Musical Flag-Waving and a Diamond Jubilee Exhibit in London

Waving the Union Jack at Royal Albert Hall


During our previous London interlude, while taking an escalator in the Underground, we noticed an advertising poster for the Royal Philharmonic ‘Classical Spectacular’  at Royal Albert Hall. The program included British sing-along, flag-waving favourites ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘Rule Britannia’ as well as other classical gems. The performance date happened to be just two days before our next trip to Paris, and we also wanted to see a photography exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum,  ‘Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton, a Diamond Jubliee Celebration’.

We loved the Philharmonic program, with my favourites being — in addition to the above-mentioned pieces — a rousing ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’, which brought tears to my eyes, and the tenor Jesus Leon singing Nessun Dorma (twice, thanks to an enthusiastic request for an encore).

Victoria & Albert Museum garden, London

The V&A photography exhibit, a collection of intimate family portraits, provides a wonderful glimpse into the Queen as a young woman and mother. It’s an excellent complement to the exhibit we saw last month at Windsor Castle, ‘The Queen: 60 Photographs for 60 Years’. We also enjoyed viewing the V&A collection of painting and sketches by Suffolk artist John Constable.

Afterwards, coffee (of course!), in the sunlit museum garden.

Coffee in V&A Museum garden, London

As so often happens when we make the effort to take advantage of these kinds of activities, we’re reminded of how much this great city has to offer and how much more we hope to do here in the future.

Cheers for now and more soon from Paris.

London Interlude

Clive at Windsor Castle

London, always a great city, has a special buzz this year with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and 2012 Olympics. We spent a couple days here en route to the U.S.

Walking for miles tops our list of favourite activities. No shopping this time, as we’re travelling light, but we gazed into many shop windows, enjoyed a browse at Waterstone’s, and admired the city’s great architecture. Sadly, unsightly tents and porta-loos still mar the area around St. Paul’s Cathedral.

 

Tents around St. Paul's

Australia House, a grand building in London.

Australia House

We happened to be in London on Valentine’s Day. On an evening walk near our hotel, an intimate brasserie drew us in with its set-price menu, each copy tied in satin ribbon; complimentary flutes of Prosecco;  and a red rose and glowing candle on each table.

Usually we dine at home on Valentine’s Day, so lingering over a candlelight dinner in London was an extra-special treat.

Valentine's dinner in London

A classic black comedy, ‘The Ladykillers’ — tickets purchased at a discount booth in Leicester Square — entertained and amused us at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End. 

A Day at the Castle

St. George's Chapel, WIndsor Castle

For the better part of a crisp, sunny day we explored the grounds and interior public areas of Windsor Castle, my first visit to the castle that’s been a home of the sovereign for over 900 years.

Many family groups were at the castle as it was half-term school holidays, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Boys and girls alike, including two groups of French schoolchildren, ooh-ed and aah-ed over Queen Mary’s dollhouse. My favourites were St. George’s Chapel and the wonderful exhibit ‘The Queen 60 Photographs for 60 Years’  in the Drawings Gallery.

In one of several gift shops on the castle grounds, we bought a Jubilee gift book for my mother, who loves the Queen and always reminds Clive of our family’s English ancestors.

Windsor Castle is trialling a simple café within the castle walls. After admiring the many grand rooms of the state apartments, we were ready to relax with the all-important coffee.

Coffee at Windsor Castle

We left Windsor Castle and London eager to return, as always — maybe next month, on our way to Paris. In the meantime, we’ve been having a great visit with my mother in the U.S. and will soon return to England.

Me at Windsor station

Cheers for now and more soon.

Our Very Own Bradshaw’s British Railway Handbook

Bradshaw's Railway Handbook

Felixstowe Suffolk UK

In today’s post, we received our copy of Bradshaw’s Descriptive Railway Hand-Book of Great Britain and Ireland, a facsimile of the Victorian guide by George Bradshaw, originally published in 1863.

