To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Next installment on the London trip.

Sunday morning we went to Kensington Palace.  Getting there was kind of difficult b/c the website gives directions to the nearest tube station but it's kind of vague after that.  Somehow we couldn't see it.  We asked a couple of passers-by and got non-helpful answers but finally somebody told us to go through an alley and there we were.

You see the big statue of William III out front.  It was he who built the original palace.  I didn't get a pic but here it is.

We didn't buy tickets ahead of time and there was some nonsense with getting ours, but we ultimately prevailed.  There were several exhibits.  The first we wanted to look at, and the primary reason for our going, was the Victoria exhibit.  Some of the movie "The Young Victoria" was shot here.  When you look at the stairs she wasn't allowed to go up and down without someone holding her hand, you see how ridiculous that was.  Once her uncle died and she became Queen, of course, that stopped immediately.

Lots of cool stuff to look at.

Here's Queen Victoria's wedding dress.  It's beautiful and simple and she must have been really tiny.

A dollhouse Victoria played with as a little girl, and some of her sketches.  Photography came in while Queen Victoria was still a fairly young woman, but it was ponderous and difficult to take pix like that, so if you wanted to preserve a scene you needed to be able to draw it.  So drawing was an important skill to have and it was taught seriously.  She produced some really charming sketches of herchildren.

And here's a riding habit Victoria had, and a portrait of her wearing it while riding with Albert.

There was a whole lot more to see in this exhibit.  I didn't take pix of it all.  More childhood toys, a lot of stuff about her children.  There was a room devoted to the dreadful story of Albert's dying, and how the family suffered for it.

Another exhibit had Princess Diana's gowns, and F and I walked through but didn't linger much  b/c we'd already seen these when they came to Florida a few years ago.

The rest of the time was spent in the apartments that William and Mary, and later Anne, had.  And these were amazing.

Some tapestries.  The room was dark and you couldn't take flash photographs but I got a couple of pix.  But you can't tell how wonderful these are.  The detail in the pictures - shading so that you see how light struck a garment that hung in folds, for example - is really impressive even before you really think how you'd have to go about weaving that into a tapestry.

Here's just one room in one of the apartments.

We spent a lot of time in these and eventually were hungry.  There's a cafe at the gift shop.  We had delicious roast beef sandwiches and ate them outside even though it was trying to rain, and of course had to spend a little time in the gift shop.  Of course we did.

Eventually we moved outside.  The rain threat had slackened.  The gardens are beautiful, as you may imagine.

There is a lot more to it than this.  You can't, of course, see how cold it was, to F and me at least.  There was an old man sitting on a bench and feeding nuts to squirrels, who were crawling all over him to get them.  He told me he'd been at that park every day for 10 years if it wasn't raining.

From there we went into beautiful Hyde Park.  I wanted to find the Albert memorial.  F was feeling really bad with her cold by then, so she sat on a bench and I went to find it.  Then I came back and found her and said, "I'm sorry, I know you feel really bad, but you have to see this.  You have to.  It's ridiculous."  So F, who had been having conversation with a little girl who mostly spoke French, patiently got up and walked with me ...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I need to update a little personal news, and then I really do have to finish writing about our trip (six months later) because this is the only place I'm writing this stuff down.

November 5 my mother lost her long fight with cancer.  We knew this was coming.  She had a lumpectomy and radiation many years ago (like thirteen years, maybe?) and then tamoxifen and arimadex for a total of ten years, and then was thought to be past all that.  The cancer came back so the breast had to go, and this time some fairly aggressive chemo, and once again it was supposed to be over.  It showed up in her sternum so her maintenance treatment was changed a bit, and her understanding was that it would stay there, but then about a year ago she was having pain in her hip and back, and MRI showed that cancer in those bones.  Since then it's been a fairly steady decline, in and out of the hospital for various reasons.  I went home when she got that last bit of news, and again at Christmas, in July, and F and I in September.  In the last few months my mom had dementia of some kind - we don't know exactly what caused it - that prevented her from expressing herself very well or understanding everything she heard, and maybe it mercifully kept her from thinking too much about what was going on with her physically, or being too bored.  But as late as September she wanted to see the newspaper - her joke was always that she needed to read the obituaries to see if she was in them.  That last month or so she was in a nursing facility because although my dad was taking great care of her, it got just a bit beyond him.  The last weekend of her life she was unconscious.  So that Monday she just went to sleep.  My sister and her husband were spending the night and sometime in the wee hours they woke to find her very peacefully dead.

