Thursday, May 21, 2009

Assault on Western Europe: Part IV. The French Revolution


Monday, April 13th: Today we drove. It is a long trek from Roubaix to Sanvensa, and just when you think you are almost there, you hop off of the highways and onto country roads. Country roads in France rarely point the direction you need them too and always come in quadruplets (meaning: you’ve got to take at least four of them a long way before you get to where you are going). It is a lovely way to see France though, and Bruce and Alisa sure found themselves a perfectly charming home in the French countryside for their sabbatical. Solid rock, lavender shutters, wood-burning stove, a little bit of rangeland, and a swimming pool. It was so nice of them to share it with us!
Les Costes - Bruce and Alisa's sabbatical home.

Tuesday, April 14th: On the menu for our trip to France turned out to be sleep and food. These are two of my favorite things, particularly when I don’t have to feel guilty for enjoying them. Before we left, I did have dreams about waking up in the morning, hopping on a bike, and riding to the village for bread and flowers. Unfortunately, my sleep patterns were not synching with the French lunch hour (when everything closes), and the weather didn’t want to cooperate either. Never has the adage been truer… “April Showers Bring May Flowers.” Too bad we didn’t get to stay long enough to enjoy the blossoms.

Some shots from a rainy'ish day

Today, after some morning rain, things dried up enough to go explore some climbing areas in the region. First we stopped in Saint Antonin, Bruce and Alisa’s favorite village, and walked around a bit. I, of course, got some Haribo gummy candies at the shop, and we both fell in love with this little town. We approve of the “favorite village” choice!

After St. Antonin, we stopped at a few walls, until Edwards happily found one with a ridiculous approach that he said was perfect… just like a climber would make. At this cliff we met Paul and Lisa, and their German Shepard. Paul and Lisa are two ex-pats who had moved to the area for the climbing. It was excellent to talk to them about their experiences moving to France from Britain. It seems that the language is the first hurdle and then finding work in a country that aggressively protects the jobs of citizens is the second. They were very nice to visit with us for so long, but they clearly wanted to get back to climbing and we hadn’t come prepared so we headed off.
Color-coded routes at Bor et Bar climbing area

Hungry by now, we went back to Saint Antonin and ate at the pizza counter. Really: a window/counter that opens to the sidewalk. I had to muddle through some language barriers having to do with cutting the pizza, how many times to cut the pizza, and whether or not my husband had already paid, but that was fun. The pizza was, of course, delicious. We considered our pizza an aperitif and were already thinking ahead to dinner… Alisa was cooking.

Bruce and Alisa had a marvelous idea to have the couples take turns cooking each night. This is a splendid idea for any kind, hardworking, and unselfish set of couples. Unfortunately, not knowing me, they couldn’t factor in my fear and loathing of the kitchen. Instead of taking turns cooking… we took turns providing meals. Alisa is a wonderful cook and made us amazing dinners. On our nights to cook… we ate out. Fairish, no? Also, we wanted to see and experience French culture and some of the best places to do so are in the restaurants. It was very nice of them to take nights out on the village as a reasonable trade for a home cooked meal (which would have been TERRIBLE if I had cooked it).
Something that doesn't hate rain.

Wednesday, April 15th: Arg, wet again. I think we slept in and went climbing. All the rain was making me disoriented. Of course, finding a dry cliff in the afternoon was a bit of a challenge. When we thought we had, we found wet pockets all over the place. The climbing area was pretty interesting though. Hard and moderate routes that were immediately off the road, behind a bunch of trees, and next to the river. Really not too shabby.
The roadside climbing area

One thing I discovered more fully about myself while we were in France is that unless it is coming down as snow, I really dislike precipitation. Nothing is more depressing to me than rain. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for an afternoon thundershower that dries right up like in the Rocky Mountain West, but the desert in me doesn’t like for things to be soggy.
Penne from the Amiel climbing area.

After climbing a bit, we went to Penne. This hamlet has a medieval castle perched high on the hill. We decided we very much loved Penne, it is so beautiful how could you not? We had un café’ and un the’ au lait at the little lunch place in Penne and met a most friendly German Shepard. He again belonged to some ex-pats. Maybe the only dog they allow to go back and forth between Britain and France is the German Shepard? I’m still bitter that you can’t take a dog with a drop of pit bull blood onto British soil. Poor little Beata, she’ll never see London Bridge!
Edwards' buddy in Penne

After the café’ stop, we went to Amiel, a little cliff that Paul and Lisa had told us about. We only had time for a few climbs, but it quickly became my favorite cliff in the world (this opinion would be amended later).

