Thursday, December 31, 2009

Finishing Just Under the Wire

I didn't start 2009 with any New Year's resolutions. I never do -- it would be an act of utter futility. But I did come into the home stretch of the year with a bunch of things I wanted to finish up. And I did. Here's what I managed to get done since Thanksgiving:
  • Finished uploading London photos to Flickr.
  • Finished uploading North Carolina photos also.
  • Put postal code tags on all the photos in the London Street Names group that were missing said tags.
  • Knit three pairs of yoga/pilates socks and about a dozen flower or leaf bookmarks for my pals' crimbo prezzies.
  • Entered donations in the donor database of the women's org I volunteer with; exported list for next mailing.
While I don't plan on making any resolutions for 2010, I do have a few ideas floating around in my head of things that I'd like to accomplish in the coming year:
  • Get back to working on the heavy sweater I'm knitting and have it done while it's still wicked cold outside.
  • Knit a few other things in my Ravelry queue, especially things that will help me to de-stash because it's getting a bit difficult to get into my storage closet with all the bags of yarn from Webs everywhere.
  • Start some theme threads for the London Street Names group.
  • Read the excellent new books that people gave me -- Mrs. Woolf and the Servants, Walking London, Offshore, The Secret Language of Knitters and the London Knowledge card deck called What Happened Here?
  • Start planning the next trip to wherever.
  • Take hoop exercise classes (well, take a class and see if I survive before committing myself to more classes).
Here's wishing the best for 2010 to all my mates. I hope that your wishes come true and that you reach your goals, however modest or grand they may be. And I hope to see many of you in the new year, either in person or on the internets.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My clogged drain and sore ankle

Yup, those things are related. I admit to having had two (small) glasses of wine before embarking on this folly, and I seem to have taken a large dose of stupid. This all happened Monday evening. First, I shoved a bunch of stuff -- broccoli stem peelings, egg shells, coffee grounds and onion peels -- into the garbage disposal. (That was Stupid #1) It seemed to be happily chewing up all this stuff, though, but then I saw that the water was rising in my sink, so I shut the disposal off. I reached into it to feel around to see if there was something stuck -- nada. I got out the little Allen wrench thingie and put it into the hole on the bottom of the disposal -- it turned around just fine. So, I brilliantly thought I should use the plunger. My first attempts were futile -- standing in front of the sink, I couldn't get enough leverage to push the plunger down. I pulled one of the wooden bar stools up to the sink and knelt on that. Still no leverage. Now, here's where Stupid #2 happens: I stood on the bar stool, pushed on the plunger, and I went flying to the floor. I landed with my weight on my right foot before I toppled over onto my side, bruising my elbow and left knee in the process. Much, much arnica and ice later, I'm walking ok but it hurts a little to flex my right foot when I go up or down stairs. Stupid #3 was putting half a bottle of Drano down the disposal. It didn't work. I've called the plumber, and he will be making a house call ($70/hour) tomorrow.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Little Differences, Part II

My mate Maggie reminded me the other day that it's been a while since I've written about my observations on the differences between the UK and the US. Here are some things I noticed on my recent trip:
  • At Heathrow Airport, you can actually buy tasty, healthy, reasonably-priced food to eat as you while away the hours before your plane takes off. In addition to the ubiquitous pre-made sandwiches in triangular boxes (my favorites are egg and cress or tuna and sweet corn on brown bread for about £2.25), you can buy real Greek yogurt with sliced bananas, honey and grape nuts for £1.85. For bevvies, there are various kinds of juice, vitamin water, or coconut water in addition to all the sweet soda crap. When I was in the Minneapolis airport back in May, I walked about a mile down the concourse in search of something edible that wasn't full of sugar, carbs and fat before settling on a pasta and pesto chicken salad that was overpriced and not very good. Similarly, in the Atlanta airport I recently forked over $8 for a Wolfgang Puck turkey and pesto sandwich, also not very tasty and with nearly enough calories to meet my daily requirement. America is seriously in need of better airport food options.
  • On the other hand, I couldn't find saline nasal spray in a little squeeze bottle (about $3 at any pharmacy or grocery store in the US) anywhere in London. After my long flight, I landed with my sinuses totally dried out. I wasn't stuffed up and didn't need a decongestant spray. I just wanted to soothe and rehydrate my sinuses and prevent nose bleeds. I went to two Boots stores and spoke to the chemist in each. The only thing they had to offer me was a big can of aerosol stuff for £6.85 -- too much quantity and too much to spend for what I needed. My next stop was Revital, the health food store in Belsize Park. I though surely they'd have something like little packets of salt and a squeeze bottle, but no. The woman there looked at me like I was nuts and finally said, "We don't need that here. It's always humid."
  • When your mates in the UK greet you, they often ask "Are you alright?" My immediate reaction to this was to think I must have an open wound on my head or look like I was totally stressed out. I then realized that this is shorthand for "How are you doing? Are things going well?" and just replied, "Yes, thanks. I'm having a lovely time."
I'm sure I'll think of more little differences and will update this list from time to time.
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009


When I was visiting the swamp, I kept reading of various firsts. New Bern lays claim to quite a few, including:
  • It was the first permanent seat of the colonial government of North Carolina; later it became the first state capital of NC.
  • The first printing press in NC was set up there in 1749, and the state's first newspaper published two years later.
  • The first free public school in North Carolina was established there in 1766.
  • It held the country's first celebration of George Washington's birthday.
  • The world's first practical torpedo was assembled and detonated there in the 1890s.
  • First Jewish synagogue and RC church in North Carolina.
  • The Masonic Theater is the oldest theater in America in continuous use.
  • Pepsi-Cola was first concocted there in 1898.
Nearby Washington boasts of being the first town in America named after George Washington (when he was just a general and yet to become the first president). And Bath touts itself as North Carolina's first town, first port, and the location of the first public library in the state.

Now I can claim a personal first that took place in New Bern: my first time in a kayak. ScribeGirl told me we'd be taking the kayaks out on Brices Creek, so I came with various bits of gear that I'd need. I usually avoid pursuits that require special gear (and strenuous activity, particularly if it makes you sweat), but I was game to give this a try. So, I took Spooner's advice and bought nylon pants (capris that I got off the half-price end-of-season rack at The Mountain Goat, a shopping trip that took all of 15 minutes) because he says to avoid cotton clothing when boating. ScribeGirl said I'd need waterproof shoes -- not flip-flops because, if the boat flipped over, they would flop off my feet -- so I brought my stylish sling-back Crocs. And knowing of Rosenbeans' various mishaps with electronics landing in the drink when kayaking, I got a super waterproof pouch for my camera. We were out on the creek for about an hour, paddling past trees with Spanish moss waving in the breeze. It was pretty fun, as exercise goes. Perhaps my first time kayaking won't be my last.
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Monday, October 12, 2009

NC Backwaters

View NC Backwaters in a larger map

On Sunday, ScribeGirl and I climbed into the big-ass truck and hit the road for a day trip through the cotton fields and low country, visiting three little towns on the water. We passed a lot of interesting rural decay -- houses with porches falling off, barns with roofs caved in, rusty and crusty autos and farm machinery -- but we don't have any photos to show of this stuff. As ScribeGirl pointed out to me, when the house falls apart, the people move into a trailer on the property. So, while the buildings looked abandoned, there were usually people nearby -- and where there are people, there are often hounds and shotguns that we reckoned would make an appearance if a stranger came into the yard. So we stayed in the truck.

