Friday, 25 June 2010

June 25, 2010

Welcome me back to the world! I felt so out of touch last week because of working. I was too tired to get online and do much of anything after my long days. Joe and I rode together to his office. He cut back his hours to 10 per day because of me. Usually he is there about 11 or 12 hours. His choice. He likes the quiet time before everyone gets there and after they leave, to work without any interruptions.

I actually enjoyed myself at his office. They are a great bunch of people and have a lot of fun while working together. Everyone is in one big room together so it can get quite jolly at times. Although they are a very hard working group too. I mainly did the mail, bank deposits, sent out invoices and help answer the phones which ring constantly. That was really the hardest part. I have enough problem understanding their accents face to face. The phone was a challenge. They speak fast and it seemed impossible to catch what they were saying. So mainly I passed the call on telling the recipient what it sounded like the caller said. Many a laugh when finding out what they really said! Some callers were stumped when they heard my American accent answer the phone thinking they had dialed the wrong number.

One note on the accents. When you hear British newscasters or famous British people on the TV they do not sound like the "average" Brit on the street. The everyday Brits that we have met speak must faster and with a much stronger accent. It is a lot harder than you would imagine. They also use a lot of different everyday words that are different than our terms, as I've told you before. Joe gets his hair cut in a town where they have a big street market every Saturday. So he goes to the barber shop and I walk up to the market. Saturday while walking through the crowded market I started chuckling to myself. All around me were British people greeting each other (more on that later), calling out their wares to sell, shopping, etc. What made me laugh was I was thinking that it felt like I was plopped down in the middle of a Mary Poppins film set!

What I wanted to tell you is how the British greet each other. Not only is it a greeting, but it is how you are approached in a store, restaurant, anywhere someone is trying to help you. Their "hello, how are you?" Is "Are you alright?" That's it, "Are you alright?" Except they say it like "aw you alriiiiiht?", with their voice going up an octave at the end of "right". It's weird because in stores they don't say "may I help you" they ask "are you alright?" This makes me want to tell them how I am feeling, not how they can help me! They seem confused when you say, "fine, how are you?" A little strange. I kept hearing people at the market say it when they ran into friends. At Joe's office they all greeted each other that way every morning.

Another thing that is different here is their tipping policies. When we first moved here we couldn't really get a straight answer from anyone about tipping policies. Most people just kind of shrugged and said, "you can tip if you want to". We finally decided to start asking the servers themselves. It turns out that tipping is pretty scarce here. First of all if you pay by a credit card and put the tip on the card, most the time the tip goes right to the restaurant. So if you do want to tip a waitress or waiter you have to give the cash right to them, otherwise they will likely not get it. And the servers we talked to said that less than half the people tip, and if they do it is always less than the 15-20% that we are used to giving. In a bar it is even worse. The word is NEVER tip a bartender. The only way you can tip a bartender is to buy them a drink. Everyone we asked agreed on that one. So the grocery deliverers, mailmen, trash collectors, any kind of home repair workers never expect tips and don't look for them.

Joe and I have always enjoyed watching sports and have been missing U.S. sports. Joe's favorite is baseball so he really misses that right now. (In addition to missing playing too). I can't imagine what it will be like when football starts. We have enough trouble keeping up with who the Redskins let go and brought in. Thank goodness for the Internet. Right now we are enjoying the World Cup though. The English are CRAZY for their futbol! Flags, signs, and nutty fans are everywhere. They take off work so as not to miss the games and everything! England played at 3:00 today and I had a cable guy here at 1:30. He was very excited saying I was his last customer and then he was going home to watch the game. I had to watch it at home by myself. England won. USA played at the same time, but it was not televised. They won also so right now USA is in first place and England second in their bracket. It is quite addicting once you start to watch certain players and see the team play. Up until now I never payed much attention to soccer. Joe went to play golf after work today. I told him the golf course would probably be deserted. It is now the next day and I have a locksmith here (always something) who said he's going to die if the World Cup doesn't end soon. They apparently can't take the stress of watching the close games! So funny.

