Thursday, 27 September 2012

Lake District

When we went to the Lake District last autumn, I had no idea how much my mind would dwell on coming back here in the year to come. This means that for every long weekend we have had over the last twelve months, I have hoped to make a return to the place that absolutely enchanted me. Despite the fact that the Lakes get the most wet weather in all of England (that says an awful lot), most people who travel there do it in spite of this fact - risking rain in the hopes that a few passing clear skies will allow them to experience the charm and beauty that is so unique to this area. 

a small collection of Peter Rabbit stories was waiting next to  Isabella's bunk bed
 Driving up north, just past Manchester, it is almost immediately clear where the Lake District boundary begins because the landscape becomes a deep green color, and you leave the main motorway in favor of the treacherous single lanes. Those curvy roads wind their way between ancient stone walls and tall hedgerows, over which you can see the charming little stone cottages...and the smell of wood-burning fireplaces comes through the car windows to greet you.  It's magical. So I was very giddy when we got to our spot: The Cuckoo Brow Inn - "muddy boots, wet dogs, and children welcome." We had a hearty and really delicious meal of locally sourced fish and pork (the fish is even traced back to The Albion fishing boat off of Blackpool - loved that!). Then I dragged the family on a little hike that took us into dusk.

Like Scotland, there seems to be water dripping everywhere. We stayed in the south part of the Lakes on this trip. We had only two full days, and the four hour drive for that amount of time is just about my limit. Because we were there for such short time, I really wanted to be out walking the countryside as much as possible - and we did!

the footpath in Sawrey leading to Beatrix Potter's cottage at the bottom

 close-up of the stone most cottages are made from here

reaching the Moss Eccles Tarn - a little mountain lake

After our long drive, we tucked in for the night. The next morning we awoke to a king's feast for breakfast - there was an astounding selection to choose from. I say "astounding" because the breakfast was included in the price and the choices went far beyond cereals and orange juice. The two mornings we stayed at the Cuckoo Brow we had smoked haddock with poached eggs, thick honeyed porridge, and of course, the fare that comes with a traditional full English breakfast (bacon, eggs, mushrooms, friend tomato, sausage, beans, and fried toast - if you were wondering).

Moss Eccles Tarn

Isabella and Peter Rabbit

We did go into Beatrix Potter's cottage, of course. Isabella admired her sweet little doll house and I ogled her handmade quilt, still on the bed. It was here that Peter Rabbit himself joined our expedition.

We returned from Potter's Cottage ("Hill Top") for lunch, then borrowed a map to check out what we wanted to see next. Just by looking at the landscape on the map, I knew I wanted to head toward higher elevation - more lakes, and many promising hiking trails. We did two big walks that day, including Moss Eccles and Tom Gill - the latter being a waterfall walk that was absolutely perfect for our little family, since Isabella had to walk it all too. 

Yew Tree Tarn

Galloway Banded Cows
 Isabella fell asleep in the car after our first long walk, so Pedro stayed with her while I walked around the small lake near Yew Tree. I braved my way through some dubious looking cows - curly haired, with a white band around their middles. Coming into this scene was - as I say - magical. The trees, the cows, the water, the fresh air, and the quiet - so perfect.

gotta love the timed snapshot

After walking for two hours that morning, Isabella was less than enthused to be going for another walk again.  But once we coaxed her out of the car, there was no going back for her - walking uphill toward a lake is kind of surreal for me - it doesn't seem like it should be that way, since water flows down and lakes are usually at the bottom of a mountain. This whole area had some cool glacial movement though, that carved out these little basins at higher elevation, which of course became lakes because of all the rainfall this region gets. The walk was dreamy and by the end of it, we were ready for dinner once again.

It was a full day and so very good. We ended it by having a gourmet feast with some friends of ours (Kat & Tim) who were also vacationing up in the Lakes. We met up at a place outside of Coniston called The Drunken Duck - seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but where people flock to nonetheless. That place alone is worth making the trip - they have an adventurous menu and even a whisky tasting menu.

Our last day would only be until Sunday afternoon. We decided on walking the footpaths around Wray Castle on Lake Windermere before heading up for a last peek at Grasmere Lake. 

The area isn't terribly unlike the region where we live, but the biggest difference is the lushness of the greens and the quaintness of each and every cottage you pass. Of course, this area was home to England's romantic poets - Wordsworth and Coleridge, and their poetry certainly sums up the beauty of the place.

Walking to Beatrix Potter's home, and it took a beautiful little hike to get there.

 lovely pastoral views around every turn

Even if it were raining the whole time, I would have enjoyed myself. I will patiently await the next trip to the Lakes - hopefully next time we'll have bikes!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Dog Days of Summer

We are back from our three week trip to Puerto Rico. It was a wonderful trip that we weren't quite ready to come back from. But now we find ourselves back in England, experiencing some of the hottest days of the year - finally! We may get only two, but they will be lovely! Living through seven English summers now, I have learned that a warm sunny day is not to be squandered. When the sun comes out, drop everything you have going on indoors and run outside!

