Monday, May 31, 2010

Monthly Expenses May 2010

By Chuck and Claire

We were surprised we did so well this month with expensive Switzerland and London included.

Camping, €703.24
Eating Out, €317.41
Groceries, €255.16
Attractions, €168.14
Fuel, €310.79
Other transportation, €185.97
Ferries, €65
Hotels, €0
Misc., €309.24
Grand Total €2314.95
Daily average: €74.68
In dollars: $2,801.09

Leaving London

By Chuck

Today was our last shot at London, after a day of recuperating—Claire's foot and my energy. Our goal was to revisit the British Museum, then to see the Churchill War Rooms and Museum and finally Sir John Soane's Museum. Since it was a Bank Holiday and there was work being done on some of the underground lines, we had to alter our routes. When we surfaced, there were no indications of which way to go to get to the War Rooms, despite following Rick Steves' advice; but, after minor stumbling around and watching a few minutes of the BUPA run—which helps support charity work of Leukaemia and Lymphoma research—we found it. By the way, this 10,000 meter run follows the same route the 2012 London Olympic marathon is expected to use.

Winston Churchill

The War Rooms were quite extensive, with the Churchill Museum as an optional sidebar about one-third of the way through the exhibit. There were some awesome maps in two of the rooms and some terrible statistics about the shipping casualties from the U-Boats.

Map Room

There was a filmed interview with a number of former War Room employees or their children. It was interesting to get different perspectives on life in that environment. The work was fast-paced; the hours were long; the air was definitely unfresh. Sometimes, people would go home late at night in the dark, simply to get fresh air. Churchill was a severe taskmaster with a horrific (and useful) work ethic—he would often work from 8am until 3am. His secretaries were expected to keep up with him; otherwise, they could expect to endure some of his wrath. He dictated directly to them as they typed up his remarks in triplicate—but, they had to insert and align the carbon copies noiselessly; then he would sign them.

Photograph of Churchill by Yousuf Karsh

The War Rooms were directly beneath government buildings on Whitehall Street. They were underground but were, nevertheless, never fully bomb-proofed; so they used secrecy as a defense measure, since a direct hit would probably have destroyed the center. It was not uncommon during the Battle of Britain for employees to exit the War Room and continue home, only to find entire blocks of houses obliterated by German V-2 rockets. However, it was usual for employees to sleep in the bottom level of the bunker, where there was no recirculated air. I was embarrassed to discover at this late date that this aspect of WWII occurred long before the U.S. entered the War.

Cabinet War Room

The rooms are left as they were immediately upon the conclusion of WWII; some rooms were left intact; some were refurbished after consulting with those who had used them or relying on extensive photographs taken at that time. There were rooms for Clemmie, Winston's wife, and a kitchen for his personal chef. Most of the beds were simple steel frame military type. Winston had the only flushing toilet in the entire facility! His bedroom is laid out with a cigar and chamber pot—separate from each other.

Legend For Interpreting Alarms In The Bunker

Detective's Bedroom--Churchill's Personal Bodyguards

Minister of Information Bedroom

Clementine Churchill's Bedroom

Churchill Kitchen

Churchill's Family Dining Room

Churchill's Bedroom

Foolishly, I neglected to check the open days for Sir John Soane's Museum; after managing to get there and having trouble locating the entrance to the facility, we checked and found out that it is closed on Mondays, anyway. So, the only benefit of this leg of the journey was to find an open Chemist, where we were able to get an ankle support and Ibuprofen for Claire's injury.

We made a delightful discovery upon exiting the War Rooms: The Nissan Figaro is a small retro car manufactured in 1991 by Nissan. The car was originally sold only in Japan. Despite the limited 20,000 car production run, the Figaro has become popular with owners in the UK and Ireland.

Nissan Figaro and Smart Car

We finally realized that we were hungry; so we began looking for an interesting, inexpensive cafe. We eventually found a small place that had a Chicken Curry lunch special. Claire got herbal Lemon-Ginger Tea with hers and I ordered a regular tea; the first time she returned to the table, the waitress asked me what I had ordered; I told her, again; she brought a Cappuccino! Fortunately, I like both tea and coffee.

Curry Lunch

Since it was the same distance to the British Museum as to the nearest Tube station, we decided to walk; but, London streets are not straight and we had to constantly refer to our inadequate tourist map of Central London to find our way there. As usual, we eventually found our way there.