For dinner, we again found much joy in French cuisine! We had a most fabulous pizza dinner in Villefranche. I had a goat cheese and honey pizza… unbelievably good. (In fact, it inspires me to go get a pizza crust, some goat cheese, and apply some of my raw honey. I think I can do this at home…). Also, we had some lettuce that was out of this world. If anyone knows where to locate tasty butter leaf lettuce in Utah, we are in the market!
Funny climbing area at Bor et Bar

Thursday, April 16th: The weather looked like I might stay dry and while Edwards desperately wanted to get some climbing in, it was market morning in Villefranche. Not to mention, we needed to swing by a sports store and get Bruce some shoes so he could come climbing at Amiel with us.

Oh, the market! Beautiful and crowded. We had a little shopping list and a map for the vendors we needed. With very, very little French in our verbal arsenal, we needed that map to be correct. We found everything we came for (plus some gummy candies) and after perusing just a few shops on the square, and stopping for un café’ and the’ au lait, we headed to Les Costes to round up Bruce and Alisa for some climbing at my “favorite cliff in the world.”
Market Day in Villefranche

That day Amiel was sitting in a banana belt for weather. The hours we were there, we watch countless rain storms wrap around us but leave us dry. Blessed location. The climbing at Amiel is mostly really brilliant. Edwards, of course, found some weird route that was super sharp and ultra un-classic, but called it a classic and made everyone get on it. I don’t know how Bruce endured it with such a huge smile, when I would climb it the next Sunday, I would not be smiling. No matter… this day, everyone had fun.

Friday, April 17th: There was probably more climbing this day, but mostly, there was Cordes. Cordes and Gaillac Wine. If Cordes wasn’t a tourist destination it would beat Saint Antonin for “favorite village”. However, it is certainly up there on the list. French Winery in the Gaillac Region

Before we saw Cordes we went wine tasting, we didn’t do the big tour from place to place, but just went one place and sampled from several wineries. I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of Gaillac wines, but Edwards like them and now has a red Gaillac shirt that I can rarely get him to take off… he’s such a little boy. Despite my not loving the wines, we purchased a couple of bottles to have on hand. You can never have too much wine on hand when you are in France.

After wine tasting it was off to Cordes for dinner. Cordes is picturesque. Lovely, quaint, and French in every way. Not to mention, Edwards was in absolute wonder at the steep, steep cobbles. Belgium has nothing on Cordes! It was at the bottom of town that we found our magnet from France… a tiny toy bottle of Pastis. My well traveled little sister has taught me that magnets are the perfect souvenirs: small and fun to look at. Our magnet collection is growing fast! We ate up at the top of town (one of our few meals we have pictures of). Of course, again, it was delicious! Superb!
Restaurant at the top of Cordes

Saturday, April 18th: “THE SUN CAME OUT FOR REAL!” (This is the only note I wrote for the 18th. I don’t think the sun stuck around, but I must have been pretty excited to see it!)
Obviously, somewhere cool.

We went climbing at Amiel again. I only did 3 climbs, but they were all 5.10s. Later, we went back to the cliff that was sorta dry and right off the road. Here, I got on a 5.12, but it was too hard and I stuck my finger in a hole that was already occupied by something slimy (small frog, slug, deadly eel?). Gross. Let me down! I do not like slimy 5.12s!

That night we had dinner with three of Bruce and Alisa’s closest French friends. Ben, the ex-pat; Ahnka, the German; and Alan, the original Beatnik. Not to mention Alan’s dog, Fenwick! Fenwick was awesome! So much like Ratso, but all black and about a third the size. The company was amazing, the food and ice-cream couldn’t be beat, and the whole evening made me wish two things very much: that we could stay, and that we could speak French!
The Rosetta Stone Monument to help me decipher French!

Sunday, April 19th: Today the rain was back, so Bruce and Alisa took us sightseeing. I honestly must admit to not having any idea where we were. I recognized some of the rock from photos I had seen of them cycling, but other than that… no clue. We saw lots of beautiful country, learned about “plague houses”, and bought our way into the Museum of the Absurd! The pictures speak volumes, but kudos to Bruce and Alisa for being able to speak both French and ART! They gained themselves an invite back in the summer for dinner. Way to win over the “outside artists.” The artist is the man holding his dogs’ butt… again… volumes!

