Friday, December 18, 2009

The Season is Upon Us

This morning on first check out the window into the 7:00 AM darkness, there were snowflakes swirling around the streetlights! Soon after we were tromping through the park:

It was a perfect day to do a mad dash around town for last minute Christmas shopping and drink in the atmosphere. Dazzling lights, crowds, outdoor fairs, slippery sidewalks, occasional flurries, hot chocolate on the street corners, carolers here and there. The season is very much upon this town, and it is a great place to be.

But alas, we are bailing out. It is off to India again, but this time with visas. The trip has inflated to grander proportions than the original, aborted version. We'll be two weeks, girls in tow, and a much more elaborate ($$$) itinerary. I will attempt to report along the way.

There - a blog entry, #2 for December (that's double November's output) and the cab is due in 10 minutes. Not sure where the time is going.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

A December Morning

This morning I'm awake by 7:00, but the only hint of the new day is the soft murmur of the city coming to life – the dawn still a ways off. Must get the girls up and off to school as Pam is buying seasonal knick-knacks in Germany with her sister Susan and our good friend Kate Ditzler. A few rumbles and bumps indicate life is stirring in the teenage domain upstairs, so I can congratulate myself on having achieved my first objective without even leaving bed. So nothing to do then but brew my morning tea and saddle-up Pudds for her walk.

As we step out there is a faint glow in the eastern sky making silhouettes of the now barren trees in Regent's Park. The frozen puddles from yesterday's rain give way to our footsteps with a satisfying crunch. Trails of steam rising from the grass guide me to the little treasures left by Pudds. Ah, the many benefits of crisp temperature found in the far north...

The run-off from the rain has created a slight but perceptible current in the canal this morning. It has Pudding completely perplexed; she seems to think the drifting flotsam and jetsam are self-propelled life forms. Barking, running back and forth, wagging her tail, etc. Very silly. A pair of joggers stop to share my amusement.

By 8:30 I am packing myself into a seriously jammed Jubilee line train, heading for the Knightsbridge Golf School. This outfit is hidden in the basement of a sumptuous Georgian apartment complex in Lowndes Square, just a stone's throw (or chip shot) from Harvey Nichols. Not sure if they can help me, but the proprietors are a colorful pair of star-struck golf experts, catering to a high brow clientele including actors, royals, and PGA tour players. In fact (or so I'm told) Sean Connery learned to swing a club here before filming the famous golf scene in Goldfinger. Talk about Groovy, Baby!

After 30 minutes of flailing away I've warmed to the point where the fresh air back on the street feels invigorating. The xmas-themed window decor at Harvey Nicks is absolutely fantastic. But alas the rain turns on again, so I duck back into the tube for cover. Emerging in South Kensington, I dash into a small cafe and arm myself with a cappuccino and the Financial Times – I have no umbrella, you see.

Here's an amusing commentary on the unfolding Dubai fiasco that I found in the FT: "When you start building a third island shaped like a palm tree, intending it to be as big and crowded as Manhattan, you are crying out for a sober voice to bark: 'Stop!' But when that island is just one atoll in an artificial archipelago that would reconfigure the Persian Gulf coast into a thicket of trees, a map of the world, a whirling galaxy, a scythe and a sun that looks like a spider, what you need is some corporate restructuring". --Jim Krane

With the showers eventually abating, I stroll over to the Victoria and Albert Museum for a cultural moment. My objective is the Islamic collection, having become interested in (more accurately "somewhat aware of") Islamic art and decor while in Istanbul last weekend. Oh yes, it was Turkey for Thanksgiving for your intrepid Shields family, so let me conclude with some shots:


Sunset over one of the many mosques


Proffering turkish tea did not lead to increased sales with this shrewd bunch


Byzantine cisterns: a place to save water for the inevitable siege


The fantastic Topkapi Palace. This the Harem section, where Tiger would hang-out


Yes Virginia, there really is such a thing as a Whirling Dervish

Monday, November 16, 2009

Blighty Blackout Ends


Perhaps the novelty is waning or perhaps it's the lack of monumental screw-ups to memorialize. In any case, I apologize for the blackout of the past few weeks.

