Tuesday, January 18, 2011

All wrapped up

As you may have noticed if you're a loyal reader of this blog, until last month I had not posted in a long time; life was too busy to spare any time writing about it. Luckily, I have a good memory, so I was able to record the major events, at least, and finish everything up in time for Christmas 2010. Since this blog was about going there and coming back again, it is now finished...until our next adventure. I hope you've enjoyed it; I know I have. Please let me know if you have any feedback.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Greece with the Kiwis…and back again

After all the chaos and emotional turmoil of our last few weeks in London, Greece provided a much-needed tonic in the form of rest and relaxation. We stayed at one campsite for the entire week, and we hardly actually did anything the whole time, but doing nothing turned out to be everything we hoped it would be. It was almost hotter than you can imagine there, and from the time we left the airport until the time we went back to the airport, we never once encountered air conditioning. When we first arrived I wasn’t sure I would be able to stand it, but I soon gave up on being very clean and just embraced the casual beachwear vibe, head scarf and all. The sounds of the island (we were on Zakynthos, in the Ionian Sea) were amazing because the entire time we were there the cicadas never stopped buzzing. It was quite a sound to wake up to.

We soon fell into a routine that served us well throughout the week. Step one: get up before the sun gets too hot, and move, with book in hand, to the terrace overlooking the sea. Drink some water, eat some fresh bread or yogurt, and read for a few hours. Step two: put on your bathing suit, if you didn’t sleep in it already, grab a towel, a bottle of water, and a book, and walk down the steep cliffside path to the water. Grab a chair if the German tourists haven’t claimed them all first, and read. Oh, you did remember to put on sun screen first thing, right? And every hour or so throughout the day? So much sunscreen that you went through a whole tube of it in the first five days? Good. Step three: read for a while, and jump into the sea every once in a while to cool off. If it hasn’t already been monopolized by a gang of Italian teenagers, swim out to the floating raft and practice cannonballs and choice bombs with your mates. Step four: slowly meander back up the cliff to the terrace for a picnic lunch of cucumbers, tomatoes, tuna, and bread. Step five: back down to the water. Step six: back up to the tent, rinse off, and move back to the terrace. Step seven: read and sip tiny glasses of local wine until Veit, the Austrian campground host comes around with the evening’s menu. Step eight: order more food than you could possibly eat, then eat it all. Step nine: break out the playing cards. Step ten: back to the tent for some hot, sticky dozing. Repeat.

The campground was hilarious because it was filled with families from all over Europe, mostly Germany, Austria, and Italy. We were the only native English speakers there, but of course they all spoke English in addition to their native tongues. How annoying. The other people were really fun to watch. Some of them seemed to be regulars at this campground, and they seemed completely at home there. There was an Austrian family with three beautiful orange-haired and freckled children, who Andrew played foosball with one night. There was a ludicrously attractive German family with a bunch of teenagers. We referred to their father as the Silver Fox, because of his full head of silvery hair and his otherwise youthful appearance. The other campground workers were nice, too. Veit’s mother was there. She didn’t speak English but we could piece together enough common language for her to give me water when I asked for it. There was a Romanian college student working there for the summer. He was a demon on the giant charcoal grill. Veit was hilarious, and he entertained us all by explaining the meaning of the word Marder: “It is a small animal, yes, that goes into the hen houses and eats the hens, but even when he is no longer hungry he keeps killing…he has…the blood hunger, yes.”

Even without the funny people, though, I would have been happy as a clam just because of the food. Such food! Greek salads, tzatziki, baskets of bread, fried zucchini balls, thick, juicy pork chops from the grill, souvlaki, octopus salad, roasted fish, giant meatballs, salty cheese. We absolutely gorged ourselves every night. We couldn’t help it.

When we weren’t eating, reading, swimming, or sleeping, which wasn’t often, we walked to the nearest village for supplies. One day we rented a little motorboat from the village and spent the whole day out on the water. Andrew and Don steered us around the bay and in and out of coves and around secondary and tertiary islands. We dropped anchor for a while in the middle of the water and just jumped overboard again and again. It was a very small boat with a very small motor, but the freedom it gave us was immeasurable. We got to see different parts of the scenery from different angles, which can be enlightening especially in a landscape with so many nooks and crannies. We could barely recognize our campground’s cliff from out in the water, and when we were up close to it we could no longer see the sea turtle shape of one of the smaller islands out in the bay.

But, as relaxing and enjoyable as our trip had been, it was soon time to leave. We packed up our bags and Andrew and I said goodbye to our trusty tent, which served us better than we served it, because it was all chewed through on the bottom and no longer anything like waterproof. It was a Zeus brand tent, and it seemed fitting to lay it to rest in Greece. It felt, too, like yet another goodbye to our European adventure. So, after one more big Greek salad and a basket of bread, we got in the cab and made our slow, delayed way back to London and back up to Cricklewood, where we had a final dinner and a final rest with the Kiwis, and then we said goodbye to the UK for the foreseeable future.

