Live like a local.
If you are familiar with services that provide all the recipes and ingredients for you to prepare the meal intended, you will be able to imagine what I am talking about. When COVID broke out we were introduced to Baked In. All the Pre-measured ingredients delivered to me in a neat little box. Now I possess everything necessary to make the dessert of the month! We did not have any kitchen tools or ability to store excess food because, at the time, we were living in temporary housing and our shipment had not yet arrived from the USA. This is way back in April, so we signed up for Baked In and thought that the premeasured amounts would be of great help. Of course, the desserts were far too big for two of us, so after gaining more weight then we intended, I kept two additional month's boxes and then canceled my subscription. I held onto the boxes waiting for the kids to come, hoping we would bake together.
… it is time to start the frosting. Cole reads out loud, “mix the mascarpone with bag #5, so I do this. We whip it, and again, taste it, and there is no doubt something is wrong, it tastes strange. THAT bag #5 ended up being yeast. Then the light bulb goes off. He had been reading the recipe for the cake but, all the while, using the ingredients for the pretzels. We laughed SO hard when it became obvious. We had to throw away the frosting too. We looked in the fridge and found some cream cheese and in the correct box we found icing sugar… we made an ad-hoc frosting. I hold my head in shame convinced the mistake was the company’s when it was ours and ours alone.
Between our fits of laughter, we did the best we could to finish the cake. …It is true, the cake looks horrible. As we learn to be flexible in difficult times, it becomes crystal clear that joy is not obtained by the result, but in the journey making the sweetest memories.
Take it from me, throw out your recipes. Create your own. You might find that your pretzel cake is just what you were after all along.
I am not alone in anticipating and watching The Crown as soon as the new season came out. It is the history my age group remembers; Margaret Thatcher, violence of the IRA and most of all, Princess Diana, and her tragic death.
We happen to live a few doors down from the school that William and Harry went to for their primary years. Daily, we see the nannies, security details and the occasional parent drop off their children in their extremely adorable uniforms. So, when we watched in Season 4 episode 2 Princess Diana dropping off William at school, we knew, firsthand, of the door to which he was dropped off.
I never realized how isolated Princess Diana must have felt. A friend of mine has children that went to school with Prince William. She tells of her son having play dates together with the young Prince. In fact, she told me once that Prince William was over and he told her that his Grannie was coming to pick him up. As you could imagine, my friend panicked. That would be the Queen picking up her grandson at their home ?!#*!? Oh my, what would she say? What should one do? Invite her in? She didn’t have time to tidy the house, so many things ran through her mind. Of course, that did not happen. To her relief, the security detail dropped off and picked up, as usual. But consider that the playdates were not entirely different than when our own children would have playdates with neighborhood children. And that is the rub. It was different. Of course, you would be excited to have your child be invited over to Kensington Palace for a play date, but would you be prepared to know what to say to Princess Diana when you picked them up? Would you talk about everyday trials and tribulations about parenting with a Princess? You would think she would have nothing in common with you. We falsely attribute having different emotions to people of such privilege. When Princess Diana dropped Prince William off at school and all the mums/nannies were gathered around chatting it up, did anyone reach out to Princess Diana to join in? Of course not. My friend said, nobody even knew the proper way to address her. They all left her alone. Could she have joined the group? Possibly, but we all recognize now, she was dealing with her own insecurities. Besides, the paparazzi would never have given her the opportunity. She did not feel she belonged anywhere. Not at home. Not with her own peer group. And, unfortunately, not with the Royal Family. In fact, it was unclear if she even had a friend with which to blow off steam, to share her darkest secrets, or to laugh till they cried. She was, by definition, as alone as one could get. While Princess Diana carried all that pain alone, we all thought she “had it all”.
David said it reminded him of the pretty girl syndrome in high school. You would never ask out the “prettiest girl” because everyone thought, “she would never go out with me”. Couldn’t she date anyone she wanted? Yet, her “having it all” appearance made her unapproachable, and she was never asked out.
