Glasgow – not so great – but I’m glad I visited


In thinking back on it – There was no way that Glasgow was going to compete with Edinburgh. Our new friends from last night had told us that we were going from ‘culture’ to ‘clutter’ – and they were of course correct.

Our Glasgow Air BnB is at best adaquate – and totally loses when compared to the palace that is Isaac’s and Derek’s pad in Edinburgh. It’s a tiny 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom flat in a forgetable building above a store that sells wall paper in an industrial part of Glasgow. The living/dining/kitchen space is tiny, and the only table is hogged by our host Neil’s computer. To add insult to injury, he’s ironing when we arrive – so there’s his laundry everywhere. I’ll give him credit for asking what food to buy for our breakfast, but he’s also clear that we are on our own. He works evenings into the night, and won’t be up in the morning. He also has no maps to give us, and can’t even make suggestions on places to visit. Still, he welcomes us warmly, and that’s a good start.

Our room is basic – a bed, a window, a tiny desk, and the best part – an en-suite bathroom. That and the location near the city center are the best parts of Neil’s place. Oh well – this is our 6th Air BnB in 30 days – I guess one had to be 4 star. And after Isaac and Derek’s place – I’m not sure what would be needed to be 5 star.

Surprisingly – Neil tells us that he’s fully booked – and the income from Air BnB pays his rent. Hmm.

Anyway – we make our selves comfy. After he leaves for work, we move the computer off the dining table, fold away the ironing board, and basically create a space we can at least enjoy dinner in! We walk up to a nearby grocery store, get the makings of a nice dinner – and decide to tour Glasgow in the morning. We’re done for today.

The next morning – our one and only day in Glasgow – we opt to start by finding me a place for coffee – and then decide to check out the Cathedral. After that – well – we’ll go from there.

Unlike all of our other locations, this one is mostly industrial and shopping – so no upscale coffee shop to be seen. We hike up hill towards the Cathedral, going thru the ‘university’ section – I’m thinking there is bound to be coffee for the students. And I’m right – there it is! A cute coffee shop, with take-away latte. Color me happy.

The tour of the Cathedral is wonderful. The guide (where do they find these people) is super knowledgable, and very easy to listen to, and the history is very neat. Our fellow tourists are a german choir – and at one point they ask to test the acoustics. Lovely – totally lovely.

We then walk across to the St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art. Seriously – St. Mungo’s of Harry Potter Fame. St. Mungo was a real guy – and he’s the patron saint of Glasgow. The Museum is well worth a visit. There’s a fairly large section devoted to different religions, comparing how various religions treat the same ‘life’ events – birth, death, marriage, coming of age, etc. It’s fascinating. They do lump some religions into big groups – Jewish and Christian are just two groups, there’s no effort to distinquish between variances in these groups, and probably justifably. There is a lot more difference between Christian and Sikh say.

We then stroll thru the University Campus, and wend our way towards downtown Glasgow. We check out the bronze of the Young Queen Victoria in George’s Square, admire some of the truly incredible building designs – and we grind to a total stop to admire one building that features an absolutely huge abstract metal peacock running the entire city block. Naturally, we also visit the Lighthouse – Glasgow’s center for Architecture.

Soon enough, we’re back at our overly cozy pad for dinner, relaxing, and bed. Tomorrow we begin the long – and since I’m writing this after the fact – thankfully uneventful trip back home.

So ends our 31 days in the UK.

We visited at least 28 museums, stayed in 6 Air BnB’s, visited 7 cities (London, Oxford, Birmingham, Morecambe, York, Edinburgh, and Glasgow), met some amazingly interesting people, ate glorious meals, learned a lot of history, rode the tube, took the train, traveled on buses and even managed one uber taxi.

And we did it all UNDER our $3000 Canadian per person including all travel budget.

The Intrepid Traveler and the Soup Lady rock another trip!

Signing off until the next time there’s something to report – The Soup Lady and her sidekick – The Intrepid Traveler.

Edinburgh – A Perfect Day


Some days are simply the best – and when you say goodnight – you know that this will be a day you’ll be talking about forever. That totally describes our third day in Edinburgh. An absolutely perfect day.

It started off really the night before. We’d gone to Evening Services at the Roman Catholic Cathedral – a totally enjoyable meeting with a wonderful sermon all about how G-d is just waiting for you to do your part. It reminded me of the old joke – A man keeps praying – G-d, let me win the lottery, G-d, let me win the lottery. After years of this, he finally hears a voice – “Buy a ticket already!”

If you don’t participate – you will never know what you are (or are not in some cases) missing! Anyway – it was a lovely, clearly local event – full of reminders of things upcoming (they are having a cocktail/mocktail party to fund raise and ‘meet the neighbors’ for example). The Priest was clearly playing to a full house – and knew it.

Services over, we returned home and our hosts warned us before heading out for the evening – tomorrow we are having a ‘brunch’ party with some friends – but it should be over by 5:00.

So pre-warned, our plan is to stay gone all day. Shouldn’t be a problem – Edinburgh is such a cool city.

Our first stop is Gladstone Land, a National Trust House that dates back hundreds of years – and has guided tours. The bottom of the House is a retail shop full of interesting things (plaid and wool being very popular motifs), but it’s the upstairs that you can only see on the tour that is the real prize. Our guide is at least 90 – and he makes it clear that his knees aren’t up to going quickly up the narrow sprial staircase (not original, built by the NT). He’s probably our best guide ever. His knowledge is encyclopedic – not just about the history of the House (it’s amazing), but about what the NT does and doesn’t do right. We alternatively laughed and sighed with him. He’d walk into a room – and ask – “Any Questions”. We’d just have to pick out one item – and he’d have the bit in his teeth and be away! He talked about making Bannock – and showed us Bannock flippers. He described the real estate doings of Gladstone (he was a terrible business man – but amazing at real estate), and made the rooms and the furnishings burst into life.

Wow. The Intrepid Traveler and I agree, not for the first time, that the Canadian Museums have seriously got to up their game. The Brits and the Scots have totally got us beat.

We leave 2 hours later much impressed with the challenges of living in Edinburgh thru the ages, and completely amazed that any of these buildings survived at all – let alone is such good shape. They knew how to build in those days – seriously solidly! This particular building was at least 5 (walk-up) floors – and it’s not a unique example. Some buildings are known to have been 14 stories – this is pre-elevators of course. The top and bottom floors were for the ‘lower’ class – middle floors for the ‘upper’ class. You can guess why!

Next on our list is lunch at a pub (this and Fish and Chips were on the Intrepid Traveler’s must do list). We bypass Onik (with it’s roasted pig in the window), The Witchery, and The Boosy Cow to eat at Deacon Brodies Tavern. Delicious Fish and Chips to share works for us – and we chit chat with our fellow dinners before venturing out again.

Our next stop is The Real Mary King Close, but I keep seeing men in Top hats, morning suits (that’s tails and grey pants – just FYI) and carrying large wooden batons. We passed a group heading down hill on our way up to Gladstone’s Land earlier, and are spoting more groups heading back up hill now. Can’t be a wedding – they aren’t ‘groupy’ enough. So naturally – curiosity gets the best of us, and we stop a pair to ask – “who are you”. And are rewarded by meeting two members of the Society of High Constables of Edinburgh. Today they are mostly ceremonial, but once they were the police of the city. And they regal us with a bit of their history starting in 1611 by order of King James VI. The older man of the pair tells us that he’s the last veteran of WWII in Edinburgh. He fought in Germany for 6 months at the end of war, having just turned 18.

You never know if you never ask!

On to The Real Mary King Close. We know this is going to be touristy – it advertises heavily, and you can find it mentioned on every map and in every guidebook. But our hosts thought that it was worth doing, despite the rather ‘touristy’ feel – and I must agree with them. You are greeted by a young guide who plays (rather on and off) the part of one of the folks known to have lived in the Close. The Close itself survived in tact because in 1875 or so, the city condemmed it, and built the Council Chambers (where our friends the High Constables were meeting) on top of the close.

Eveyone living in the close had to move out, and the rooms were sealed. So while the Close is now underground, it wasn’t always like this. In the late 17th century – this area was a warren of living spaces – some upscale (on the higher floors – above the stench of Edinburgh), and some lower class. But all happy to have a place to call home.

