12.20.2010

Parting Thoughts

On the eve of our departure from the UK, we reflect on our time here by listing some of the things we won't miss, and some of the things we will. Some items are representative of the family; others an individual or two. Some are in jest; others, not so much.

And so, in no particular order...


What We Won't Miss
- The weather... it's cloudy enough over here that weather forecasts differentiate between white cloud days and gray cloud days.
- Urban congestion
- CCTV
- The three conventions in which phone numbers are written... is it 123 4567 8901, or 1234 567 8901 or 12345 678901?
- Being blocked from using Pandora
- Transit strikes
- The lack of competency and professionalism displayed by the agents and managers at Foxtons Richmond
- Trying to use "fortnight" properly in conversation
- The food selection in grocery stores, dry bread, and fatty cuts of meat
- The Wedding hoop-la... well, I [Kurt] won't be upset about not being around for that.
- Lack of good hiking, cycling and skiing
- High Street stores that leave their doors open during cold weather
- Single pane windows and drafts, combined with an antiquated heating system
- Hard water, for it makes rinsing shampoo out of hair difficult [clearly not a "Kurt" entry]
- Having to buy a license to watch TV
- The jingling and weight of coins, and the size of the paper money
- The "It's not my job" mentality
- Cricket... tried to understand it, but failed.
- Netball... understand it, but don't get it.
- Unnecessary bureaucracy
- Having to withdraw pounds at my UK bank's ATM using my US ATM card, just to deposit those pounds in my UK account
- $12 glasses of sub-par wine in pubs
- The rudeness of the Swiss
- Converting temperature from C to F
- Cookbook recipes in metric... AGH!
- Skype phone call quality
- UK customs and their holding of packages as hostages for money
- Cell phone plan shopping
- Washing machine drums the size of a thimble

What We Will Miss

- Meat pies
- Green vegetation in the summer
- Pub culture and the Sunday roast
- Friends
- More oxygen-rich air
- The lack of stop signs and the use of roundabouts
- Hearing/reading different perspectives of US policy and people
- Racing at Ascot
- Cathedrals and castles
- Being able to walk to a lot of places, including school
- Borough Market and those grilled cheese sandwiches
- Opportunities to visit other parts of the UK and Europe
- School uniforms
- Saying and hearing "brilliant" and "cheers" and "whilst" and "anticlockwise"
- Richmond Park
- Fan assisted ovens
- English mustard
- Warnings by newscasters that an upcoming clip contains flash photography
- Going out for high tea
- Watching Rugby Union... though we've been here for less than a year, I have seen enough to know that I do favor it over Rugby League.
- Rhubarb yogurt
- Rapid-boil tea kettles... seriously, you should see the thing we had and how fast it got water bubbling.
- Paddleboating on the Serpentine in Hyde Park
- Brouge Bistro... there's something to be said for a good pot of mussels, a nice Belgian beer and banoffee pie for dessert.
- Taking the Eurostar train to Paris or Brussels
- "SatNav Sally"... she guided us safely for many trips, and probably prevented a few speeding tickets, too.
- Caffe Nero skinny lattes... those things put Starbucks to shame!
- Being able to buy anything at Harrod's... it's like the McGuckins of London.
- Hamley's toy store
- "Mock the Week," "An Idiot Abroad," "QI" and being able to catch a football (soccer) match on TV at almost any time of day.
- The frantic search that takes places by retail staff not for a pen, but for the pen -- as if there is only one in the entire store -- when we need to sign our credit card receipt
- Early morning runs along the Thames
- Driving on the motorways... pass and get over, it really is that simple.
- The politeness of the English people


Cheers.

And, of course, Hi Kristin.


12.12.2010

Weekend in Brussels

Little did we know that when we booked a weekend in Brussels several weeks ago to check out the city and it's Christmas Markets, it would be out last "big trip" during our UK stay. So it became a pretty special trip for us, and we were treated to a nice send-off, of sorts.

Friday was Chloe's last day at her school, and because it was the end of the term, her school had a planned half-day, which allowed us to get an later-afternoon Eurostar train from London to Brussels. And like our trip to Paris in summer, we thoroughly enjoyed the direct, non-stop high-speed train trip... smooth, quiet, 2 hours and it drops you off in the center of the city.

After arriving and getting to our hotel, we dropped off our bags and headed out into the city to get our first glimpse of the markets and get some dinner. It was then we realized that our hotel was in a great spot to do both... the closest part of the markets was just a couple minutes' walks away, and there were restaurants aplenty around. Prior to dipping into one of the restaurants, we did get to see the one light and music show that was put on in the Grand Plaza... here's a grainy video clip of it.

video

On Saturday, we took our good ol' time getting ready, but eventually headed off to take a hop-on/hop-off sightseeing bus tour of the city. It's a beautiful city, with gorgeous plazas, parks and gardens, and a lot of European charm to it... grand cathedrals, cobblestone streets, etc. We hopped-off at the "Atomium" stop, a preserved structure and exhibit from the 1958 Worlds Fair. In its current form, the Atomium structure is a museum of sorts with part dedicated to its own history, and part dedicated to general science. The most interesting part, for us at least, was the structure itself, for how many times does get to roam around inside something that replicates a 165-billion-times magnified iron crystal? (More on Atomium can be found here.) Afterward, it was back on the bus and back to the area of our hotel for some lunch, and a nice little afternoon nap before heading out to the Christmas Markets at night.

Feeling refreshed after our naps, we headed out to take in the markets and other various attractions... and, of course, a stroll of the market wouldn't be complete without some gluhwein. According to the brochure, there are over 240 stalls for visitors to stop at. Being it was a weekend evening, there were a fair number of people strolling along like us, so it wasn't possible to see every one of the stalls, but we did get to see a lion's share. At the end of the main market plaza were the ice skating rink and ferris wheel. It seemed only right and festive, so Chloe and I laced up some skates and made our way around the ice for about 30 minutes (Peg wasn't too keen on the idea, so watched our stuff) and then made our way to the wheel to get an aerial view of the market plaza. It was then off to find a proper Belgian dinner - mussels and beer - followed by a visit or two to some chocolatiers, before calling it a night.

We had hoped to visit Bruges on Sunday, but given that we didn't get to bed until midnight, we thought the better of trying to get Chloe to a 9:15 am train and decided to stay in Brussels to do a little shopping and finish off our weekend. The one thing we were on the look-out for the entire weekend was a Brussels Christmas Tree ornament. Given the number of stalls, and that it was a Christmas Market in Brussels, Peggy and I thought this would be a slam dunk. To our surprise, it wasn't easy at all... we found ornaments, and things with Brussels on them, but not a combination of the two. We decided to get creative and buy two identical Brussels magnets, with hopes of making them into an ornament by removing and discarding the magnets and then gluing the backs of the remaining pieces together!

Our weekend excursion eventually wound down, and it was time to get back to the train station, and the Eurostar, and London and our flat where a final week of UK living awaited us.

** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

A slideshow of pictures from the weekend can be found here.

Below is a brief video clip of some street musicians we walked by... you might be able to hear the tail-end of "Flight of the Bumblebee" at the beginning of it.

video

11.30.2010

Heading Home

Our time here in the UK is coming to an earlier-than-anticipated end. The backstory:

Peggy was asked to come over here and "stabilize" the UK office as it had been foundering and losing key personnel, which she did in June. She did such a good job and was asked to stay on longer to now run the UK office and eventually hire her replacement. She accomplished both in relatively short order, leaving her to transition back to the job she was doing in Boulder. Then the buyout came.

Her (now previous) company UBC was acquired by a company called Medco Health Solutions, and accompanying the buyout was the obligatory restructuring. One of the results of this restructuring was a redefined role for Peggy, one that was largely US-based and requiring time to be spent in meetings with US colleagues and clients (which would then require a lot of US travel.)

So rather than try to keep up with the transatlantic travel and try to work US hours while on UK time, we decided to explore the possibility of returning early to address both professional and personal concerns. A few exploratory emails and phone calls later and it was settled... we'd returning to the US in late-December.