Princess Diana was marrying a mature stranger, who unbeknownst to her was in love with another woman and entered a role she was not sure how to navigate. When I was her same age, I was immaturely balancing university responsibilities with partying and learning how much fun was too much? Is it no wonder she did not have the emotional intelligence needed to succeed? And in time, her compassion and humanity came through and she found her place and her purpose despite everything. It was too bad, nobody understood her. It was disastrous that the paparazzi did not give them their privacy. It is tragic when any human being feels so alone. Princess Diana deserved a better goodbye.
Since we were about to go into another full lockdown, we decided to get out and explore. We started with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Whatever you see or wherever you go, there are pieces of history you pick up that you didn't know before. In my case, lots of pieces.
Covid has been horrible for everyone. However, one silver lining is that there are no crowds. So we were able to go on and behind the stage! The columns that look like marble from afar are actually painted wood and the backstage is as small as it appears!
Now people have assigned seats, but in Shakespeare’s time, that was not a thing. They would cram as many people in as they could! More money! There were also no bathrooms or intermissions then. Our docent explained that most people could “hold it” and so there was no need to use the loo, but if you could not wait the two hours, you would just relieve yourself right there at your seat. Women might have had the advantage due to the long skirts they would wear.
When the play was about to start, they would raise a flag. Townspeople from London would take a barge over to get tickets and a trumpet would sound for people to take their seats. (The City of London banned any theatre INSIDE the city limits. Clearly too many undesirables.) The Globe Theatre is not “exactly” in the same spot as it was originally, but nearby. They did as much excavating and learning about it as they could and then reconstructed it exactly as it had been, which means they rebuilt it with no nails! It is something to see! Anyway, someday we will see a play there. If the theatre can stand the test of time during the Bubonic Plague (it closed 1603-1608 to slow down the spread), then it can get through Covid!
After the Globe, on our way to a quaint pub we had read about, we happen to walk by the Brunel Tunnel Museum. We would have just kept walking except I had just read about the tunnel the night before, and we were curious. It was practically the 8th wonder of the world, an amazing engineering feat -- successfully digging a tunnel underneath a navigable river! Others had repeatedly tried but failed. Marc Brunel’s tunnel was started in 1825 and was supposed to take 3-5 years. Instead, it took 16. Before constructing this tunnel, Brunel had been involved in many unprofitable engineering projects and was heavily in debt. He was sent to a debtor’s prison (where his family could join him!?*#?! Crazy, right?), but Arthur Wellsley recognized that he was too brilliant of a mind to lose, so he convinced the government to clear his 5,000 pound debt (that’s equivalent today to $724,775.00). You may remember Arthur Wellesley as the Duke of Wellington, the man who defeated Napoleon! Anyway, Brunel successfully designed a tunneling shield, a reinforcing wall in which miners could dig, and slowly the shield would be moved forward as the walls were reinforced, creating the tunnel under the River Thames. He had hoped that this amazing achievement would bring trade between the ports, but they could never find a way to get a horse and carriage down into the tunnel. Consequently, it was limited to a pedestrian thoroughfare charging 1 shilling to walk through. The news of the tunnel traveled fast and it was visited by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Within the first 4 months they had over 1 million visitors!
Today we use similar machines for tunneling, and yet 177 years ago this engineering marvel was limited to a tourist attraction. The tunnel, in Brunel’s lifetime, never made a profit or was used for what it was designed for, and so it's possible he never realized his contribution was recognized for its true importance. You can view the original tunnel, still being used, and its brickwork connecting the Rotherhithe and Wapping Stations (metropolitan line) in the rail maze of the underground called THE TUBE. This was a real find and if you have the time, I recommend the visit. Pre-Covid, concerts were performed down in the great hall. I would have enjoyed experiencing that. Maybe another day or another lifetime.
The Mayflower pub, near where the Mayflower would have taken off from, was across the street. They have a marvelous deck on the water’s edge, so we were able to eat outside. You could hear the splashing and slapping of the waves against the pilings. If you can prove you are a descendant from the Mayflower, they have a book you can sign. David should have been able to sign that book, but the documents necessary for proof were destroyed in a fire decades ago. The other fun fact is that it is the only place in England where you can buy a UK and a USA postage stamp. We did not actually challenge this fact and wonder if it is still so. We might have to go back for another pint and a postage stamp.