And now we’re back again.

Saying goodbye to London

The next day we said goodbye to Robert and Tiffany, who followed Zack to Sweden. We spent the rest of the day packing up all our possessions and, with the help of the Kiwis, sending lots of our stuff away. Amy and Don took some of the smaller pieces of furniture, plus lots of kitchen stuff, and they picked it all up, plus our camping gear for Greece, in a rented van, which was enormously helpful. After all was said and done we were left with an almost-empty flat, and we recreated our first night there with late-night Edgware Road takeout and a bottle of champagne, but with a few more tears this time around.

In the morning we frantically ran around to charity shops and a shipping store, dropping stuff off with the help of amused taxi drivers. Once we had absolutely every last thing out of there, we said goodbye to our amazing flat and our pretty street and went and handed in our keys. Where else could we possibly go afterwards for our last neighborhood meal, but Canteen? The staff knew we were leaving, too, and they all came over to say goodbye to us and gave us free dessert as a parting gift. I think they might actually miss us; we were certainly two of their best customers. Afterwards, we caught a bus down to the Victoria and Albert Museum for one last visit, then went to the National Gallery to finish our long, slow tour of all the paintings, and the National Portrait Gallery to say goodbye to it, too. The, with heavy hearts and bags we got on the Tube to head out of Central London for the last time. We stayed with the Kiwis for two nights in their lovely home in Cricklewood before leaving for Greece. Amy made us relax all day on Saturday, which we really needed, and then we were up at dawn the next morning to fly to the Greek islands.

Visits from Zack, Robert, and Tiffany

We had Zack all to ourselves for a couple days before Robert and Tiffany showed up (they went to Paris first). On Saturday we walked over to the British Library to see an exhibit of historical maps, which was amazing. We got to see pages from both the world’s largest atlas and the smallest. We also stopped at the Wellcome Collection on our way over and saw an interesting but kind of creepy exhibit on human skin. At the British Library there was also a Latin American festival going on, and we watched some folk dancers for a little while, then got some churros and chocolate, fittingly, at the museum’s coffee shop. We made a stop a little later on at cider pub, which was fun with Zack because we got to teach him about cider while he taught us about beer (he’s becoming quite the aficionado). That evening we met up with some of our American friends, both human and canine, for a picnic in Regents Park. It was time to say goodbye to Steve and Jamie, as they were going out of town for a couple weeks, and we couldn’t stand to end it, so the picnic moved indoors at Rich and Janice’s place, and we all walked over to Edgware Road afterwards, although Andrew, Zack and I skipped the kebabs. I was really broken up at having to say goodbye to Steve and Jamie, but I know it wasn’t a permanent goodbye by any means. They are too precious to lose.

On Sunday morning we all went to St Pancras station to pick up Robert and Tiffany, then went to the farmer’s market for the last time. We bid an emotional farewell to our favorite farmers, especially our potato guy. We must have done some more walking around that day, but we mostly just spent time together at our flat, playing board games, drinking wine, and talking. The next day we walked up to Regents Park, then met Amy for fish and chips and did a massive tourist walk through Green Park, past Buckingham Palace, through St James, and down to Westminster, where we got on a ferry down to the Tower of London, then took a bus all the way back, past St Paul’s Cathedral, down Fleet Street and the Strand, past Trafalgar Square and up Regents Street. Then it was more of the usual entertainment in the evening. It was nice to have so many American friends with us at the end to help with the transition.

The next morning we made a big full English breakfast, black pudding and all, before Zack headed out to the airport to catch a plane to Sweden. Robert and Tiffany went down to Hampton Court Palace for a few hours while Andrew and did some work around the flat, including breaking down some of the furniture for someone to come pick up that night. We sent away our bed and couch with a stranger, and the four of us had a light picnic supper on the floor gathered around an epic game of Agricola.

The following day we woke up a bit slowly, just in time for lunch reservations at Galvin, which was as lovely as ever, then had a sprint down to the theatre for a matinee showing of Les Mis. We hardly saw any musicals at all when we lived in London, which is a shame, because it was a very good performance and a great experience to share with friends.