To be sure, there will be things we'll miss by leaving early (that's a post for another day.) But when you start looking at what day-to-day life would be like for all of us here and Peggy working (in some manner) there, the choice was pretty simple.

The countdown is on... liftoff is in T-minus 21 days.

11.29.2010

Chloe Goes to Bollywood

Chloe's "Bollywood Hip Hop" dance recital took place last night in the school gym, and she was awesome. Given the genre, I couldn't tell you what the songs were that she danced to, but I can tell you that girl danced her Taj Mahal off.

I did take video of the performance but I don't have the right gear here to upload any clips. I do have so-so pictures from the performance that you can view. [They're not the greatest, admittedly, as I was trying to take them while at the same time hold the video camera still.]







11.23.2010

Netball Anyone?

Chloe participated in her first Netball game today. It's a game we Schrammels never heard of prior to Chloe joining her school, but apparently it's a popular game for females in many of the Commonwealth nations.

"What is netball?" you may be asking. It's often described as being similar to basketball. However, after researching it online, watching clips of netball games online, seeing it a bit on TV and watching Chloe's game, I think that is over reaching. My impression -- and Peggy shares this with me -- is that besides there being a ball, a thing with a net and players wearing footwear, there are few similarities with the sport we know as basketball. In fact, we would consider netball to be more of an activity, like scrapbooking or gardening. Here is a link to a game played by "advanced" players... by way of comparison, though, let me say that the game played by Chloe and her 7- to 8-year old teammates wasn't disproportionately worse in terms of skill, athleticism or general "sporty-ness," even given this was their first game. But back to Chloe's game...

For her first kick at this can (read: playing a game she wasn't so familiar with and only practiced once a week for a couple of weeks,) Chloe played well in her position of Goalkeeper. She prevented several passes from reaching the other team's Goalscorer and made some timely passes to try and get the ball up court. Unfortunately, her teammates were keen on passing the ball "east-west" and not "north-south" and inevitably the action came back into Chloe's area of action. Final score: 10-ish to 1.

11.13.2010

What do "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and English Rugby Have in Common?

Apparently something, for the chorus of it was sung quite a bit this afternoon during the match, er "fixture", against Australia.

[I did do some digging around, and there is an explanation why that verse is sung at the matches... read here.]

Anywho, me and just over 80,000 people attended the game and, had Australia's kicker made more of his penalty kicks, would have witnessed a close contest. Alas, he did not, and England came out the victor, 35-18.

Even though I didn't grasp everything that was going on, I did gain a better understanding of the rules and actions of the players, like why it's perfectly legal to blast into a guy who is on top of the "ruck" (the mound of players that forms once someone is tackled.) Here are a couple other tidbits for you:
- the game is played in two 40-minute halves, and only in rare instances does the clock stop. Even if someone gets hurt, play continues and the medical staff come out on the field with the game still going on to attend to the player. If the player plays a position that is involved in formations like a scrum or a line out (that "throw in" play in rugby), the clock will stop.
- One might think that given it's rough nature, rugby (the "rugby union" variety) is traditionally a "blue-collar man's sport," but it's not so. (Football/soccer and "rugby league" are historically considered the sports for that cohort. Granted, things have changed as footballers make money hand over fist. Pro rugby players do OK, but make nowhere near what a footballer makes.) Rugby is a "gentleman's game," a "proper game." So much so that certain expectations extend to the fans in attendance as well... expectations that one just wouldn't see at any event put on by any of the 4 major professional sports in the US. For example, during this match, England was called for a penalty and Australia decided to go for a penalty kick. Someone from the Australian team brings out the tee, hands it to the kicker, he sets it up however he wants, and then steps back a la an NFL placekicker. And he stands there probably for a good 30 seconds before making his approach to kick the ball. During this 30 seconds, a decent-sized chorus of whistles (euro for "boo") rain down on him. After the attempt (he missed), the PA announcer comes on and basically mildly admonishes the crowd for not extending a courtesy to the Australian kicker they would have extended to the English one. And his message his accompanied by a similarly worded message on the large screens as well. These messages didn't have immediate effect as the whistles happened again at the next penalty kick (he missed that one too.) The same PA announcement and big screen messages were played. Eventually, towards the end of the match, there were few if any whistles aimed at the Australian kicker.

11.10.2010

A Not-So-Mean Time in Greenwich

Mark (another AHD who has daughters at the same school as Chloe) and I made our way over to Greenwich this morning to check out the Royal Observatory and see the Prime Meridian, where East meets West (longitudinally speaking.)

"Why a midweek visit?" one may ask. I had an interest in seeing it, and am the only one in this family with such an interest. So it was just better for everyone this way. There's nothing concrete planned, but I suspect there will be more of such excursions and blog posts over the next 8+ months. Anywho...

A good bit of the exhibition space at the Royal Observatory was devoted to -- in both terms of the need for, and the instruments used to determine -- the Prime Meridian (or that imaginary yet arbitrary line that runs between the poles and separates East from West.) In a nutshell, it came about largely due to maritime concerns... ship captains had ways to determine their North/South latitude (e.g. by measuring the angle above the horizon of the sun at 12 noon) but were stumped about how to determine their East/West location.

Solving the "longitude problem" became the quest for many over many decades. One "solution" that was offered involved the Powder of Sympathy, and the theory goes like this: this Powder was to have amazing healing powers. Those who believed in felt it could cure wounds from afar by being applied to the knife which had caused the wound or to bandages which had been used to dress it, rather than to the wound itself. With that as the foundation, believers in this powder thought all ships should carry on board a dog, and all dogs should be wounded by the same knife. Everyday, someone back in London was to dip this knife in the Powder of Sympathy at 12 noon, causing the dogs aboard the ships -- wherever they may be -- to instantaneously yelp. This time market would let the captains know it was 12 noon in London and, when compared to their local time, allow the captains to calculate their longitude.

Eventually (and obviously), a solution to the longitude problem was found (and surprisingly, it didn't involve maiming dogs), and it came about largely due to a £20,000 prize Parliament dangled out there in the early 1700s.

(Pictures, top to bottom: Left foot in the West, right foot in the East; view of London from the Royal Observatory with Central London highrises on the far left, the highrises of the Docklands in the center back, and the National Maritime Museum in the center foreground.)

11.05.2010

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, 'twas his intent
to blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow:

By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

Hip hip hoorah!


Perhaps because of my American bias, but when I first heard that Guy Fawkes Day was a day about a guy who tried to blow up Parliament, my initial suspicion was that it was a day of honor, celebrating the attempt by and of life of Mr. Fawkes.

Well, I have quickly come to learn that is not at all true. In fact, the day is widely (and reportedly wildly) celebrated by throwing an effigy of the chap on a bonfire. Bonfires aren't easy to construct in metro London any more, so recent developments in the celebration include fireworks.

We'll be heading to a bonfire and fireworks event tomorrow night to see the spectacle up close.

For more reading on Guy Fawkes and bonfires and whatnot, click here.

11.01.2010

Winter Kit

Today is the first day after midterm break, so it is also the first day on which the Old Vicarage girls are required to wear their winter uniforms. Here's Chloe in hers:

10.31.2010

Not in Kansas Anymore...

Halloween isn't as popular here as it is back in the Colonies, er, States. But, it is known and celebrated. Some friends from Chloe's school organized a gathering at a local restaurant for some food and hi-jinks, and then we took the girls trick or treating around the neighborhood for a bit.

10.27.2010

A Taste of Kenya

Well, we're back.

The 9 days we spent in Kenya can be summed up in one word: Amazing.

The people we met, the landscape and animals we saw, the contrast to our everyday lives... it was a trip that summoned all senses and produced a range of emotions and thoughts (e.g. don't take clean drinking water for granted.)

What follows is a bulleted synopsis of our trip filled with miscellaneous observations and trivia, with links to some pictures as well. I suppose a more flowing narrative might be in order, but the mountain of laundry taking over the hallway begs to differ.

