Robert Frost

The best way out is always through.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

She is a charmer!

In the last year I have read more than I anticipated.  I got Amazon happy that is for sure.  And I have a dear friend that finds a literary gem and likes to matchmake people with books.  If he loves the book, then he passes it on.  So in the same vein I have just met a dear woman, Helene Hanff, through her writing and if you have not met her I would love to introduce her.
When I was quite younger (early teens) I remember first knowing of Helene Hanff.  I got caught up in the movie 84, Charing Cross Road, with the saucy and perfect Anne Bancroft as Helene.  The movie recounts the 20 year correspondence between Ms. Hanff of NYC and a Mr. Doel (played by the spot on Anthony Hopkins) of Marks & Co. Bookseller of London England from 1948 until his untimely death in 1968.  She is in search of hard to find English authors and through her blunt, honest, and witty writing she charms the staid and at first formal Englishman and store clerks and befriends them all.  She loves English literature, England and longs to know London first hand so that once her link to the bookstore is made she too treasures the exchanges of books and growing friendship.  Recalling that movie after our Aug. '09 trip to London (wished I'd remembered it sooner) I got the book (a very short rewarding read) and had to know her more.

It happened that right after I read "84" I read "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  It is a fictional story set in the English Island's WWII aftermath and is also told in letters.  I would recommend it too, but it seemed to pale in comparision to the truelife heartfelt friendship that unfolds in "84". 

When I found that I wanted to know more about Ms. Hanff, I discovered that she had more to tell about her love of London post-"84" in her book/diary, "The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street".  She recounts her first visit to London to meet pen pal friends face to face, a number of fans of "84", which did well in England, and become intimate with the city that had grown dear to her in literature.  She made me see London again.  Her depth of knowledge of the city's life and the true characters of London that weave its rich history is fascinating.  And you cheer for her when she confesses that at 54, the single woman's hard-working writer's life she had known for so long, without much acclaim, appeared to have a hurrah for her. 

If you like books, romance, travel, and writing (hello bloggers!) get to know Helene and prepare to be delighted.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Our jaunt to the Palace (8-14-09, Friday)

Travel dreams vs. Travel realities. I wanna "keep it real" on this blog but I don't want to be gripey, or sound ungrateful. Just because I have happened to post back to back trips I never feel like "oh, been there, bored with that" at all. What I have is a very real feeling of "I have got to make the most of it" and "I can't believe I am here". Yes, I have read too many romantic tomes to fair London and England as a whole, traveled vicariously (over and over again) with Rick Steves on PBS, and Oh, my goodness the movies that have carried me away over gorgeous English countrysides and historic London locales....too many for my own good.

With six of us the dreaminess washed away quite a bit. I did plan all our comings and goings to fine (okay, maybe too fine) details but I had over and over requested suggestions, offered resources to all involved to help me plan or even take over. David and the girls were easily trusting (they know how I roll), but Lou. Well, many times I reviewed things with her and referred her to sources to okay ideas, but in all she had to do (she was moving and finding a new job) she put her travel dreams in my hands---maybe all too completely.

So this day was to top it off for us, but it started with some frustrations that carried through our trip. Lou's ankle (sprained days before our trip-yikes) was better but would easily flare up on her. So the walking, hustling about, standing, lugging stuff up-down-all-around was wearing on her. This Friday morning of our last full London day I found her up and ready to go before we got up and she was rarin' to set some things straight: No more buses (the rush of it all proved too flustering), No more Tube, and we were not loading ourselves up for the long train ride to the airport the next day....she was going to splurge for a cab. OKAY.

