Archive for May, 2017

#Europe2017 Day 13: Is it Friday the 13th? Regrets and Frustrations (and more good memories)

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Today started out GREAT! It was our last day in London, and there were still some things we hadn’t seen yet. We’re still feeling the sting of the cost of the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, and not super anxious to pay for everything that you can, and there’s plenty to pay for in London, but there are also plenty of free museums and exhibits to see.

The plan was to see the things The Trio hadn’t seen yet, including The London Tower (whatever that is… there are towers all around), Buckingham Palace (they didn’t really get to see that yesterday… there’s got to be something cool there, right?), and I guess whatever else we happened upon.

First, though, was food and a little bit of business: we have post cards to send, and we have had a hard time sending them. Each day we’ve walked past the post office, which looks like this quiet little thing with no activity, but when we’ve passed by it’s been closed. Today it was priority Numero Uno (in English: Number One) to get these post cards in the mail.

We get there and go in and… um… it’s like a very small DMV. That is, you go to a kiosk and get a number, then wait (and wait and wait) until your number is called and shown on a screen over a cashier. No problem… I get my number (155), notice they are on 60-something, but also notice they are calling numbers in the two hundreds and seven hundreds… no problem, it’s a random number, and I’ll soon go up. After all, there aren’t sixty-plus people here, are there?

Apparently there were. The two hundreds was for passport/visa stuff, the seven hundreds was for business (high priority), and the zero to two hundred were the peons (in English: peons). Holy cow… what I thought would take ten minutes at most was at least a 45 minute wait… maybe an hour or more (no phone, so I couldn’t check the time). All the while, The Trio decided to sit on a cement ledge outside so as not to be in the crowded post office.

Finally… finally! It was my turn, “155 to counter G”. You had to go fast because some cashiers would push the button for the next person if they didn’t see you get up, and I didn’t want to lose my spot! I go up, ask for postcard stamps, and she says “Oh, I’m zorry… I have run out of postcard stamps… you have to go over zere and stand in zee line, but it’s really fast. Zere is really no wait. That man will help you over there,” at the self service kiosks. And with that, adieu!

I didn’t go to the self-service kiosks earlier because they weren’t moving, and the line was long. And now, the line was still long, and they weren’t moving. UUUUUUUGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH! I am not a fan of standing in line. But these post cards need to get in the mail! I am so close…

So I get in line. The super slow line that is not as gratifying as the bubblewrap ice cream line from yesterday, and various nationalities are there not understanding the kiosks, and asking the one guy for help, and there’s a lady really nervous about everything, asking “where’s my change going to come out? WHERE’S MY CHANGE GOING TO COME OUT??” Finally it was my turn, after about a half an hour (this is not how I planned to spend my time in London!), and I went to the kiosk, tapped the right buttons to get nine post card stamps, and put in my card.

Declined.

Put in my business card (I hardly ever do that)… declined.

Put in my other, and last card. DECLINED.

In total frustration I leave, without stamps, vowing to not pay the Queen my postage money, rather to send them from Paris. Hopefully I can buy some meager stamps in Paris! Bleh, this day is not staring off right… although I will admit, I wanted the whole Europe experience, and standing in line for stamps for a couple of hours was part of it.

To my surprise The Trio was still patiently waiting outside the post office… for some reason I thought they might have gone on to see one (or seven) sites of London. They had enough time. We set out, no in search for what should have been breakfast, then became brunch, and was shortly going to be a late lunch.

What to eat? So many options… but for some reason we chose a chinese buffet. Seemed like the right choice at the time… it was satisfying, but nothing special. No more chinese buffets for me on this trip… seriously.

Then we walked by the pelicans (a gift from some king to the king of England in the 1600’s), and tons of ducks and duck-like birds at what I think is Duck Island in St. James Park (across from the Churchill War Rooms). Unfortunately you can just walk by and gawk… it’s closed to visitors :(

From there we walked around the corner and went to Buckingham Palace, which is big, and majestic, but nothing was there… no guards, not even tourists. So we kept going around, turned right, through some kind of majestic gates that must have been about four stories tall, and started to head to The Shake Shack. But first, through the plaza area, in front of the free museum. There was a protest from Nigerians saying to uncolonize it, and let the country split back into two. there must have been a hundred people there for that. There was another guy from Sierra Leon who was making these bracelets… cool right? But when he finished, tre cool! Look at this neat British design… he made one for Sam out of scratch, and then pulled one already done for Ellie. We told him we didn’t have any cash so he said to just keep them.london_last_bracelets

Wait… didn’t we already eat? Yes. Was Shake Shack really that good? Yes, apparently (William said he had a burger with a big mushroom in it… the patty and mushroom were deep fried and so good)! But we weren’t going there to eat… we were going there because Ellie paid for dinner there yesterday and then noticed that they double charged her! Almost $50. Okay, that was worth enough to walk there (1.9 miles, it is right by the Queen’s Theatre)… and of course, the Trio wanted to get the Bubblewrapped ice cream.

I, now, was frustrated that all three of my cards were declined, and was concerned about the next three weeks with card problems. So I borrowed Ellie’s phone to look up my bank phone number… but the internet was so painfully slow (like, not working at all) that it wasn’t going to happen (for while).

We go to Shake Shack, where they had free ice water in a pitcher (THANK YOU SHACKERS), and the manager was super duper kind and said he’d take care of it right now, and that she’d see it resolved on her card in about three days. Great… mission accomplished! Now, the next most important thing was bubble icecream! It was literally right around the corner and interestingly, the line there was bigger than the line the night before (with more tourists). These must have been the introvert tourists, who didn’t want to do it in front of large crowds, but got up early (okay, noon isn’t early) to get their bubble on. They have a weird system, apparently, where you go in, pay, then get in line to get your grub. Looked like we’d be there for a while. This only cost 6 pounds each… here’s what they got:
bubblewrap_icecream

I borrowed Ellie’s phone again and went down the street to a hotel with free wifi to get the number of my bank. Called them, they said to do Option A or B, to let them know that I was out of the country. Rookie move, I know, to not do that before I left, but I had a gazillion other things to do before I got on the plane from SLC, and I figured I could take care of that from the road. No… I had to have my wife go in to the branch and put a “travel note” on my card so that when I went to buy stamps, or pay a taxi, or whatever, I could. Thankfully she was able to do that pretty quickly.

I also called my credit card company and that was a nightmare. Hard to understand English, and the guy was nice “I’m sorry, we’ll get this resolved today,” blah blah blah. Mind you, I’m standing outside of this hotel on a busy London street with gobs of tourists, but I found a pocket of quiet where I could divulge my password, social security number, credit card number, secret three digits on the back of the card, and anything else that an identity thief would want… if you think that’s easy to say outloud in London you probably haven’t been here.

Again, I found my quiet private place and had the conversation. “We have to text your phone to give you a code, so we know you are you.” “But my phone is in a uber car… it’s really stolen.” (at this point that’s my story, since Uber is not responding, and we are leaving London soon) “Oh, well then answer this question and that one, and then we’ll call you back.” “What number will you call me back at, since you won’t call Ellie’s phone? My phone is stolen.” “I can’t tell you that, but we’ll call you back… ” “I’m in the middle of London, my card isn’t working… and you say you’ll call me back on my stolen phone that I don’t have??” “We’ll call you back or we’ll send you a letter…” “A LETTER? I’M IN LONDON!!”

The rest of conversation was short, and not worth repeating. Plus, it wasn’t family friendly. My heavens, I get the fraud and theft thing, but send me a letter while I’m out of the country? (deep breaths, deep breaths)

Okay, Plan D is, I guess, use Ellie’s card for the next three weeks. Not interested in that.

By this time it seemed like more than half the day was gone… and it was. Let’s head out to the London Tower, get some pics, and who knows after that. Go with the flow.

Instead of walking a couple of miles we opted to spoil ourselves and get a taxi. Couldn’t be that bad… it’s only a couple of miles. The taxi driver was an awful lot like the actor for the innkeeper from Les Mis the night before… tall, very tall. The car looked like it was from the fifties (it was apparently only 15 years old), and the two miles turned into at least thirty minutes. “I’m sorry it’s so slow… they took a lane away from us (the drivers) and gave it to the bikes… so now this whole area is very slow.” That’s progress for you.

We finally got there and the lane was blocked by tourist buses… the driver wasn’t sure where to park so he pulled in behind the buses and blocked at least one lane of very busy rush hour commuters. Long story short, everyone was honking at him, waiving at him, he was yelling “something wankers!!! What do you expect me to do??” It was all very entertaining although I have to confess I was glad that the semi didn’t hit our little tin can of a car.
london_wanker_defined

He let us off and we walked a couple hundred yards to The Famous Bridge… which really was quite beautiful and majestic. We were also at the London Tower, which isn’t a tower at all! It is a medival castle, a palace, it was a prison for a few hundred years, and had all kinds of amazing, rich history.

Of all my regrets in London, it’s that we didn’t spend a full day there! It was huge and awesome, but we got there at five and the very nice lady who worked there (from Florida) said “I really don’t recommend it now, you’ll only have 30 minutes before we close.” DARN!!! This is what we should have done first thing today!!

That’s okay… go with the flow. But I’m not missing another chance like this on the rest of this trip… we’ll have to be smarter, and plan better.

So we walk to and across the bridge… here’s proof:
london_last_bridge

Here’s proof we were there (not photoshopped, promise!):london_last_bridge_meWilliam

From there decide to look for Shakespeare’s Globe… or the replica of The Globe (the original burned down, then a few years later the rebuild was demolished, and the replica was moved to the water). We walked through the wharf vendors area, which was a lot of crooked streets with fish salesmen… the smell was stenchful. Not sure how else to put it. There were lots of little pub-like things with people drinking, and vendors where tearing down their shops… we walked through and finally got to I think the financial district… found a Waitrose store and went on the hunt for bottled water (still, not sparkling).

We found Waitrose brand water bottles for 17 pence. SEVENTEEN? Is that a type-o? Does anything in this expensive town cost just 17 pence (pennies)? Not a type-o. We got two and hit the road… on the way to The Globe!

We finally found it and the girls saw that Romeo and Juliette was on at 7:30… and yes, of course we were up for a Shakespeare play in THE PLACE that it should be shown. But… they were sold out, and the standby line was (of course) too long. So we opted for an uber (only $8 to get home) and waited. Where we were waiting was a poster that showed info about the play… they did it gothic style. Would have been interesting, I’m sure, but gothic isn’t my thing.