The weather is really nice here. We are enjoying the warm comfortable days, in the 60's and 70's and then the cool evenings that go down to the 50's. It really hasn't been rainy either like they say it is. I guess that will come. I don't know how I'm going to stand going back to that hot and humid weather that we have in Maryland. No one has air conditioning here. At least not in the houses. It really is not needed. I was a little bothered when I realized that none of the windows in the house have screens! I asked every person that came over (plumber, hedge trimmer, movers) how people have their windows open in the summer without screens. I got some more of those strange looks that I am getting used to. Everyone had the same answer. "There are no screens on any windows". I wondered about flies and bugs. They acted like it was no big deal and said there weren't many flies! I finally had to get some air one day and opened the windows. They were right! Sometimes I'd see a fly or two but I also see them flying back out! Haven't noticed any new bugs really to speak of. The air is comfortable and usually has a breeze. Even when it gets dark we don't see any more bugs. Although I do close them at night for security reasons. No use inviting someone in!

I had a good laugh the other day. Gary was over at Brian and Crystal's house doing his laundry in their machines. Apparently something happened and the washing machine quit working. He and Brian were trying to look at it and couldn't figure out what was wrong. They decided to call Melanie to see if she could help them. When they called her and told her what they wanted she said, "Oh, I have my first Mom and Dad call". How true!! She probably was expecting these calls. I just thought that was so funny. And you know what? She told them to go online and google the problem to see if they could get some answers. They did and were able to fix it. Pretty smart, huh? You can find out almost anything you need online. What did we ever do before computers!

Now I will tell you about one of the Brits favorite menu items. (You see we haven't gone anywhere in two weekends so I don't have any places to tell you about.) They are called "Potato Jackets". It's just baked potatoes with a variety of things on top. They are always on the menu (even at the Costco snack bar) and very popular. The number one thing they put on the potato is baked beans. The Brits love their baked beans. They are on every breakfast bar (hotels, B&B's etc.), they eat them with eggs, a woman at Joe's work eats them on toast every day for lunch. But back to the potato jackets. They have them with baked beans and cheese, chili, salsa, tuna, coleslaw, sauteed mushrooms and cream, cooked prawns mixed with mayonnaise, beef stew. Almost anything you can think of can be put on top of the potato. I know we have Wendy's at home that does their potatoes but I can't think of another restaurant that does it. Here, they are like a main staple. We love them. The English potatoes are delicious too. Every time I make them Joe asks why they taste so much better than ours at home. I made some ham and bean soup recently. Joe doesn't really like soup that much because he thinks it's not enough food for dinner. He loves his meat and potatoes. It was kind of a thick soup so I baked some potatoes. When he got home he looked in the crock pot at the soup and didn't say much. Usually he exclaims happily at whatever it is I am cooking. When I called him for dinner he sat down and saw the big potato on his plate with the soup covering it and was very happy. He said, "OH! You didn't say the soup was for jacket potatoes!" Silly man.

Another thing I have found here are crumpets! They are SO GOOD. They look like an English Muffin with all the nooks and crannies but are thicker and SOFT. Even after you toast them they are still soft. You toast them and put butter on them and mmm mmm they are delicious! Tastes like you are eating home made bread.

I have had requests for pictures of our house (the outside this time). So I took them and have posted them here at the end of this blog. Sorry it wasn't very interesting this time. We aren't going anywhere this weekend either. Joe is so worn out from work he just needs to relax.

Whenever people see this light post the say, "Now THAT's a proper light post"
Somehow they are impressed by it.

                    Joe wanted me to plant something 
                    nice in this planter that sits on the
                    patio right outside the chair he sits 
                    in, in the living room.  The flowers
                    are overtaking the little tree that 
                    was the focal point when I first 
                    planted it!      

Friday, 11 June 2010

London June 11, 2010

Our London trip was really nice.  Poor Joe had to work Thursday and Friday and despite  being only 35 miles from the store it took him a total of five to five and a half hours a day to commute because of the London traffic.  It was horrible!  He didn't realize when he picked out the hotel that it was going to make him go through the middle of London to get to the stores.  The traffic through the city is just about as bad as you can imagine.  They even have a congestion charge so that if you go through that boundary in the city you are immediately charged £8 ($13) a day.  All done by cameras somehow.  You have to call THAT day and pay the fine too.  Of course his work paid for it.  I was just giving you an example of how they try to discourage people from driving down there.