As for our trip to Puerto Rico, I will have to make a separate post about that soon - another video, perhaps?

old broken teeth!

These last few weeks of summer are especially important to us this year. Isabella starts school the second week of September. Gone will be the days of spontaneous and frequent travel, to be replaced by a more steady and predictable schedule. We will be bound by school breaks to go and see family now, and will be able to accompany Pedro much less on his business trips in Europe.

Spartacus will probably appreciate this reduction in travel though, since he won't have to go to the kennel nearly as often. He is getting old. His allergies continue to be a plague on his skin, and the vet has now recommended continual low doses of the steroid pills he only used to take during the worst period of summer outbreaks - just because he's "an old chap" and ""we should make his last years as comfortable as we can."

 My dog walking has always been inconsistent, but this talk with the vet has added some motivation to get his walks in as much as I can. In fact, last night we were attacked by a loose terrier while walking down the block. Altercations with other dogs is the biggest reason I only walk him when there are fewer dog walkers out - he is very pushy around other dogs, and that usually winds us up in trouble. Last night, the little terrier was taking the most cartoonish bites out of Spartacus's legs, while I did my best to prevent the single chomp that could take that terrier out. I was proud of Spartacus's behavior yesterday, but it certainly hasn't always been the high road with him.

dog groomer's shop

He has though, always been good with Isabella. He avoided her, wisely, when she was in her little ear pulling stage. And now he lets her play house with him, lets her dress him up like a princess, and lets her and her friends put him in the playhouse and play dog groomer. Can you even imagine the cloud of hair floating around the inside of that little house?

Festival of Quilts

In other news, we made a girls trip to Birmingham for the Festival of Quilts this week. I've never taken Isabella, but figured this year she was finally old enough to probably enjoy looking at all of the displays and fabrics and notions for sale. It was a big hit for her and her friend Sophia - they absolutely loved looking at the quilts. It certainly helped that some quilts were featured for kids, with characters like Dora, or whimsical unicorns and dragons.

wearing a princess dress and looking at bugs in a microscope - what could be better?

Appropriate to the coming start of school, I also had the good fortune to be able to borrow a microscope from one of my friends. We use it to identify unusual species we pull out of the river during our water quality monitoring. I've got it set up on the dining room table and it has been a hit with all of the kids who come around during the week. We've looked at mayfly larvae, our fingernails, and even the tiniest of one of Isabella's Russian nesting dolls. 


It's the third beautiful and hot day in a row, so this is me, logging off and running outside to enjoy it! :)

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Wizard of Oz

We've been talking about taking Isabella to a musical for months and months and months, but planning weekends these days isn't easy. Pedro has had three weekends free in a row (with his crazy travel schedule three weekends feels like a lot), so we're keen not to squander them! On Friday, I went online to and got discount tickets to see the Wizard of Oz the following day. When we showed up at the box office, I was disappointed to see that the tickets were up in the nose-bleed section. Luckily for us, the show was far from sold out, so they were offering £10 upgrades for the most expensive seats in the house! 

Armed with a big bag of Cadbury chocolate raisins, I coaxed Isabella into the theatre. Our wonderful trip to see the Wizard of Oz clouded at this point by Isabella's sudden fear of seeing the Wicked Witch of the West in real life, a fear made worse by a steadily increasing fever that threatened to derail the whole thing. The show was truly a lot of fun - the special effects and set were amazing! I was in awe of how the sets nested and rotated on the stage, as well as the ways they used the lighting. I even loved the new songs added to the classic, with fantastic special effects. While Isabella did eventually relax a little, she did cling to my arm like a treed cat for pretty much the whole performance. 

In the restaurant afterwards. Poor kiddo - look at those sick eyes!

I just love that little face of hers!

As usual, being a good sport. The glammy booth certainly helped.
Starving, we hazarded a meal and the restaurant next door after the show. It was somewhere in the middle of the meal when Isabella's fever broke and she miraculously started to get better, instead of worse. I think it was the restaurant's massive tanks of live tropical fish that did it. This girl is destined for ichthyology.  

Gawping at the sequin dress on the far right...
The whole day was fun, despite the fever! I say this every time I go to London, and I'll just say it again: why don't we go into the city more often!? Oh. That's right. We're over-scheduled to the max (see previous post). I'm working on that. 