The three of us drove on the 6th, the 13.5 hours or so back there, for the funeral on the 7th.  R and F flew back home on the 8th and I stayed with my dad until Saturday and drove back by myself.  Could write about that a bit.  My dad wanted me to have a beer with him.  I don't drink beer, never have, but I had the first Old Milwaukee of my life sitting with him on the deck.

I know this is kind of grim and I have some better things to say about my mom but I guess I'll have to get to it.  And then back to other stuff.  My dad and my sister and her family are driving down here tomorrow to have Thanksgiving in Florida so that the landscape is changed for the first holiday with Mama gone.  That was my sister's idea and I think it's a stroke of genius.  We'll go to Kennedy Space Center on Friday and then they'll travel back home.

And that's it for now.

Monday, June 25, 2012

F and I did quite a bit of walking around and sightseeing that Saturday afternoon.  As I look at my pictures, I realize that I saw a lot more than I got pix of.  The reality of the internet is that you can always find somebody's pictures or videos if you just know what to look for, so it's not the tragedy it could have been.

Here's an arch that Edward VII had built in honor of his mother, Queen Victoria.

If you click on it you might be able to read the inscription, which is in Latin.  F was able to translate it; I would have gotten fairly close on my own.  I guess if you're going to carve something in stone it might as well be in a formal (some might say dead) language.

Here's a monument to Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut.  Unsurprisingly, the  plaque said that when they set it up Prince Michael of Kent was on hand to dedicate it.  It was to stay on the mall (pronounced "mal") for 12 months, don't know where it will be after that.

The Mobius strip with a star on it is a nice touch.

Here's the Queen Victoria monument that Ruth was hollering about at the Changing of the Guard parade.  You see a lot of actual gold on these things.  Gold doesn't corrode, of course, so it will always be bright and beautiful, but Ruth told us on Friday that there's a lot of thievery of metals from all of the ornaments and such.

It's pretty but it is utterly eclipsed by the monument Victoria built for Albert.

And here's the monument to Queen Alexandra ... for those of you who are not the history nerds buffs that F and I are, she was Bertie's wife (that was Edward VII, Victoria's eldest son) and sister to Dagmar, who was Czar Nicholas's mother, and George I of Greece.

We could not figure out the story this piece of sculpture tells.  Not for the life of us.

The Crimean War Memorial:

"That had better be Florence Nightingale on the front," I said, and indeed it was.

Close by was this startling thing:

Startling because at some point I was in an airport Hudson News or something looking for a book to read on my flight, and I picked up Dan Simmons' The Terror.  Read this and then tell me how this man deserved a memorial.

We saw a lot of other stuff.  I evidently didn't take a single pic of the statues at Trafalgar Square, was too busy looking, but they can be found online.  And I didn't take a video of the soldiers at one of the palaces, two of them in their dress uniforms and hats so that they looked exactly like dolls, stepping out of their little guardhouses and patrolling a few feet this way and that as they do every two hours (I think) while they are guarding.  I wish I had but was too busy looking.  Can see them in my mind's eye though.  F and I had happened to step right up to the gate and were looking at the palace beyond for a bit when they stepped out and began, and so we had a good view, but we moved away after a few minutes so the next people could step up.

We had to go back to the hotel before very late afternoon because F was feeling really dreary, and it was cold and bitingly damp.  One fairly horrifying thing had happened that day too, which took a lot out of us:  F hopped onto the train in the Underground and the doors closed behind her.  We had not worked out what to do if we got separated, which was really foolish:  cell phones do not work in the Underground.  F expected me to take the next train and find her at the next stop, and that was not an unreasonable expectation; but from my point of view, I didn't know where she was, but she knew where I was, and it didn't make sense to me to go haring off in all directions.  So I stayed put, and in twenty minutes or so she came back and found me.  Believe me when I tell you that we decided on the spot what we would do if that happened again, and a backup plan, and a backup backup plan.

Also, F lost her oyster card somewhere while we were traveling, and you have to swipe your card to get out of the station.  (Not like her, but her cold was taking her down.)  I picked up one of the "information" telephones and asked the nice man who answered what to do, and he said there would be an agent to whom we could explain what happened, and that he would let us out.  And that worked.  I suppose our foreign accents didn't hurt; not likely that we would be gaming the system.

So we got back to the hotel and that evening I had to dine alone because F was shot.  Wasn't really hungry so I perused the appetizers on the menu.  One of them was called "aromatic duck parcels".  I had that with a side salad and a glass of wine, and that was just about right.  I brought her up a bottle of water and some ginger cookies before I had dinner, and by the time I got back upstairs she was asleep.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The next day was Saturday.  We had nothing scheduled after the tour on Friday and F was starting to feel bad so we took our time getting dressed and going down for the breakfast buffet.  Once again fended off the kids' price for F - this time I thought I really should be answering "how old is your daughter" with "how young do we need her to be".

