Friday, July 08, 2005

Thursday - July 8th - In London the day of the bombings.

Very behind in postings!
Yes, we are all ok!!! I'm sorry I had to keep you all dangling, but we have been very busy and not near computers hardly at all... hence my posting has been very lax!

The morning unfolded...bombs in the underground...much too close for our comfort!
We were very fortunate to have gotten up a bit late the day of the London attacks, so we just missed being in the underground by about 30 minutes when the bombs went off.

We were across the street from Waterloo Station and not far from where the double decker bus was blown up. We watched it all unfold on Skynet news from the pub where we had breakfast. We could see and watch all the people stuck outside the station just across the street from us at Waterloo Station...people kept coming in to watch the television to try and figure out what was happening. When the first started the reports, they said it was power outages, but Paul said this was no power outage, because he could see emergency response tents being set up and he said that they would not have done that for mere power blowout problems.

It was really frightening as the news began to reveal that they realized this was not a power outage problem but in fact bombs that had gone off and we realized rather quickly that we were not going to be able to do the things in London we had hoped to do as the city began to shut down and draw a tight net of security in central London where, we of course, were.

After uneasily watching the news for a few hours we went for a walkabout. Our heads had been filled with enough frightening ideas by the local media and I was worried how Aurora was being affected by it as well. She, as were we all, was beginning to show signs of serious agitation and worry. We decided it would be best if we left the media of the TV behind and hoped to take in some of the sights of London if possible.

Walking our way through the streets of an edgy London
We couldn't get any transportation anywhere of any kind, buses would drive by with signs that said "Out of Service" and taxi drivers would not pull over to pick people up when you tried to hail them. The streets were full of sirens constantly and there were police everywhere. It was really there were so many police two standing on nearly every corner and sirens going off so made you jump every time you would turn around. People kept looking at other people very uncomfortably and every one seemed to huddle together tightly if they were in groups of any kind. Those who were alone were trying desperately to make calls on their phones or standing at bus stops hoping a bus would pick them up or heading for churches. The tourist trap kiosks begins closing their shops down and we walked by the London Eye to see it being shut down as they unloaded passengers and turned other riders away. Small groups of students on outings with teachers were huddled tightly as terrified looking teachers looked warily after their charges trying to reassure them things were okay as school is apparently in session for many people here.

Peace behind the walls of Westminster Abbey, St. James Park, Palace, Pubs and Dinner on the Thames
We walked for a while and ended up at Westminster Abbey. We spent most of our morning and some of the early afternoon in the Abbey with many other tourists and terrified people who wandered in off the streets with much concern written across nearly every brow. Every one was looking at every one else and so many who could not speak English in the city were obviously even more frightened and confused, more so than others. Every one seemed to talk in hushed whispers every where we went. As we walked by the Tower of London where Big Ben (the bell resides) the flag on the building had already been dropped to half mast.

We spent several hours quietly looking round at the memorials and tombs of famous royalty and some other very famous literary greats there and took much time not only appreciating the beauty of the building, but some of the safety we felt behind the Abbey's ancient walls. We listened to one of the monks give a prayer for those we had heard about that we knew already were dead or lost in the tunnels of the underground or the poor souls on the bus that had been killed that morning. We were all terribly grateful to have made the same error in not setting our clocks properly...we had forgotten to roll them back an hour from Paris time. This was really the only thing that may have saved us from being underground at all...otherwise we may have been on one of the lines when it happened going out on our first destination.

After the Abbey and a light lunch there of the Abbey's best Tomato Basil soup and a small sandwich, we went to St. James Park and walked part of the Princess Diana memorial walk way and looked at all the beautiful plants and the birds and such. We saw a really unusual duck with a bright sky blue bill! There were many other lovely varieties of birds and some lovely swans as well. Then we went to see a bit of the WWII memorial celebration being held in the park and from there we walked past Buckingham Palace...lots of security though, and we could only walk along the gardens out front. Security was very high everywhere, but especially notable outside the palace.

Near the palace we found a local pub and went in to see how the news was progressing and to have a drink (In case you are wondering Aurora was allowed in all the pubs with us. They are allowed to drink at 18 here, and she more than appears old enough...although she was not drinking any beer!) The death toll per the news was mounting as were the number of injured. We found out that the all the zone 1 buses in central London had been shut down which explained the "Out of service" messages we had seen on most of the buses with a few only packed with people not making any stops. The taxis we had begun to see in the afternoons were full of commuters trying to get out of we knew we were destined to stay on our feet and walk the London roads.