The tour lasts an hour, includes some pretty neat talking pictures that give you a bit of a flavor of life in these spaces in those days – and a rather dingy and dark room intended to impart the flavor of life in these spaces during the plague.

It’s not at the incredible level of the Jorvik Viking Experience in York, and our young and very friendly guide did her best but didn’t have the wealth of knowledge, nor the freedom to deviate off the route that our other guides did – but I did find it an interesting experience. I’m glad we did it – but I’m also glad we did it last!

Tours done – we decide to walk down the Royal Mile – mainly because every guide book says to do it, but eventually run out of steam and knees. We hop a bus – planning to get off at the port and at least catch a peek of the Royal Yacht “Britannica”. But before we get all the way to the port – we spot a huge Tesco’s! Food – glorious food. So we jump bus and do a quick shop for dinner. We’ll need food for tonight (It’s just past 5:00 and surely the party is finished), and tomorrow because our journey is taking us to Glasgow and we don’t know the lay of the land there.

Shopping done (We have become incredibly fond of Tesco’s Roast Chicken – I admit it), we grab a bus back home. Walking up to our cozy home, we spot two young guys standing on our stair case. We take bets that they are from the dinner party – and are proven right when they greet us by saying “You must be Isaac and Derek’s guests!”

How did they figure that out so fast. Do you think Isaac and Derek were talking about us?

We walk up to the flat and are greeted by Derek who invites us to join the party. After saying no a few times, we finally admit to being totally keen to meet some locals – and join in.

One of their friends, a very good amateur chef, has made roast pork with apple sauce and potatoes – and two fabulous desserts. The Pavlova is a killer dish – she’s planning on submitting it to a cooking contest in the fall, and I’m sure she’ll do well. There’s wine (lots and lots), there’s chocolate, there’s cheese – and there’s delightful conversation.

We are easily as curious about their lives as they are about ours – and when one conversation lags, another one even more interesting begins. At around midnight – The Intepid Traveler and I admit that our stamina is not up to more of this – but our new friends delight in singing us ‘good-bye’.

Memorable day, memorable evening, memorable place, memorable people.

It’s been a perfect day.

But tomorrow we’re off again – it’s a bus to Glasgow this time – so we trade hugs and thanks – and say good night.

Signing off – The Intrepid Traveler and the Soup Lady.

On the road again – this time we’re bound for Scotland


We leave Liz’s place with much sadness – we had a wonderful time at her house – and we loved York. I’m not sure how Edinburgh and Glasgow can possibly compete – but I guess we shall find out.

We retrace our route to the train station, and as is traditional – arrive too early. Never mind – I shall have a latte while we wait.

We board the train – and again watch the scenery fly by as we head North. Wait a minute – we’re not heading North. My head is pretty sure of this – and when I check on the compass I have on my iphone – it agrees. We’re heading West. Why would anyone want to go West to end up North?

Looking hard at the maps – and thinking about the geography of the UK – I realize that the island of Great Britian doesn’t actually run North South – it’s slanted a bit towards the West. And York is not in the middle of the island – it’s actually quite close to the Eastern Beaches. So the train is heading away from the beaches before the track curves northward.

Whew. We really did want to get to Edinburgh tonight.

The scenery is pretty much the same as it was on our way from Manchester. No dry stone fences, lots of sheep and cow herds, and the occasional horse or three. After about 2 hours, we actually find ourselves running alongside the North Sea. Lighthouses, beaches – and the occasionally cement block house left from WWII – dot the sea side. Sometimes the cliffs plunge off directly into the sea, other times the land takes a gradual slope seaward – but this is an island – and finally – after 4 weeks of touring – we’re seeing the proof.

In Edinburgh, we are once again greeted by a monster of a train station – lofty glass roof and steel ribs clearly label it ‘Victorian’. They were really, really good builders for sure.

We get our luggage off the train (just a bit of help required this time), and find a lift, find an exit, and start walking towards our Air BnB lodging. Isaac and Derek have been emailing and messaging us non-stop – they want to be sure to be home when we arrive to make sure we have no issues with the keys. They also know that we are going to need help up the steps. Good thing they made sure to greet us – their over-the-top, most amazingly beautiful home is a giagantic flat in an A listed building dating over 230 years ago. And it’s up 3 very tight flights in a very small and very narrow spiral staircase. But Isaac grabs one case in one hand, one case in the other – and without stopping for breath fairly runs our cases up to the flat.

Wow. Oh Wow. Seriously Wow. No – really. Wow.

I’m speechless just walking into the entrance hall. This place is glorious.

Later in the evening, Derek explains the limits that being in an A listed building puts on a renovation – but right now – we are just simply stunned. The entrance hall is larger than my daughter’s flat in London. The bathroom (just for us – no sharing) is huge as well – and the ceilings seem to go up forever. We estimate them at 18 feet high, based on Isaac’s height of 6’4″. We’ve never seen spaces like this in the UK outside of palaces.

Isaac shows us our room, explains how the locks work – and excuses himself. He needs to go back to work – but he will be home tonight to make us welcome.

We quickly shop for dinner at the nearby Tesco’s – and then try to locate the Roman Catholic Cathedral. We know it’s here – it appears on both our map and on ‘Maps’ on my iphone, but we can’t spot it.

How do you hide a Cathedral in plain sight?

Well – it turns out that it is hidden on purpose. Religious freedom in the UK in general, and Scotland in particular has never been guaranteed – and at the time that the Cathedral was first built – Catholics were on the out. So the founder of the Cathedral squeezed it in on an anglular corner, squished between two houses and a series of shops. Today the Cathedral is much much larger – but it is still slightly angled to the street – and thus is only obvious from very certain viewing angles. Interesting stuff, eh?

Once we’ve gotten the basics out of the way, we decide to ride the tram and the bus to the Royal Mile, the ‘high street’ of ‘Old Town’ Edinbough. Our lodging is in ‘New Town’, built starting in 1750 – ‘Old Town’ dates back to Medieval days and there are parts of the Edinbough Castle that date back to 1000 AD. Of course, this location has been occupied for much longer, but much of it was originally built of wood – and Henry VIII wasn’t a fan of Scotland after they refused to allow his 2 year old niece Mary, Queen of Scots to marry his recently born son, Edward. The nerve of those Scots! So he invaded 3 times (refered to here as the ‘Rough Wooing’) – twice burning Edinbough to the ground – and leaving frustrated the 3rd time because the town folk had finally made their houses of stone.

We admire the beauty of Princess Gardens (former location of the sewer of Edinburgh as we will find out), and wander up the Royal Mile a bit. We check out St. Giles Cathedral (Church of Scotland) and luck into a story-teller in the Chapel of the Knights of the Royal Thistle. He entertains us by pointing out some of the more interesting wood carvings (Angels playing bagpipes among them), and explains in great length the details in the royal seal.

After learning about the Order of the Royal Thistle, we wander back out of the Cathedral and explore ‘Old Town’. We walk down one close, up another, visit the ‘Grass Market’ where cows and sheep were once sold, and finally quit for the day by catching a bus heading back towards Princess Street.

Everywhere you turn in the touristy parts there are Tartans for sale of all colors and prices, and the war like sound of pipers fills the air. It’s a beautifully warm day – hot almost – and the folks of Edinbough are taking full advantage of the high latitude (at 56 degrees – it’s light until almost 10:00 PM). Folks are picnicking on every grassy spot we can see.

Isaac and Derek’s place is perfectly located. Right at a tram stop, right across from the Roman Catholic Cathedral, and within easy walking distance of a nice sized grocery store. Color us happy. You can get almost anywhere in Edinburgh without getting wet!

We hike back up the 3 flights, and make ourselves a lovely dinner. Isaac arrives home – followed soon after by Derek (only 6’3″ tall) – and they invite us to join them in the living room. It’s another glorious space – huge paintings are carefully selected to suit the space – and the massive windows have shutters flung open so that the air and the view is easy to enjoy.

We sit and chat, and chat and sit – and suddenly realize it’s almost midnight. Conversation has flowed so easily, and so naturally – it’s a shock to realize it is so late.

