Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Japan Plan

The plans for our month-long stay in Japan are coming together.  Saturday we purchased our rail passes, yesterday I sent the check for the baseball tour, and today we made a reservation for a hotel in Okinawa.  There's still much to do.  I'll write more soon.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Under the High Line

I just purchased my ticket for next week's High Line celebration.  The High Line is an ambitious community preservation and beautification project on the west side of  New York City.  My husband and I recently joined as charter members, and I'm excited about attending the Design Publication Launch Party.  I've always thought I should become more involved in the community, and this is a good start.  The party is Wednesday, July 30, from 6:30pm-8:30pm under the High Line at W. 25th Street and 10th Avenue.  If you're in the city, you should go.  If you're not in the city and can't go, I'll blog about it next week.

Stuck in a Blogging Quagmire

For about an hour this morning, I looked through other blogs in an attempt to make my blog better.  After finding a few interesting blogs, I considered applying to write for a couple of them.  (There are three travel-writing blogs that interest me: Write to Travel,  Written Road, and Vagablogging, although I'm not sure if my travel choices embody the spirit of "vagabonding" because I don't like to travel on a shoestring budget, but I appreciate those who do.)  Then I decided that I need to write for my own blog before I can consider writing for someone else's.  Then I wondered if blogging for another site a couple of times a week will help generate readership for this blog.  I'm in conflict.  It's difficult to blog every day, but I've seen abundant examples from busy people who somehow have the ability to post a few times a week.  I haven't found my focus yet.  I haven't found a schedule.  I still have blog entries sketched out in my notebook about my trip to London, and I returned from there two weeks ago.  Each day I think of ideas for blogging - book reviews, grammar topics, travel topics, Japanese topics, food topics - but I can't seem to publish these ideas.  Despite beating myself up about this, I'm still determined to have a successful blog (or blogs).  By successful, I mean a blog that makes me happy, that I'm contributing to on a daily (or as close to daily as possible) basis, and that people are actually reading and enjoying.  How does that happen?  I plan to find out and make it happen.  Starting today.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How Do British Women Shave Their Legs?

In the small shower stall of my hotel room in London, I was faced with a crisis each morning:  How the hell was I supposed to shave my legs?  I couldn't bend over to do it; there wasn't enough room.  And there was no step on which I could prop my foot so that I could create a right angle with my leg, thus providing an easy shaving plane.

Sometimes I tried - not successfully - to bend my leg and put my foot on the shower wall, but it didn't take long before the wet wall would cause my foot to slip.  That wasn't a good thing because every morning I stood in ankle-deep water while I showered.  (Apparently, this was not considered a drain back-up by the hotel staff.)

What I finally came up with was my own variation of a Bird of Paradise yoga pose.  

Except my leg wasn't straight. And my arms weren't bound.  My posture wasn't good, either.  Anyway, there I was, standing on one leg in ankle-deep water, draping the other leg over my left arm and shaving with my right hand. The morning acrobatics were an interesting way to begin a day of sightseeing. But it made me wonder how other women in London endure this morning ritual.  Are all showers built the way my hotel's shower was?  Or do local Londoners have palatial baths?

Why do any of us shave anyway?  Funny, that question never entered my mind during each morning's shaving ordeal.  If I'd skipped the procedure altogether, I wouldn't have twisted myslef into a pretzel in order to remove the hair from my legs.  But I wouldn't have found this historical perspective on shaving, either:  http://www.quikshave.com/timeline.htm. And I wouldn't have had a blog topic.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pub Crawl

This morning I reunited with my personal trainer and signed up for twelve more sessions with him.  A week of eating London pub food will do that to a person.  

One of the highlights of our London vacation was visiting the various public houses that are everywhere to be found in the city.  Most are charming and serve hearty - albeit not extremely healthy - dishes.  Fish and chips were the fave of my husband, and I was happy to discover the cheese ploughman.  

We exhibited great restraint and ate the super-fantastic, over-the-top savory full English breakfast only once during our stay in the city, and it was on our last day that we ate it.  Good stuff!

The following is a list of some of the places we stopped in for a pint and/or a bite, in quasi-chronological order: 

The Silver Cross - Trafalgar Square

While walking through the city on our first night, we wandered into the Silver Cross for our first pint in London. Friendly and roomy with creaky old floors, the Silver Cross provided the perfect place to rest during our long walk.