We did make stops in three small towns along the water -- Washington and Bath, along the Pamlico River, and Oriental, the sailing capital of North Carolina (and also a commercial fishing harbor). Our plan was to start with a visit to the NC Estuarium in Washington, but unfortunately it was closed. The whole town of Washington looked pretty deserted (was everyone in church?), but we found a cafe that was open and had a leisurely breakfast there before roaming the empty streets in search of photo ops.

Back in the truck, it was a short drive to Bath, another sleepy little backwater town that has a ton of history. Here, the visitor center was closed so we couldn't get a copy of the self-guided walking tour, but there are historic markers everywhere to point out the 18th century houses and church. The town is only three blocks long and two blocks wide, so we probably saw most of what there was to see.

Our next stop was Oriental, a lovely little town further down the coast. There we found The Bean Cafe, which had good ice cream and free wifi. Friendly townsfolk greeted us as we walked onto the porch of The Bean and, since this is the South where the livin' is easy, no one rushed us out of the cafe or limited our time on their wifi. In the fading afternoon light, we explored the fishing docks and found some excellent photo ops before heading back to New Bern (photo by ScribeGirl):

BTW, ScribeGirl has started a blog called Croatan Chronicles, which she promises to fill with tales of her relocation to the flatland of eastern North Carolina.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Greetings from Old Swampy

I stand corrected. The swamp isn't swampy at all. It's actually marshy. And all my worries about varmints (snakes, gators, giant insects, hounds) have thus far been for naught.

I'm in New Bern, North Carolina, staying with ScribeGirl at the house that she and Tim will
live in after their imminent retirement. The big attraction this weekend is Mumfest, which is a celebration of chrysanthemums and autumn but seems to involve a lot more vendor tents than actual mum plants. To avoid parking the big-ass pickup truck in the crowded town, we parked on one side of the river and rode the Mumfest ferry to the other. From the dock it was a short walk to Tryon Palace, the home of the first governor of North Carolina, where we strolled through the lovely grounds that were open free of charge for the fest. Lots of beds of mums there, and manicured hedges, statuary, a beautiful kitchen garden, and views of the river. Unfortunately, the river stinks to high heaven at the moment due to a massive die-off of little white fish, but I won't dwell on that.

The highlight of our Mumfest activities was a guided tour of the Cedar Grove Cemetery. We
learned bits about the lives and deaths of New Bernians of note, albeit not in chronological order so it was kind of hard to get a good historical overview. The cemetery has graves dating back to the early 19th century, and people are still being interred there today (mostly in the newer part across the street, although one older woman on the tour showed us the spot that will be her eternal resting place), so in a relatively modest space we saw 200+ years of townsfolk. Light was fading as the tour ended, and raindrops had begun to fall, so we skedadled back to the big-ass truck with a plan to return later in the weekend to take more photos.
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Thursday, September 24, 2009


Here are the cumulative stats from my London trip:
  • 82.25 miles walked (from getting off the plane on the 13th to getting on again on the 21st)
  • ~£160 spent on food, bev, admissions, and Oyster card (tube and buses)
  • 825 photos taken
  • 8 Open House venues seen
  • 6 hand-knitted items distributed
  • 1 more of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries checked off
  • No blisters
  • Countless discoveries and good times had with my mates
Now that I've unpacked and done laundry, I can start putting the photos on Flickr. This is a long process, so be sure to check my photostream regularly.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Goodbye, Blighty

Just a quick post before I finish packing and head to the airport for the long journey home. Spooner was out the door at 6 this morning -- he's taking a dozen teens to Scotland, where it's pouring rain, for four days of hiking and kayaking. We made two more trips to Cotswold (an outdoor outfitter store similar to EMS) yesterday, one in Covent Garden to return socks purchased on Saturday, and one in Piccadilly in search of some nylon pants (that's pants in the American sense of the word; trousers to you in the UK). We also went to a North Face store and one other outfitter; after we split up in the afternoon, Spooner returned to Covent Garden and now has the perfect nylon pants.

After the first trip to Covent Garden, we walked through Trafalgar Square to see another nutter on the plinth. This one was wearing an unattractive rabbit head and making paper airplanes, some of which were launched from the plinth. Below the plinth, a giant game of chess was about to get underway -- something to do with London Design Week -- and across the way, the bells of St Martin's were peeling. All this under a blue and sunny sky. Lovely.

We made our way down Whitehall to see the Foreign Office & India Office, a very popular Open House venue. We walked right in, after having our bags checked by some odd sort of machine, and joined hundreds of other people wandering around in awe of the magnificent building. It's so vast that it didn't even feel crowded, although it was a little difficult getting the good vantage points for photos. In addition to administering the Empire, the Foreign Office provides assistance to British citizens when they are abroad -- passport replacement, assistance in natural disasters, etc. In one of the lovely 19th century conference rooms was an exhibition with video advising Brits to behave when they travel to foreign countries, i.e. no ASBOs abroad. Each room was more splendid than the last, culminating with a dead gorgeous staircase designed by George Gilbert Scott -- gilded bits everywhere, and gigantic murals depicting Britain's domain over the four corners of the globe.

We then walked over to the House of Commons in hopes of seeing Westminster Hall, but the queue was 45 minutes long, so we pressed on, walking through St James's Park where we saw many more unidentified feathered objects and a fairytale view of Whitehall from the bridge in the middle of the park. On our way up to Piccadilly, we passed a mason's hall that was an Open House venue and looked in to see the inner sanctum and to use the loo. After Spooner's unsuccessful shopping in Piccadilly, we wandered into Soho in search of lunch. I wanted to go to Mildred's in Lexington Street (said to be a fab vegetarian restaurant), but it was closed so we went to Red Veg, an old favorite in Dean Street.

After lunch, we went in separate directions. I was headed to Park Road (the west side of Regent's Park, just above Baker Street) to see one more spot on my Open House list -- the Rudolph Steiner House, the only example of expressionist architecture in London. I stopped first at the Photographers Gallery to see a small, but very good, exhibition of photos by Andre Kertesz called "On Reading." Then I tried to get a bus from Regent Street that would have taken me to Baker Street Station, but the bloody bus never came and I had to walk the whole way. I got to the Rudolph Steiner House just in time for the last tour. (More details on this when I add links and photos.)

It's been a wonderful trip -- lovely friends, fun adventures, new discoveries, (virtually) no rain and no blisters. Next post will be from stateside, and photos will appear on Flickr in batches over the next several weeks.

Cheers, mates!