Clive and I recently discovered and immediately became addicted to Series 3 of the BBC television travel series ‘Great British Railway Journeys’, presented by Michael Portillo, a former British Cabinet minister and the only man I’ve ever thought looks great in a pink jacket (not that I’ve seen that many men in pink jackets).

By a pleasant coincidence, in the first week of this series, Portillo travelled to our new home town of  Felixstowe as part of his journey in Suffolk.

'agriculture on the most improved principles' = Bradshaw on Suffolk

We’ve enjoyed the program no matter where Michael Portillo goes. The mix of scenery, history, and comparison to modern times is enthralling. We can’t wait to watch DVDs of Series 1 and 2.

In the meantime, Series 3 continues and we can peruse our lovely new guide. According to a recent article in the Oxford Times, the reprint jumped to number 6 on the amazon UK bestseller list as a result of the television series.

I have an uneasy relationship with my Kindle, but that’s a subject for a separate post. Today I’ll just say that for all the reading I do electronically, I still adore physical books.

Paging through Bradshaw's Railway Handbook

Cheers for now and more soon.

A Scilly Kind of Love

Bryher, Isles of Scilly

Clive and I recently had the privilege of visiting the Isles of Scilly, located 28 miles from the coast of Cornwall here in the United Kingdom.

From the Harbour at historic Hugh Town on the main island of St. Mary’s, to the white sand beaches, walking paths, and spectacular scenery of the other four inhabited islands, also known as ‘off-islands’ — Bryher, Tresco, St. Agnes, and St. Martin’s — we were dazzled. Along with Clive’s cousin and wife, who had been to ‘the Scillies’ before and like countless others had vowed to return, we fell in love with the place.

In the days and weeks ahead, I hope to share more about this magical part of England.  This trip also marked my introduction to Cornwall, home of St. Michael’s Mount (which we climbed), flavourful local ales (which we drank), and some of the best crab, creamy cheeses, and ice cream I’ve ever had (which, needless to say, we ate).

We’ve barely had time to unpack, do the laundry, and repack before we depart for Australia in two days, to visit family and friends. But the Isles of Scilly have cast their spell.

Tresco, Isles of Scilly

Cheers for now and more soon.

Hurricanes and Heathrow Pods

Pod transport to Terminal 5, Heathrow

Felixstowe Suffolk UK

Clive and I were supposed to arrive in New Jersey this past weekend. Thanks to Hurricane Irene, cancelled flights, and a multitude of family conversations and decisions, we never got there.

Amidst two days of tears and frustration, we did discover something new and cool: the transport pods to and from Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and its Business Parking lot.

On prior travels, we had noticed these driverless, futuristic-looking little pods, moving on elevated tracks around Terminal 5. This time, we rode in them.

The Heathrow Pods

By Terminal 5 Parking Pod, Heathrow Airport

Clive discovered what we now call ‘Pod Parking’ via his usual great trip planning and Internet research, specifically when he looked at options for long-term parking.

Pod parking, or ‘Terminal 5 Business Parking’ as it is officially known, was easy to use. The cost was only £12/day because we booked ahead on the Internet, competitive with other long-term parking. We drove through the ‘Business Parking’ gate and our number (license) plate was read automatically. After parking in lot ‘B’, we walked a few steps to a waiting pod, followed instructions on the screen to open the door and start the ‘journey’, and enjoyed the 2-minute ride to Terminal 5.

The pods hold up to four people, maybe fewer if anyone has a huge suitcase. The only drawback we could think of might be if it were pouring rain, but even then, the distance from the pod station to the farthest parking space looked much less than the distance from a typical mall to spaces in the parking lot.

One of the Pods seen from the parking lot

As for the rest of our (non) trip, it just didn’t turn out the way we envisioned it would.