Of great interest to us are Derek’s challenges with doing their renovation. The rules for A listed buildings (their’s is over 218 years old – for sure. Derek has looked up all the previous owners – and there are many) are complex – and unbendable. You can not touch any existing wall if the original moldings are still evident. Which means that the only rooms they could touch were the bathrooms (there are 2 – one upstairs for their use, one downstairs for our use), and the kitchen. So the kitchen is completely modern as per Isaac’s desire. They were able to put a gas fired insert into the main (huge) fireplace in the living room – and they could also replace the old radiators with new ones that fit better into their color and design scheme. I’ll bet they work better too.

They were also able to add ceiling roses and replace ceiling lighting fixtures. And of course all the electrical had to be torn out and replaced – but without damaging the walls too much please!

There are fireplaces in every room – including their double sized bedroom with it’s view over the Firth of Forth, and even one in our ‘guest’ room. The shower in our bathroom is our idea of heaven – a rain shower, and a shower wand. And large enough for two. One note – our hosts are very very tall – and everything is sized to suit them. So we have to stand on tippy toes to reach the sink in our bathroom, and can only get things off the bottom most shelves in the kitchen. Good thing the guys are so happy to help out! I think they think it’s pretty funny.

They have been working on this project for all 7 years that they have been living in Edinbough, and only deemed it mostly finished in Feburary.

Georgian heaven with a modern twist. Stunning.

We say goodnight – and upon advice from our hosts – shut the shutters. At this elevation, the sun (and most of the inhabitants apparently) get up very early.

Signing off amazed that we lucked into such a beautiful Air BnB – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Finally the Viking Experience


During breakfast – Liz reminds us to be sure to walk the top of the walls of York – so we head out to do just that. I’m determined to find the Viking Experience, but I’m also determined to revisit one of the ‘charity’ shops we checked out yesterday – they had a lovely Silverplated Serving knife and fork that would be great for our Regency Dinner parties at home.

We are rewarded in many ways. The walk along the wall starting at BoothBar (which means Booth’s Gate – or the Gate of Booths – in reference to market stalls that would have existed here hundreds of years ago) is lovely. We are 30 to 40 feet above the ground, with clear views to either side of the wonderful gardens behind the homes on either side. Another York Must do!

We hit the Oxfam charity shop – and my serving knife and fork are still there. If they are there – I was meant to have them – so I buy them. Jill finds a gift for her daughter at the same time – so we are both happy.

We continue on walking the wall – and eventually end up at the King’s Pond – a water feature in Medevial times that protected a huge section of York from attack. Nearby is a decommissioned church that now serves as a ‘reservable’ place of meditation. You book ahead on line, and are given a code to enter in the keypad on the door.

We’ve been constantly impressed with how creatively folks here are dealing with the issue of old, but under used churches. Some are turned into housing of course, but others stay churches, albeit smaller, and house cafes, restaurants, or even public service offices. In this case – another less appreciated need is being met. How nice.

We are now back at the York Castle Museum – still no Viking Experience – and decide to finish what we’d started the day before. The highlight of this visit is the Prison Section with audio/visual projected lectures by 5 of the famous inmates of the Prison. They tell you their side of the story – and then in the end, you can read up on the historical accounts. Morbidly facinating. I’ll save you some time and tell you that none come to a very good end!

Ok – now I’m getting serious. I will find that Viking Experience or else!

And of course – it turns out to be a lot easier to do than our mis-adventures can explain. It’s hidden in plain sight down a narrow passageway into Coppergate. Ok – just a bit of Old Norse for you – gate means road, bar means gate. This area is called Coopergate because it is presumed that ‘Cooper’s’ worked here making wooden objects. That information is revealed during our Viking Experience.

Bit of York arcological history now – in 1976 to 1980 a huge cache of Viking material was found hidden for over 1000 years in the wet clay (aka oxygen deprived) soil of York in this exact location. They were digging the foundations of a shopping center – and everyone was shocked to find over 40,000 Viking remains. The wet soil had preserved them so well that even pieces of material – including a silken head scarf were perfectly preserved. Most dramatically – there was even a Viking helmet found – complete and in perfect condition. No swords were found however – this was not a burial site – these were the remains of an entire village street. Pig pens, wooden houses, personal grooming items, all the stuff of ‘comfortable living’ were found right here – right under our feet. Incredible.

So of course a museum was created to house the artifacts – and in doing so the Jorvik (York in Old Norse) center was started. It was always intended to be an immersive experience – aka Disney-esque ride thru time to the time of the Vikings – but by Christmas of 2015 it was getting old and tired.

So nature intervened with a huge flood. Ok – maybe not on purpose – but the result was the same. The entire center had to be refurbished and re-imagined – and it just reopened under a month ago. I can’t speak for the old display – but we can tell you that the newly opened display has a ton to recommend it!

You can choose to pre-book, which puts you in one line, or you can take your chances and queue. We did the latter, and were rewarded by entering before the folks that had pre-booked. Not sure how that happened.

One interesting note – remember that Serving Knife and Fork I’d bought? Well they were not allowed in the center – and thus had to spend time with the ‘Viking’ on guard at the door. All of the staff is dressed from head to foot like Vikings – From men with long beards that were either braided or tied, to gals sporting Viking shoes, dresses and head gear – the staff were impressive in not only their appearance – but also their knowledge of the place and the Vikings. All were either archologists or story tellers – and they were great – if you bothered to engage them. Here-in lies the rub. It is easy to run thru a museum without talking to a single interpreter – and if you read reviews of the center that earn it less than 5 stars – that is what happened.

It is not sufficient to just ‘ride’ the ride and leave. It should be about learning about the Vikings – but we can understand how folks could easily get confused by the ‘Disney’ feeling that the ride conveys. It’s wrong – but understandable.

Anyway – we enter down a staircase into a large space that has a glass floor. Under our feet are evidence of the dig – including re-created timbers, objects and the like. Video footage on the walls explains what it was like on the dig – and invite you to participate in a current dig happening only 200 or so yards away. In one corner is a costumed interpreter with objects that you can touch and handle, and in another corner is a computerized interactive exhibit on the challenges of conserving the materials of the primary items found – glass, wood, metal and stone. Most folks just line up for the ride – missing the good stuff in the corners. So sad.

The ride itself is amazing. The detail is incredible – sights, smells, sounds are all here to make sure you know you are visiting a living viking town. I actually ride the ride 3 times to try to see and hear everything. There are audio interpretations in 12 different languages – including an ‘adult’ English and a ‘child’ English. Of the two English commentaries – I actually prefered the ‘child’ version. In that version, a young male voice pretending to be a local of the period explains to you what you are seeing from his point of view. “Oh, there’s my friend Eric, he’s been learning how to make knives from his father – looks like he might be doing better.”

From the front of the ‘ride vehicle’ you can see that the ground underneath is complete with muddy footprints and sewage. There are rats hidden here and there as would have been the case in those days, and tiny details add to the realism in surprising ways. At one point, a figure in a boat suddenly looks up at me and welcomes me in ‘Old Norse’ – it’s actually a staff member!

But you can’t appreciate the level of detail in just one ride thru – good thing that the ticket they sell you is good for a year.

When the ride ends you are in a small, but very complete exhibit area – with at least 3 interpreters willing to take time to answer in great and loving detail any questions you might have. There is a young man making coins, the hard old fashioned way by slaming the dies with a hammer. We chat with him on the origins of coins in general – and Viking coins in particular.

This is a wonderful experience – but as with most museums – you take out what you put in. Take time to chat – it’s wonderful.

Lunch is a brief respite on a bench in Coopergate and a lovely chat with a Welsh gentleman who lets us know that he was very anti-brexit. We’ve actually not come in contact with folks who voted yes – but since it was a 50/50 vote – that’s not totally surprising.

Our next stop was supposed to be the Viking Exhibit in the Yorkshire Museum, but instead we opt for the physically closer and much less demanding Barley Hall. This is a medieval home that once belong to The Lord Mayor of York. Suitably large and painstakingly re-done – it’s now a quick and dirty history of Henry VIII. The exhibits are interesting, and I must admit that I didn’t know that much about Henry VIII coming in, but the lack of guides and the limited about of interior furnishings made this tour a very quick in and out. Not our favorite museum, but after the two ‘Must Do’s’ of the Jorvik Viking Experience and the York Castle Museum, it’s almost a good thing. We’re pretty wiped and keen to head back home.

