Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

October, 2011

October, 2011
Chess in Lausanne, Switzerland

Saturday, December 11, 2010


It’s wintertime in London (or at least it has been for the past few weeks…a few inches of snow, closed airports, icy sidewalks, commuting challenges (ok nightmares). Yesterday temperatures popped up a bit, though, and for the weekend it's supposed to be in the 40's, then back down again next week.

I must say I haven't been miserable (yet) this time around; I’ve discovered boiled wool and at 40 am finally taking my father’s advice, which is to dress appropriately for the weather. And you know, it works. That and walking from point A to point B as fast as humanly possible.

It’s been two weeks of illness, both kids taking turns with some virus from hell. They and everyone else at school it seems. Ava’s been alternating between laughing and crying on the couch, one minute singing Christmas carols, the next seeking a hug and moaning tearfully about her stomach, nose, throat, neck, the list goes on.

Claire woke up the the other day vomiting – the kid is adamant about not missing school EVER so I knew she was ill when she flatly informed me she was going back to bed, no school in her plans that day. The next day she rallied but a week+ later still is plagued by a cough.

I hit the wall this week, went to bed one night with the worst chills/fever I’ve experienced since I was a child. The next day I was certain someone had pummeled my back while I slept. Nothing that exciting went on at my house. Apparently the flu settled into my lungs and was having a hey day. Somehow Ava and I resurrected ourselves that morning and made it to the NHS to treat her ear infection. While we were there the doctor took my temperature and hastily wrote us both prescriptions. Happily we’re now on antibiotics and my back is no longer killing me.

Despite all that, we’ve managed to hit most of our Christmas festivities – Ava’s school concert was yesterday and as always, was delightful. The kids sang tons of songs, brought out the recorders and looked great in various costumes and finery.

Claire’s writers’ presentation was yesterday and was equally well done. Each child shared his or her work with parents in small groups, then took turns performing poems with their partners. The kids had to work hard on timing as the point was to recite parts of the poems by themselves and parts in tandem. Very nicely done and enjoyed by all.

Joe and I enjoyed a dinner out with some of his colleagues the other night. I must say I was amused with a similar conversation I had (separately) with the people on either side of me. Both are married (to different people) and older than we are, no kids.

And both made a point of telling me a couple times that traveling/moving is SO much easier without kids.

Now I don’t dispute that some aspects are easier – after all, we didn’t always have kids. But I am reminded of a conversation I had with a very wise woman I worked with in Michigan.

She said: your life changes when you have kids. It doesn’t stop.

That thought came to mind as both were reassuring me that their lifestyles allowed them so much freedom. I suspect that while there is some truth to that, the reality is this:

If I opted for a lifestyle of no kids, I’m sure I’d push the same line – don’t we all justify?

As for traveling w/ kids, it can be done, we certainly do – but we modify to make sure we all enjoy it. Just as you modify depending on your budget, interests, age, etc.

And based on the individuals I was chatting with, who both left the restaurant before 10, you can’t tell me they’re dancing on tables in Maui at 2:00 a.m. or backpacking through Europe and staying at hostels (which I am proud to say, I did…). Frankly they’re not going to stay in anything less than a Marriott at this stage).

Regarding travel freedom, these are people who work like dogs so the amount of time they actually spend traveling for fun is no more than anyone else.

The kicker to this conversation about how much freedom the no kids lifestyle offers was when they told me how they have to get their dogs sorted out whenver they leave. Both have two. Now if that isn’t a ball and chain I don’t know what is…

LOL! Now on to getting some things in order for the holidays...nothing like being sick to throw a kink in the best laid plans.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

York should not be neglected!

Why bother trying to make order out of the disorder in this blog at this point, is my theory. Nearly December and I’m going to write about York in October, like it or not!

For October’s long weekend, we headed off to northern England, to check out the town York, which we’d heard was a must. (This York business caused some confusion with Ava, who relayed to her class where she'd gone. Convinced we'd gone to New York, Ms. Cox keeps telling Ava New York isn't part of the U.K. I think Ava is still confused as to exactly where York is, if it isn't in the U.S. or England.)

