Monday, August 31, 2009


OK – I have to say, I prepped myself more for Stonehenge than any other place we’ve been to.  I did internet research, read 2 books, and even watched a Nova special. Everything I read said you need to know what you are looking at, or it will be a letdown.  But first we have to talk about Salisbury – and I’ll tell you why.

I was really excited amini_HPIM2054bout all my new found knowledge and figured the best way to see Stonehenge would be to rent a van and drive out there.  We invited Katrina, Pierre Luc and Zane since we wanted to hang out with them and thank them for their hospitality. Well, it turns out to rent a van for one day in London costs 650 pounds, or over $900 (and remember, the pound is weak right now).  That was sooooo not going to happen!  But, we never let snags stop us and we got lucky since London Walks was doing a Salisbury and Stonehenge daytrip on Saturday. OK – wasn’t really planning on Salisbury, but, why not?  Pictured right, you can see Zane and Griffin sharing a seat on the train – they are less than a year apart and loved playing with each other. 

Salisbury ended up being a wonderful addition to ourmini_HPIM2057 journey.  Zander was pretty pissed off that we weren’t just going straight to Stonehenge, which I had been chatting up for months.  He spent his train time making a model, as you can see!   The adults spent our time chatting and having a debriefing (from me) on Stonehenge.  It was wonderful to have a trip with another family.  Katrina is an American, now turned British citizen who is partnered to a French man. He recently moved to Britain as well to be with his family.  So, here we are, international travelers, hanging out with another bilingual family – of course we found tons to talk about.   It was especially interesting for me to be staying with a family in a foreign country that could really tell me how things were there – like schools, immigration, health care and life in general. Straight from the source!

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When we got off the train it was a short walk from Salisbury station to the cathedral, which was located in the old central part of the town. It is yet another city ringed with a river and I loved the verdant fields, dotted with sheep grazing and a beautiful mini_HPIM2065 river bank that had a green grassy bottom that reminded me of mermaid’s hair flowing.  This is a very ancient town and is still lmini_HPIM2066ocked up every night at 10pm for the people who live inside the old city walls.  We got to walk through one of the gates on the way to the cathedral.  You can see Callie is holding Katrina’s hand – Katrina played with our kids and was quickly rewarded with little ones who simply glued themselves to her at every opportunity.  That’s what you get! Over the center of the gate was this royal seal – a lion and a unicorn with the saying “Dieu et mon droit”.  This symbol is all over England.  I looked it up on wikipedia of course and found out it is the official Royal Coat of arms for the UK.   Read more about it here:  There are 2 things I found interesting about this.  First, that the motto is in French – I realize that French was the official language of royalty etc… back in the 15th century – but those days are long gone – shouldn’t they switch it or something?  Also I was curious about the unicorn.  Turns out she is a symbol of freedom and is depicted as chained to the seal to represent the dominion the crown held over the wild Scots!  Poor unicorn.File:Salisbury Cathedral.jpg