October 17-18
- Overnight flight from Heathrow to Nairobi goes well. We all must have slept longer than we thought for the nearly 9 hour flight seemed to go by quickly.
- The location of the airport in Nairobi reminded Peggy and I, strangely enough, of Denver International: it's in the middle of nowhere, there's flat terrain all around and it's about a mile above sea level.
- The chance for any future similarities between Nairobi and Denver diminished rapidly as we left the airport and made our way to our hotel: there were heavily armed guards at the airport exit, the pollution from cars was intense, and the driving habits were pretty chaotic (even by UK standards.) Peggy and I joked that we doubt that there are emissions test done on cars; but if there were, it would be to see who had the most CO spewing out the tailpipe.
- Another thing that became evident quickly were the sheer numbers of people walking in the rural/suburban band of the city. You would see people walk-commuting everywhere... along the busy highway, coming through vacant lots to get to the path along the highway, hundreds of meters away heading somewhere. (We observed later in the week, when we were solidly in the rural areas, the same held true: there may have been fewer people, but you could still see plenty of people traveling on foot.)
- Our hotel in Nairobi was OK. There wasn't much to do in the immediate vicinity, so we hung out by the pool most of the afternoon. Which was fine by us, since we had a 7 AM departure the next day (or 5 AM GMT.)
- Not only was there not much to do, we learned in the welcoming remarks at the hotel that it wasn't always a great idea to go strolling around any part Nairobi willy-nilly. If we did go out, we were advised to removed all jewelry, not take cameras or purses, and take only the minimum amount of cash. That said, we did take a short walk around the hotel, just to stretch our legs and visit a couple of stores.
- The lunch we had at the hotel quickly reminded us not to get "Kenyan shilling sticker shock" when we buy something. It cost us 4,250 Kenyan Shillings, or about $50.


October 19
- We headed south in the morning, with the destination being about 4 hours away at lodge near Amboseli National Park.
- Within the first 45 minutes of leaving the hotel, we saw our first wildlife... some giraffes. A short while later, we spotted some ostriches, too.
- A railroad line paralleled the road most of the way. It stretches from Mombasa, Kenya to Uganda. During its construction at the turn of the 20th century, a lot of Indian slaves were killed by lions.
- During the drive, we stopped for a nature break at a curio shop. It was here we learned, rather quickly I might add, that" haggle-ese" was the third language of Kenya, with the other two being English and Swahili. And we weren't even interested in buying anything! (i.e. the hawkers are pretty relentless.)
- In the parking lot of this curio shop, the hawker that assigned himself to us came up, made some friendly chatter, and then asked if we had any pens or magazines. He wanted them for his daughter at the school across the street. I obliged and gave him my copy of the less-than-kid-friendly "The Economist." He seemed appreciative nonetheless.
- Our lodge for the next 2 nights was the Amboseli Sopa, and its close to Africa's highest peak Mount Kilimanjaro (19,298 ft.) And though it is situated about 10 miles outside the park, has its own little slice of wildlife... vervet monkeys were all over the place, and banded mongoose were also readily seen.
- The lodge is pretty remote. Consider: all electricity is provided by generators, so there are limited times when guests can charge their various batteries or take a hot shower.
- In regards to those monkeys, apparently a row had broken out between two of them near our room, and before we knew it we had monkeys running all over our patio and nearly into our room. All within an arm's reach.
- In the afternoon, we had our first game drive, and so I'll let the pictures and their captions provide the words for that. The only thing I will mention (tangentially) is that the aforementioned 10 miles between the lodge and park was 10 miles of teeth-chattering, kidney-damaging "washboard" dirt road. An aside: Toyota Land Cruisers are near bomb-proof.
- At night, warriors of the local Masai tribe performed some ritual dances and songs, and exhibited their (vertical) jumping competition, which is used as part of a courting ritual.
- On the grounds of this lodge is a house that Ernest Hemingway built. It's currently in use as a bar and viewing platform.

October 20
- We were given the opportunity of visiting the local Masai village this morning, and took it. And are SO glad we did. On the 15 minute walk to their village, I was able to spend a good bit of time talking to the one Masai gentleman, the chief's son. He was very welcoming and forthcoming out Masai life, culture and traditions. And quite inquisitive about where we were from. Thankfully, I had a pictures of our home area on my camera's memory card and could show him a snow-capped picture of the mountains behind Boulder. He was also quite fond of using our point and shoot camera... he took most of the pictures you'll see of our time amongst the village members.
- In this particular village, we participated in one of their dances and prayers, were told about their herbal medicines, and visited a home and their nursery school. We learned that the men take care of the livestock, and the women take care of the home (including building it) and provide water for it, which for this village meant a 9-mile roundtrip trek.
- Some quick tidbits about the Masai (for a more complete picture, I'd encourage you to follow the link above): they're polygamous; men first marry around age 20, and women around age 17; as the brides come from a different village, a marriage is arranged between the two fathers and involves a "bride price" (opposite of a dowry) of usually between 10-20 cattle; they're nomadic, moving as needed to keep their livestock of cattle, sheep, goats and donkeys well fed; their diet consists largely of meat, milk and blood, but no fruits or vegetables; they don't hunt for their food, relying on their own livestock for sustenance.
- After visiting the Masai village, we went to the park for late mornings and afternoon game drives and saw one or some of the following: Thomson's gazelles and Grant's gazelles, elephants, giraffes, baboons, hippos, zebras, wildebeests, cape buffalo, waterbuck, hyenas, elands, herons, lions, jackals and ostriches, to name a few.
- Some of the animal trivia we learned:
  • you'll often see zebras and wildebeests migrating and milling about together, for the latter rely on the formers ability to locate water.
  • giraffes have special valves in their neck to control blood flow to the brain while it is bent over drinking.
  • elephants often bury a dead herd member under leaves, dirt and branches, and will not return for several years to the area where the member died.


October 21
- Lots of driving today... 4 hours back to Nairobi to have lunch at the Carnivore restaurant (where the tag line might as well be "if it had a mother, we put it on a grill"), and then 2.5 hours along the Rift Valley to our lodge at Lake Naivasha, which lies northeast of Nairobi.
- The Carnivore restaurant is a Nairobi landmark, known for grilling up some (very) meaty fare. (Follow the link in the "Miscellaneous" section at the bottom of this post to see a picture of the menu du jour.) Of the things I tried: my favorite was ostrich (asked for seconds!), my least favorite was crocodile, and yes, I did try the last one listed in the left column above the Exotic Meats section.
- There were no game drives today, but that didn't mean we didn't see any animals. While strolling the grounds of the Naivasha Sopa lodge, we saw dik dik, colobus monkeys, giraffes, and waterbuck. Another animal related tidbit regarding this lodge is that guests are encouraged to use "security" personnel while walking to and from dinner in the main lodge, as hippos are known to walk around the grounds at night.

October 22
- The first excursion today was to Lake Nakuru, about 1.5 hours away and know for its flamingos. The salty waters promote algae growth, which attracts the flamingos, sometimes as many as 1.5 million of them.
- The lake area is also know for its black and white rhinos. One way to tell the difference between a black and white rhino is to look at the mouth area: if it's flat/square, you're looking at a white rhino; if it's more pointed, a black rhino. (Despite the "color" adjective, these rhinos are essentially the same color. A write-up on how these animals got their names can be found here.) But let's say you a rhino and its baby are walking away from you and you can't see their faces, there is still away to discern which variety of rhino you are looking at: if the baby is walking in front of its mother, you're looking at white rhinos; if the baby is walking behind the mother, their black rhinos.
- Animal trivia from this excursion: male lions eat up to (approx.) 75 pounds of meat per day; rhinos have a 17 month gestation period.
- After touring the Lake Nakuru area, it was back to our lodge where we took a 1.5 hour boat tour of Lake Naivasha, know for it's hippo population (estimated at 2,000.) Unfortunately, the weather turned on us a little bit as it became quite windy with passing rain, and these conditions had the hippos at the surface for just short periods before submerging again. I was able to get some so-so pix, though.
- Also on this lake were pelicans and kingfishers.