Any we agree that both York and New York are not to be missed.

Day one of this adventure: we cabbed it to King’s Cross for a 9 a.m. train after seeing Patty and Steve off to Heathrow.

Our two-hour train ride flew by and we stepped out to ponder navigation around town, to the hotel, etc. Low and behold, before even leaving the train station we spotted a big sign pointing to the hotel across the street. Does it get any easier…

We ditched our bags and headed to the city centre (I’ve become so British, right? Centre vs center…) for lunch. Lovely place, York – wall around the city, medieval streets/buildings teeming with cool shops, cafes, chain and independent stores.
We crossed a bridge over the River Ouse to get into the heart of the city and found a little Danish café that was doing a lively business.

Plus it had counter service (long sit down lunches make us restlss and suck the day away, we’ve decided).

So after soup, jacket potatoes and pork sandwiches we were off to the Jordik Viking Museum. It’s a good one. Per the web site...

The remains of 1,000 year old houses are revealed beneath your feet, objects taken from the excavations are explored, and Viking-age timbers are brought before your eyes. New audio and video displays help you to investigate all of the information gathered from the 5-year long dig at Coppergate and piece together the jigsaw of where the Vikings came from, why they came here, how they lived and died, and where they travelled to.

At JORVIK Viking Centre you are standing on the site of one of the most famous and astounding discoveries of modern archaeology. Between the years 1976-81, archaeologists from York Archaeological Trust revealed the houses, workshops and backyards of the Viking-Age city of Jorvik, as it stood 1,000 years ago. These incredible findings enabled them to build the JORVIK Viking Centre on the very site where the excavations had taken place, creating a groundbreaking visitor experience that enabled you to experience life in Viking-Age York.

As you travel around the Viking-age city of Jorvik aboard our state of the art time capsules you will encounter the old-Norse speaking citizens, see inside their houses and back yards, experience a blast of smoke from blacksmith's furnace and enjoy the smell of home-cooked stew inside the home of our amber worker.

Now I’m not terribly sure about the smell of home-cooked stew; I think it was over-powered by the stench of hides drying and the privy. Or else the stew left ALOT to be desired.

But the exhibit was very cool – bit of Disney ride in Viking boat meets hands-on history appealing to or repelling all senses, sometimes all at once. Hmm. Reminds me of India, now that I think about it! LOL

From this museum we headed off to Barley Hall, the entry to which we walked by twice before finally figuring out where it was hidden. Tough to hide such a big structure, too, I might add.

Barley Hall is a stunning medieval house, once home to the Priors of Nostell and the Mayor of York. Until the 1980s the house was hidden under the relatively modern facade of a derelict office block. Only when the building was going to be destroyed was the amazing medieval building discovered and its history uncovered.

The building has now been lovingly restored to its original splendour with stunning high ceilings, beautiful exposed timber frames, and possibly the only horn window in England. It has been decorated to replicate what it would have looked like as the Snawsell home around 1483 and boasts a magnificent Great Hall. Visitors to Barley Hall can make themselves at home and sit on the chairs and handle the objects and experience what it would have been like to live in Medieval England.

I like that "lovingly restored" business, don't you?

We enjoyed touring the place – the great hall was probably my favorite. The kids got to play some medieval games upstairs – bowling, among other things.

From there we stopped for sugar at Betty’s, a small shop with pastries, cookies, teas & coffees…the other Betty’s, a big tea shop, had a line around the corner so clearly it’s a hot York ticket.

Then we stopped at The Minster, an immense cathedral that is gorgeous. And steeped in history, as noted below (a diatribe I know but just think how many thousands of years this spot has been of religious importance.)

The first Minster: 7th to 11th Centuries

York's first Minster was built for the baptism of the Anglo Saxon King, Edwin of Northumbria. Edwin was christened in a small wooden church that had been built for the occasion, this event occurred on Easter Sunday in the year 627. Almost immediately Edwin ordered that this small wooden church should be rebuilt in stone. Edwin was killed in battle in 633 and the task of completing the stone Minster fell to Oswald.