The uber driver pulls up in his nice Mercedes and off we go, headed for home. We hit the beds (there is literally no room to be anywhere else in the hotel) and rest a bit. I catch up on my blogging and the kids decided to start a contest on Instagram… tag two friends and we’ll send you a postcard from London!

Oh yeah, I got up the nerve to call my credit card company again. I really didn’t want to have the same frustrating conversation with them… I took a good twenty or so minutes to call them. Fortunately, I talked to Lyn, and she treated me the way you should… within a short period of time she had me all taken care of! Balance restored!

At about 8:15 I say “we have to go eat! They are going to shut down soon!” So, we jump up and head out, with no direction, just walking around the area of our hotel… surely there is a good restaurant here somewhere. Of course, we passed by a half dozen that didn’t grab our attention (we’re not eating Italian until we get to Italy), and finally find a pub that had dinners for $7 or $8 each. Hey, last night in London, might as well go traditional, right?

Turned out to be one of the best meals we had in this town. William had Shepard’s Pie (and was disappointed when it really was Sheppard’s Pie, and not Pie of the Day) which was lamb stew with mashed potatoes on the top, Sam had chicken curry (green – it was meh okay) and I had prawn curry (red – it was awesome!) and Ellie had Mac & Cheese.

Let me tell you something about Ellie. She LOVES Mac & Cheese. She’s on a quest to find the best in the world. This isn’t the first time she ordered it. She shared a bit with me last night and wowzers, English Mac & Cheese is GOOOOOD. It was the best I have ever had.

Our waitresses were really cool… one was from Italy, near Venice, and the other was from Spain. We had fun chatting with them, and we had one of the best discussions at our table about England colonizing most of the world, and the impact it had, from language to culture, and the cost of colonizing (on the locals), etc. It was deep and fun.

We walked home, again enjoying a beautiful walk in London at night. The Trio did their dance (once in each country, remember), and it was comical. They did it twice… first time there was a couple walking during the dance, and then stopped and practically faced the wall. I said “I’m doing a social study, and wondering why you didn’t watch them?” The Trio cracked up and the validity of my study was ruined :/ The second dance was right outside our hotel, and there was this older English lady that kept walking, and finally realized she was (a) about to be in a dance, and (b) in a video. It was hilarious to watch her maneuver around the Trio while they danced.

We got got home around 11 or so (I think), well-fed, after the nice walk, and were ready to call it a day! I updated the blog for the two days before today, and called it good.

Tomorrow is travel day – ugh. This is not my favorite thing to do… but it’s part of the journey. Let’s hope nothing goes wrong!

RANDOM

Here’s a random picture of what William looks like in London:
london_last_william_random

Here’s a picture of our London hotel room from my bed. This place didn’t win any awards from the Trio, but it was only $80 a night, which is a lot better than $270/night. This room was tiny… last night we figured out that the Chicken Coop I almost finished before leaving was bigger than this room! LOL.

Clockwise, notice the light switch (this is how they all were in London), the bathroom that you had to step a foot up to get into (not easy for me to get out of :p), notice the walkway… very small. The internet was spotty, and we had the window open all night which meant breathing a lot of second hand smoke, and the floors creaked like nothing I’d ever experienced. We were on the third floor… no elevator, and the steps were narrow… getting luggage in and out was a feat. In fact, getting me in and out was a feat :p But, the price was RIGHT, and we spent very little on Uber or taxis because we were withing walking distance… score!london_last_room

#Europe2017 Day 12: Resting, WALKING, and Les Miserables at Queens Theatre!!!!

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

Sooooooo, today I woke up and my ankle wasn’t much better than the night before. Remember, we walked about four hours the night before, and had a good walk from the train to the hotel. I could tell I was ready for a rest, or else. I want to see and do it all, but I don’t want to injure my injury… so I told The Trio they were on their own for most of the day.

Before they left I went out to buy a power adapter. Turns out England is The Country in Europe that decided to have a non-standard plug/outlet system, so we have to have a UK adapter plugged into the wall, then the EU adapter plugged into that, then the U.S. cord plugged into that. It kind of looks like this:

photo courtesy Reddit

photo courtesy Reddit

Maybe not that bad, but it’s too many adaptors :)

I also got some ice, which was not at the first grocery store I went to, but luckily there was about a pound or so from the Waitrose store, which has turned out to be our best bet for shopping for food stuffs here. I got home, got ice on my ankle (it felt SO good), and bid the tourists adieu. We would meet back here around 4pm, then head out for the Queens Theatre.

The Travelling Trio had a great time exploring all over London… well, some of the sights. They saw Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Buckhingham Palace (kind of, not good enough), Parlament, and eventually made there way to at least one free museum. They walked so much they were tired, which is awesome… here I think I’m slowing them down, and they told me they had to rest a bit even when they were on their own :)

Ellie messaged me that they wanted to just meet at Queens Theatre since they were close to there, and coming back home just to get me would be, well, not fun. Cool, no problem, let’s meet there at 6:30 (the show started at 7:30).

At about 3:30 I had my times mixed up and thought it was 4:30, and thought “I better get going! I only have two hours to walk 1.9 miles with my bad ankle.” And, I don’t have a great map (I have a big map of London, from the hotel, but it’s BIG), and it looks like it’s going to rain, and I don’t have a phone or GPS… it’s OLD FASHIONED time! I go to Google Maps, get the directions, and write them out on paper in my special shorthand (no printer, of course). And I set out. This looks easy on Google Maps, but there was a point that was hard once I got there:london_walk_to_theater

It was a great walk, really… I walked the same path as what got us home the night before, in the dark. I recognized most of it, and quickly got to St. Mark’s Park, which is on this side of Buckingham Palace. The only problem is that Google’s directions kind of choke once you get around that area, and it took me a while to figure out how to get pointed in the right direction again. The big awkward map came in handy. It was comical to use a paper with handwritten notes + an old fashioned map when everyone else had their phones, Google Maps, and GPS.

From the government building area (past Parliament, past Westminster Abbey, I went by the Museum where The Trio spent a couple of hours, and started to get into the tourist/restaurant area. I went down an alley that had shops, including book stores and a model store (model cars, etc.), just to look. I had plenty of time before I had to be there (and no way to coordinate meeting early), so why not look around? It was pretty cool to be in those alleys in those little shops.

I went out from there, still going in the right direction but not exactly sure where I was, and got to Chinatown. It was pretty cool, but I was surprised at the prices of food. This was clearly still part of the tourist area… I started to see various theatres, and street performers, and still had at least an hour and a half before 6:30 (I left an hour earlier than I thought, so I had three hours to get to the Queen’s Theatre, not two). After slowly walking around, hanging out, watching the people and the performers, and taking it all in, I thought “it’s food time!” Hadn’t really eaten all day (except for some granola bars at the hotel)… so I was looking for some places. I saw the Shake Shack and much to your surprise decided not to go there (not in London!). While in Chinatown you eat… well, I guess I was up for a Chinese buffet. No, it wasn’t good at all. Yes, it was overpriced.

I walked around some more… I had at least another 45 minutes before I had to meet up at the Queen’s Theatre (the buffet was directly across the street, so I now knew where I was and would surely be on time. In fact, before dinner I even went to will call and got our tickets… so I was ready!).

The most popular thing around this mega tourist area wasn’t the Lego store, nor was it the massive M&M store, or the Nickelodeon store… it was this: london_bubble_wrap

Have you ever heard of this? The line to get this was ridiculous… about as long as the line to get into the Winston Churchill War Rooms! This is London’s Bubble Wraps … ice cream cones that look freaky, with all kinds of toppings on them.

Finally, I figured it was time to head to the theatre. I watched a beatboxer, then closer to the theatre watched a Elton John and John Denver cover singer (he was really good), and then walked half a block up. The kids were there waiting. I crossed the super crazy busy street, greeted them, and was grateful that I could make it 1.9 miles with no technology and a bad ankle! Turns out, they had spent the last two hours in the same area… at the Shake Shack… where I stood outside watching tourists for 15 minutes! We were so close!

We went in and were directed downstairs to wait for the doors to open. 45 minutes before the show, we got into our seats and waited, and waited, and waited. The kids were tired, so it was fine to wait there… but I was ready for The Show! Here’s a picture of three very tired kids, waiting for the show to start:

london-queens_tired

About 30 minutes prior to starting, the live orchestra was doing their last things to make sure they were in tune and ready to go… it was getting exciting. Then, the dull gray backdrop got the Les Mis Cossette face displayed… and we were getting close!london_queens_cosette

And then, from utter silence to the majestic, loud orchestra, playing the opening piece… it was AWESOME.

What can I say about Les Miserables on stage in London? Worth every penny. I had goosebumps half the time, and even have them now while writing this. The actors were awesome. The stage and set was brilliant (most of the stage was a circle that moved… which helped with any scenes with running, or chaos), the sound was magnificent, and the lighting… I have never before appreciated lighting on a stage, but this lighting was so out of this world amazing.

I have seen the 10th anniversary on Youtube about a dozen (or more) times, and I saw (and didn’t like) the new movie, and I have read the unabridged book… so I was at least ready to understand this and what was happening, and why. But even then, there was at least one new act that I was unfamiliar with.

The whole evening was awesome, and the audience was awesome… goosebumps. BTW, if you go, I paid about $50 per seat, which means we sat almost in the back on the ground floor. We missed a tiny bit of the stage when there were very tall sets that the actors were on, but in my opinion it was no big deal. It was simply awesome.

Here’s a view after the show, of the Queen’s Theatre:london_queens_theatre_les_mis

Afterwards we were faced with the decision… do we walk home? Do we uber, or taxi? We were pretty rejuvinated and well rested, so we decided to walk the 1.9 miles home. And you know what? Walking in London at night is delightful. It is peaceful, and the streets are empty. As long as you don’t think about Jack The Ripper, you are good to walk around London at night :p We didn’t get lost (thanks to Ellie’s phone)… it was really a nice ending to a great day.

On the way home we went through the plaza where the street performers were… this guy was there, and I went up immediately and gave him a (long) hug. I’ve seen this type of thing online but haven’t been to a big city with huggers… and I didn’t want to miss out. It was pretty cool:london_blindfolded

Here are some pictures walking home… it was overcast but not raining, which made for some great pics!

london_2_cloudy_horselondon_cloudy_2

On Facebook I saw this picture, of the three kids I left at home. You always wonder how they are doing, and worry about leaving them (because two of the three really wanted to come on this trip)… but look at those beautiful, happy faces! We love them, and miss them! I’m glad that Grandpa could take the to Idaho for the day to “decorate graves” and then go swimming at Downata Hot Springs.
london_three_littles

And, here are some of William’s pictures from their day… these are my favorites that he sent me. I think this is Westminster Abbey:

london_will_abbey

This is a fountain/sculpture shot… I like how he captured the power and passion of this guy:
london_will_fountain

One of the many street performers… they invest a lot into their craft:

london_will_street_performer

Tomorrow is our last full day in London!! What could we possibly do?