We ended up pub crawling our way back to the water front making stops as our legs and feet grew weary until we reached our destination where we were able to get our dinner cruise later in the day around 7PM which was nearly 3 hours long. We were very fortunate that our dinner cruise on the Thames River was not cancelled, as most restaurants were closed because many people had not been able to go to work for dinner shifts and most places that had shifts in had allowed their people to go home if they could get home. We had called earlier in the day as we were certain it would be cancelled, but apparently the crew had come in a 9AM that morning and they had agreed to stay on for the whole of the day for the evening cruise. Many of the boats on the River Thames were ferrying people out of the city for free all afternoon to help people get home and to places where they would again feel safe...or at least safer. Our dinner on the Thames was beautiful and much appreciated in light of our long and troubled day. We savored our dinner and enjoyed the sites of the city and the evening drew itself in. Our boat took us all the way down the Thames where it meets the estuary. The Thames is one of the World's most fascinating, exciting, mysterious and beautiful rivers. From source to sea its 200-plus miles flow from bubbling springs in Gloucestershire to the site of the old London Bridge, then on to the imposing, formidable tidal estuary to the east of London. We left from near London Bridge and went down to the estuary where you could see the special system they have built to prevent the sea from rising too high and flooding the river. We had just enough rainy mist and sunshine and it created an incredible rainbow across the river. A reminder of Gods promises to never flood the Earth and a feeling of some serenity returned to me as I watched the rainbow from inside the boat until it faded away. We listened to a wonderful singer on the boat who was from Wales (Sherilee D. tells me that people from Wales are famous for their singing abilities) and she sang for a good 30 minutes as we made our way back up the river. There was dancing afterwards, but no one really seemed to want to dance. Mostly we all took the time to look out the windows or go top side to appreciate the views at hand as the sun set. As we got further up river the The Tower Bridge (some mistake this for London Bridge) was lit up and we admired it as we passed underneath.

All in all the day and our evening turned out okay and we were all very glad to just be alive in light of it all. It was a long walk back to the hotel after our dinner and the sirens which went on and on through out the whole of the day continued to occasionally do so into the no one slept really well. Despite the scariness of it all, we managed to have a fair day in London, though we all stayed tightly together with a wary eye for odd packages or anything out of the ordinary. We were all very tired by the end of the day between fear and having to walk all day about London.

Where next from here we go...
We were very pleased the next day when they had reopened the main ground line trains so that we could leave back for Staines outside of London central where we had parked the car Monday to come in to London. When we get back to Staines we will head for Wood Henge, Stone Henge and then the Barbican at Plymouth near Cornwall. We will spend one night there and then we will set our coarse back to Lytham with a swing through Bath and then Wales on the way, Which will put us back in Lytham late Sunday night. Monday will be laundry...Tuesday will be Edinburgh in Scotland as will Wednesday returning to Lytham late Wednesday night. Thursday will be the Lakes district and Beatrix Potter's home including Mr. McGregor's garden! Friday Jeff leaves...and I don't know the plans just yet from there other than that Aurora and I will be flying back Wednesday all day.

Sorry to have left anyone worrying
I apologize to all of you who may have been concerned and have been checking in off and on for news. I did call home the day of the attacks to let my family know we were ok, but much of the cellular phone systems here were crashed as they were over whelmed. Even though we tried to get text messages out that day we could not get them through to many people. Sherilee D. here could not get through to her children for some time and though there were hard lines to contact people in some places, they were for local England calls, not calls outside the states, at least not that we could find. I was fortunate to get a call through to my mother's house. I tried to call our home to get a hold of Jeff's Mom but she was out and the phone call was not clear anyway when I got through to our answering machine...when I did get through I got my Mom's answering machine as well, so the message I left for my mother was to call family including Jeff's Mom to let them all know we were okay.

I wish you all well and pray that God keeps you all safe.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Wednesday - Paris again...back to London late.

Posting this bit later!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Paris! Tuesday - July 5th