Liz is shocked to see us this early – but we hand over our bottle of wine and tell her not to worry – we’re going to hide out in our room and nurse our feet and backs into better shape with a spot of tea.

A couple of hours later – and suitably refreshed – Liz annouces dinner. Again we are impressed. After bringing each other up on our travels today, our conversation centers around her desire to enlarge her Air BnB empire by buying another flat. We are keen to find out how that goes down – but of course won’t ever know if she doesn’t keep in touch. So I’m seriously hoping she will read this – and keep in touch!

Another relaxing evening enjoying the birds, the bees – and Liz’s wonderful backyard and it’s off to bed.

I think this is becoming a pattern!

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Still no Vikings – but the York Castle Museum is a Must Do


We are awoken early by the birds. Liz’s house is just outside the city walls – a 200 year old Victorian that she has carefully restored – and there are lots of trees – and lots of birds. A flock of geese call the open space behind her place home, and there’s a colony of doves that spend the night perched in a tree in her neighbor’s yard. Dawn at Liz’s home is a sympthony concert on steriods.

We head downstairs for breakfast, served at a table in her ‘living’ room. Delicious Quarker Oats, some yogurt, your basic local buns, coffee or tea, and a bit of fresh fruit combine for a perfect start to the day. Walking past Liz’s door alerts the excitable Bertie to our presence – and he’s perfectly happy to start the day too. Liz drops in to check if we have any questions about where to go and what to see – then sends us on our way with specific directions to return for dinner at 6:30.

We repeat our walk into the walled city, and wander around pleasantly lost amid the mydrid shops and wandering tourists. Our official destination is the Viking Experience, but the maze that is Old Town York is more challenging to navigate than expected. Liz had suggested that we take a ‘Squiggle’ or narrow part between buildings into the back area behind the ‘Hole in the Wall’ – one of zillions (yes I counted) Pubs. We are in the narrow laneway behind the Pub when the bells of the Minster announce 10:00 AM. No sleeping late in York I’m going to tell you! Peter (that’s what they call the big bell that sounds the hours) is seriously loud. You can feel the vibrations all the way from your feet to your head.

We wander in the gardens, quickly visit the old chapel (now library), and see the Treasurers House. We check out some of the ‘charity shops’ dotted amongst the more touristy offerings, buy a Cornish Pasty for lunch, then head toward the Viking Experience. We twist and turn – and eventually end up looking up at a castle on a mound.

It’s Clifford’s Tower – the site of one of the darkest days (not my words – that’s how they describe it in the history notes) of York’s long history. In 1190 approximately 150 Jewish citizens of York were trapped in the tower by an angry mob. Egged on by wealthy men who were in debt to the Jewish Moneylenders and had not secured Royal Appointments and thus could not repay their debts, the mob surged around the then Royal Castle. These events were cronicled by at least 3 different sources at the time. In the end, most of the Jews committed suicide, the men killing their wives and children, and then killing themselves. The men owing money to the Jewish Moneylenders then burned their notes, thus freeing themselves of the debts, and the land and possesions of the Jews reverted to the crown. (http://www.historyofyork.org.uk/themes/norman/the-1190-massacre)

The event is recorded on a plaque outside the tower for all to read.

But on to happier thoughts. Right beside the tower, which stands at the highest point of York, is the York Castle Museum. Not the Viking experience we were heading for – but it was on our hit list as well, so in we go.

The York Castle Museum is a huge winner. It occupies a former prision that was in use for over 400 years, and today contains not only information about the prision, but also a re-creation of a complete Victorian Street, an exhibit on the 60’s, a series of ‘demo’ kitchens dating from 1650 till 1960, and ‘demo’ Victorian Parlors from humble farmer to moderately well-off middle class. There’s a section devoted to toys from the 1900’s up to 2017 (truly fascinating), and a display on undergarmets that spans several hundred years.

This museum is almost impossible to leave! We can’t get enough of the complete Victorian Street scene – it extends for several blocks, is complete with period appropriate ‘smells’, and what really makes it great – knowledgeable guides in period clothes who delight in telling you about their times. Our favorite is a gentleman in a top hat who spends almost 30 minutes discussing his world. So cool.

We don’t finish – we simply run out of time and must head back to the Minster for Evensong, then on to Liz’s place for dinner. Fortunately, the ticket we got is good for a year – so we will definitely be back!

At Evensong, we are almost trampled by the rush of people trying to get good seats – but are rewarded for our slow pace by a young female priest who directs us up into the choir stalls. We are seated 6 seats away from the Dean of the Minster – the Very Revd Vivienne Faull – a lovely older woman whose face is featured on most of the marketing for the huge Cathedral. The Minster was spared by the German Blitz because it acted as a landmark for the German Pilots. We are told this by one of the tour guides, who was lucky enough to have given a tour to a former German Pilot! He told her that they would never have hurt it – if you were flying from the South and came upon a huge white cross in the middle of a green circle – you turned right to get home to Germany. And if you were flying from the North – it was a left turn.

And it’s actually a good thing that this lovely building was not hurt. The main tower is high enough to contain the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the vast vault with it’s Gothic finishings is the 2nd largest such building in Northern Europe. It was built between 1220 and 1472 – and is justifably one of York’s main visitor attractions. But we are here for Evensong – and are rewarded by a 45 minute long service sung by a mixed choir of 18 children and 12 adults. Lovely.

Our dinner with Liz is equally pleasant. We again chat on various topics – and Liz tells us the recent history of her lovely home. She has lived here for 10 years, and it was in the spring of the 2nd year that problems began. Her ground floor (aka basement) was flooded – not just once but 3 times. And it wasn’t just her basement – all the basements in the area suffered, and the city of York determined that the fault was theirs – inadequate sewers. So the city decided to fix the problem for the entire area of several hundred homes and businesses – and a major hospital – by building a huge underground water holding tank in the vacant land to her left. They made one tiny error. They ignored the sandy soil that lay adjacent to the site of the new construction, and in digging out the tank, caused an earthquake. Liz’s home literally split in 2 – while she was inside!

The house between her home and the ‘hole’ suffered more – but since it was owned by the hospital, which in turn is owned by the National Health Service, it was less of a problem. Since her home was privately owned – and terribly damaged, after some litigation, the city paid for her renovation.

And the home was saved – and better than saved – restored to it’s former glory. She took that opportunity to move the kitchen into the basement, making an extra bedroom on the ground floor. The work was only completed about 2 years ago – and she’s been doing Air BnB only since March.

We mentally observe that one would never have a conversation like this in a hotel – one of the reasons Air BnB is such fun is the delightful chance you have to really get to know a local!

The Intrepid Traveler and I eventually toddle upstairs to bed. Tomorrow we are definitely going to find the Viking Experience.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Getting your Spiritual High in London!


Feeling the need to get a Spiritual high? Well if you are in London – you are in luck. There are so many places to get a spiritual recharge in London, it’s hard to turn around without hitting one!

For us, we get our Spiritual Highs on by going to church. And since it’s Sunday – our options are almost unlimited here in London. In fact, picking just one favorite was too big a challenge. We ended up with two.

Since the Intrepid Traveler is Catholic – we historically gravitate towards Catholic churches, but we are hardly limited. We share an open door policy. If a place of worship has an open door – we are going in! Which explains why the Intrepid Traveler and I have attended weddings and funerals, births and first communion – and just about everything in between. We are definitely fans of religious ceremony, regardless of the specific religion. Buddist, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Private Weddings in China, Shinto Shrines, you name it – We’ve tried it.

But back to getting our Spiritual High here in London. It turns out that the Brompton Oratory offers a Children’s service on Sundays at 10:00, and at 11:00 there’s a Latin High Mass. I adore High Mass – so that was an obvious choice. But The Intrepid Traveler had heard that Anglican Evensong services were wonderful in London, so we did a quick google search – and found a site that listed every church with an Evensong service (mostly Anglican of course, but there were some Roman Catholic options – including Westminster Cathedral). And on the list was Westminster Abbey. Oh man – that’s sounds ideal.