I knew David was at odds with this laying of the law but when we solemnly walked down to the train station for our day out, Lou spotted a van-sized new-style London black cab parked by our next door fancy hotel and said, "Check with that cab about tomorrow." I walked over and was cheered to greet Mark, the self proclaimed "Best cabbie in all of London!" When I blurted to him our early departure time for the next day, number of our group, and load of luggage, he was unfazed and made our appointment and set the price at 100GBP (gulp). He looked over at the rest of my group standing behind me and called out "No, problem. You'll be glad you picked me." Honestly, he made my day with his cheery hello. Thank you Lord.
Our mood was a bit perked up with this detail settled. We also found it easy to get our train out for the day. We were all so quiet on this peaceful ride to Hampton Court Palace. I so enjoy the trains. You are at rest and getting somewhere at the same time (I know, duh, but really a nice respite in the midst of going-going).
From the train station, through a large amount of confusing road work we found this imposing entrance:
Let me tell you the weather was PERFECT for this mostly outdoor day. I ache to think about it now. On our way in ....the courtyard...Lou caught unawares.
Again here was another palace that we spent more time on the grounds then in the palace proper. So it is one of those...yes, I have to go back and see it again. We toured some of the main rooms showcasing the story and timeline of Henry VIII, his first Queen, Katherine of Aragon (I love her), and Cardinal Wolsey (who built and then gave (forced to give) the palace to Henry).
Vehry Intrahsting.
But our troops were hungry (always, travel makes us hungry) so we made it to the very lovely and tasty enough Tiltyard Cafe near the palace gardens.
We wandered through the family filled maze....Sophia sized fun.

Then the gardens.....

All seemed to be set to rights....with the sun...the breeze....
the sweet floral aromas.But from the time we arrived to all our wandering (10:30am-3:30pm) we were cutting it close to make afternoon cream tea back in London. By the time we arrived back at the flat, unloaded, refreshed, found a cab and found the place, we had 30 minutes to make it in time for tea. Hustling happened...again.It was LOVELY and so worth our rush. The Orangery is only mere steps from Kensington Palace, where Queen Victoria spent her somewhat lonely youth, and is more well known as the last residence of Princess Diana. The white interiors glowed from the tall open windows that line the front side of the corridor-like expanse of the Tea Room. Small delicate orange trees adorn the simple white cloth dressed tables. I have to say we all felt a little shabby in comparison but not uneasy enough to keep us from the goodies.We splurged on our orders, ready to enjoy ourselves, and Sophia was not to be left out. As soon as I was done with my last order to the attentive waiter, she actually piped up "I want tea too please!" I was shocked. Sophia is a talker....just to us though. But I guess she knows tea time well enough from when we play it and do it from time to time at home and she was not going to be left out. The surprised waiter paused near her and kiddingly asked, "Anything else?" "Chocolate cake too!" she answered quickly and we were all laughing. The waiter thoughtfully offered that he could bring a small espresso cup for her to share our tea orders and that they had an appropriately sized chocolate cupcake that could take place for cake....Perfect! We lingered and ooohed and ahhhed as long as we could and closed down the joint....oh so refreshed and Lou wished aloud how she would do this all over again if she could. Yea!Again there was a long walk from here through the delightful Kensington gardens to Harrods.
The girls needed us to cap off our last day with some shopping and wanted to show Lou this amazingly ornate and historic mulit-floored shopping highlight.
Is there another word for packed? Because any of those words applied to Harrods on this Friday evening. The sight of the crowds made me tired. I waited with Sophia sleeping in her stroller on the less crowded first floor as David and the girls shopped and I thought over our stroll to the store. We had cut through a well appointed neighborhood with white townhouses. It was quiet and humming with families home for the evening and I peeked through a couple of street-facing below-ground windows into kitchens with meals being prepared. I love the sights but I hope in the future to enjoy more of this side of London....with it's neighborhood feel, it's nooks and crannies with all their specific London character. I want to get to know it better.

After Harrods, Lou got us a cab again and we were home quickly to wash, eat up our left over goodies, pack, and get ready for Dublin. Will you join us?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Croissant break