It Was Supposed to Be Different

Our cancelled five-day ‘weekend’ was supposed to have been a new-and-improved way to visit my mother and family in the U.S. Now that we’re settled, more or less, in England (our ‘Top Ten’ activities are still happening — see Parts 1-5 here and 6-10 here), our plan was to try a shorter visit, and presuming it worked, replicate the approach and visit more frequently in the future.

For this short trip, our intention was also to do nothing other than simply be with my mother, without the often-additional stress of holidays and/or birthdays and other large family events, which have become increasingly difficult for her to handle. We were excited to travel with only a backpack, as we recently did with Paris (we’re fortunate to be able to leave some clothes and toiletries at my mother’s). And we were looking forward to going to Heathrow the night before departure, to avoid early morning peak hour traffic — delays are not uncommon on London’s M25 ring road — and to having a relaxing evening before flying out the next morning.

It was all set.

What Happened Instead

Pods ready and waiting at Heathrow

We knew the situation was dicey, but hoped we’d arrive in New Jersey before Irene worked her way up the coast. We spent five hours on the M25 because it was the Friday afternoon of a bank holiday weekend (similar to Labor Day weekend in the U.S.), so it wasn’t quite the relaxing trip we’d hoped for. We listened to hurricane forecasts on BBC Radio 2, pondered our options, and reassured each other, ‘This is why we’re going the evening before — so we don’t have to worry about delays on flight day.’

After a long, mostly-awake overnight with many phone calls back and forth to my mother and son in the U.S. and Clive tracking flight status online, all flights were ultimately cancelled. Taking a Pod back to the parking lot was the only thing that made us smile. We felt very Jetsons and the track reminded me of the old New Jersey Palisades Park Wild Mouse ride — though the Pod is very smooth and calm.

Wild Mouse track? No, Heathrow Pod track

Regrouping

I’ve learned from experience that these things happen when you and your family are miles, and oceans, apart. We’re thankful we didn’t have a life-and-death situation, and that loved ones up and down the U.S. east coast are safe and well.

If nothing else, we are pleased to have discovered Pod Parking and to know it’s a cost-effective, easy-to-use option for future trips.

Now we’re regrouping and booking flights to the U.S. for a later date. In the immediate future is a trip to England’s Scilly Isles, about which we’re very excited. I hope storms stay away, since we’re taking a ferry from Penzance to the island of St Mary’s. No pod parking options for this one!

Clive at a Pod station

Cheers for now and stay well, everyone.

Manic March, from Felixstowe to Sydney

Cronulla Beach, Sydney


Sydney

Greetings from autumn Down Under.

From England to Australia, life has recently been a whirlwind. Thank you to all who commented on my previous post about our goal to become more settled this year. That’s still our intention, and we spent the first half of March on the path to our new reality.

On the first of the month, we celebrated final settlement on our new place in Felixstowe and delivery of our belongings from Sydney, both completed before noon.  These momentous events required a quick walk to ‘the shops’ – first to Edinburgh Woollen Mill, to purchase a 50%-off picnic blanket we’d noticed the day before, and then to Marks & Spencer for egg and watercress sandwiches, chocolate eclairs, a bottle of champagne, and the most wonderful discovery of all:  parsnip crisps.

Yum.

After nearly two months in the Rental Palace, Clive was beyond ready to tackle a few early projects we wanted to complete before we moved in.  Fortified by our indoor picnic, he set to work that same afternoon and dismantled a bizarre, twelve-foot long, coffin-like wooden structure that stretched across  the ceiling between two rooms. 

Two hours after settlement, Clive at work

In addition to being carpenter’s assistant, I roamed around the apartment noting how much cleaning needed to be done (let’s just say the kitchen alone was quite scary) and darted on and off the balcony taking pictures.

Looking toward Landguard Point and Felixstowe Docks

Over the following eight days, we scrubbed our new home from top to bottom (though hired a professional to first steam clean the carpets) and Clive continued work on various projects so we could relocate from the Rental Palace as soon as possible.  These included moving many of our Aussie boxes into the bedroom, where sixteen book boxes currently serve as a base for the borrowed air mattresses that constitute our bed (thanks, R&L!).  Two larger boxes (all still unopened, until we buy proper furniture and/or complete various renovations) are our bedside tables.