October 25, 2020 Latimer, Chenies & Chess Valley, Buckinghamshire.
The fun facts of history make an era come alive! Yesterday we took a train and went about an hour outside of London (very last station on a tube line) and we hiked about 7 miles. It was an easy walk, remember there are no mountains. Makes me wonder if the “hike” part comes from the difficulty I came to expect on a hike and therefore I shouldn't use the word here in England? Or if a “hike” is merely a walk for enjoyment. Regardless, it was blue skies, crisp air and we see only the occasional passerby equally enjoying nature. I could not help wondering if this would be our last gorgeous fall day this year, to do such a hike/walk. I hope not, it felt invigorating.
About halfway was the perfect stopping point, libations poured freely. I expect it might have been the case for the last few hundred years, and so we too, drank with enthusiasm. (I did regret this impulsive decision once I needed to relieve myself and there seemed to be only open fields) The Sarrett Church, and its large cemetery, was across the street from the Cock Inn.
The Church was built in 1190. William I insisted that any village that had a population of at least 100 people was to have a church built, but it was unclear if the village of Sarrett had 100 people. ”That such a comparatively large church should be built for the small community is unremarkable: agriculture had prospered during the 12th century and God was a dominant influence in people`s lives” But what WAS interesting was that there was a tunnel built between the church and the Pub/Inn. Our server told the story that during the plague there were so many deaths that the church could not handle all the bodies – or could not bury them fast enough. They would use the tunnel to bring the bodies and stack them up in the pub and bury them in the fields in unmarked graves. It is where the parking lot is today. The thought was unbelievable until I realized we are not that much different from 1348. The difference is in 2020 we use refrigerated trucks to keep the bodies until we can tend to them. “The need to find a cure for the plague also prompted people to engage in research and studies using scientific methods. Many experts believed that this helped change people’s thinking and started the momentum toward innovation and scientific research, leading to the Renaissance.” Maybe once Covid is in our past, we, too, can go back to believing in science?
The other thing that made me reflect a bit was passing William Liberty’s grave, 1777 - 52 years old. He was young, but that wasn’t so surprising, we all understand how hard life was in the day. But that having an estate that would be handed down from family member to family member. Having your grave and history stay with the estate for, well, for as long as they could imagine. Today we have nothing like it. More specifically, an ordinary person has nothing like it. David was more shocked that a brickmaker could afford such an estate. Then again, most things were made from bricks so clearly it was lucrative employment.
The walk was glorious. Weather could not have been more beautiful. The trail was a bit difficult to follow, the least helpful clues. A tree might have three directional arrows but with no explanation to where they end up. We’d cross over a stream with a current they’d mark as a "river". We even played Pooh Sticks from the bridge over the “river”.
We only had one hiccup – between the three of us we were unaware that it was daylight savings. It meant that it got dark an hour earlier than we were expecting. It allowed us to view the most peaceful time of day: when the daylight is exchanged for the moonlight. Again, I am reminded how attached I am to our electronics. We did not have an analog clock between us.
Where to begin? How about somewhere totally mundane like the signage in front of our house. Just to clear up any confusion before starting, we live on Chepstow Place. Now in Mid-August, we notice the road crews came by and placed these seriously significant signs on all four corners of our street that say:
ROAD CLOSED FOR PLAY STREET UNTIL SEPT 2020
Yup… they were very visible, and we had no idea what they meant. Our road had plenty of traffic and clearly was not closed to cars. We walked around freely as well as did all the parents and nannies with their children in tow. We expected to “see” something in September that would clear up the big question, “what does the sign mean?”
The obvious, was that the Road would close for the month of September, but no. Then it was clear come September that all the families would come out and play on the street, we were really looking forward to this! Maybe this is similar to a block party in the states? But no. I began to daydream about all the neighbors I would meet. But no. September came and went. And no official closures of any kind. No play. Nothing changed that we could tell.