I’m not sure what we ate or did after that. We were all still pretty wrapped up in the Museum. What a tremendous amount of creative energy to walk through and explore.

Because the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain… we decided the next day it would be time to check out the Spanish side of the Pyrenees Mountains.
I know it is sad, but gummy candies really are just my favorite!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Assault on Western Europe: Part III - Hell of the North

Sunday, May 12, 2009

Last year Edwards made one of his infamous, daily, my credit card is already in the system, and online purchases of a coffee table book that later arrived at our house. “What is this?”, I asked. It looked like an overpriced book of photographs taken of muddy cyclists. Is this my husband’s version of porn? “No!” he emphatically refuted me. It’s Paris-Roubaix. It’s awesome! Look at it...

Less than a year later, there we were lining up along the cobbles with the crazy Flemish fans… waiting for muddy cyclists to pedal past. The only disappointment, this year the weather was perfect and the boys were dry.

Slideshow on Facebook... you might have to be a part of Facebook AND a friend of mine to see it.

What is there to say about Paris-Roubaix? Having ridden the cobbles in Belgium, I cannot comprehend how they do it. The cobbles are so jarring on a road bike that they made me black-out when I tried to ride them fast, and my fast is those guys’ get off the bike and walk pace. This one-day race is brutal. Really, really brutal. For the fans though, it is a good excuse to trot out the majorettes and local hack musicians, get drunk on Jupiler, eat brats, and cheer on the obsessive-compulsive pro-cyclists. It’s like a festival for indulgently bad behaviors.

But, when the sound of the helicopter cuts through the air, and you know the riders are on their way, it gets pretty exciting.
Tom Boonen

We started our day at the beginning of the Pave’ d’Arenberg. They say the race is decided by the end of this forest, so we decided to see what things looked like going in. We got there early to partake in the festivities and cleared out as soon as they passed to catch another glimpse further down the course.
Fabien Cancellara

After our roadside stop at Section 13, we headed to the Velodrome to catch the finish. While we were in transit, Thor Husolvd wrecked and Tom Boonen took a commanding lead. The race was his for the third time and thousands of fans cheered him through the finish. We had cheap seats (free) outside the ‘drome. It was great.

After the race, we went back by all the buses and checked out all the bikes. At the bar, there was a toast that past between Edwards and Bruce, and lucky for us, Boonen came through on his bike. I believe Bruce got b*tch-slapped by a guard for patting on the back!

The whole day was truly quite awesome. Go Boonen! (And here’s hoping you get off the cocaine and race again real soon!)
Tom Boonen knows he's the man

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Assault on Western Europe: Part II - The Battle of Belgium


Wednesday, April 8th
The ferry ride back to France was a bust. For some reason, this one carried no scones or clotted cream. Rather unpatriotic, don’t you think?
Classic and Flemish

LAND-HO and it was off for a frustrating and confusing drive to Belgium. Fortunately, we found the town we were looking for; unfortunately it was ten minutes after the Gent-Wevelgem classic bike race ended. To add insult to injury, it started pouring down rain AND (as was to reoccur whenever we split up) we separated for two minutes and lost each other for thirty.
A picture Bruce took of the Gent-Wevelgem Classic we missed.

Reunited, we headed for our hotel in Gent. Bruce and Alisa found it, and though it sounds funny, “The Holiday Inn Express” it was quite nice and very European. When we arrived they were shooting some TV show, or something, and had to ask us to move our car. This woman ran up looking really annoyed and speaking ticked-off French to us. Our blank stares gave away the fact that we had no idea what she was talking about and her demeanor changed when she switched to English and politely asked us to move our car. They speak Flemish in Flanders and we later found out that the offenses of the French against the Flemish have not been forgotten. You do better to speak English in the area than to address them in French.
Our Holiday Inn Express Room. I wish our house was this... Zen.

The bicycle culture in Belgium is a beautiful thing. Half the population gets around on commuters, even in the rain, and they all look quite stylish while they are pedaling. I love it.

The restaurant recommendations from our hotel hosts were ridiculously nice, so we found our own way to the Café du Arts and continued the trend of fantastic food in Europe. Belgium has become know for amazing eats, a village outside of Bruges seems to be all the rage for restaurants. Gent was plenty delicious for us, and when we finally caught up with Bruce and Alisa, they met us at the Café for round two of our dinner. Fantastic.

