Tuesday, February 2, 2016

London - Churchill War Rooms and Hyde Park

Andrew and Erika flew into London on a Friday and spent the day doing most of the big tourist sites, while I worked. Brett took the day off to show them around. As we do with most of our guests, we spend the first evening at a pub, to give our guests the opportunity to taste the local fare of proper fish and chips and cask ales.
Most of London's museums are free however there are a select few that cost a bit of money. For these spots we typically wait until one of our guests indicate they want to go. So out of two years Andrew and Erika were the guests that requested to go see the Churchill War Rooms.
The war rooms is where Churchill ran the war. It is a series of underground rooms nearby 10 Downing Street, whereby Churchill houses his finest war experts. After the war was won, they dropped their pencils, grabbed their jackets, turned the key and didn't look back for decades. It wasn't until many years later they uncovered the untouched war rooms and decided to turn it into a museum.

All the old maps with pins on the coordinates of the nazis were still there. The small room that Churchill slept in. The windowless rooms, whereby everyone would smoke heavily... Most definitely causing lung cancer the first day on site.

Churchill used to stand on the roof of the building during raids, apparently he didn't want to be seen hiding underground while his enemy attacked his country.
After the War Rooms we had lunch at a beautiful spot in Hyde park and made our way to Peter Pans statue and Kensington Palace.
Kensington palace is a bit of a drag, you're expecting something our of a Disney movie as this is where Kate and William live, but really it's just a brown brick building- with a very impressive front lawn.
We had dinner in Covent Garden that night at a tapas restaurant, a premonition of our week trip ahead in Spain!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Cambridge - Day trip from London

We are often asked if in our time here in London, whether we have traveled much outside of London. We actually have done quite a few day trips. In September we spent the day in Cambridge with 7 other American expats.

Unfortunately the one weekend we picked to visit Cambridge was also induction weekend and all the significant buildings on campus were closed. But when in doubt in England, a pub is always the right way to go.

So we found ourselves a cosy spot in a pub and enjoyed a long lunch.
Afterwards we decided to paddle up and down the canals of Cambridge. I believe they call it the Venice of England, as the boats and the stick they use to move the boat was very similar to the gondolas in Venice.
The punter (the person driving the boat) stands on the back on a wooden platform and guides the boat with a really long pole that you move in the water to indicate direction and speed.

We all took bets on who would be the first to fall in- all bets were on Justin, but fortunately or unfortunately no one fell in. But apparently the risk of falling in is less than one would think- only about 1 per day.

Only one brave girl tried this out, all the others spent their time drinking prosecco I and eating delicious stinky cheese.

We wondered around pub hoping the rest of the day, but at the end of the day, didn't really get to experience much of this town, so would like to return when school is in session!

Richmond - Day trip outside of London

As we have lived in London for 2 1/2 years, I thought this week I would focus on things I have loved about living here.

One of my favourite things to do is to get out of the city and spend the day in Richmond, which is a little town only an hour away from Clapham.

Richmond is well known for being positioned along the Thames river, scattered with quaint pubs and a beautiful run/ bike path. During sunny/ summer days the town is littered with people, prams and day trippers. Richmond is also well know for having one of the largest parks near London, the main spectacle being the deer that roam freely within the park. Desensitised to the people visiting the park, people can practically walk up and pet the baby fawns without a second glance by the mother. Brett and I maintained a safe distance out of respect and out of caution. My dad being a big hunter back in Cincinnati, I could envision one of their brethren hanging up in my parents house.

We have made two trips to Richmond, one in the summer and one in the fall when friends were visiting. The former included a beautiful long bike ride, whereas the later was mainly filled with pub hopping and a wee bit of shopping.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pubs on Pubs- One of our last weekends in London

Our last few weekends in London are winding down, and we couldn't be more sad that we are leaving this wonderful city. So today's post will be about London.

We had friends in town this weekend, and so we tried to balance a good bit of seeing the big tourist sites, with plenty of local London activities.

We started off the morning with a proper English Breakfast at one of our favorite spots in London, The Roastery - which ironically enough is not British, it is actually owned by Kiwis. The Roastery has less than 10 tables, serves organic sausages from Moen & Sons butchers, and the creamed mushrooms are the best in town. Plus, as the namesake indicates, they house roast their beans.

After breakfast we went to Borough Market, which is a food market near London bridge with endless vendors of fresh vegetables, butchers, cheese mongers and various street food vendors. We picked up a few dry ciders to tour the market with.

After the market we went to Liverpool Station and walked along the Southbank of the river, past the London Eye and across the bridge to House of Parliament, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.

After a solid 6 miles of walking we decided to take a load off at one of our favorite Irish pubs - Waxy O'Connor's, near Piccadilly Circus. Waxy's serves one of our favorite beers, Caffrey's, which is a red ale that is very hard to find here in England. I always describe this pub as an underground tree house. The pub has three levels, four bars and many small nooks whereby friends can sit and chat with one another for hours on end.