Monday, 23 April 2012

Playdates and Mondays to Get You Down

Today is Monday. Really, it feels like Thursday. And this is despite Pedro having a three-day weekend and a date-night-with-babysitter yesterday. Why is it that it feels so stressful today? I have a terrible time with confrontation and I've had a few awkward moments this morning, which might account for why it feels like Thursday. I also just finished plucking the quilting out of a new blanket I'm sewing - tearing out  quilting that you just spent an hour putting in is also a great way to put yourself in a bad mood! Then I got a phone call from my neighbor wondering where I was. That's right - it was a scheduled playdate and she had been waiting for me for over an hour!

Isabella has been struggling at playgroup lately. She is an extremely sensitive little girl, so any altercation with another kid makes her not want to go for the following day. Matters are made worse by the fact that she is suddenly the only girl her age in the preschool now, her best friend Amelia just moved away, and her other best friend Sonny, a boy, suddenly wants to shun his girly side - which means Isabella, too. Also, she has at least two very difficult boys in her group. Boys that say naughty words to her, steal her stuff, and generally hurt her feelings. Despite the fact that the staff are very attentive and excellent in their skills, there is only so much you can do with such a dynamic. So we've decided to shop around for another setting for her to see how things go.

Anyway, I told my neighbor about her issues at the playgroup (her son also goes there a few days a week) and we decided to arrange for a playdate so that Isabella could form an alliance with another one of the boys so she is less excluded just for being a girl. And...I bungled it! So wrapped up in my quilt was I that I totally forgot about it and when she called, Isabella had just fallen fast asleep so we couldn't even rush down to road to make it right.

Also...can I just say this? There is something about the concept of a "playdate" that I really don't like. It's the formality of arranging play with each other's children...I would much rather call up my neighbor in a spare moment and have her send her kid over and let them just play in the absence of a time slot. Now that I've said that, I'll go further and just say I HATE PLAYDATES!!! But hey, despite the fact that we are all "stay at home moms" who hardly stay at home - what choice do we have? We're stuck to the schedule and the inevitable forgetfulness that happens when you have a child and a lot of things to plan for. Sigh.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Warsaw in December

 I have been knocked down for the last two days with a whopping sore throat - so I've been held hostage by throat pain and a good book. I’m taking a break from both while I wait for Pedro to skype with me from Germany (another business trip). While I’ve been waiting, I have been sifting through photos from the last three months. Last December, we found ourselves in Poland and I never blogged about it. Isabella and I were with Pedro for the entirety of his nearly two week trip, and we two girls did a lot of exploring Warsaw on our own.  

I have to admit. I was expecting Warsaw to be bleak. Even the name in English, Warsaw, sounds terrible. In fact, the first neighborhood I explored kinda was. But more than that, it was interesting. Random artful graffiti, unusual film posters, and remnants of long destroyed building were in evidence. Also strange, there were nice hotels around those areas - as if they are anticipating gentrification, if such a thing even exists in Eastern Europe. 

We stayed at a nice hotel that caters to businessmen - obviously, we were tagging along on a work trip after all. When that happens, I always seem to notice the sharp contrast between the suited men making deals in the lobby and the hoi polloi of the streets, like me. That’s a lot what Warsaw itself was like - a contrast of hard earned public real estate scattered amongst large areas of modernity with a noticeable push toward city improvement. With all of the modern and wonderful new sites for business and pleasure, I couldn't help but wonder where the money came from. Britain has such a large influx of Polish migrant workers that I must have been expecting a dismal setting from which they were all fleeing.

Copernicus Museum of Science - hot air balloon demonstration

Isabella and I would hit one museum a day, which was easy in Warsaw. The weather was wet and cold in early December, and the museums were consistently excellent.  We visited three museums designed with children in mind, the Chopin Museum, the Copernicus Museum and Planetarium, and, of all things, the Warsaw Uprising Museum.

I was blown away by their modern presentation and ingenious, touchable design - even the Warsaw Uprising Museum had a full room dedicated to a milder representation of the strong material of the rest of the exhibits - such as teddy bears and toys used by children of the period. It didn’t have that saccharine Disney flavor, nor did it have that “life is hard, deal with it” Soviet one.

A seemingly endless list of the fallen, yet another sad memorial - Uprising Museum
 The Copernicus Museum was ahead of its class - virtually everything could be touched by children, and the science involved was amazing and entertaining. I loved it. I also got tickets for the Planetarium where Isabella and I watched thirty minutes of science talk about the stars in Polish. Fortunately, we had a portion of the show available on headphones in English, but the most interesting part was certainly the one I couldn't understand! Isabella was afraid in the planetarium, and spent a lot of the show covering her ears while curled up in my lap.

Polish dolls from wartime Warsaw

We have loads of photos of great sites, but no pics of the place we had lunch and hot chocolates at almost every day. It was an inexpensive cafe, part of a Polish chain perhaps, where they served yummy mulled wine, coffees, weird-but-delicious Greek salads, and quiches. We had a lot of fun lounging around there, so I feel I have to mention it, even though I can't remember the name.