mini_HPIM2068 Then it was on to the Salisbury Cathedral.  I copied the photo above from Wikipedia – I hope that’s legal.  I really enjoyed this cathemini_HPIM2070dral for several reasons.  First, it was not in a large city so was surrounded by nice grounds instead of having buildings squished up all around it – that made it easier to appreciate from the outside.  Secondly, it still had an attached cloister – I have never seen a cloister before (except for when visiting the cloisters in NYC – but those are mini_HPIM2075imported) and it was breathtaking. It actually has the highest church spire in all of the United Kingdom,so it is quite impressive. I loved the interior as well.  At one point or another in history, a more puritanical strain came into power and whitewashed all the ceilings and walls, knocked out much of the stained glass (tragic), and moved most of the ornamini_HPIM2080te tombs, etc. out of the building, burying them in the front lawn.  (Yes, that’s right, the same lawn we just walked over to get to the cathedral – a bit creepy).  This makes mini_HPIM2088this cathedral particularly austere inside, which I rather liked, and also made it so there were some really cool more modern features, like a continually flowing, mirror-like baptismal font. For a photo of this font, and more info about the church see:     We wandered around for a bit and tmini_HPIM2092hen broke for lunch.  mini_HPIM2094Griffin was absolutely knackered once again and fell asleep in Katrina’s arms – so very sweet! (Knackered is one of my favorite English words.  I learned it years ago when working at IOP and, every time I used it in the past, André complained that it wasn’t a word.  I was so happy when we got to Katrina’s and one of the first things she said was: ‘You must be knackered!” – Ha!)  We got  a chance to walk into the side chapel where they have the best preserved copies of the original (1215) version of the Magna Carta.  That document was the most important of many that led to our current democracy and it was awesome to see it, but frustrating too because we couldn’t read a word of it—it was in archaic latin calligraphy—with NO translations nearby.  Then we had lunch at the cafeteria attached to the cathedral.  Convenient and, I confess, delicious.  I was absolutely horrified by the food in England when I visited over 10 years ago and had warned the family not to expect much but this trip we had lots of good food.  They had chicken korma and moussaka that were both delicious – and a chocolate cake that was actually moist – happy day – can’t find that in France.  I also enjoyed scones with clotted cream and jam a couple of times and (the day before) fish and chips that were supmini_HPIM2099er yummy! Did things change so much in 10 years or did I just get lucky?

After lunch we gathered to get on the tour bus – we met by the red telephone booth.  These are all over England.  The kids had a great time joking around together, Zander was doing ‘silly guy’ which always is good for tons of laughs.  Here they are, joking around….


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I took a few final pictures of Salisbury as we were leaving town….

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One of the things I really remember our tour guide saying was that, when in old towns, look up!  That’s because the lower levels of the shops have all been modernized but, when you look up, you can see the old architecture and even, like with the black and white building above, how time has made the houses settle and be quite crooked.  I wished we had time to partake of lunch at “An Old English Chopmini_HPIM2114 House” named, as you can see, Haunch of Venison!  I think it’s great that when actually in an old English city – they spell ‘an old’, A-N  O-L-D but when in America, and they are attempting to imitate such places, they spell something like ‘an old’ Y-E O-L-D-E (and they probably would have spelled ‘chop’ c-h-o-p-p-e as well). Why?  I took the photo of the giant teapot in honor of my mother – who loves tea – wish I could have brought that home to give to her as a souvenir.  And then, there is the Double Angry Whopper.  I didn’t realize that whoppers had feelings in England!  Is this ad campaign running in the USA as well?  Do people in either country want to eat angry food?  Wouldn’t you be afraid the anger would end up ingested and affect your own mood?  And remember, this burger isn’t just angry – it’s double angry. It includes ‘hot-headed jalapeños and angry onion strips’ as well. The bottom tag reads “Can you handle one?” Well, maybe, but there is enough anger in this world without it also being a part of my food – thanks anyway.

Off to Stonehenge…..

Friday, August 28, 2009


Hey – no more numbers!

I have had many of my fans just dying to know what is happening here in France.  I apologize for my slow catch up speed ,but here, in August, it is all me, all the time, with no school or camp.  I am sure the first few weeks of school will consist of me catching up on all these blogs since lots has happened.  I have one particularly funny story involving nudity – but I must focus, people!

Well, we couldn’t just go straight home from the US, could we?  No way!

We stopped for 3 days in London, England.  I had been there once before (for one day) when I worked for IOP, saw Tate Modern, Trafalgar square, The National Gallery, Westminster Abbey, had some fish and chips and took a walk along the Thames, but no one else in our family had ever been.  Since the pound is particularly weak right now and I found out an old high school friend of mine was now living in London, the stars seemed aligned for a short stay.

Of course, first we had to get there – we took a van (thanks Mom and Dad!) to the airport Wednesday right mini_HPIM1984 after lunch (tears all around) and had an uneventful red-eymini_HPIM1983e flight over, during which we gave everyone  melatonin and the kids actually slept.  We had an absolutely obscene amount of luggage with us but somehow made it past the really interesting jumping fountain (pictured left) at Heathrow to arrive at Katrina’s by about 8:30am Thursday morning.  It was amazing to see her after so many years.