What to do on a day like this?.... a rare event....snow in Texas that doesn't melt at the ground and lingers a little.
It put me in the mind for baking...a Valentine's treat for my family. David remembered a long ago wish I made and for Christmas (2009) got me the two vol. set of Julia Child's ..... in this second book I found this recipe... my, oh, my....could I do it? I wondered. Then I read that it only took a 12 hour process. hmmm. Who has 12 hours? Well apparently I found 'em, and somehow thought, time+ingredients=tasty. Let us see.
There was mess+4 hours of rising+butter (lots of it)+more time+skill with the rolling and the folding+time (ya see pattern here). It equaled a mess.... and this....Aha.... and in all honesty this burnt horror too (yet still somewhat edible). Plus I got to wake up the girls by smoke alarm at midnight because this burnt butter roll didn't happen without some smoke. But I discovered that the heavy weight pan burnt while our airbake pan worked wonderfully.
As to taste....we ate it ....hmmm....some more...hmm...well another one....hmmm. All in all they looked somewhat right, but the "ooooh, ahhh" was missing. They were most definitely flaky and tender, but the flavor wasn't spot on. Now I wasn't expecting French perfection, but the flavor to me was key over texture. Was it the butter? ...Was it the flour?....Dare I say, was it the "baker"? (well I can't do much there). So will I attempt it again....more than likely...I have to conquer it. Just have to. I will report here as soon as there is success.

Here's one for you.....

Friday, February 12, 2010

London Lite--just a half-day (8-13-09)

Jenny's game plan for this Thursday:
sleep in a bit, have pastries for breakfast......Catch the Waterloo train to Hampton Court Palace (10ish) (-ish figured in my itineries a lot..so let's call it a suggestion list)......Arrive and tour every nook and cranny of the palace and delightful grounds, and even splurge on a Hampton Court Cafe lunch......3:30PM leave by boat on the Thames back to London to the Westminster pier. This boat ride would possibly take 3 hours and I imagined us sitting back watching the country-city scenery, coloring with Sophia, journaling, generally taking a pause WHILE traveling. AHHH......Be in London by 7pm for a dinner and possible quick stop at the British Museum that is open late on Thurs. evenings. Good plan.....Right?

Uh, change in plans...my poor Sophia. She is a joy and great even in the midst of travel. David and I seem to have an upspoken rule in regards to outings with her. Since she HAS TO sit with just me at all meals (I typically am the last to finish and rarely eat a hot meal) and attached to me at all times, David takes over when there are potty breaks and he also handles her luggage (ie. assortment of toddler items we MUST carry) and her stroller. And NO, I am not complaining, just interjecting that with the blessing we have of traveling together as a family, taking into consideration the wants and needs of 5, now six people ages 2-62, there is a lot to be prepared for. On this morning Sophia woke up with her usual groggy smile and then quickly threw up on herself in bed. She was crying and very congested.

Oh, my. To have a sick child while traveling is doubly difficult, because at home when there is sickness it is bad enough, but now the items we needed and the comforts of home are gone. We assessed that the congestion she had built up over our many plane rides compounded by little eating had probably gotten her a sick tummy. I popped down to our small grocers on the ground floor, but home pharmecuticals weren't to be found. Lou and I left the crew at the flat and headed to the neighborhood Tesco Superstore.
Once at the superstore (this took longer than expected, as we had walked) I found myself enjoying the opportunity to compare US to UK grocery staples. Items like soda, chips, cookies, and dairy are always fun. We got some medicinal items for Sophia, and easy snacks for her sensitive tummy. As we figured out the bus route back to the flat (definitely a necessity with all our good in tow), Lou fidgeted with the how-tos for the rest of our day. I assured her that we would make the most of it and take care of Sophia too. I have to say that sitting on the local bus, loaded down with groceries somehow made me feel a bit of a "local" myself.

Thankfully when we arrived at the flat Sophia had nearly finished off a small bag of her favorite item...corn chips and sipped on something akin to Ginger Ale. David offered to stay at the flat with our recuperating Sophia and yes they (he) would nap....he was pooped out. See, the weeks before our trip David had worked long hours finishing work projects so he was happy to chill for the day. Sophia was set watching the DVDs of her favorite home shows. What to do?

Since it was nearing 1pm, we decided to go to the Tower of London for the day and then return near dinner time to check on David and Sophia. David readily agreed. It was a "big girls' day" to my favoritest sight in London. The girls figured out our Tube route to the Tower.Arriving in the middle of the day we entered quickly with our Heritage Pass (family pass for English historic sights) and jumped right into the crowd beginning a Beefeater tour. I confess I love this place. The age and times that the Tower has stood through is amazing...the royals that have resided here...the famous prisoners that stayed here...the treasures of English history on display and for most people, the crown jewels that are stored here.
The Beefeater tour is quick and entertaining. Part of the intrigue of the Tower are the guides themselves. These are men (and one woman now) that have served their country honorably and now not only guard the Tower but live in this castle. It is their home and community. They even have a number of pubs in the vast castle for only their socializing but they do have a strict curfew.
As Lou and I found a handsome obliging Yeoman Warder taking photos with other tourists, I asked the girls to join him in a shot. And being the pre-teenager and teenagers that they are they scowled an "oh, no." But Anna offered to take a photo of Lou and I.