We decided to separate, to make the best use of our limited time, today. I rented an audio guide and began working my way down the list of memorable items, using the interactive display; unfortunately, they are not listed by relative location; so, I was bouncing all over the place; and, finding one's way around the numbered rooms and several floors was more time-consuming than one would wish—notice the affectation of British jargon: “One”; I guess it creeps into one's style over time—after all, we have already been here a week!

I revisited several items: first, the Rosetta Stone. This is the object that allowed us to finally decipher Egyptian hieroglypics. Napoleon's army found it in Rosetta, Egypt; when he was defeated by the British, it came to England and, eventually, the British Museum. Second, I revisited the Parthenon Sculptures; I noted that they have changed the name from the Elgin Marbles—presumably to downplay the “borrowed” aspect of the acquisition; also, I discovered that I had mispronounced Lord Elgin's name for many years: It is spoken with a hard 'g' as in “go.” The narration mentioned that we can now see them at eye level, a great improvement over what Athenians saw on top of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens. Thirdly, I revisited several Assyrian objects, including the gate-protecting Winged Lions. I was intrigued to find that the sculptures of the lions have 5 legs each—you can only see 4 at one time, however; which legs you see depends on your viewpoint: Side or frontal.

At this point, both the narration and I jumped around the museum a bit. I saw a voluptuous Tara sculpture from Sri Lanka—unusual since Tara is associated with Mahayana Buddhism and Sri Lanka is generally thought to be Theravadan. Also, I have previously only encountered modest images of Tara. Claire had the camera; so, I was unable to take pictures.

I loved the 4 ton Hoa Hakananai'a stone sculpture from Easter Island, the Chinese Tang Dynasty funereal clay figures, the West African bronze image of a 16th century queen, the Sutton Hoo helmet and weapons from a 6th century Anglo-Saxon burial mound of a local Chieftain in Suffolk. I walked quickly through the timepiece exhibit with hundreds of clocks and watches.

By now, it was 4pm and the time agreed to meet Claire to determine our next move. We were beat, we still needed to get back to Homer, and we need to prepare to leave, tomorrow. We saw a lot, here; but, there is so much we did not see; one of our perspectives has been that we know we cannot see it all; so, we left with only slight regrets—not seeing the British Library, holding “the literary treasures of Western civilization: Shakespeare's Hamlet, early Bibles, the illustrated Lindisfarne Gospels, the Magna Carta and the Adventures of Alice in Wonderland—not necessarily in order of importance.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. ~ Winston Churchill referring to the role of the RAF during the Battle of Britain during WWII

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Tate and the Tower

By Claire and Chuck
Chuck and I went our separate ways today, he to the Tower of London and I to the Tate Modern. There was an exhibit I wanted to see, Voyeurism, Surveillance & the Camera and I have already seen the Tower.

The subject of cameras and voyeurism hits home with me since I sometimes feel that I could be intruding with my camera. In fact, there are some photos I have not put on the blog because it just seem like an invasion of privacy. I took one shot in Vienna of an old guy slumped over a railing holding a beer, asleep. It was shocking and amusing at the same time so I took the picture but later decided not to post it.

The exhibit was well done and it was a good day to be inside since the rain is here now. I enjoyed the hidden camera in a shoe and another in a cane--The Unseen Photographer. Celebrity and the Public Gaze was another interesting display. I had to laugh at the one of Jack Nicholson brandishing a golf club at a photographer. I think I would have a hard time with the constant attack of the press. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton making out in bathing suits back in 1962 was also interesting. I could only take so much of Voyeurism and Desire. In fact, I felt like a voyeur just looking at the photos. It was an unnerving record of life on the outskirts of society. Witnessing Violence included the usual assassination photos of John F. Kennedy. This section showed the human drive to witness and document violent events, including murders and suicides. The exhibit finished up with Surveillance, the most disturbing part of the show. Techniques of surveillance are closely linked to developments in photographic technology--from the earliest aerial photographs to satellite pictures. In the twenty-first century, cameras on street corners, in ships and public buildings silently record our every move, while web-based tools such as Google Earth adapt satellite technology to ensure that there is no escape from the camera's all-seeing eye. The exhibit was certainly thought provoking.

Shoe with hidden camera

I took a walk down the Thames Path, checking out the Globe Theatre, the City of London and the Tower Bridge. I particularly enjoyed this busker and gave him a pound for his efforts.

Thames path

The Globe Theatre was built in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, and was destroyed by fire on 29 June 1613. A second Globe Theatre was built on the same site by June 1614 and closed in 1642.