It was clear the city could not reuse this sign, it had Sept 2020 on it. So, I asked some official looking person if I could have the sign when October came! Afterall, what is more cool than to have a memory of such a ludicrous no closure that was supposed to happen in front of our house? But, nobody I spoke with had the authority to give permission, I had to call the City. Of course, I considered just taking it on the last day of September… who would care or would know? If you are unaware, there are CCTV (AKA video surveillance everywhere!) “THEY” would know, I was not about to just “take” the sign. So, I find out who made the sign and called them. They gave me the council # who paid for the sign and I proceed to call them to ask for permission. I should have known better. Nobody is going to take the time to reply to some lunatic who wants a sign that makes no sense! But WHY can’t I have it? It cannot be used again. So today, Oct 1, I am in luck. I am sitting at the computer and the city’s road maintenance truck is in front of my house collecting the signs. I dart out of the door and up my stairs, my immediacy received some attention because by the time I landed in front of his truck, he was ready to listen with wide eyes as to what could be so important …. The speed in which I tell him all the reasons he should let me have the signs he is picking up made his head spin. I explain they can’t reuse the sign (due to the past date) and that I called the council but I couldn’t get a hold of anyone with any authority, and that there were so many signs nobody would miss one… etc… I was rambling so fast and furious that once I shut up and allowed him to speak, he couldn’t see why either. He was curious WHY I wanted it, and what I planned to do with it, but other than that he was happily searching through the signs to find the sign with the least wear and tear. I’m going to go as far as to say he was amused.
I felt somewhat foolish admitting that I wanted to put it on our bare walls because we thought the sign made no sense. With a smile he tried to explain that it meant - our street was near a school, kids might be at play. I stopped him and said, “Here? In the street? Children playing in this busy street?” he rolled his eyes and said, “yes, it’s possible, they’re called Play Streets” Then I went on to ask, “Why the Date sept 2020?” School is longer than one month. He said he didn’t know the answer to that question! And so there we have it folks. The logic of the British has escaped me again. Maybe I could get a job with the council? My first suggestion would be to place permanent signs up on the streetlamp poles near schools that clearly state: Sept-June School in session, children at play, SLOW THE FUCK DOWN!
I might need to eat a chill pill. I was volunteering today at my favorite charity – plug for London’s book project, and I brought up how poorly this sign was worded, and they all laughed at me. They said that “Street Play” was a THING. And it was not easy to get your street designated as a Street Play, so I should be grateful. I came home and looked it up. Yup, it is a thing. Maybe COVID had something to do with it this year because it was not anything like the video, just saying. But I am happy to think that the effort it took to make my street a PLAY STREET gives me joy. Maybe next year, we'll see kids playing with one another outdoors?
For a matter of time savings, I will get to the point without beating around the bed. “Do you iron your bed sheets?” Yes, you have read this correctly. Your bed linens! do you iron them before putting them on your bed? I laughed when I heard someone said they always do. In fact, I knew I heard her wrong and I insisted she repeat herself. When she said that she most certainly ironed her sheets before placing them on the bed, I asked another woman in the room, “do you also iron your sheets?” She said, “I couldn’t sleep without my sheets being ironed” my mouth dropped open. Again, in total disbelief, I asked all the women in the room, “you too?” and they smiled and said, “of course we iron our sheets and that I shouldn’t knock it until I tried it”.
And so, my challenge alive and well – ironing my sheets. I am passing this challenge onto you as well. I went home, stripped my bed, washed my sheets, let them ½ dry and then, I ironed my sheets before putting them back onto the bed. I was so excited to melt into the bed, knowing that I found the magic that so many of us had not known about. I could not wait to hear David, his cries of pleasure about how comfortable the sheets/bed was. I could not wait to be pleasantly put in my place knowing the Brits had this secret that I was now privy to! Unfortunately, that is not how the story unfolded. My completely scientific data point of ONE… my conclusion was that there is no difference. The important part of bed linens is the high-quality thread count and being 100% cotton.