Prince of Wales Pub - Kensington
This pub is located a short distance from our hotel.  The atmosphere there is friendly enough, but the interior is too brightly lit, and the ladies' room is a small, dirty stall.  I liked that two English gentlemen shared our big table with us even though neither party made eye contact or spoke to the other.  A group of youngsters came in, sporting JMU sweatshirts and baseball caps, but barely looked old enough to drink legally.  Marc and I had a chuckle because of our Virginia connections - Marc grew up in Richmond; I lived in different cities in Virginia during various stages of my life.

The Goat Tavern - Kensington
Even closer to our hotel than Prince of Wales Pub, The Goat was one of my faves, even after reading unfavorable reviews.  It's a comfy old place that's been there for three hundred years.  The bartender was a friendly chap or bloke or mate, and the food was good.  Marc insists that the reason I liked the Goat so much was because of the picture of the goat on the sign outside, but that's only partly true.

Churchill Arms - Kensington
This quintessential pub was listed No. 2 on Kensington's Pubs and Cafes list in the DK Top 10 London guide.  It's a huge, old, dark, cozy place that actually serves Thai food, which we didn't eat since we were just there for the beer. There were chamber pots and other bric-a-brac hanging from the ceiling, almost to the point where you couldn't see the ceiling itself.  I enjoyed reading the newspaper articles describing team cricket games and flower contests.  The flowers decorated not only the entrance of the Churchill Arms but the ladies' room as well.  Live potted plants and butterfly stickers filled the ladies' room, and the room was fresh and fragrant (the men's room, according to Marc, not so much).  Nevertheless, it was a fine place to raise a pint with my husband. The Churchill Arms is what comes to my mind when someone says "pub."

The Plough - Bloomsbury
Steps away from the British Museum, this pub looked small upon entering, but it actually had plenty of seating, including a dining area upstairs.  The staff is friendly, especially the bartender who helped us identify the proper coins for payment.  (I remain confused by British money; more on that later.)  This was Marc's first experience with "mushy peas" - quite tasty!  They looked like green mashed potatoes, but they were actually pureed peas.  The Plough, coincidentally, was also where I ate my first cheese ploughman, and I was hooked.  It's a simple sandwich, really - grated cheddar, tomatoes, read leaf lettuce, "pickle" (more like a relish) on a seven-grain "bloomer" - but I fell in love instantly.  I think I had three more cheese ploughmans (ploughmen?) before we left London. 

The Albert Pub - Buckingham Gate
During our meandering walk from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace, Marc and I happened upon the Albert.  I'm a sucker for hanging baskets.  This bustling, not-too-crowded Victorian watering hole was the perfect place to rest our weary foot bones. Like most of the pubs we encountered in London, the Albert was sprawling; additional seating could be found in a room behind the bar, and more formal dining was upstairs.  I remember navigating the tight spiral staircase with green tile steps and a wrought-iron bannister to find the restrooms.  

The Gloucester Arms - Kensington
This place is, well, it's a bit of a dump.  But I loved going there.  It may have been a little run down, but in a charming way.  I enjoyed my "jacket potato" (what the English call a baked potato) with beans and cheese; Marc had the Chicken Kiev, which, interestingly enough, is not from the Ukranian capital. Situated in a round-fronted building in Kensington, the Gloucester Arms seemed to have fewer tourists than the other places we'd been.  It had a "locals" feel to it; the same older gentleman with a stack of newspapers was holding court with a couple of men both times we visited.  This is also the place where I saw a man mistakenly walk into the ladies' room.  When he came out a few moments later, he had a confused look on his face.  