There are 3 major reasons for seeing churches during services. Advantage One – they turn on all the lights. Too often the lights are turned off during ‘touring’ times – and it’s a challenge to see the decorations on the ceilings, or even into some of the side chapels. Advantage Two – it’s Free! If you want to see Westminter Abbey on Monday to Saturday – you’ll be paying a pretty penny. But if you are willing to go to Sunday services – you’ll see the Abbey for free – as the designers meant to be seen – as a place of worship. And Advantage 3 – they play music – the organ, the drums, the choirs – any and all of which add to the atmosphere – the spirtuality of the experience.

So our plan organized – we head out on the tube to London. Our location in Cheswick means a 30 – 45 minute tube ride, so we get an early start on the day – after I pop into my local coffee shop of course. The guys and gals at Cafe 430 are so well trained that when they see me open the door they grab the to-go cup and add in my 3 sugars. I just say hi – and pay my 2.2 GPB. Deal done. Cafe 430 – you do rock!

We take the tube to South Kensington, and encounter our first challenge – finding the Oratory. There are signs for the museums of course – but nowhere do we see a sign for the Oratory. I know it’s next to the V&A – and I use my iphone ‘Maps’ App to find the directions. This works great – until in concentrating on my phone – I miss my step and fall. Hard. Onto the road. In front of oncoming traffic.

Panic. The Intrepid Traveler tries to get me to my feet – but I’m not getting up that fast. I don’t think she could lift me in any case. Meanwhile the water bottles have flown out of the backpack onto the road, and my phone is lying about a yard in front of my face. And the traffic light is turning green. Here’s where the good news starts – right in front of us are a very good looking young man with his lady friend. They whip around when they hear the crash and he bodily hauls me to my quivering feet as his lady friend gathers the iphone and water bottles and we clear the road.

I’m dizzy, dis-oriented, and scared. My knees took the brunt of the fall, and we immediately check that I’m not bleeding. I lean against a handy lamp post and wait for my head to clear. When it doesn’t, our new friends help me across the rest of the road to a bench on the far side. I gratefully sit down – and they ask if we should call an ambulance. Having checked my knees, and knowing that I’m just feeling the effects of Adreline shock, I tell them no – and eventually they wish me well and continue on their way. The Intrepid Traveler and I sit quietly for a few minutes while I catch my breath, slow down my rapid heart beat, and stop feeling the world spinning around me. Eventually I feel well enough to go the few hundred feet to the door of the Oratory.

It’s well into the Children’s service – but I’m grateful to simply sit and listen. A children’s choir is hidden above our heads – and the music fills the large space. We kneel and stand and sit as needed, and eventually the service finishes with the priest congradulating the kids for trying. So cute.

We move ourselves up front (I much prefer the view from the front), and the High Latin Mass promptly starts at 11:00 with a short procession including 3 priests in gold cassocks. There is ample swinging of incense, and sprinkling of holy water. Not only the audience, but the altar get more then a fair share of incense – these guys mean business.

The mass is beautiful. The choir is an adult choir of about 12 men and women. Highly trained with beautiful voices, they compliment the organ perfectly. It’s splendid. During communion, everyone goes up to knee at the rail, and the priests move back and forth making sure that everyone is greeted properly. The Intrepid Traveler tells me that most Catholic Churches in North America have taken down the rails – or if they can’t do so – have the priests come ouside the rails to give communion. But this is old fashioned enough to stick to the older ways – and it’s to the rail you must go.

At the end they announce a reception to which all are invited, but we opt to leave and head over to the V&A for lunch. I’m still feeling a bit shaky, and the idea of a nice hot meal is truly appealing. We share one lunch for two, and an excellent lunch it is – Roasted Pork Belly with two sides. Yummy, and just over 11 GPB in total. We are doing great on our budget. Now if only I can figure out what I’m doing wrong with the tube fares.

After lunch we realize that the V&A have opened a new exhibit since our visit just 3 days ago. It’s a collection of giant photos from 12 of the world top photographers – competing to be photographer of the year. We slip in quickly to take a look and I’m immediately drawn to a series of photos of Japanese men and women smashed up against the glass windows of a series of subway trains. Sure enough – the pictures were taken at rush hour in Toyko – when pushers shove larger and larger numbers of commuters into the trains. They are stunning. There is also a series of photos taken of the inside of ‘container’ houses in Hong Kong. These 6′ square containers are home to thousands – including families, couples, and the odd bacholer. Everything you’d need to live in less room than a toilet takes here in North America.

We now wend our way to Westminster Abbey. It is a rather surprisingly long way from the V&A by bus – we might have made faster time walking given the congestion in downtown London – but after my fall, we are playing it safe.

Upon arrival, we’re ushered into the abbey (after they make sure we realize that this is a service, and we must sit tight for 1.5 hours), and led into the back half where royality sits. Unbelievably luckily, we manage to be invited to sit in the choir stalls – my specific seat is actually the seat of the Mayor of Wesminster if he decides to show up. I’m right behind 1/2 the choir – with a prefect view of the choir master.

Evensong is described in the ‘program’ as a service in song – and so it is. Even though this is a Church of England (Anglican) service – it is so similar to the Catholic one that it would be hard for me to explain the difference. Mainly – it doesn’t end with communion as far as I can tell. We sit quietly while the rest of the audience files in, and eventually the bells of the Abbey stop ringing to let the priests know to start the service. The choir gathers on the far side of the screen that divides the Abbey in half, and sings the first psalm. The voices are heavenly. Then they march in, escorted by two lay priests. They fill the 4 choir aisles reserved for them – two in front of me, two opposite me, and sing another psalm. Priests are marched in – more psalms are sung, readings are read, and the fully glory of the moment hits me. I’m in Westminster Abbey – listening to the organ that every Monarch ever to be corenated here heard – and hearing the voices of angels. It is the ultimate in inspiringly beautiful sound.

One young man, at most 7, looked like an adorable mischief maker, but opened his mouth and hit high notes I’ve never heard anyone sing before or I suspect again. Amazing.

After the service we went looking for toilets – and then checked out the cloisters. While I read the tomb stones, The Intrepid Traveler started chatting with Reverend Jenny from Austrialia. She is a 62 year old priest at Westminster, has been there for 2 years after a long career in various aspects of religious life. Among other highlights – she had served her first Eucharist in the Abbey just that morning. We must have chatted with her for 20 minutes – a fascinating woman with a unique career. Another highlight to grace an amazing day. Right up there with staying at the Shinto Temple in Korea, or visiting Koya-san in Japan.

After such an inspirational day, the trip home and our quick pizza dinner (just 1 GPB) is hardly worth mentioning.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Exploring the London Museum of Natural History


In a word – Awesome!

It’s hard to complain about museums in London – most of the bigger ones are free – and with an under 10 GPB budget a day – free is great. But just because they are free doesn’t mean they should be poorly laid out and boring.

We have high expectations of museums – and the London Museum of Natural History is a winner. And Free. Now that’s a tough combination to beat.

One slight negative – the cloakroom charges 2.5 GBP to keep your stuff – so pack light – and don’t say I didn’t warn you. The other museums have a ‘suggested’ donation of 2 to 4 GBP – but at the Natural History Museum, there’s no politely ignoring the sign. You must pay.

On to the muesum.

There are so many sections to love about this museum, and we carefully toured every section that wasn’t full of glass displays of stuffed animals – where the museum got it’s start. There’s the section on Earthquakes and the planet Earth – reached by an escaltor that asscends thru a sulpture of the Planet. The highlight of this section is the Kobe Grocery store that is destroyed by an Earthquake – while you stand inside. Noisy and very cool. Other interesting and very hands-on displays in this section involved looking at volcanoes, touching rocks, and studing potential early warning systems. Very well done.

Then there’s the justifiably famous Dinosaur Exhibt. Not your every day display of dinosaur bones either. There are two audio-animatronics that would make Disney proud – including an outstanding T-Rex that turns his head, studies the room, and then picks someone to snarl at! I found almost all of this section fascinating, and I’ve been to Drumheller in Alberta – I know dinosaur displays. This one is close to perfect.

