also got to see CinderMouse at a puppet theatre in Hamstead. Outside of school, Ava’s enchanted with her ballet class, and she’s had some playdates with classmates.

For Claire’s class I am the art parent liaison. I’ve yet to determine what that means, but it sounds good to me (provided I don’t need to produce some fabulous work of art).

School is keeping her busy, and happy – she’s made some cool projects, including a rudimentary flashlight, in her Creative Construction class. She’s also enjoying her First Holy Communion prep class on Saturdays. I actually got sucked into church school Oct. 3; my big plan was to drop her off and hole up in a nearby coffee shop to read but alas was pulled into a Mom’s religion class at the same time as Claire’s. It was interesting, led by a woman w/ a doctorate in theology. The material paralleled what Claire is learning and referenced art throughout the ages, which I quite liked.

Later the same day we caught up with our neighbors, Tim and Richard, in their top floor flat. Over coffee they shared some insights on the neighborhood, as they’ve lived on our street for several years.

Early October also kicked off the International Cultural Committee’s cuisine club, with a British tea. Great event with 50+ people attending. We watched a demonstration of scone-making and sampled same, plus little sandwiches and tea cakes, all served, naturally, alongside tea.

A witty British woman gave us a historical account of the adaptation of tea drinking, and tea as a meal, in Britain.

Did you know that…
- it was not until the mid 17th century that tea first appeared in England.
- Portuguese and Dutch traders first imported tea to Europe, w/ regular shipments by 1610 (so England was a latecomer to the tea trade!)
- London coffee houses were responsible for introducing tea to England.
- One of the first coffee house merchants to offer tea was Thomas Garway, who owned an establishment in Exchange Alley. He sold both liquid and dry tea to the public as early as 1657. Three years later he issued a broadsheet advertising tea at £6 and £10 per pound (ouch!), touting its virtues at "making the body active and lusty", and "preserving perfect health until extreme old age".
- By 1700 over 500 coffee houses sold tea, which distressed tavern owners as their sales of ale and gin were cut, and it was bad news for the government, which depended upon a steady stream of revenue from taxes on liquor sales.
- By 1750 tea had become the favored drink of Britain's lower classes.
- Afternoon tea is a light meal typically eaten between 3 pm and 5 pm. The custom of drinking tea originated in England when Catherine of Braganza married Charles II in 1661 and brought the practice of drinking tea in the afternoon with her from Portugal. Nowadays, due to changes in social customs and working hours, most Britons only take afternoon tea on special or formal occasions, instead having a slice of cake, biscuits or some chocolate at teatime.
- Traditionally, loose tea is brewed in a teapot and served in teacups with milk and sugar. It is accompanied by various sandwiches (customarily cucumber, egg and cress, fish paste, ham and smoked salmon), scones (with butter, clotted cream and jam) and usually cakes and pastries (such as Battenberg, fruit cake or Victoria sponge).
- Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford (3 September 1783 – 3 July 1857) is credited as the first person to have transformed afternoon tea in England into a late afternoon meal rather than a simple refreshment. A lifelong friend of Queen Victoria, the Duchess found a light meal of tea and cakes or sandwiches helped fill the midday gap between breakfast and dinner. Isabella Beeton describes afternoon teas of various kinds: the old-fashioned tea, the at-home tea, the family tea and the high tea .
- The term “high tea” refers to an early evening meal (aka meat tea) that has been largely replaced by today’s dinner. It was served in a dining area as opposed to “low tea,” which is served at a coffee table mid-afternoon and was preferred by higher classes.

There. You're now up to speed on tea drinking. Fancy a cup?

On October 5 I hoisted my umbrella and joined a group of women at the University Women’s Club for a talk by a fabulous British speaker, who gave us insight on the club culture, its advent and importance in Britain. We then took a tour of the Club, which is in a lovely building in the Mayfair area of London.
- The University Women's Club was founded in 1883 when Miss Gertrude E M Jackson of Girton College, Cambridge, called a meeting at her Portman Square home, attended by 60 people, to discuss the idea of a club for University Women.
At that first historic meeting, it was agreed that the entrance fee be one guinea (£1.05) and the annual subscription be the same.