So, you have heard it from me. When you come to visit, you will be treated as a highly sought-after guest, but you will not receive ironed sheets. This is merely to lower any standards you may have before coming. Please know, we do want you to come, but I will be spending any free time researching what fun we can have and not spending it as a Martha Steward impersonator.
We spent the day in Greenwich. I'll start with the Royal Observatory, and how Greenwich mean time came to be. The overall theory of how critically important time and location is ... well, conceptually, it is mind boggling. There is a red ball on top of the observatory, it has been a working timepiece since 1833... It drops at 1pm because the astronomers were busy with their telescopes with the midday sun ...and it is currently no longer working. The horologist who takes care of this clock has been furloughed because of COVID. I wonder how many people have the skills required to keep this bit of history going? The museum has a fascinating collection of time pieces taking one through the process of how we got to the point we are today. I was also interested in the fact that leaders from across the globe got together to agree to have the official time -GMT, without this respect for science and facts, would this be possible today? Are all the great discoveries in the past? or will pockets of people still believe in the importance of science?
Then we went to the Queen's House to view the art collection. One painting was especially interesting, it was of John Byng. He joined the navy at age 13 and became captain at age 23 and rear admiral at age 40! The story goes that he was court martial-ed for failing to attack the French on Minorca. He and his council decided that the attack would not stop the French and it would be a waste of British manpower. He is the only Navy Admiral to be executed.
"At noon Byng came out on deck in a light grey coat, white breeches and a big white wig. He had been persuaded with difficulty to be blindfolded, on the grounds that it would not be fair to the firing party to have to see his face. He was escorted out onto the quarter deck, ‘with a stately pace and a composed countenance’ according to the Evening Post, to see nine marines in their scarlet uniforms lined up in three rows. The rear row were in reserve. In front of him was a cushion and a heap of sawdust, sodden from the rain.He knelt on the cushion, tied the blindfold round his head and held up a neatly folded white handkerchief in his right hand. After a few agonizing moments he dropped the handkerchief, the six marines fired and the admiral fell gently on his side. He was fifty-two."
I think of this leader and the moral principles he held. He sacrificed his career and life for the life of his men over a battle he knew, after scrutinizing the information he had, they didn't stand a chance in winning.
Then we continued over to see if we could charm our way into the Painted Hall, where we couldn't get a ticket. Clearly, we have run out of charm, but the chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul in the old Royal Naval College was open to the public. It was the adjoining dome and had its own captivating history. First off, you see all over Europe and the UK carved /molded - bas-relief /pediment sculptures - scenes... I always assumed they were made of marble or other natural stone but there was something called Coade Stone... "an artificial stone in the late 18th and early 19th centuries". I can't speak for all or most, but I can say that many of these pediment sculptures were made of Coade Stone. Some fun facts, marble and other expensive valuable stones were taxed heavily. Coade Stone was cheap, and it was not taxed, so became an obvious stone to use when building in this period. What was more impressive is that when you compare the artificial stone with the natural stone, after 200 years the artificial stone holds up better, "virtually weatherproof", and the details are still spectacularly preserved. Granted, I don't have a trained eye, but I would never have known it wasn't a natural material.
These buildings, like so many, were designed by the busy architect Sir Christopher Wren. Used for the longest time as a "hospital" but not like we know of a hospital today, but instead, as a place of rehabilitation and retirement for injured sailors. Closed in mid 1800's leaving it available for use as the Royal Navy college. Our U.S. equivalent would be Annapolis. This shut in 1998 and has been open for tours (pre-COVID) ever since. We could have spent more time here, it was impressive. Another fun fact, the 4 virtues: wisdom, justice, courage, and meekness - each had their own statue leading into the chapel, but they covered the statue of Meekness when it was used as the Royal Naval College because they didn't think meekness was a virtue they wanted to instill in their naval officers. HAHA
The staple of the Sunday roast, the humble Yorkshire pudding is loved all over the United Kingdom. So it was easy to see our disappointment when we ordered our first Sunday roast. Unlike the name, there is nothing pudding like in the carbohydrate at all. In fact, I thought that I must be missing something. Why would anyone choose to eat carb calories with no immediate, obvious gratification? If it doesn’t rise more than 4” it isn’t even considered an authentic Yorkshire pudding! Let's start with a food that is being judged not on its flavor, but instead, its rise.