The Creepy Crawly section on 4 broad categories of insects is another winner. We particularly loved the full sized house that showed how insects can have a negative impact on your home. Yuck. Watch out for that giant wasp nest – and nope – we didn’t think cockroaches were good for us at all. But the best laugh was the pasta with extra protein. That’s a positive spin on a negative subject.

Another excellent section – and one that I have since found myself quoting sections of to the Intrepid Traveler is the massive display titled Human Biology. We expected boring – and found anything but boring. At the beginning there’s a 8 times normal size infant in the womb – the detail is amazing. Even more interesting were the sections on human learning, and on human behavior. In the learning section, there are videos of babies who are at the age when a toy that is out of sight is out of mind, followed by videos a few weeks later of the same baby – now old enough to realize that when you cover a toy with a towel, the toy is still there! So well done. But the section that really ‘hit home’ with me was the part on adreline. Short videos showed people getting scared – then the video would go on to explain what happened – dilatied eyes, sweating, rapid heart beat etc. Ok, that’s cool. But then the very next day I tripped and fell onto the road. Dilated eyes, sweating, rapid heart beat, dizzy, and unable to stand. Hey – I just got hit with an adreline attack! Talk about taking learning to a new and highly applicable level!

Bottom line – this is a wonderful museum, and you don’t need to be a child to appreciate it. There’s a ton of stuff that even the most jaded adult will have to say – “Hey, I didn’t know that”. And it’s fun to explore too. Just don’t expect a nice quiet museum environment – until about 2:00 PM it’s packed, packed, packed with kids. Only after 2:00 does it quiet down. We decided that by 2:00 the school trips end, and the kids with parents are all tuckered out.

Our plans for tonight are simple – home, quick dinner, and bed.

Well – quick dinner on a budget means a 45 minute tube ride, followed by walking 15 minutes to the nearest grocery store, buying a roast chicken (5.6 GPB, enough for two meals), and then walking back home. Basically dinner wasn’t ready until 8:00 PM – but hey – nothing to do after that but bed down for the night.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Why do we go to the Theatre? or The National Theatre in London Rocks!


Why do we go to live theatre? It’s expensive, it’s awkward, it’s sometimes uncomfortable – and it can be risky. What if we don’t like the play? What if the main actor gets sick and we are stuck watching a 2nd rate understudy? What if the guy sitting directly in front of us is 6′ tall and has bushy hair? Honestly – Live theatre is such a challenging concept if you think about it.

And it’s not just a challenge to the audience member. Depending on the play – anywhere from 1 to a hundred performers have to get ready to entertain us – ushers have to be preped to find us our seats, concessionaires have to get their goods ready – ticket takers and ticket seller have to be on their toes. Musicians have to tune their instruments, conductors study the score, tech guys get their acts together. And then there are the behind the stage crews – lighting, costumes, stage managers, props – the list goes on and on.

So again – why bother. Why not do as a friend of mine suggested recently – stay home and watch You Tube – it’s just as good.

But actually – it isn’t. Not to me anyway.

There’s a special thrill you get when you hand in your ticket and take your seat. There’s the sharing with the other members of the audience – what have you heard about this play – will it be good? Will it thrill me? Will it challange me? Will I understand the dialogue? (Not a trivial question here in London – I’ve now been to 2 plays I didn’t totally understand – and I’m sure they were in English.) Will there be something amazing happening, or will this presentation be ho-hum? Will the tall person in front of me slump down in their seat when the curtain goes up?

I love that moment of anticipation just before the curtain goes up. And I admit to loving live theatre in general.

I’ll put up with a lot of discomfort to get in as much live theatre as I can – and that’s a lot of discomfort. I have issues getting to the theatre – here in London that has meant using the “Underground” and then walking. And in more cases than I care to think – getting lost. I spent 2 hours wandering the dark streets of downtown London after a recent performance (which wasn’t that great to start with) because I couldn’t find the sign for the Underground. I ask you – why do they love to hide those things! You can walk right by them – and never know it.

But I digress from my topic – which is really about the play I saw two nights ago. It has a terrible title really – “The Pacifists Guide to the War on Cancer”. Doesn’t sound like it’s going to be upbeat, eh? But I found cheap tickets (in London – that’s under $20 a seat) – and it was being performed on one of the stages the National Theatre – which I know how to find! Cheap seats, easy to find stage – I’m so on top of this!

So ticket scored – I take my weary body to the theatre, hoping that the performance will keep me awake – unlike my last outing to a disaster called “The Dresser”. Ugg.

First – food. One of the things I love about the National Theatre complex is the bookstore and restaurant selection. There’s a coffee shop, and at least 2 restaurants – a ‘lower’ cost option called “The Kitchen”, and a slightly higher cost option called “House”. Ok – I scored a cheap seat – I’ll splurge on dinner. And “House” has a 22 pound Table D’hote. That’s about $30 US – so the cost of the evening is under $50. If the play is good – I’ve done well!

Dinner is amazingly good – guided by the bar waitress – I go with her selection of Hake. That’s a rarely served fish in North America – but I’m not sure why. It was divine. And it came with some vegetables – and not just potatoes either. And they were warm and properly cooked. For dessert (2 course meal – I opted for Main and Dessert – spank me now) I had what was described as Coffee Brule – a take on a Creme Brule but made with coffee – and served as a stand-up custard with two thin slices of Pastasho Biscotti. Oh Man – Score! Great food – awesome bread – delicious butter – and all within a price range I could afford. Best of all – I could hang in my comfy seat until the last minute – I was already at the theatre!

On to the Show. The Dorfman Stage is reserved for new productions at the National Theatre – an off the ‘end’ beginners stage if you will. It’s a flexible stage – offering the designers options like thrust, modified-thrust, standard Procenium, etc. This play was in a modified-thrust format – so my ‘restricted’ view cheap seat wasn’t horrid. Most of the action was far forward – and I could see very well.

The designer starts the show off by explaining that talking about death and Cancer is never easy – even if all of us will die – and 1 of every 3 of us will die from Cancer. So they opted to make it a musical – in hopes of getting some kind of an audience to attend.

Apparently it has worked – the reviews were quite good, and the main ‘stalls’ on the ground floor were full. The upper ‘restricted’ view seats were quite empty – which worked in my favor – I paid for a 15 pound seat – but ended up in a 20 pound seat. I’m ok with that upgrade.

The story line is interesting. A woman and her young baby – carried in a chest pack like the one my daughter wears – starts the show by explaining that she’s not sure why, but the hospital has called her baby back in for tests. She sure that she’ll wake up tomorrow and this will be a bad dream – but meanwhile – she’s doing as she’s been told – bringing her baby in to the hospital.

The baby is taken away – for those undisclosed, undescribed tests – and she is left waiting for something, anything to happen. What happens is that she runs into a variety of other folks in the oncology section – a pregnant woman having her in-vitro baby tested for cancer, a chain smoking older man with lung cancer, a son and his mother facing the likelihood that he will never father a child, a woman in the final stages of cervical cancer, and the like.

Thru music, thru props, thru great acting, and thru a believable – if horrid – story line, the cast explores the war on Cancer – from the perspective of the unwilling victims. Memorable songs include a Western Stomp done with the ‘hospital staff’ wearing cardboard bedpans on their heads like cowboy hats, and a couple of stunningly beautiful ‘blues’ songs sung by the glorious lovely gal with ‘cervical’ cancer.

I was particularly taken aback by a piece about friendship – which poignantly points out that for many of the patients – their best friends are now their fellow patients – because they understand what is happening emotionally and physically to each other.

The piece dramatically and emotionally ends with the cast coming on stage – no longer in ‘costume’. They sit on stage and talk about what it is like to die (in most cases – quite peaceful apparently) and then they invite folks in the audience to say the name of a loved one who is ill or has died of Cancer.

It took me 20 minute to get back enough strength to start walking back to the tube. The security guard found me in the ladies room during his closing routine – good thing too – otherwise I’d have spent the night locked in the theatre.

This is why I go to the theatre – to remember why we go to the theatre.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

My Daughter is having a Baby – And I’m invited to Watch!


This is tremendously exciting – I’ve never ‘seen’ a birth – like my mother before me – the times just weren’t right for women to see their own children born. And while my mother tried her best to be there for me, it didn’t work out.