I, on the other hand, took the tube (located a couple of blocks from our hotel), and a 45 minute ride, into the city. My first stop was Harrods.  Having heard about it for so long I wanted to see for myself.  It is the most amazing department store I have ever seen!  It has been owned by Mohammed al-Fayed, the father of Dodi Fayed who was the man Princess Diana was with when they both were killed.  After owning it for 25 years, he just last month sold Harrods to the royal family of Qatar for £1.5 billion!  The store covers 4.5 acres and has seven levels allowing more than 1 million square feet of selling space.  The decor and the displays are dizzying.  The escalators have an Egyptian theme with sculptures and carvings that cost Fayed £75 million.  There is a Dodi and Diana memorial too.  The sales people are perfectly groomed, dressed all in black and looking very stylish. They stand at the front of their department, hands behind their back waiting to answer any and all of your demands.  There is also a doorman dressed in top hat and tails to welcome you into the store! For fun you should go to and click on "Harrods 360 degrees".

After leaving Harrods I decided to walk down the street to Kensington Gardens.  It is one of the Royal Parks and home of Kensington Palace where Princess Diana lived.  It has 275 acres of wide walkways with gardens, memorials, water fountains and statues.  One of the attractions is a huge playground with a Peter Pan theme complete with a huge wooden pirate ship and beach.  This was built in memory of Princess Diana.  I had a map and it didn't look too far.  After walking for about 20 minutes and not even getting close according to my map, I decided it was just too far to walk.  About that time I realized that we had been using those walking maps for several days where everything was within walking distance.  Having a real map put a slightly different angle on distances!  

So, my romantic idea of getting a sandwich and strolling through beautiful gardens was replaced by me walking back towards the big city, getting off the beaten path and lost. I ended up in a pub in a small alley, eating a club sandwich, being waited on by an Irish kid named Malachy, who lives in London, but grew up in New Jersey and had an American accent!  Actually Malachy was a very nice kid.  Off and on during my meal we talked, and he pointed me in the right direction to the main streets of London's shopping district.  When I left we shook hands and I felt like I'd made a new friend.  

Suffice it to say that most of my first day was spent walking, walking, walking throughout London.  It was fun but tiring and I was worn out by the time I rode the tube and got back to the hotel.  As soon as I got back I got on my computer and planned my next day, including which stores I wanted to go to and what tube stops they were near.  Joe got home later and he was worn out from the commuting he had done!  He left Maryland traffic behind and has been spoiled by his 20 minute commute to and from work here.  He was reminded of how much he hates sitting in traffic.  I don't know if he'll ever be able to go back to commuting like he used to.

Look out London because I've now mastered the tube and the sky is the limit!  I had a much better day my second day because of it too.  I just need to figure out the buses now because I'm pretty sure my tube ticket works for them too.  But there are a million buses all going different directions, quite confusing.  I'll tackle that next time.  I shopped till I dropped.  Mostly window shopping except a couple of presents for my sisters.  Oh yeah, I found a pair of shoes I couldn't resist too.  But not too much damage, much to Joe's delight.  I had to get back at a decent time to meet Joe and get ready to go back to London for dinner and the play.

The best part of the whole trip was seeing Les Miserables on Friday night.  It was in London's west end which is where most of the theaters are.  Up and down the street the signs are all lit up with what they are each showing.  The seats were £74 ($100) each, but worth every pence (penny)!  I cannot begin to explain how fantastic the play was.  We had great seats and it was the best thing I have ever seen.  The acting couldn't have been better.  The music was so beautiful that it brought me to tears four or five times!  And those of you who know me, know THAT IS NOT LIKE ME!  Joe enjoyed it as well.  I can't say enough good things about it.  As luck would have it we were sitting next to an American lady from Connecticut and her granddaughter.  Her granddaughter was 12 years old and lives in Boulder, CO.  She spends the summers with her grandmother and they travel together.  Lucky granddaughter!  They were very nice.  You could tell the lady was cultured.  She was a retired music/drama teacher and familiar with tons of plays and art museums.  What an education her granddaughter is getting!  Anyway, she has seen Les Miserables many times and said this was a great production.  I heard her sighing several times during the show.  She said if there is nothing else we do, we have to go to the play Warhorse.  She and her granddaughter said it was just breathtaking.  I saw a trailer for it online and it looks really good.  So that is next on our play schedule.