We put on our coats and such and ventured out.

F is quite the Harry Potter fan.  I haven't read the books but she read each one the minute it came out, even attending at least one midnight party at a bookstore in Memphis in order to score her copy at the first possible instant.  So we had to go to King's Cross Station and find this:

Outside King's Cross we saw beautiful St. Pancras.

And I wanted to go to Charing Cross Station, because that story has caught my fancy since I first read it while in college, and I wanted to see it and see how it is currently marked.  Here is Wikipedia's article about the Eleanor crosses.  As the article states, the original Charing Cross was destroyed by the Puritans.  During the Victorian era, a replacement cross was erected close by.

When you get off the train at the station, and you are still underground, you see an explanation of the building of the first Charing Cross and a beautiful mural.  This video is only about a third of the mural.

And then we went outside and saw the cross itself, though as noted, it is not the original.

We walked around and found the statue of Charles I that is now in the spot where the original Charing Cross was.

The pedestal must be made of some kind of limestone.  It is sadly eaten away.  I suppose this is the ultimate fate of most of these statues - well, ultimately, all of them.

And of course we found ourselves at Trafalgar Square and were able to take our time looking at those lions, and the other statues (some very fanciful merpeople) and memorials.  I'll put up some pix of those, but I want to mention that there were some schoolchildren there, not British, who came around and asked F and me for our autographs.  They were collecting these from tourists.  Very cute.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

We all met up outside the Tower of London, next to the Thames and in sight of the Tower Bridge.  This is the bridge most people think of as the London Bridge, which isn't there anymore of course.

We had a cruise booked, but before we got on the boat our tour guide handed out vouchers for our prepaid tickets for the Eye.

What that is, and I had never heard of it but F had, is, a huge kind of ferris wheel that has, not seats like the ones at Six Flags, but enclosed capsules where a bunch of people can go in and either sit on the bench in the middle or stand at the sides, and look at the city as they go up and over.  You get one turn on it and it never stops, it just goes slowly enough that the previous group of people can get out and the next group get in.

Ruth had a bunch of vouchers for adults and for kids and she had to try to match them up.  "Here, you're under seventeen," she said, handing F a voucher for a kid's ticket.  Nope.

The cruise was OK, we can say we did it, but we were inside behind windows and had to stay seated so we couldn't see much.  We did see the Globe Theater.  Eventually we got out at the Eye and eventually got on it.  By then F and I were both tired, and F getting sick although we didn't realize it yet.  We'd have enjoyed it more if we were fresher.  Still, we got a good view of the city.

Ruth had told us how to get to a Tube station when we left the Eye, so we went straight there, back to the hotel, had supper, and went to bed.  Our time after that was unscheduled but we had a lot of stuff we wanted to do yet.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

After the changing of the guard, we went for lunch.  Some people had pre-paid lunch but F and I hadn't, so we found a tiny cafe and had sandwiches.  And looked at the outside of the Tower of London.  Here it is:

One might expect a single tower, but this actually is an entire complex of buildings that went up over a long period of time.  The innermost building was built by William the Conqueror, who entered England in 1066.  The crenellations on these buildings really were for defense.  But there are walls that go back to the Roman occupation.

There's so much to see here that one should really plan to spend most of a day.  The crown jewels are here and they are definitely worth seeing.  There's an armoury with all all kinds of armor and weaponry - hard to remember these aren't replicates but the actual items.  I saw one suit of armor that looked Japanese, walked over to read the placard - it was a gift from the Shogun of Japan to James I.  There's also the house Henry VIII built for Anne Boleyn, and the spot where it is believed she and other people were executed.  And the tower where the little princes, Edward IV's sons, were imprisoned and then murdered in the mid-15th century, with the window it is believed their bodies were passed out of marked.  Little statues of various animals here and there, because it was a sort of zoo for a time.

And all sorts of other stuff.

You can find better pictures and videos than I could get with my smart phone all over the internet.  Here is video I took standing in the middle and turning slowly in one spot.

Eventually we left to meet up with the rest of the tour group outside.  And there was a dreadful foreshadowing of events to come:  It was colder than heck, and F wanted some hot chocolate, so she bought some from a vendor.  But when she sipped it, she made a face and said there was something wrong with it - they had put something in it.  I sipped it and thought it tasted just fine, and handed it back to her, and she tried to drink it because she really did want it.  But it tasted awful to her, so I finished it off, enjoying the wonderful rich cocoa taste.