The Lamb & Flag was our next stop along our pub crawl. This pub is a proper English pub that is known to be frequented by Charles Dickens. Although this pub is always very crowded, we were able to find a quaint table in the back to talk with our dear friends.
After being in the city for most of the day, we decided to head back South, to a neighborhood nearby our flat, Brixton. Brixton is a very multicultural area with a variety of restaurants typical of the areas residents such as Pakistani, African and South American. Brixton is also home of the Electric Avenue which is was the first road to have street lights in London, and is also the namesake of the song by Eddie Grant, Electric Avenue.

We made reservations at a Spanish tapas restaurant, housed in the crypts of an old church, Gremio de Brixton. The front of the basement is a really energetic bar with barely any lights, club music, and all the single people in London. The four of us waited in this area until our table was ready. Thankfully we already knew who we were going home with that night, as we had not gone home to clean up from earlier in the day, so we were not dressed to the nines as the other people in the bar.

Once we were seated, we ordered a bottle and perused the menu, which was surprisingly short but comprehensive. We ordered Patas Bravas, Grilled Tiger Prawns, Valencian Meatballs, Suckling Pig and Octopus. The Patas Bravas was fantastically spicy with a nice creme fraiche to offset the spicy brava sauce. We also tried the lentils and chorizo which was fantastic as well.
We very much enjoyed our time at Premio de Brixton, and finished off our night with a mini pub crawl in Old Town, Clapham. We went to a very eclectic pub called the Prince of Wales, and finished the evening at our favorite local - The Rose & Crown.
On Sunday we walked around Shoreditch, explored the Spitafields market, and had lunch of fish and chips at Poppies.
We will miss you so much London, thank you for being such an eye opening experience for Brett and I.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Lake Como - September 2015

The next stop on our Italian vacation was Lake Como. A massive lake in Italy where many small villages, all with very colorful houses, are built along the waters’ edge. We took the train from Milan and arrived into Varenna, from which we took the ferry over to Bellagio, where we stayed for three nights. The picture below is of Bellagio. 
We took the ferry back over to Varenna for one day, so that we could do a small hike up the side of the mountain. And we stopped at a Hotel du Lac for a beautiful excuse to take a bathroom break and enjoy a bottle of prosecco.
On our way back to Bellagio, the winds made a drastic turn and a rainstorm ensued. Not ideal, but it made for some very pretty pictures. 

The next day we rented a ski boat and putted around the lake taking in the scenery and enjoying a few bottles of prosecco, kind of theme on our Italy holiday, wine wine and more wine. I think Dale was ready for a beer by the time he got back to the States. But of course after two bottles of prosecco, the two girls needed to make a pit stop into nature’s own toilet, and considering we didn't have any bathing suits on, it was quite a remarkable bonding moment for Tina and I, sun dresses and all. 
Lake Como was much cooler temperature-wise than Florence and Tuscany, and it was a great break from the heat. 

Our last stop on our Italian vacation was a day in Venice. As most of you know, Brett and I got engaged in Venice in 2011. Engagement story to follow.

Our Italy holiday was one of our favorites, and we can’t wait to go back!

Montepulciano - September 2015

Date of travel - September 2015

On Sunday we drove out to Montepulciano, a wine village in Tuscany a few hours drive from Florence. There are many wine regions you can visit in Tuscany- Montecino, Pecorino and Cortona to be specific. But we decided to go to Montepulciano which is home to Vino Noble di Montepulciano. It is a Sangiovese based wine, and is actually quite different than the French and California wines that we are most familiar with, where the big reds are mainly Cabernet Sauvignon. 
Also, Montepulciano is where the film New Moon shot that Italian Church scene. 
We arrived in Montepulciano on the last Sunday of August which just so happened to have a festival on the day we arrived. Montepulciano is made up of 8 different contratas, or families. Each Contrata has their own area of the town, including their own church. As is typical of European villages that means that there were 8 churches in a town of less than 50,000. The festival is centered around a wine barrel race, where each contrata has two large men push a wine barrel around the town’s streets, with the finish line being at the center of town, on the top of the hill. 
Naturally, since we had 8 people in our group, we all picked a contrata to support during the race - my team came in last place. And Dale’s team won! 

The next day, we had a full day tour of the local vineyards - we went to two vineyards, Cantina DEI and Salcheto and one vineyard in Montecino, Corte Pavone, which is a village nearby that is home to Brunello wine. 

We stopped at Salcheto to have an amazing lunch, looking up at Montepulciano. 
On the third day in Montepulciano, we spent the day roaming around the town, including spending a long lunch at Cantina Gattavecchi where we sat at their outside terrrace overlooking the valley, and a little old woman sat at the table next to us with her four friends and her tail-less cat. We only realized upon using the toilet and stepping inside and seeing a very large picture of the little old woman, that she was actually the owner. 

We stayed in a beautiful old palace, converted into a five room hotel - Palazzo Carletti. Brett and I moved rooms the second night into the luxury suite which included this remarkable view, overlooking the valley of Tuscany. It was breathtaking. 
And of course, it't not unless you indulge in scoops upon scoops of gelato.