After a long day in the city and riding the tube back and forth twice, (once during the day and then back again for the play) and Joe working and having the commute too and then going back into the city we were both completely beat when we got back to the hotel around midnight.   We came back home Saturday.  We were both tired and wanted to relax over the weekend.  

Next week I have to work in Joe's office!  Stop laughing!  I admit I have gotten quite used to my lady of luxury lifestyle.  However, I do my own house cleaning and have to iron all of Joe's clothes now, which used to go to the dry cleaners.  And you know full well I have cut the grass three times!  I cook all meals, pack his lunch...let's see what else.  Oh yeah, write this blog, work in the yard, walk to the post office.  I could go on and on.  Anyway, I am devoting one whole week to his office to help out while they are shorthanded due to vacations.  Besides Joe told me it wouldn't kill me!  

A quick thank you to those of you who comment at the end of my blog.  I read all comments and appreciate them very much!  And if you want to become a follower, please do.  I promise I won't sent you any spam mail.  Thanks for reading and pass it on!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Seeing England on two FEET!! June 2, 2010

Joe asked me to find a place less touristy, more relaxing and with nice scenery to go this past weekend and I think I managed to do that. We spent three nice days in the Cotswolds region of England. One of the most picturesque areas of the whole country. If you haven't read my previous blog, please go back and read the last paragraph as I explained the Cotswolds region in more detail. I also explained the walking trails and how we were using a special map for public trails to explore the countryside.

When we left home Saturday it was raining. It hasn't rained here in weeks, but on the first day of the bank holiday weekend we get rain! I wasn't too concerned as we were just driving, but was a little worried about the rest of the weekend. We had planned a couple days of exploring on foot and rain would put a huge damper on our plans!

By early afternoon we got to our destination, the city of Moreton on Marsh. Moreton means a "moorland settlement". Moorland is land with rolling hills, covered in heather, bracken (leafy ferns) and moss. Marsh comes from the word "henmarsh", marshy land where wild birds are found. The rain had lightened up and there were people scurrying everywhere through the little town. Our hotel was right on the main road, town center. The Redesdale Arms is a 17 century Inn where the stables were made into 24 separate guest rooms years ago. It was the perfect location and a nice place to stay.

We headed out that afternoon with our umbrellas to walk up and down the main street. There were lots of different shops and art galleries. We had previously asked the hotel receptionist to give us a name of a local friendly pub and she recommended "The Black Bear" immediately.

A lot of the nicer restaurants in the towns and villages don't open for dinner until 6:30 or 7 so when you are hungry at 4:00 you have to wait. Pretty much all the bars and restaurants are called pubs here in England. Unless you are talking about a fast food place (not many of them) or a sandwich or tea place. So we went over to The Black Bear to hang out for a while. As soon as we walked in all the people at the bar turn to look. It was obvious that they were all locals. I was looking for an empty table and found none, with everyone still just looking at us, I walked up to the bar and stated the obvious, "can we could get a drink"? (Joe always leaves the breaking of the ice issues to me.) Everyone kind of chuckled and the bartender (Jim, the owner) hearing my accent immediately asked us where we were from. When we said the Washington, D.C. area his eyes really lit up. Apparently he lived in DC for 18 years. He played for the Washington Diplomats Soccer team (now defunct) and had many good friends who played for the Washington Redskins back then. John Riggins, Joe Jacoby and the rest of the "hogs" who happened to be the stars in the 80's while he was there and much loved to this day. Those were our heydays for the team and Joe's favorite players of all time. He also met Cal Ripken, Jr. and was invited to the private suite by the owner of the NY Rangers hockey team and met Howard Cosell there. He and Joe were soon chatting it up about the good ole days. The other locals at the bar were making motions of "here we go again" towards Jim who loves when Americans come in so he can relive his American life. He loved it in the states and only came back because of his aging parents. He kept saying "what are the chances of you coming to the Cotswolds and meeting a local person who used to live in DC"? We later googled his name (Jim Steele) and found that he was also a soccer (football) coach here in England before going to America and had made quite a name for himself.