Then as the tall gentleman put his arm about us for the photo, he asked a polite, "So, where would you be from?" and his tone rang a bell in my head. "Are you John?" I asked. Yes, I know, a common enough name, but he stood back a little and said, "Yes, miss. Do I know you?"

No, I was not flirting with him one bit. Lou even asked, "Do you know him?" I went on to explain that though he now had a beard and glasses and we were both 8 years older, that on my very first solo trip abroad in 2001, I had toured the Tower and taken a picture with him in that very same spot. And I remembered in '01 he had shared with me that during the Gulf War he had trained with US forces at our nearby Fort Hood and had come to appreciate Texans. He chuckled and agreed that that was surely him and kindly gave us tips on what to see at the Tower. Lou was even tickled by this coincidence. I am not so keen on the jewels myself, but we did the tour for Lou's sake. She walked away with her social consciousness being bothered with the riches and luxury of the Royals through history, while at times the countrymen languished. Hmm. I hoped it wouldn't put her off for the rest of the tour. We looked through the rooms, shopped some souvenirs and still ran out of time. I would happily go back again. When we got back to the flat David and Sophia were ready to get out (I thanked the Lord that Sophia had eaten with no problems and the meds had cleared her congestion). But Lou wouldn't hear of us walking another place the rest of the night. Now our Tube stop was only 10 minutes away, but her ankle was cranky and she didn't want to be. There was a fancy schmancy 5 star hotel next door to us that proved helpful in the Black Cab arena. Taxis were parked outside its doors at all times. Lou had us jump in the first one we saw and happily we all five fit in one even with our stroller---good times. 6 GBP (Great British Pounds), and 10 minutes later we were dropped near Trafalgar Square at St. Martins in the Fields' (church) Cafe in the Crypt. Yes, CRYPT. As you dine in the refurbished spacious underground Cafe you can read the tomb markers of people buried below centuries ago. I so, so, so wanted us to make it in time for their dinner specials and most especially their Brass Rubbing Centre. But, OH NO! it was closed. For about 5 GBP (or more) you can do one of their exquisite rubbings of historical figures and English emblems. In one stop, you have a great kids activity (grown ups too!) and a special souvenir. But no go (yeah it proved to be a bit of a damper to the girls spirits). Thankfully, the cafeteria style moderately priced menu served us well and I had one of the best salads of my whole trip (w/ the most wonderful garlic chive dressing.) Again....I highly recommend it for the ambiance (ooo, I got to say ambiance) and nearness to the National Gallery, and National Portrait Gallery.

Once we were done the girls looked longingly at the souvenir shops near our bus stop. Lou wanted to find some items too and so we spent at least an hour finding the gifts that most our extended family seems to appreciate: London logo T-shirts, Big Ben key chains, magnets, etc. We stuffed ourselves onto a packed bus and thankfully made it back to the flat all together. Lou said out loud to us all that she was a bit put off with local transportation (all the go, go, going, and hubbub) and wanted to treat us to cab rides for the rest of our stay. We were grateful for the offer (it is a time saver) but later that night Sara told me that one of her favorite things was riding the tube.