#Europe2017 Day 11: Sunday, and an Ideal Vacation

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

Today we got up really, really early (about 9 something). When I say “we” I mean Samantha knocked on our door to walk us up. She was already dressed and ready for church, and I could barely open my eyes :)

While William and I got ready she went down to talk to the front office to see how we could get to church. Turns out everyone at the Temple (missionaries, visitors, etc.) already carpooled there (they left earlier than I leave for church at home (like most people in Utah/Idaho, I live a block away from the church), so our only choice was to get a taxi.

We got to church about 20 minutes late and settled into our seats almost at the back. The speakers were great… the first was a sister who just returned from her mission to Mesa, Arizona, and she mentioned that things there were just so different than what we were used to. Seriously! Different! I really had no idea how different the lives and lifestyles, etc. are!

For Sunday School we stayed in the same seats, and had a great lesson… it was a very interactive group, with lots of comments (and the teacher did a splendid job facilitating the discussion). As usual, it was really neat to have a similar discussion about the same topic that was being taught around the world. For Priesthood, we stood to introduce ourselves and I slipped in “and if anyone is headed back to the Temple, we’d love to get a ride… otherwise we’ll just grab a taxi.”

Immediately a brother named David came up and said he had three of four seats, and he’d be happy to take us home, as he only lived a mile or so from the Temple. GREAT! After the meetings another brother offered to drive us home, too, so we split up and Sam and Ellie went with David and his wife and William and I went with the other couple (serving a mission at the temple, from Wales)… after chatting with some people in the foyer. It was just really a pleasant experience, that was about to get WAY, WAY better.

When we got home Sam said “David invited us to dinner, and then he’d drive us to the train station. But we have to let him know if we want to eat dinner with his family.”

Um… let me think about thi…. ABSOLUTELY.

You see, this is my version of an ideal vacation: meeting people who lived there, and hanging out with them, chatting with them, getting to know them. We had no idea just how great our day was going to be. The girls called David and a few minutes later he rolled in to pick us up, then we got to the gate of his 18 acre estate.

Yep.

David and his family lives in what was a really old hunting lodge which he has renovated and restored to be his home. He is blessed to have some of his adult children and their kids there, so it’s a big family thing… he gave us a tour of his yard and buildings, then a tour of the house, while his wife was preparing dinner for four more people than she had planned for.

What do you eat in England on a beautiful Sunday afternoon? Yorkshore pudding, of course! And peas, of course, and boiled (little) potatoes, with an orange drink and water… for dessert they brought out a platter of popcicles, cups of yogurt, and a bowl of fruit. Mix and match however you like.

We ate outside on the front lawn, at a table that was on a deck (just for the table)… watching the kids jump on the tramp and swim in the pool. We had delightful, fun conversations with the entire family and another guest, and when the drizzle of rain turned into an “almost monsoon” we ran inside the house.

This was seriously one of the highlights of the trip for me, especially in England. Meeting this family, learning about them, being welcomed into their home… it was a real treat that we hope to be able to reciprocate in April when they fly out to visit their son, who lives about 15 minutes away from us!

Here’s a picture of The Trio at dinner, facing the main house:
london_davids_house

After dinner we rushed back out to the car in the almost-monsoon and David took us a couple miles down to the train station. He even got out of the car and half way walked us into the train station, and got us on our way. We got four tickets to Victoria Station, which was NOT the closest station to our hotel, and then headed up to the platform:

london_to_london

After about fifteen minutes we got on the most crowded train of this trip. We didn’t have to stand, but William grabbed the closest seat and sat by himself (and two big luggage bags) while Ellie, Sam and I sat at a table with a sleeping British girl and had a delightful chat while we trained all the way to London.

LONDON!!

We got off at Victoria station and had about a half mile walk to get to our hotel. london_victoria_station

Walking around London with luggage is no big deal because plenty of people do it!

We got to our hotel and checked in… it’s not an expensive hotel ($80 per night divided by four, so hostel prices), so walking up the very small stairs three flights because there is no elevator, using the super small bathroom with a shower that seems like it will overflow into the room (the bathroom is about a foot off the ground, which is hard to get down with a recovering ankle :p)… this room is about as big as two or three master closets… just big enough to have two full size beds in it, and that’s it!

BUT, $80/night in London? Check. No need to uber? Check check! In Amsterdam we spent A LOT of money on uber because our hotel was not in the center of the city… here we are saving a gundle because we can walk almost the entire time.

We were pretty hungry by this time, and anxious to walk around, so we set out to explore and figure out where to eat. We went this way and that (I have no idea where we went, or why we went that way, but I think we were trying to get towards Buckingham Palace) and happened upon an African restaurant that looked good. Sam and Ellie were in Kenya a year ago, so anything African seems okay to them. We go in, have a seat, and then remember that we have to go to the counter to order and pay (as opposed to having a waitress come get our order).

Turns out, this restaurant is African-Portuguese… and it was really good! Here’s a pic of their homepage:london_landos_homepage

The girls took pics of me and William… we have been working on our poses… what do you think?london_rest_posing1london_rest_posing2london_rest_posing3

After dinner we walked, and walked, and walked. Here’s a typical picture of London… red bus, big beautiful buildings, etc.

london_day_1_bus

I think we walked about four hours that night. We went to Buckingham Palace (by now it was dark), and down The Mall, past many government buildings, and then finally decided to try to figure out how to get home. Home was cutting through St. Mark’s Park, and then through various dark alleys and through streets, around round abouts, and finally, we found our hotel. Whew! We were exhausted, and my ankle was ready for ice! (that would have to wait.

We went to bed that night well-fed, refreshed, and happy. Tomorrow would be more adventures in London!

Here’s my facebook post from Sunday:london_sunday_fb_post

#Europe2017 Day 10: Hever Castle (WOW!!)

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

Today I got up really early (8:15) and then spent a couple of hours doing service in the London Temple. It was delightful and peaceful, and a nice change of pace from the last nine days. I got back to my room at about 11:15 and then spent the next couple of hours getting our hotel in London squared away for tomorrow through Wednesday (when we leave for Paris). We still haven’t been to London, really, yet, and that’s what the last few days will be.

So what do we do today? Hm… we planned on going to the beach. If we go south we are only about 45 minutes away from a beach, but if we go “an hour and forty five minutes” east we’ll hit some amazing, awesome views… check this out (spoiler: we didn’t go here… but we sure wanted to):
botany_bay_chalk_stacks

When we looked for directions, we got this:
botany_bay_long

YUUUUUUUCK! That would put us on a train for 7 hours today, assuming the return trip is about the same as getting there… not to mention the changes (the last column), which are really a way of messing up a trip (“get on the wrong train and lose your airbnb plans!”).

What else could you do in this quiet, sleepy town (we are still about an hour south of London)? We already walked through town (delightful, of course), but what now?

Thank goodness for the intertubes… a quick search showed a castle that was only 9.4 miles away from us: the Hever Castle. Oh please, let this be the castle experience I’ve been looking forward to!

The girls were not feeling well, so it was just me and William. He was excited to get out of our little room, and off we went, in a taxi 9.4 miles down the road. For reference, here’s where Hever Castle is from London (not from where we are staying):london_hever_castle

I know there is tons to do and see in London, but man, if I ever come back here with family, I want to take a day trip and go see this castle again. It was so, so cool!

The Hever Castle is famous for being the home to Anne Boleyn. Don’t know who that is? Must be because you are American. What I learned today is that Anne was the second wife to King Henry VIII (that is, The Eighth). They were only married for three years before he had her beheaded, and then went on to have four more wives (if you are a counter, you are up to six now). One of the signs said that he wasn’t really fit to be a king… really good at sports, pretty sucky as a king. And as a husband, apparently.

Anyway, Anne was four when she went to the castle… the grounds, the castle, everything was AMAZING. Here’s a picture of the castle… I was trying to learn this new-fangled technology and might have messed it up a bit… but you get the idea, don’t you?castle_jason

Ah, just kidding! That’s the worst one we took. You’ll see plenty of cool things as you scroll down.

We got out of the taxi (that was 16 pounds) and then went to the entrance of the grounds… I didn’t even think that this was a hundreds-year-old structure that was the first point of entry to the grounds:

hever_entrance

When we got our tickets the lady kept saying that by 5:15 we better start getting out! She repeated this enough times I wondered if it was 5pm already… it wasn’t even 2 yet! Anyway, some 30-something pounds later we had access to the Castle and the Gardens, and started walking down the path. What I kind of didn’t realize was that we were already a good fifty yards into the castle grounds, and we couldn’t even see it yet.

On the way, there was plenty of water, and ducks and some geese all around: hever_duck

Most of these pictures are from William, who is really enjoying his new Cannon: hever_swan

We had to walk down, wind our way around, and then it kind of popped out of nowhere.

hever_castle_1

My first thought was “this is pretty big.” Why? Because a comment online said it was “small and felt crowded.” Well, the castle in Antwerpen was small, and there were only three of us in the courtyard, and that felt crowded! So anything bigger than that would have been cool. The castle was big, it had a good sized (20 or so feet wide) moat, and was a few stories tall. Big enough to enjoy.

First, we cross the moat, so we can go through the imposing death gates:
hever_castle_entrance

And then we entered the courtyard. The moat was full of koi: hever_koi

A funny story about the moat. It’s not filled with alligators, so why not just jump in and swim around? Well, I learned that the “toilet” system is basically sitting on a wooden toilet seat and your waste goes… into the moat. Imagine a moat filled with the waste of dozens and dozens and dozens of people. That’s why, my friends, you don’t swim in the moat!