Oh beautiful Paris!
We managed to get up at the required 4AM to get down to the station by 5:30AM to catch the Eurostar to France. We actually slept little as our room was across from the train station and we were too excited to really sleep much and too worried about over sleeping our alarm. Too, around 3AM there were men unloading large pieces of sheet metal and shouting to each other across the way who were apparently at the station to do some work. We readied and packed up what little we had unpacked and met Paul and Sherilee D. downstairs at 5:20AM to cross over to the station. We hurried across and qued up for the Eurostar. Jeff and Sherilee D. waited in line while Aurora, Paul and I went back up to the second level to get breakfast bagels and latte's for everyone. We got back to the line just in time to check in and after we checked through stood around eating our breakfast. A young man of about 19 or so came and stood with us...he was quite drunk and friendly just looking for someone to talk to in the early hours. He was supposedly going to go to work by 9AM and we all wondered if he would manage to have his head back together by then. He was a nice young man though and when we had to go to through the gates to board Paul asked him if he would take our breakfast garbage for us and he did!
We went through the gates and past the duty free shops to coach number 15 and loaded our cases and found our seats. The odd part here is that we were all facing backward! Apparently the do not turn the train going to Paris you sit backward and coming back you sit forward. It made for an interesting ride...kind of felt odd...but as long as you don't look out the window too much, it is okay. The train goes quite fast, top speeds can hit 186 miles per hour, but they generally do not go that fast. We stopped at one other station along the way for more passengers, but our coach was not full. When we entered the tunnel that goes under the channel the train speed hits 100 miles per hour! You are under the channel for a mere 20 minutes and you see some low lights in the tunnel if your cup your hands around your eyes and peer through the windows and a few pipes running along the sides of the tunnel. You are through before you know it and in France! The French countryside is really lovely and picturesque. Small farms and an occasional little town dot the countryside, but it truy looks for all the world like a picture post card from 100's of years ago except the occasional paved roads and vehicles here and there.
Arrived at last!
We arrived at the station 2 1/2 hours or so after we left London and easliy spotted our first day guide with the Golden Tours sign. We all followed him out of the very busy and very large North Station to find the tour bus. We were immediately treated to a site I can only describe as "Beyond Madness!" Paris traffic is not to be believed! I thought we had bad traffic in Seattle! Try adding narrow lanes, motor scooters galore with people on them who think they obviously are immortal, taxi drivers who are sure they own the roads and bicyclists and tons of tourist buses and you will beging to get some picture of traffic that either goes nowhere or goes all at once in a rush! I saw motorscooters that would squish their way between our bus and parked or moving cars all the time...they gave not a care that there are lanes or turn signals! Amazingly most of the Parisians seem to just take it nicely in stride while all the tourists on the bus occasionally suck in their wind with noisy gasps! It was really rather funny in a crazy way...I wonder if they have a French version of road rage?
Our bus driver after negotiating through the business district showed us the Grand Opera House, pointed out beautiful architecture, showing us the beautiful wrought iron railings outside nearly every window, the gargoyles and lovely statues outside or a part of so many buildings, we drove round the Arc deTriomphe it is quite grand much larger than I ever thought it was having seen it in so many photos over the years. The large circular drive that goes around the Arch has no traffic rules (our bus driver advised) but is large enough to have many lanes... if any were painted! So basically people just get in the circle and drive round and round with no lanes weaving in and out and trying not to hit each other! It is quite a mad site to see and amusing while some what disconcerting. Either 6 or 8 major thoroughfares feed into the circle including the famous Champs Elysées which is 8 lanes wide and it is an amazing boulevard packed with cars feeding in and out. You can learns more cool stuff about the Arc de' Triomphe at: The one really cool thing we did not know (any of us) is that you can go to the top and look down on all of Paris. We decided then and there that this is something we will do later! We also found out that there is a tunnel that you access it via the underground to the trains to get safely to the center...and I thought that all the people must have been really brave to negotiate the traffic on foot! HA! We drove past the Louvre museum and the Tuileries Gardens as well and of course the Eiffel Tower! My is really huge! Makes the Space Needle look rather small! Here is a fun fact for fact...Space Needle (Seattle): 605 ft. (184M) Eiffel Tower (Paris):984 ft. (300M) Maybe that will give you a mental picture, it really is enormous! After going by several other points of interest, our tour took us to a boat on the River Seine. We took a lovely long ride down the river and then back up again. There are many bridges crossing over the Seine and no two really look a like. There are really a lot of them and some of the architecture is really lovely. There is a small island on the Seine, and this is where the famous Cathedral of Notre Dame is to be found. It is a large and imposing structure and one expects to find Quasimoto still up along the edges looming and looking down at you. Incidentally... the French prounounce his name Kazimoto... no "qu" sound at all. We were surprised to find the Eiffel Tower sits right on the bank of the river as well, and it was just near the tower our tour on the boat ended. We all got off and got in the tour group line to go to the tower! The good part about being on the tour is that you get quick access to the tower, the draw back is that you do not get as much time as you would probably like to spend and you only go to the second level, which mind you it utterly breath taking! The view of Paris is spectacular. Way out on rim of the city is the newer high rise structure area of Paris. The rest remains much as it looked many years ago they say. Paris is the most visited city in the world according to our guide, and one can see why when looking out across it's grandure.

...More later on this adventure.... I leave you for now on top of the tower!

Monday, July 04, 2005

To London We Go!

