Tag Archives: Places of Interest

Jumps Season

Today to we attended a British cultural institution: The Ascot Races!
I would like to introduce you to this phenomenon because it is very fun, very fancy and very British!

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Initially, we didn’t know if we’d be able to attend due to the very severe storms that have plagued south-west England since January. The weather has been pretty terrible, with very high winds (80mph) and severe flooding. So whether the races would continue today was unknown. But honestly, this is a pretty hardy set of folks here. I watched the BBC news yesterday where an 80 yr. old woman was being interviewed about flooding in her area. She is still living in her home, and has been for the last week despite 6″ of water on the floor. Her response to the news-man’s prompt about how she is coping? “Well, we just live on the upstairs floor and try to pump water out of the main floor.” Very matter of fact, news-man moves on to other stories.
So, trains were operating today and the races went on as well. Off to the races!

Now, before I continue, we need to establish how to pronounce Ascot. You may want to pronounce Ascot as “ass-cot,” and that’s fine. But the locals call it “ass-ct.” And we wanted to sound local, so I made sure the kids were pronouncing it correctly.

We departed Richmond and arrived in Ascot about 40 minutes later. The station in Ascot comprises the actual train station, a pub and the entrance to Ascot raceway. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of the style and age of the building. So many things here are older than the United States. But unlike most other buildings, the Ascot raceway building is pretty modern and what you might expect from a sports stadium…well, except that there are these very lovely and dapper gentleman in bowler hats and black jackets with flowers in the lapel that will advise you on where to go and what to do. I wanted to get a picture with one, but I’m pretty sure that’s not proper.
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Speaking of proper, there is a dress code for Ascot. I am borrowing the text from the Ascot web-site and pasting it here because I think you will enjoy reading it, and also because it took Luke and I about 4 read throughs to decipher what exactly it implied.
JUMPS SEASON (NOVEMBER TO APRIL)

Gentlemen usually wear a jacket with a collared shirt and tie, and ladies like to dress as for a smart occasion. Whilst this style of dress is preferred in Premier Admission during the Jumps season, it is not compulsory.

Please note that fancy dress, novelty and branded or promotional clothing is not permitted within Premier Admission”

Ok, so we were pretty clear on the upper half of the gentleman (Luke and Mac) but not so sure about the bottom half- denim, khakis, suit trousers? Also, I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a smart occasion. I mean, I graduated college and wore my cap and gown, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what they were implying. So I just went with trying to look like Princess Kate. Seemed like a safe bet. Not that there are many similarities between us, but I could at least copy here dress style. And by copy, I mean that I imagined what she would look like and then tried to copy it. If I were a princess in England, I would sit in front of a fire and read Sherlock Holmes while drinking wine.

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Actually, I used to ride horses when I was younger. Here’s a fun picture from the past:

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Back then I was very consumed with riding and jumping horses. So much so that my mum got me this beautiful necklace with my birthstone for a birthday. I had the opportunity to wear it to the races today.

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Did I mention that Mac “had” to wear a suit coat ūüėČ He’s normally not that inclined to have his picture taken, but when I told him I just wanted a picture of his LEGO creation, he complied:

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…Back to the races!

Upon entering the building, I saw that we had done well and fit right in with the other race-goers…though their style looked effortlessly British, whereas ours was labored over and timidly chosen, hoping to not get rejected at the ticket booth. Their style was very “smart” indeed! Men sporting suit coats in all manner of wool plaid print, fantastic derby hats toping ruddy faces (Whiskey is popular here). The ladies were also smartly dressed in semi-formal dresses, stockings and not so practical shoes. I had so much fun analyzing their dress. As for the kids… well, in a building containing about 2,000 people, our kids comprised 50% of the children in attendance. No one seemed disturbed by them, in fact, they were quite a novelty.