October 23
- This morning we traveled to our last lodge of the trip, the Mara Sopa lodge which abuts the Masai Mara National Preserve. A "feature" of the drive there were the roads for the last 2 hours: for one of the hours, it was on a potholed-beyond-belief stretch that had us ranging from road shoulder to road shoulder just to get passed some real tire swallowers, and the final hour to the lodge was on a washboarded dirt road that made our time getting into the Amboseli park seem like a blink of an eye.
- As on other lodge-to-lodge trips, we did stop by a curio shop to use the restrooms and browse their wares. We've noticed some beautiful carved ebony pieces at prior ones, and because it was near the end of the trip and we wouldn't have to lug them around a lot, we decided to try our hand at haggle-ese. Peggy wanted some ebony bookends, I found an ebony sculpture of a lion that I liked, and Chloe found a small malachite sculpture of an elephant. The combined initial offer from the hawkers for these 3 items totaled 24,000 Kenyan shillings; we got them 10,000.
- The Mara Sopa lodge was also frequented by vervet monkeys... while taking a quick rest poolside, I had one sitting 4 feet away from me, and observed them strolling over to the pool to get some water.
- We did a game drive in the Masai Mara after lunch and were absolutely blown away – by the animals, by the scenery, and by one particular incident, which I'll "bullet" at the end of this day's write-up. For one reason or another, I started taking better notes at this park about what we saw and what our driver-guide told us, and so following are some trivia bits and observances.
  • The cheetah is the only cat that can't retract its claws. (This has led some to believe, including our driver-guide, apparently, that it is a member of the dog family.) It hunts only in the day, unlike the leopard which hunts at night.
  • A cape buffalo can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and have very poor eyesight.
  • We can only guess that it's due to the frequency with which people visit the park, but we were amazed about how nonplussed the lions were both here and at other parks when there were humans and vehicles partially surrounding them.
  • Approximately 1 million wildebeest migrate to this park from the Serengeti in Tanzania, and a lot give birth in Kenya – there are about 1.5 million migrating back. A newborn wildebeest doesn't waste time getting ready for survival mode: 10 minutes after it is born it is standing, 10 minutes later it is walking, and 10 minutes later it can run at its top speed. (You may have seen video clips of "The Great Migration" on nature shows, where wildebeest attempt to safely cross a swiftly moving river laced with crocodiles. If so, what you saw was them going to/from Masai Mara.)
  • The secretary bird got its name from the feathers protruding out from its head, as they are said to resemble the quill pens that (human) secretaries from days of yore used to store behind their ears.
  • We came upon one male lion resting who quite apparently got into a serious scrape with another animal as there were several nice sized gashes on his face and limbs.
  • Females lions are known for nursing other females' cubs, and can nurse 10 at a time.
  • The Masai people use the pods from the sausage tree to make beer.
- The "blown away" incident referenced above took place right as we were heading back to the lodge. We were parked, along with a couple other vehicles, alongside 4 lions resting in the grass, the nearest of which was about 30 feet away from our open-window, open-top vehicle. Something caught the attention of the one lion, as it got up and walked between the vehicles and sat down on the other, sensing the air and looking around. A few short moments later, the other 3 decided to join it and the one of these 3 decided to take a path directly alongside our Toyota. How "alongside"? Had I put my hand out the open window, I could have pet it on top of its head. Probably the best animal experience of the trip right there.

October 24
- Early morning game drive today in hopes of seeing some activity from our quasi-nocturnal friend the leopard, the only one of the Big 5 we had yet to see. How early? Up and on the road by 6:15 AM.
- We came across some more lions, of which there are approximately 750 in the park, 2 cheetahs, a tawny eagle feasting on a dead wildebeest, a jackal waiting to feast on said wildebeest, a bohor reedbuck (an animal I never heard of before), zebras, wildebeests, various gazelles, topi antelope, kongoni (another "new one" for me), ostriches, warthogs and cape buffaloes. But, alas, no leopard. So back to the lodge we went for breakfast and a several hour rest before heading out again in the afternoon.
- In the afternoon game drive, the quest for the elusive leopard continued, and our driver-guide was working the CB radio hard with other drivers seeing if the spotted any. During our drive, we spotted a pride of 13 lions, 2 of which were brothers to the one we saw last night (the scarred-up one.) Our driver learned from other guides that these 3 lions are brothers, and the one challenged for dominance of the pride and lost, and subsequently got kicked out.
- Shortly after visiting this pride, the call came in that a leopard had been spotted. When asked where it was, our driver said, "Far." He wasn't kidding: it took about an hour to get there.
- En route to the leopard, we saw some dikdik, and went through a large herd of cape buffalo, several of which had young calves by their side. At this point, with the park's closing in mind, our driver didn't really stop for us to observe animals we've already seen... he was in full-on leopard mode.
- After several "corrective turns" (necessary when directions to "the tree by the grassy area next to the marshy area" has several interpretations) we arrived to see a leopard lying in the grass. It eventually got up and began walking, and like the lions seemed absolutely unperturbed by the jostling of vehicles around it.
- Our driver told us some things about the leopard:
  • there are a good number of leopards in the park, but they are very elusive.
  • when found, they are usually resting up in a tree.
  • the spots on the leopard have a "rosette" look to them, whereas the spots on the cheetah are solid.
  • they are solitary by nature, have a black ring "necklace" on them, and can carry an animal twice its own weight up a tree to feast on it.
- After observing the leopard, it was time to make our way back to the entrance/exit to the park before it closed. Along the way, we saw a steppe eagle and a small heard of elephants.


October 25 and 26
- We headed back to Nairobi the morning of the 25th, enduring 2 hours of brutal road conditions again before reaching some smooth pavement, and saw a group of giraffes numbering 32 along the way.
- Shortly after leaving the lodge, the driver stopped at a local school. Peggy and I had some things we no longer needed and wanted to give it away. This wasn't the only thing, but somewhere in western Kenya is a kid wearing a Steelers baseball hat.
- We arrived in Nairobi around noon time, grabbed some lunch at a nearby restaurant, then read and napped poolside before an early dinner... we had a 6:30 AM departure for the airport the next morning.
- The morning of the 26th we woke up, grabbed a quick breakfast and headed to the airport, successfully closing what could have been the best family we've taken.


Miscellaneous tidbits, some items our driver-guide told us and final wrap-up
- Random pictures from our trip can be found here.
- This was our first time in the southern hemisphere. So I learned something about the Coriolis Effect and saw some new constellations (or rather, didn't see the Big Dipper; I honestly didn't know what I was looking at in the night sky.)
- Amboseli National Park is 151 sq.mi. in size and averages just 14 inches of rainfall per year. Its name is a derivative of some Masai words meaning "salty and dusty land", a description which makes sense if you see a satellite image of the area.
- Masai Mara means "spotted land," a description applied to the park when viewed from the air. It is 583 sq.mi. in size, and known for being home for all of the "Big 5" of Africa: rhinos, lions, leopards, buffaloes and elephants.
- There are 42 tribes in Kenya.
- We're not sure why, but 2 of the 3 lodges we stayed at were fond of playing Dolly Parton songs during dinner. One even threw in John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" at one point.
- Most people in Nairobi live on less than $1/day.
- One more than one occasion Kenyan people said "Obama!" when they learned we were Americans.
- On several occasions, I saw where people used cut up motorcycle tires and some strapping to fashion a pair of sandals.
- Even though we felt by and large safe, there were little reminders that life in Nairobi wasn't always rosey. For instance, it appears as if many businesses, including the hotel we stayed at and the Carnivore restaurant, employed a fair amount of security personnel. At the Carnivore, there was a guard booth one had to go through to get there, and guards had at their disposal mirrors on wands that allows them to look at the underside of cars for bombs. And their were armed guards on the tarmac at the airport surrounding planes at their gates.
- Some of the "Western Wear" we saw on locals include a medical center shirt mentioning Steamboat Springs, an Air Products jacket on a driver, and a Steelers jersey on a man in a town we drove through.
- A donkey-pulled cart impeding traffic in the left lane of a very busy road was not a cause for anger or the beeping of one's car horn. It was simply a man with his cart and donkey going down the road.
- Apparently, car theft is a big problem in Kenya. Most cars had their license plate numbers etched into all mirrors and pieces of glass; some cars had the license plate numbers painted right on the doors.