The Minories - Tower Hill
Marc and I had lunch here before touring the Tower of London.  Built under a bridge, the Minories's ceiling was an arch of brick.  It was big and cavernous and looked to be a dance place by night.  The music that was playing didn't match the music videos on the handful of flat screen TVs scattered above the bar.  Lunch was decent:  I had the tuna and cucumber sandwich, but it came on white bread even though I asked for wheat.  I would've complained, but since it took so long for the food to arrive in the first place, I wasn't about to wait any longer for them to correct their mistake.  Marc had the chicken Caesar salad wrap and said that it was good, but not remarkable.  I must confess that I was rude to an English woman as she walked by our table and asked about my food.  As I lifted up the white bread of my sandwich, revealing the tuna underneath, the woman looked at my plate and asked, in a very excited and breathy way, if I were having salmon.  Looking at her as if she were crazy, I told her it was tuna and didn't engage her in further conversation.  Afterward, I felt bad about not being nice to her, but I can't stand it when people look at my food.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese - City of London
My all-time favorite pub name.  After reading about this place in Rick Steves' London 2008 and DK Top 10 London, I knew I had to go there!  This old, dark, creaky, musty, multi-roomed pub has been standing on Fleet Street since 1667. It is truly a gem. We sat in a small, dark room with a fireplace and a bar that extended the width of the room on one side.  Two tables and a long wrap-around bench occupied the other side.  Despite having a window above the bench, the room was still considerably dark.  I didn't like the fact that there were young hooligans playing cards in the alley by the side entrance.  Although they were loud outside, they were respectful when they came in to buy pints. It's ironic for me, a tourist, to dislike being in a place because it's a tourist stop, but I was ready to leave when more people arrived and spoiled the solitude of the small room.  After downing our bitters, Marc and I walked through the dining rooms of the three-hundred-and-forty-year-old building. We went neither upstairs - the rooms were closed - nor downstairs to the cellars, but we enjoyed the history that we saw.

The George - Temple
Across the street from the gothic Royal Courts of Justice, the George was one of the few places where we sat on stools at the bar instead of at a table.  That's because the George was one of the few places that actually had stools at the bar.  An American couple ordered pistachios from the jars of nuts that lined the back of the bar.  Marc figured that they had to be old and no one ever asked for them because the bartender seemed stumped as to what to charge for them.  "Umm, £1.50?"  she asked, her hands in the air in confusion.  Later we noticed the girl left half of the pistachios in the dish, another sign that the nuts were old.
Old nuts or not, the George was still a comfortable stopping point during a long walk.

The Lord Moon of the Mall - Whitehall

This was probably my least favorite pub.  Love the name, not the place.  It's near the traffic circle that surrounds Trafalgar Square, so it is frequented by huge crowds of tourists.  It was loud and had a commercial atmosphere.  A brightly lit open space, it was devoid of the charm of the old places we liked.

Tattersalls Tavern - Knightsbridge
Tucked in a neat little corner near Harrods, the exterior of this pub looked inviting.  Upon entering, however, we were engulfed by the just-after-work pinstriped set.  Jockeying for position at the busy bar, I waited a long time for our pints while Marc fought through the crowd to find a restroom.  We managed to find a corner to ourselves and enjoyed looking at the scene.  The staff poured beer in plastic cups for the patrons who stood outside.  

The Stanhope Arms - Kensington
Our favorite!  This is where we had our first pint in London in 1998.  Marc recognized it when we went to the Gloucester Road Tube station.  It's a classic old pub with an excellent full English breakfast (see picture at the top of this entry) that's served all day.  The staff here was really nice.  The barkeep who served us breakfast one morning made a point of thanking the customers as they left the pub.

The Old Star - St. James's Park
We ducked into the Old Star late one afternoon because (1) we wanted a pint and (2) rain was about to spill out of the skies.  The waitress was not nice to anyone; Marc overheard her yelling at a co-worker.  Still, we enjoyed sitting at the large booth together, and we decided to order dinner.  (Marc: fish and chips; me: scampi and chips)  The interior of the Old Star was atypical of what we'd seen at most London pubs.  The hardwood floors were light, not dark, and the bannisters were painted white.    The bar downstairs was actually nicer than the room where we sat, but there was no one down there when I went to the restroom.  Speaking of the restroom, this was my favorite in the city.  It was built into an arch of the low ceiling downstairs, and it had stone tile flooring and lots of brick and white wood.  The rain subsided a few minutes before 6pm, and we made our way to the St. James's Park Tube station across the street.  Good timing: the Old Star closes at 6pm on Saturday nights.

Trafalgar Tavern - Greenwich
I wouldn't call this a tourist "trap" per se, but it does get a good deal of traffic based on its proximity to the attractions of the town:  the National Maritime Museum, the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College, and the Royal Observatory.  In the tavern we saw many of the same people we saw at the Painted Hall.  Those tourists were eating fish and chips in this friendly and inviting place, but we basically used it as a shelter from the rain.  And we enjoyed a drink.