A modern reconstruction of the Globe, named "Shakespeare's Globe", opened in 1997. It is approximately 230 meters (750 ft) from the site of the original theatre. In 1970, American actor and director Sam Wanamaker founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust and the International Shakespeare Globe Centre with the objective of building a faithful recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe close to its original Bankside, Southwark location. It took him 20 years, but he succeeded!

Today's Shakespeare's Globe Theatre--he was one of the actors and a 12.5% shareholder of the original.

More of the Thames Path

Tower Bridge

This skyscraper in London's main financial district is affectionately (or not) referred to as The Gherkin. Due to the building's somewhat phallic appearance, other inventive names have also been used for the building, including the Erotic gherkin, the Towering Innuendo, and the Crystal Phallus.

City Hall, designed by Norman Foster who also designed the similar Reichstag in Berlin that we toured.

We met for tea back at our favorite crypt then decided to head back to Homer to relax before dinner with our friends Katie and Derek who we met in Finikoundas, Greece.

Katie and Derek have lived in London for 4 years so they know their way around. We met at the Old Street Station then walked to a Vietnamese restaurant that they really like, first stopping off to pick up some beer. The restaurant not only allows you to bring your own, they even brought us glasses and an opener. The food was fantastic (we let K & D do all the ordering) and we had a great time catching up. They just sold their camper and are heading to Las Vegas and New York and on to Fiji before settling down back in Australia. We will miss them so much but they might visit California. We sure hope so.

While we were at the restaurant, a woman at the table across from us fell down. Then several chairs were knocked down as the evening went on. Very odd. I got up to go to the bathroom and didn't realize there was a step up through the doorway. Down I went, hard. It appears that I have sprained my ankle. It was hard getting home and it swelled up pretty fast. Chuck stopped at a pub and was able to get a bag of ice, which helped. This morning it is somewhat better but I don't think I'm going to be running around much. Chuck went off to find an Ace bandage but it's a Sunday on a holiday weekend. This is one of those situations where I wish it had been my wrist rather than my ankle. We still have so much to see! No luck with the ACE bandage and the only open pharmacy is an hour away by train, tube and bus. We're taking a much needed rest today and I've got my foot elevated. By Tuesday I may be able to find an Ace bandage when we get to Oxford. This is one of the challenges of being in a foreign city and not knowing where to go.


I was amazed to see that the Tower of London is not a simple tower in the same way, say, that the Big Ben Clock Tower is: It is an entire fortress and castle, covering many acres of ground; it has also been a luxurious royal home. When I exited the Tube, I looked around for it and finally realized my error—I was thinking too small.

As I walked down the hill toward the Tower, I saw an enactment of military maneuvers on the front lawn by a group in period dress. Suddenly, I was shocked by a loud fusillade of rifle fire. This reminded me of the vivid dramatizations encountered on our visit to Henry VIII’s palace at Hampton Court.

William the Conqueror began construction on the Tower shortly after his victory of 1066. So, it is about 1000 years old; but, there have been numerous additions and modifications over the intervening years. Several banks of scaffolding showed that renovations continue, striving to remain true to the original styles.

The tourism highlights of the day, for me, were: The Crown Jewels, Henry VIII’s armour and Sir Walter Raleigh’s prison rooms.

As you wind your way through the waiting line to visit the jewels, you are presented with, first, a colour film of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. This was surprisingly and powerfully touching to me: I recall having watched this event, as a child, on black and white television. Second, you can watch a presentation of the various royal Coronation Regalia and the precious gems they contain; so, when you get to the display items you can move right along—there is even a level escalator for one section! There is Jewelled Sword of Offering; in addition, there are the Swords of Spiritual Justice, Temporal Justice, and the Sword of Mercy; there are several elegant crowns: The Royal Crown cannot leave the country; so, when the Monarch travels, a separate crown must be used or created for the event.

Claire had prepared me for the armour exhibit; but, it was still a pleasant surprise to actually see and compare the items. There is a display of Henry VIII’s armour as worn on horseback at age 25—even the horse is partially armoured. Then there is the suit of armour he wore at middle age—which is MUCH larger and had a protective codpiece that probably indicates delusions of grandeur on his part. Analysis of suits of armour made for Henry and reunited for the first time since the Tudor era proves that the king was 6ft 1in — well above average even today. As a young man he had a sportsman’s physique, with a waist measuring about 32in and a 39in chest. By his late forties, his waist had drifted to nearer 48in and in his final years he appears to have been carrying a 52in waist and 53in chest.

