Summer is in full swing and if you can't get to the beach, the beach can come to you - at least in a virtual sense!
This month's calendar features the Atlantic Ocean and the beach in Ponte Vedra, FL.
To download, click on the link at box.com:
Free Download - July 2013 Desktop Calendar
While we were in London, we celebrated my daughter's sixteenth birthday.
[Last year, she was in France for her birthday. I sense a pattern now which begs the question - where will she be next June?]
She dislikes it when I take her photo, but I managed to sneak one in.
Remembering her as a baby:
As a Little girl:
And some silly moments:
Oh, how fast they grow up!
On her birthday, we enjoyed afternoon tea at the Wallace Collection's Restaurant:
I learned that afternoon tea for one consists of:
A Pot of Tea (of course)
4 finger sandwiches: Smoked salmon, Cucumber, Ham and Cheese and Egg Salad
3 cakes: a filled cream puff, a filled sponged cake and a delicate tiramisu-like cake
1 scone with clotted cream and jam (clotted cream is like butter)
It was a nice, elegant way to celebrate this milestone.
In the middle of our trip, I was contacted by an old friend via Facebook - Janine had seen the photos I was posting on my timeline. We learned that she and her family were flying over to London and our trips would overlap by a day. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with great friends we hadn't seen in probably five years. We were neighbors and co workers when we lived in Indiana. Our kids were born within a year of each other and they were close friends until we moved away. Since then, Jeff and Janine also moved from Indiana to Oklahoma. What better place to meet up but in London!
They arrived into London early Saturday morning, so that afternoon, we met them at the apartment they were renting. We ended up talking for several hours before heading out for lunch at a nearby pub - their family enjoyed some fish and chips, but Jeff tasted some mushy peas and decided they were not for him. We headed into Central London and ended up at Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery.
We had tickets for the London Eye that evening. The rains were off and on all day long, but I noticed that most evenings had been relatively clear so I had reserved tickets for 7:30pm. Sure enough, the rains passed and the sun was starting its decline. It doesn't get dark until well past 10pm this time of year and the lovely evening sun lasts forever.
The London Eye gives you the most perfect views of Big Ben and Parliament. I must have taken a dozen photos - each a little higher in the sky as the giant wheel slowly turned.
You can see the southern bend of the Thames:
Or look north towards the Embankment Rail station and the Hungerford Bridge:
The views were fantastic all around.
Over the past five years, I have visited London three times and this was my first ride on the Eye. If I get another chance in the future, it will have to be at night with all the buildings lit up against an ink black sky (that of course means it will have to be in winter).
My sister has Friday's off from work, so we set out that morning for a nice walk along the Thames via the Chiswick Mall. It was a perfect morning - a little cloudy with an occasional glimpse of the sun.
The walkway, or Mall along the river was dotted with pubs, restaurants and private houses with beautiful gardens.
Most of the gardens were in a strip of land between the river's retaining wall and the walkway. The house would then be located across the street - you had to cross the street and the walkway to get to your garden. Because of this arrangement, most of the gardens were tucked behind gates and privacy hedges.
There are a couple of river access points along the walk - the girls took their cousins down to the muddy banks by mistake (the adults were lagging behind) and subsequently turned back when they realized how muddy it was, but there was an adventurous group of students exploring down along the banks.
We caught a sculling team practicing:
We headed away from the river to the Chiswick House Gardens where we enjoyed lunch outside and the kids played in the playground.
The Chiswick House itself was closed, but the gardens are so nice it didn't matter. The gardens were created in the 18th century and served as inspiration for other grand gardens such as New York's Central Park.
Water flows through the center of the gardens, home to several new families:
Then there was the amazing conservatory and formal Italian Gardens in front:
In a large city, Chiswick House and Gardens is a perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the crowds. We really enjoyed our visit.
First, let's get something straight - it's not pronounced "bath", with the 'a' sound as in 'apple' - it's pronounced with the 'a' sound as in 'father'. This link takes you to a website where you can hear it on your computer!
Now that we have that cleared up, here's what we did as we took a side trip to Bath on our way back to London.
In the morning, Sue and I walked down the street to the local church - it is only open on Sundays and serves the small community. We're talking old and rustic here - it's pretty much a single roomed building with no electricity.
Sue tells me they hold a candlelight service at Christmas - I bet that is really amazing.
There's still some remnants of rain and mist on the green pastures. I tried to capture that misty look, but I don't think it happened in this photo:
Regardless, Sue and I had a wonderful walk.
Old college friends are the best.
Sue pulled out several old picture books from our college days - it was fun reminiscing and my daughter got to see photos of me when I was a lot younger!
On our way back to the train station, we stopped off by the Clifton Suspension Bridge and Observatory. Built in the 1800's, it spans the Avon gorge and the Avon River. Being an engineer, I find these things pretty interesting.
The previous day, we viewed the bridge from a different vantage point - down the river:
Oh wait, I was supposed to write about Bath, not about early Bristol landmarks!
We said our goodbyes to Sue and hopped on the train heading to Bath. After a nice lunch at a cafe, we walked to the main center - the famed Roman Baths and Bath Abbey.
The Bath Abbey:
Visitors can take a nice tour of the famous Roman Baths where evidence of Roman architecture abounds. Fed by hot springs, the complex was built over the first three centuries AD.