She felt better when I told her that the next day we were headed out of the city by train to Hampton Court Palace. Sophia was thankfully all better by the end of the day, and even with the outside noises wafting in, quickly was off to sleep.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Pause for a Thank You

From Here to You:
I would like to say Thank You to Frenchy Chick at Le Chateau des Fleurs who happily blogs about her family and daily doings: all things Frenchy, crafty and lovely. She kindly awarded me a :

As this is my first time to do any type of awarding, I look forward to following the rules as stated. Yet I hope it is not bad manners that I tweak the rules a bit....okay? (my addition will be in red, in case you want to stick to the true rules)

1. To accept the award, you must post it with the name of the person who granted you the award, and a link to their blog. (unless linking up makes you uncomfortable, then , please just allow it to be a compliment that it was meant to be )

2. Pass the award on to approx. 10-15 other blogs that you recently discovered and think are great.

3. Contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

I love connecting from blog to blog to find others in the blogosphere who inspire, encourage, and share their loves, likes, and life online. I look forward to posting more "shout outs" on my own but I find this award opportunity a great chance to re-post some faves and advertise some wonderful blogs.

Gifts of the Journey (Cornwall, England) Elizabeth (American)

The Beautiful Meantime (Texas, US) Steph

A Tale of Two Cities (England and Texas) Debi

Girl Meets Paris (Florida, US) Teri

Dream Country Chat (Scotland) Karon

Blessed Femina (California, US) Miss Jen

Bonjour Romance (Paris, France) Mimi Bleu

My Year in Paris (Paris, France) Jennifer K

Anne in Oxfordshire (Oxfordshire, England) Anne, of course!

Parisienne Farmgirl (Wisconsin, US) Angela

Sister One of Four (Texas, US) Marcia

Sally Annie Magundy (California, US) Sally

All these amazing women I am blessed to know: some by just what they share online and others I have exchanged "comment conversations". I am thankful for good they do online and how honestly they share their time, thoughts and joys. Enjoy!

Friday, February 5, 2010

London--1st full day, it's a long one(8-12-09)

First a SHOUT OUT to further enjoy another side of Londontown: A Tale of Two Cities by Debi is a wonderful blog that I only wished I had discovered before our August trip. Debi writes about her London encounters and experiences, and her family, as she and her husband "commute", between the two cities of Houston, TX and London, UK. Delightful!On to the first full London day.....
So guess who was awake first ?.......drum roll please....it's ....moi. It is typical on our trips that I am the first one up and at 'em but surprisingly, this time I was up before our most notable early riser, Lou (my mother in law). Yet this would prove to be the only time I was up before her. She just needed a lie in after our turbo traveling days before. I threw on some clothes and darted downstairs to check out the supposedly "fresh" pastries at the very convenient grocery store on our ground floor! Yes I will say it again, we had a "not bad at all, really kind of great" grocery store in our building. Hurray. I hustled down and found that the pastries were most surely fresh, a great selection, and budget friendly.

Back in June I had sent off a letter to The Tower of London (ooo, so official, yeah the tower and I are tight) and requested tickets for our family to be a part of the nightly lock down at the Tower called the Ceremony of the Keys. It is free of charge but you have to request spots in advance (about 2 months before and only about 60 people attend per night) and then you are only given one date for attendance. I don't know how widely known this ceremony is but our invaluable guide (Rick Steves, guide book) suggested it and we were excited when we received our tickets to be a part of the 700 year old ritual. The time we were to be at the main gate was 9:30pm (no later!) and we would only be allowed with the pass in hand. So after breakfast we set out from the flat at 10AMish and knew we would not return until beddy bye.
The weather was moody and cool. But even in the greyness, it was all so vivid: the river, the people hustling around us tourists, the packed city full of old and new. Sophia would have none of the stroller and so our pace was slow along Lambeth bridge over the swiftly moving Thames to Victoria Tower Gardens behind the Houses of Parliament. Lou was ahead of the gang ready to roll. Once at the park we paused as we glimpsed people actually "frolicking" in the small, tucked away park. A small pre-school class was having a morning picnic.Sophia wandered around a bit but we had to move on to Westminster Abbey for a tour. We paused and took a pic outside the Houses of Parliament with a glimpse of characteristically attired London policeman (bobbies). We had hoped to quickly enjoy a crepe on Westminster bridge (a cute stand we discovered a time before in 2005) and enjoy a bit of nostalgia. But that bridge was crowded, and we ate our crepes being pushed by the crowd by towards the Abbey. Westminster Abbey is wonderfully awe inspiring to me because of our fist encounter with it. Back on our first ever trip across the pond in '05 we spent 3 fast days in London. Westminster Abbey got squeezed to the last minute and all we had time to do was an evensong. Oh, my. It was evening choir lead worship service with a spattering of worshippers and the full choir in their formal red&white robes. Our voices rose up in praise and so did my eyes in amazement of the 100 ft tall vaulted Gothic arches of the 800 year old church of kings.