With my first – even my husband had problems staying in the birthing room with me. By asking to stay – he challenged the horridly old fashioned doctor enough to have the doctor pull off his gloves, toss them on the bed – and say ‘Deliver the baby yourself then’. Not a highlight. For my second, birthing rooms had just been ‘invented’ in Montreal, and you were allowed in only if you were deemed low, low, low risk. I was 8 days past due – and thus wasn’t allowed in. That left my mother sitting on the side lines while my husband and I went into the ‘operating’ space that was the traditional birthing room at the time. In 1983 – when my daughter was born in a proper birthing room with a bed and a rocking chair, my mother had become ill – and couldn’t make the trip north.

And of course I didn’t get to watch – I was way, way, way to busy pushing!

Fast forward to the birth of my 2 grand-kids. My daughter-in-law justifably wasn’t keen to have her mother-in-law in the room. So while I got to see my new grand kids within an hour of their birth – it was not the same.

But this time – the stars are actually aligning. My daughter and her darling husband are both very OK with me being present, and she’s signed up for a birthing center – a place dedicated to having natural – or what they call it now in London – Hydrobirths. I’m super excited.

To be sure I’m going to be present – I arrange to fly into London 2 weeks before her due date. Early enough to attend the last of her ‘birthing’ classes – and to attend an ‘active’ birthing session at the Barentine – her birthing center of choice.

It’s all about ‘relaxing’, ‘meditating’ thru the surges, thinking positive thoughts. I’m thinking – really? I don’t remember birthing as being relaxing! My husband and I had practiced and practiced my breathing techniques – and even so it was touch and go for a while. I did it without using any pain killers – 3 times even, but I wouldn’t say that learning to relax was going to help.

But times change – and my daughter and her husband seem so confident. I’m just thrilled I’m going to be able to see it happen. I can’t wait!

And the 8 birthing center rooms are glorious – double beds, bean bag chairs, squat stools, huge birthing pools filled with warm water, and mid-wives totally into natural, barely assisted births. Each room has it’s own huge bathroom – and a terrace outside to relax on during the quiet phases. Most of the mid-wives are warm and kind, we did hit one that seemed more – you must – then the others – but generally this is my idea of the ideal place to have a baby – and my daughter is delighted to be able to come here. It’s even fairly close to her home – by London standards. A 20 minute cab ride, or a 40 minute walk/ferry trip.

We are all ready. The bags are packed, the birth classes taken, the baby’s room set-up, and naturally – my Daughter is late. Very late. Suddenly we’re at 10 days late – and the birthing center is explaining that you can only have births there if you have started active labor within 14 days of her due date. Talk about pressure! The options, as per the mid-wife at the center, is either to start your labor – or be induced. So they are recommending that my daughter make an appointment to have an induction.

Talk about devasted – this is the last thing my daughter wants – but the facts are the facts. She’s late.

But again – things change – I arrive at their flat on Thurday of day 10 late – and she’s started labor at 5:00 AM. It’s mild, but it’s consistent. They are using an iphone app to time the contractions (this is so much easier than trying to use a watch and a pad of paper), and they are very consistently 1 minute long, but a bit too close together. She has an appointment at the birthing center (because she’s late – they are seeing her every 2 days), and we begin the long trek across the Thames to the center. But the news once we arrive isn’t promising. She’s in labor ok – but she’s not dilalted at all. Nothing to do but go back home and wait.

Now’s the time for all that relaxing and going with the flow routines. She’s having trouble keeping liquids down (we look it up – perfectly normal) – but Jamin and I are doing our best to keep her calm. We watch TV, we take a walk, we read meditions to her. The day goes by slowly, eventually Jamin goes to sleep, and I try to nap as well. At 2:00 AM she wakes me up – and we call the Barkantine for advice. They tell her the contractions are too close together to be effective – she must try to relax more. We wait another 2 hours – and she has her ‘show’. At this point we decide, with the help of the mid-wife on call at the Barkantine to go in.

When we arrive – they are just dealing with another birth – and the lovely back-up mide-wife that got called in a few minutes earlier settles us into our lovely birthing room. But my daughter is too much into labor to really enjoy the surroundings – controlling the ‘surges’ by breathing and relaxing is getting to be a huge challenge.

The mid-wife checks her out – announces that she’s at 5 cm, and doing very well. Things look great – until they don’t.

Her water breaks, and it’s not a clear liquid – it’s brown and green and very dark. The mid-wives explain that this means the baby, because she is so late, has pooped in the womb – and my dauther has now gone from low risk (acceptable at the birthing center) to high risk. They are transfering her from the birthing center to the Royal London Hospital – not al all her choice of locations – but there is no option. She’s going by ambulance to the hospital – and she’s going now.

For my daughter and her husband, the ride in the ambulance is a blur. The Barentine sends their mid-wife with my kids in the ambulance to ensure that the transfer works smoothly – leaving me standing at the side of the road, in London, in the dark – waiting for an ‘Uber’ to arrive. I’ve never called an ‘Uber’ in my life – so while the lovely folks at the Barkantine were dealing with the ambulance – one of the assistants used my daugther’s cell phone to get the cab. I’m really hoping this will work.

The good news – it’s only about 5:00 AM – and the streets of London are deathly quiet (by London standards). The cab arrives and drops me at the top of a one-way the wrong way street. Hospital is that way! I drag my daughter’s tiny suitcase to the emergency entrance – only to be told that I must go in another entrance to get to the birthing center. I drag myself and the suitcase back around the outside of this huge hospital – and spot the amublance technicians that took my daughter! I’m so relieved – they will know what to do. And they do! They stop an employee of the hospital, explain that I need to be escorted to the neo-natal high risk section – and now!

Up the staff elevator – thru staff only doors – and I’m facing a young security guard. What are you doing here? A quick explanation – and he directs me to room 17. There I find my daughter, her husband, and two mid-wives. The mid-wife from the Barentine is handing off my daughters case to another lovely yound lady – very Irish, very sunny – who will be taking over. They are consulting with a lovely young doctor – after all we’re now high risk – and the decision is to let my daughter continue her labor, with the help of a epidural.

The room is again lovely – but a lot more like a hospital this time. Which as it turns out – is a good thing.

The doctor explains, between very heavy contrations that my daughter is doing a great job controlling, that they are not concerned for her, they are concerned for the baby. The baby might have swallowed some of the poop – or she might have breathed it in. In either case, having her sooner rather than later is better. But my daughter is doing great with the contractions – they are willing to let her ride it out – but they are going to be monitoring both her and the baby continuously in case there is a problem.

So they do.

My daugher is in the late stages by now – well diluated and starting to want to push. The Irish mid-wife explains that the longer she doesn’t push – the better. The baby is working it’s way down the birth canal, and that’s a slow process on first babies. Time waiting now will work in her favor later. So my daughter is doing her best to hold off. With the epidural taking effect, she’s much more able to control the surges – but it’s not exactly easy.

At 9:00 AM there is a change of staff – our sunny Irish lassie is replaced by Sylvia – tall and obviously pregant – she’s all business at first – clearly preparing the room rather than chatting with my daughter. My daughter asks that she try for vaginal without forceps – and Sylvia fairly warns her that this will mean some serious pushing. The doctors come in to take a quick look – and tell Sylvia and my daughter it’s time to push – but if it takes more than 30 minutes – they are coming back with foreceps!

Sylvia waits till they leave – then tells my daughter – you can do it! Let’s get started. She helps my daughter into 2 different positions, eventually calling for a birthing bed with stirrups that will allow her to focus on pushing.

I’m standing watching the very tip top of the baby’s head appear as my daughter pushes, and then disappear as the contractions stop. Over and Over again this happens. Thru this Sylvia is amazing – and my daughter is amazing, and my son-in-law is amazing! Each time there’s a contraction – Sylvia gets into position to grab the baby – each time the contractions stop, and my daughter pauses to catch her breathe – Sylvia takes those moments to tidy and straighten – and get back into position.

Closer and closer the baby’s head gets. Each pushing session seems just a tiny bit more effective – until suddenly – amazingly – there she is! And just like that – with hardly time to breathe – at exactly 10:05 AM on October 14, 2016 – the baby is born! Abigail Louise Treeby has joined the world.