In any case, we are now at home in St John's Wood, which I am learning to pronounce properly for the cabbies: instead of the americanish "saint", just say "sent". Very simple.

Today Pam went to her 'Sumptuous Silver' class at the V&A museum which culminated in a private tour of the Goldsmith's Hall. The Hall is the HQ of the Goldsmith's Company: "Founded to regulate the craft or trade of the goldsmith, the Goldsmiths' Company has been responsible since 1300 for testing the quality of gold, silver and, from 1975, platinum articles." Per Pam, it was quite sumptuous indeed. Check out the dining room.

Afterwards we met to tour St. Paul's Cathedral. This masterpiece of Christopher Wren notwithstanding, I was keen to pay my respects at the tombs of Lord Nelson and The Duke of Wellington having had my interest piqued by readings on British maritime power and the conflicts with France (those idiot Frogs!). Nelson's tomb is particularly moving:



The beautifully shaped black sarcophagus sits dead center in the lower floor of the Cathedral. Inside is a wooden coffin, a gift from a fellow officer who had it made from the mainmast of a French ship Nelson blew up in the battle of the Nile. Morbid Nelson kept this treasured coffin by his side everywhere he went for the last 6 years of his life.

We're just back from 3 days on the continent: Pam with Elie in Waterloo, me with Simone in Oberursel (outside of Frankfurt). The occasion was the volleyball and soccer season finales (respectively) in which the girls partook in a tournament of the international schools from Europe and as far away as Cairo and Israel. It was a meaningful bonding experience with the other parents as well as with potato pancakes, schnitzel, and fine german lager. But standing on the sidelines of a northern soccer pitch in mid-November will forever make one pine for the relatively balmy environs of the Beach Chalet fields of GG park, thank you very much.

Between games I found time to hike the nature trail nearby which tracked through a Celtic archaeological site – much more interesting (and more wholesome) than those bushes by the Great Highway. The site, a fortified settlement dating to the late centuries B.C., was carpeted with the last of the fall foliage and in a deep twilight due to the overcast, the forest canopy, and shallow November sun angle. As we stumbled about the remnants of the ancient walls, my companion Sarah (Greer) Bertasi remarked that it seemed a scene from Lord of the Rings. In complete agreement, I could not help but ponder the pro's and con's of living in a bronze-age, pagan civilization in the forests of northern europe. Cool!

Other recent activities of note include a road bike ride out to Windsor Castle and a visit from Tom and Julie Feldstein of SF - the most agreeable of guests, giving us excuse to visit some new restaurants and tour some of the classics: The Tower of London, Harrod's, The Tate Museums, Westminster Abbey, St James's Park.

I sent my account of the ride to Windsor to you biker friends via email already, but here it is again:

It was a very crisp, clear autumn day, 8-11C, I'm told. We experienced some very cool sights. Huge red deer in the Richmond Park. Then along the upper Thames lavish riverside homes, early-birds rowing the river, crew teams practicing. Then on our right suddenly appeared Hampton Court, Henry VIII's sumptuous palace, with majestic formal gardens rolling down to the river bank. Spectacular.

We rode on through quaint riverside villages, eventually up into a manicured parkland. I did not realize it was "Windsor Great Park" (the private hunting ground of Windsor Castle, dating primarily from the mid-13th century) until we rounded a bend and were looking down the "Long Walk", which runs three miles straight to the castle:




Awesome!

Monday, October 26, 2009

India?


Just in case we had you fooled into thinking that Jon and Pam Shields were just about the most competent jet-setters around, let me burst that bubble with a tale of our trip to India.




On Thursday we awoke with eager anticipation of a week in Rajasthan, intending to join in the 50th birthday party of Pam's good friend Christine Rai from Cost Plus days.  Though of Scottish descent, Christine has lived her entire life in India, growing up on a tea plantation in Kerala, moving on to the import/export business and becoming Cost Plus's sole agent for the region.  Suffice it to say, the party promised to be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

But quickly things started going haywire.  Scrambling to pack our bags, the traveller's checks were nowhere to be found.  Then there was an accident on the A4 resulting in hellish traffic to Heathrow, and when we attempted to check-in, it turned out that our tickets had not been issued.