This small stone church built on the same site as the original wooden one was enlarged over time. It survived through the Viking age in York but was badly damaged by fire in the year 1069 when the Normans finally took control of the city of York. While we know something of the history of these early versions of York Minster, to date no archaeological evidence of them has been uncovered.

The Norman Minster: 1100 - 1220
Once the invading Normans had taken control of the city a decision was taken to build a new Minster on a fresh site to replace the old fire damaged Saxon Minster. Around the year 1080 Thomas of Bayeux became Archbishop and started building a cathedral that in time grew into the Minster we have today. This vast Norman church was completed around 1100, and the base of some of its distinctive columns can be seen today in the Undercroft.

During the mid twelfth century the Norman church was enlarged at both East and West; this may have been due to fire damage sustained in 1137, but this now seems unlikely.

Today's Minster: from 1220 into the future
In 1215 Walter Gray became archbishop and he was to serve the cathedral for 40 years. It was Walter who started to transform the Norman Church in to the Minster we have today. Firstly the South and North transepts were built, Walter died before they were completed. In 1291 work began on the Nave (western end) this was completed by around 1360. Work then transferred to the East end with the building of the Lady Chapel and then the Quire this was completed by around 1405. In 1407 the central tower collapsed and work on its replacement was not finished until 1433. Between 1433 and 1472 the Western towers were added and the Minster finally completed. The Minster that we know today had taken about 250 years to build.

Heritage and challenge
From 1472 until 1829 the fabric of the building changed very little although there were big changes to the way in which worship in the Minster was carried out. In February 1829 Jonathan Martin deliberately started a fire in the Quire. This act of arson resulted in the destruction of the entire east end roof and timber vault and all the wooden furniture of the Quire. Just 11 years later a second, accidental, fire destroyed the Nave roof and vault.

In the twentieth century two major events affected the building. Between 1967 and 1972 major work was undertaken to stop the Central tower collapsing. This involved close co-operation between engineers and archaeologists, but no trace of the Saxon Minster was uncovered.

On the 9th of July 1984 fire broke out in the South Transept after the Minster had been hit by lightning. The damage resulting from 3 hours of fire took some 4 years to fully repair and restore.

The cathedral is awesome in size, décor and detail, and the crypt illustrates its history beautifully through artifacts and illustrations.

We passed on the tower climb (probably to the relief of my family) as it was for the over eight crowd only. Our tour day more than complete, we headed back to the hotel, walking over part of the wall en route (gorgeous the way the wall encircles the old part of the city).

Back at our immense hotel (it’s a monolithic thing that just keeps going – we had a “garden room” (another name for basement out of the way room which management has deemed perfect for families with potentially loud children, I think). Our journey from lobby to room was a good 5-7 minute walk, which doesn’t sound like much but bear in mind it’s all in the same building…

I’ve no doubt this hotel had an abundance of very nice rooms; ours more than met our needs but no need to lounge in luxury there. We did very much enjoy the breakfast space – lovely room overlooking a gorgeous garden. And the property is probably well enjoyed for special events (i.e. the wedding taking place the weekend we were there) given its proximity to transportation, its size and the elegance of many of its rooms.

After collapsing for a bit we made off to J. Baker’s bistro moderne for our evening meal. A very modern look and feel, yet warm and comfortable, the place had an unusual – and delicious – menu, plus a few items specifically for kids.

Claire had the gnocchi, Ava fish and chips (which were about the best looking and – I sampled – best tasting – fish and chips I’ve had, ever). We all had just baked bread in the shape of bones (reference to the Jorvik place, maybe).

My aubergine stater was amazing (that would be eggplant), and I enjoyed my fish dish, too, particularly the potatoes. Dessert was heavenly – billed as chocolate cake but it was really a decadent brownie.

Ambience: urban chic. Great cow art downstairs. Yes, still urban chic, cows and all.