This is a picture of the courtyard, inside the castle, where the line is to go inside:

hever_courtyard

We got in line and quickly made it to the front. There was a Brittish chap checking for tickets, then a few feet later a lady who welcomed you… and off you were, on a self-guided tour of the castle. The next set of pics and thoughts are not in order… they are all from inside the castle:

Here’s a view from one of the bedrooms into a room that was shut, and there were no signs… but it’s like the worship room (about the size of a master closet). It was very ornate in there, but it was tucked in the corner of the bedroom and I didn’t see anyone else even peak through the tiny holes in the door: hever_castle_secret_room

Surprisingly, throughout the entire castle were little signs like this, that talked about literature thatwas somehow connected to the castle. I didn’t the connection why, but Peter Pan seemed to dominate these signs, being in at least four out of every five of them:hever_castle_pan

In the castle there was a ton of artwork, paintings of kings and princes, etc. from various countries, and plenty of drawings of the castle itself, like this one (depicting a visit from King Henry VIII Himself):hever_castle_drawing

On one of the lower floors we were about to head up a staircase when William said “Dad… DAD!” I was focusing on my footing, so as not to reinjure my ankle and ruin this trip, and I kept walking while saying “What? Oooouweeee…” In these castles you need to focus on the down AND the up! Here’s how low the doorway is: hever_castle_door

From one of the top floors, looking out the window, you can see the chess set garden. Isn’t this cool? Can you find the King and Queen?hever_castle_chess

William’s shot is much clearer of the chess figures: hever_chess_william

Here’s a great closeup of showing the wood and windows: hever_closeup

When I was five to eleven my mom did real stained glass… so whenever I see real stained glass I think of her :) This was made in the 1400’s: hever_stained_glass

This is looking out one of the windows to the servant’s quarters (I think… I wasn’t super clear on the surrounding buildings). See the moat? Don’t swim in it!: hever_looking_out

There were a lot of three-legged chairs here. Since I’m not so stable (physically!) I wondered why three, not four?
hever_chair

Here’s the library, which had many collections of awesome books, including a bunch of Dickens, the Exciting History of Kent (4 volumes), encyclopedias, and more. I’d love to spend a few months reading through those books!hever_library

The ornate designs didn’t disappoint… this is the fireplace in the dining hall:hever_dining

Here’s the table… I though it would have been wider and fit more people: hever_dining_2

The ceilings were really impressive. Instead of paintings they were 3D art:
hever_ceilings

I don’t know room this was, it was between the foyer and the dining hall… the woodwork design is mindbogglingly cool (in another room it said a piece there was from walnut… super hard wood!):hever_woodwork

This must have been the guest/entertaining room, with the piano and all the couches: hever_piano

After exiting the castle we went to the left to go through the shrubbery maze. This is made from Yew bushes, which grow very slow (William pointed out that if they grow slow, you don’t have to do maintenance on them a ton) This was my first time in a maze like this (well, in England, of course) and it was really quite fun! They look like they are symmetrical but once you get in everything is crooked… the bushes are not straight up and down, and some of the paths are curving into one another… it’s definitely an optical illusion. After three minutes, though, I was out, waiting for William, who took FOREVER.

It seemed like 15 minutes later and he finally came out. Where you in there the whole time?” “No, I came out like ten minutes ago, but you weren’t out, so I went back in.” Of course… my kid is one step ahead of me, but making me feel like I’m ahead of him :p Here’s the exit… you can see this girl is waiting for her people, still wandering around the maze. Notice how high the bushes are… even tall people aren’t going to cheat their way out of this maze:
hever_castle_maze

From there we walked to the chess set… you can see a the rooks, bishops, knights, queen and king, and pawns. Pretty amazing.

After the chess set we went a little bit up the path to this pond thing (man-made, rectangle pond that had a cool bridge that William tried to go to, but every way he tried it was cordoned off. There were tiny fish and lots of lily pads: hever_walk_bridge

Then we went towards the Italian Gardens. Seriously, this estate just doesn’t end! This is acres and acres of what was marshlands that were redesigned to be the place to show off one of the owner’s (from the early 1900’s, I think) Italian statues and artwork. it was fascinating, and on the side we walked, flanked by what seemed to be a 15 foot wall of waterfalls, at least a hundred yards long. The entire path was covered in vine, so it was shaded. What am amazingly delightful, peaceful place!

hever_italian_gardens2

This was in the Italian Gardens too, and it reminded me of a family friend who recently broke his nose and had to where a nose cast (shout out to Justice!!):hever_justice_nose

We went further away from the castle, above the Italian Gardens, probably where horses and hunters rode for the last several hundred years. It was so amazing to be on this estate walking around where the heavies did their noble business!

here’s a super old staircase with a random Englishman’s hat (or, the smallest person in England is under that hat, trying to get up the stairs!):hever_walk_hat

Towards the end of our walk around the grounds, before we headed for the pub, we came across this little thing… what is it? A hopscotch playground? Or just decorations?hever_walk_graves

No, actually it’s the nobleman’s doggy grave… with a bunch of headstones. Here’s the plaque:hever_walk_graves_plaque

And here’s the headstone for Jeff:hever_walk_graves_jeff

All around the castle, and it seems like in other areas, you’ll see signs of me walking down the stairs:hever_walk_falling_sign

Thank goodness that really wasn’t me. I only had a twisted ankle scare once, but nothing bad happened. Whew!

The nature around the castle (and in the castle grounds) was really just stunning… witness the furry bark tree (I named that):hever_furry_bark

And these ferns along the rhododendrons walk:

hever_ferns

This is a staircase who’s only purpose seemed to go from one pathway to another pathway: hever_stairs

It was dinner time, so we walked out the main entrance and just about thirty yards away to the King Henry VIII pub… it was big, and really cool looking. We chose to eat outside, way in the back… on our way we passed all the inside tables which had candles… this was the coolest one:
hever_food_candle

We had a super nice view (I thought I had a picture of it, sorry… but we were looking at the pub courtyard, the old pub, and behind it the super old church tower). We got the “pie of the day” and the burger, of course… and split them to share. Both were excellent… I have heard of these meat pies but had no idea how freaking good they are! hever_food_meal

After we ate I went back to the pub bar to order some icecream (William chose honey comb and I couldn’t pass up the maple walnut!). If you have never been to a pub, here’s how it works: You stand at the bar, by the cash register, and hope that the person on the other side of the counter is paying attention to you. There is NO line… everyone just kind of crowds around. I thought they would do a first-come-first-serve, but it is more luck-of-the-draw. I think I was chosen to order in front of a lady who was before me, so I said “oh, you can order.” She did, and then the cashier went on to three or four other people before another cashier took my order! I don’t know how to get their attention, but I’m not going to be that obnoxious American that pushes his way in front of others… so I waited patiently. Here’s a picture from the front door… all of these people (and more that you can’t see) are kind of bunched up waiting to order:hever_food_line

I must have had a bad accent because our two orders of ice cream only became one… here’s William enjoying his honeycomb ice cream by the pond, with the super old church tower in the background:

hever_food_icecream

By this time we only had fifteen or twenty minutes before the taxi came, and I wanted to walk around the church… isn’t this super old entrance gate cute?
hever_church_door

There were a lot of graves in the church yard. Here are two that seem misplaced. What do you figure… were these here first, or was the path there first? hever_church_graves

Here’s a cool picture William took with the church tower in the background:hever_church_flowers

After a short walk around the church, and a short wait on the corner… check out this super old bench by the church with lichens on it!
hever_church_bench

And, across from where we were waiting was this, the most ineffective gate in the U.K.:hever_gate_bad

Finally, our Pakistani taxi driver picked us up and delivered us home. We weren’t out long today, but we packed a lot in, and this castle experience was so fulfilling!

Tomorrow… we leave for London, close to Westminster Abbey!

#Europe2017 Day 9: Sussex County (South of London)

Friday, May 26th, 2017

We got up this morning around 9, I think. I slept really, really good (but my back was screaming at me by the time 9 rolled around). William did too, but I think the girls said their room was too hot or stuffy.

Today, priority #1: DO LAUNDRY! This was the first laundry day of our trip and we were all desperately ready for clean clothes. Laundry here cost 60 pence (about 60 cents) for the washer, and about 40 pence for dryer, so about a buck a load. That took about 2 hours to finish up, which gave me time to almost catch up on my blog posts.

Seriously, it’s tedious work to keep up on these posts, but I know that I won’t regret it later. Plus, I know my wife reads all of them, and shows the pics to the kids at home, so it’s a way to stay in touch :) On our last two cross country trips I wanted to do something similar, and didn’t, and now I just have my fleeting memory to go from (and a bunch of pics :p).

I had about an hour to spend in the temple, which was super. I have spent the last couple of months with my terrific physical therapist, who’s goal was to get me good enough to walk all over Europe, and when he found out we’d be here he said “my parents are there!” I met his dad today and had a really nice chat…. that was really cool :)

After my time in the temple the Trio was just about done with their laundry and we were ready to go into town. “Into town” means getting a taxi to drive us four miles south (I think) into East Grinstead. There are closer restaurants, we were assured, but we wanted to go get some food from a grocery store, too. It’s been really nice to have fruits and granola bars and stuff to snack on, especially in places like this where you can’t just walk out the door and get some grub.

When we went down to the receptionist desk to ask for help or advice for getting a taxi, there was a lady just leaving that had a taxi van waiting for her. Turns out she was going to East Grinstead too, so we piled in with her. She’s been working here for ten years and was really delightful, and helpful with her advice.

A few minutes drive down the road and we got out and tried to figure out where to eat. “Do you guys want thai, an authentic pub, Cantonese/Vietnamese, or do you want to walk around until we find something?” The response was kind of a mix between zombie-I-don’t-care and someone-else-decide… so Sam made the executive decision to go to some English sounding restaurant. Fortunately they post their menus on the window, so we were able to see what they had, and nothing really said “yes, I will satisfy you!” So we went across the street to a very pub-looking pub (I have never seen a pub, but this is kind of how I imagine them) and sat down at a table.

It’s been weird trying to figure out, in each country, how to enter a restaurant. Do you meekly wait at the door to be seated? Or do you go in like fearless Americans and just sit down? Which of those two will be offensive? Who knows. There were no signs that said to wait, nor were there signs saying to seat yourself. Afterall, it’s a pub, where everyone around us had a beer in one hand… I’m guessing we sit ourselves.

We looked over the one menu that was on the table and waited… and waited, and waited for someone to take our order. Then, I finally got up, went to the bar and asked “do we order at the table, or do we order here?” You order here. Ah, okay, that’s why no one has taken our order.

We hadn’t really eaten yet (although William told me there were was a Cliff bar, after he had already polished off three of them :p), and were all famished. So I order (Sam: currie with naan bread, Ellie: spicy chicken sandwich/burger, William: spicy chicken sandwich/burger, Me: Fish and Chips!!), and then clarify, “Do we come here to the bar to get our food, or do you bring it to the table?” To the table, of course! Okay, great. So we wait… all anticipating some great food.