Thursday, April 9th, 2009
Bruce and Alisa are very relaxed travel companions and kindly let us sleep in as late as we liked. Edwards got up before me and headed downstairs for breakfast and café. The three of them met this awesome couple - husband works for Sram bike components and wife just loves to ride her bike - who taught them all about Belgium (because they’ve been coming to the Spring Classics for 8 years) and gave them some tips on watching Paris-Roubaix.

After I finally emerged we headed out to pick up a rented bike for me and then to tour the classic climbs on the cobbles. Once we found Jowan’s Bike Shop, the boys and girl were in heaven. I might have been, had my bike not been a ridiculous 1970’s color orange, but I was alone in this opinion. Everyone else loved it.
Jowans Bike Shop.

We all took off on our bikes only to face around the first corner one of the steepest climbs of our ride. At least it wasn’t on cobbles, but… ARG! I’ve been sitting on the back of the tandem so long I’ve lost my technical riding ability. Trying to balance my bike up that hill was a mentally crippling challenge. What was I going to do on the cobbles???

Bruce, Alisa, and Edwards are all much faster riders than I am, and I’m stubborn and had no intention of keeping up. More than ride my bike… I wanted to see the country. Edwards would just have to wait for me at important intersections. Phhhhttt!
Someone... on the cobbles.

For Edwards, finding the first cobbled climb in Belgium was like striking gold in Alaska. So cute my husband is! He rode them fast and got WORKED. I rode them slowly and bumped along. We toured around between proper pavement and cobbles until we reached what Edwards was really looking for… 20% incline cobbles… The Koppenberg. Alisa rocked it almost to the top and then took pictures. Bruce had his back tire slip and was toast, just below where Alisa was standing. I hopped off early and Edwards climbed the whole thing… with a huge smile on his face. Man on a mission, he loves the cobbles.
Alisa rockin' the cobbles

After the climb, it wasn’t far to Oodenarde for a snack, tea, and café.

The ride back to our vehicles was torture. Flat, but maybe windy and further than I expected for sure! Edwards came back to let me draft, but I couldn’t keep up. Finally we got back to the bike shop and the cars. Jowan himself came out to see how we did. It was super nice of him and Edwards was thrilled.

Showering back at the hotel was a miracle and at 10 p.m (soon after returning from our ride) we headed out for dinner at Amadeus. Amadeus is an All-You-Can-Eat Ribs restaurant that looked NOTHING like our rib joints in the U.S, but still looked ridiculous. We all enjoyed our meals, and left at midnight completely exhausted, but happy. It was a marvelous day.

Friday, April 10, 2009
Lazy morning, again, but poor Edwards woke up with a sore throat and a mounting cold. Terrible for him, but it means I got a rest day without having to ask! We poked around, even took a 20 minute nap, and finally decided to leave the bikes and go climbing.

We drove towards Luxembourg and I wished a whole lot that we could go there. There is a long standing joke between me, my little brothers, and MST3K about Luxembourg. Sadly, before arriving in Luxembourg we found our cliff… just to the side of an old castle, now army base, there was a very polished limestone cliff covered in routes.

The first couple of routes were quite nice and it felt excellent to be doing some easy movement after the bike ride the day before. We ran into some brits with a guide book that Edwards sprinted off with, while I chatted. Then, we headed off in the opposite direction of the routes he had looked at in search of a 3 star route he read about in the guide. Let me just say, we did not find it. Instead we found a beautiful cliff that looked great and fun from the ground but was an absolute NIGHTMARE once on it.

First off, there were so many routes and bolts that Edwards led the most divergent route in the history of rock climbing. Then he put me on it. I was total crap and by the third bolt and the struggle I had unclipping it, I was coming unhinged. I went to the fourth bolt under much duress, but colorfully convinced Edwards to let me bail before I made it to the fifth. On his trip back up to clean… he noted that it really was total crap and really hard. After that, we left.

I nearly died on this climbing trip, and it wouldn’t have been the worst way to go, but I’m not going to detail it out because it is too incriminating. I’ll just say that if they don’t want you taking the clear and defined trail then someone should put up a sign.

Dinner that night was rest stop food. Some of the rest stops in Europe are just awesome and the food plenty good enough to eat. We had a sandwich and frites and made our own fry sauce with purchased condiments. Of course I picked up some Haribo gummy candies as well. Unfortunately, easy climbing wasn’t easy enough and Edwards felt worse by bedtime.