We had made a friend and settled ourselves up at the bar. He bought us a couple of drinks and took me out back to see his garden, which was beautiful. We watched England football on the four TV's, made more friends, and cheered on their local teams who were playing. It got quit loud with "go lads" and "come on lads you can do it" among the cheers and groans. Later we ordered dinner and decided to stay for the horse races that they had for entertainment. These consisted of a big movie type screen put up and a projector set up. Then they showed old races (including pig races!). They took bets from the patrons on each race, betting usually a pound ($1.50) on a horse that you chose. After the betting they'd play the tape of the race and the whole place would scream and yell, everyone yelling for their horse, until the race ended. Whoevers horse won usually came away with about £5 ($7.50) They had 8 of those races. The races they were showing were old from all over the world so there was no way to know the outcome. The whole thing was a fundraiser for their local football team. We had gone in there around 4:00 pm and didn't leave until 10:00. It was a fun way to spend a rainy day.

The next day was a beautiful day, perfect for our first walk. Our hotel desk gave us a small walking map of Moreton on Marsh which was a little more detailed than the large one we brought. He told us where to start and sent us on our way. I had such great hopes for these scenic walks. We were supposed to come to two villages along the way.

We started off walking through farmland and meadows. It is a little disconcerting when you are walking right through a person's farm. We were VERY nervous when we had to walk through a herd of cattle to get to a gate. They just stared at us and mooed a little. We felt like any minute a farmer with a gun was going to come running at us telling us to get off his property. But its not like that here. These trails have been around forever and they are public walkways. Its like that all over England and takes some getting used to. The maps were a lot easier to read when we were sitting in our room planning our route. Once you get out there in the middle of nowhere and try to figure out where a landmark is and which way you should go on a trail the whole thing is a lot more confusing. We walked through fields, woods, up hills, roads, more fields and NEVER saw one village (except in the distance beyond the hills). It was very hard, to say the least. I was getting worn out and Joe had to carry my backpack and his on the hills! Thank goodness we had water. I had asked him if maybe we shouldn't bring the water since it was heavy and it was a nice day out. He insisted on bringing it. Thankfully!! We drank every drop. The routes are supposed to be circles so that you end up where you started without walking the same trails twice. We just couldn't get a handle on where we were and were afraid to get too far away so we ended up backtracking and coming back the same way. We were gone four and a half hours and the best I can figure we must have walked about 6-8 miles. It's a lot harder walking on trails and such than streets! We did see beautiful scenery and the day was just perfect so it was all good. I was a little disappointed about the villages, but you live and learn I guess. We went out for a nice dinner and called it an early night.

                                   Some of the nice gates put there for the public along the way.

                                                 Joe carrying both our backpacks!

The next day after breakfast we had to check out. I had a walk I had found on a website already planned for on the way home. It started in a village only a few miles up the road. I was very excited for this walk as it was short (2 miles) and had an intriguing description: "A loop to the north of Todenham, crossing pastoral countryside. There are medieval relics to see such as Lower Ditchford and Ditchford Frary villages as well as the visible furrows in the fields. There is also a ford on this stretch but don't fear, there is a bridge over to the west. Parking is just down the hill a couple of hundred yards southwest of the village hall." What's not to love about that? We were still pretty worn out from the day before so a 2 mile walk would be perfect to stretch our legs and I couldn't wait to see the medieval relics!