Time to go!
We got up around 8:30 AM and made up our beds, had a light breakfast of cereal (Choco Hoops... blah version of Cocoa Puffs) with whole milk (too warm for my taste), toast with raspberry jam and tea, stuffed the van with our bags and off we went. We stopped by the locked postal box and I sent out 2 post cards (1 for Aurora's Godmother and the other for a friend with no computer) and Paul and Sherilee posted some bills out as well. We made a quick stop in Lytham at Barclay's bank as Sherilee wanted Euro's for Paris. It was nearly 11AM when we headed out onto the M5 or M6 (one of those) the same one we came in on from Manchester. Paul hooked up his dad's GPS to guide the way to Staines. The GPS was rather amusing to us, as it has a lovely English accented lady voice and always says things like "Please turn left in 180 yards..." and so on. It is a very polite GPS! A few hours in we took a toll lane to go the fastest route we could take (much of the way was around 85 miles per hour). It made for fairly fast travel across England. We made a stop outside Birmingham one of England's larger cities at the Road Chef. There are many versions of Road Chef... such as Little Chef or Moto which are great stops when traveling across England. These are very clean facilities with showers and lavatories, fast foods, coffee, groceries, maps etcetera including massage chairs if you want to put a pound or two in for a massage. We stopped here for a break and ate our packed lunch of sandwiches, chips and cookies in the car (mind you that chips here are called "crisps") along with some cold water and soda's. We were back on the road by 1:30 or so.
Staines & Trains
We arrived in Staines and had to wait a bit for a parking space, as the intent was to leave the van here for 4 days while we went to London and Paris. We had to wait a bit, but finally got a spot after 20 minutes or so. Sherilee D. went in and got a parking permit for the week as well as picking up the train tickets into London and for our return. The trains come about every 10 to 15 minutes or so, so it is never a long wait. We boarded and had a nice treat to one of the newer Southwestern Trains. The seats were lovely and plush on a bright blue train with lovely royal blue carpets. The train made 4 or 5 stops at other stations along the way and before we knew it, we had arrived at Waterloo Station in London...when exiting or boarding...we have learned to "Mind the Gap" and you are reminded to do this often so you do not fall between the platforms and the trains!
Waterloo Station & The Wellington at Waterloo
This is a huge train station! There are tons of food vendors and little shops just beyond the boarding/exiting platforms. All manor of foods and little shops fill the station under a large covered roof with a skeleton type rafter system and old glass ceiling. There are people everywhere going here and there. This station has access to the underground trains, the Eurostar that we will take to Paris as well as the trains that leave for points outside of London. It is a very busy place and full of hustle bustle and excitement. We finally got out of the station after a few minutes of which way to we go turns and and across one of the roads we found our hotel on a corner facing the station. We are staying at The Wellington at Waterloo which is a hotel that is next to and over a Pub. This was a very handy access choice as we will have to report to the station in the morning to get the Eurostar at 5:30AM to go to Paris. The Pub was really neat with decorations on the ceilings depicting the battle of Waterloo...making the British look very stern and brave and the French look terrified. The ceiling had the sky and the side ceilings with the battles on them and a clock shaped like Wellington's famous hat as well. The furnishings were a bit worn but comfy. The hotel has a private entrance once you check in next to the bar area. The smokers are here in the pub and barely tolerable, but we are not sleeping in the pub! Our room was number 23 and way up 3 flights of narrow winding stairs. A bit of a challenge here with the case Jeff and I packed, but Jeff (my personal male pack mule) managed quite nicely. Our room was nicely sized and will win no decor' prizes, but it was okay for taking for the night so we could get back to the station early and readily. We put the cases away and went out to explore!
A Bus Tour of London, Dinner, Piccadilly Circus
We went out and walked to the Tower of London to here the bell "Big Ben" playing over our heads and took a photo opportunity on one of the many bridges over the River Thames. We wandered a bit more and then got on a double decker sightseeing tour bus for a couple stops to get on another one with a better tour with a live guide (same line so we did not have to pay any extra). The bus took us past Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Parliament, the Tower Clock (aka Big Ben), over the Tower Bridge over the Thames, past the residences of Margaret Thatcher (she still has private guards!) Sean Connery apartment and Sir Elton John's as well. We also went past Trafalger Square and much more. We got off near Piccadilly Circus (photo is off web...I have yet to post ours...but it was wet like this when we were there and the signs are nearly all the same) and went to the Angus steakhouse for our dinner. We had really good steaks and side dishes and desserts...perhaps too good, as we spent 155£ for our meal! It was an excellent meal by all counts with two bottles of wine and we enjoyed our Scottish waiter who had a good sense of humor. Afterwards we walked up toPiccadillyy Circus to watch the lights flashing on the big signs with Coca Cola commercials and much more. We took a few photo moments and watched the night time London life about us. We walked on and went to a late night tourist shop and picked up a few touristy bits. We walked into the cinema area next toPiccadillyy Circus where they premiere the movies here...they have a walk similar to our star walk in Hollywood... and you can check your hands against Sean Connery, Arnold Schwartzenegger's and many many more. We went down to the underground and picked up an underground train to Waterloo and got up to our rooms some time around midnight. Quick showers, alarm set for 4AM and we are very excited. YAWN...soon we will be off to Paris.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Sunday - July 3rd

The remainder of Sunday - Picnic & Blackpool / Pleasure Beach
As I last said, Paul and Sherilee were off to church, as we were up to late to ready to go with them. While they were out we had toast and tea and cereal and I put up the last blog as well. After they returned from church, we readied for the day and got in the van and drove to St Anne's Fairhaven Park where they produced a lovely picnic luncheon. The lake at Fairhaven is man made from Victorian times and it is picture postcard perfect. There with geese abounding, small boats and many elderly couples walking along the promenade. We had our ham sandwiches, chips, cherry tomatoes, sodas & then apple strudel cookies watching the geese wander about (there were LOTS of geese!) Aurora and Mikki decided to feed some them after we finished and a young gosling that Mikki gave the name Gary to... he decided that he liked the bits of ham Aurora had a bit too well and gave her finger a nip!!! Bad goose! She was fine, but a bit surprised by the agressive little goose!
The Blackpool Tower and Pleasure Beach
We left the park and drove into the city of Blackpool which is only about 20 minutes or so from Paul & Sherilee's home. It is quite the place! Blackpool sits along the coast of the Irish Sea (on the English side of course). It is hard to describe the place, other than to say the style is like a mix of Mardi Gras, carnival and a bit of Las Vegas glitz but with older English buildings and some fair bits tossed in too! They put the car in a car park and we walked to the famous Blackpool Tower and Circus and Ballroom. The Tower was built in 1894 and designed by the same man who designed the Eiffel Tower. At the base in the building there is a small aquarium which we walked through and saw some interesting fishes. We then went in to the world famous Blackpool Ballroom. Upon entering at the upper tiers, one is quite taken aback at the size!
At the front of the ballroom is a stage where a comedic organ player sat at a large white organ playing music, such as tango and waltzes etcetera. There were some regular Sunday dancers and one couple that Sherilee D. recognized from the telly (TV). We watched for a while and then walked on to catch the lift up the tower.