* * * * *

Like I wrote at the beginning, this was an amazing trip. There are some experiences and images we hope to carry with us for the rest of our lives. Perhaps the ones that leave the greatest impression are those from our time amongst the Masai villagers. Here we were, Westerners in our new safari clothes, fancy camera equipment, and college degrees being taught a good lesson about being happy with what you have, and freely sharing it with those with whom you come in contact.

Liberated!

10.16.2010

The Un-Ascot

You may recall that a couple of weeks ago we donned some finer threads and headed out in (some) style to catch some horse racing at Ascot. Well, this afternoon, we again had another sport adventure, but this time it was in sweats, jeans and fleeces, and it wasn't to watch some horses run around; instead, it was to watch some rather large men slobber-knock one another during attempts of getting an oblong-shaped ball across a line and down to the ground.

That's right... we went to our first rugby match. (And just in case there are any rugby aficionados reading this, it was a rugby union game.)

Luckily for us, there's a top-tier professional rugby team right here in Twickenham, so catching today's match was pretty easy. It just so happened that today's game was not a traditional league game between the local team (the Harlequins) and one of its league rivals; instead, it was against a team from Italy as part of an international "cup" competition. (Because of the lack of rival team and fans, I wonder if the "energy" in the stadium was a little less than normal for a "Quins" home game. The stadium seats about 14,800 and there were just over 9,000 in attendance.)

I've been watching some rugby on TV since I've been here, and enough of a grasp of the rules to go and see a game live and kinda understand what's going on (unlike cricket... I've seen that a couple times on TV and have no idea what that game's about.) And gaining a basic grasp is pretty easy: the guy with the ball gets tackled, sometimes hard. Sometimes he passed the ball before being tackled; and if he does pass it, it should be a lateral. (I've come to learn that there's more to it than that -- like there are rules that apply to the tackler and tacklee once the tackle is complete -- but honestly, not much more.)

I won't regale you with game highlights 'cause frankly I don't know enough about the players to do so (that, and I can't suspect there actually is a rugby aficionado reading this.) I can report that one of the Quins had a hat trick, and that the Quins put an absolute thumping on their Italian counterparts, winning 55-17. I can also report that it was fun enough for the 3 of us to consider going see another match sometime, which I think is a great outcome, too.

(Pictures: The Twickenham Stoop (stadium); some rugby fans.)

10.15.2010

More Pix from My Day in the Big City...

Follow this link for a couple more pictures and captions on my day out.

Soloing it in London

I can't ride, can't even exercise. And the walls of the flat have been creeping in a bit.

So I took the train into London to explore some on foot, visiting some new places (the Monument) and revisiting a favorite (Borough Market and an amazing grilled cheese stand.)

10.06.2010

From the "No, of course not. Why would I? [heavy on the sarcasm]" files

A sign on the water bubbler that greets people in a patient waiting area at the hospital I visit for follow-up appointments...

10.02.2010

Strolling around London's Borough Market...

... And saw this sign next to some meat pies.

We're not prepared to buy some today, but we're already planning on coming back next weekend.

9.29.2010

Post "Incident" Update

Just got back from my just-under-2-week follow-up appointment with the orthopedist and here's the latest (I'm still typing with 1 hand so this'll be brief):
- in the shoulder area, I have a Grade 2 acromioclavicular dislocation... not much one can do for it other than let it heal. I wear a sling occasionally to give my neck and back a rest.
- the 2 broken bones in my right hand are healing nicely. I was fitted with a new cast which gives my fingers are lot more range of motion. I should expect to be in this cast for another 4 weeks.

I head back again next week for another appointment and another set of x-rays.

And, of course, Hi Kristin!

9.25.2010

A Day of La-De-Da

[I'm still typing with one hand, so the next several posts might be of the short & sweet variety.]

We're doing another "keep it local" weekend... we enjoy traveling, but also know there's a lot to do closer to home where we can mix it up with the locals. So this morning, we got dressed up considerably more than we usually do for a Saturday, and headed to the tiny town of Ascot for some perry, cider, champagne and horse racing (and perhaps a little wagering, too.)

Why did we get dressed up? Well, for this particular day of racing and for the level of ticket we bought, both ladies and gentlemen are asked to dress in a manner appropriate to a smart occasion. Many gentlemen wear a shirt and tie with a jacket or suit.

There were 7 races in all today, with the first one going off just before 2:00 pm and subsequent ones starting every 35 minutes. Racing-wise, the highlight of the day came in the 7 furlong long 4th race which had 28 entrants. Even with betting "each way" (which means we win something if the horse we pick wins or places) Peggy and I were 0-for-2 wagering up to this point. So, we let Chloe pick and again we placed an "each way" wager. And wouldn't you know it, the horse won! (If only we had done a straight "win" bet!)

The other highlight of the day took place as we were leaving after the final race. There was a band playing on the one lawn and we, apparently like many other racegoers, weren't interested in leaving quite yet. For the next 45 minutes or so, we joined in on the revelry, dancing and the occasional conga line.

(Pictures: top 3 are general; bottom one is of the Parade Ring.)

9.20.2010

Oops, I Did It Again

Well, if my quoting Britney Spears isn't an indication I took a good shot to the head recently, then nothing is.

Unfortunately, I had another incident whilst riding my bike... no squirrel this time; rather an inattentive motorist in a roundabout put me on the tarmac. It happened on Friday on my way back from Windsor (it's Windsor Castle you see in the previous post.)

I am, by and large, OK... no surgery is expected this go-round. The damage report is: A partial ligament tear in my right shoulder, two broken bones in my right hand, and some obligatory road rash. I'm able to get around just fine and can get myself and Chloe ready for the day. I should be back to "normal" in a couple of weeks. I think the bike is OK except for the handle bar tape getting chewed up. I'll get a better look at it on Wednesday after I pick it up from the police station it was taken to after the accident. Also on Wednesday is a follow-up appointment for the doctor to have a look-see at my hand and get it re-cast.

I'm sure there is a lot more I could type, like how I might take up running. But because I am typing with one hand, I'm not going to, except for this one bit of irony: my nice wheels, ones I mailed to myself a month ago from Boulder and for which I made several calls to and filled out several forms for Customs officials to discern there whereabouts, finally arrived at our flat this morning!

9.10.2010

School update

Chloe completed her first full week of school today (there is no Labor Day Monday over here.) Following is a list of miscellaneous facts and observations:
- The school she is going to is an all-girls school. Class size is intentionally kept small at 14 students, and for Chloe's grade, Year 3 (2nd grade equivalent) there are just 2 "homerooms."
- Lasting from 8:30a until 4:00p, her school day is a bit longer than the one she had in Boulder.
- The school year consists of 3 terms, and the last day of the 3rd term is July 7, 2011.
- As far as Chloe knows, she is the only girl from the States at the school.
- The main building for the school was once the home of the first Governor of the Bank of England. As far as I know there, is only one other building for the school.
- One of the after school activities available to Chloe is fencing.
- Chloe's year (i.e. grade) has an overnight field trip in February, and one of things they'll be doing during their time at their off-campus site is trapping small mammals. It's unclear right now what they'll be doing with their quarry.
- All girls at the school take French class. The school emphasizes the importance of French and will continue to do so in recognition of Britain’s role within Europe. (The school's words, not mine. Personally, I find that reasoning striking since the two countries, historically, have had more than a few skirmishes.)
- Apparently, having Chloe say "tomato" is quite a novelty for the girls. She's been asked to say it several times already. And they like to hear her accent when she talks.