Distance covered: 22,229 steps (9.08 miles)
£10 to top up Oyster card
60p roll
£4.90 lunch at Red Veg
£2.50 thank you card from the Photographers Gallery
£2.50 apple crumble from Chamomile (to take to Spooner's for our dessert)
90p that I gave to a bloke on Marylebone Road who needed it for his bus ticket

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Sunday, September 20, 2009


My back, legs and energy level had been holding up really well until mid-day yesterday when I hit the wall. My back was sore and I was having trouble putting one foot in front of another, so we cut out 2/3 of the Open House plan, added a mission to the outdoor outfitter store in Covent Garden so that Spooner could get some things he needed for his trip to Scotland with a bunch of teens, and made it a shorter day. Here are the Open House venues we did see:

  • St Martin's Gospel Oak
  • Little Green Street
  • Cecil Sharp House (HQ of the English Folk Dance & Song Society)
  • Jestico & Whiles (an architecture firm)
  • Alexandra Road housing (the last large social housing estate built in London; the queue was long, so we didn't go in the flat but did walk through the estate)
We stopped for a pint at the Washington (Spooner's local), had dinner at the flat and then went to the Comedy Theatre to see Prick Up Your Ears, which was good but wasn't really a comedy.

After a long soak in Spooner's lovely tub, I feel ready to tackle Open House again today.

Distance covered: 22,386 steps (9.18 miles)
60p roll
£2.74 sandwich and bevvie at Fresh and Wild
£2.90 pint of Fuller's London Pride
£1 another beverage

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Immortalized on Walls

Most of yesterday's adventures will be shown in photos (now on Flickr). It was a morning of solitary roaming through Southwark to see more Dickens sites, most notably the one remaining wall of the Marshalsea Prison where his own father was imprisoned as a debtor and where much of Little Dorrit is set. I also saw places where gaols had once been, and saw Dickens immortalized as a primary school and Little Dorrit as a street. Near the beginning of the walk, I stopped into Borough Market to get portable food -- a spinach and goat cheese tart and lovely banana cake.

By early afternoon I had reached Waterloo to begin my walk through Lambeth to see the various projects of Southbank Mosaics. I started by circling St John's churchyard, where there are several mosaic benches and some other sculptural works in progress. I cut down Lower Marsh Street and nipped into I Knit and to Crockatt & Powell Booksellers -- didn't buy anything at either, but was tempted at the bookshop (50% off going out of business sale, which is quite sad as this independent bookseller is a much-loved institution in the neighborhood). On my route, I found about half of the mosaics I was looking for. The ones I didn't find included seating and a mural in Archbishop's Park (I think they are in the kiddie play area, and it's uncomfortable being a lone adult with camera in a playground) and a fountain that I thought was at the junction of Lambeth Palace Road and the Albert Embankment, but I sure didn't see it.

What I did find were the mosaics in four street underpasses (going under the railway tracks that lead into Waterloo Station). The first was Salamanca Street underpass, where the mosaics commemorate the Battle of Salamanca, the Spanish city itself, and the Duke of Wellington. Next was Black Prince Road, where the mosaics have to do with the Black Prince himself and with Doulton ceramics (the former Doulton factory is in this road -- the facade is still decorated with impressive tilework). Working my way back towards Waterloo, I next saw the Blake mosaic murals in the Carlisle Lane underpass. Blake, who lived for 10 years in nearby Hercules Road had written that he wanted his works to be enlarged and hung for the public to see. I think he would have approved of the mosaics.

I knew that I'd see the mosaic I worked on (by putting in a half a dozen glass bits) in the Centaur Street underpass, but I got the best surprise -- at the very end of the row (the west end, as I was coming from Hercules Road) is a plaque that names all the people who worked on the mosaics of Project Blake, including my five mates and me. So, my name is now on a wall in London. I'm chuffed.

The day ended with tea near the Coliseum with a Flickr mate, and then back to Belsize Park for drinks on Greg and Esther's roof terrace and a great dinner at a French restaurant.

Our plan for the weekend includes working in a bunch of Open House locations (all north of the Euston Road for Saturday, south of it on Sunday) and theatre tonight.

Distance covered: 32,655 (13.40 miles)
Expenses: 50p to use two loos (one in a church -- they shouldn't be charging)
£2 spinach and goat cheese tart
£2 banana cake
£4 Garden Museum
£10 to top up my Oyster card
£20 drinks and dinner

Friday, September 18, 2009

Clerkenwell: London's Little Italy

Yesterday's ramble had two themes: (1) Dickens sites in Clerkenwell and (2) imagining that my grandparents had left Milan for London (Clerkenwell is the old Italian enclave) instead of the wasteland of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Clerkenwell is a fairly discrete area, but despite that I managed to log 10 miles on the pedometer while zigging and zagging down little streets and passages. Plus, I had to backtrack a couple of times after getting turned around -- although this area isn't quite as confusing as the City, it's just as old and a bit of a rabbit warren.

I actually started the day in the City, at the art gallery in the Guildhall where I saw the post-war photos of freelance photographer John Gay. The images of the English countryside, Highgate, London train stations, etc., were striking -- he was brilliant at finding interesting details and angles, at following the light, and at capturing people in wonderful moments. The exhibition itself was a bit of a disappointment, however. John Gay left his thousands of negatives, mostly 2 1/4 or other large format, to English Heritage and they could have made lovely prints on photographic paper from those negatives, but this exhibition is of digitally made blow-ups.

As I wandered through Clerkenwell, I passed former monasteries, a huge plague pit, the Clerk's Well, craft studios, the place where Oliver Twist was nicked, the court where Mr Bumble appeared before a magistrate, old craft works buildings, and Dickens' bank. The Italian community was in evidence everywhere: dozens of Italian caffs, a Vespa dealer, a shop selling high-end Italian men's clothing, and a horse-drawn Victorian hearse outside St Peter's Italian Catholic Church in Clerkenwell Road. I ate lunch at Gazzano's deli in Farringdon Street, one of only two Clerkenwell delis still in the hands of the original family.

Fortified by a tasty panino, I braved the Bloody Barbican. I'd been around it before, but had never ventured INTO it. Gack! It's vast, with a labyrinth of highwalks running around the lake, school, church and housing blocks. It took ages to find the art gallery in the Barbican Centre, where I saw Radical Nature: Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet. Think Buckminster Fuller geodesic domes and plants growing sideways. My escape from the Barbican left me needing a sitdown and a snack, so -- after a brief detour through Postman's Park -- I met up with a Flickr mate in another Italian caff in Smithfield. Pushing onward, I made a brief stop at the Holborn Library to see an exhibition called King's Cross Voices (a photography and oral history project about people who had lived and worked around King's X). When I realized that most of what I was looking at and reading is on a website, I cut it short, walked over to Russell Square and caught the 168 bus back to Belsize Park.

The day ended with meeting another Flickr mate for a glass of wine before doing some grocery shopping at Budgens and heading back to the flat to make my dinner. I nearly fell asleep with my head in my plate.