Last days of work, plus Dolly Does London

The last day of work for both of us was the seventh of July. I had two full weeks with my replacement, the lovely Ella, and I think I did as good a job as anyone could have done under the circumstances. Poor thing; she had an awful lot to learn all at once. I had a very nice sendoff from my colleagues, with a sunny Italian lunch provided by Nigel, and lots of cards and hugs and good wishes. I was exhausted by the time I got home, but I didn’t have any time to dilly dally, because I had to transform myself into a Dolly Parton lookalike for my book club hen do. A hen do is like a bachelorette party, and we had no fewer than five bachelorettes in our group at the moment, plus several of us were moving away over the summer, so we had a big blowout party with barbecue and all the trimmings catered by Jamie and me, and all 15 of us dressed in checked shirts and denim miniskirts with lots of blue eye shadow and matching blond wigs. After stuffing our faces with the delicious food, we all headed out together on the bus and made our way over to a club on Regents Street. We got just a few interested and incredulous looks along the way. It was great fun! The club was kind of lame, but we sort of embraced it, and we all danced and took silly pictures and generally made moderate fools of ourselves. After all that, I really was exhausted, and by the time I got home, it was off with my Dolly wig and on with my hostess hat, because Zack had arrived, and we were on to our last round of visitors before leaving the UK.

A visit from the Marders

Walter and Linna had to cancel their original trip in April, so they rescheduled and came to London in May instead. Over the week we showed them around our neighborhood and a lot of our favorite spots around town. One day we walked through Hyde Park down to Kensington and the Victoria and Albert Museum. We were particularly excited to show Walter the architectural section of the museum, and we had a lovely lunch in the café, which includes rooms that were designed by different arts and crafts and Pre-Raphaelite artists, including William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. There was a piano player performing in the main room that day under the enormous silver-wire globular chandeliers, and the music set the mood nicely.

On Sunday, we watched Andrew play Frisbee in Green Park, then made a Sunday roast at our flat, with Amy and Don as additional guests. Another day, while Andrew was working, Linna and Walter and I went to the art gallery at Buckingham Palace, which had a special exhibit on Victoria and Albert. It was meant to be flattering, I’m sure, but I thought it was all more than a little bit silly, with the gaudy jewelry and sappy portraits. I’m sure they loved each other very much, but I can’t agree with their taste. The palace was lovely, though.

On Walter’s birthday, the three of us went to Kew Gardens. We particularly enjoyed the treetop walkway, the palm houses, and the thousands and thousands of azaleas in every color imaginable. We went down on the Tube but took an Edwardian-era ferry boat back into town. The views from the boat were great, and it was neat to see familiar parts of the city from that unfamiliar angle.

Another day, after work, Andrew and I met Walter and Linna, as well as Amy and Don, for a drink at one of our favorite pubs, then we all went to dinner at a Korean restaurant in Mayfair. It was my first encounter with Korean food, and it was delicious! I even liked the kimchee. All in all it was a quick visit, but we were so glad we got to show them our new flat and show them around London one more time!

Andrew’s spring 2010 photos, including France and the Marders’ visit, are here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2515277&id=6231137&l=c5f5950e96

World Cup madness and visits from Sara, Elise, and the Kramers

Summer 2010 brought on World Cup madness across Europe. Offices shut down for football matches. Pubs were overflowing. England flags were pulled out of storage. The whole place went absolutely crazy. We went to a pub with a bunch of American friends to watch the England v USA match, which was quite the experience. There were probably about 80 of us crammed into a tiny room that was meant to hold about 20, and everyone was screaming their heads off the whole time. The game ended in a tie, which overjoyed the American fans as we should have lost by a lot. I went to work the following Monday with a big, obnoxious grin on my face. We watched a lot of matches, either on the telly or at our work computers. It was great fun!

Near the end of the World Cup, we had a short visit from Sara Huff, who was on her way to Oxford for a study abroad program. We spent a couple of enjoyable days with her, and her visit overlapped with Zach, Mary Frances, and their two boys, who were in London for a couple weeks while Zach was teaching some seminars in England and elsewhere in Europe. We all went out to Regents Park for a birthday picnic for Zach and the next day Sara, Andrew, and I babysat the little ones while their tired mom and dad got to go enjoy an adult meal on their own. We got to spend a lot of time with the Kramers while they were in London. I think it’s fantastic that they travel so much with their kids; it looks like hard work, though!

Also overlapping with the Kramers’ visit was Elise, who came in mid-June. This was her second London visit with us, and we had another great time with her. She and I spent a lot of time walking all over the city, and one evening the three of us went to a performance of The Crucible at the open-air theatre in Regents Park. I had never seen it before, and it was a fantastic show. We sat in the grass on the side of the stage and enjoyed a picnic while we watched. And when we got home and cleaned out the picnic basket we found we had a stowaway slug! Ah, nature. We also spent some quality time at the Victoria and Albert museum, where we had a leisurely tour through the quilt exhibit and a lovely lunch in the William Morris rooms.

Later in the month the Kiwis and Andrew and I went to another outdoor play, this time The Taming of the Shrew in Montagu Square. This was the private garden I had tried to gain access to when we first moved in, and we were very excited to finally be allowed inside. We had a lovely picnic courtesy of Amy, and we thoroughly enjoyed the show, which was a 1980s-inspired version with excellent acting and singing.