9.08.2010

The Blazes near Boulder

Though we're overseas, we are keeping a check on the wildfire that is burning just West of Boulder. The latest figures I've heard are that 92 structures have been lost, over 7,100 acres have burned and there is 0% containment.

While those numbers are staggering, everything I've read (from websites, emails from friends, etc.) indicates the fire is still in the hills/canyons just West of the city limits, and that presently there are no evacuations for our neighborhood (or for any part of Boulder city proper, for that matter.)

The local paper, the Daily Camera, is doing frequent updates, as is the local emergency operations department.

9.05.2010

Flora, Flora Everywhere

Wanting to see some sights but not spend a good chunk of the day in the car to do so, we checked out a nearby landmark, the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, which lie just about 3 miles away. Being a "Royal" garden, it isn't squeezed into a small patch of earth between two pubs. Rather, it has gardens, groves, and greenhouses (among other things) spread out over its 300+ acres.

Some highlights of the visit:
- Checking out the Palm House, in which was housed a coco-de-mer palm, a variety that produces the largest seed in the world (up to 40 pounds), and the world's oldest potted plant, a giant cycad originally harvested and potted in 1773 from South Africa, and arrived in England in 1775.
- Seeing the amazon waterlilies (probably about 4' in diameter) and redwoods (maybe just 1/3 in size compared to the ones in CA, but still very impressive.)
- Walking through the Temperate House was impressive for not only its contents, but its structure: it is the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse (i.e. greenhouse) in the world, covering 5,850 square yards and extending to 63 feet high. With those dimensions, it is for good reason that a Chilean Wine Palm resides here... at 58' high, it is believed to be the largest indoor plant in the world.
- Watching Chloe doing her flower sketches as we walked around.
- Learning things, like... bamboos are actually a grass, and the fastest growing woody plants in the world (some can go from seedling to about 8' in around 16 days); and there are about 600 species of carnivorous plants.

(Pictures, top to bottom, click to enlarge: PnC and the amazon waterlilies; Chloe inspecting one of her subjects; the Temperate House (this picture shows about half the building); and could this perhaps be the germination of Chloe's interest in plants?)




9.02.2010

Chloe's First Day of School - UK Version


This morning we walked Chloe to her new school, the Old Vicarage School in Richmond. It's just a 10 minute walk, though due to her excitement, it was more like a 10 minute skip for Chloe.

9.01.2010

Stow the Muskets...

... the "School Saga" is over. Chloe starts tomorrow at... [duhr Duhr DUHRRRRRRRR]

8.29.2010

Bath-ing

On our first full weekend back in metro London — and with a rental car now in our possession — we decided to depart the area for the day to visit the town Bath, which lies about 2 hours West.

Our first stop upon arriving was the historical site we presumed helped provide the town with its name, the Roman Baths Museum. What we thought would be a quick 1 hour walk-through turned into a delightful and amazing 2.5 hour stay. With the help of an audioguide, we toured the remains of a bigger-than-expected complex containing bath houses, courtyards, and a temple, all while recognizing we were walking where Romans walked nearly 2,000 years ago. We did not, however, bathe where the Romans bathed as the water in the Great Bath was filled with algae – in Roman times, there was an impressive roof over this section of the complex, preventing the algae-nurturing sun from shining on it.

Some interesting tidbits:
- the temple portion of the site was discovered first, and only about 300 years ago. The bath portion was discovered only 130 years ago, and by accident at that. The story is that in 1880 a local resident was having problems with a persistent leak in the basement. The people brought in to fix this investigated, and in the course of their repair work discovered the baths and their treasurers.
- the site sits on the only natural hot spring in England, and is one of the few Roman baths worldwide whose waters are supplied via a hot spring.
- the Great Bath, despite its age, is still water-tight. It is completely lined with about 2 cm of lead, and the seams connecting the lead pieces are still intact.
- the water in the Sacred Spring (the source for the bath complex) is 115 degrees Fahrenheit, and rises at a rate of about 240,000 gallons a day.
- the Romans at the site used "curse tablets." The tablet is nothing more than a small sheet of lead or pewter with a carefully worded inscription on it to the goddess Minerva, asking her to mete out justice to someone who wronged them. They were then rolled up, and thrown into Sacred Spring for her to read. A large portion of the ones found at the site deal with the theft of one's clothes from the changing rooms in the complex.
- We did get to sample the water from spring. Being quite warm and containing 43 minerals, it sure is an acquired taste.

We grabbed some lunch after the tour in the self-proclaimed "small pub in Bath" — and judging by the insides, I can't imagine they're wrong – and then split up... Chloe and Peggy went to the Fashion Museum to see the exhibit on Lady Di's dresses, and I went strolling around the streets, alleys, and parks with my camera.

We reconnected eventually and took a tour of Bath Abbey, a marvelous piece of Gothic architecture in the center of town. A church of some manner has been on the site for the last 12.5 centuries — Edgar, the first King of England, was crowned there in 973 AD — but the current structure was completed only in 1611. Afterward, we walked some more... over Pulteney Bridge, along the River Avon and eventually to the Parade Gardens, where we found some vacant deck chairs and relaxed some in the afternoon sun, listening to the Abbey bells ringing (they went on for an hour!)

A slide show from the day can be found here.

8.26.2010

I Can Understand Why Rugby is So Popular Here...

... the people have to deal with the enrollment procedures for public schools, and need a place to direct their frustration.

The "where and when" of Chloe's schooling is still a big mystery. With about 2 weeks to before the 1st day, it seems as if we are no closer to getting the answers to those questions as we were 3 or 4 weeks ago. Peggy dropped off the application in person this morning, and was told that there is quite a backlog, and we may not get an answer until mid- to late-September; meaning about 2 or 3 weeks after schools have started.

Are we the only ones who see a problem with that? Over here, apparently so, for that fact hardly seem to phase the admissions staff.

We might be hoisting the Gadsden flag here soon, folks. Get the muskets ready.

8.11.2010

Home. Ahhhhh....

Arrived home around 8:00 pm last night (or 3:00am London time)... tired for sure, but relieved and happy. (Yours truly was up at 2:30 am this morning, so I suspect my motor skills will nosedive around 6:00pm or so today.)

Here's what greeted us as we walked up to our front door...

8.10.2010

A Brief Recap Before Rejoining the Colonies

(and before any historical purists get on my case.... yes, I know... Colorado wasn't one of the original 13 colonies.)

Here are some of things we did/saw/went to/etc. since I last posted...
- Peggy had a business trip to Cologne, Germany and was able to take a brief visit to its landmark cathedral. While perhaps not as ornate or colorful as other ones she's seen while over here (e.g. St. Paul's in London, Notre Dame in Paris) its sheer size makes it amazing in its own right.

- Chloe and I had a day out on the town, which included going to see "Toy Story 3 in 3D" and visiting the (famous) Hamleys Toy Store. Speaking to the former, a great movie for both kids and adults, and a great way to wrap up the Toy Story story. As to the latter, a very impressive collection of games, toys, etc. The place has been around for 250 years, so they must be doing something right.

- A another trip Chloe and I took was to the London Zoo. As far as zoos go, this is one is pretty good in that the animal enclosures didn't seem too small for the animal(s) they were holding, and perhaps it was just luck, but we could actually see a lot of the animals they housed (i.e. they weren't hidden, or inside a building, etc.) There was also a noticeable message of conservation throughout. The one minus to the place is the price of admission: about $55 for Chloe and I to enter.

- On Saturday, we moved to the place we'll call "home" for the next 11 months or so. Here's a map of where it's located. The town of Twickenham is home to the national rugby team for England as well as a professional rugby team, so we're hoping to get to a match while we're here. And right across the river from us is the town of Richmond. Peggy had her first commute via bus from the flat on Monday and it was 45 minutes door-to-door, and that includes stopping off at her favorite coffee shop.

That's about it for now. I best wrap this up and get ready.... the car is coming soon to take us to the airport!

8.02.2010

To Paraphrase the Beatles "It Was 2 Years Ago Today..."