Running around to various airline desks, the minutes started to evaporate.  What had started as a calm, competent "we do this all the time" trip to the airport was becoming a nerve-wracking countdown. But cool heads prevailed, and thanks to many amazingly friendly agents, the bags soon disappeared down the conveyor belt with 10 minutes to spare.

As a final formality, the Finnair agent asked to see our visas.  We looked at each other: "Visas?  Surely with 1 billion people already in India, they wouldn't insist on any sort of formality for just two more?"

Not the right answer.

And calling the Indian visa office in London, we learned that we could expect to wait about 10 days to get them.  Next thing you know, I'm being escorted through the bowels of Heathrow in an attempt to intercept our luggage before it gets loaded, truly fouling-up the works.

Thirty minutes later, our new friends at the airport had us all sorted: bags in hand, canceled connections, soothed nerves, etc.  By this time, though, I fear they had had just about enough of the two of us, and were looking forward to seeing us off to London in the next cab.

But with dog/teen-sitter all lined-up, bags packed for warm weather, clear calendars and nothing but rain the London forecast, this intrepid duo was not about to simply limp home to mope.  So we scanned the "Departures" monitor for jets flying south.  The next thing you know, we're having tapas and rioja in Madrid!

The next morning we got the early jump on the city, being the first visitors to the Prado (Madrid's landmark art museum).  It was thoroughly enjoyable to walk through the mostly empty galleries of Goya, Velasquez, etc.  But with our newly learnt geography, that being of Madrid's location in the central highlands, it became clear that the dhotis and saris in our arsenal would not cut it in late October.  So it was back to the airport, and by 5PM we were on the island of Mallorca, where we are now ending a glorious 4 night stay.

Some photos:


The scenic northwest coast of the island where we have encamped.


Our village, Déia, surrounded by ancient olive groves and completely built of stone.


Hiking has been the main activity.  Here Pam scales a 'stile' separating the sheep from the olive groves.


Later, at the top of the Sierra de Tramuntana (see if you can spot Pam) about 3000 ft above the sea.


Our hotel, La Residencia.  Like Santa Barbara's San Ysidro Ranch+++


By this time completely over our failings, and plotting another assault on India later in the year.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Foliage

There is a definite crispness to the air and the sun seems to be having a yet harder time in her struggle to push through the leaden skies. Perhaps all the better not to compete with the brilliance of the fall foliage in our neighborhood parks. So this morning, with the girls turned out to school, we followed Pudding over to Primrose Hill:


Rambling with The Pudds, it is all too apparent that we humans are missing an entire dimension of autumn with our feeble olfactory equipment. Her twitching nose and quivering tail indicate supreme delights which we can only imagine:



So we live for the vicarious thrill and carry forward, stiff upper lip and all that.


Some other recent adventures include Pam having cocktails with the U.S. Ambassador and Supreme Court Justices, which she recounts here:

Colleen invited me to a cocktail party at the Ambassadors house in London friday night. The house used to be Barbara Hutton's house and is the largest property in London after the Queen's . She kindly introduced me to 3 Supreme court judges , John Robert's , Scalia, and Breyer, of course the only one I would have been Interested in meeting was Ruth but, she had to cancel due to her health. Talk about being tongue tied! The only thing I gleaned from the experience was that Scalia likes fly fishing and was going to an undisclosed spot in new Zealand, believe me I tried to get the info , but it was all top secret. I have to say John Robert's is one smooth operator. They where all there for the indoctrination of the new English Supreme court which they have just instigated. The house was gorgeous and that was what I was there to see, it was redecorated by Billy Haines in about 1960 and had been added on a bit. The main living room had beautiful chinoiserie wall paper that had been donated by the Annenbergs at a cost of 1,000,000 dollars. It really was stunning and I am sure I have seen it in Designer Interiors magazine. The ambassadors wife is bringing her modern art collection over from Chicago, to install in the house . They were major campaign financiers of Obama.

We've also been on a country walk the SJWWC (St. John's Wood Women's Club), yours truly being the only male participant besides our 76-year-old guide "Hugh". We stopped for lunch in a classic country pub, The Woodman. When Hugh and I were finally alone at the urinals, he declared his dismay at my turning up as he "normally had all the birds to himself" on these outings.