The main pool serves as the centerpiece of the complex, although there are inner rooms with pools. Spring water still flows through the structure.
Yes, it was steaming and yes, I touched the water - it seemed comfortably warm.
After the Roman Baths, we walked up through the Mall area to the Royal Crescent - a series of houses built in a sweeping arc, high upon the Bath landscape. The structure is very impressive and distinct to the area.
The rain had started to fall when we approached (yes, rain, even with blue skies!) - the photo above was taken with my iPhone using a panoramic app. Looking back now, I wish I had taken the series with my big camera.
There's so much more one can take in while visiting Bath, but sadly, we ran out of time. This only means I'll need to go back some day in the future!
In addition to my sister living in London, one of my college roommates, Sue, lives near the city of Bristol. Bristol is in the Britain territory of Wales, whereas the city of London is part of the territory of England. The last time I visited London in 2010, Sue took the train from Bristol into London to meet up with me. This time I thought it would be fun to visit her - it would give us a different perspective of the UK and the girls would see a bit of the countryside along the way.
The train journey takes about 90 minutes from the Paddington Rail Station:
And along the way, the landscape quickly transformed from cityscape to green countryside.
We arrived a little after noon, under gloomy. drizzly skies. Because of the weather, we didn't explore the city of Bristol by foot - Sue pointed out several of the main areas as we drove along the banks of the Avon Gorge. We made our way to the village of Tintern to visit the remains of the grand monastery, Tintern Abbey.
It serves as inspiration for the Wordsworth Poem, Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.
I didn't have a wide angle lens to capture the entire structure, so I stitched together numerous photos into a panoramic rendering of the backside of the Abbey. The ruins in the back would most likely be the living quarters for the monks. The main church remains partially intact, but roofless.
We also walked across the Wye River and down a walking path to get a better view of the massive structure
Along our walk, we encountered several cottages:
The girls tried to stay dry. but the misty drizzle turned to a steady rain and we retreated.
Sue lives not too far from Tintern and at her home we were met by lush green countryside and sheep! This is the view from her driveway:
Such a great contrast to the hustle, bustle and buildings we left in London!
For dinner, Sue and her husband, Barry, were kind enough to get take out pizza for the girls while they took me out for Indian Curry. I think it was a win-win for everyone (I'm the only one in my family who enjoys Indian cuisine, so I never get any!). We ate in the nearby village of Chepstow and after dinner, walked to the River Wye to see the Chepstow Castle:
Even with the rain, it was a great day of catching up with old friends and enjoying the quiet countryside.
We're at day five of our trip to the UK and after a morning of shopping (Topshot, Zara, H&M and Primark) we ended up in Hyde Park.
Oh, and we ate lunch at Nando's, because my daughter insisted. When I asked how she even knew about Nando's (I had never heard of the chicken place), I learned it's been featured in some YouTube videos, one with Ed Sheeran, who the girls really love. There's probably some link to the likes of One Direction and Justin Bieber that I am unaware of, too. I guess there's no denying the influence of these social media on today's youth.
Some additional comments about our venture into the Primark store (which is somewhat like a Kohl's Store in the US, only much bigger) - it was like being in a Wal-Mart on Black Friday morning. Throngs of people everywhere. If you wanted to try on some clothes, be prepared to wait 30 minutes to get into the fitting room. Then there was the "queue" to purchase your cheap clothes which were probably made in a sweatshop like the one that collapsed in India. We were in the store for 5 minutes before becoming overcome by a desire to leave immediately.
We escaped the Primark store by heading to Hyde Park. I wanted to see the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, located in the center of the park, but the girls were quite "done" with the day's activities. So I made a decision - one that went against the motherly instinct in all us mothers - I allowed them to travel back to my sister's house without me. My rationalization - they just needed to get to the Hammersmith Tube Station, and after 5 days of navigating the London Underground, I knew they could figure it out. Still, as I watched them walk away, I resisted the urge to run after them screaming, "OK, I'm going with you!".
Resolute in my decision to give my girl some independence, I briskly walked to the Serpentine Gallery. Each year, the gallery commissions an architect to showcase a structure next to the gallery - the temporary structure is used as a pavilion and gathering space. Past architects include Frank Gehry, and this year's pavilion was designed by Sou Fujimoto.
I had viewed photos of the structure online - it looked like a crystalline structure in the photos, but as I walked towards it, to me it looked more like white toothpicks glued together. Once I got closer, I gained a better appreciation of the pavilion - it was so much more sturdy that toothpicks - with each supported fashioned from solid steel pipes.
The pavilion's hollow center serves as a unique open air cafe. Visitors may climb into the structure via transparent stairs and gather with friends.
I enjoyed people watching as I sipped a steamy cappuccino:
I left the Serpentine Gallery and headed west toward Kensington Palace. Enroute, I came across the Royal Albert Hall and the South Gardens:
In front of Kensington Palace - a Statue of Queen Victoria:
I had walked from the East to the West side of the park and was ready to head back home. I took a doubledecker bus to Hammersmith and marveled at the tenacity of bikers in the flow of London traffic. I also texted my daughter, a little anxious about their solo journey back home. I gave a sigh of relief when she responded to my text - they had arrived back home without incident.
I learned several things that day - that a little bit of independence can make everyone happy - that my oldest is getting ready for the next steps of independence - and that I am almost ready to let that happen (note I said "almost" - baby steps....)