That was F coming down with a cold, and that was me catching it from her ...

Friday, June 15, 2012

We set out Friday morning early and went straight to the tour office, no false starts this time.

It's very easy to figure out the public transportation in London.  I've never lived anywhere where people used public transportation if they had any options at all.  I'm sure there are cities in the US where it is easy and convenient but F and I had no real experience of it.

The Tube map looks like this.  It looks confusing but it's not hard at all to figure out.  Each line is color coded and you can see the stops on the map marked as circles.  Where you get off one line and onto another the circles are connected on the map.  Tourist attractions like the palaces and museums and such generally give directions that include the nearest Tube station and how you walk from there.  So you can always "get there from here".  A pleasant female voice calls out the approaching stops and tells you when you get there, and always when the doors open, "Please mind the gap between the train and the platform."  You swipe your Oyster card or use your prepaid ticket on the way in and on the way out, because the fares are different depending on which zones you are traveling in.  The buses are easy to figure out too.

This time we had a tour guide as well as a bus driver.  The driver and guide hadn't worked together before.  The guide knew what she wanted and where she wanted to go but there was a bit of tension; I couldn't tell whether she was being less than reasonable and expecting him to read her mind, or he was being sulky and difficult.  It didn't hurt our experience at all, was just a bit funny to watch and listen as she bit back her irritation and spoke to him placatingly.  He smiled and was pleasant to us so it was all good.  The guide was very knowledgeable and wanted to make sure we had a good time.

We rode around the city a bit and looked at things.  We saw Big Ben

and the huge lions at what we later realized was Trafalgar Square - I mean, it's possible that if you had pinned F or me down, "where are the huge lion statues," we might have been able to come up with Trafalgar Square, but it's different actually seeing them somehow.

Eventually we left the van.  We went into St. Paul's Cathedral but there was a memorial service going on, the place was overrun with schoolgirls for it, and we couldn't get in and see anything.  So we went on to see the Changing of the Guard parade at Buckingham Palace.  Here is part of it:

You can hear Ruth, our tour guide, bellowing a bit and see her distinctive umbrella walking away toward the end.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Well, here we are a month later, ha ha.

...F and I, and the other tourists, boarded the van to go to Stonehenge.  It was a very nice van.  We didn't have both a driver and a tour guide, but the driver took charge of the group and told us what to expect and so forth.  Most of the other tourists weren't speaking English, and F and I noticed that actually, most of the people we saw out in public were speaking other languages, or at least English with other accents.

It was cold.  The van displayed the temperature outside and it was 9° C, which translates to 48° F.  Drove out of London and through the pretty countryside, looking at the rolling downs (meadows to us) with pretty yellow flowers the driver said was rapeseed, from which we get canola oil.

And then outside the van window we saw this:

Those things to the left are sheep.

And I want to talk about the setting for a moment.  You can read about Stonehenge anywhere.  It's about 5000 years old, was worked on and added to for about 1500 years, and so on and so forth, but when you are there the striking thing is the complete normalcy of the landscape around it:  rolling downs and grazing sheep.

You can see this in the video here.

There is no feature on the landscape that would have told those Neolithic people that this was the spot - nothing we can see, anyway.  I'm sure the area has been scanned for radioactivity and magnetism and things of that nature.  They had to carve this volcanic rock in Wales and drag it around, maybe on rafts up the Avon river or whatever, to this spot.

If you have any knowledge of the mythology of the British Isles, or if you have read books like Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill (highly recommended by me if you have kids) it's impossible not to think that maybe all those hundreds and hundreds of years ago there was something going on here, something to do with the Old People, that led the humans to build this thing in this spot.  And then when the Romans came in, or maybe before that when the Angles and Saxons came in, the Old People dwindled and finally disappeared and there's no way to tell what was there before.  [Edit - whoops!  The Angles and Saxons were after the Romans.]

We walked around it and looked at it from different angles, fixing it in our minds.  You can carry an audio device with earphones that lets you listen to little talks about it.  Eventually we found our way to the gift shop (of course) and then bought a sandwich to share, and some hot drinks because it was COLD, and sat at a picnic table.  (I want to mention that the sandwich had tomato, cheese of some kind, and avocado, and it was delicious.)

There were some military people there, oldish men wearing olive drab uniforms with lots of stars on the chests and shoulders, and hats and so forth.  I could not tell what country they were from.  Some Eastern European country I think - couldn't read the writing but it wasn't Cyrillic so I don't know.  They were kind of stalking around, not looking at anyone.