We were hungry and thirsty and tried to find sustenance, seating, and someone who could explain how exactly you bet on races. Not the easiest thing to do. First, and I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but the food in most non-boutique restaurants in London is pretty bad compared to what we had available in Seattle. I don’t mean it will give you food-poisoning, it’s been cooked far too long for that to be even a remote possibility! Just very bland, somewhat not-fresh (I’m trying to be kind here) and lacking in the fruit/vegetable food groups. We did purchase food, and we did try the food, but 2 hungry adults and 3 hungry kids rejected all but the chips (fries) from our meal. That’s OK though, the bland food encourages another British pastime, drinking alcohol. The food may not be good, but you can be sure that there is wine, whiskey and beer readily available. In fact, on our train ride to Ascot (remember, ass-ct!) two older women boarded the train and proceeded to take out two plastic wine glasses and a small container of wine, pouring a liberal amount into each glass and imbibing as we journeyed to our destination. Before moving to London, I may have thought poorly of these women, but having been here almost a year, what I really wanted to do was join them!

Where were we? I started writing about drinking and then…it gets blurry ūüėČ

Let’s talk about betting. I’ve been to a casino once in my life, on a lay-over from Seattle to Oklahoma, where we gambled nickels on slot machines in order to get free drinks. Hence, I’m not the most seasoned gambler. I tried to ask a few people how to place bets at the betting counter and the transaction that happened is one that I will heretofore refer to as the “happy non-native.” The happy non-native asks questions, but doesn’t want to inconvenience people, so upon hearing their answer to his or her question, smiles, nods, says thank you and walks away still trying to figure-out what they were saying.
At a loss for what to do after these interactions, I opened our race book and asked the kids to pick their favorite horses. Some of these selections were based on the amount of pink/purple/stars in the jockey’s uniform. Some were more thought out after careful inspection of the manual (Mac).

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Bets were placed and the day was pretty seamless after that. Out of 5 races, we picked 4 horses that placed in the top 3, which won us back about 40% of what we spent. But that’s not the point. The point is that it was really fun. Not just for us, but for the kids. They took awhile to warm-up to the idea of spending a day at the racetrack, but watching these horses run two miles and jump over numerous fences in less than 8 minutes, was beautiful and exciting. I hope that they remember this experience, I know I will.

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Signs

When wandering through a foreign location, you rely on signs to navigate, to assess the culture, to figure-out how things work. ¬†Here is a collection of what I’ve observed:¬†

Sign that your child is feeling a little silly due to jet-lag: 


Sign that you are drinking super fancy water:

Northumbria…sounds pretty fancy ūüėČ

Sign that you have found an amazing high street:

If you visit London, you must venture down this street!


Sign that you are home:

Sanctum Temp. housing…this is where we live

Sign that you are in London, the tiny WC (wash closet) = toilet and sink all squeezed in to a room the size of a small closet:


Another sign that you are in London- you’ve purchased a vacuum, his name is Henry, and he is adorable! ¬†

When Pearl was vacuuming today, she toted the vacuum around saying, “Come along, Henry!”

Sign that your are close to home, our nearest tube station:


Sign that the kids are excited to be on a double decker bus: 


Sign that you are on South Kensington high street- Lamborghini dealership:


Sign that you are about to enter an epic museum exhibit- Alan Turing…pretty rad dude!


Sign that your CD player is ancient i.e. there is a model of your CD player in the oldies section of the Science Museum:


Sign that you must stop hoarding by the end of the month:


I don’t know what to say about this one except that it’s pretty awesome and hilarious for kids that can read:


Sign that perhaps you’ve adventured a bit too much for a day:

Sign that you miss your best friend: 

Sign that you are now drinking from a British juice box- jokes that can only be understood if you say the punch-line with a very pronounced, almost Australian accent:

Sign that you really, really want to be in a home and not in temporary housing: 

Eva creating a picture of a home for us to live in

Finished product

We are close to actually having a home, hoping to sign papers by the end of the week ūüôā

Literally, not knowing where you’re going

I’ve been meaning to post something for over a week, but Luke left for a business trip to Prague last Monday, and since then it’s been kinda bananas. ¬†I’ve got a few posts worth of stuff from that time, but decided I should first set the tone for Luke’s departure, starting with last Friday.

We’ve been here for about 6 weeks. ¬†We left our home on March 29th, lived in a hotel until April 3rd, stayed with Luke’s parents until April 9th and have since been in temporary housing.