Sylvia hands the baby to my daughter for a split second – then grabs the scissors – clamps and cuts the cord, and takes the baby away. She instructs Jamin and I to push the call button while she works on the baby, immediately suctioning her throat with a tube no bigger than a fine needle. Within seconds there are 6 doctors in the room – all surrounding the baby. The head mid-wife – Molly – keeps reasuring my daughter that all is fine as they give the baby oxygen and rub her down. They suction her throat (she did swallow some of the poo), continue to give her oxygen, and then use a tiny throat tube to check that she is all clear. Thru this Abigail quietly coughs and slowly moves her arms and legs as she goes from blue, to grey, to pink.

I have never been so glad to be in a hospital – in the neo-natal High Risk section in my life.

Birth is a miracle. Health is a miracle. Life is a miracle.
I’m a Grannie X 3!

Gallop, New Mexico – a Train runs thru it!


Why are we in Gallop. Excellent question. High on my Must-Do list was Mesa Verde – and so we routed ourselves thru there. Read all about it in another blog. High on my hubby’s Must-Do list were cowboys and Indians – and on the weekend just after our visit to Mesa Verde – in Gallop – is the 95th Inter-Tribe Cerimonial, a gathering of all the tribes in the Four Corners area. And on the activities list were daily Rodeos! Clearly this was a Must-Visit opportunity.

All of which found us heading south past 4 Corners (yes I lay down on the 4 corners with my hands in 2 states and my legs in 2 states and my butt on the center – shoot me), past Shiprock – which is a huge weather blasted mountain that looks like – a ship on a rock – and is also a town that has an OK restaurant – we tried it out) on our way to Gallop. If there’s a city that is less appealing, but with more beautiful surroundings than Gallop – I’ve never been there.

First the scenery. We opted to stay in Red Rock State Park. Our assigned (apparently by random draw) site overlooked the dump station – but the oh-so-friendly campground hostess said that if we didn’t like the site she had picked for us, we were welcome to move to any other vacant site. So after meeting our extremely pleasant neighbors (Brits Alex and Thersa – here to teach High School English and Wood Shop for a year – and living in a campground) – and setting up our shade canopy – I toured the campground.

Score – a perfect site. Electricity and water – And a magnificant view. Honey – can we move? After a bit of negociation – afterall – we’d met the neighbors, and we’d set up the canopy – my desire for a view won out and we carefully moved. Now – our view is of the magnificant red rocks for which the campground is named. Bonus – there’s a huge family of Prairie Dogs that also call this home – they are such a hoot to hear and to watch!

A bit about the georgraphy – because it is truly cool. When the water erroded the weaker stone – it left behind what the folks here call fins. Tall (over 500 feet), thin red rocks that from the air must look like fingers reaching out towards the rail road that runs East West straight thru Gallop parral to oh so famous Route 66. We are camped looking at one side of the huge rock. On the other side of the rock – and completely invisible to us – is a huge amphitheater where they are performing the rodeos! Around another fin is the giant tent housing the dancing competitions that are part of the Inter-Tribal Ceremonial.

I admit that we then blew it. Instead of walking to the Ceremonial – we shopped and did Laundry. Now I must admit that we were pretty desperate for a laundry stop. And “The Laundry Basket” has to be one of the nicest laundrymats I’ve ever been in – but still. We missed out on the Friday night Ceremonial to wash clothes. Really?

Anyway – after the grocery store and the laundry – we tried – and I’m not joking – this was a try – to eat dinner at a Sonic. Why a Sonic? The large signs appealed to Sophie, and I didn’t have the smarts to say – nope. And besides, everything else in Gallop closes at 9:00 PM. Seriously. This town apparently rolls up the sidewalks at 8:30PM – sunset – we’re done. Note for future visitors – on Sunday there are no liquor sales – and the grocery stores baricade those aisles so you won’t make the horrid error of picking up a bottle and going to the cash.

Back to our visit – clothes clean, minimum amount of food in tummies – and shopping done – we head back to our RV and crash. Tomorrow is another day – and what a day it turns out to be.

Morning comes fast in the High Southwest. And we are splendidly located to get the full effect. Prairie Dogs run here, there and everywhere – yipping madly at each other at any signs of danger – which includes my lifting my mug to drink my coffee and the dog next door stretching! I try to take a picture – but they are too far away and too small for my iphone camera to take anything decent. Ah well – I shall just have to store the memory in my on-board system.

Breakfast – we’re pretty upscale campers. So French Press Coffee and foamy milk to create a delightful Cafe Aux Lait are de-rigeur. The rest of our breakfast is not so fancy – some fresh fruit (thanks Albertson’s of Gallop) and cereal.

The festivities next door aren’t scheduled to start until noon – so we spend the morning doing math and reading – then head over to check out the Indian events. There’s ‘gourd’ dancing – which is mostly ceremonial and reminds me strongly of religious groups all over the world – the men in the center bouncing on their toes as they chant – the women wearing ‘prayer shawls’ on the outer ring – joining in only after the men have gotten seriously into the grove. We watch for a while, intrigued by the clearly religious nature of the experience, Sophie gets a feather painted on her cheek, and then we head up to the Rodeo area.

The natural amphitheater has been improved with seating – both benches with backs, and ones without. The benches without backs are for folks that brought their own camp chairs – something that all the natives knew to do – and of course we didn’t. Something else the natives knew – there is no shade. And it’s hot. Hot, Hot, Hot. We’re super lucky though – some natives (broad term for both First Americans and folks who are local to Gallop) have set up a huge rectangular shade – too large for their needs – and they invite us to join them under the canopy. Whew – sun stroke averted!

The Rodeo is a fairly low key event, but then what do we know. The annoucer tries hard to get the folks watching to cheer on their favorites – but Sophie and I decide to route for the underdogs – the calves, the bulls, and the bucking broncos. We’re on the right side too – they win more often than the cowboys! We all agree that these are fun events to watch – particularly the barrel racing cowgirls and the bull riding. One bull even does a victory lap after throwing his rider in seconds. Too funny.

I get a lesson on making frybread (the oil has to be hot but not too hot – and you put a hole in the center to make sure that the entire bread turns a golden shade of brown), buy some kettle corn (too yummy – and too much – so I donate 1/2 to my shade sharing new friends), and check out the other offerings. The locals are selling all kinds of trinkets – Sophie scores earings for her sister – but I’m content to just look and see.

When the rodeo ends – we head back to the camper for a quick dinner of fresh boiled corn on the cob – and Sophie and I decide to go back to the Ceremonial. Victor opts to stay at the camper – a mistake! The Indians have finished up the religious portion of their dances – and are now totally decked out with feathers, fancy clothes, bells and chimes! The competition for best dancers has begun – and not only are the dancers in competition – so are the drummers and singers. We watch in amazement as group after group demonstrates their particular dance style. I text Victor to join us – and he arrives in time for the highlight – the teen boys doing freestyle dancing that is a combination of gymnastics and posturing to frighten the spirts. Works for me.

The drummers pound so hard and so loud that the speakers are overwhelmed. It’s incredible. I’m so glad we came to see this. Between groups of competitive dancers – there are free style group dances when everyone – from tiny tots to respected elders get up and join in. These free style dances are a whirl of color and costume – wonderful.

I’m intrigued by the use of feathers – particularly in head dresses and on as tail feathers. A vendor of feathers walks by – a small white feather is $50 – I can’t even begin to imagine the value of some of the costumes I’m seeing. This is living history on a grand scale.

After the dancing – there is the main ceremonial – which features ‘White Buffalo’. We’d assumed that this was a musical group – how wrong we were!

It was a White Buffalo. Huge, Somber, and Greatly Respected – he is welcomed to the arena by an elder who recites an ancient hymn to invite him, and his spirits into the lives of all attending. It’s a highly emotional moment – the folks in the stands are quiet – the sun is setting behind the red rocks – and the fires of the Ceremonial have been lit.

We watch as several groups demonstrate their tradtional dances – a Stomp dance from one Pueblo group, a butterfly dance from another. But it’s been a long day for us – and tomorrow promises to be even longer. So we walk back thru the red rocks to our campsite – admiring the sky, the rocks, and the quiet.

Signing off – The Soup Lady