Anyway, after hoisting a few tasty bitters at the bar, then wolfing down our fish and chips, we completed our trudge amicably.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Escape to Capri

This post is a bit after-the-fact, but anyway, while Neil and Betty were here to watch over the brood, Pam and I indulged ourselves on the island of Capri. After a bus to Stansted airport, flight to Naples, taxi to the port, ferry to the island, funicular up the cliff, then a hike through town...we found ourselves at a classic cliffside hotel which is a regular haunt of our SF friends the Mendelsohns.

Words alone can not convey the sweet feeling of this romantic island in late September, nor the scent of jasmine that hangs in the air. The best I can offer is this brief slideshow:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Arrivederci Italia

We're back in cool, wet London this morning, and Venice is but a fading dream. A few final shots...

Pamela, looking right at home in elegant surroundings (as usual). This time the Hotel Daneli near San Marco.


Our girls gliding along a canal, piloted by Tomaso, who does a reasonable Madonna impression with his 'Like a Virgin' rendition.


In the water taxi bound for the airport.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Noi siamo in Venezia

Having returned from Morocco just in time for Simone's birthday dinner at "Bam Bou" in Fitzrovia (excellent asian fusion), I dumped my still wet surfing gear in London and joined the girls on our next extravaganza: a long weekend in Venice. Though the rain followed us down from London resulting in a soggy arrival, this morning the sun broke through to reveal the beauty of this city in slanting October sunshine:



The last time we were in Venice was on the way to our friend Alberto Finali's wedding, 16 years ago. It was in peak sweltering summer, crazily mobbed with tourists and frankly rather unappealing. I believe we had sworn to never come back.

But still, it is one of the wonders of civilization and we thought it would be worth another try. Plus this time I would not be lifting Simone in her stroller up and over a bridge/staircase every ~100 yards. (Although with her being recently hobbled with a severe soccer injury, it nearly came to that again.)

Wanting to obtain maximum initial impact for the girls, we were transported to our hotel via beautifully varnished Water Taxi...


...in which our "signore della dolce vita" seemed completely at home,


including Bella Ragazza Uno:
& Bella Ragazza Due:

After this bit of extravagance, exploration resumed on foot. It is amazing what a different experience it is, in the off-peak season. Not having to jostle for position amongst the throngs, we've easily entered the main attractions, including San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale, and the Peggy Guggenheim museum.

But perhaps the best is just strolling along the narrow passages and back canals, tuning-in to the richness of architectural detail, but always alert to the paparazzi like these three:





Monday, October 5, 2009

Just a few more Maroc photos


The old man pulls a bottom turn at mushy 'sunset peak'


Beach stampede


Suiting up for a session at Boilers


The take off at Boiler's, and its namesake lurking in the impact zone.


Moonrise over our beach

Exploring the coast in our Renault "Kangoo"

Camel rides available.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tree-climbing goats

October already!  I knew it would be hard to keep this blog timely.  Oh well.

Much has transpired since our last meeting here in cyberspace.  To summarize, we had a very fine time with Pam's folks (Betty and Neil) who have now gone back home.  A big highlight was a night on the town, starting with the London production of "Billy Elliot".  Though the genre sometimes disappoints, this show will keep us going to musicals, that's for sure.  Incredible performance and very apropos to see in Britain, with Neil to fill us in on the politics and translate the northern accents.  We followed up with dinner at "Rules", the "oldest restaurant in London".  Eye-popping Yorkshire Puddings (approximately the size of a birthday cake) in an interior reminiscent of the SF's Big Four with photos and news clippings smattering the walls, but obviously covering much richer/deeper history.

While Betty and Neil were here the girls had a school trip to Budapest and Pam and I skipped out to Capri for a few days.  We had a romantic stay, playing a rich and famous couple on a second honeymoon.  This deserves a blog entry of its own, which will be done once I get access to our photos!

Alas I now find myself at the end of my first week in Morocco.  I'm with a very humorous bunch of surf-crazed 40-something year-olds.  There is our group leader "Kiwi" (Steve McCulloch) a New Zealander; "Lorenzo", and englishman named Lawrence married to an Italian (hence the mockery); "Captain", another yank from Novato;  Guido a bona-fide italian living in Switzerland; Guido's wife Linda, a Finn.