Distance: 24,828 steps (10.17 miles)
£2.50 for the Guildhall art gallery
£6.40 for a panino & limonata (a bit more than I usually spend, but worth it)
£8 for the Barbican art gallery
£7.50 for drinks
£7.94 for groceries

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Lesson in Social History

Wednesday was a day without a set itinerary, although it had a planned beginning (the Geffrye Museum), middle (E Pellicci's Cafe) and an end (the Flickr meetup at the Mitre Pub). I was slowly making my way from Hoxton Square to the Geffrye where I was to meet two of my mates, snapping pix along the way, when I ran into Maggie who was doing the same thing. We continued on and met Malcolm in front of the museum, in plenty of time for the noon tour of the almshouse.

Here's what I've learned in a nutshell: I had long been conflating almshouses and workhouses, not realizing that these were very different facilities for the poor in England. Almshouses were established by benefactors -- a wealthy patron, a parish, or a guild -- to care for the "deserving" poor, particularly those from their own community. The almshouse we saw was established in 1714 by the Ironmongers' Company with a bequest from Sir Robert Geffrye, who had been the master of the company and Lord Mayor of London. The purpose was to provide safe, clean, modest housing for elderly members of the company, their widows, or other similarly deserving individuals who were vetted by the review board. You had to be at least 56 years old to live there, and of good character. There were various rules about going to chapel, being in by curfew, and keeping yourself and your room clean. Pensioners received an annual sum to live on, which some supplemented with personal assets, and coal for their grate. Each resident lived in a single room, which was ample size for a bed, table and chairs and a chair or two in front of the grate. Rooms also had a small pantry for storing dishes and food, which the residents purchased from vendors in the area and cooked for themselves. Each entry door led to four such rooms, and the copper boiler for water in the cellar was shared by the four units. Originally there were two privies in the back garden, and toilets were installed in the cellar (one per entry) in the late 19th century. This almshouse provided housing until the early 20th century, by which time the Shoreditch area had become less salubrious and the almshouse was relocated to somewhere in the countryside.

The less deserving poor were relegated to workhouses -- large institutions in which they received extremely minimal shelter and food in return for their labor in the workhouse laundry or whatever else it was that they did. After touring the almshouse, we walked a little bit up Kingsland Road and walked through the ground floor of a workhouse, which is now a large outpatient facility run by the NHS. While the idea of the almshouse was that the elderly residents would live out their days in modest comfort, the purpose of the workhouse was to get the poor off the streets and reform them through labor. Once someone entered a workhouse, I'm not sure what they had to do to get out. Nor do I know what happened to people who became unable to do the labor assigned to them. I'll try to find out more about this.

Our lunch destination was E Pellicci's, a Grade II listed cafe established in 1900 and still managed by the same Italian family. It's a tiny place on Bethnal Green Road with art deco marquetry paneling and Formica-topped tables. We all ordered the food of our own people. Maggie and Malcolm opted for traditional English fare (steak and kidney pie), and I got a mozzarella and tomato panino on ciabatta and a limonata.

The afternoon saw us continuing our ramble through the East End. We must have looked like we were doing a strangely-choreographed dance -- sometimes turning in three different directions to point cameras at different things, and other times turning in unison to zoom in on the same thing. Our photos will show graffiti, galleries, churches, bells and street name signs. No birds today.

An easy bus ride took us to Holborn for the Guess Where London meetup. As always it was great to see people from the group, to greet old friends and put new names with faces.

Distance: 24,848 steps (10.19 miles)
60p for another raisin and hazelnut roll
£2 admission to the almshouse
£6 for sandwich, beverage and tip
£1.20 (all the change I had) donation at the Whitechapel Gallery

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Our Feathered Friends

Birds have never figured much on my radar screen. Occasionally over the years, I've gone on walks with my pal ST, who is an avid birdwatcher, but it never took hold with me. I thought there were four types of birds: black, brown, white and pink. For whatever reason, I'm suddenly more aware of the varieties and differences, and on this trip I've been seeing birds all around me that I've never noticed before.

In Hyde Park, I saw strange birds hopping on the ground. They were the size of a large pigeon, white on front, black on their heads, and blue on the back. Spooner says they are magpies, which I'd heard of but I had never seen (I thought magpie was another name for crow). Also in Hyde Park, as I sat at the tea house munching a snack, little speckled brown birds kept pestering my by getting right up on the table next to me. I now know that these are European starlings.

The most exciting bird sighting came on my day trip Tuesday with my mates Helen and Judy to Henley-on-Thames. Weeks ago, when I read in the guidebook that we might see red kites flying over the fields along this walk, I pictured children flying kites like on Parliament Hill, all of them red per some local custom. That was incorrect. Red kites are birds, some kind of raptor I think, that once were nearly wiped out in this area but have been reintroduced in the Chiltern Hills and are coming back nicely.

The grey and overcast day started at Ladbroke Grove station, where I met Judy and Helen, who had gotten a car from her car club for the day. We headed northwest out of London on the A40, past the Hoover Building, which I recognized from my bus trip down from Oxford for a day in London in 1998. Henley-on-Thames is about an hour out of London, going through rolling hills, fields and woods to get there. We found it quite easily, parked the car, used the loo, and started on our walk, first going across the Thames and then heading north into a strong, chilly headwind as we walked along the Thames Path. This stretch is not particularly interesting -- some big, posh houses and some boats, but not much else. To get out of the wind and in hopes of seeing something more interesting, we turned right onto a footpath just before Temple Island. And not two minutes later, we saw the first red kite, swooping around the trees over a farm. After the wee village of Remenham, with an interesting old stone and flint church (St Nicholas Remenham) and churchyard containing some creepy statuary fit for the Dr. Who episode "Blink," we turned north along a narrow road. This put us a bit higher than the farms and fields below us, and we were able to see the back sides of some red kites -- kind of pink and white, much lighter than they look when you see their bellies as they fly over your head. It was exciting to watch them, first below us, then above. At some point on this road, we saw a stile over a fence, and even though we didn't have to cross it, my mates encouraged me to climb over it so I could say that I had done, seeing as it was my first encounter with an English stile. We plodded onward until we reached another small village (Aston) and stopped at the Flower Pot pub for a nice lunch.

Fortified by our lunch, we headed back to the Thames Path, passing by a couple of farmyards with chickens, ducks and a very large sow. Not quite Cold Comfort Farm, but similar. Turning left at the Thames Path, the wind was now at our backs, pushing us along, first to Hambleden Lock and then back to Henley. We saw more feathered friends along the way -- coots, ducks, swans, Canada geese and cormorants. Helen saw a kingfisher, but I missed it. The rain that had been threatening all day held off until we were a half mile from the end of our walk (it was torrential by the time we drove back into London).

Much thanks to Helen and Judy for my day in the English countryside, for showing me my first footpath, stile and red kite, and for listening to my endless prattle of "Wow! Look at that!"