... that the Schrammels landed in Boulder.

So we want to take this time to say we're thankful for those who, while perhaps privately questioning our decision to make our move out West, were supportive of it. We also want to say how thankful we are for the friends we have in Boulder... what a great group of people and we look forward to sharing Year 4 with you all.

Clearly this blog has taken on a bit of a European flair lately, and that will continue for the next 12 exciting months or so. But I think each of us has things we'll miss about our home -- our friends, Chamberlain, the mountains, the pace of life, the openness, etc. -- and will be secretly counting down the days until July 31, 2011.

7.30.2010

New Digs

We are soooooo excited to learn today that we'll have a new place to call "temporary home" for the next 12 months. The place we are in now in Hammersmith has been great for the summer -- Peggy could walk to work, Chloe and I could get to the city highlights easy. But there aren't a lot of kids around and we thought we'd something a little bigger that the current 750 sq.ft.

Our new flat is in Twickenham (pronounced Twick-n-um, not the way it looks), which is about 4.5 miles west of our current location, and also happens to be right along the Thames. We'll be moving in 7 August.

7.26.2010

Fin de semaine à Paris

We packed up the bags again last Friday, this time for a weekend in Paris. Foregoing the hassles of flying, we opted instead for the convenience of traveling by train, taking the Eurostar from central London right into central Paris, a 2h 15m trip from train station to train station via the "Chunnel." It was a great way to travel at that... comfortable seats, quiet and smooth ride (especially considering the trains can travel up to 186 mph.)

Upon arriving in Paris, we checked in to our hotel, dropped off the bags, and began our tour of the city. The first stop (after lunch) was the Arc de Triomphe, which was a mere 3 blocks from our hotel. We got to the top by walking up its 284 steps, and got a good glimpse of some other the city's other landmarks... Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, the arc at le Defence, the Louvre.

We strolled leisurely to the next stop (Paris is a great city to see by foot!), the Eiffel Tower. Thanks to a suggestion we received from a Iraqi woman we met at the shuttle stop for Chloe's day camp earlier in the week, we bought our tickets online and avoided the very long queues. Well, avoided the queues at ground level, which were quite considerable. Upon reaching the 2nd platform, everyone must get off the elevator and board another one to get to the top. There was a queue for this, so we got in line. After standing in this line for 25 minutes, it was our time to board, but were promptly told the ticket we had isn't for the top, it's just for access to the 2nd level only. Thankfully, the ticket agent was very nice and allowed us to step out of line, buy the appropriate ticket and come back directly to him and avoid requeuing. Once that little hiccup was dealt with, we found ourselves at the top, a little over 900 feet above the ground below. We weren't visiting on the clearest of days, but we still got a good view of The City of Light.

On Saturday, it was off to visit Notre Dame. Put simply: Awesome. The audio tour isn't the greatest, but the sculpture, space, and my goodness, the stained glass windows, are absolutely amazing. After Notre Dame, we just strolled along the Seine for a while and ended up at the Jardin de Tuileries, which is adjacent to the Louvre and happened to be hosting a small street carnival at the time. We spent some time there doing rides, and playing the game "Would this one make Peggy sick?" Dinner tonight was on one of the long and narrow boats that cruise the Seine, during a 90 minute riverview tour of the city. To cap off the day, we hung out in the Parc du Champs de Mars in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, waiting for the lights to go on. And when they did at 10:00 pm, the look on Chloe's face was great.

Sunday's itinerary was even simpler yet: Le Tour. We are breakfast, left the hotel, and looked for a place along the barricades for a spot. We initially squatted at the point near the Arc where the cyclists would turnaround and head back down the Champs Elysees, but we were about 4 people-deep (and this was at 10:30 or so in the morning, and the riders weren't due to come through for another 3-4 hours.) Peggy and Chloe noticed during a time-killing stroll that there were spaces available right along the barricades a couple of blocks down, so we relocated there. While waiting, we realized that we weren't too far away from the spot where we watched the Tour in 2004... basically just right across the street.

With no American vying for the podium, I can honestly say we weren't as excited about this final stage as we were 6 years ago, but it was still a great time... the festive atmosphere that exists along the route is a great experience. During the awards ceremonies (which weren't near our location and unable to be seen), we grabbed a quick dinner at a sidewalk cafe, then jumped back out to the barricades to watch the parade of teams. It is then a brisk walk back to our hotel to pick up our luggage, hail a cab and hope for no traffic problems on the way to the train station as we were cutting things close. We boarded the train with just 10 minutes to spare, settled into our seats, and put the cap on another great weekend here in Europe.

Misc. tidbits about the weekend
- At dinner one night, the waiter asked where we were from. We said from Colorado in the United States. And he replies "Near South Park?" He confessed he is a big fan of the show.
- One (very) slight disappointment from the weekend was no fellow Steelers fans along the Champs Elysees. In 2004, we ran into 4 or 5 people with Steelers gear on. I wore my Steelers hat anticipating the same this go-around, but no luck.
- During the cab ride back to the train station on Sunday, we were pulling away from a stoplight and a pedestrian looks into our cab, sees us, and then excitedly proclaims to his buddy that "Lance Armstrong was in that cab!" I put my hand out the window to wave, and he waved back.

Pictures from the weekend:
- Travel / touristy ones can be found here.
- Artsy fartsy ones can be found here.

7.23.2010

Expanding Vocabulary

In addition to seeing and doing the things we've been seeing and doing (e.g. see previous posts), we've also been able to notice there are words and phrases that aren't necessarily commonplace back in the States. Below are some of them.

Adverse camber: seen on a road sign for an approaching turn. For example, if you're making a turn to the left but the road slopes to the right on that turn, that turn has an adverse camber.

HTFU: an acronym imploring someone to not be so thin-skinned.

Armitage Shanks: not a word or phrase, per se, but a company. A company, though, that must have a monopoly of sorts, for their ceramic products are in almost every single bathroom I've been in (the UK's "American Standard").

Chin Wag: an informal chat, like in "After the bike ride, I joined my fellow cyclists at the cafe for a chin wag."

Pay at the till: pay at the cash register.

Lovely: a word that is often sprinkled in everyday-type conversations.

Brilliant: see Lovely above.

Mind the gap: anyone who has ever ridden the Underground (London's subway system) has almost certainly heard or read this phrase. It's a gentle warning to passengers, both those boarding and disembarking, to be aware of the vertical and/or horizontal gap between the platform and the train.

Rocket: what us in the States call Arugula.

Knackered: tired, exhausted.

Whilst: while.

Top up: to replenish something, monetarily. For example, if you have a phone card and it is low on funds, you need to top up.

Single track road: another road sign, letting you know the road ahead is wide enough for just one car going in either direction.

CCTV: closed circuit television. Man! This place is loaded with it, as there are few establishments or streets or whatever that don't have it.

Order at the bar: few pubs have table service, so this is what you do to get your food and drink.

Take away: your options for where you want to eat your food at certain restaurants are "Dine In" or "Take Away."

7.21.2010

Recent Goings On

It dawned on me this morning that I haven't been updating you all about what we've been up to lately. A large part of that is due to a pre-occupation of sorts, which I'll get to later. The other part is, well, general forgetfulness. But on with the show...

Since Geneva, Chloe and I continued on our museums tour, visiting both the Natural History Museum (awesome!) and the National Gallery (awesome for me, I think so-so for Chloe.) We also checked out the Tower of London (home of the Beefeaters and Crown Jewels, among other things)... a very cool place and one I might like to revisit as we had to deal with large crowds and passing rain showers.

Yours truly also got to do some bike riding out in the English countryside with one of Peggy's coworkers. He rides as well and invited me out for a spin... it turned out to be a pretty long spin, 63 miles or so. But it was a beautiful ride, going down "single track" roads (wide enough for one car, basically), through tiny villages, and up and down hillsides (FYI: England isn't flat!)