So, for those of you who have never had proper Yorkshire Pudding, I would describe it as an utterly flavorless, hollow, puff pastry. Using the word PUFF is “giving it unintended interest”. I suppose some would say it is a vessel for one to eat gravy. AKA brown sauce. But that argument doesn’t hold mustard for me because you can put the brown sauce on the vegetables or the meat (or veggie nut loaf in my case) … and once again, there is no need for a flavorless calorie hog like Yorkshire pudding when you might want to try your luck at an Eton Mess after the meal!
What might gain the most entertaining observation is the reaction we get when we ask a server or a British person if they “like” Yorkshire pudding. Unanimously, their face lights up, as if we had asked them something more intimate like: “Tell me about a special family memory that gives makes you happy”. If we had asked that question, we would understand the body language relaxing, the bright smile forming on their faces, even their eagerness to tell us all about their memory. But instead, all those body changes happen, and they say with crazy enthusiasm something so unfathomable such as: “Oh, yes, Yorkshire pudding is one of my favorites! There is something about it that everyone loves.” Then usually it is followed by some, giddy, innocent, OMG, eye roll, and then they tell us, we "just need to try it". And again, we order it. I do not want to give the impression that we didn’t give it a fair shot. We have ordered it on multiple occasions just to make sure we were eating it from an establishment that is known to have good Yorkshire pudding. The conclusion is the same. Please, do not take my word for it, you MUST order it, just to see why it’s so anticlimactic.
Driving on the left side of the road can’t be THAT hard. As long as the wheel is on the inside of the road, it should feel the same, right?
Having a USA driver’s license gives us one year of renting cars without needing a UK driver’s license. That should give us plenty of time to rent cars and get use to it all, or so we thought, before needing to take the UK drivers test. Then COVID happens and our countdown is now shortened to 6 months of learning.
That is OK, we’re not negative nellies! We got this! No time like the present. One of our first vacations (an overnight) Cley next the sea (highly recommend), we decided to rent a car. We are not overachievers, we are realists. We rented an automatic economy car to get use to the left side before having to add driving with a stick shift on the left side (that will take some getting used to).
We also pat ourselves on the back because we thought about driving out of the city and how stressful that might be for the first time, so we rented from a remote airport on our way north. So clever, we thought of everything! However, there are adages for a reason. Best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Bigger isn’t always better. Never underestimate the power of bad ideas. . A day late and dollar short… Unfortunately, these all prove to be accurate.
We arrive at the car rental and they are full of things we didn’t really think too much about. Here in the UK unlimited mileage isn’t as common as it is when renting in the US. “Ok, add unlimited mileage”. Since we don’t own a car, we don’t carry auto insurance. “Ok, add accident insurance”. They have a thing here where they give you an empty gas tank, so you need to gage your driving to maximize returning it as empty as you can. This sounds brilliant. But really it’s only a win for the car rental. Then the kicker comes. “We are going to upgrade your vehicle, free of charge, to a – literally- brand new , not a scratch on the car, automatic SUV”. This sounds too good to be true. We are so comfortable driving large cars. Great. On our way we go.
Today’s world of GPS’ and Google maps, we are set for our adventure.
It is true these roads are narrow, I mean really cramped, no, I mean restricted. Wait, we are in a ginormous 7 seater SUV trying to navigate these poky streets with inadequate experience driving on the left side of the road. What the hell?!*#?! We did this to ourselves. David is driving (doing a mighty fine job) and I am in the passenger side hearing the shrubbery scrape along the side of the, what was once an unmarked car. I turn up the radio to block out the scratching sounds and stop my wrinkled-up face that could be interpreted but not intended as critical.