To me, the Morocco coast is Baja with tagines instead of tacos, taqiyas instead of sombreros, djellabas (robe) instead of panchos, and so on...  It is uncanny.  But the twist makes it far more interesting and exotic.  I'm really enjoying it, and its fun too to be with a group intent on getting by on a tight budget, unlike the bourgeois travel style we've all adapted too in our mature years.

Some shots!

The view from the balcony of our dwelling, looking south down the coast.  Note blue fishing boats that head out at about 5AM, sounding like a swarm of bees with their outboards.  The disruption is no problem though – we're already awake having been called to prayer over the warbling village loudspeaker 20 minutes beforehand.


Some of the crew members loading the car for surf exploration in the alley outside the apartment.


The view from the wheel.  Roads are good, driving pretty darn civilized.  A few beasts now and then.


Speaking of beasts, this is something you don't see everyday: tree-climbing goats.  They ascend the "Argan" tree in search the berries, later excreting the nuts.  These are harvested, then pressed to make the prized Argan Oil.

So what about the surf?  We've surfed several sessions everyday, mostly beachbreaks, nothing noteworthy until this morning.  Our first swell hit last night, and we caught "Boilers" at dawn with overhead lines pumping through.  I had a good (aka lucky) session, scoring the wave of the morning over the pack of european surfers, most decades younger than me.  Hah!  Lucked out really, when a sneaker set hit, paddled out on a leftwards diagonal hard to not get caught, managed to whip around, dropping in late, standing up way too far back and wobbling down the face (booties!). But I recovered and had a very nice fast, workable wall for about 80 yards.

Satisfied with that for now, I've skipped the mid-morning session to get caught up on the blog and save energy for low tide at sunset.



Thursday, September 17, 2009

A day in the life

It's time for a "day-in-the-life" of the London-dwelling transplant. Here goes.

Woke up about 7:30, to the usual clip-clopping of the Royal Artillery Cavalry on their way down the street for their morning exercise in Regent's Park. A gaze out the window confirmed it would be another day with the standard forecast: the proverbial "sunny intervals".

Pulled on the jeans and t-shirt, and ambled downstairs. The distinctive slamming of the front door and then the gate indicated that the girls were off to school. Another family bonding opportunity around the breakfast table missed (sigh).

But, with in-laws Neil and Betty in residence, I hoped that a pot of tea would be awaiting in the kitchen. I was not disappointed.

With deference to the distinctive autumn chill in the air, I pulled on my Patagonia top, hooked Pudding to her leash, and joined Pam on the sidewalk. Every morning there is yet another layer of fallen beech and sycamore(?) leaves covering the sidewalk. But, thanks to our council taxes, a fleet of russian street sweepers will soon be all over it, each with a broom and cell phone headset, more engaged in the dialog than the clean-up.

Our favorite bakery/morning spot, Gails, was too crowded so we chose an italian cafe just down the street from the (10+?) options within 300 yards. After latte's and some scrambled eggs, we parted ways as Pam had a meeting with the Kensington Women's Club at the Royal Geographic Society HQ.

So with Pudds leading the way, off to Regent's Park it was. And this park, as with all of the green spaces around, reminds us what an incredible city this is. There are hundreds of immense trees - probably all bigger than the largest in Golden Gate park. The grounds are immaculate – lawns mowed, fringed with perfect english border plantings. We walked through the more wild wooded areas no sudden surprises from (how do I say this in a P.C. way?) 'overnighters' as I often encounter in Buena Vista Park in the mornings at home.

We did an inside loop of the park, about 2.5 miles. Pudding annihilated the last vestiges of the sweet shampoo scent from her recent bath by rolling in goose and duck droppings as she tends to do. Damn dog.

Returned to the house and took care of a few administrative details, e.g. trying to get the freight station to deliver our goods shipped from the U.S. with no further customs and storage charges !##!!@@##. Note to self: never use container shipping again.

