The escape to Canada – Travel in the time of COVID


I’m not saying I thought getting home was going to be easy – I know London has a scary Varient and that travel was being heavily restricted – but I was still hopeful for an uneventful trip…

But first – what is this War Measures Act? I think it’s pretty important to understand that on a global scale – Canada is doing pretty well – and yet we’re seriously talking about the War Measures Act – now called Emergencies Act. This name change and ability to implement it was done in 1988. The big difference is that the Prime Minister can’t just say – I’m doing this. Parliament has to review it. Not sure they have to agree – but they must review it. So if it gets implemented – it will be after Parliament reconvenes on Monday, Jan 25.

But even so – getting out of Dodge and into Montreal seems the right thing to do on Saturday, Jan 23.

Adrienne and I, as planned, got up from a sleepless night at 6:30, got dressed and loaded up the car with my suitcases. Before leaving the condo I did one last sweep to be sure nothing was forgotten – looked good.

Our drive from her flat to Heathrow was absolutely uneventful. The only scary part was getting the car out of the seriously too small parking spot and onto the road. Once accomplished – the sailing was smooth. Traffic was light to non-existent and we arrived at Heathrow by 8:15.

Parked the car – took the elevator (only had to wait for one other group to board before we were able to ride up alone) to the 5th floor to find out that the COVID testing center – our first stop – was on floor zero. Ok – back on the elevator – back down.

There were lots and lots of signs of floor zero – so we pushed my loaded cart to the test center. It was clear that they were prepared for hundreds of people to be waiting in line – it looked like Disney land on a very bad day. But all the stanchions and all the ropes that marked line after line were completely empty.

There were perhaps 30 folks in line – and several ‘helper’ types directing traffic. I got in line by just asking folks – is this the end of the line – and Adrienne stood with my luggage waiting. It was much cooler in the open space near the stanchions – so she put on my good winter coat. I’m glad it got some use – I think that’s the only time it’s been warn since I left Montreal.

For a line, it moved quickly. Although the guy in front of me kept giving me the snake eye – I was standing too close to him. Even though I was masked and had on my face shield. Sorry about that – I should have grabbed an empty luggage cart to keep us apart.

The guy behind me was chatty – he told me that he’d decided to get the test done today but he was only flying tomorrow. He was heading for the US – and like me – needed a negative result to get on the plane. I’m guess that was true of most folks.

Rather quickly (maybe too quickly – I am nervous about this test) it was my turn. The helper at the front of the line told me that I’d go inside, get tested – they would email me the results. I could just show the PDF of the results to the ticket folks, or come back down and (for free – or basically included in the price) they would give me a printed copy.

Then I was ushered into a make-shift space. There was a row of tables with plastic separations, both front and sides. A young man guestured at me to sit down – took a look at my passport, and made sure I had an appointment (for an hour later – but apparently that was no problem). He took my money, and then sent me directly behind him to visit the nurse.

The nurse couldn’t have been nicer. He told me to relax, that this wouldn’t hurt, and when I had closed my eyes, took a wand and quickly swiped the inside of both nostrils. No swap down the throat, not pain, not even scary.

Whew.

I left the area – they had once side of the row of tables labeled in, one labeled out – but a bottle neck at the door. I had to wait till folks cleared the door way to get safely out and back to Adrienne.

We’d thought we’d be able to sit and have a cup of coffee/chai – but everything was blocked/closed/not available. We could have sat in the car.. but I was too nervous to take that option seriously, so we hugged and said good-bye.

Adrienne headed back to the car, I headed back up to floor 5 to wait for my ‘you are positive/you are negative’ email.

To my surprise – the inside of the airport was mobbed. Seriously mobbed. Well, ok – mobbed by COVID standards. I threaded my way past folks toward the coffee shop that was my destination. I needed coffee and I needed it now.

Unlike 3 months ago – the coffee shop was open ONLY for take-out. All the tables and chairs were blocked off or piled up – you are definitely not sitting here to enjoy that coffee. I got my top favourite British treat – a Bakewell Tart – and a medium latte. I found a quiet corner near Air Emirates and sat on my luggage cart to enjoy my coffee and read my newest story- Calico Joe.

Shortly after 9:30 I got my email saying my test was negative.. Whew. I drag myself back down to floor zero where a lovely staffer takes a picture of my phone showing my appointment ID – and returns with a printed copy of my test results- clearly showing the time, the date, the company that did the test, and my status – Covid Negative.