Distance: 21,110 steps (8.66 miles)
Expenses: £5.15 for an egg & mayo sandwich and half pint of bitter
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Monday, September 14, 2009

The Dead, the Gasometer, and the Line of Beauty

After a great night sleep on the inflate-o-bed that I bought for Spooner from (because he doesn't do online shopping -- what's up with that?), and waking up sans jet lag, I set out for what I thought was going to be a relatively easy first day on the pavement. Crikey, was I wrong about that. I've just walked back into Spooner's flat, poured a glass of his Scotch, and looked at my pedometer. I walked 28,688 steps today (that's 11.76 miles), so it's no wonder that I could hardly drag myself up the 50 steep, windy, treacherous stair steps to the flat. My feet are sore, but I don't have any blisters and my back held up really well. (I must remember to do my stretches at least once a day while I'm here.)

My day started with a short, brisk walk up to the Hampstead Heath overground station. Rosenbeans will remember that station -- the network used to be called the Thameslink, and you couldn't use your pre-Oyster travel card on the line, so Rosenbeans and I would get the train between Finchley and Frognal where we were staying and Hampstead Heath near Spooner's first flat, trying to avoid having to pay the fare to the ticket collector on the train. Now you just use your Oyster card. I got off at Kensal Rise station and realized that I hadn't a clue how to get from there to Kensal Green Cemetery, but I did know it was on the Harrow Road. Seeing that I was literally on a rise, I walked downhill and got to the Harrow Road soon enough. The gates were open and I walked into the cemetery. Not 5 minutes later I ran into a woman who started chatting. She clearly knew her way around, and I did not. I said that I did know that Charles Dickens' beloved sister-in-law was buried somewhere near the entrance, and she showed me right to her grave, not 20 feet from where we were standing. Dickens really wanted to be buried next to Mary Hogarth, his wife's sister, but the family prevailed and buried Mary in the Hogarth family plot, sans Charles. He did pay for a nice marker for her.

At the suggestion of the woman I met in the cemetery, I went back to the office and bought the £2 guide to who is buried where. I could easily have spent half a day in the cemetery, but I cut it short after finding Marc Brunel's tomb, on which someone had just recently laid a bouquet of lilies, and not finding Wilkie Collins or Anthony Trollope. I can now check off #3 on the list of the Magnificent Seven.

Leaving the dead in the shadow of the gasometer, I crossed the Grand Union Canal and started my walk through Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill. I saw nearly everything on the walk that I had mapped out, and I'm so glad that I did this on a Monday, i.e. non-market day. I found two decent, though very different, loos along the way -- one just inside the main door of Sainsbury's at the start of my walk, and the other a Victorian subterranean public loo. So many of the public loos in London have been closed, and the ones that remain open are usually Gents', so I felt that I really HAD to use the Ladies' under Bevington Road, just off Golborne. It was clean, safe, cost 20p to get into a stall, and had a lingering wiff of Victorian bog pong that seemed right.

Along my route I saw many things recommended to me by my Flickr mate Malcolm, and found the places referred to in The Line of Beauty -- the pub where Nick and Leo meet, the house in Kensington Park Gardens where the Feddens live, the private garden itself (which is most likely Ladbroke Square Gardens and not Kensington Park Gardens), the cinemas at Notting Hill Gate, and ended my walk on Rotten Row in Hyde Park, which Nick walks along after leaving Lowndes Square (which I skipped seeing) near the end of the book. In between these noted places, I saw photos on a wall, mosaics, a tiki bar, bootscrapers, some interesting doorbells, a reflective pavilion, and picked up a few conkers. When I reached the point where I could walk no more, I exited Hyde Park, hopped the tube at Knightsbridge, and called it a day.

Pedometer reading: 28,668 steps (11.76 miles)
60p for a raisin and hazelnut roll to munch through the morning
£2 for the cemetery guide
£3 for a tuna and salad sandwich on brown bread and a bottle of water
£1.60 for a chocolate croissant at the tea house in Kensington Gardens

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In England's Green and Pleasant Land

I can't believe that I'm still standing, let alone writing this post, given that I slept all of an hour and a half on the plane and didn't nap when I reached Spooner's. It took me over an hour to get through immigration at Heathrow -- it's usually about 20 minutes, but this is a particularly busy time because international students are all arriving for the fall term and, let's face it, this is a great time of year to be in London.

We actually worked in a lot of stuff for a half day of exploring, with one person only semi-coherent and semi-oriented. We took the tube to Moorgate and then headed over to Liverpool Station so I could use the loo (note to self: the loo costs 30p). I'd heard about the Raven Row Gallery on the Robert Elms Show on BBC London, so I wanted to stop briefly there. It is in an absolutely wonderful Georgian house that once had shops on the ground floor, behind beautiful bowed windows. The gallery is the inspiration of Alex Sainsbury (Son of Sainsbury's) and features new contemporary artists. But the building itself is the real work of art, and worth seeing no matter what is on in the gallery. Everything has been painted the same ivory color, which might sound a bit monotonous and boring, but it really serves to highlight the lovely bones and bows of the house and the rooms.

From there, we went to Dennis Severs House, a totally different type of back-in-time experience. The house is in Folgate Street near Spitalfields Market, and was once the home of Huguenot silk weavers. Dennis Severs purchased the house in the 1970s, saving it from the wrecking ball. He lovingly filled the rooms with what, in his imagination, depicted the lives of the (imaginary) Jarvis family during different times in the 17th - 19th centuries. The rooms are absolutely chock-a-block with stuff -- half-nibbled biscuits, clothing, furnishing, pets, chamber pots, etc., etc. But that's not all. Dennis Severs actually lived in this house for 20 years. A house without electricity, central heating, plumbing (there is one cold water tap in the basement kitchen), or a bathtub. Since his death, friends of Dennis Severs have maintained the house as he would have wanted it. The idea is that visitors will walk around from room to room, silently experiencing the house and its inhabitants. You sense that someone has just left a room or that you are intruding on a private moment. The whole thing is meant to be a multi-sensory, time transport experience that can be yours for £8.

We did a little more rambling in the East End: Spooner shopped for spices in Brick Lane, I looked for street name signs and street art, and we stopped for snacks at the Albion Cafe (corner of Redchurch and Boundary Rd). Quite a lot, really, for an arrival day on little sleep.

Tomorrow: Kensal Green Cemetery and Notting Hill (weather permitting)

Distance covered: 16579 steps (6.8 miles)
£20 to top up my Oyster card
£8 for Dennis Severs House
£4.10 for snacks at the Albion Cafe

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Blake and Mosaics in Lambeth

View Lambeth in a larger map

Whew! I finished my last map for the London trip. This walk is primarily about the life of William Blake, who lived in Lambeth from 1790 to 1800, and the Southbank Mosaics project that commemorates his work. The goals of Southbank Mosaics are to beautify the streets around Waterloo and to provide skills to marginalized people of the area. Hundreds of members of the local community have also volunteered their time on
Project Blake, working on the mosaics and recording Blake's poetry. A few of my Flickrmates and I volunteered for an afternoon last year, mostly sorting donated tile into bins by color and also putting a few glass pieces into Blake mosaics that were in process in the studio. The panels we worked on are now hanging in a railway tunnel in Centaur Street. I really haven't read much of Blake's poetry, except for "Jerusalem" and the one about the tyger, but I'll read up.