Isabella is a bit big for a stroller, but I sure was glad we had it
 This strangely beautiful Empire State Building look-alike was a "gift" to the city of Warsaw by the Soviet union - it's actually called the Palace of Science and Culture. I heard that its presence remains controversial; some people even want to tear it down. Inside the building are a number of venues, including the small Museum of Evolution which houses dinosaur bones from past Polish expeditions and a room full of crazy taxidermy.  The interior of this building is so cool - all of the mouldings, light fixtures, and details would make a design enthusiast get pretty excited.

Museum of Evolution
After we saw all there was to see in the Museum of Evolution (it was small enough that Isabella actually asked to keep seeing more stuff : we did two rounds), then we walked outside to find a newly installed ice rink. I had around only a few zlotys left, but didn't know if I'd have enough for skating for the two of us. I didn't. But the vendor took pity on my communication skills and inability to properly count and gave us skates anyway. 

Impromptu ice-skating!
 By the end of the week, we finally made it to the Warsaw Zoo. I probably picked the worst day to do it. We were the only visitors in the park, and it was so quiet that had I not already paid for our tickets, I would have thought I wasn't supposed to be there. It rained almost the whole time and all we had was one broken umbrella between us. The zoo covered a lot of territory but there were lots of opportunities for getting out of the rain - including the hippo tank, the spider room, and the elephant shelter. Once again, I was impressed with how modern, clean, and well looked after the whole place was.

Warsaw Zoo - A giant Easter Egg in December,
 makes me wish I understood some Polish
 By the time we left the zoo, the rain had died down but we were on the other side of town without a taxi or bus stop in sight, and....Isabella chose that moment to jump into a deep puddle. So we slowly made our way across the river and into the Old Town, trying to keep warm. The Old Town was mostly rebuilt after the bombing of WWII, so it looks quaint and lovely, especially with all the Christmas markets tucked into market squares and side streets. We were dazzled by the Christmas displays and the giant, sparkling purple tree in the town square. We managed to get something good and hot to eat at the street market: Isabella a Polish hot dog on rustic bread, and me a dose of the national dish - Bigos, a warming stew of sausage and sauerkraut.

 Unfortunately, this was all we got to see of the pretty Old Town because I had to take Isabella back to the hotel for fresh clothes and hot chocolate. Both things not negotiable. We were leaving the following morning. The funny thing is, I spent almost ten days traipsing around the un-touristy parts of the city, enjoying myself so much that I didn't realize I was missing the prettiest bit. Ah well, certainly a good excuse to go back to Warsaw, not that I needed another one.

And now, I'm back to convalescing the weekend away. Isabella and I have been drinking strange brews of tea with this Slovenian "super honey" I bought in Ljubljana last autumn to cure our cold. Though the lady I got it from explained to me what was in it, I can't remember now - I'm hoping the magical quality of the strange language will have the placebo effect on me, if nothing else!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Tallinn, Estonia

We are visiting Tallinn, Estonia. I must admit, I wasn't expecting much - I actually made the trip a bit reluctantly, finally deciding to follow Pedro here because of all of the back to back trips he has booked for work. I am delightfully surprised by the medieval beauty, as much of an oxymoron as that may sound. It's just that the medieval architecture and streets of the Old Town are so completely intact that it feels as if we've really stepped back in time. This is, after all, an eastern European country that directly borders Russia to the east and was dominated by Soviet rule in the not-too-distant past.
in the puppet-making workshop

the princess with the pink eyes is our own handiwork
Today we spent all morning at the Estonia Puppet Museum and Theatre - NUKU. Again, another pleasant surprise. The museum is home to myriad types of amazing (yes, amazing) puppets and has some pretty state-of-the-art exhibits for kids - children can actually activate the puppets by a touch-screen computer, while the puppet remains protected and properly displayed behind glass. I have to say, we could have happily spent another day at the museum alone. We also attended a proper puppet show, and despite the Estonian language barrier, the movements of the puppets told us all we needed to know. The morning was a huge success.

puppets of all sorts- some creepy, some cool... 

puppets from around the world...

some even bigger than me...(and can you believe Bella took this shot!?)
I have an additional unexpected travel companion as well. On the plane, Isabella and I met an American ballerina from LA who was travelling alone looking for work with a new European ballet company, so we have spent some of our meandering around Tallinn making better friends between her auditions, while Pedro is hard at work. 

Isabella and our new friend, Lucy, standing at the top of the Old Town looking onto the industrial, and modern Tallinn

Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

More of the Old Town walls and fortifications
When we came in from our flight yesterday, the sun had the whole place illuminated in the most beautiful light. I am hoping I can get some better shots with that sort of light tomorrow. We have another two days to try!