And eventually we went back.  This time we took the tube straight to the bus stop we had wanted to go to in the first place, and then the bus to the hotel, so we knew how to get where we were going the next day when we started first thing.

Dinner at the hotel and then bed.  F and I were both really tired still.

Friday, May 18, 2012

OK, so we woke up Thursday morning and had breakfast at the hotel.  They had a breakfast buffet that included grilled tomatoes (delicious at breakfast) and mushrooms cooked with butter, I think (really delicious!) as well as the usual fried and scrambled eggs, bacon (didn't look like ours but tasted like it), cereal, and so on.  No grits.  I know, you're shocked. Dressed warmly and headed out to the bus stop.  We had to be at the tour place at Victoria Station right after lunch so we had some time to find it.

Right away we got on the bus going the wrong direction.  And this is something that kept tripping me up for most of our trip:  One intellectually knows that the traffic flow is not in the direction one expects, but somehow it's hard to realize all of the ways the traffic flow helps us orient ourselves and figure out where we are and where we are going.  So we rode that bus for a while and eventually asked someone, and wound up at a train station well away from where we needed to be.  Were standing around with furrowed brow trying to match it up to our map and figure out what to do, when a friendly man came up and said "you look lost".  He took our map and showed us where we were, and what we would have to do, so we went inside to buy tickets.

I walked up to the woman at the window and said, "I have no idea what we're doing."  (This seemed to be a recurring theme.)  She thought that was funny and had a good laugh, and told us how to get where we were going.  We couldn't use our Oyster cards and so had to buy tickets, and she told us to go ahead and buy a day's worth of travel because that would be more cost-effective.

Looking at F, she said.  "How old is your daughter?"

When I responded, "Twenty-five," she jumped.

"Bless her," she murmured.  And this is also a recurring theme, through F's life so far.  Everyone thinks she's five to ten years younger than she is.  They think that of me too, inexplicably, but it's nicer when you're past fifty and people think late thirties.  At her age it's not so nice.

Anyway, we rode the train in to Victoria Station and found the tour office (eventually, after a couple of phone calls), and then had a little time to look around.  There's an Underground stop there as well as a bus stop, and the station itself is like a mall inside with places to shop and eat and so on.  But you have to pay 30 pence to go into the loo (the signs say "toilet" which strikes F and me as being a bit rude).  We did a little souvenir shopping and had lunch, and then got on the bus with our tour group for the ride to Stonehenge.

I want to take a little time to talk about that, and my cold is still bothering me and making me feel bad, so I'll stop here for now.  A bunch of people at work have had a cold lately and apparently this one doubles back on you and starts over.  I'm thrilled.  I have to fly to Atlanta on Tuesday and can't wait for my eardrums to just totally rupture.  Well, anyway.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

We flew out of Orlando and switched planes in Philadelphia.  Had to show our passports to get on that flight.

I will mention that F and I got separated at security in Orlando.  She got a bit held up in her line because she was behind a woman who threw a FIT about having to take her shoes off and empty her pockets.  Seriously, F said, a total tantrum.  The TSA people were patient with her, explaining that they were not making this stuff up, they had to follow the law, they weren't asking her to do anything anyone else didn't have to do, but she would not be placated.  I told F later that this is why, when she was a little girl, if she got mad at me and said "yes ma'am" in an ugly way I made her repeat herself until her tone was acceptable.  It wasn't that it did anything for me that she should say "yes ma'am" in a polite way, it was that she needed to be able to control herself even if she was frustrated and irritated.  People who can't do that risk getting into all kinds of trouble.

And I got held up because the people in front of me didn't know what to do - they had bins out, and were sorting their things back and forth, and meanwhile nothing was on the rollers moving to be scanned, and the TSA folks were kind of frantic because things were backing up really fast.

Anyway, eventually we got onto our transatlantic flight, which was to go overnight.  It's about seven hours in the air.  We were issued pillows and blankets, but you can't really sleep.

At first there was a lot of convo between people on my right trying to one-up each other about where they'd been - Delhi is a hellhole, but Katmandu is really awesome, and so forth - but when we took off one of them threw up.  Yes, really.  It took the attendants a while to deal with that, and they had to find other seating for at least one person, and I could have done without the people behind me discussing it, but at least the stupid conversation stopped.  F gets a certain amount of motion sickness, and she carries dramamine with her for just such occasions.

They gave us dinner and drinks and so forth, and we tried to rest mostly.  F works the night shift so she was more awake than I was.  About an hour before we landed they brought around snacks so we could get hold of ourselves.

Got to Heathrow, and had to go through immigration, which was no big deal at all.  We showed our passports.