Saturday, April 11, 2009
The eve of Paris-Roubaix and another bike ride for the four of use. Two more classic cobble climbs were slated for the day. I did one, but uninspired, bailed on doing the Muur. Edwards loved the Muur and kept doing it, finally in his big chain ring. He’s such a doll! The best part of the day was sitting outside at the café at the top of the Muur and watching all the amateur cyclists make the climb. The best was the old guy, on his old fat tire bike, smoking past the young hipsters. Awesome.
Yep, I rode cobbles too

After the ride, we finally journeyed to where we said we were going all along! France! We stayed in a bad looking French town called, Vaneciennes in order to be well staged for the race in the morning. There appears to be considerable World War relics in this area of France and Edwards pointed out how great it would have been to have my little brother Scott there because he could have told us the history of EVERYTHING. Scott says, “yeah, or I would have made up something that sounded awesome.”

It sorta feels like we just disappeared from Belgium, but that's okay as we moved cleanly into our adventure in France.
Happy, happy Edwards after riding the cobbles in Belgium.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Assault on Western Europe: Part I - Conquering the Empire


April 3, 2009
For all the wrong that Delta Airlines has ever done to us, we give thanks for the right that is the Salt Lake City to Paris direct flight. Now, you can check in at the world’s most convenient airport, take a nap while experiencing the miracle of human flight, and wake up in Paris! What a perfect way to start a 3.5 week adventure in Europe.

On April 4th, we landed at Charles De Gaulle Airport and picked up our little “Hippo”. Hippo is the name we gave our leased Peugeot after we discovered the awesome European automobile feature of rear view mirrors that fold in when the car is parked and locked. These folding mirrors looked like hippopotamus ears. Thus, Hippo. No time for Paris… we took Hippo straight to Callais, France and caught the ferry boat to Dover, England. Onboard the ferry there was proper tea, a scone, jam, and clotted cream. Our trip to England really couldn’t have started out any better than that, and we were glad we didn’t take the tunnel.
Little Hippo

Once we arrived on British soil, Edwards had to make the physical and mental switch to drive on the left side of the road. He noted that it is easier to do when the driver gets to stay on the left and not complicate matters by altering the side of his body he has to drive the stick shift with.

Our destination was Canterbury to visit with Todd and Patty who shared their flat, a delicious home cooked meal, martini’s, and wine with us. Todd is a bit notorious, being the co-writer/creator of the renowned and oft’ quoted film, Icarus Descending. Actually, maybe he is more notorious for the photo of him doing a one armed pull-up while drinking a beer. Obviously, one of Edwards’ closest friends.
Todd, Patty, and Lisa in the flat in Canterbury.

April 5, 2009
The next morning Todd and Patty blessedly let us sleep in and then poke around the flat for awhile. At some point the boys decided that we were to head off to Brockwood School to visit Brian immediately after lunch. We had lunch in the back garden of The Dolphin pub in Canterbury… the best part for me… proper tea! I adore ordering tea and having all the important bits and pieces come with it! – tea, tea pot, tea cup and saucer, tiny pitcher of cold milk, sugar, and a little spoon. Why is this so hard in America?

After lunch we actually did make a feeble attempt to see the Cathedral. We got right out front then discovered that I have already seen it, Edwards simply doesn’t care about such things, and Patty and Todd left their “locals pass” at home. We walked on by… in a hurry. Do you know there is a Starbucks Coffee immediately to the right of the entrance door to the Cathedral? Seems a little… commercial?

Brockwood (sort of, I like the daffodils)

After that, we said goodbye to Patty (who had much work to do), and the three of us went to Brockwood School, Hampshire, England. Brockwood is special. The landscape is special. The sheep had just had lambs and birds were singing the sounds of the British countryside.
Sheep and Lambs at Brockwood

Brian was on-duty until 8:00 p.m. so we all chatted and explored the school for a bit… had more tea… then headed to a perfectly appointed, quiet Sunday night pub. Edwards had the best fish and chips in all of England – so said the owner, and at least relatively close to truth – mostly though, it was the setting that made the night. Just perfect.
An evening at the pub

April 6, 2009
Todd and Brian made fun of us for sleeping in again… I think this was before Todd made fun of the luggage we brought. I believe he called it, “ugly” which is entirely unfair. It was good looking luggage in its day. Plus, it made my first journey to Ireland with me and that position demands respect! (even if that did happen an entire half of my lifetime ago). You cut me deep Todd, you cut me real deep.