In the UK your side mirrors fold in. WHY? because, often, when you pass a car if you both don't fold in your mirrors, both of you will regret it. ALSO, it helps when you are fighting with the shrubbery on the side of the road. I'm 100% guaranteed, in the states, i've never used this feature? do we even have it? Here it's just a button you push (fold in/ fold out)
We pretty much survived the weekend, and, on our way home, decide to stop in scenic Cambridge for dinner. We’ve mastered the map and drive into town only to realize we must actually park and get out of this behemoth vehicle. The unpleasantness that passed between David and me make it apparent that we are not having an enjoyable dinner until this car is no longer our responsibility. We immediately left Cambridge and drove back to return the rental hell, I mean car.
Enlightenment that I am issuing to you gratis. You can thank me later. Outside of the USA, when a rental car company up-sells you on a car and is overly eager for you to accept, ask yourself, how does this benefit you? The answer is sure to be, it does not. When you think you want an automatic rental car to make things easier as you learn to drive in another country, ask yourself, what am I giving up by asking for this? The answer is the ability to rent a miniature car, which is what you want, trust me on this. Rent the manual. When you think returning the car empty is easier, meaning you do not have to worry about finding a gas station when you are trying to drop off the car! The answer is, this might be a time saver, but it is a hole in your wallet spewing money. Remember that SUV? It takes a lot of gas! Remember learning about driving in a different country? Gas stations are not on every corner, you don’t want to be stuck, so you fill up the tank when you can. This means you are returning it with money in the tank, that money WAS your money. Remember needing insurance to rent a car? Unlike, the USA, here they inspect that car thoroughly upon your return. Fortunately for us, I think our attendant was not wearing his glasses. Let me conclude, driving on the left side of the road, in the UK, on narrow roads is not for the faint-hearted.
Part II Hanover, Bremen, Hamburg, Braunschweig, Germany - July 29-Aug 2, 2020
If anyone has been to Hanover, then they know about the Nana’s!! I cannot help wanting to sing the song Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye. Sarah and Michele, our niece and her husband, have lived there long enough to show us a Hanover we won’t forget. I think it is a lost city. Yes, it is the capital and the largest city of the German State of Lower Saxony, but with over a million residents it still often gets overlooked. I am glad we had a reason to stop. A super livable city! Easy connections to east/west and north/south transportation, but mostly I think we enjoyed each stopping point as its own point of interest and having a place to regroup. We had time to appreciate what we were seeing. Too often, we rush through cities quickly, you rarely absorb history and then have zero time for a visit. This trip to Germany we really felt connected to our family (Keith and Erica in Berlin and Sarah and Michele in Hanover) AND it was a bonus we were able to see so much of these cities.
Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late. – Benjamin Franklin
My Aha moment was thinking of the Bremen Town Musicians. The Brothers Grimm fairy tale's climax is about the conflict of age and growing less useful. Each animal has become too old to do what was once the core of its identity. I have no unique insight, but it does make me ponder why we limit ourselves and what more could we do if only we saw ourselves through different lenses.
Many people know Bremen for the brewing of BECK’S beer? And maybe I would have expanded my comments to more than a mention if COVID had not closed down brewery tours. Instead, we’ll move onto why one would come to Bremen… its City Hall (UNESCO). It was spared by the bombings of WWII, and still standing nearby is the Statue of Roland from 1404! It is a beautiful city with quirky medieval buildings that allow you to use your imagination as to how it once was. I say this very loosely because the “how it once was” image, must have come with a horrific stench and dirty streets, and today’s reality has you smelling freshly roasted coffee and your eyes pinned on picturesque architecture.
The Marienburg Castle is a gothic revival castle near Hanover. It is exactly the sort of the thing from which fairy tales are made. King George V had it made for his wife as a gift. They had a romance like few kings and queens do. You will need to read all about it to find out why the castle was uninhabited for 80 years. What I found far more interesting was the fact that nobody talks about King George V being blind. And that his father, the king at the time, changed the laws to allow a king to possess a physical handicap and only then could allow his son to be king. The castle was, as you can imagine, stunning. My favorite part were the carved wooden ceilings. As with any family, there are disagreements. Currently, there is a scandal over the ownership of the castle. A juicy read.