Monday, July 14, 2008

It's Not Just the Destination

In my opinion, I won the text messaging war with my friend Sarah regarding flying a certain airline's routes.  [See Travelling Again (But This Time It's For Fun) from July 1.]  Even though my husband and I could've taken an airline on which we had no status on a direct flight to London from New York, we chose to stick with United, with whom we are both Premier Executive. Instead of a direct flight, we stopped in Chicago, then turned around and headed to Heathrow.  It worked out well for us.  Because Economy Plus was oversold, my husband and I were given complimentary upgrades to Business Class.  Excellent!  We wouldn't have been able to do that had we flown American or Virgin Atlantic or Continental on a direct flight from JFK. Because of our upgrades, we were able to go through the fast line at customs at Heathrow, and our bags were among the first onto the baggage claim belt. Perhaps we took a circuitous route from New York City to London, but we were pleased with our decision because we arrived well-rested, in good spirits, and ready to explore the city where we honeymooned almost ten years ago. Sometimes it does pay to be loyal to an airline.  Sometimes.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Grammar in Sports Television

Working the College World Series offered several opportunities for me to unleash my over-the-top grammar lessons as they pertain to sports television. (Yes, there is such a thing, or there at least should be, as using good grammar in conjunction with sports.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again.)  Anyway, graphics operators and our associate producers go back and forth with the various abbreviations and phraseology with which we are confronted.  Baseball is no exception. The abbreviation for "strikeout" was a big issue during our first week in Omaha.  

Baseball afficionados know that a K is the abbreviation of a strikeout.  Major League Baseball officially uses SO as strikeout's abbreviation, but I completely disagree with that usage because SO is used to denote a shutout.  Most people with whom I work are in agreement with K for strikeout, but opinions begin to differ in regard to the plural form of the abbreviation.  It's K.  It's K if it stands for one strikeout or 100 strikeouts.  It's not K's.  Nor is it K'S.  No!!!  A strikeout doesn't have the ability to own something, so why would anyone use an apostrophe? If someone insists on using an s to denote more than one strikeout, I'm willing to concede that notion (albeit barely willing), but the apostrophe should not be used.  I yelled at my co-workers in the ESPN graphics truck about this issue.  The guys think I'm nuts, so to get a rise out of me two of them purposely typed K's in a graphic and laughed at me when I didn't notice it until the fourth time it aired. Am I alone in this world of grammar?

This is only one issue, and there are many more that I'll cover in this blog.  Be on the lookout for such gems regarding plural representation, the apostrophe, periods in abbreviations, hyphens (my personal favorite), and ways of phrasing sentences.  I'll revisit this topic after my trip to London. 

Travelling Again (But This Time It's for Fun)

On the way to London for a vacation with my husband.  Currently sitting in the brand new Red Carpet Club at O'Hare in Chicago.  I'm having a text-message discussion with my friend Sarah about why my husband and I flew from New York to Chicago to go back east to London.  At the time we booked our flights, this was the best option for us.  It's important for us to book with the airline on which we have the best status because flying is really crappy these days.  The accumulation of miles and segments is important if one is ever to fly somewhat comfortably. We're hoping that this strategy pays off  - in the form of upgrades -  when it comes time to fly to Japan (this September).  

So, London!  This is my first trip to the city since our honeymoon in 1998.  Marc was there on a business trip a couple of years ago, but he saw more of the office than he did of anything else. This trip will serve as an early ten-year anniversary celebration, and we plan to make the most of it.  We're not staying in the same hotel as we did ten years ago, but we are staying in the same neighborhood (Kensington).  It'll be interesting to see how much the city has changed - or hasn't - in the decade that has passed.  We plan on hitting a few spots that we saw in '98, such as the British Museum and Buckingham Palace (although we didn't actually see the Changing of the Guard as newlyweds), and looking forward to new attractions such as the London Eye. The forecast calls for mild temperatures with the highs in the low 70s and light rain for almost the entire week we'll be there.  I don't care.  The weather will be a welcome change to the 90-degree nastiness I've endured these few days in NYC since returning from Omaha.  Yuck!

I'm not sure what kind of Internet access we'll have at our hotel, but I hope to post several times during our stay.