We ate brunch at another pub, this one of particular importance to Edwards and Todd. The Thomas Lord, or “the Tommy lord”. When the boys filmed Icarus, they spent a lot of time in this pub and even filmed here. Not much has changed, except the food. The food was awesome. Even after 3 weeks in France, etc. this was one of the most memorably delicious meals of our trip! I had a cheese and pickle sandwich. That’s it. Cheese and pickles and bread. Memorably delicious. Oh, and tea.
Edwards and Brian on the coast with a British sky.

This revival of delicious food in England apparently comes from the leadership of Prince Charles. He started with his own garden and some chickens and began to vocally promote fresh, local food. The trend caught on, certainly in Hampshire, and all the pubs that we ate at were just brimming with fantastic local fair.
The approach to Dancing Ledge

After brunch, and dropping Todd off for the train back to Canterbury, it was time to go climbing. We drove to Dancing Ledge located somewhere along the coast. This was the most beautiful climbing approach through fields, a farm, and down a steep slope to the rocky ocean shore. It was absolutely magical. I only did one climb, and Edwards barely three because it started raining, making the hike out a bit treacherous. The climbing was nice though. Parts of the rock had been so polished by they ocean that they looked as if someone had pour hot wax over them.
Climber and Belay at Dancing Ledge

That night we ate at another great pub. I had my first fish pie and Celtic Coffee. A Celtic Coffee is really just an Irish Coffee of another name and with two inches of straight cream on top. If only we had such delicious cream in the United States.

April 7, 2009
My biggest disappointment before coming to England was that I Capuleti e I Montecchi at the Royal Opera was sold out the nights we would be in town. This was devastating news as my favorite soprano, Anna Netrebko, was singing the Juliet role and another woman I had been hearing about, Elina Garanca, was singing the Romeo role. I most desperately wanted to go.

Fortunately, Brian found out that the morning of a performance 67 tickets will be available to the public and all you have to do is queue for them. The box office opens at 10 and to be safe we needed to be in line by eight o’clock. This meant leaving Brockwood at 5:30 in order to drive to London, park the car, and walk to the box office.

The line when we arrived at 7:40 a.m, having made very good time, was short. We were 13, 14, and 15. Surely, this meant we’d be getting tickets! Now all we had to do was survive the cold, windy London morning for a few hours. We all took turns getting coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. We had friendly neighbors behind us and we rested easy as the gentleman at the front of the line was making sure that absolutely no one cut the queue! Actually, we firmly believe that that gentleman attends every opera, but has never pre-purchased a ticket because he LOVES the line so much. Just the kind of cheap but cultured man he was.
FYI: Romney is a FULL Dragon. Conceived and born in the year of the Dragon.

Promptly at 10:00 a.m. they opened the doors and we got three tickets, not all together, but three tickets just the same! We then took breakfast at a Parisian Café (our little taste of the Paris we wouldn’t be making time for) and then started walking to no one really knew where. We did no shopping and only sight-saw the things we walked passed. Of course, when we found the burrito place in London, Chimayo, the boys had to stop on the simple principle of the thing. It wasn’t good, but it was entertaining just the same.

Brian set up a rendezvous with Valentine, one of the actors from Icarus. Time: 1:00 p.m. Place: Mayflower Pub all the way across town. Even though it was far, we had nothing better to do, so we walked… finally arriving at 1:25 and definitely ready for some Guinness.

Valentine is great and has been invited to Utah any time he would like.
The best cup of coffee in London Town

After a meal at the pub, we took a double-decker in search of the best cup of coffee in London. The boys all imbibed. After that we changed clothes and went in search of the best Martini in London. Turns out the Savoy, the home of the best martini, is closed for renovations. So, we went for the second best Martini in town. There, I had a delightful cupcake that made me smile and that Brian said was the type of cupcake an Aquarius would be interested in.

The opera was absolutely brilliant. Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca singing together was otherworldly. I was enchanted by the entirety of the opera. The simple orchestration, the minimal set, and the siren voices on stage. It was so beautiful my heart ached. I Capuleti e I Montecchi by Bellini remains one of the highlights of the trip.
One very bad cell phone photo as everyone left the opera for the evening. What can I say? They don't allow cameras in the Royal Opera Hall.

It was the best day in London my daydreaming mind could have conjured. I am so lucky to have my fantastically energetic husband who was more than willing to go on this adventure with me. Not to mention his wonderful and peaceful brother, Brian. Thank you both!

Simply exhausted we put Brian on the train back to Brockwood and slipped into Todd and Patty’s flat in Canterbury at 1:00 a.m. only to wake up to catch the ferry in Dover by 8:00 in the morning. Thanks to Todd and Patty for their patience given our whirlwind tour!