A visit to Lambeth must include a stroll down Lower Marsh Street, where there are many vintage clothing shops, market carts in the street, and I Knit, the best knitting shop in London and the only one in the UK with a liquor license. You can hang out on their sofas, work on your knitting project, and have a glass of wine or beer. Northampton SO needs something like this.

On this walk, I may also spend some time at the Garden Museum and the second hand book stalls by the National Theatre. The Tate Modern and the Hayward Gallery are close by -- both good places to go to use the loo or get out of the rain.
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dickens in Southwark

View Dickens in Southwark in a larger map

I've made yet another walking tour map. This one follows nearly verbatim and step-by-step the Dickens in Southwark walk on Richard Jones's London Walking Tours website. I'm not sure if I'll climb the 311 steps to the top of the Monument at the beginning of the walk (nah, too chicken) or pay to see the Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret at St Thomas Church. I've got this planned for a Friday so that I can buy portable food for the day at Borough Market. The banana cake and brownies from Flour Power City Bakery there are to die for.

The last walk I need to map out is Blake in Lambeth before I start plotting out our plan of attack for London Open House weekend. I hope my loyal readers aren't getting too bored by these maps. I've made them public on Google maps, and I surprised to see that they're getting quite a few views, so I'm curious if other people are actually printing them out and using them. If you do, please leave me a comment and let me know how it went for you.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Ladbroke Grove to Notting Hill Gate

View Ladbroke Grove to Notting Hill Gate in a larger map

Now that I've gotten the hang of making my own Google maps, I'm having a lot of fun plotting out my London adventures. Usually when I walk around London, I carry a map book as well as narrative descriptions of a particular walk copied from a book or two, and maybe another map that I've printed from the web. It's rare that I follow any one prescribed course, as I'm generally trying to cobble together bits of different ones and work in other things of interest to me along the route. Now that I'm slipping into my dotage, I tend to forget some things in all this checking back and forth between my papers (and I look like a fool standing on a street corner, leafing through everything and trying to work out where I'm going next). With my own customized maps, I'm hoping to see more of what I want and look less of a prat doing it.

I'm planning to start this walk at the gates of Kensal Green Cemetery when they open at 9 a.m. I'll roam around the cemetery for a while (this will be the third of the Magnificent Seven that I'll see), and then cross Regent's Canal into Ladbroke Grove. From there, I'll wander down Portobello Road, which I hope won't be so crowded as I'm planning this for a week day, and into Notting Hill. I've mapped out some of the places in Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty (2004 Man Booker prize winner, and also a great miniseries). After that, I'll head toward Hyde Park for a walk through Kensington Gardens and over to the Serpentine Gallery. Weather permitting, of course. If it rains, I reckon I'll spend the day at the V&A and the Natural History Museum.
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Monday, July 20, 2009

Of Monks and Thieves: A Walk Around Clerkenwell

View Clerkenwell Walk in a larger map

For the past two years, I've been saying that I'm going to do a walk around Clerkenwell, but I haven't gotten to it yet. When I next go to London, I'm bound and determined to work it in. I've read several different walks (in Time Out London Walks and an online walk of Dickens' London), and made my own walk on Google Maps. It starts with the Priory of St John, continues on to Bleeding Heart Yard (mentioned in Little Dorrit) and Clerkenwell Green, passing several locations in Oliver Twist, then goes through Exmouth Market, down a lovely old Georgian street where Dickens' bank was located, and ends up in Whitecross Street. I've worked in several places to stop for food and beverages, including one of the few remaining Italian delis in the area, and Whitecross Market where there are specialty food vendors on Thursday and Friday. Since the walk starts and ends at the Barbican, there's an opportunity to stop in there to see what's on in the art gallery. And if it starts to pour, the Museum of London is a close by place to take shelter.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bears! Oh, My!

There usually isn't much happening on the sad streets of Easthampton. Unlike Amherst, it lacks a lovely town common. It has none of the trendy stores that draw people to Northampton. And it seems that the recession has hit the streets of Easthampton harder than the other towns, if the "For Rent" signs are any indicator. In Easthampton's defense, however, I must say that the open studio days at the numerous artists' studios in a couple of the former factories are a huge draw, and the watch repair shop comes highly recommended. But now, Easthampton's got something that no other local town has -- it's Bear Fest.

The bears got their start several months ago when they were distributed to local artists. Here are some of them, waiting to be picked up by their artists:

I snapped the naked bear below back in March, as it posed in the window of a gallery, where local artist Greg Stone painted it with a fish motif. It now sits next to Nashawannuck Pond.

Last weekend, I walked around the rotary and down Union Street, seeing and snapping about half of the 30-some bears. Along the way, I saw dozens of other people out admiring the bears, smiling and laughing. The otherwise sad streets felt much happier with the bears in town. I plan to go back soon to find and photograph the rest of them. See them on my Flickr page.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

At Last, Summer

I came back from Santa Fe with great intentions for my summer. I was going to do tons of walking and swimming. I had a new photography project planned, involving driving to a different Franklin or Hampshire County hilltown each week, wandering around and taking pix. But then the rains came. In June, it rained something like 24 or 25 days out of 30. I tried to tell myself that walking in the rain would be practice for London, but most days the thought of it made me just too miserable. I swam all of four times all month, and my work on the photo project was zilch.

As we turned the page on June, the sun started to emerge. So far in July, each day has just gotten better and better. I was so excited about it that on Sunday I did a 3 mile walk AND swam 15 lengths of the pool, getting a bit of a sunburn in the process. At the pool, I started working on my London plans, pouring over last year's Open House program and making index cards for things I'd like to do this year. Major contenders (if these sites are open again this year) include:
I may get back to my hilltowns photography project yet, as I've got some ideas for it in my head. If the rain stays away, that is.

P.S. -- Within an hour of writing this post, the sky turned dark, thunder rumbled, and the rain poured down again.
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Friday, May 29, 2009

Heading Home

It's 7:45 a.m. and I'm sitting in the Albuquerque airport, which they call the Sunport for some unknown reason. I got up three hours ago, and did have a cup of coffee before leaving my casita, but I'm still pretty bleary-eyed and can't remember too much of what I did yesterday. I remember that I saw a great photography exhibition at the Palace of the Governors called "Through the Lens: Creating Santa Fe" and later we drove out to the Shidoni Foundry to walk through the sculpture garden.

Then something truly memorable happened. Near Shidoni, we pulled over to the side of the road to look at the views and I saw it -- the magical beast that I've been fascinated by since my first trip out west when I was 11. There, sitting on a rock, surveying the panorama of scenery spread out below, was a jackalope in its natural habitat. I snuck up on him and got a photo from the back. He became aware of me, but was more curious than shy (he must have known I was a friend, not a foe) and came over to stick his nose in my camera before scampering off into the brush.