Now, this is a very fun and exciting adventure, and I’m very happy to be here. ¬†But one difficult part of this journey has been having the kids out of school, away from friends and family, etc… for this whole time. ¬†Each week day since we’ve been here, Luke goes to work for his own new and exciting adventures and I am here with the kids trying to create new and exciting adventures each day. ¬†We’ve been to countless parks, seen lots of really old stuff, had nuggets and fries at many pubs, visited toy stores, a zoo and a museum. ¬†By Friday, I was feeling a bit fatigued and overwhelmed because while being here is great, we have no real schedule outside of what I create-and the scheduler part of my brain threatened to quit.

But a nice woman comes in to clean on Fridays and for this to happen the kids and I have to leave. ¬†So I told Scheduler that we really needed to do something, because we couldn’t very well go stand on the street for 2 hours. ¬†Scheduler dug deep, threw up her hands, and said, “OK, let’s just go walk along the Thames, we don’t need to plan too much for that.” ¬†
Ha, ha, ha…actually, you do

The Thames is really long and there is a lot to see, so I narrowed down one area aiming to take the kids to see the Tower Bridge. ¬†We took the Tube to get near the bridge and upon departing the station, immediately stumbled upon St. Paul’s Cathedral. ¬†Things like this happen all of the time while we’re exploring London. ¬†You look to your left, or look to your right, or just turn in a circle and all around you are beautiful old buildings, monuments and statues. ¬†Inevitably, what you set out to do gets side-tracked by exploring (sometimes climbing) these sights. ¬†So en-route to the Thames, we explored St. Paul’s from the outside (admission is about $80/family so we didn’t go in).







¬†We ate lunch on the steps of St. Paul’s and then asked some locals for directions to the Thames. ¬†They weren’t the best directions, but hey, these kids “love” extra walking.

After a few detours, we made it to the Thames- YAY!!!

Pearl has decided that each picture taken of her needs to involve some sort of fabulous pose!

¬†What happened next involved a map and a part of my brain that is both enthusiastic and completely wrong most of the time. ¬†Her name is Navigator. ¬†Navigator consults maps but mostly chooses directions based on feeling, like “I feel like there’s a gigantic bridge this way. I’ve glanced at the map for a moment and I think I’m right. Onward!”
To help illustrate this particular part of our adventure, I’ve borrowed a few characters from the toy box. ¬†I’m the one with the backpack in hand and sword in the other. ¬†Sword, because we’re in London and I’m pretty sure there were some Roman soldiers hundreds of years ago traversing the Thames. ¬†Backpack, because I’m always carrying at least 2 bags of stuff.
So we reached the water and Navigator, feeling confident, pointed the sword and said, “this way!”

But after about 10 minutes of walking, I didn’t see the Tower bridge which I expected was close so I apologized to the kids (still loving all the walking) and we turned around to go the opposite direction…which I now know was away from the Tower Bridge.
Now we’re walking in the opposite direction and Navigator is still feeling a disproportionate amount of confidence despite a minor set back. ¬†Mac lets me know, “this bridge better be worth it.”
After walking for another 10 minutes, I am seeing the Waterloo Bridge, not the Tower Bridge and I realize we’ve got a problem.
The kids no longer love walking, Mac is saying, “I don’t think this bridge is worth it,” and Navigator is now feeling a bit of panic and remembering the lesson learned over a lifetime of trying to find places – Navigator…you don’t know what you’re doing ūüė¶
So we’re on the Thames, 45 minutes from home, tired and hungry.

Then Navigator remembered that she should turn the map so that it’s pointing the direction she’s facing.¬†

So I turned the map around and realized that we were going the right way from the start. I apologized once again, told the kids that the bridge was actually back the other way and that mommy was looking at the map the wrong way. ¬†They weren’t pleased.

But we carried on and walked for a really long time, because Navigator also didn’t realize that the Tower Bridge was about a 25 minute walk from where we started.

 After a lot of walking, we finally saw the bridge off in the distance.

 But we were tired and Mac was still unconvinced that our walk was worth it.
More walking and we finally made it to the Tower of London!  It looks really cool from the outside, but once again, family admission is about $80 so we opted for a quick trip to the gift shop (which always miraculously gives the kids more energy).

Then we danced and played on the carefully manicured landscaping.

 Eva even found a snail, just like home.  The kids are now beginning to enjoy themselves and forget the hour or so of walking it took to get here.