We stopped for a group photo first with a pic of the tower behind us...(Do you think they take it first in case you don't make it back down?) that I bought for us for later pick up. The lift takes you high up where you alight and then get a chance at a small gift shop and round the corner from that is the "Walk of Faith!" Here you stand on a large glass square and look straight down to the world far below! You truly get a sense of vertigo as you stand on it. The glass is several inches thick and about 5 x 5 square and they say it can hold up to 5 tons, but YIKES! When you look down below, someone has painted an outline of a body with white paint on top of one of the roofs you can see below like a crime scene victim as if to represent some one who fell through...they assure us it was a joke...ha ha ha! We then climbed up a few more flights of stairs to get even higher up. The view was fabulous of the Irish Sea and of Lytham, St Anne's and Blackpool in the distance and all around. We took several photos from here. We then went down and through some of the arcade area where Jeff & Aurora played a boxing game...neither one could come in at Heavy Weight, but they gave it a good go...then they pressed a few pennies with images of the Blackpool Tower in them too. Next we stopped at the Tower Pub and had some beer and Bacardi Breezers and talked about the experience. After our refreshments we took the Dinosaur Ride a fun little ride through the history of time in little coaster type cars past dinosaurs to learn a bit about their history and to get a little scared in the dark too...a silly but fun 6 or 7 minute ride through time while getting a bit of dino-education. There is an actual circus here as well, but we did not attend it.
The Pepsi Max Big One at Pleasure Beach
We went outside along the walk where the street vendors were hawking there goods and bought some of Blackpool's famous Rock Candy which are long sticks of hard candy with words the run through them usually saying Blackpool. We picked up the car and took a cruise further down the coast of Blackpool to go to the amusement park where they have 145 rides and such (much like a larger version of Seattle Center) to take a ride on "The Big One" as it is called, which is a huge roller coaster. Only Paul, Mikki, Aurora and myself were game for this thrill ride at 7 £ each, we hoped it would be worth it, but Paul and Mikki assured us it was worth every pence! This coaster when it was built was one of Europe's largest roller coasters some 10 + years ago. Aurora and I managed to get the coveted front seats! The first drop is insane (see pic at right) and takes your breath away! The ride is fast and careens around the corners and wild angles going up to 72 miles per hour as it flies across the rails...WOW...we screamed with delight (okay...a little fear too!) but it was loads of fun! We then left the park as it was getting late and stopped at a gas station to fill the van for the trip to London tomorrow. I din't take these photo's...I pulled these off the net to give you an idea of what this coaster really looks like. We were rocketing around so fast, we could just laugh and scream with delight as we flew around the ride! Take way! However Jeff and Sherilee D. took some from below...I haven't even seen them yet. :-)
They pay A LOT for gas here! We did some quick calculations and they are paying nearly $6.52 per gallon after you convert for price and imperial gallons to US guess we won't complain about our prices bycomparison! No wonder they try to use trains and buses every where they can. On the way back we passed the longest cobblestone wall in all of England. It was built by the squire who had much of the land in just goes on and on! Much of the current land is still owned by the family and many of the homes though owned by the owners sit on land still held by family and they must pay a rental fee for it, it is generally quite small, just a few pounds per year per home. There are tons of things to do here, such as the Doctor Who Museum, lots more rides, Louis Toussad's Waxworks and so much more the list could go on and on.
Back at the House & Dinner
We had our supper arounds 7:30 or so and had a true English family dinner of PotRoadss, thin beef gravy,broccolii and cauliflower and mashed neeps (a combination of carrots and something akin to turnips or parsnips) as well as Yorkshire Puddings which is a type of roll but shaped like little muffin sized bowls that you put your gravy in. The batter that is used makes them a bit crisp, and they are really tasty filled with the thin gravy or even on their own...YUMMY! We also had tiny potatoes called Newfoundlands which are not much bigger than radishes that were very tasty too along with a nice selection of red wines. After all of that we had fresh chunk cutcantaloupee, honeydew and Galia from Spain which is much like honeydew, but not quite as sweet, so very nice and refreshing. We talked about the day and we learned some of the local verbiage (some I dare not repeat!) which gave us some good laughs as we exchanges some of our words too.
We went up and packed for London tomorrow and Paris for the two days after and then back to London and then to Plymouth...etcetera. Jeff and I managed to put all of our things into my big suitcase and Aurora got all hers into her carry on case. It will be about a 3 hour drive to Staines where we will catch the train-about a 40 minute ride into central London. A good night of sleep and we will be on our way.

We Are Here in Lytham!