We started our day slow – Joe took a walk, I headed to the fitness center in my flip flops. This broken toe business is wearing. But alas, after collecting coffee, I sucked it up and did the stairmaster barefoot. Then lifted weights, which felt great as it’s been forever since I’ve lifted w/ machines. Only the fitness obsessed can appreciate the small joys of making the muscles ache…Traci, I’m sure you’re with me.

Breakfast: good buffet with the ever popular bacon for the kids. I did step out there and try vegetarian sausages but they tasted like sawdust so I can’t imagine why anyone would bother.

From our hotel we headed off to the York Castle Museum, trailing along the city wall en route. Our first stop, though, was Clifford’s Tower, which we climbed (ha! I did get a climb in, aside from the stairmaster).

'The history of York', declared King George VI, 'is the history of England', and in many ways the history of Clifford's Tower is the history of York.

In 1068-9, William the Conqueror built two motte and bailey castles in York, to strengthen his military hold on the north: the mound of the second, now known as the 'Old Baile', can be seen clearly across the river from Clifford's Tower.

But very soon afterwards both castles were burnt by a Danish fleet, supported by the people of York. William thereupon savagely laid waste wide areas of northern England as a warning and punishment, and rebuilt both castles. The mound on which Clifford's Tower now stands became the core of the principal fortress, York Castle, defended-as can also clearly be seen from the tower-on one side by the River Ouse and on the other by the River Foss.

As the core of one of the most important fortresses in the north, the tower played a crucial role in later medieval history, when York Castle sometimes served as the seat of royal government and always as the administrative focus of Yorkshire.

Having witnessed the upheavals of the northern Pilgrimage of Grace against Henry VIII-whereafter the rebel leader Robert Aske was allegedly hung from its walls in chains to die slowly of starvation-the tower narrowly escaped demolition in Elizabethan times, when its keeper began to demolish it in order to sell its materials, beginning inside the tower so as to avoid detection.

Happily our experience didn't involve hanging from walls and starving to death; we were there on a gorgeous blue sky day so we had a spectacular view.

From the tower we walked across the yard to the York Castle Museum, which is very cool, too. And very big.

York Castle Museum is one of Britain's leading museums of everyday life. It shows how people used to live by displaying thousands of household objects and by recreating rooms, shops, streets - and even prison cells.

The Victorian streets were the highlight of the visit, as was the outdoor courtyard/play area – the kids burned off steam with hula hoops while we absorbed the sun. GREAT weather.

We also hit the attached millhouse, where the kids could grind wheat into flour the hard way.

Then it was off to the Shambles, the best preserved Medieval street in Europe. It’s a lovely little street with quaint buildings and shops. We also wandered through the the market, opting for street food for lunch (crepes and sausages). We then shopped around a bit, checked out the street entertainers and walked along the wall back to the hotel.

There we spent some time in the pool and sauna before dinner, then headed off to Melton’s Too for our evening meal. This was a more traditional restaurant – dark, worn wood planking on the floor, wooden tables, exposed brick walls. Joe and I shared starters and tapas, kids had homemade pasta and some of our food, which ranged from chorizo and mash to four different types of smoked fish. Ava ate all the salmon; think of the health value.

We also had stuffed peppers and Turkish meatloaf. My favorite was the chorizo and mash, though the blue cheese and zucchini dish was hard to beat. And the sticky toffee pudding was fabulous.


This morning Joe walked the city wall, I had another fitness center day. Given we aren’t gym members it’s nice to pop into one occasionally for a change of pace.
After trekking the length of a football field from our room to breakfast, we ditched our luggage and hit the National Railway Museum. That place is immense, with warehouses full of trains old and new, royal and for the masses. We could climb up some, peer in windows, watch footage of times past wherein the train played a key role, the kids even got to ride a miniature train. Great stuff and you could spend hours there. We spent a couple and had to pry ourselves away to catch our own train!
Great weekend out. Go to York! or New York!

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi
Largest mosque in India