Then we crossed the beautiful Tower Bridge. ¬†I didn’t ask if it was worth it, but I think all the kids were enjoying themselves, even Mac.


 After crossing the bridge and spending a bit of time in Southwark, we took the Tube back across the river to meet Luke for dinner.  By this time, Navigator and Scheduler are completely exhausted.  We need a break.  But first, Navigator has one more job and that is to tell Luke where to meet us.  Seems easy enough, we are at Bank station, just outside.  
Luke gets on the Tube and departs at Bank. ¬†But there is a problem, he doesn’t see us. ¬†
After our 4 hour adventure, the kids are tired, restless and climbing the buildings in their now soot covered clothing – ¬†they look like chimney sweeps right out of Mary Poppins. ¬†So while this is going on, I’m try to tell Luke where we are:

Me: We’re right outside the station.
Luke: I don’t see you.
Me: OK, we’re next to a really big monument.
Luke: (a bit exasperated) There are a lot of really big monuments.
Me: I know (now I’m getting a bit silly from exhaustion) but this one is really big and has like a golden flame thing on the top!

Fire monument

Luke: I see a horse and some soldiers.
Me: No, this one is cubical at the base and has a long column like a pillar and on the top there’s a big gold thing that represents fire for the big fire that happened here a long time ago.
Luke: Are you sure you’re at Bank?

Me: (Navigator feels offended) Yes, I got off at Bank, it says so right here on my map!
Luke: OK, tell me a business that you’re near.
Me: Boots
Luke: If I search for Boots it’s going to return a bunch of random search results…I need something better.
Me: OK, The Scottish Bespoke House of Lords Bank (I made that up, I don’t remember the name).
Luke: OK, that’s about a 10 minute walk from where I am.

So we waited 10 minutes, kids continuing to Swiffer every dirty surface on the buildings around us.  Then Luke arrived and informed me that we were at Monument Station, not Bank.  

Bank is in the financial district, which closes down almost completely after 6pm.  After wandering around for another hour looking for an affordable meal, we took the tube home, ate a quick snack and crashed.

I found a greeting card that I think best describes us.  When I look at it, I can laugh at all of the ups and downs and wrong directions that happen each day:


Bits and Bobs

We’ve been in London for almost a month! ¬† Hard to believe that time has passes so quickly. While I’m no expert in London or the people or culture, I thought I’d do a quick post on what we’ve discovered so far- great things, curious things and not so great things. ¬†Also a bunch of pictures of the kids- because let’s face it, watching the kids enjoy the city is pretty much the best part…and the pubs ūüėČ

I think we’ve been to a park almost every single day we’ve been here. ¬†With no school and very little structure, it is a way to both see the city and give the kids time to wiggle. ¬†London is huge and busy, but breaking-up all this busyness are many, many parks- and they are all awesome!
They’re awesome because:¬†
1. They are completely fenced-in. ¬†Now I don’t mean a tiny little wooden fence, or a partial fence, or a fence that could be scaled by say, a 6 year old who loves to climb. ¬†I’m talking 8 ft. tall stone wall surrounding the entire park with gated entries. ¬†
2. They have something for everyone. ¬†There are vast expanses of green grass for lounging and enjoying the weather (when it’s nice). ¬†There are play areas, fountains, statues, wildlife, lots of dogs and maps to help you navigate. ¬†
3. The play areas are completely fenced-in.  There is only one way to get in, there is a large fence surrounding the play area that is usually composed of tall iron fencing combined with a prickly hedge that no child would dare tackle.   That means that as a parent you can sit on a bench in an unfamiliar city, watch your children play and have no fear of them escaping the play area and no fear of the running into traffic.
4. Londoners take their play areas seriously. ¬†They are amazing and creative and well kept. ¬†Want to climb a gigantic life-size pirate ship? ¬†There’s a park for that! ¬†Want to play in a gigantic tree house? ¬†There’s a park for that! ¬†Want to climb trees with a backdrop of Buckingham Palace, there’s a park for that too! ¬†Want to walk up to an entire herd of wild deer- yep…go for it! ¬†Want a zoo in your park…let’s do it!
Here are some pictures of the parks we’ve visited:¬†

Park with a beautiful old church in the backdrop

 

Notice the fence/hedge
Those are real deer, there are about 20 of them, and we are really close.  Richmond Deer Park!