This past week, we had Peg's sister Cathy visit us, and together we went to see "Legally Blond, The Musical." Review: good, not great, "Oliver!" was better in my opinion, Chloe thinks otherwise; and the song "Gay or European?" is hilarious, and we had the added benefit of enjoying amongst a bunch of Europeans. This past week also saw Chloe starting her 1st week of day camp. Review: she's coming home dead-dog tired, so GREAT camp!

The big recent "pre-occupation" news, though, is that we are staying on in London until July 2011 -- or as Peggy likes to refers to it, the Schrammel's Shock and Awe Tour continues. Peggy's company asked to her to extend her stay and head up European operations for a while to continue the "stabilizing" part of her work, as well as work on finding and grooming a long-term replacement. It wasn't an easy decision for Peggy professionally, or one for us as a family, but a big portion of the decision making was: when will be ever get another opportunity to spend a year in Europe?

So another activity of this past week was finding another place to live in for the next 12 months. The one we are in for the summer has been great, but it's kind of small for a year-long stay and we need a neighborhood that is more family-friendly. We put an offer in on one, and hope to hear about it soon. We'll be heading back to Colorado as planned on August 10th, staying there for about 10 days, then heading to Pennsylvania for a couple of days, before heading back to London. Our "return for good" date to Colorado is late-July 2011.

Things upcoming
- We're heading to Paris this weekend via Eurostar (the high speed train that goes through the "Chunnel") to see some of the sight and watch the last stage of the Tour de France.
- Next week will be spent contacting and/or visiting and/or applying to schools for Chloe. The school system is a little different than what we are used to, both in terms of how kids are admitted and how the school year operates. I think we're all in for a bit of an education.

(Pictures, top to bottom: Chloe and Diplodocus at the Natural History Museum; and with the Blue Whale model; and brainstorming with Chucky Darwin; listening to the audio tour at the Tower of London; an unlikely sight at the Tower of London. Click on pictures to enlarge them.)

7.13.2010

Our Time In Geneva

We were in Geneva this past weekend, initially because Peggy had to go there for a business trip. But as luck would have it, the Tour de France was passing nearby on Sunday, so we added that to our agenda. (It was tough for me to do, but I suffered through it.)

Saturday
We arrived this afternoon, and little did we know that there was some kind of Lake Geneva Festival going on this weekend. From what we could tell as we walked around, it was some kind of Mardi Gras/Carnival kind of event, which you can take to mean a lot of people walking around drinking, smoking, wearing all manner of questionable fashion, all with a twist of blaring euro-trash music. Now, I like to think that Peggy and I can co-exist with fringe elements pretty well -- hell, you got to if you want to live in Boulder -- but this... this we found to be just down right annoying. After strolling around (and away from the festivities), we found a grocery store and picked up some provisions for our Sunday morning and afternoon along the Stage 8 route of the Tour, and then made our way back to our hotel to drop them off and get some dinner.

Sunday
Recalling our experience from 6 years ago, we knew that if we wanted to get a good spot on the mountain climbs for the race, we had to get there early to get a spot as a) they fill up fast and b) it's not uncommon for roads to be shut down 5+ hours before the riders come through. With that in mind, we got an early jump on the day with breakfast at the hotel, and then off to get the rental car. It is only about a 30 mile drive to where we wanted to be -- on the Col de la Ramaz -- but about an hours drive. But that last metric assumes the cue sheet you get online doesn't completely suck. We weren't even out of Geneva and we were already calling audibles on how to get to a motorway that we needed to get on. We eventually found it, and had smooth sailing for a whopping 8 km. But almost as soon as we got off, the cue sheet ventured from reality again and we were once again driving blind. Luckily, when we pulled in a parking lot to get our bearings, we noticed a small bike tour getting their things together for their ride (along the Tour route, we safely presumed.) So I got out of the car, asked the one cyclist (who happened to be from NJ) if I could see his cycling cue sheet, and was able to piece together our next steps.

Back on track, we eventually started driving up the Col. Our plan going into this was to get as high up on it as we could -- the whole schadenfreude sensation of seeing them suffer is one that is hard to ignore. On and up we drove, passing by spots that would easily give us a place to park and set up our blanket and food/drink, but they weren't high enough. Must. Keep. Going.

A couple of miles later, a variation of the law of diminishing returns began to kick in, because the further we went, the fewer parking spots we found. We gave a good look-see to a couple but didn't think we'd be able to pull the car completely off the road (a condition the gendarmerie insist on.) Nervously trudging onward, we eventually spotted an opening between a car and a post that we could fit through, and pulled the car in to park. It was on a grassy hillside, so I tried to position the car off the steeper sloped portion and onto an area where I could feel comfortable in actually being able to get back on to the road. After some minor tire spinning and sliding (and hence, marginal damage to the farmer's field) we got the car in a good position and set up camp, happy to be roadside once again at the Tour. Only after an exploratory walk along the road did I realize where we were... about 75m from the summit! Yes!!!!

Several hours, a chance meeting with some other Yanks setup directly across the road from us, and some wine, grapes, bread and cheese later, the festivities began. First, the "caravan" came through, which is a parade of sorts, whereby sponsors use floats and various forms of funny vehicles to drive along the Tour and from which they throw their swag. (I'm not sure what Peggy was doing to get it, but she definitely got her fair share!) There was a slight lull in the action for a little while. But then more and more official vehicles came through, and then some announcement that had to do with "Rabobank" (a team in the race) and next thing we know, a rider (from Rabobank) who was out on a breakaway came through to thunderous cheering and applause. We thought for sure this was the kick-off to stage 2 of the festivities -- the arrival of the peloton -- but apparently this rider was having a strong day thus far as it was 20 minutes until we saw the next riders. And once that happened, it was about another 20 minutes for the rest of the riders to make their way past.

Once they did, we gathered our belongings, said farewell to our fellow Americans, joined the long line of cars making their way down the mountain, and made our way back to Geneva. Getting mildly lost along the way, of course.

Monday
Peg set off to her business meeting, leaving Chloe and I to explore on our own. We've had little problems finding outlets for this while in London, but surprisingly, there isn't a whole heckuva lot that is kid-engaging in Geneva. I was able to find a cable car ride that went up to the top of a nearby mountain, so after a leisurely morning and late breakfast, we made our way to the bus that would take us there.

I should point out that ever since we've been in Geneva, it's been hot and humid... low- to mid-90s, so not the best out-and-about conditions. Even though we broke a mild sweat going to and waiting for the bus, we thought the ride to the cable car stop would provide relief. Wrong! Apparently, air conditioning isn't a widely used technology on the buses there (nor is it in restaurants.) But if that wasn't bad enough, only very small portions of the windows could be opened to provide ventilation, so we essentially had a 20 minute ride in a mobile easy bake oven.

We got off the bus, walked to the cable car station (crossing into France along the way) and got our tickets. I had hoped to pickup a map atop the mountain about trails and whatnot, but none were available. So, Chloe and I found a trail and started walking. Unlucky for us, it was uphill, but it was shaded (and much better than aimlessly wandering the streets of Geneva.) The trail eventually terminated at a paraglider launch site; had it not been so hazy, the views would have been tremendous. We didn't bring our paragliders with us, so we headed back down the trail to a snack shop to get a drink and a snack. After a little bit more exploring, we both had had enough of the heat, and decided to make our way back to our hotel (via the cable car and oven/bus) to collect our luggage and head to the airport (via oven/bus) where we were pretty sure cooler climes awaited us.

Misc. Tidbits
- while at the Tour stage, I saw a man wearing a "Triple Bypass" jersey (it's a popular bike ride in CO.) We got to talking, and I found out he's from Aspen, but spends a fair amount of time in Boulder... enough to know Dakota Ridge, Lee Hill and Olde Stage.
- I can't say we came away from the weekend as big fans of Geneva. I guess it's OK if you like to shop (especially for the wares of Gucci, Rolex, etc.), like uninspiring architecture and overpriced dining, and don't mind being amongst a fair number of people who, at least based on our experience, tend to be unwelcoming and boorish.

For pictures from our visit, visit here.