On Thursday after work, I went home and got Aurora as we had some last minute things on our to do lists. We first went to Aloha Nails and had each a manicure and a pedicure...a big treat for us both! Then we went off to the salon to get our hair cut as well, as we wished to look our best for our friends. Then we zipped back home to do the last of our packing and preparations. Jeff came home from work at around 1AM and needed my help to get him done packing...needless to say since the airport shuttle was due at 4AM, we opted not to bother going to bed. Probably a foolish choice in hind sight, but there you have it.
The shuttle came to the house at 4:30AM. They did call, as they were running a tad late. It was nearly full when they came to get us and made one more stop in Kirkland to pick up one last passenger. Everyone on board was chatty about their trips. One gentleman was off to Germany where his wife had family, another lady was off to Arizona... etcetera.
We arrived at the airport in good time and the security line was VERY long! It took around 30 minutes to get through. The plane left on time and I had the window seat. Not that it mattered much, as I went off to sleep shortly after take off, though a bit and out. We arrived in Toronto at 3:30 their time (4 and 1/2 hours later after we left). We had originally planned to go off into Toronto, but that didn't happen. Canadian Customs wasn't much bother. We had nothing to claim and had filled out the paperwork while on board the plane. It was walk up to a window, turn in the work, get our passports stamped and off you go...all of about a 10 minute thing at most. That being said Toronto Airport is a long affair. We walked and walked to find the gate to the international airport to then find we had to board a shuttle which drove about two miles to the international flight building. They are building a new one which won't be done for a couple of years and temporarily have to take you to the old building by shuttle. By the time we got their, we decided we had best not leave as we had all ready gone through security again. We hung out at the Duty Free shops and the one restaurant they had, and we had an Italian waiter (Luciano) who all but didn't care about his customers. He was a very slow fella at getting back round the tables to hand out bills or take orders. The lunch wasn't bad though, good chicken pesto sandwiches and pepperoni pizza for Aurora. Our plane left the airport at 10PM Friday-Toronto Time. We flew out over Lake Ontario (flew in over it too, as the plane went over it and then turned round over it and came in to the airport over it to land.) We slept a bit, but not really well for the 6 hour 50 minute flight...but we had a good wind and it took only 6 hours and 10 minutes! We had basically no turbulence at all. The on board movie was Hitch with with Will Smith, and was an amusing comedy.
We arrived at Manchester International Airport at 9:25 AM, unloading was fast and then we got in line for English Customs and to have our passports looked over. I had a few moments panic, as we had to put in the address of where we were going and I couldn't remember my friends address in full. Some poor family was being given quite a ration and the customs officer who was dealing with them was being very loud telling the that he had to know the address where they were going and such to give them admittance to the UK. But, when we got up to the lady reviewing ours, she barely gave us a look, asked us how long we were there and if it was just for holiday, she stamped us and we were out lickety split! We went down to baggage and were much relieved that all of ours came down the carousel. Manchester International is also under a bit grotty looking. We went round another corner and Paul, Sherilee and Mikki were waiting for us! Sherilee came running up for a big hug and Paul took my luggage and we went to a huge lift that took us up to the garage and their Ford Galaxy van. Then the excitement got going good!
First we had a laugh seeing Paul sitting on the right side of the van! It really does look odd. We head straight out onto the M5 motorway. YIKES! They drive really fast!!! Most of the cars are flying round 80+ to 90 weaving in and out. Our eyes were popping as every one just tears down the motorways. Then to be on the wrong side (as we see it) to boot, made for a thrill ride. They had huge greenbelts long the sides of the roads, and as we got more rural, quite a few cow and sheep in the fields as well. As we skipped of the M5 onto another smaller road way and then off that onto local town roads, the roads get precariously narrow. I mean really narrow! Some times Paul would have to pull to the side so another could pass. Lytham is incredibly charming. Full of neat little row houses with tidy gardens and charming store fronts with names that seem funny at times to us. We passed a pharmacy that here they call a Chemistry. It was a lovely drive to the house...Aurora said...They all look so cute, like toy buildings we would take out of a box and set up. I can't think of a more charming explanation.
At the house, a walk, the view and the pub.
Paul and Sherilee live in charming brick row house. The one just to the left when you face in is a veterinarian, very convenient if the dog is ill. We unloaded and then had a lovely late lunch with heavy bread rolls with sunflower seeds on top, freshly cooked chicken, spinach leaves and chips and sodas and salad full of all sorts of interesting greens. After that we went down to the River Ribble for a walk and to see the local Lytham windmill and life boat house which are a mere 200+ years old. The river spills into the estuary which feeds into the Atlantic. You can see an oil rig way off shore in the Irish Sea and you can see a large spit far off which is part of Blackpool. It is an incredible site, and is only a block or so from their front door step. Next door to the left of them at their neighbors row house they have a beautifully manicured garden with Terry the tortoise, a resident of the garden. This fella is about the size of a football and is 42 years old. Richard their neighbor has had him since he was but 8 years old. He has his address painted on the rim of his shell and had a tennis shoe for a toy he likes to play with. Richard came out and let us hold Terry and give him a rub on the head...surprise surprise, Aurora now wants a tortoise for a pet! They do not export them these days per Richard...(saved from another pet! Ha ha ha).
A bit later in the walk, Aurora's allergies to all the English grasses were giving her troubles, so we headed our walk into Lytham's town center. We stopped at the center which has a huge mosaic round of lovely design with fishes and things made of colored stones and such...we took another Kodak moment there.
We then stopped in at the Ship & Royal for our first English Pub experience. We had a few drinks and enjoyed watching some of Live Aid (a lot of bands on the TV to stop hunger and poverty) on the big screen. Annie Lennox was on at the time singing some of her songs. The pub itself is delightfully appointed in rich woods, and the inside is for all appearances the same as the inside of a ship.
We went back to the house and chatted and then sat for dinner. They had prepared a home made chili... lots of meat and tomatoes, few beans, but very very good, salads and such and then sweetened strawberries with heavy cream for dessert. Good thing we had been walking!
It is just lovely here and we are simply thrilled being steeped in all thing English. There is little more to say at the moment. It is now Sunday morning late, they are off at church, and we did not wake up until they had to be leaving. The house is quiet for a few moments yet, and when they get back we will be having a picnic somewhere.
Tomorrow we are off to London, so it may be several days before I can get back to writing. Thus is all magical!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Here is the Family we are going to visit in England!

