Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

October, 2011

October, 2011
Chess in Lausanne, Switzerland

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In Tribute

Since Easter we’ve been flying fast, I guess. Or haven’t moved an inch but everything around us keeps spinning.

It’s been, for the most part, good. But I am so saddened by recent news that a dear friend of mine passed.

After picking my jaw up off the table, I've been processing the news of Becca's death and it's been very painful. It's hard to believe she's no longer lighting up every room she enters in Texas. A truly beautiful woman, inside and out, I loved knowing she was energetically taking care of her kids and Don, enjoying the pool with her hair pulled up on top of her head, sporting sparkly makeup, enjoying a glass of red wine, throwing herself into school volunteerism, being an active memer of her “church-home” as she called it.

I loved hearing how she sold things on e-bay, I loved the over the top birthday parties she put together for her kids, I loved our lunches together. I loved her laughter and huge smile, her big Texas welcome and the way she always put the people in her life first.

And I always expected to pop back in for that welcome and long girlie catch up.
The day I learned of her death I felt all the wind go out of my sails. Forty-three is too young to die.

I regret that I didn’t see her again, I regret that I can’t pick up the phone and say a proper good-bye. I regret that I didn’t email her that one last time.

I shall always treasure my friendship with Becca; I gain some solace in knowing she rests in peace, cherished by God.

Chester and Liverpool

Saturday, May 28

Another Bank Holiday Weekend! We’ve had the most disjointed term, beginning with spring break back in March, Easter as late as it can be, I suppose, and the number of bank holiday weekends in between. Why, it’s gotten to the point where, when the girls did have a full 5-day school week it felt like 10!

So this week it felt “normal” with Friday off for teacher report-writing, Monday for the holiday.

Our big plan for Friday was the Museum of Childhood but alas it wasn’t to be, as when I filled the tub for a hot bath (I like it when the water is almost too hot to step into) I got quite the bone-chilling surprise. In went one foot…and right back out again. Imagine my disappointment given I’d run that morning and had since cooled WAY down so the hot bath was going to resurrect me.

Instead I did a very fast shower (no escaping some kind of cleaning process after running)…and called the gas company. (Not of course until I’d re-set the boiler, checked the other hot water taps, swore a bit…)

British Gas, surprisingly enough, could get someone to the house between noon and 6. So we made waffles and had a nightie day. Blow me down and call me Alice, as Joe would say, the gas guy called at 11:45 to say he was in the area. And before 1:00 he was replacing a tired switch and before 2:00 hot water!

Too late to embark on any outing (and at that point who cared) we continued with our at home day, did eventually leave the house for Ava’s dance class and made pizza for dinner. And packed!

Not all bad.

Saturday we left early for Euston station, this time en route to Chester, a small town near Liverpool. After a crowded two hour train ride and some seat assignment issues (other people’s squabbles over our seats – that is to say we sat in unreserved seats that an irate woman noted were hers). Perhaps we had indeed stolen her seats, but they were marked as unreserved, the train people weren’t on hand to clarify and the car was so crowded it would have taken a crane to relocate us. She eventually worked her way through the aisle crammed with people and luggage to a different car to complain and I believe was relocated to first class. Not without making a nasty comment on the way back through. A bit passive aggressive; she dropped her nasty gram and walked away…not sure what she gained?

Once in Chester we cabbed it to our Crowne Plaza, ditched the bags and headed off in search of lunch. Our Chester, as it turned out, is a quaint old town settled early by Romans.

Lots of pedistrain streets, a 2+ mile intact city wall, big cathedral, amphitheatre and various lovely buildings.

Founded by the Romans over 2000 years ago, much of the Roman influence remains and Chester's city walls are the most complete in Britain.

In every corner of the city you are confronted with history, from the Roman amphitheatre, which is currently under excavation, to the medieval half-timbered buildings.
One of Chester's most unique features are the two-tiered rows, which means you can shop whatever the weather and gives you double shopping fun!

For lunch we wandered through the pedestrian area of town and landed upon a stuffed baked potato fast food place. Much better than the big mac scene.

A breezy, sunny Chester knd of day, we then sought off in search of a cab to take us to Cotebrook Shire Horse Centre, which boasts the top Shire studs in the UK. And since the Shire is native to the UK, most likely the world’s greatest Shires.

Our cab driver was a friendly old gentleman with his dog along for company. Joe noticed the pooch, who kept a low profile on the passenger side of this rather beat up, fumy old black cab. As we motored toward the Shire farm I felt like I was back in India; the driver suddenly veered off the road for a gas station, without any mention of his gas up plans. It was then that Ned, the dog, introduced himself to us. The kids were enthralled, naturally.

At the farm we checked out the various animal mix – peacocks resting on top of a hutch, several types of birds I couldn’t identify, ducks, doves or a close relative, I guess, chickens, geese, swans with cygnets, pigs and piglets (I always marvel at how cute the little ones are and how not so cute the mothers are), rabbits young and old, chicks under heating lamps…

The kids each had a bag of bird feed so they went wild feeding their feathered friends.

We stopped to check out the stallions, two housed near the entrance. At 2:00 the owner of the farm, Alistair, talked about the horses, giving plenty of insight on their backgrounds and breeding – as in both their bloodlines and their Jan. – June pastime. Apparently plenty of mares roll through the farm so these big horses father hundreds of shire foals.