"Purpose of your trip?"


"How long are you staying?"

"One week."

"Are you two together?"


Stamp, stamp, and that was it.  We were prepared to show our itineraries if need be, since the UK gov't website said we should, but it wasn't necessary.

Then to collect our bags, and since we had nothing to declare, right to the bus and to the hotel.  F went to lie down and I bought a bottle of water for her out of a vending machine so I could break a 20-pound note, and then went to the little Costa Coffee shop there in the hotel to get myself a latte.  I was so tired I couldn't really cogitate at all, so when the young man told me how much my drink was I just showed him my handful of coins and said, "I have no idea."  He laughed and counted out his money, showing me what he was doing.  And so F and I rested all afternoon, and went down for dinner (fish-and-chips for her,) and slept like logs all night.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I have got a dreadful cold.  I wanted to wait until I felt better to start writing about our trip, but that may take a while.  Just have to wear this thing out, I reckon.

F and I decided to spend about a week in London.  We picked out a time, and then I went on Expedia and bought our airline tickets, and paid for the 6 nights in a hotel.  There are a million London hotels on Expedia so I picked an inexpensive one that had good reviews on TripAdvisor.  F paid me back her share.

We already had passports but we spent some time thinking, planning, and making preparations.  Some things worked well, and as expected, some didn't, but you don't know until you go through it all.

I bought two very inexpensive adapters through Amazon because their sockets won't take our plugs.  All of the things F and I had to plug in would handle 240 volts, so we didn't have to have the more expensive voltage converters.  These worked very well.  The hotel had them in the vending machines, for quite a bit more money than we paid.

We ordered Oyster cards so that we could use the public transportation system.  They're cards that you load money onto and then use on the bus, or on the underground; they keep track of where you are and how much to take off, and you can put more money on as needed.  Yes, you can get them after you get there, but the fewer things we had to do, the quicker we could get into our experience.

We let the bank know that we would be using our debit cards in the UK; they lock them, otherwise.  We also each brought 90 pounds with us, that our bank provided before we left.  We didn't know a soul there, and if for some reason the debit cards didn't work right away, there we'd be.  But they did, and it was good to have that cash, too.  Once again, you can exchange American cash when you get there, if you think you'll want to fool with it.

Added some features for the cell phone accounts so that we wouldn't be shocked too badly when we got back.  F only opted for the international calling package, but I added texting and internet features.  I expected to upload pix from my smart phone but that did not work.  We did use the internet to check the weather and a few things of that nature, but I ended up buying more than I was able to use.

We also paid for a couple of tours, in advance.  We were to travel all night Tuesday night, and expected to get to our hotel midday Wednesday.  So the tours we bought were a Thursday afternoon excursion to Stonehenge, and then an all-day tour on Friday called "Total London Experience".  I'll talk more about those when I get to it.  We thought that that would give us a kind of overview so we'd be OK sightseeing on our own afterwards, and that's pretty much what happened.

The weather - well, we expected highs around 60 but it didn't get above about 44 degrees until our last day there.  Also some precipitation - not outright rain, but maybe a very light sprinkle a lot of the time.  We had the sense to pack warm clothes, fortunately, and coats and gloves and umbrellas.  F and I both have a tendency for our hands to get very, very cold if we get just a bit chilled - mine actually turn red or blue - so we were glad for our gloves.  I usually like to carry a fairly small purse, but I bought one big enough to accommodate my umbrella, small things we might purchase, and a folder.  I'd printed out, for each of us, our itineraries, with confirmation numbers for the airline and hotel and all; our boarding passes when I printed them the day before the flight; the e-tickets for the tours we'd bought; and maps of the Tube system and so forth, and put each set in a folder.  So I was able to wag mine around with me in my oversize purse.

You get one free checked bag in an international flight, but one doesn't want to have important things possibly lost, so a set of underwear, all of my meds, and a fresh blouse in case I needed to change when we landed went into my carry-on.  I've flown so many times I kind of know the drill:  all of the liquids go into 3-oz or less bottles, all of the bottles into a 1 qt ziplock bag; laptop has to come out of the bag and go into a bin by itself; shoes will have to come off, so you don't want anything with laces or that you have to fuss with.

So that was the preparation.  I'll go back and add anything that occurs to me later, and next will talk about getting there.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

I haven't blogged anything lately because F and I were planning an Event and I didn't want to jinx it.  We're partway into it now, so here we are.  

Monday, March 05, 2012

I picked up a book at the drugstore Saturday. Had seen various people on the internet mention it and was curious. The book is Why We Get Fat.