Berlin being the largest city, Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany. It is best known for being Europe’s third largest port and maybe despite its disasters and conflicts it still emerged stronger and wealthier after each set back. You can’t miss the modern shiny glass skyscraper resembling the shapes of ships sails - A.K.A. the Opera House. It’s quite impressive and allows for 360 degree view of the city all for only 2 euros. Most people think of Venice as the city of bridges, but they should think of Hamburg. No other city in the world has more bridges. Yes, there were some that were really flippin old, but none were as fun as my favorite, the public face. Supposedly, it’s mood changes based on the facial expressions of the passers-by. We could not tell from where they capture this data, nor did we stick around to see it change, but it did change from the first time we saw it to the next time we saw it.
Can you see the ships sails in the glass?
The damaged landmarks that the cities have left as-is that were bombed out and left as a memorial have really interested me. Seeing the shrapnel damage marks on buildings, seeing the walls and windows blown out, seeing the destruction that comes from war is a constant reminder to the people in these cities. I have not met a European that doesn’t show their outward disdain for our current President and the harm he’s done in terms of increasing global tensions and civil unrest. Would we view current tensions differently if we were reminded daily of what HATE looks like?
“If wars can be started by lies, they can be stopped by truth.” – Julian Assange
There really is no better a way to see a city than to meander by bike. We started our honeymoon – oh, I meant our 28th anniversary – with a chocolate croissant and coffee! Then off to see the city on two wheels. We started by the best Italian guide showing us an Italian shop full of Italian delicacies, but then it went immediately to Gin! Yes, you read that right. It was 10:30 am and we’re at a gin distillery. We asked if they did tastings and the answer was clearly, “No, because of Covid”. We went in and looked around. So many interesting infused gins, but we were not about to buy anything if we couldn’t taste it. The shop keeper says, “Oh, you can taste them”. So, either I did not ask my question clearly, or she meant there were no “tours” being offered. Either way we had fun learning about their experimentation with barrels of gin on an open sea crossings and what the sloshing, sun, and casts did to the flavor profiles. After enough tasting we couldn't really judge the gin anymore, it was time to ride. We saw beautiful huge green spaces welcoming bikers, walkers, and anything in between. We went through interesting eclectic graffiti artists neighborhoods where a self organized space was provided and hosts a youth center for social and cultural work (And of course, there would be cafe's, concerts and clubs if it wasn't for Covid). It gave me goose bumps to see an area that was created by the people for the people. We went over and under bridges, and conveniently ended at a beer garden. It was a perfect way to celebrate 28 years with an amazing man, and lucky me, I get to claim Sarah and Michele as family!
Our last day. I had hoped to see my German relatives while I had fluent speakers to navigate the language barrier, but Covid introduced too great a risk and we must hope for another future opportunity. Instead, we drove to Braunschweig where my niece spent the first 6 years of her years in Germany. These towns all look like they came out of a classic story, this town is no different founded in the 9th century with oodles of interesting history. There is an odd cartoonish building that does not seem to fit in with the cobble-stoned streets that is quite an eye catcher. Now an office building. Close by is the oldest known half-timbered house in Germany 1432! The war left its scar here and they’ve taken great pains to reconstruct the buildings as close to its original. The Braunschweig Palace was reconstructed with a new Quadriga in 2007, they did a great job making it not look a day over 1755. I understand that if you are here in November and/or early December you must come to their Christmas Market. I have it on good report, it’s one of the better ones.
…and there we have it… in the middle of a pandemic you would never realize Germany was going through the same thing the rest of the world was going through. Now back to the UK , slowly things are opening more. People are recognizing the importance of masks, and we all have a pile of masks we wash frequently. I am grateful I was able to see my niece and nephew and spouses before they all move back to the US. Wonderful time was had!
Don't take life so seriously.
I'm Jody. I love to travel. I love to take pictures. I love to meet people and find interesting places. I also love to write about and post pix of what I've found. But, I've been told that I write like I talk - in streams of consciousness. So, if proper grammar and well composed sentences are a must for you - my posts will make you crazy. If you want to follow my journey as I learn about really cool places and offer some great tips about living abroad, read on!