In what will eventually become the dining area, Clive used remnants of the wooden ceiling structure, several borrowed pieces of wood, and more unopened shipping boxes to build our temporary desks.  Aaahhhh, a work space of one’s own, shelves, a connected laptop, and an evening glass of wine – what more does a person need?

A perfect present from Clive

Australia in Mind

Always on our mind was the knowledge we’d depart for Australia at the month’s midpoint.  After cleaning the Rental Palace (leaving it the way we wish we’d found it as opposed to the way we actually found it — arrrgh), we managed to move everything into our new home with six days – and six lovely, remarkably comfortable nights of sleeping on top of the book boxes — to spare.  We did unpack a few boxes including kitchen essentials, and I continued my role as carpenter’s assistant and in-house photographer, even before morning coffee.

Morning coffee and the North Sea

During these days in England, we also spent time with Clive’s father and other close relatives and friends.  Before we left for Sydney, we were treated to a memorable evening that was without doubt a major highlight of our first few months in Felixstowe.  A group of Clive’s ‘old’ friends (well, most of them have known each other for approximately fifty – and in some cases, more — years) treated us to a fantastic gathering of friendship, fellowship, and fun at a local Suffolk pub.  I consider myself lucky that, through Clive, I too can now call these wonderful individuals my friends.  This treasured evening was organised by Clive’s friend David and family (thank you all once again!).  For a rather cute photo (actually I think it’s adorable) of Clive and David at the Felixstowe 1959 Bible Quiz, please see my post A Felixstowe Sydney Darien Circle.

New residents (seated) with a group of very special people

We left England on the 15th of March and arrived in Australia on the 17th, four weeks ago today.  In an attempt to minimise moving around too much, we spent the first eleven days at our former home base at Manly, followed by twelve days at Cronulla, near Clive’s daughter in ‘The (Sutherland) Shire’ south of Sydney, during which time we joined her on a 12-mile fund-raising walk.  We’re now near his son and mother on the Central Coast of New South Wales, north of Sydney, where beautiful baby Ebonie is almost six months old.

The path of life is often unpredictable, with unexpected twists and turns.  During our time here in Australia, Clive’s stepfather was hospitalised and we’ve been juggling that particular family emergency with our other family commitments.  Wherever we are in the world, it seems the adage ‘one day at a time’ retains its wisdom.

Winding path by the sea, South Cronulla, New South Wales

Cheers for now and more about our Aussie adventures soon.

My Word for 2011: Settle

Felixstowe, Suffolk, 2011

Felixstowe, Suffolk, England

Greetings once again. It’s been a near-two month break; I should have made it official but kept thinking I’d post very soon.

Suddenly we’re well into February. So before Spring arrives in England, or Autumn in Australia, it seems appropriate to return with a word that captures my goals, hopes, and intentions for a year that’s already well underway: Settle.

I’m writing this from Felixstowe, England, the seaside town where Clive grew up and which I fell in love with during repeated visits with him. Settling here, on the coast of the North Sea, eighty miles from London, is our immediate goal.

Without spending too much time looking into the rearview mirror, suffice it to say Clive’s and my life for the past few years has been a whirlwind of family-related travel (often unexpected), with occasional short ‘just us’ breaks thrown in. I’ve shared a great deal of our experiences here, in the Family Globalisation and Travel categories.

As much as we love to travel, and plan to do more of it, all our moving around has also taken its toll in myriad physical and emotional ways. We are challenged by having family on three continents; aging parents can no longer come to us, and young adult children with full-time jobs and/or families of their own have neither the time nor the money to easily do so. So we will in all likelihood continue to travel a great deal for family reasons, and when we’re in one place, will work hard to stay connected to loved ones in other places. In the next four months alone, we will spend seven weeks in Australia and one in the U.S. We’ll also focus on our new life here in England, and everything we need and want to do in order to become settled here.