Below is a picture once we got our food. I should note that I’m travelling with three people who are models… if you point a camera at them, they move their heads and faces and mouths to the right positions so they are magazine worthy. You can see that William did that. You can also see that I’m learning from them, and positioned myself to be magazine-worthy, too:
sussex_pub

Here’s a closeup of my fish and chips. I’ve been wanting to try this here in England for years, so this was a pretty epic meal: sussex_fish_chips

Let’s walk through this. At the top (twelve o’clock) we have, under the fish, untoasted white bread smeared with butter. This went untouched, for the record (If I were to make this at home, I would have toasted it and put garlic seasoning on it). Then, on top of that, at one o’clock, the “fish” part of the fish and chips. This was as good as I have ever hoped it could be. Really, delicious. At four o’clock was the obligatory healthy part of the meal: peas. Taste the same as in the U.S. And I ate most of them. I’m not really a pea guy, but it worked with this meal. From six to nine o’clock are the fries… er, the “chips.” They were normal fries. At ten o’clock is the dipping sauce for the chips… started out as mayonaise (a la Holland/Belgium), then I gave in and mixed ketchup in (a la Utah Fry Sauce), and all was well in the world. Not pictured was the little dish of tarter sauce, which was excellent with the fish.

In the picture above, on the bottom-left, you’ll notice Sam’s curry. It was supposed to have naan bread (which is a real delight) but instead it had unseasoned french bread. She wasn’t impressed. But the curry was good. William and Ellie didn’t like their spicy chicken at all, criticizing it on multiple points (tasted frozen, wasn’t spicy, etc.).

So, enough of our English meal experience. To sum it up: Pub + fish&chips = awesome.

We walked up the street and found an alley that looked like it had some shops. Indeed, there was a fruit vendor named Jack… probably late twenties or early thirties, and he was entertaining. He was helping an Asian lady with her order “you are my best grapefruit customer! No one buys as many grapefruits from me as you do!,” and when he got to us you can tell he was a jokester. I told him this was our first visit to town, and what does he recommend we do or see. That’s a hard question for this town, with not much to do or see, but he said if we went “down to the roundabout, and then turned left, we’d be on a street that’s been there with those buildings since the 1100s. Then, go to the next roundabout and chuck a left, and keep walking, and we’d get to a nice park.”

As he was telling us this, and explaining a bit about our walk, I asked “is that true?” “Oh, I never let the truth get in the way of a good story!” He was a crackup.

Before we set off, we went into the store in front of Jack’s fruit stand and a few minutes later exited, by Jack… I said “Jack, we went to the roundabout, and all we did was walk in circles and couldn’t get off!” He looked totally surprised at first, but then regained his composure and laughed. Good times in Sussex :p

So off we were, walking with about twenty pounds of mangoes and berries and stuff (which William mostly carried – what a jolly good chap!), to the old street and then to the park. It was a delightful walk, and not very far, even for my bad ankle :p

Here’s a picture I took of the super-old street… notice the chimneys. I guess that part in Mary Poppins about chimney sweeps really could have happened?jason_street_chimneys

You may know that Kaisie and I, very early in our marriage, lived in a funeral home. So we notice funeral homes. I haven’t ever seen one that offered this particular service, though: jason_funeral

Near the funeral home was this really cool tree. The tree trunk looks like all the wood from above just sunk down over the centuries, and settles towards the bottom. It was cooler than it looks in this picture because the rest of the tree, above this mass, got thinner and thinner:jason_trio_drippingTree

I thought this was a cool shot because of the roof in the background, with all that moss on it. More info about the statue below.jason_surgeon_moss

Here’s the full statue of hero surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe, I think this is the Queen Victory Hospital (not in service now) behind it. Please read this info about him on wikipedia… he touched and healed a LOT of people that were injured in WWII! jason_surgeon

Right on the corner where the statue was was the second roundabout… so, like Jack the Fruit guy said, we “chucked a left” and started walking on this really narrow sidewalk (that was going to get as narrow as about 8 inches, with cars speeding by us! Yikes!):jason_walking

On the ground William spotted this mirror that had fallen off and said to get a picture of it, because just recently I replaced the mirror on my van TWICE (the first time it fell right off, like this! The second time was just before a hit-and-run driver knocked the whole thing off, and we had to get it repaired properly (by a mechanic)). So, here it is, we finally found the broken off mirror (we actually spent time back home looking for our mirror on the side of the road :p):jason_mirror

Here was a really cool shot of a backyard, as seen from the sidewalk. What an amazing view the people in this neighborhood have! jason_backyards

This shrubbery struck me as amazing… it was SO big (and kind of made me think of the Brady Bunch, for some reason):jason_shrubbery

When we first started walking to the park I saw an ice cream truck and thought “I want one!” But, you know, I’m 43, and I’m not going to hobble across the street in traffic that I don’t understand to get some ice cream. Lucky for me, when we got to the park, this guy had caught up with us, and we were the first in line (before all the kids). I wasn’t having any ice cream regrets this time! We got three “feasts,” which was a chocolate ice cream covered in fudge with this really big and hard fudge bar in the middle. You had me at fudge x 3, and it was totally worth the 60 pence each we paid.
jason_icecream

I don’t know what the park name is, but one day I should look it up. Anyway, all the trees had “in memory of” or “dedicated to,” and it was a memorial park for the people of this town who lost their lives in WWII. It was really touching. There was even a wall listing all of their names. It’s amazing the impact WWII had on Europe (of course). Anyway, the guy who owned this house/manor apparently donated it to the city or county, to be the park… here’s a picture of his manor (which now houses businesses): jason_manor_park

While the Travelling Trio were trying to catch a nap, I went up to the manor to take pictures and met a really nice Italian lady who I chatted with for about twenty minutes. She talked to me about this town, her home town, living in England, learning English, the park, the kids at the park, etc. It was a nice, delightful chat. I said “I was told to speak Italian I just have to move my hands a lot….” She replied, “Yeah, but you have to make sense!” Okay, maybe learning Italian will be harder than I thought :)

Here’s a picture from the stairs at the manor, looking out onto the old backyard (now park). It just goes on and on… isn’t this beautiful? I would LOVE to have a backyard like this :) jason_manor_backyard

Here’s a pic from the backyard, of Sam and Ellie post nap… I love how the sun catches their hair:

william_sam_ellie_manor

On our way back into town, to find a grocery store, I asked William to take this picture of the roundabout. There are no barriers or curbs, just paint. As we were waiting for him to get this shot the girls were counting the cars that didn’t go around the roundabout… just through it!
william_roundabout

We went to a store called “Iceland” to get granola bars and room snacks, but it turns out that Iceland mostly sells frozen and fridge stuff… not what we had in mind. Luckily, across the street was a good sized grocery store (we didn’t notice it, but happened upon it) and it had everything we wanted. What do we buy in Sussex? We got various chocolates (ridiculously inexpensive at about a pound each), four boxes of naked bars, two six packs of “healthy” soda… this added to the four huge mangos and a bunch of raspberries… I’m travelling with health(ish) people.

Outside of the store Ellie was downloading an app to call a taxi, but I went inside (I was at the exit only, so I had to wait there until someone came out, Jason Bourne style!) and asked the customer service dude how to hail a taxi, or what service he recommends. He said: “See that white phone there on the wall? Just pick it up and it will dial the taxi for you. If they don’t answer, let me know.”

What? A White-Taxi-Calling-Phone at the grocery store? That is pretty cool!

I picked it up and this guy in a thick accent said something-something-something. “Can you send a taxi to … WHAT STORE ARE WE IN?” No, I didn’t really shout it out, but the guy on the phone asked “Do you want us to pick you up in front of the library (by the store exit) or in by the trolley park?” What the heck is a trolley park? Is there a park a block away?

I knew I didn’t want in front of the library… the store customer service guy said to ask to get picked up in the “car park” (or, as we yanks say, parking lot). “Um, pick us up by the trolley park please. How long will that be?” “Five or ten minutes. What’s your name?” “Jason.” Great…. let’s go find this trolley park!

We go out to the “car park” and lo and behold, look at this sign: william_trolley_park

I’m not sure if you can read that but on the green sign is says something about trolleys. GREAT! A trolley is a buggy (a la Ohio), or as anywhere in the U.S., a shopping cart! We found the trolley park (which wasn’t much of a park at all, but it there was a lot of green :p).

The guy picks us up, but wouldn’t let us in the car until we verified the password. What’s the password to get into a taxi in Sussex? “Jason,” apparently. I said my name and then he let us in his car. We asked where he was from and he made us guess… finally, he said “I’ll give you four choices: India, Bangladore, something else, and Pakistan.” Turned out he was from Pakistan! “I heard that Indians and Pakistans (who share a border) don’t like one another?” “Oh, the people like one another, but the governments don’t.”

I tell you what, this kid was awesome to talk to. He talked to us about countries, religions, tolerance, the Quran, etc. all in the short four mile drive back to the temple accommodations. It was entertaining and educational.

We got back fairly early (7 or 8) and I’ve been catching up on email and my blog, the Trio is chilling watching netflix or something… here are my impressions of England so far:

The driving doesn’t work in my brain. I see cars coming at us in the right lane, and it feels like we are going to crash.

The power adapters are unique. That means they don’t work with the power adapters we got in The Netherlands (and which should work for the rest of our trip). Luckily the reception desk here has a box of loaner adapters, so we plug in the UK adapter, put the EU adapter in that, then put in our US adapter.

They say “miles” and other non-metric things here. It feels weird and out of place, but it’s cool because we know exactly what it means :)

They are very nice. We’ve stopped to talk to various people and everyone has been really nice. Surprisingly, at the last grocery store when I said something to the cashier (who must have been all of 16 or 17 years old) she replied in delighted shock “Oh! You are American!!?!!” I wasn’t sure what that meant to her, but it wasn’t bad.

People here say things that I haven’t heard elsewhere. Like “howdy doody,” which is not a TV show but an actual greeting, “cheerio” which means goodbye (maybe hello sometimes) and is not referring to Cheerios, “brilliant” which makes you feel really freaking smart but it isn’t meant as a compliment saying that you are smart, “chuck a left” which means turn left, not throw anything…

Also, the accent is so very amazing, charming, cool, etc. It’s interesting to try to listen to an accent and see where someone is from (my guess is: England, or Not England, although I’m sure locals can get it down to specific regions). To hear people drop letters in words is really fun… it’s something that is super annoying in Spanish (like in the Dominican Replublic and Puerto Rico, but that’s just because I haven’t mastered those regional pronunciations), but here it’s just really, really cool.

So that’s it… it’s after 11pm here, and we’re headed to bed. Tomorrow we should be going to the beach, we hope. Apparently it’s pretty popular here, although I thought all English beaches looked like this: english_beach

#Europe2017 Day 8: Antwerpen to Brussels to London to Frustration!