We chatted for a few minutes and then headed out to conquer London with a London walks tour.  It was to be mini_HPIM1990of Greenwich and, although we almost missed it and I nearly had a nervous breakdown at that time (mea culpa), it turned out to bemini_HPIM1992 very fun. We took a river cruise along the Thames which was relaxing and allowed us to see lots of historical stuff like the Tower Bridge and also tons of interesting buildings.  The kids loved the cruise, of course, and I’d have to say that London is by far the most architecturally interesting city I  have ever been exposed to.  It just has so many different kinds of neat-o buildings.  I’m sure if I knew more about architecture, I could be more eloquent than ‘neat-o’ but it is what it is.  I kept the picture, right, as an example – these three buildings are supposed to be looking like something French – berets perhaps?

Then we wandered around Greenwich for about 2 hours.  It was fun to be on a tour and our guide was funny, pmini_HPIM2004ersonable and very, very  knowledgeable.  Zander, as usual, was fascinated by mini_HPIM2007everything and stuck to the guide like a shadow.  Callie went along well and Griffin, as you can see, had enough of the tour and simply passed out in my arms.  We visited a former royal palace that had a beautiful cathedral – all the plaster and relief looking stuff was actually painted – it was breathtaking. The guide told us that England, always in competition with France, had made this place in some sort of reaction to Versailles, even using the same architect.  I must say it was really cool to hear him making the comparisons to Versailles, and be able to totally understand, since, like, I was just at Versailles in April!  I am such a world traveler.

I am having majmini_HPIM2013or problems remembering details here, and my internet is down so I’ll just samini_HPIM2015y that Greenwich is where some famous person Sir???  lived and died (as a traitor) and, earlier in his non traitorous days, he laid his cloak down over a  puddle for some queen – marking him down forever as a great gentleman.  We reenacted this in our group and then,  for the next reenactment, Zander was chosen to participate.  He was thrilled and acted the part of the kings wife's cousin (who accused the king of not being able to get it up!).  Unfortunately, he was executed in the end.  Also here, we had the absolute thrill (and I’m not even being sarcastic) of setting our watches by the ultimate, world wide arbiter of all time, Greenwich Mean Time!  When the ball at the astronomy tower drops at 1pm – that’s it folks.  I learned all about the evolution of time keeping and why it was important. Unfortunately, I forget everything.

mini_HPIM2017 The group broke up after this and we headed up the himini_HPIM2019ll to go to the Astronomy Tower.  We wandered around looking at the view and making the vital discovery that my foot is exactly the same length as the original king’s foot that started it all.  This must mean something, mini_HPIM2022folks, something significant! We wandered around some more and everyone who hadn’t rested earlier (except me) ended up asleep on a bench.  We took the kids to mini_HPIM2027their first planetarium show, which was mini_HPIM2025a bit of a  disappointment and then just had to check out the Prime Meridian of the World – right, you can see Callie and Zander with one foot in each  HEMISPHERE!  How awesome is that?  We finished our day over at the Naval Museum.  This  mini_HPIM2034was really fun.  Zander got to do a barge simulator computer game and Griffin and Callie had a blast lifting cargo with a crane. Then it was back for mini_HPIM2037dinner with Katrina, Pierre Luc and their son Zane.  Not only had they thoughtfully provided some stuff (including gluten free stuff) to make lunch with, they also made us a delicious dinner of cottage pie.  I was so proud of all my kids who actually ate the strange but good food (except for Griffin who was asleep and slept right through to the next morning!  We’ll see if they eat it when I try to make it….