We found the village and the village hall and the parking down hill from it. The public walk sign was right there so we headed out. We started out walking through a farmer's field. After a short while we saw big brown humps lying in the field a head. I said to Joe, "what in the world are those brown things". He said, "they're cows". Well they were the biggest cows I've ever seen. They looked like buffalo from a distance. As we got closer they all stood up and stared at us. It was a little unnerving to say the least. Once we got closer and they stood up of course they didn't look like buffalo but they were tall and big! I still took pictures. These experiences are a big deal for city people! The next field was full of sheep! Some were young. It would have been nice to be there a couple months earlier right after they had their lambs to see them as babies. They trotted away from us with baas and mehs as I got more pictures. Then we walked through a very big field of some kind of harvest. We didn't know what it was. We got all the way across the field and couldn't find any gate. Joe walked way down to one end and finally found the path with a little bridge to cross the creek. I was waiting for him to find it before I walked all the way down there. Thank goodness he happened to pick the right direction, otherwise he would have had to walk all the way back and then up another direction. After crossing another meadow we came to a dirt road. Our map showed that we should turn right on the road. We walked and walked and ended up at an abandon farm but it let out onto a paved road. We were soon greeted by a friendly little dog and shortly came upon the little house where the dog lived. There was a young man outside so I asked him what village we were in. "Great Wolford" he said. That didn't sound familiar at all so I asked him if he knew where Ditchford Frary Village was. He looked puzzled and said he'd never heard of it! Now what! I had to ask again to be sure. Joe walked a few paces up the road and saw a sign that said, "Todenham 1 1/4 miles". We were very confused but really had no choice but to walk the road back to Todenham. We weren't up to another long haul like the day before and with absolutely no idea which way else to go we walked back to our starting point. As soon as we got back I whipped out my big map and found Great was the exact opposite direction of the way we were supposed to go! We soon found there was another public path down the road and across the street from the one we had taken! We didn't have a compass AND didn't see the other path so didn't even realize that we took the complete opposite direction from where we should have. I was SO disappointed as I really wanted to see the old village. We even tried to drive there but it didn't even come up on our GPS. It was funny because the one we had taken had a bridge and the road where we thought it would be and everything. We are going to go back again and walk it. This time we'll bring a compass and know exactly where to go! Otherwise, we had a nice uneventful walk, probably more like 4-5 miles though!

Look at the beautiful lilac!

We got home early afternoon on Monday from the weekend and basically turned into vegetables for the rest of the day. Me especially of course. In fact Tuesday was something of a lost day too Joe even admitted he was tired on Tuesday too. However he always looks at exercise as a good thing and the harder the better. I wanted the pretty scenery and the exercise was sort of a necessary evil. I never dreamed that hiking like that could take so much out of you. I remember the hike that my nieces and cousins went on in Montana a couple of years ago that just about killed them. I was supposed to go with them and had realized at the last minute that it was just going to be too much for me. Thank goodness! I understand more now, and their hike was much harder than our walks were!

Now it is Wednesday and we are leaving for London tonight when Joe gets home from work. His company has three stores in the London area and promised me he'd take me the next time he goes to visit them. It is a two hour drive so we will stay in a hotel while there. He will visit his stores on Thursday and Friday and I will SHOP! I have been waiting for a chance to shop in London, uninhibited by Joe who hates to shop. Tomorrow morning after he goes to work I will have to go down to the London tube (their HUGE underground subway system) near the hotel and  learn how to take it to where I want to go. 

His company will pay for the hotel for Wednesday and Thursday because of Joe visiting the stores. Then I talked him into staying Friday night so we could go see a play and then come home Saturday. I ordered tickets yesterday to see Les Miserables at the Queen's theater in London's west end. It has been here nonstop for 25 years making it the longest running play in the city's history. We've always wanted to see it, never dreamed we'd be seeing it here! Melanie was so envious when I told her. It's her favorite play of all time and she wants so badly to see it in a big city like this or Broadway. She will get her wish if she comes out to visit us.

Well, I have to run.  I am supposed to cut the grass again before we go!  This will be my 3rd time!  Joe has no choice when he can't get it done on the weekend.  Last time I left a big triangle uncut in the backyard.  I don't know how I did it, but I'll never live it down.