A number of meetings were subsequently held and in January 1887 the University Club for Ladies, as it was then called, opened premises at 31 New Bond Street with a drawing room, dining room, library and dressing room. The club moved and expanded over time, eventually ending up at 2 Audley Square, the premises we toured, in 1921

At the same time it adopted the name The University Women's Club.

Today, The University Women's Club is the only women's club in the UK to be wholly owned and managed by its Members. It remains true to the aspirations of its founders by providing a welcoming environment and pleasant accommodation in Central London for Graduate, Professional and Business women.

With 1,000 members, the Club offers “first class cuisine, social events and a place to relax away from the hubbub of the busy city.”

Great place to drink that tea noted in my prior diatribe.

Incidentally, Gentlemen’s clubs were the precursor of women’s clubs like the University Women's Club. They offered rooms for men to stay, some used for extended periods of time. A number of them still exist in London and have lengthy waiting lists, many with elite members on their rosters.

After our tour we had lunch in the dining room – very good food – before again braving the rain.

In the same week I met up with friends to attend the preview reception for one of London’s art fairs. After champagne, cheese and salami, we perused the art, an interesting collection of largely modern works, none of which I felt inclined to take home.

Amidst all these outings, my calls to the fridge people continued...because the fridge again ceased cooling. Eventually an engineer again showed up at the house to tell me it needed a part that of course must be ordered, but should be in within a week. Hmmm…

While waiting from 9 to 1 (which then became 9 to 2:30) for the engineer to come, I managed to sneak out and attend Ava’s book fair with her. She conned me into purchasing 3 books, 2 for her, one for Claire. We also perused her classroom bulletin board, as she was Star of the Week. (As such we'd pulled together a number of photos, created captions and delivered them to school for posting.
Ava also got to select a special book to read with her class, and she sported a star pin all week.)

Late that same week, I caught up w/ a friend for lunch on Marylebone High Street (great café/food area), then got ready for a short flight to Germany and a 4 day visit!


This time we tubed it to Heathrow (frankly faster than a cab in rush hour traffic and cheaper too, but more physical w/ steps, suitcases, tired four-year-old and crowded trains). It worked out fine and of course it’s hurry up and wait…the nature of airplane travel. Our flight was delayed getting out so we got into Stuttgart late, grabbed our little Mercedes rental and headed north to Landau-Godramstein, where Martin and Gabbi live. (Travel made easier with the calm voice of an English-speaking woman on our navigation system.)

En route we phoned to say we’d be late, but not a problem for Martin…he was planning to be up til 1:00 a.m. pressing grapes.

He and Gabbi settled us into Frau Metzger’s apartment, a few blocks from the Schweikart residence, and we crashed after a snack of nutella and toast. The kitchen was nicely stocked with breakfast goodies, plus Gabbi brought over grape juice, wine and water.


We woke up to rain but braved the weather for some exercise – it was nice to be back here after 15 years. This area is gorgeous and hilly with vineyards surrounding picturesque little towns, windy roads here and there throughout. The fall colors were lovely.

Joe picked up rolls at the backerie I’d stopped at a few times after jogging years ago – they taste just as good as I remember, particularly the pretzel ones. We had them for breakfast, mine with swiss cheese, nutella of course for the kids.
Then we headed over to Martin and Gabbi’s for a chat and tour of the wine-making operation. We parted company with them to seek out lunch in a neighboring village, winding up at a pizzeria that served pasta. It had a lovely view of the green valley and vineyards below.

Back at Martin’s at 2:00 we hopped into his car, a new (used) black Porsche that he recently attained and is clearly pampering. I scrunched into the back as it’s clearly a two-person ride at best. Ava and Claire stayed with Charlotte, Martin and Gabbi’s elder daughter (Karina was in the US for a two week trip.)

Off we went to Baden Baden for some gambling at the casino there. It’s well known and has been a favorite of wealthy Russians for years, according to Martin.
Joe and I tried our hands at roulette – he did better than me so we left with pretty much what we brought to the table.

The casino is a lovely, huge place that was filling up as the afternoon went along. We also took a spin around town – very quaint with nice shops, lovely trees, parks, etc.

On the way back Martin had us going 240 km/hour. A very bold rainbow and lovely sunset over the Palatine made for great scenery as we hoped he didn’t swerve in the rain.