This photo is a couple of years old (and the boys and Michelle have grown!), but I wanted to share my friend Sherilee's family in England with all of you... (yes same name as me in case you don't already know that!)
From left to right
Top row: middle son Keiron, father Paul, youngest son Joe
Middle row: mother Sherilee (my best friend!)
Bottom row: daughter Michelle, eldest son Graham

See you soon my far away family!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Update - Trip readiness! Luggage, passports and pounds!

We have been busy getting ready for our trip since my last posting and the excitement is truly mounting! What have we been up to?

Well who would of thought this part would have been difficult? Decisions, decisions and more decisions! Let alone a few mistakes along the way! Jeff decided we should do our hunting for luggage on the web. We had no idea how many places sold luggage! I will tell you, though, if you decide you need new luggage, look no further than! No matter how many places Jeff and I looked, inevitably they would have the best price. They didn't always have everything that some places had, but their prices are really hard to beat and their shipping is generally free on most orders. I ended up with a lovely set of Samsonite luggage in Burgundy that I am really very happy with. I bought the large case on wheels, a mid-sized wheeler case and a tote. Next was Aurora's turn and for her we ended up choosing Atlantic in a beautiful sage color... and now our troubles began! After Jeff did some more reading up after Aurora's luggage arrived we found the large case we bought for her was...well too large! We didn't realize that over a certain linear measurement (i.e. H + W + L) that the airlines charge you for excess baggage! In fact, we would have had to pay an extra hundred dollars every time her luggage would go for a ride on a plane...this could add up! So...if you need a luggage lesson, pay attention to your luggage linear measurements and do NOT exceed 62 inches when traveling! It was nearly a very costly error and has ended up costing us more already. We had only intended on buying Aurora one large case and her tote, now we had to order yet another piece for her in a smaller mid-size version. We didn't want to pay to send the larger case back, and we figure it will still be an excellent piece of luggage for her on any road trips she takes in her life travels. Goodness knows we have taken several ocean-side trips to the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach or at Ocean Shores or in Oregon that a big case would have been handy for. The scary part of this luggage fiasco is that here we are 20 days from our trip and the new case we ordered for her has yet to arrive! The luggage store was out at the time we ordered and is not going to have her case back in until mid-June...then they will ship, but they thought it might not be in until near the end of June! YIKES! I did tell them in an Email exchange that we were leaving the 1st of July. They did think they would have it in and could send it on time...I am on pins and needles about it, but I have my fingers crossed! If it does not arrive on time, she can use my second mid-sized case or Jeff's, but it would really be better if hers gets here. Or we could even buy it locally...I have seen it at Macy's - this would be our last resort.
The next luggage we had to buy was for Jeffrey. I had no idea just how picky my man can be! We first ordered luggage from a New York based luggage company to buy him Victorinox, and he was not happy with his purchase! I will not go into all the reasons he didn't like the luggage (he had plenty), but it was a big pain to get it all sent back to them. I must say that they were really very nice about it and gave us a full refund, sans a bit out of our pockets for some of the return shipping, but they did cover most of the return which was very nice them to do. Jeff had a horrible time deciding on his luggage. He is just one of those people that really needs to see/feel/touch before he buys something. The new Seattle Premium Outlet Mall opened here recently and was about a 20 mile trip north from where we live. They had a Samsonite outlet store, and I had seen it there a few weeks before when my Mom and I decided to venture a trip to the new mall along with going to the big Tulalip Casino next door for her Mother's Day lunch treat. So Jeff, Aurora, Jeff's Mom and I made a Saturday trip to the new mall to look at luggage. Jeff really liked Samsonite's Excalibur luggage which is their last year's top of the line luggage. It was 60% off the original ticketed retail price, so a good deal. We bought him the large case, the mid-size and the tote. Now here is where I again tell you...go to if you need luggage! We should have looked again at their site, because they had it on blow-out sale! We could have saved nearly $150.00 dollars had we bought it on line from them! I was sorely tempted to get in the car and drive the 40 mile round trip to get our money back and order it on-line, but Jeff did not want to go to the bother to do so. The important thing is we now ALL have our luggage (Well nearly all of our luggage!) for the trip! Live and learn as they say!