Big is an understated adjective for them – the breed is the biggest horse in the world. In recent years their numbers have dwindled as their roles on farms and in war diminished. This farm is active in helping to ensure quality Shire horses continue.

After learning all about the cycles of mares and how often Ed and the other stallion are “on their back legs” each spring, we perused the farm, checking out unusual black sheep and their lambs, otters, ferrets, Shire mares and foals (they’re gorgeous!), some deer and I’m sure I’m forgetting some creatures.

The badger we didn’t see…

After getting rid of the last bit of bird feed we left a donation in the gift shop, shared a chocolate-caramel-shortbread bar (what are they called? One of my favorite desserts here) in the café and rang for our cab driver.

After dropping us back in Chester we popped into the Cathedral but it was soon to close so we opted for Monday on that, poked around town then headed back to the Crowne for some pool time.

And then, before we knew it, time to go to dinner at Moules-a-Go-Go, a cheery bistro known for its mussels and other fish specialities. It was delish – we had a mussel starter – both kids tried and liked them.

I had seafood spaghetti, Joe had sea bass, I think, and kids had spaghetti and chicken. Dessert was a fabulous sticky toffee pudding with ice cream for C and A.


Today we shot out the door after buffet breakfast at the fine CP. This time off to the train station for a short ride to Liverpool St. James Street Station. There we were met by Ian in his silver Mercedes tour van. With him were an Angentinian couple, and we picked up an American named Beau, a collegiate from Penn, in the UK for a writing course. And we were off to stop at or drive by various “Beatle” spots. Where they lived at various junctures of their lives, school they attended, a monument to them and other Liverpool types who’d gained fame, places they’d performed, sites pertaining to songs (Penny Lane, Strawberry Field gates, etc.).

We were in and out of the van a lot and it felt like we drove all over Liverpool so we got a sense of place. Appropriately, it was gray and cool – buildings mostly red brick, many boarded up and some soon to be pulled down, including Ringo Starr’s first childhood home, a “2 up, 2 down” row house with no plumbing.

Our guide was good, had lots of stories to share and seemed to enjoy the job.
He dropped us at Albert Dock afterward, where our first order of business was lunch. Claire pointed us toward Le Creperie so we each had a supposed Brittany style crepe – squared off on the place, sporting its filling with a pizza approach as opposed to tucked inside.

I can vouch that mine was very tasty; the hot chocolate it came with felt great on our chilly Liverpool day.

Then we did the Beatles Museum, which was very good, with kid and adult audio guides.
From there we stopped into the Maritime Museum. We hit a couple sections and caught a one-person play as it was about to begin – a woman re-enacting surviving her experience as a first class passenger on board the Titanic. I confess I dozed for part of it…Claire had a nice chat w/ her afterward so I think the kids got something out of it.

Done with museums for a bit, we headed toward a shopping area, found the much-needed and promised piece of chocolate and made our way to our dinner spot. En route we passed the fifth largest cathedral in the world:

From the very early days of its origins and then starting to build just after the turn of the 20th Century, through to its completion in 1978 after 74 years, it survived two World Wars, periods of recession and great hardship in this once famous and important port of Liverpool.

• Liverpool is the largest Cathedral in the UK (in sq metres), and the 5th largest in the world.
• It's under-tower vault is the highest in the world
• It's bells are the highest and heaviest peal in the world
• There are two pipe organs in Liverpool Cathedral. The Grand Organ is the largest in the UK and is considered to be one of the largest operational church organs in the world with 10,267 pipes.

It is immense, of course, and lovely – we also checked out a photograph exhibition set up inside.

Then on to London Carriage House restaurant (yes, in Liverpool, not London) – very good food. Kids and I liked my potato/leek soup. They had chicken and potatoes, I had an amazing goat cheese and leek pastry dish with sea asparagus (?). For dessert – apple crumblish dessert (I’m making up the name). All good!

Then back to St. James train station and to the CP Chester!


We slept in! I took another walk around the city, this time over the 2-mile city wall. It was drizzly and quiet out, but lovely. I passed the Roman amphitheatre en route. The kids and Joe were in the pool when I returned so I showered them up, hit the weight room (why not? Always take advantage of the hotel amenities is my mantra), then down to breakfast – superb omlette!

And then to the Chester Cathedral, also majestic. We did the audio guide while kids had a treasure hunt activity that kept them busy.

Chester Cathedral was founded as a Benedictine monastery over 900 years ago. It is is the mother church of the Church of England Diocese of Chester, and is located in the city of Chester,Cheshire, England. The cathedral, formerly St Werburgh's abbey church of a Benedictine monastery, is dedicated to Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since 1541 it has been the centre of worship, administration, ceremony and music for the city and diocese.

The cathedral, typical of English cathedrals in having been modified many times, dates from between 1093 and the early 16th century, although the site itself may have been used for Christian worship since Roman times. All the major styles of English medieval architecture, from Norman to Perpendicular are represented in the present building.

The cathedral and monastic buildings were extensively restored during the 19th century amidst some controversy, and a free-standing bell-tower was added in the 20th century. In addition to holding services for Christian worship, the cathedral is used as a venue for concerts and exhibitions.

After perusing a bit more of the town, we settled into a cozy spot for a drink – great day for tea or a beer, as it was a rainy one. Then off to train station to London – this time without seat issues!

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi
Largest mosque in India