It's pretty interesting. Lots of biochemistry in it. The part that I've run across before jibes with what I know. It turns a lot of conventional wisdom on its head: explains exactly why diets don't and can't work; why calories in, calories out, is so simplistic as to be stupid; that people aren't fat because they eat more and exercise less, they eat more and exercise less because they're fat; and a whole lot of other stuff.

And if you think about it, a lot of the surprising stuff actually makes sense. I'll pause and say that if you google this book you'll see a lot of people disagreeing with it fairly vehemently. And if you read their disagreements after having read the book, you'll see that they didn't really read it and pay attention.

Here's the deal with calories in/out, hoping that I'm summarizing and paraphrasing correctly.

The calorie is a unit that describes heat. It doesn't describe fat and the two are not synonymous. Anyway, it's true that you put energy into a system and you get the same amount back out. But you have to ask yourself what form the energy comes back out in.

A growing child uses a lot of energy just to grow. I remember when F was middle-sized, skinny as a piece of string, and eating like there was no tomorrow. I would prepare a meal for the three of us and fix three identical plates. She'd be done with hers and looking around when R and I were only half finished, and one of us would just shove our plate over to her and let her finish it. She absolutely needed all of the fuel she could get to reach the towering height of 5'4" that she now enjoys, not to mention the grueling process of going through puberty and all that.

Then think about your immune system. When you have a virus typically you feel very tired and run down. You want to rest a lot. And you should, because energy that otherwise would be available to your muscles has been diverted to run those anti-disease processes. People who try to keep up their activity level in the face of this are very foolish. You are competing with your own immune system, which is trying to save your life. Kind of dumb when you think about it that way.

All of your organs have processes that they run, that require energy. Your heart, for instance, constantly requires energy to keep pumping 24/7.

And of course your muscles need it all the time, to hold you upright and to let you walk around and exert yourself.

Some of the calories that you take in are stored by your fat cells. Fatty acids in the bloodstream move into the fat cells and are attached to glycerin to form triglycerides. They're stored like that until you need them, for instance to keep your body processes running while you are asleep and not eating, and the triglycerides are then broken down again and the fatty acids re-released into the bloodstream.

One might now reasonably ask how the body partitions available energy into all of these things. This process is driven by hormones, which as I learned in cell & molec all those years ago, are chemicals that move from the cells where they are produced into different cells to effect changes there. Insulin is a very important hormone. Adrenaline is another. There are sex hormones, of course. All of these play a part in deciding where to put those calories.

The thing is that if your body, for whatever reason, puts a disproportionate amount of fat into fat cells for storage, two things happen: you get fat, and your body is deprived of energy it otherwise would have had available for all of those other processes. So you have to eat more to keep up, otherwise you are actually malnourished. And exercising is unpleasant and difficult because you simply do not have enough energy available to your muscles, to do it easily, and it makes you even more hungry and tired.

Calorie reduction diets do not help because the fat storage will still take place with whatever fatty acids are available, and now you are even hungrier and suffering more from lack of food.

I read this with a growing sense of anger at all of the fat-shaming I've seen and heard about through the years. "Quit stuffing your face." "Step away from the donuts." "If you'd just get up off the couch once in a while -" Wow.

So what's to do if you are one of those people? Two things:

1 - Reduce, as much as possible, your carbohydrate input. This is anything starchy and anything with added sugar. What this does is to decrease your body's production of insulin. Insulin causes you to burn up any blood sugar first before you get to the fatty acids - and this is important because excessive blood sugar is very bad for you - and in order to do this it encourages your fat cells to grab and hang onto fatty acids. Dietary carbs -> increased insulin production -> fat storage. By the way, it's possible that the obesity -> type 2 diabetes thing is backward. If you become insulin resistant your body produces more and more to try to control your blood sugar until you burn up your beta cells, and that leads to more and more fat storage.

2 - To make up for the energy loss from not eating sugar, you have to eat meat and you have to eat fat. This is a real stumbling block for a lot of people because they are so accustomed to thinking that dietary fat makes you fat. But if you reduce carbs AND fat you will get so run down and feel so bad that you can't keep it up. So on some of the negative reviews of the book you'll read, yeah yeah, nothing new here, we all knew to cut back on sugar and include lean cuts of meat in our diets - well, no, the book doesn't talk about lean cuts of meat, it talks about meat with fat.

I will offer a couple of personal observations and then I will shut up.