By the time we ate our crepes, had a potty break and a diaper change, a water bottle shopping stop and then stood in line for tickets (long line), we were too late for the last tour of the morning. This tour would have been extremely informative to my husband and Lou, and possibly the girls, but having missed it they depended on me, and the Rick Steves guide highlights tour. And this was tricky because as I paused to read and point out the dignitaries, artists, writers, and figures of history entombed in the Abbey (most notably Queen Elizabeth I), it was just so gosh darned crowded that standing and gawking was a rushed ordeal. And I wasn't hip to all the interesting tidbits about this centuries old cathedral and yet I made sure we all paused to take in the coronation chair (all wooden and non gilded, surprisingly) that has been used to crown the hundreds of years of monarchs, including the current Queen Elizabeth. Sophia then announced, "We need to go out of dis house!", Me: quietly, "Sophia, shhh, this is a church" Sophia: louder it seemed, "Den (then) we need get out of dis church!" So out we went through the lovely open cloisters towards the back gardens when we heard music.
We followed the music through a somewhat dim enclosed walkway and happened upon this lovely sight. (Westminster lunch concert)

Now here is where I should have put on the travel breaks and spontaneously had us picnic in the laid back and lovely atmosphere. But I had my mind set on a pub lunch en route to Trafalgar Square and so we lingered just to the end of the tune and headed out from the centuries old cathedral to Whitehall Road. Down this main thoroughfare you will find some great landmarks, 10 Downing Street (home of the prime minister) (no pic, yikes, can I say it was "CROWDED" again for emphasis),
Stables of the Royal Horse Guards, a couple of other museums, and some traditional pubs. I had looked up our pub stop online and the interior was the wood and brass image I had in my mind, but the food was only "eh". But for the price, we didn't dare complain. A crew of six, in one of the most expensive cities in the world...you cut corners when you can. We left the warm welcoming pub and found that it was raining softly. Just as it should be in London. Trafalgar Square was very close and even with all the people about the city the rain chased away crowds from the open plaza. None of us minded the damp and enjoyed looking about the wide sweeping square that has the towering Nelsons column, the four stately Lions (photo op), and two large tumbling fountains. We next headed for the shelter of the National Gallery and its awesome art collection and equally elegant interiors. Now this well appointed gallery doesn't need lil' ol' me to advertise for it, but for all the famous painters it houses (daVinci, Rembrandt, Monet, Vermeer, VanGogh ) the fact that it and a handful of other popular British sites are free, makes it a must see. I wanted to slowly take in the paintings and their history but again crowds, loudness, and a tired toddler sped up our tour and I could see that Lou was not "into" lingering. I hate to say that the rushed feeling was getting to her and when I asked if she would simply like to walk through a neighborhood before we found a dinner destination she perked up.
Then, while searching for our guide book/map in my pack I made an awful discovery....I didn't have the tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys! David looked at me disappointed. Should we just forget it? Everyone looked a bit displeased at the prospect. We soon decided that David and Anna would go back to our flat and meet us at a certain shop I'd marked on a map of Covent Garden an hour or so later. OK.
David and Anna departed to fetch the tickets (Lou did not like this one bit), and Lou, Sara, Sophia, and I strolled leisurely down Charing Cross Road towards Covent Garden square. As we passed Henrietta St. I hoped to locate the marker for the home/building that Jane Austen stayed at when in London, but no such luck and Lou was growing worried. 45 minutes and we needed to meet up with Anna and David. We took a snack stop at a Paul's bakery (a French bakery "chain") because one of the curious must dos on my list was to taste a macaron (yes, this is French I know but I had just discovered them) and Paul's was on the way. Lou thought the macarons were curiously colored but was too distracted with concern about our split party to taste one. And that "concern" is contagious my friends.
It started to drizzle heavier as we approached the most congested spot thus far, Covent Garden. Brimming with shops, market stalls of goods and produce, and a street entertainer drawing in a large audience. And even tho' this picture shows a covered part of the large square's market, I had picked a souvenir shop that faced the open air square....supposedly. As I reached the spot where the shop should have been, there was an American clothing shop in it's place. I gulped. Lou noticed (it was raining harder), "Jenny, what's wrong? Something is not right." I tried to explain that what I thought I knew of the shop from online was apparently wrong. I told Lou that I just wanted to double check at the info. center nearby and left them under a cover, keeping an eye on the "meeting spot". The info. desk was apparently a four man job and four boisterous Englishmen looked up from the main desk as I asked directions and then all four looked puzzled. They went through a list of shops they absolutely knew to be in the square and had no idea what I was talking about. I said a quick thank you, and as I left I was sure I heard a "sorry Luv".
I had to be resolute when I faced Lou. David surely would go to the the geographical spot I marked and not just be looking and roaming aimlessly....lost forever. AND, it had only been a little past an hour....no worries. As I got to them I noticed it was raining quite hard and Lou was flustered. My dear, dear Sara was entertaining Sophia and seemed to know it would be alright. I again left them in their dry spot and I told them that I would stand in the rainy meeting corner within eye shot of them. So on the northwest corner I stood, and stood, with my bright red umbrella, praying and noticing as it got nearer to 5pm the mass of people streaming about was growing.