Friday, May 26th, 2017

No pics for this day until I get my phone back :(

We got up early (9:30? Felt very early considering the 2am bedtime!) and my first job was to figure out how we were going to get to the Brussels airport.

I regret not looking at this before I got a flight, as the train from Antwerp to London is really inexpensive and it would have been so easy to do (not worrying about get-there-two-hours-early and then go through customs at Heathrow… yuck!). We already had to get on a train anyway… why not just ride it all the way out??

I think the travel agent gets paid for flights, but not train reservations. So we spent hours and hours doing plane stuff (for a 50 minute flight). Live and learn. Here’s what the train ride would have looked like…. just a little more than 3 hours total:
antwerpen_london_train

We had a short train ride to Brussels, where some LDS missionaries were injured (along with 32 murders). Terrorism is so disgusting. It was an airport, but it was also a bit of a somber experience to be there.

Good thing we got there like 3 hours early… the line was long and seemed to not move at all. There was one, sometimes two, people at the British Airways desk. There was a couple of older Spanish ladies in front of us who finally made it through the line, only to be told “you got in the wrong line, so get in line again so you can go to the next desk over.” I thought that was horribly poor customer service but hey, I speak up and I might get on a plane to somewhere bad :p

When they got to the desk again one lady spoke Spanish and the impatiently frustated BA employee said “Ma’am, this is Brussels. We speak Flemish, French, and English, NOT Spanish!” Poor Spanish lady. She finally made it through :/

There was an English chap behind us who we got to talking to. His advice about food: “Order fish and chips, but let it sweat for 10 minutes before you eat it. It’s much better that way.” All I could think of was this phrase: fish_chips_sweaty

The other thing he said was that no, Londoners are not stuck up, and they aren’t necessarily rude or hurried. They are just “reserved, and you might get ignored a lot.” Got it. I won’t take it personal now that I know that :) He was a very nice guy to talk to, really.

Once we got our boarding passes and checked our luggage we split up for food. William and I went to this great very common restaurant called Panos. They ate there the day before and said it was awesome… the sandwiches were already made and prewrapped, and I was kind of thinking “gross, I want FRESH.” But the label said it was made only 15 minutes earlier… and there were no other choices, so we got our 4.50 euro sandwiches and let me tell you: HEAVEN. They were SO, SO good.panos_logo

The girls went to the other place that was more healthy looking… but they got the same thing (a sandwich) and couscous and pineapple. All of it was so good (we were very hungry, and it was already after 1pm). I think it was around this time that David, our Airbnb host, had agreed that we could stay at his place. This was the beginning of our nightmare… we didn’t know what was to come, we just knew that once we landed we would have a place to call home :) “How do you recommend we get to your place?” “Oh, take this tube to Mile End, then get on bus 339.” “Great… how long will that be?” “About 1.5 to 3+ hours.” WHAT??? Where were we going, the U.S.???

We head to our gate, B5, and wait, and wait, and wait. I got some post cards from Brussels (even though we didn’t tour there, but hey, it was Belgium), and soon enough we were boarding our plane. We were in the very back, but it was amazing to be in a place where everyone spoke only English! So far everyone has, but there was always a lot of other foreign language sounds in the background. I think we all still felt like foreigners, though.

I slept most of the flight, but woke with enough time to look out the window over England. You know, like that scene in Princess Diaries when they fly into Genovia, and see the castle? It was almost exactly like that, except I was in the back row of a commercial plane, I didn’t see any castles, and I wasn’t newly minted royalty.

But at least we’d soon be in the comfort of David’s home, right? (wrong)

We got off the plane and walked from corridor to corridor, going down a very long escalator, to the train that would take us to customs and baggage reclaim (not just claim, but reclaim!). When we get to customs we see a huge, thick line, and think “oh crud. But surely they will get us through quickly. This is a big airport that must have a great system!”

The great system was five or six customs agents for about 1,000 people in our line. There was a drop of molassas on the ground that was moving faster than we were… ugh. That’s okay, bonding time. We were in the line with a lot of non-EU people… that is, people from all over the world. No one was talking, but there were people sporting all kinds of fashions.

Finally it was our turn, and we all went together (because we were a group). “When are you leaving London? (On the 31st) Where are you going? (Paris) Have you bought your flight tickets to Paris yet? (No, we are taking the tube under the channel). {Look of incredulity} You mean the train? I don’t know what it’s called but whatever goes under the channel. Do you have your hotel reservations for Paris? Yes. What kind of entrepreneur are you in America? You mean job seekers, who don’t have any money, have you pay for your site? Isn’t that hard for them?

All the questions are so interesting… they really want to get in your business, but I don’t get the rhyme or reason. Really, though, this guy was nice, pleasant, and refreshing, especially after being in line for somewhere around 90 minutes.

From there we go to get our bags. There was a trainstation sales guy selling tickets on our way, so he sold us tickets to Paddington Station, which is where we would get the train to our Airbnb flat. It was 100 euros, which felt very expensive at the time (and even more expensive once I realized it was only a few stops down the line).

Then, down the super long escalators to our baggage (re)claim #5, and ours are some of the last few bags in the area. We grabbed our bags and, with tickets in hand, somehow figured out exactly how to get to the train (it’s not obvious for first timers). We situated our luggage, grabbed our seats, and just took it all in. How weird to be in England, with all the English speakers and signs in English!

A guy next to us leaned over and in a New York accent (the tough guy accent) said “There’s an app you guys need. It’s awesome. It’s CityMapper… it will tell you where to go, how to get there, and prices for different ways of getting there. You need to get it.” It was awesome… it was like being in Silicon Valley and the entreprenuer was telling you to download his app. But this wasn’t this guys app, he was just excited about how cool it was.

William and I chatted with him for the entire trip… he’s a very nice guy, having only been in London for three months, after spending most of his career in NYC. We talked about 9/11, his family, his work, and he asked us if we were Mormon. He asked William about his mission that he’ll serve, and where he wants to go. Turns out he had some clients in SLC, and he knew about the LDS church and missions, and was really respectful about it. This conversation was a great part of our trip!

After we got to Paddington Station the whole world opened up to us… there were apparently 16 platforms to take trains to everywhere you could imagine. We were looking for a train to Mile End, and after walking around and looking at self-help ticket kiosks, I finally found a ticket office and got some help. “Just buy these tickets (5 euros each), and it’s a direct train to Mile End. Go to … well, let me draw you a map (which was almost in 3d)….” I got a map, not to scale, with explicit instructions, and we were off again… looking for platform #16.

We walked this way and that way, turning here, up the escalators there, then down the lift, and finally made it to… some platform with no numbers. It had names, but no numbers. “Excuse me, we’re trying to get to Mile End. Is this the right place?” Yes, get on this train right here, and don’t get off until you get to Mile End!

Wow, what luck… a nice guy in London who was helpful, and the train was right there!! We loaded on, with all our luggage, and started our trip. It took us a bit to figure out what the maps meant, and where we were, and if we really where on the right train or not, but eventually we figured it out. Yahoo!! We were getting so close to getting to David’s Flat!

Until… a snag. We were only about three stops away from Mile End, and then our train turned and we realized were were on almost the right train, but now it was doubling back! Get off, fast, now! We got off, and at the train station asked a guy who said that he gets this question all the time. We were at the right platform, but got on the wrong train. There were two trains, and we should have gotten on the other one. The easiest way to fix this would be to go up the stairs (with all our luggage, which was feeling heavier now) and walk a few minutes to the next station (Aldgate East, I think).

Doh!!

By this time I think it was around 7:30 or so. We had had hardly any food and were exhausted, and now David, our host, was complaining that we weren’t at his flat. He was going to have a friend meet us, and then he lectured us for choosing him last minute, and that he had a meeting until 10pm…. it got worse from there.

We decided to get some food because we were about to fall over, and found this awesome street (whitecastle and Osborn St??) with lots of curry restaurants. We went to one that looked like a hole in the wall, but was really, really excellent (and that’s not just because we were hungry). The Travelling Trio had curry and I had some kind of chicken naan taco sandwich thing. It was SOOOOO GOOOOD.

At this restaurant we found out that David, our once-gracious host, was fed up, that we made him miss a business meeting and deal, and it was all our fault, and his phone died, and blah blah blah our fault not his, and we had to call airbnb to cancel because we were just horrible, and how could we not have been at his flat an hour earlier (we were easily a 35 minute uber drive away).

Seriously. It is 8pm in London and our stupid idiot host who was going to cash in on us for just occupying a couple of beds freaking cancelled our plans. Who does that? Seriously, now we are stuck in who-knows-where-London, it’s after 8pm, and we have nowhere to sleep. Now what?

I call Airbnb and talk to Jack, who then calls David (good luck with that, I bet he’s going to (a) lecture you and then (b) dump on you about how horrible we are and how we made him lose money on his business deal), and then calls me back 30 minutes later (it’s starting to get dark now)… yep, David doesn’t want us to come. And, my girls absolutely don’t want to stay at his house… he sounds like a creep and the way he’s treating us proves he’s a real jerk.

So Airbnb escalates us. “I want to call David, to see if I can save this reservation.” I bet you do, but Jack already tried. “Just talked to David, and we are going to cancel this… but it will be hard to get you a place for tonight.” Huh… so what are we supposed to do, put out a cup and beg on the streets of London tonight?? “We’ll call you soon.” Okay, I’m not going to hold my breath, last time soon was 30ish minutes.

So, we call an uber from the super-awesome restaurant on Curry Row (not the official name of the street) and get in for a 1+ hour drive to the LDS London Temple (which is one hour south of London). We’ll stay there the night. Didn’t know you could do that? This is one of the temples that has “accommodations,” which are rooms with two small twin beds to accommodate the families and youth groups that come to the temple from far away. Kind of like us :) london_temple_welcomelondon_temple_night

The uber cost about $75. That was not money we had planned to spend, and we were getting in much later than planned, and were tired and hungry. But I’ll tell you, once we got to the Temple, and into the Accommodations building, it was so peaceful. Gentle, safe, quiet, no stress. We were here, and we could rest. And tomorrow, we would do our laundry and that would be so amazing (to have clean clothes).

Oh yeah, I gotta tell you about our Uber driver. He is William from Congo. He’s been in London for 25 years, has three kids, and was delightful. Spending an hour in the car with him, you learn about the man. His primary language is French, and he gave us French lessons! It was really a lot of fun.