After a shower & shave, I'm off to the St John's Wood tube station, just about 5 minutes walk. Three stops later I transfer to the Piccadilly Line, emerging in Knightsbridge to meet Pam at Harrods. This place is way over-the-top. The sports floor is more about fashion than competition, as a browse through the horseback riding, shooting, and cricket sections confirms. And the Egyptian Escalator belongs in an Indiana Jones set, that's for sure.

We had salads for lunch at one of the many Brompton Road cafes catering to shoppers like us. Then Pam had a lecture on the new ceramics exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum (yawn) so I decided to have a look at the Natural History Museum across the street. Very, very impressive. I just scratched the surface in my 1.5 hour visit, but besides the very well done and immense exhibits there is an overwhelming sense of empire and history as you look at stuff collected by Darwin himself. Wow - will be going back (it's free, after all!)

We got home in time for our afternoon tea and a bit of footie on the telly (which led to a brief nap) but then rallied for 'back to school night' at ASL.

Whenever we go to the school, I feel a reassuring surge of the familiar with the abounding american expatriates – you fully understand what people are saying, including the nuances. 75% of the teachers seem outstanding, and the facilities are far superior to our school in SF. We agree that the girls are off to a great year.

Continuing to revel in the familiar, we shared a hamburger afterwards at our local pub, "The Duke of York". Funny enough, the waitresses all seem to be russian, and one addressed Pam as "darling" in just the way that Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle would have said it --- weird! So ends the day.






Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Our first visitors

Today Pam's mum and dad were spotted in dog-walk training along the Regent's Canal, a waterway linking the heart of London to the Thames and points beyond. The adjoining towpath is great for a stroll, run or bike, and passes about 200 yards from our house. The canal boats and drooping willows evoke Mr. Toad for me.

We are intent on having Betty and Neil fully qualified with Pudding by Sunday, when Pam and I scoot out to the island of Capri for a four day extravaganza!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sleek Rides

For me, cars together with people's customs and quirks toward them, are always an interesting thing to observe when abroad.

It's funny, but I don't believe I've seen a single pick-up truck. Have not the English discovered the utility of this clever american invention? I say, it appears they just don't get it!

Instead, the notable trend is the high-end euro luxury muscle car. These are usually piloted by a snazzily dressed banker-type, and invariably wound out in low gear speeding toward the next set of "traffic calming humps" (aka speed bumps).

Adding the conspicuosity is a situation where no one seems to have a garage, so these beauties litter the streets.







It has been pointed out to me that this is actually an advantage for the owner: it provides more opportunity to be seen and associated with the vehicle as you enter/exit, feed the meter, or hunt down the tow operator.





The owner of this V12 turbo must have had some trouble hanging on to his wheels in the past. Note the clever adaptation of bicycle locking technology as an anti-theft measure.






Here's another site to be seen about town these days: Pam and her rolling goodie bag, here patrolling the back streets behind Harrod's.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Back in the saddle

It dawned sunny and bright today, with gusty autumnal winds chasing away the remaining clouds. I had a yearning to get a larger view and sense of place, but the utter lack of topography is a problem: no Mt Tam, La Cumbre Peak, or even Ashbury Heights to ascend so as to fix one's position.

I concluded that I needed to criss-cross the terrain more thoroughly at ground level, so I navigated the Tube to a bike store. After a chat with the conoscenti behind the cash register, I settled on a hybrid optimized for getting about town: upright riding position, super gnarly lock, reflectors, lights and ding-a-ling bell! I then sniffed my way back to our borough overland, seeing many strange and wondrous things along the way. Managed to 'stay left' well enough to not get run over too.

Pam was invited over to a new friend's house for a chat, which morphed into a riotous cocktail hour with some 20 ex-patriot women. Nevertheless, she dutifully met at the tube station at the appointed time of 6:30 to join our friend Colleen Graffy(*) to see an exhibit of J.W. Waterhouse paintings at the Royal Academy of Arts. Really beautiful paintings, and a transporting hour into a land of fantasy and water nymphs...

We then had dinner at Le Caprice, which was "buzzing with glamorous women in vertiginous heels" just as advertised on their web-site.