Eighteen year-old Henry after his coronation in 1509.

Classic image of Henry VIII in middle age

Henry at 25

Henry's mature armour

Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned in luxury in the Tower for a period of time, along with his wife and children. The study is set up as it was in that time, and even displays the first volume of his projected multi-volume series of The Historie of the World that was composed here—it was never completed, as he was beheaded.

Interestingly, the Bloody Tower was not nearly as much of a fatal attraction as I had supposed: There were far fewer tortures and deaths recorded here than I had expected. There was an interactive exhibit that provided some background on the famous deaths of the two young princes—usually attributed to Richard III. But, there are two other candidates described, and you are given the chance to vote for your suspect.

As I found the site of Anne Boleyn’s execution, one of the Yeoman Warders was nearing the end of his tour and I decided to hear him out, to see what I had missed. He was very knowledgeable and entertaining; I gave him bonus points for saying that if your cell phone went off in the Chapel then you would die—local restaurants should take heed. The Chapel tour was interesting; but, I was even more fascinated by his account of the life and qualifications for office. There are 25 Warder (Beefeater) families that live on the Tower premises; they are part of the Queen’s Guard, in addition to having responsibilities to the public. You are required to have 22 years prior experience in Her Majesty’s service and you must have attained the military rank of Sergeant Major, to apply for any open position there.

At this point, I left for my meeting with Claire to enjoy our first Tea Time, at the Crypt Café in the cellar of St. Martin-In-The-Fields Church.

For a long time my course was a course of vanity. I have been a seafaring man, a soldier, and a courtier, and in the temptation of the least of these there is enough to overthrow a good mind and a good man. So I take my leave of you all, making my peace with God. ~ Sir Walter Raleigh

Friday, May 28, 2010

Hampton Court Palace

By Claire
Our campground here at Abbey Wood is filling up for the Bank Holiday weekend. It’s a beautiful place—very quiet and very well run.

We located a T-Mobile shop close by, about two stops away on our overland train connection into London. I even called on our cell phone to ask about USB modem deals—the reason we bought the phone—to make reservations at the now crowded campgrounds with summer coming on, and for problems like we’ve had with internet access.

On the way, I just couldn’t resist this sign. What exactly does this mean?

T-Mobile had a pretty good deal but we decided to talk to the three other companies located either next door or across the street. Two turned out to be closed so we went into Vodaphone. I really liked Jerome, who helped us. He was friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. When he asked where in the States we were from, I asked how he could tell we were Americans. “Good teeth” he responded quickly. We all laughed. He ended up selling us a 3 GB internet modem (stick) with one month for £25 that we can top up for £15. The two deals were pretty much the same in cost but we liked this one better for the extra GB and Jerome just knew more. His sidekick, William, was also extremely polite, professional and friendly. We keep finding this kind of service all over London. On top of that, Vodaphone claims to have the broadest coverage in the UK. We asked about the “content lock” issue and Jerome gave me his personal mobile number so that I could call him once I had activated the stick and then he would remove the lock himself. Everything worked like a charm and we are up and running again. It’s been a very frustrating few days in terms of access. It’s amazing how critical it is to do any kind of travel planning.

We were glad to find out that we could reach Hampton Court Palace by train rather than have to drive there. In fact, it’s only 30 minutes out of London. Better yet, because we traveled by train, we received a 2 for 1 offer on the admission price! Not bad. Thanks Connie, for recommending that we go.

The very helpful cashier explained everything to us as we bought our tickets, gave us a pile of information and maps and away we went. She had pointed out that there were several events today and I saw that there was something starting in just a few minutes: Gentlemen are invited to attend the King in Council while his new bride seeks advice from the ladies. While we waited for it to begin, I noticed a woman in costume surrounded by school children.


Hampton Court Palace was the home of Henry VIII. Today they were re-enacting his marriage to Katherine Parr. Chuck went off with the men and I joined the women and two costumed actors portraying Katherine Parr and her sister (the same one surrounded by the children).

As hokey as it sounds, these actors were first class and really brought the period to life. We went to a small garden and sat on benches while Katherine Parr sought advice from her sister about her upcoming marriage.

After awhile, a footman arrived to announce that Katherine was wanted in the Council Chamber. Although women are not normally allowed, we were able to follow her in. There was Chuck sitting next to Henry VIII.