Our evening meal was pumpkin soup followed by onion torte and new wine, traditional combination and very tasty.


After rousing Claire and Ava we headed to Martin’s for breakfast – a friend of theirs was in from the middle Rheine wine-growing region so we breakfasted with him, Martin and Gabbi. Delicious cheese, meats, breads, eggs, nutella, coffee. Then we drove around a bit, found a flea market to wander through – flea markets seem the same everywhere – old books, lots of tea cups, dated lamps, old dolls, linens…nothing worth taking home (though Ava definitely wanted to buy SOMETHING!).

At 1:00 we headed to Gabbi’s and piled into her car along with Charlotte and her friend Esther. Off we went to Neustadt for a new wine festival parade. Naturally the most challenging aspect of this event was finding parking. After ditching the car in a somewhat precarious spot we hauled a bench to a corner and set up camp with a tall glass and some new wine to pass around. (Not to worry -- water and juice for the kids.)

The parade had some 136 entries so we were there for three hours! Bands, dancers, floats, wine princesses (and 2 queens – 1 for Palatine, 1 for Germany), decorated tractors, teams of horses, an airplane with princess atop, some entries even sporting Halloween décor. The kids scored on candy and our glass was filled with new wine as pitchers were rolled out here and there from passing floats.

The rain never materialized so it was a great outing; we got back to Gabbi’s at 6:00 and threw together a meal of bread, cheese, meat and tomato salad, cake to finish.
At 7:00 Joe, Claire and I flew out the door with Martin, hopped on the back of his grape trailer and went to meet the harvestor in the vineyard as he had seven rows scheduled for harvesting at 7:30. Ava stayed at the house.

Joe and Claire rode on top first, Claire in the cab with Hans the driver. She looked precious perched way up there. Joe and I traded mid-way through (sat next to the cab atop).


Today we slept in, Joe and I taking turns walking through he vineyards and enjoying the views. As we left it started to sprinkle so we headed off to Speyer. We hit the Cathedral first. Speyer Cathedral -- officially the Imperial Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption and St Stephen (and apparently generally referred to as the Imperial Cathedral of Speyer) – is the seat of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Speyer and is within the Archdiocese of Bamberg.

Since 1925 it has been a minor basilica.

Construction began on this largest of Romanesque churches in 1030, with it serving as the burial site for Salian, Staufer and Habsburg emperors and kings, thus making it a symbol of imperial power.

Per wikipedia, the cathedral is considered to be “a turning point in European architecture," one of the most important architectural monuments of its time and one of the finest Romanesque monuments.

Into the 1100’s the cathedral was modified and expanded, becoming one of the largest buildings of its time in 1106. (Meanwhile the village of Speyer had only 500 inhabitants…apparently the enlargement of the building had become a political issue: provocation for the papacy.)

The last ruler was buried in Speyer Cathedral in 1308; all told eight emperors and kinds and several of their wives are laid to rest there.

In the 1600’s wartime ravages destroyed some parts of the cathedral, with some reconstruction occurring in the 1700’s. During the Napoleonic Wars (1803 to 1815) the cathedral was used as a stable and storage facility for fodder and other material.

In 1806 the French considered tearing the building down and using it as a quarry, which was prevented by the bishop of Mainz, Joseph Ludwig Colmar.

The cathedral is immense, lovely sandstone and simply adorned inside, with crypt and graves of emperors and their family members downstairs. The outside seemed a bit more disjointed to me, with some features clearly looking as though they weren't part of the original plan.

From the cathedral we wandered into the city centre’s pedestrian area, were wooed by a window full of scrumptious cakes to lunch at a buzzing little restaurant. After a hearty German lunch we tracked down dessert at a little café up the street (great tiramisu with liqueur drizzled over just before serving) then headed off to Speyer’s history museum, which had a great exhibit for kids centered around witches and witchcraft. Much of it was interactive, and the kids spent most of their time in a play area with a little house, slide, treehouse and small trampolines.

We then headed back to Godramstein, with a stop at a grocery store beforehand because it’s always critical to check out the grocery store, in my mind. Plus we needed a chocolate fix. (I know, the tiramisu should have been enough.)