Back in Santa Fe at the end of the day, we had beers at Marble, a coffee house and brew pub whose wifi I'd been hijacking all week from the plaza. I then walked over to Cafe Dominic where I had fish tacos and listened to a cowboy folk singer. Hasta luego, Santa Fe. It's been fantastico.

Thursday's stats:
Distance walked: 21535 steps (8.15 miles)

$9 for admission to Through the Lens: Creating Santa Fe at the Palace of the Governors
$17.81 Stampafe Art Stamps
$14.82 dinner

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Churches, galleries and jackalopes

Today's post is going to be short as it's chilly in the plaza this morning.

Yesterday I looked in on three churches (the Cathedral, the Loretto Chapel with the miraculous staircase, and San Miguel Mission) before walking a ways down Canyon Road and going into several galleries. I'm feeling a bit sated where the art is concerned, so when the skies turned dark and the thunder rumbled, I turned around and walked back into town. I made it to Guadalupe Street just as the downpour started and ducked into Cafe Dominic where I had an amazingly good cup of sopa azteca. Hands down, it was the best thing I've eaten since I got here. My mates picked me up there and we went to a gigantic import emporium called Jackalope. I took several pix of the jackalopes they had for sale, and got a couple of the free jackalope temporary tattoos. I'm still seeking a genuine jackalope in the wild, however. Drinks and dinner followed -- we went to Maria's, home of the best margaritas in Santa Fe.

Wednesday's stats:
18322 steps (7 miles)
$4 to get into churches
$4 for lunch at Dominic's
$16 for stuff at Jackalope
$25 for drinks and dinner

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A pueblo and a painting

I'm back in the plaza for this morning's blogging. It's quiet and peaceful here today -- looks like a lot of the tourists who were here over the weekend have gone home.

Yesterday we took a roadtrip to Taos, driving up and back along the lower road, which hugs the Rio Grande. (I had wanted to take the high road through the mountains for one leg of the journey, but the others outvoted me.) The scenery was incredible -- rolling hills covered with pinon and juniper bushes, jagged outcrops of rock, mountain peaks, and the river, sometimes rushing right next to the road and other times unseen at the bottom of a canyon.

Our first stop was Taos Pueblo, which claims to be the oldest continuous settlement in North America, dating from 900 A.D. We wandered around on our own, all of us too cheap to spring for the guided tour (this was probably a mistake). I loved the architecture -- the adobe with bits of straw sticking out, the shadows cast by the vigas and ladders, and the bright blue paint on doors and window frames.

After lunch in Taos, I set out on my mission. There are hundreds of galleries to browse, but I headed straight for Wilder Nightingale Fine Art where I knew there would be paintings by Tom Noble, a favorite of Spooner's. When I had looked up this gallery online last week, I saw works by another artist that looked interesting. Her name is Michelle Chrisman; she's a plein air painter who uses her pallet knife to apply globs of vibrant colors (a Fauve-like pallet). The upshot of this story is that I bought one of her paintings. It's a landscape of the scenery we passed on our drive, with the mountains and the river canyon.

Tuesday's stats:
14600 steps (5.5 miles)

$1.73 bagel for breakfast
$15 admission to Pueblo Taos
$12 lunch in Taos
$14.02 stuffed jackalope
$21 drinks and dinner
Not telling what I spent on the painting

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day Update

This morning I'm blogging from a parking lot near my casita. I'm sitting on some concrete steps across the lot from the Burger Bowl and the UPS Store, using the wifi of Casas de Guadalupe, which must be close by as the signal is quite strong.

The New Mexico History Museum had its grand opening this past weekend. We didn't go as the lines were long, but we did take advantage of the free admission that four other museums were offering in conjunction. We drove out to Museum Hill and went to the International Museum of Folk Art and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. Back in town, I wondered around the rail yard and the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe while the others had lunch at Cowgirl BBQ. I think I got some good pix. Unfortunately, the church of OLoG was closed -- I'll have to try to get in later in the week. This wandering was followed by more roaming around the plaza, going into a couple of galleries, and then the New Mexico Museum of Art (I only had time to see one exhibition -- "How the West is One," which showed how the New Mexico style evolved, with artists incorporating styles from elsewhere and being influenced by the native art and the landscapes they found here).

Today we're heading up north to Taos. So far, I've had no trouble getting used to the altitude here, and I'm happy to report that my back, though somewhat sore, is holding out.

Monday's stats:
16,055 steps (about 6.5 miles; I had to replace the battery in my pedometer and I'm not certain I have my stride length entered correctly)

$7.43 groceries
$2.49 battery for pedometer
$2.53 tea at Starbucks
$2.15 another bev
$10 dinner

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Mi Casita

Hola amigas y amgos. I'm sitting on a bench in the plaza, writing my first blogpost from Santa Fe. Finding free wifi has been a bit of a challenge, as is writing on my Nokia internet tablet, so ignore any misspellings or other weirdness.

My casita is just as I imagined it would be -- it's funky and wonky, and although it has all the necessary conveniences, they aren't exactly what you'd call mod cons. The only disappointment is the lack of wifi -- it just doesn't travel from the router at the main b&b house, through the adobe and into my casita.

Travel here was uneventful for the most part. My shuttle from Albuquerque took longer than expected due to a detour to a retreat called Sunrise Springs to drop off four people going there to attend a week-long "intensive" run by Wisdom University. I'd somehow forgotten that this area attracts even more new age nutters than Northampton does.

It's now the morning of my first full day here, and I'm meeting my mates in a few minutes to do some museums. Hasta luego.

Sunday's stats:
12000 steps (5.07 miles)

$7.43 crappy food at Minneapolis airport

$25 shuttle from airport to Santa Fe
$4.15 rolls and bev

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Heading for Santa Fe

My mates Jeanne and Tim are leaving for Santa Fe this week, and I'll be following them out there a couple days later. We got together last week over bevvies and nibbles to plan some of our activities (click on the spreadsheet above). The plan is to take in several museums on Monday, as a number of them will have free admission in conjunction with the grand opening of the New Mexico History Museum. We'll take a day trip up to Taos one other day, stopping at Santuario de Chimayo to get some of the sacred healing dirt (we're all heathens, so it probably won't work) and possibly going to Taos Pueblo. The rest of the time will be filled with wandering around, taking lots of photos, drinking margaritas and eating good food. I'll try to do a bit of blogging while I'm there. Since my four faithful readers seemed to like hearing about my expenses and pedometer readings from my most recent London trip, I'll include that stuff again. Check back here next week, and watch for photos on Flickr when I return.
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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Walking Historical Florence

Steve Strimer has been leading history walks around Florence for a while, and I finally went on one of them recently. I've lived in and around Florence (a village of Northampton) for years, driving through at least twice a day, and often neglecting to take the time to consider the rich history beneath the pavement and behind the clapboard facades. The village was the site of a utopian community, a hotbed of abolitionism, a stop on the underground railroad, and home to many escaped slaves and free blacks including Sojourner Truth and David Ruggles. Steve has done much research on all of this, pouring through old documents and poking around in people's attics, and he periodically takes groups on walks to share his knowledge.