Katherine had to answer two questions regarding her ability to be Regent in Henry’s absence when he leaves to start a war with France. The guy playing Henry was so good I felt like he was the real thing. When he burst into an angry loud voice, it was so believable and yet, very fun at the same time (we were warned by the footman that no smiling or giggles would be allowed in the Council Chamber).

After Katherine finished with her answers and was approved by the Council, her sister looked at me and asked if I wanted a private audience with the King. I was taken aback. Uh, OK. She chose another woman and then noticed Chuck and asked if we were together. He was allowed to join us. This was all done very seriously and in her role. We were escorted to the King’s private chamber, the footman yelling to people touring the palace, "GET OUT OF THE WAY, AN IMPORTANT DELEGATION IS GOING TO SEE THE KING!"

The three of us entered a room and there was Henry. I was nervous but enjoying every second. Chuck was great with the “Yes, your Grace” and it was all just a little bit surreal. Henry was enormous and even limped from his bad leg. He told us about his health issues and his concerns for England and how badly he wanted another son. The entire time this was going on I just kept thinking, this is so fantastic I will never forget it.

We bowed and said goodbye and began the audio tour of the private apartments. The audio tour was more distracting than anything. I think it would have been better without it. But, the rooms were really something, especially the chapel. To me, this is a must see site when you are in England.

We found ourselves back in the inner courtyard where Henry and his bride were being presented to the crowd. The marriage had taken place in private.

We made our way out to the gardens, bought an ice cream cone and sat on a bench in the sunshine. Walking around, we suddenly remembered the maze. It was a long ways off but with good signs, we found it. I’ve never been in a maze before and it was fun. We kept passing a group who got lost a few times but we made it all the way to the center and out.

We were really dragging by this time. This is our third day of getting up early and returning home late. We have walked and walked and walked, even inside the underground where you sometimes have to go several levels and it almost seems like it might have been faster to walk to your destination above ground.

We remembered a place Rick Steves recommended for a good, reasonable meal: St. Martin-in-the-Fields Crypt Café. It was really easy to find, the food was great, the money goes to charity and we loved being down in a crypt.

Chuck ordered the sausage, mash and cooked red cabbage. I got the vegetarian meal of vegetables in a tomato sauce, baked potato, garlic bread and salad. We both had a beer, feeling very relaxed now that we were sitting down. Dinner only came to £21—a real bargain in this city. They also have soup and bread and big salads and desserts too. We are hoping to have tea here tomorrow afternoon. A Vivaldi concert was starting in about 20 minutes in the church but we were just too whipped to even consider it.

Another wonderful day in London.

♪ I'm Henery the Eighth, I Am ♫ ~ Herman's Hermits, 1965

Walking and Connecting in London

By Claire
May 27
We woke up today excited to be in London, looking forward to another free walking tour but, most of all, to connecting with Chuck’s sister Penny and her husband, John. Penny realized that there would be one day when we would overlap in London, contacted us and through the wonders of email, and we were able to make a date to meet.

We started off by going back to the T-Mobile store in the morning to get the dreaded “content lock” taken off our account so that I could access our blog. It didn’t take long and it was a relief to have that behind us. Unfortunately, later that evening when I tried to upload a blog post, it took forever to bring up even one photo. I gave up and went to bed (Chuck was sleeping soundly through my frustration). In the morning I told Chuck about the problems and we made the decision to start over with a real internet dongle that is made for what we need—namely accessing the internet with the ability to upload photos. We were trying to get by with a SIM card for a phone that allows browsing but realized that it just can’t be done. More on this in the next post.

We caught the underground to Hyde Park where we met with the free tour—the same company we’ve used in most of the cities we’ve visited. Ed was quite entertaining but much of the "information" was pretty frivolous. However, we were impressed with the many war memorials in Hyde Park commemorating the war dead from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

Australian WW II Memorial--similar to the Vietnam Wall Memorial but with names of battle sites rather than names of the dead

We stopped for the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I have to admit, we were less than impressed--partly because we could not see through the gawking tourists (I am speaking of others, of course). I’ve avoided it before due to the crowds. This time it was mildly entertaining.

These guys held up traffic for at least 10 minutes.