We went out to dinner w/ Gabbi and Martin at a restaurant they hit occasionally – one of the few open on a Monday. We started the meal with vinegar tasting. Apparently a local guy, trained as a vintner (but not good at that, according to Martin) has made his fortune as a world famous vinegar maker.

Martin ordered us four samples, which were served in very cool glasses that we rotated around the table for tasting. They definitely made a taste bud statement.
For dinner I had the local Palatinate specialty, a meat and potato concoction served with sauerkraut. And to end the meal we had schnapps, again passing 4 glasses around for sips. Strong stuff; I didn’t get much past a small taste of each.


After walking through town and stopping at the Backerie for chocolate pastries – our finale vacation treat – we said our good-byes at Martin’s and headed off to check out Burg Landek. It’s a 13th century castle overlooking the Palatinate valley. With great views, it’s a lovely landmark for wandering around, with walls and stairways intact. We climbed up the highest point and enjoyed the view.

From there we made our way to the airport, driving along the Weinstrasse part of the way. En route to Stuttgart we stopped for lunch at a backerie/café for pretzel sandwiches, cakes and German style doughnuts. The kids were thrilled; they got to feed a customer’s dog their excess lunch meat inside the backerei. Pets in cafes…hmmm.

After ditching our rental we headed back home, retracing our steps from bus to airplane, airplane to tube, tube to St. Johns Wood…

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wrapping up September

No I haven’t given up blogging, just took a long break. Let me see if I can start to catch up…

Since I last wrote, we’ve been busy w/ school, school friends, fun mom stuff (though Ava is convinced I spend all my non-kid time shopping) and fighting w/ the refrigerator (it hates me, I’ve decided).

On September 17 I was lucky enough to take a tour of Clarence House, the official residence of Prince Charles, Camilla (the Duchess of Cornwall) and Princes William and Henry.

Built between 1825 and 1827 – and designed by John Nash – it was commissioned by William IV, who was known as the Duke of Clarence, before he inherited the throne in 1830. He preferred it to nearby St. James’ Palace, which apparently he felt was too cramped. It was then passed to his sister Princess Augusta Sophia, then to Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (say that three times fast). She was the mother of Queen Victoria.

In 1866 it became the home of Queen Victoria’s sons at different times. Then it was used by the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance Brigade during WWII.

And finally then to Princess Elizabeth and hubby. After George VI died the Queen Mother and Princess Anne moved in. (Anne later moved to Kensington.)

In 2003 Charles moved in after a “massive refurbishment” following the death of the Queen Mother.

Clarence House has four stories, is pale stucco and lovely. The rooms we saw – a handful and none of the private quarters of the family – were warm and felt lived in.

Our guide, who was a delightful English chap, regaled us with stories of how the Queen Mother (when in residence) fed her dogs at 4:00 every day. She served tea to heads of state throughout the world in her library, and we got to take a peak at the fancy sofa where her pooches rested regularly. (Charles had it re-upholstered when he moved in.)

After our tour we had a glass of champagne as we meandered around the gift shop.

Friday evening Joe and I caught up w/ friends from his Dell days, which was great fun. They live in London now – and have for the past several years (after a stint in Ireland and then in France).

Odds and ends

Claire started her First Holy Communion preparation course, which she seemed to enjoy.

I snuck in a quick visit to the V&A’s fashion exhibit (the V&A is immense, and free, and one of those places I hope to return to numerous times throughout our stay here).

I also caught up w/ friends over coffee at my favorite café, Maison Blanc in St. Johns Wood (best pastries and hot chocolate this side of France).

And we had dinner w/ a friend from our subdivision in North Carolina, who was in town on business. Great fun to catch up w/ her.

Margaret's visit

On Sept. 24 our friend Margaret showed up on our doorstep, having mastered the Gatwick Express and tube. She and I made our way to Harrods, then on to Buckingham Palace, where she explored for a couple of hours.

The kids and I took her to St. Johns Wood and our favorite kid-friendly spot (Carluccio’s) for dinner. (It has pasta on the menu, need I say more?)

Friday found Margaret and me on one of the famed “London Walks,” wherein a tour guide takes you around parts of the city and provides insight.