* You may have caught Colleen today on Al Jazeerah - she was interviewed by David Frost on the topic "is Obama's honeymoon over?" Whoa!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It's Raining

Yep, it's raining, just like they said it would. Not so bad really - added to the charm of the cobblestone alley in Hampstead where Pam and I had our scones this morning after our Pilates class (ouch, that's hard work!).

In the small world department, Simone remarked that she was paired with this very athletic blond in soccer practice named Margy. We later saw in the school newspaper, in an article about her achievements as a US Nationally ranked rower, that her last name was Bertasi. Later we realized this was the daughter of Sarah Greer Bertasi, a childhood friend from Santa Barbara! We've now connected with Sarah who is on her 4th year here with her family. She is actually in the U.S. right now, helping her oldest settle-in at Dartmouth, but we look forward to hanging out with her and Rick on the soccer sidelines in the coming months.

We've been getting our house set-up and also touring around a bit. One highlight was the National Portrait Gallery, which has a portrait of every who's who from Henry VII forward. Pam and I mad the mistake of overdosing on Tudors and Stuarts, and will have to come back again another day to finish it off.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Beginnings


Our intrepid Pudding, just as she arrived in her capsule. She doesn't realize she's come one-third the way around the world, but probably wonders she feels compelled to play with her ball at 3AM every morning.


The girls getting their bearings at Picadilly Circus.


Out the door of #25 St Johns Wood Terrance and on their way to the first day of school!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

We've arrived! Pudds and I have re-joined the advance guard of the Shields family at our rented home at 25 St Johns Wood Terrace, London, NW8 6JL. Pudds shook off her 24 hour travel ordeal with a simple wag of the tail – indicating "no big deal" – as she stepped out of her crate onto the hallowed soil of her hereditary homeland for the first time. She hasn't skipped a beat, and is busy sniffing down her new domain. I, on the other hand, am still indulging in jet-lag induced afternoon naps of the deepest variety (and expect to continue in this for some time).

First impression: My but isn't this civilized!!!

The neighborhood is quite leafy and serene, but for a few late-night pub revelers, and the dawn hour cavalcade of the Royal Horse Artillery who ride smack down our street every dawn.

There is an amazing bakery/espresso outlet half a block away, various boutique restaurants, tony pubs, grocery markets displaying a bewildering assortment of perfect fruits and vegetables (incredibly putting Whole Foods to shame) plus a library and tube stop. Regents Park, huge and manicured to a tee, allows dogs off-lead and is just two blocks away.

We've already had several scrumptious meals. Let me think, going backwards: tonight dinner at nouveau Indian at Amaya with Colleen Graffy, lunch at a very hip pizzeria off of Brick Lane, yesterday dinner at a boutique italian place called Vineria just off Abbey Road in Marylebone, lunch at the Clifton Nursery in Little Venice (yes, fine dining al fresco amidst the specimens), dinner on Friday somewhere in the neighborhood I can't remember (had Sea Bream). And so on.

Even though school has not yet started the girls seem to have already merged into the social network. They've been out and mingling on their own since I've been here, having the tube and bus system wired in about 6 hours. They just now (11:30 PM) stumbled in from a get together at some incredible home in the heart of Regent's Park owned by 'the founder of Heinz Ketchup' (at least so we're told) with multiple jacuzzis and pools. Today Elie was escorted home from an afternoon (tea?) by a young lad who was precariously close to her at the door (according to Pam - I missed this event). In summary, I'm not worried about them feeling like outcasts, but on the flip side wondering if the 'family closeness' we hoped for in this grand adventure will come to nought.

The highlight today was a stroll down Columbia Road, where you find an outdoor flower market on Sundays. The street is very picturesque, lined with shops of a Dickensian aspect, full of unique crafts, antques, vintage clothing, etc. The flower hawkers were extremely vocal, rivaling the barkers on Broadway in the volume and costume. (Should have had a working camera - will get to that!) We also found the Dennis Servers House in this area. Very unique and transporting.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

On the verge

The house is rented, the ladies of the family have already landed, and the dog (Pudding) is about to get de-ticked, de-flea'd and de-wormed for her debut in London. We should be set to leave fog-ville on Thursday, with all local affairs as neatly bottled-up as possible. The excitement builds!