So, what a day. To top it off, I left my phone in William’s car. When we got to the temple we got out and started to unload our luggage while I was thinking about how we were going to get in the gates (which were closed). There was no one around… hm, are we sneaking in? Are we climbing the fence, and throwing our luggage over? Are we sleeping on the lawn outside the gate until morning? One of the Trio went to the intercom and pushed the button… yeah! The security guard was there and would open the gates. “Don’t worry about the luggage, we’ll just walk from here!”

Needless to say, it was a little bit chaotic, and in the hustle and bustle my phone stayed on my seat. I really, really hope to get it back because it has some pics I want. We have a few more days in town, so hopefully I see my phone again. Otherwise… adios :(

The trip continues tomorrow, after we are well-rested!

#Europe2017 Day 7: Antwerpen 3 (last preso, and last walk around)

Friday, May 26th, 2017

NOTE: I don’t have any of my own pics because my phone is, um… well, it’s on the passenger seat of the uber we took last night. Oops!

I got up around 9:30 or 10:30 (maybe it was 11:30??) and got ready, then went down to the lobby to see if there was a shuttle coming for the Techorama conference. I hadn’t seen an email about it but the night before I heard they would do hourly shuttles. I met a guy outside who was also a speaker waiting for the shuttle, and within minutes we were on our way. He was from Germany with terrific English, and we had a fun chat on the 10 or 15 minute ride to the event center.

I was again so impressed with how amazing this conference was run. All by volunteers, and for 1,500 people. Here’s a pic of the front of the theater… it was HUGE:ant_kinepolis

I made my way to the speaker’s room, which was a quietish area like a college library. People were working on their next presentations, and sometimes the nervous energy erupted in loud chatting, joke telling, story telling, culture comparing, etc. Being in a speaker’s room is pretty amazing, where you are with experts in their field, many of which are seasoned speakers and travelers, with incredible backgrounds and stories.

My presentation on Personal Branding for Geeks was coming together, and I was mostly finessing the slides so every color, font, animation, etc. was perfect. This has turned out to be one of my most favorite presentations!

I didn’t have breakfast (it closed at 10am at the hotel), and the only food in the speaker’s room was brownies, some kind of cake with jelly on top, and Belgium chocolates. There were sodas and water in the fridge, but interestingly the fridge was not really turned up… it was just a little colder than room tempurature. I like my drinks cold cold… not warm cold :)

Lunch was pizza… there were other things but that was the only thing that grabbed my attention. I was on at 4:30 and knew I needed to eat, but wasn’t feeling like eating.

The next few hours passed quickly, with preparing and chatting with the other speakers, and then at 4:30 I was on again wondering if my audience would be me plus one other person. The day before I had maybe 15 or 20 people… ten minutes before my presentation I had about ten people already! That was a big change! It’s amazing how the title of a topic will have an impact on the audience you draw.

Here’s my facebook post about preparing: antwerpen_fb_post_preso

By the time I started, I had about 50 or so people, and others trickled in during my presentation. The day before was a quiet audience (apparently standard for Europe, and I heard it got quieter the further south you went), so this time I did audience involvement right away: “let’s stereotype! What can you tell me about the people in these three countries, which I’m about to visit?” Boy, that got it started! People had a lot to share about the French, Italians, and Spanish! More importantly, it set the culture of my room, and it was a chatty, contributing group during the whole presentation! Awesome!

It’s always fun to get positive feedback… here are some tweets that the audience sent out: ant_twitter_koenant_twitter_sizing_servers_lab

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It’s been a long time since someone has tweeted about my presentations, so that was nice… thanks to all that went to my sessions.

After the session I got to talk to some attendees, which was cool. Most of the attendees were from Belgium, and I’ll tell you, this is a very smart bunch of tech professionals. And really quite nice. It’s amazing what the world of work looks like now, with people able to work with customers around the world.

I went outside to grab the speaker shuttle back to the hotel… it wasn’t there yet, and a few speakers went in a cab to the hotel. I’d wait for the next one, with my friend Pinal Dave from India… “it should be there in a few minutes.” I think “a few minutes became an hour” of standing around. But the conversation was great. It was really good to catch up with Pinal, who does amazing things with databases, specifically optimizing them. I love his business model and his customer focus, and learned a lot from him. We talked about country and cultural differences, and he told me about some of his adventures in getting visas to travel from India (really hard to do, to some countries), and he educated me on the finer points of the British colonization of India, from an Indian’s perspective. Very interesting.

When I got to the hotel the Travelling Trio was there, waiting for me. I think it was around 8pm… and we set off to check out the castle. “See Castles” was #1 on my list in Belgium, since they supposedly have the highest number of castles to square miles in Europe… but I was doing conference stuff the whole time so far. So the kids had waited to see this one with me, which was cool.

We walked about a half hour through town, passing a bunch of closed stores and restaurants (which all apparently closed at 6pm), and got into the heart of old town, where everything was open, and lots of people were enjoying dinner. It really was amazing to go through the streets surrounded by huge, old buildings… I see pictures of this type of things from my friends (and even from this trip), but being here, with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years of history, is so amazing. Here are some pics from William (can you see how different the buildings/architecture is than from The Netherlands??

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We got to the castle, which was really quite small, and had a (closed) restaurant inside, but were able to walk around the outside.

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On the other side of the castle was some kind of walkway, along the river, and there were plenty of people lounging on the edge of the river on a cement wall about 10 or so feet from the water. It was relaxed and jovial… a chill night in Anterwepen. (Not my picture, this is from google images)ant_behind_het_steen

We saw a huge sailboat that looked like a pirate ship, and there was some Japanese celebrity that was being filmed for part of a documentary about Van Gogh (apparently he lived in Antwerpen for three months), and got lots of pics. The kids did their dance twice… once on the walkway and once in the courtyard of the castle. It was fun and funny :p

Here are a couple more cool pics from William:william_ant_sunsetwilliam_ant_church

We wound our way home and got in around 10:30 or 11… much later than normal, but it was my only two hours walking around Belgium! When we got in I needed to see if we could find closer hotel/arrangements to where we wanted to be in London. Turns out flying into Heathrow is not ideal because it’s on the far north-west corner, away from the city… and we were planning on staying at the LDS London Temple accomodations, which are about 40 miles south of London (perhaps a 1.5 hour trip from Heathrow). Yuck :( And, what we learned in Amsterdam was the further we are from where we want to be, the more it would cost to get there (like, hundreds of dollars!).

So, that night I spent time on airbnb looking for a place. I found two, and narrowed it down to one… one that would be about 20 minutes by train into town. That was fast, inexpensive, and convenient.

My experience with airbnb was NOT fast or convenient. Long story short, I stayed up until 2am trying to get my account set up, with my passport and then drivers license pictures…that was a nightmare! Their phone app to take pics is not intuitive at all, and using my laptop camera proved to be a mess…. the pics got rejected multiple times, and I was getting more and more tired/frustrated. What should have taken five minutes took hours, and I needed to get to bed!

Alas, I got the account set up and the reservation done, and hoped that Dave, our host, would reply when when woke up saying that yes, we could stay at his place. Then, me and William went to bed (the girls were already out by that time).

It was a long and rewarding day. My presentation went great, I got great feedback, and I was done with worrying about it. Walking the town with my three European besties was fun, and I finally felt good about the accomodations for the next six nights in London.

Bedtime! (morning came way, way to early!)

#Europe2017 Day 6: Antwerpen 2

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Today my alarm (and William’s too, as a backup) went off at 6:30 am (which is, I think, 10:30pm back home… OUCH). It hurt. I showered and got dressed, then got by laptop and headed down to the hotel breakfast. If you haven’t had a European breakfast in a hotel, you are in for a treat: meatballs, various slices of deli meats and cheeses, croissants, I think savory (not sweet) ebelskivers, and a few other odds and ends. Fortunately they had scrambled eggs, sausage, and some grayish sausage (I passed on that), as well as yogurts and granolas. I only had about ten minutes to eat before I had to catch the speakers bus to the event center…

at 7:30 I hurried down to the lobby (one floor below the restaurant) and met up with the other speakers, only to find out that the owner of the bus driver had been arrested the night before, and all of his bus services were frozen. The conference organizers are AWESOME, and so the Plan B they came up with was to walk about a city block (or two) to a line of taxis that they had called… I’m sure the taxis made out pretty good, as there must have been about fifty of us that needed rides immediately to the event center!

The event center is at a huge movie theater… which meant that the presentations were in front of a huge screen. That was a first for me… I’ve spoken in business buildings, churches, conference centers, even homes, but never had I spoken in a movie theater :p

The speaker’s room was nice but full… so I went to an empty theater and polished my presentation. That’s how I roll… no matter how “done” I am, there’s always more to tweak. I was feeling the effects of jetlag, and a little worried about whether I would be able to make it through my presentation (in about 2ish hours, at 11:30 am). The first presentation I watched was on data visualization (check out the topic below… this was a great topic for a European presentation) and kind of succumbed to a shuteye a few times. Man, I was tired.

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Next was my presentation… I finalized this presentation concept at the University of Utah recently and was surprised at how I had planned to do Part A (on the foundational and must-do things in LinkedIn), and then Part B (going to LinkedIn and poking around). In an hour, I didn’t have any time to do Part B! I think this is my most solid LinkedIn presentation so far, and it’s not the whole thing I would do. Anyway, that’s what I did here, and it turned out to be a great presentation.

Oh, and check out my new look:

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After my presentation it was 12:30, and lunch time. There are around 1,500 attendees here, and the food was served kind of buffet style amongst the vendor booths. It was super, super crowded. I waited until about 1:15 and finally got a burger and fries (fries were arguably invented here, and you can get them almost anywhere… you put a few spoonfuls of mayonnaise (or ketchup, but most have mayo) on top of them, and then stab at them with a little wooden spear (so you don’t get your fingers greasy). So yeah, I finally had my fritas experience!

I went to a table with a guy who looked really young, but he has a 13 and 11 year old, and he “even got married later in life.” He could have passed for 25, seriously. Turns out he plays the trombone in three bands, and his wife plays the trumpet, and his kids both play. Was very cool to chat with him about Belgium and his life here. “Do you watch movies?” No, especially since having kids… no time! He was a delightful guy, and taught me a bit about the history and culture of Belgium.

After that I headed to the shuttle to go back to the hotel to get ready for tomorrow’s presentation. I have a “speaker’s dinner” tonight at 8pm, and then will likely head to bed to get some sleep before I have to get out tomorrow. Luckily my presentation is at 4:30pm, so I’ll have time tomorrow for my ppt tweaks.

So, what did the travelling trio do today, you ask? Their own thing, on their own.