We did the Westminster Walk (Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the Changing of the Guard, Royal Park, 500-year-old St. James's Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, Admiralty Arch…). And we had the perfect day for it – sunny and warm – with a great tour guide who let us meander our way through, stopping here and there to enjoy the views and hear anecdotes about London’s history, royalty, shops, etc.

From there we tubed it to the Borough Market, wandered through and picked up a small bottle of champagne to eat with grilled sausages (who wouldn’t pair those together).

Margaret headed off to the Tower of London for some Henry VIII insight and a look at the Crown Jewels, and we re-convened later, after playdates and ballet, to get ready for dinner. We met Joe at the National Portrait Gallery restaurant, which is on the rooftop and affords a lovely view of London. Good food, too!

Margaret and I continued our evening out at the Clifton Pub (and can you believe we shut the place down – and it was only 11:15). What’s wrong w/ these Londoners?
On Saturday she and I headed off to Notting Hill’s Portobello market, which seemed quite flea market-ish. Quite popular too; the crowd just kept growing and we kept wondering what we were missing?!?

From there we stopped at the British Museum for a wander around, then off to watch War Horse at a theatre on Drury Lane. I enjoyed my second time watching it as much as the first; this time I was intent on watching more of the puppetry involved in the horses’ movements. Quite complex.

From the play we headed home for dinner, then went to the Warrington for after dinner drinks. Very cool old English style pub.

And on Sunday Margaret went to St. Paul’s for services while we made it to Mass. We made our way to St. Pauls as her service was letting out, then wandered across the Thames for lunch at a pub. It was such a gorgeous day we sat outside, drank beers, ate sausages and fish and chips and enjoyed a quartet singing on one side of us, views of the Thames on the other.

From there Claire, Margaret and I caught a ferry to Greenwich while Joe and Ava headed home.

Greenwich is delightful, a lovely little village with charming shops and café and cool artsy market. We tooled around for a bit, then caught a bus back to Canary Wharf. Or at least the driver tried to take us to Canary but apparently had it all wrong and was soon corrected by an Australian passenger. (Australian? How did he know his way around?!?).

Anyway, after going in a big circle, we headed in supposedly the right direction, then the poor shmuck took another wrong turn, and was loudly informed he was in the wrong. At this point two men in the back got in a heated discussion. VERY heated. I would have hated to be the woman in between them.

Eventually, with a loud round of applause, we did get to Canary Wharf, then caught the DLR to the tube to home. Bit of a long winded journey.

Hopefully Margaret had fun; we certainly packed in as much as we could in 4 days!

Other news:

Late September found us checking out Westway Stables, which was recommended to us by a friend whose daughter has experienced Hyde Park stables and other riding resources in the area. They’ve been impressed with the one-on-one attention and value for money at Westway, which is bizarrely located under a busy motorway, behind a sport complex and near a trailerpark.

It clearly isn’t what you imagine when you think London English riding stable.
However, I was impressed with the lesson we observed – Mason, the instructor, was patient and thorough and appeared to have a nice rapport with Bouncer (short white child friendly horse) and pupil alike.

The stable owner, a woman, apparently has 44 horses and an office full of ribbons from equestrian events.

We signed up and Claire has enjoyed two lessons, will embark on her third Wed.

Also as Sept. ended I was able to snag a few minutes at the Wallace Collection, a national museum which displays works of art collected in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess. It was bequeathed to the British nation by Sir Richard's widow, Lady Wallace, in 1897.

I then met up w/ a friend for a lovely quiche lunch in the courtyard of the Wallace. (Doesn’t quiche just scream lady’s lunch?)

And for fun I took the kids to Selfridges’ Icecreamists, the “ultimate ice cream boutique, which offers a wide array of unique-flavoured ice cream, fresh frozen yogurt and sorbettos.” The ice cream was fabulous, décor of the room great fun – black and hot pink w/ a cool old car parked inside, big silver throne chairs here and there.

Selfridges schedules bands, catwalk, other entertainment periodically at the Icecreamists, which closes sometime in November. If we have another urge for ice cream we’ll head that way again, though it’s getting rather chilly here so hot chocolate sounds a bit more inviting.

Next post...October stuff!

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi
Largest mosque in India