Passports: Here was another lesson learned in travel readiness. I will tell you to start this leg of a trip early on! I am so glad we got started early. I had picked up the paper work to complete last year when we talked about getting passports because of the touted changes coming for crossing the border into Canada. We like to go up to Canada every few years. When our friends from England came we were given such a hassle at the border (Not getting into Canada mind you, but trying to get back into the U.S.! And is was our family they hasseled...U.S. citizens! Not my friends from England who had passports!) that we had planned on getting passports long before we knew we were going to go to England. So Jeff took his time and carefully filled out all the paper work for all three of us. Then Aurora and I went to the local Walgreens Pharmacy store to get our photos done. Don't do this! They really do not take the best photos. It really isn't their fault entirely, the lighting in the stores is what makes it so bad. My first photo was very pale and I looked ghastly! Aurora's was okay but she looked very washed out as well. Jeff was appalled at my photo and told me to have it redone. I stopped at another Walgreens on the way to work and the lighting in that store was much better in the back where they too the photo, plus the young man who took my photo was much taller so he was looking more down at me and I'm sure the lighting bounce effect helped to make it better. Too when I told him how washed out the first ones I had were, he said likely that the camera that was used had the flash turned up to bright. I took Aurora that evening back to the other store and showed them the new photo I had and told them what the young man had said about their flash. They re-took Aurora's photo and gave me the money back on my first photo. They did turn down their flash and Aurora's second photo was better than the first go around. Then we went the next day, a Thursday, to turn in everything to the downtown Bothell court to get things going...only we got there at 4 PM and they didn't take the paperwork after 2 PM! The person there did point out a nice list they had of all the places that took the passport documents etc... and as it turned out Lake Forest Park which was only a few miles down the road was open until 7PM to accept paperwork and they were even open on Saturdays! Much better than the few hour window Bothell had and only on Tuesday and Thursday of each week. Plus when we got to the Lake Forest Park city hall, not only do they take the paperwork for passports, but they also take photos too! The lady there showed me the photo of the person before Aurora and I, and I must tell you they take far better photos then Walgreens does. If you live in this area...go there and do it all! Two weeks later that is just what Jeff did. It takes a good 4 to 6 weeks to get your passport once you have paid and turned in all your documents...which includes your birth certificate. Mind you, make sure you turn in an official birth certificate...not the one your Mom got from the hospital when you were born, that is not accepted! Months before we started the passports, Jeff and I learned about that and we had to order both his and Aurora's. I had gotten an original many years before for a completely different reason.

Pounds: Getting pounds for England has been another interesting venture. Here are a few things I've learned that I didn't know before. Our bank, fortunately, has ATM alliance with Barclays in England, which is a well known bank. We can take pounds out of their ATM's at no charge. I also found out from our bank that they have alliance with other ATM's in many other countries including France where we will be for two days. We can take up to 166 pounds out a day (the same as $300 a day here), which is much nicer than carrying too many pounds in your pockets to possibly have them picked! I also had to send money to my friend in England as she needed to book the train tickets and special coach tour including hotel for our leg of the trip to France so that we would all be riding together and staying together. Getting her the money was an interesting process...and I found I could send her money via PayPal that I use for my eBay purchases! Only you know what they did...they went and charged her 20 Pounds Sterling for the transfer! They did not charge me on my end. How cheeky is that! When I was going to have my bank transfer the money, they were going to charge me $35.00 to do so...and I would have had to go to the bank in person, have her account number, her bank's address, her ABA #, the exact name on her account and a phone number for her branch. How many people do you know so well you want to share all that information with? My friend did send me all that information, which I thought was terribly brave of her, before I found out about being able to send the money via PayPal. So I sent her the money via them, but then they charged her for the privilege! I have promised to make this up to her when we get there! A lesson learned that nothing is ever free, no matter how they make it sound. Life is never free. Even to get our money here converted to pounds will cost us $5.00 to have the bank order the money. Phooey! So, we have decided to take our pounds out in England at the ATM's. We are also taking one credit card...and I called them and gave them our trip dates so they don't think some one has stolen our card. You also need to do this for your bank debit card, or they will shut you out of your account when you are abroad as they will think you have had your card stolen.
The last little bits we have done to date is I went on eBay and bought some leather passport covers to keep our passports looking nice and to protect them from getting raggedy. After all, they issue them and they are good for ten long years, so it is best to have covers to keep them looking in good order. I also bought a security bag that will hold my passport and money under my shirt and Jeff got a special money belt that hides in his pants to keep from getting lifted. This is a real concern when in London or Paris we have been told, so we decided not to take any chances in this area. Jeff just learned about a new American Express debit card that you can get that is a Travelers Cheque Debit card. It costs $15. to get one and you have a card instead of checks to carry around. We may get this too, as it only takes 10 days to get one. You put the money you want to spend in the account and use what you need. Could be a good plan.
Aurora's Godmother traveler extraordinary, has a cell phone for Europe that she is lending us for our trip. That way we will have a local number in England and can contact our friends should we get separated. I also bought a power converter so that I can juice up my digital camera when the need arises. These days with so many X-rays and scans of luggage, film can readily be over-exposed and they do not recommend taking anything but a digital camera these days when you go abroad.

We are getting very excited...20 days and counting...and as you can see, we are getting ready!