Apparently they made it to breakfast, and then they set off to explore the city. They had a list of things to see withing a twenty minute walk of the hotel, and of course went back to the bakery from yesterday and tried new stuff, as well as took a nap (again) in the park :) I haven’t heard anything else, but here are some of their pics:

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#Europe2017 Day 5: Antwerp (1)

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Today we got up “early” (me at 8, Ellie and William and Sam by 8:30) and packed and were downstairs waiting for our Uber to the bus station by 9am. It hurt so bad to wake up that early :/ So much for coming here early to get over jetlag!

Sam had packed the night before so she had time to make us PB&J sandwiches. The bread here is “soft in the middle, but really hard on the outside.” I settled the hotel bill and then printed the bus tickets (thank goodness! There wasn’t really a “station” to print tickets, just some benches on the sidewalk! Come prepared!) We got to the bus station to take our Flixbus to Antwerp. It cost a whole 16 euros per person… this was the cheapest travel day we had yet! We got on a double-decker bus, like below (no, I didn’t not take that picture :p), and since we could we went to the second floor. It was fun being so high up.
flixbus_image

At the bus stop we met a couple of engineers who had just graduated from somewhere in or around Canada. They were really cool. They are spending 2.5 months in Europe, then will spend 2.5 months in Southeast Asia… truly “backpacking” around Europe (nothing more than one backpack each) and staying at hostels. It’s fun to meet all of the world travelers (and (a) realize that we are world travelers, and (b) realize that they will likely not meet any or many others from Utah (which according to one uber driver is by Alaska (yes, a little south of Alaska) and by another driver as by Washington D.C. (yes, just a little west of Washington D.C.).

This is a picture from our seat before we left. It’s looking down one floor/story, and into the whatever-it-was station:
eur_amst_last

The bus ride was delightful, the country side was fun to watch, but the eyelids were too heavy! I napped a couple of times on the bus… and then 2.5 hours later we arrived to Antwerp. It took about 10 or 15 minutes to get through town, and my first impression was that there is A LOT of construction going on here. In Holland we say new-age windmills (and like three old ones), but Antwerp’s skyline was filled with building cranes:
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Finally, we got to the bus station in Antwerp (or, as they say, Antwerpen). We got off the bus at this amazing building (I think this is the train or subway station):antwerp_welcome_building

First thing? “Ellie, call us an Uber!” So she pulls up Uber, puts in our destination, and we quickly find out that… there are no uber services where we were!!! WHAT??? How will we live? How will we ever get to our destination??

Fortunately, our hotel (the Lindner) was very close to where the bus dropped us off… I think one kilometer. Once we figured that out we used Ellie’s phone and Google Maps to get us to the right place. Whew! Crisis averted!

I should note that William suggested I put my laptop bag in my suitcase and then he pull that, while putting his dufflebag on top. Easy for him, and super duper easy for me (I just carried his camera bag). That was really awesome considering my ankle was feeling tight.

On the very short walk to our hotel we walked by the diamond district… apparently diamonds is big business in Belgium, and there were plenty of stores where we could stock up on these rocks. When I say “we,” I mean “other people,” as per this sign:eur_ant_day1_very_rich

We were a couple of hours early and our rooms weren’t ready yet… here’s a pic of my travel companions waiting for me to get the logistics figured out… see a theme here (“When I get to the hotel, the first thing I do is (a) get on my phone, (b) get on my phone, or (c) get on my phone) :p
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We set out to explore the city and get a proper lunch. What do you eat on your first day in Belgium? Chinese, of course! Ellie found a Chinese restaurant online and we started walking. Two things struck out at us: First, this was a different city with different architecture than Amsterdam. Second, the neighborhood we walked in was the Jewish neighborhood… lots of orthodox Jews walking and biking around. To see this neighborhood rich with Jewish families and people was really a neat experience, especially thinking about the history from WWII, and how the Jews were treated. <-- understatement Here's a street view of our walk (turns out Ellie is a naturally fast walker, while my ankle has really slowed me down):eur_ant_day1_streetshot

The restaurant was, how do you say, EXPENSIVE! Sweet and sour chicken was seventeen euros (and it was really a serving big enough for one person (and, the sweet and sour was very different)) and noodles and vegetables were eight euros (that was really, really good). By now we all knew not to order water (you get a very small bottle for 2.50 euros)… Here’s a funny view from our table… see what’s in that van? LOL

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SIDETRACK: I am actually writing this the next day (surprise!). Today I was at the conference (more on that in the next post) which is at a movie theater / event center, and Despicable Me had a trailer playing… I realized that if you live in Europe and people with strong Russian accents, the “bad guy” isn’t as funny as he is in the U.S., where the accent adds a lot. Around here there are so many accents that it’s not anything special or weird.

Back to Antwerp… we were still hungry so we went to the bakery that we had passed on the way to the Chinese restaurant. This was smaller and not as fancy as the bakeries we say in Amsterdam, but man the food was GOOD (and inexpensive!)! Here’s a shot: eur_ant_jewish_bakery

The person working there was like a few of the main characters in Fiddler on the Roof mixed together. She was explaining what we could order and it was… like a line out of the movie :p She was also the first one to know anything about Utah (“Are you Mormon?” she asked), because she is from the Bronx. “Why did you move here?” “The great matchmaker” she said, nodding up to the sky. It was really delightful to chat with her about the neighborhood, and her Jewish faith (“a lot of laws!”). She explained what kosher is, the killing of animals, never eating pork, etc. and then said “just look it up on the internet!”

She recommended a park a couple of minutes down the road, and we were off again, pastries in hand, to eat and relax while we were waiting for the hotel to get our rooms ready. The town really is delightful, and the history and architecture is amazing. Here’s a cool decoration that became functional with the addition of a doorbell button, right in the kisser:eur_ant_day1_doorbell

The park was really quite delightful, and there were a bunch of people there… from kids (we were right by the cool playground, see pic below) to groups of young adults. I’m not sure what the groups were doing (there was one group of … 13 – 15 year olds? They were playing games, kind of like Red Rover, but it was “steal the red shirt before someone else does,” and another group of 20 something year olds who were in some kind of class (in English) sitting around in a circle for at least an hour).

In this playground picture I like how the design is all aged… like something you’d find in a pirate kids playground – old, warped wood. Neat design :p

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The companeros fell asleep and I walked around the lake (well, I started to, it turned out to never end, so I just doubled back), and then then we headed back to the hotel (just a few blocks away). We were just in time to check in, and then I hung out in the hotel room working on my presentation #1 (on LinkedIn) while the kids did their own things for a few hours: they explored the town and hung out in the other room (apparently taking pictures of themselves with fruit they bought at the corner store that evening – I have no pictures of that :p).

Got to bed late, with only 7 or so hours of sleep before my pesky alarm would wake me up and make me wish I had finished my powerpoint last week :p

It seemed to be a lazy, relaxing day, but after writing all of this it turns out we got a lot in :) eur_ant_day1_lindner

#Europe2017 Day 4: Amsterdam… a day of rest

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

Today was our last full day in the Amsterdam area (we are in a hotel about 10 miles south of the city). We had grand plans… going to church would have cost about $150 in Uber… we planned a day trip to Germany, but all of those dillusions of grandeur failed since we woke up around 11:30am. Church started at 10 (and was like 45 minutes away) and the train to Germany (Cologne) left at 8:30… so, Sunday became a day of much needed rest!

After getting our bearings for a little bit, and eating granola bars and PB&J sandwiches, William and I decided to go on “a little stroll” while the girls went to the pool. Our little stroll turned out to be (by my estimations) a six mile walk. We went through the back of our hotel, past a super delightful farm, in search of the town that was just a few blocks wide, and then on to the massive bay (or, ocean, as I would call it). Here are some farm pics:
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We had to go through at least one gate (there are two that we should have, and a few others around here) because this path is used for (a) employee parking and (b) joggers (or, people like me: slow walkers :p).ant_4_gate

The town walk was really fun, actually. It was SO very different than walking through Amsterdam. There were canals, and we walked on the bike path (there wasn’t a separate sidewalk), but it was a really slow environment compared to the hustle and bustle of the city. We stopped to talk to two or three people who were out taking care of their yards… each chat was delightful. We even went undercover a few times and said “Hallo!” as we passed people. That was acceptable. Waving to people, on the other hand, wasn’t acceptable. For sure they spot tourists as people who wave. Duh.

“Good morning,” I would say to people as we passed them. One guy looked at his watch and then said “It’s three o’clock!” Ah, time to switch to good afternoon, then!

We asked if there were any restaurants in town (it was small, but not too small for a restaurant). “No” was the answer each time. “Are there any markets?” Yes, just go down there, then turn right, then turn right again. It’s by the Pizza shop.” Mind you, that was not a restaurant, according to locals.

We made our way to the market and went shopping for goodies (chocolate, of course, waffer cookies, and lots of fruit… and plastic knives!), double-bagged our food (thank goodness they had bags, the last place only had them for sale), and then walked out to go back home. Of course, we passed a nice-looking cafe with lunch items… apparently that wasn’t a restaurant either. So we found two-non-restaurants that were exactly what we were wondering about :)

The walk back was as delightful as the walk there… through a charming neighborhood with all kinds of history, on a lazy Sunday afternoon. However, we were just going in the general direction of our hotel, not paying too much attention to where we had to go, and we ended up stuck in a new-construction neighborhood with townhouses and new couples moving in to them. “How do you get across the canal?” “You don’t! You have to go all the way around there!” Turns out, we got too ambitious in our shortcut and added another half mile to our walk… we had to backtrack quite a bit… the two tourists carrying bags of groceries.

We made it back to the hotel and I iced my ankle and relaxed a bit, then we went to the French cafe for a reasonably priced burger. The waitress was really cool – I love how they take time to chat with you here. This has been our experience at every restaurant. Here’s the American menu – notice you have to pay extra for fry dips: ant_amerika_burger

When we got back I started polishing my first presentation for the conference, and made travel arrangements to Antwerp. We will leave here tomorrow at about 9am (unless we sleep in until 11:30 again!) and take a bus to Antwerp. The best part is the bus cost less than $60 for all of us… that is really inexpensive compared to the ubers we’ve been taking!

While I was working on my presentations the kids went for a walk back out to the farm (and got the pics on this page). Sam came back and packed, the rest of us will throw our stuff in the suitcases tomorrow morning. We are all still pretty tired… it’s only 10:30pm and the girls are OUT. William is on the back patio chatting with his bestie (Landon).

And that’s it. I’m bushed, and we’re all excited to go to a new country and city tomorrow! Here we come Belgium!!

MISC PICS

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