1 - I had a bout of bad heartburn last November, lasting all one night and all the next day, and had to really review what I had been eating, and what I'd eaten when I'd had heartburn before. This led me to stop eating sweets. It's hard, because I have a real sweet tooth, but pain will get you to do things nothing else will. Stopped eating fluffy bread at the same time for similar reasons. I have lost 12 pounds since then. And I didn't really need to - my BMI was already in the normal range. Didn't do it for weight loss but it happened anyway.

(Will add that I did go to the doctor to get checked out. I wanted to be tested for H. pylori, and he added gall bladder disease and pancreatitis. All of that came out negative.)

I want candy now and then - love Butterfinger bars, love them, and Reese's cups - but when I feel that I want that I poll my stomach. How do you feel, stomach? I ask. And my stomach says: I feel great! No heartburn. No feeling swollen or gassy. No coughing at night from reflux. Why would I interfere with that. People will tell you that one donut, or whatever, won't hurt you. Well, I went through a little withdrawal period when I stopped the sweets, and have slipped up once or twice and had just a little bit, and had to go through it again. Once again, why would I want to do that to myself.

2 - The back of the book has a brief sample diet, like what are the kinds of things that you would eat if you wanted to put this into practice. The lunch it describes is exactly what I had worked out for myself, from trial and error, over the years, to get me through the afternoon without being hungry and without being sleepy. I pack a week's worth of lunches at a time, on Sunday, in those disposable serving-saver tubs that you actually can wash and use over and over. I parcel out a container of mixed spinach and arugula among the tubs. Add two different raw vegetables. This week it's asparagus and tomato. I add a tablespoon of sesame oil or olive oil for taste and energy - had been doing that since well before I read this book - and a sprinkle of basil. And some kind of meat. This week it's roast beef that I cooked Sunday and cut into bites. I bring one of these to work with me each day, along with a can of sparkling water to drink. For snack at 4:00 or so, to get my second wind and keep me from being more than pleasantly hungry at supper time, I bring a four-ounce tub with either cottage cheese (NOT low fat) or plain yogurt and either blueberries, raspberries, or sliced strawberries. (You have to watch it with yogurt. Flavored yogurt has a truly ridiculous amount of sugar in it. I don't know why they do that - it's so sweet you can't taste the yogurt.)

So there it is. I recommend the book for anyone interested in nutrition, not necessarily just weight loss. You can get it here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A very quick meal preparation for one person. (Would be happy to fix this for R but he does not eat salmon unless it is in the form of salmon patties.)

Set toaster oven to preheat to 350 degrees.

While it's preheating, cover the cookie sheet with aluminum foil and place on it a single salmon filet, skin side down.

Brush top with olive oil. I brush with a tablespoon - pour the oil in the spoon and rub the spoon over the filet so that the oil sloshes over the side and the spoon smooths it over the fish.

Sprinkle with lemon pepper.

Place the sheet in the toaster oven and set to 15 min.


While the fish is cooking, add between 1/3 and 1/2 cup seasoned wild and long grain rice mix to a largish glass bowl.

Add about 3 times as much water. Stir.

Microwave on high, uncovered, about 10 minutes or until water is taken up. The bowl meeds to be big enough not to allow the water to froth over the sides. I use a medium-sized mixing bowl for this.

Remove from microwave and add pat of butter or margarine; stir with fork.


While the rice is cooking, prepare broccoli or carrots or squash for steaming by cutting into bite-size pieces and placing in a bowl with a bit of water.

After the rice comes out, place the bowl, covered, in the microwave and cook on high for about 5 minutes or so.


I am sometimes surprised to find the extent to which folk wisdom is borne out by science. Remember the old wives' tale that fish is brain food? Well, salmon, as we all know, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Why are they called omega? Fatty acids consist of a polar head (a carboxyl group, COOH) and a nonpolar hydrocarbon tail. To indicate the position on that tail where double bonds occur, or side groups or anything else, chemists count the first carbon on the head end as 1 and number them from there. Nutritionists start from the end of the tail instead. So an omega-3 fatty acid is a fatty acid that has a double bond between the carbons 3 and 4 from the tail end.

Here's a Wikipedia article about omega-3 fatty acids:

n−3 fatty acids are thought by some to have membrane-enhancing capabilities in brain cells. One medical explanation is that n−3 fatty acids play a role in the fortification of the myelin sheaths. It is no coincidence that n−3 fatty acids comprise approximately eight percent of the average human brain, according to Dr. David Horrobin, a pioneer in fatty acid research. Ralph Holman of the University of Minnesota, another major researcher studying essential fatty acids, who gave omega-3 its name, surmised how n−3 components are analogous to the human brain by stating that "DHA is structure; EPA is function."

Now how did the folks who generate folk wisdom know this?