The next morning we headed out for our big day in London.  On the way to downtown we found that, yes, in England too they torture their trees.  All along the street the sycamores were being ruthlessly stripped off all  their green leaves as well as many many branches.  It was fun to watch the tree surgeons and chipper-shredder at work but I still feel so bad for these trees.  Also, I can’t help but wonder, how do they survive with no leaves???mini_P310709_10.51

We hopped on the Big Bus and got off at St. Paul’s Cathedral.  It was a mini_P310709_10.52wonderful site.  We weren’t allowed to take pictures but I got a few before I knew it was forbidden.  Of course, we had to walk all the way to the top of the thing and passed a ‘whispering’ dome along the way (very cool) and also some amazing views of mini_P310709_11.11London.  This was quite a climb, in fact, it may be the highest dome we’ve climbed.  It even had benches several places along the way for resting.  At one point they had a hole in the floor so you could see how far you had climbed and the people below were like ants (and this wasn’t yet the top, either!).  Turns out it was 512 steps total, one way – that makes 1024 steps for the round trip – and yes, all three kids climbed the entire way.  See London, below…

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We then spent a few hours in the Tower of mini_HPIM2050London, which, strange as it may seem, I shall compare to the good ole’ Besancon Citadelle for the simple reason that there are about 20 museums in one at this place!  You could spend mini_P310709_15.29hours and never see half.  The major highlight for all of us was The Crown Jewels.  These really were quite beautiful and impressive and, although they were in cases, were very, very  accessible.  They had these slow moving walkways going past and we took 2 turns since we were so interested in these giant jewels – I really wanted a pomini_P310709_13.55stcard of them or something but couldn’t find anything worth purchasing.  We went into the oldest part of the castle where I was impressed by how plain the kings’ chammini_HPIM2051ber was so long ago, hardly any art or gold or jewels.  We passed the famous White Tower (where Anne Boleyn died) but had to check out the display on torture  (besides the rack they had a few other devices I’d never seen before including one in which you are put into a crouching position with a ring of iron around you that is twisted tighter and tighter and tighter… yikes!).  Of course we also passed members of the Beefeaters and the famous ravens.  Legend has it if the ravens ever leave the Tower, it will be destroyed.  Not taking any chances, they raise the birds on the grounds and clip their wings.  Seems like cheating, huh? 

We were mini_P310709_16.18basically out of time so we headed back to the double decker bus and saw and learned lots of cool stuff as we rode along.  Westminster Abbey is pictured left and Trafalgarmini_P310709_17.13[01] Square is right.  So, when we passed the Tyburn tree (where they hung everyone) I learned the origin for the sayings ‘one for the road’ and ‘off the wagon’. My most favorite information tidbit, though, was about the nursery rhyme, The Noble Duke of York. I sang this to all 3 of my kids and never knew from whence it came! It turns out to be inspired by a true story of an absolutely moronic duke who was part of a moronic family that was highly unpopular and wanted to do all sorts of things that I (of course) forget about.  But, at one particularly stupid moment, this guy led hmini_P310709_17.09is soldiers into battle at the wrong place and the wrong time, twice in a row – hence the nursery rhyme (which was fresh in my mind since I had just been playing with AlliPat  – it includes awesome moves as well if you ever want to learn, just ask).  It goes like this:

The Noble Duke of York
He had 10,000 men,
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again,
And when you’re up, you’re up!
And when you’re down, you’re down.
And when, you’re only halfway up, you’re neither up, nor down.
He marched them to the right.
He marched them to the left.
He marched them over upside down!
Oh, what a crazy sight.


Anothermini_P310709_17.02[01] crazy sight was all the shoppers swarming all over one section of London I can’t remember the name of.  Buying retail?  Why, whatever for when London is coated with second hand shops galore?  I saw several but held back, in the interests of time and already seriously overflowing luggage problems. I wished we had time to stop in at Hamley’s though (kind of like the original FAO Schwartz).  The kids would have really enjoyed going there.  Finally we passed, from several vantage points, Parliament – which is just an amazingly beautiful building and also houses Big Ben.  Is anyone besides me cursed with the memory of that awful scene in National Lampoons European Vacation where they drive endlessly around Big Ben?  “Look kids, Big Ben!” I looked for a You Tube Video and failed to find one but I can still imagine the scene.    mini_P310709_16.15 mini_P310709_16.08mini_P310709_16.17

We headed back to Katrina’s house where she treated us to barbeque chicken, burgers and a wonderful tomato and cheese salad – plus this incredible organic ice cream.  We fell into our beds, excited for our final day of adventure in England, a visit to Stonehenge!


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