What We’ve Done So Far

Since arriving in England in early January, we’ve accomplished a few things, the most important of which are 1) finding a place we want to buy, negotiating an agreed price, and starting down the road to settlement; and 2) finding the Rental Palace, my nickname for our tiny one-bedroom furnished apartment across from the sea. Thanks to Clive, we also have critical technology and communications up and running: a new Wifi device that handles up to five connections (no more sequential sharing – yay!), a printer/scanner, a shredder, a top-up UK cell phone, and an amazingly good-value Royal Post Office phone card. I’ve opened bank accounts and enrolled in an online writing course, which I’m enjoying very much.

As for our stuff, we’ve collected a few boxes we sent ahead to saintly family and friends who held them for us (thank you again, you wonderful people if you’re reading this), made places for special books (top of dressers), files (inexpensive cardboard boxes), and various in-transit possessions (dresser drawers). Clive has made a number of outstanding roast dinners and I have discovered (and become addicted to) roast parsnips; more about my new favourite vegetable in a future post. I also love the expression (learned from Clive’s cousin) ‘cheap and cheerful’ (e.g., the curtains we bought for the Rental Palace bedroom); it’s so much nicer than ‘cheap and nasty’ and the curtains are indeed bright and cheerful. We’re enjoying the discovery of new (to us) European wines; e.g., an inexpensive but good German pinot grigio, though we miss the variety and endless choice of Australian and New Zealand wines in Sydney.

I’m also rapt with mail delivered through the slot in the door (as it was in my mother’s home in New Jersey), especially book orders from amazon UK (where all shipping is free, not just above a certain amount). How wonderful is that, especially if you’re not quite dressed yet? I realise there’s another way to get books in your jammies, and am close to buying my first e-reader, in time for our upcoming return to Australia.

Our main shipment from Sydney has also arrived and awaits a call for it to be transported from its current storage facility in Surrey to our new home in Felixstowe. Fingers crossed this will happen before we depart for Australia in mid-March.

Most of all, and better than anything else listed above, we’ve reconnected with special people here in Felixstowe, whose warm welcome, practical assistance, invaluable advice, and continuing friendship are a treasured gift and one for which we are both deeply grateful.

What We Still Have To Do

Surviving the nail-biting waiting period until final settlement occurs is our main to-do. Beyond that, we’re busy making endless lists (or rather, Clive’s managing his usual well-organised spreadsheets) of all the projects and tasks we’ll need to begin once we take ownership of our new place.

I suppose someone could ask, ‘If being settled is so important, why did you cause yourselves so much change and disruption by leaving Sydney and moving to the other side of the world?’ The answer remains as I wrote in A New Adventure: we believe it’s never too late to follow your dreams, it’s important to do it when you can, and just because dreams aren’t ‘easy’ to accomplish doesn’t mean they’re not worth pursuing.

When my son was in Sydney for our wedding last November, he said one day, ‘So, eventually, when you’re in England, you want to write in the morning and walk in meadows in the afternoon. Is that right?’

I answered, ‘Basically, yes.’

One place I shall be trying to combine my aspiration to settle and write is here on this blog. And in the midst of all our settling activities, we also hope to travel more here in the UK and Europe, so I’ll share more about this part of the world, along with my other two great geographic loves, Sydney and Paris.

 For the moment, we feel a bit like two college kids who have set up an apartment for the summer: upturned boxes for bedside tables, a hodge-podge of furniture in our tiny furnished rental – which Clive says is excellent practice for downsizing. And for this interim period of time, we are, in a way, settled. We’re so eager to finalise the purchase and start ‘doing’ again, but in the meantime we’re savouring our little interlude by the sea.

Felixstowe, Suffolk, 2011

Cheers for now and more soon.

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