 

Buckingham Palace in the background

 

Canada put this installation in St. James park. ¬†Your’re not supposed to play on it, but…..com’on…it’s basically a gigantic granite slide with maple leaves ūüėČ

 

 

Iron gated wall around the park. ¬†Tried to climb, but couldn’t pass over. ¬†Parents FTW!

 

Tree climbing!

 

Meerkat zoo at Battersea Park

 

 

Perfectly manicured lawn. ¬†Girls stand in awe…

 

Gigantic bird play structure!

 

Fencing!

 

 

 

Jumping through fields of daffodils!

Next up: Food!
More specifically, grocery shopping.  
We are currently in Kilburn Park.  Not a source of the largest or greatest grocery stores, but an abundant source of good, fresh food.
What’s been surprising to me is how little frozen food there is here. ¬†Even our version of a mini-mart (Tesco Express), has a substantial fresh food section. ¬†It’s hard to find frozen food here at all. ¬†If you want a pizza, it’s fresh. ¬†If you want curry, it’s fresh. ¬†If you want a sandwich, or 2 or 3 or 10, they’re all fresh! ¬†This is amazing, especially since our kitchen is a super depressing place to cook (dark, dark, dark). ¬†Some of the best curry we’ve have has been from the Tesco Express. ¬†A lot of the food is also local and marked as such. ¬†
We’ve been hungry, especially the kids. ¬†This seems normal for the amount of walking and playing we do each day. ¬†For awhile I couldn’t figure-out what was missing from their diet, but then it struck me. ¬†There are no crackers here. ¬†Ritz-no, Goldfish-no, Triscuit-no! ¬†The snack-time staple of salty, cheezy carackers is not available here. ¬†What you can find are aisles and aisles of biscuits (cookies). ¬†I feel bad giving the kids what I would consider dessert for a snack, but I think that’s the direction we’ll need to go, because there are seriously no crackers!

 

Yummy and affordable fresh fruit and veggies!

 

Ditto prepared food

 

The Isle of Biscuits

 

Another Isle of Biscuits!
Tiny section of crackers ūüė¶
Doritoes-no, Lays-no…but Sweet Thai Chili crisps, Ham crisps, Chicken and Thyme crisps- YES!!!
No Ranch dressing!  Not cool London, not cool

 

Mac is surprised and excited to find the cake aisle ūüôā
Pizza!

 

Basil, where did it come from? West Sussex. ¬†Who grew it? Stewart Ross ūüôā ¬†Thanks Stewart!

 

 

Our grocery bags also have the Queen and Prince’s stamp of approval- very proper!

 

Now there are a few things that are sub-optimal. ¬†Certainly not awful, but they’ll take some getting used to. ¬†
First off, our washer/dryer. ¬†I say washer/dryer because it is just that, a washer and dryer in one! ¬†Sounds great, right? ¬†Except that it has heard more swear words from me (and management) than all other appliances in the flat. ¬†It is mean and confusing and likes to play games with me…like holding wet clothes hostage behind locked door until IT feels ready to unlock the door. ¬†
Meet evil washer/dryer:

Washer/Dryer does wash clothes, when you can figure-out the elaborate system of buttons, and when you’ve pressed said buttons in the correct order. ¬†If not, Washer/Dryer will hold your clothes hostage until you swear at it, push even more buttons, and eventually call maintenance so they can swear at Washer/Dryer and press more buttons.

Washer/Dryer also only holds about 2 loaves of bread and a bag of crisps worth of laundry…not nice ūüė¶

When Washer/Dryer says the clothes are dried, it’s lying. ¬†They are not dry. ¬†They have shrunk considerably, but are still damp. ¬†There are not many appliances we miss from home, but our Washer and Dryer (happy, healthy, friendly, functional) are some of them.

These are a few bits and bobs.  There are many more, but these were the most entertaining that I could think of right now.  

We have been in London for almost a month and we are still just taking it all in- the food, the grocery stores, the parks, the appliances. ¬†We’re enjoying each day for all of the fun and minor frustration that it presents and overall we’re very excited to be here. ¬†