One great story Ed told us was that a number of years back, some Germans were visiting London with their camping gear and planned to spend the night in Hyde Park. They came to the wall around Buckingham Palace (this is where it becomes questionable) and decided to climb over. They rolled out their sleeping bags, put up a tent, started up a little stove and made dinner. They spent the night, got up in the morning and packed everything away then tried to leave by one of the gates. A guard ejected them immediately. I wonder who lost their job over this? Ed claimed someone actually broke into Buckingham palace, a drunk who wandered from room to room, knocking things over, which set off 5 alarms at once. This guard decided that there must be a problem with the system since they wouldn’t all be going off at once like that. The drunk now had free reign of the place and ended up in the Queen’s bedroom in the middle of the night, sitting on the edge of her bed talking with her. He was out of cigarettes and asked her for one. She told him she would call her footman and ask him to bring up a pack. Or as Ed demonstrated it: “Hello, this is me. Yes, the Queen. Would you please bring up a pack of cigarettes FOR THE DRUNK WHO IS SITTING ON THE EDGE OF MY BED?” Several guards rushed into the room and took him away.

We moved on, enjoying the unique architecture and all the wonderful things there are to see in London.

St. James Palace

Trafalgar Square

This is the Citadel--a bunker that had a lawn planted on the roof during WWII so that it would blend with St. James Park, next to it, and avoid being bombed. The ruse was a success.

Westminster Abbey


Ed brought up a hapless volunteer from New Zealand to help him demonstrate drawing and quartering. If you don't know of this traditional punishment for treason, I will spare you; but, we are kinder, gentler retributors in this era. It certainly was a fun tour but didn’t have a lot of depth.

We grabbed a couple of sandwiches and sat in a park near some protesters before making our way to Penny and John’s hotel.

The guy at the front desk of their hotel acted surprised when we asked for Penny and John and told us they were not there. We were surprised right back because it was 3 pm, the time we had planned to meet. He wouldn’t tell us whether or not they had a reservation or if they were coming. We were puzzled but knew they would show up so left them a message letting them know we would be at the pub next door.

Enjoying Sangria outside while waiting for John and Penny

It wasn’t too long before a taxi pulled to the curb, an arm came out of the window waving and we knew it could only be John and Penny! We all rushed together hugging as John told me there had been a mishap but everyone was OK. Turns out, they had stopped to top up the diesel in their rental car just before turning it in. As John turned to replace the nozzle he realized in horror that he had filled it with gasoline! He rushed up to the cashier telling her what he had done and she immediately handed him a card with the name and contact information for a guy who could make it right. A man in line told John that he had done the same thing last week.

It took an hour to drain the fuel and another hour to clean everything up, including the engine. I suppose it could have been worse, like driving the car until the engine was destroyed, but fortunately John quickly saw what he had done. It’s too bad that the nozzles for diesel and petrol are the same.

Penny took a few gulps of my Sangria then they ran in to get checked in. We decided to sit with a half pint of bitters and get caught up. It was so great to see them!

After a bit, we walked over to the British Museum and looked at the Parthenon Sculptures (the Marbles formerly known as Elgin) and the Rosetta Stone. What a magnificent place!

They treated us to dinner at a fantastic place, Lock Fyne, where we all had exquisite sea food. We all chose a starter, mine was Thai fish cakes, Chuck and Penny had smoked salmon with capers and John had a prawn cocktail. John ordered a wonderful bottle of wine which turned into two, and we all had mouth watering, fabulous main courses. Three orders of Pan fried sea bass, and one of salmon fish cakes. I was so caught up in our conversation (and the wine) that I failed to get a single photo! This is probably the best meal we’ve had on the entire trip. Chuck and I shared another Toffee pudding with ice cream—a far superior version from the microwaved mess we got the other night. John and Penny had various cheeses—oh so sophisticated!

We parted at the underground station feeling so good about how wonderful it was to be able to hook up in London.

It was wonderful to have the opportunity to spend quality time with Penny & John; usually, we have to share them with a handful of other relatives or friends; today, we had them to ourselves. We got caught up on the relatives whom we don't hear from frequently; apparently, everyone is either getting by or thriving. We were especially glad to hear that my Mother still enjoys reading the printouts of the blog that Penny and John provide--I think there are 9 binders full, so far! She vicariously enjoys the stories and the opportunity to share them with her friends in her home and in her day program. Shortly before we left, Mom mentioned that she envied my wall chart that is a timeline of the civilizations of mankind; I think that she gave that to me when she subscribed to National Geographic, many years ago; I was surprised she remembered. But then, I recall that she also surprised me when I was a teenager, learning to drive: She let me listen to music that I liked on the car radio; I thought that was so considerate and cool of her. It was only many years later that I discovered that she really liked Rock & Roll; so, it turns out that it was no sacrifice on her part, after all--but it was definitely a win-win for all concerned.

In the cookies of life, sisters are the chocolate chips. ~ Author Unknown