I waited at the corner 45 minutes and just when Lou decided to move on over to me ("oh, dear" I thought), as they were nearing I noticed two of my favorite blond heads walking up behind them. We all seemed to breath a sigh of relief and Lou most definitely brightened. David and Anna shared that they had the tickets and had no problems finding us, it was just the onslaught of people getting out of work and loading on to the tube that put them behind time.

Once reunited we all chomped on my macarons and believe it or not everyone announced they were ready for dinner (it was nearly 7pm). I have to say I liked this tight neighborhood near Covent Garden. There were a number of quaint Dickens-like store fronts of tea shops, stationary and print shops, a cheese shop. But they were all closing. So I enjoyed the store fronts, the girls bought some tea and paper fans as gifts for friends back home and we headed to the restaurant I had chosen for the night: Belgo Centraal.
I highly recommend this tasty Belgian cuisine dining experience for anyone in London. They have a more formal dining area but we opted for the slightly rowdy, full beer hall that has long tables and benches. We were seated quickly and appreciated their "children 11 and under free with an adult" menu. And if we had made it before 6:30pm, between 5pm-6:30 certain (very good) entrees are the price of the time you arrived. Savings indeed. By 8:30pm we were filled and satisfied. I had the yummy! mussels Provencal (a brothy butter garlic sauce)with fries (frites), their signature dish. David and I enjoyed fruity beers and though Sophia's sausage with leek mashed potatoes looked good she only nibbled and played with horseys. Our spirits were sagging a bit from the long day, and yet we had one more major stop.
It was dark and, thankfully, dry by the time we arrived at the Tower of London. We all remarked what a welcome difference the English summer was to our Texas hot, dry, hot, scorching, hot August. The jackets we had toted the whole day were perfect in the chilly August London night. The small crowd outside the gate slowly gathered in as the Beefeater approached from inside at the exact time of 9:30pm. In his impressive uniform and with his booming voice, the Yeoman Warder set the stage for the serious, and respectful tone of the lock down ceremony.

Daytime at the Tower that houses the crown jewels, the Beefeaters, and the guards, has such a royal English aura, yet this nighttime ritual, with only 50 people or so in our crowd, standing in silence, hearing the locks turn, the calls of order, the marching of the guards changing stations...was amazing. The Beefeater emphasized that we were apart of the living history of this great renowned Tower. Sophia caused some interruptions of chuckles form the group, as she kept stepping out of the space we were "ordered" to stay in as the ceremony unfolded. But just as our part in the ceremony was upon us, Sophia stayed by my side. The Warder called out to us and the guards, "God preserve Queen Elizabeth!", we responded with an "Amen!"

The whole rite took only 30 minutes and then we were cordially escorted off the premises. Our long day caught up with us and it took no time to get everyone to bed.


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