David Ruggles was born a free black in Connecticut in 1810 and moved to New York where he opened a grocery store, became a publisher of abolitionist pamphlets and was the first African American to own a bookstore. In 1842 he moved to Florence, where he joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, a utopian community. He remained active in the abolitionist movement here and also opened a water cure facility (Northampton had several water cure and spa facilities in the mid-1800s). Near blind and in poor health, he died here in 1849.

This little clapboard cottage will one day be the David Ruggles Center for Early Florence History and Underground Railroad Studies. It's not a house he lived in, but was contemporary with his time in Florence.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This just in from London

The Obamas and the WindsorsImage by ☞ John McNab via Flickr

Spooner sent me a most excellent postcard of the Obamas and the Queen. It's this photo, but they've wisely cropped the Duke out of the postcard because he looks sneaky and too much like Klaus von Bulow.

I've booked my next trip to the UK (in September, so that I can do Open House Weekend again). Apparently, Spooner will be moving before then. I'll miss Primrose Gardens -- I'll either have to learn to like his new patch (wherever that turns out to be) or I'll have to stay with the nuns at the women's hostel in Belsize Park. Hmmmmmm....

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Santa Fe on a Budget

Georgia O'Keeffe, Ram's Head White Hollyhock a...Image via Wikipedia

It's rare that I travel anyplace where I have to pay for both transportation and accommodations. I've had some great vacations on the cheap. Mostly, I mooch a guestroom or a futon from a friend, while I pay for my airfare plus entrance fees to museums and some of my meals. Other times, when I traveled for my old job, I used to add a day at the beginning or end of trips, and my workmate ST and I would split the cost of an extra night in the hotel, while our airfare was covered by the org we worked for.

This upcoming trip to Santa Fe is a bit out of my usual mode as the mooching opportunities are minimal, which means I have to scope out how to do this on a budget. My mates ScribeGirl and her husband will be in Santa Fe with another couple at their time share, and I'll be in town for part of the week that they're there. So I'm arranging my own digs for five nights.

I'm not really keen on either hotels (all those identical, characterless rooms) or B&Bs (sharing close quarters with strangers). When Rosenbeans and I went to London for a week in 2004, we had accommodations that worked out really well. We stayed at the Langorf Hotel, which is actually three Edwardian terrace houses in Frognal near the Finchley Road, two of which have B&B rooms and one -- where we stayed -- that is divided into studios and small apartments. We had a little apartment with a bedroom, full bathroom, kitchenette, and lounge with a sofa bed that I slept on, a table with four chairs and a TV with four channels. We even had one of those European washer/dryers, but sadly it leaked all over the floor of the kitchenette due to a torn gasket and we had to finish washing and rinsing our underwear and socks in the tub and hang them all over the apartment to dry.

But I digress. When I started to look for a place to stay in Santa Fe, I typed things like "weekly rental Santa Fe" and "vacation apartment Santa Fe" into Google, and a few clicks kept leading me to the same place: Chapelle Street Casitas. Run in conjunction with Casa del Toro B&B, this place is made up of several properties within a couple blocks just north of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. All the reviews that I saw were glowing. I checked availability online and watched videos of several of the available spaces. I liked the sound of this unit from the description on the website:

This one has 100 year old plank wood floors and is an old old adobe that has settled a bit here and there. Bottom line is there is not a level spot in the whole room. There is a full bath with acid stained concrete walls. Best thing is gas burning stove in the Living Room that keeps everything nice and cozy.

There's also a full kitchen that looks frozen in time, circa 1965, as well as satellite TV and wifi. When I called and spoke to Paul on the phone, he told me that this unit is funky and old fashioned. I asked if it's clean, safe and quiet, and he assured me that it is. Sounds a lot like me: vintage, funky, clean and quiet. So I booked it. Here's the best part: $68/night plus tax. That comes to a bit under $400 for five nights.

Paul told me that I'd receive an e-mail confirmation in a few minutes (I did) and that it would contain several pages of detailed info about the accommodations (indeed, it did). He encouraged me to contact them with any questions, but cautioned that there would be severe consequences if I was to ask anything that's explained in the e-mail. I'm sure they get their share of needy, whiny yuppies as guests, so the peremptory strike is fair and understandable.

Now that I've got my reservations for flights and accommodations sorted, I'll move on to start my research of what to do while I'm in Santa Fe. More on that later, mates.
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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Adventures, old and new

A map of London in 1300 from a historical atla...Image via Wikipedia

I'm such a geek, and so taken with Apture, that I've just gone back through my (old) September dispatches from London and added all kinds of rich content goodness to them -- links, photos, maps and a video or two. Some of my loyal readers are just as geeky as I am and like this sort of thing, so I encourage you to go back and re-read the posts while clicking on the Apture links for all the extras. If you have questions about any of the places I saw, or want more info about anything, leave me a comment and I'll search out some more content for you.

And now for the new: I've just purchased a ticket to Santa Fe, New Mexico for five days in May for the unbeatable price of $196 round trip (airfare Hartford/Albuquerque; the shuttle up to Santa Fe will be another $25). Now, I'm doing online research on cheap places to stay, reading reviews and watching some clunky homemade videos of various B&B offerings. It's been ten or twelve years since my one and only previous trip to Santa Fe, and that was for a conference so I really didn't have an opportunity to explore much back then. This visit may have a daytrip up to Taos and will definitely involve lots of photo-taking. More info to follow as I make a spreadsheet of the things I want to do and see. Meanwhile, winter drags on
like an indeterminant sentence. It's good to have something to look forward to -- especially something involving sunshine and warm weather.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I'm Captured by Apture

I know I say this whenever I find some new gadget or gizmo, but this one really is the best thing for blogs since sliced bread. It's called Apture, and like Zemanta, it helps you to add links to your blog posts. But Apture takes things beyond where Zemanta goes -- with Apture, you can link to media files and point to more than one place with your link. It creates pop-up boxes -- yes, we all hate pop-up boxes, but stay with me here -- that show you a Wikipedia article, map, video, photo, or all of those things for one target.

I'm not very good at explaining this, so you'll have to see it in action. Go to one of my posts below. You'll notice that some of the links have a wee icon (book, camera, movie film, etc.) to the left of the link. Those are Apture links. Mouse over the link, but don't click. A box will open up and you'll see the linked item without ever leaving my blog. In most instances, I've got only one item for each link, but I've added maps and photos to some of them and will add more in due time.

If you like what you see, click on Get Apture at the bottom of one of my boxes. All you have to do is create a free account and follow the steps to put a gadget box on your blog. There's no software to download, so you can use it on any computer once you've made your account. Be sure to watch the tutorial video. You'll be Aptured before you know it.
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