Whew

Now – onto check-in. I take the elevator back up to floor 5 – again waiting to ride alone. I’m not spending even 1 minute in a closed space with folks I don’t know… and I wend my way thru the crowds towards the Air Canada check-in. They verify my test results, my passport, my ticket – and let me in to the actual check-in area. There they again verify my passport, my test results (Am I Leslie Eiser, Leslie Agrin Eiser, or Leslie Agrin? I explain about my maiden name and the rules in Quebec – and I’m cleared), and told to go thru security.

I’m well ahead of the time I needed to be doing this – but I don’t care. Let me in.

Once passed security – again painless – I’m in the main area of Heathrow – and can check for the Gate assignment. The sign clearly says that the gate won’t be listed until 12:45 – and it’s now just shy of 10:00. So I find a safe corner – and actually can sit down. Unlike outside of security – here there are restaurants open, and even some shops. Everyone is masked, although not every one is ‘securely’ masked – and I spot a few staffers taking the whole – wear a mask thing – a bit too casually, but they have put large Cardboard signs on every other seat. So there’s lots of space between people. I’m fine.

Sooner than I’d have thought (Calico Joe is a great story), my gate is posted and I make the long long walk to section B. Basically I’m walking under the runway. But it’s not crowded (I think all those crowds went somewhere else – I’m not sure where though), and I’m fine.

I get to my gate, I wait for my turn to board. Staff is circulating thru the waiting area – making sure that everyone is clutching their negative COVID test results, has a valid ticket and a passport. The gal came a bit closer to me that I liked, but she did have to take the papers.

Eventually we’re called for boarding – and they take my temperature. Nice. They once again check my test, check my passport (I have to pull down my mask so they can see my face), scan my ticket – and I’m on the walkway to the plane.

Even getting myself and my carry-on down the tiny aisle isn’t too horrid, and I’m thrilled to see that I’m alone in my row. The stewards and stewardesses are making anyone further back than me move forward – they want to be able to sit separated as well. There’s someone sitting at the window to my right, then an empty seat, the aisle and then my seat. So I slide over one leaving 2 two empty seats and the aisle between us. There’s no one behind me. That’s good. And no one on the row to my left although there are folks at the windows both in front and behind that row. At first the row in front of me is also empty – but after the plane takes off, one of the passengers moves in. He’s wearing a mask, looks ok, and immediately lies down to sleep. Ok then.

Lunch is served – and is a LOT better than the cold Eggplant dish they served me on the way to London. At least it’s hot. And there’s a yummy chocolate pudding.. which might actually have had some real chocolate used in the making.

I watch 4 movies – two of which I can recommend – Military Wives (tear jerker but very good) and Wild Wild West. Wild Wild West is a steam punk version of a western action comedy and is really quite amusing, if a tad strange. Time went by quickly. I sanitized carefully every time I went to the toilet – and the ‘goodie’ bag they handed me had personal hand sanitizer inside. I had wiped down my seat before I sat down – so I felt pretty good about the whole thing.

We land in Toronto without issue. Since I’m in the very back of the plane, I allow all the folks to exit before me, and slowly make my way up the aisle and off the plane. Next challenge – Canadian Customs and Immigration.

Again – painless. There’s an extremely short line – clearly marked with 6’ separations and the inspectors are fast and efficient. The only hiccup is my ArriveCAN form. Turns out that there are 2 pages to the form, and I only saved the first page with the ID. I have to turn on my ipad, go back to the app and scroll down to the second page to show the very pleasant border guard my name. I’m in. He didn’t even ask me about the food I’m carrying (most of which I ate actually).

Now it’s follow the signs to the flight to Montreal. It’s a long walk, but since I only have my carry on, the biggest challenge is getting one foot in front of the other without tripping over my coat. All the doors are braced open so you don’t have to ‘touch’ anything. Again – that’s good.

Unlike Heathrow, the airport in Toronto seems relatively quiet. Some restaurants appear ‘open’ with folks sitting at tables. But since it’s now around 10:00 PM in London – I’m neither interested in food or even a drink. I just want to get on my flight to Montreal.

In the past – there were flights from Toronto to Montreal twice an hour – but in the time of COVID – they are down to 3 flights a day. The next flight leaves at 9:00 PM – 5 hours from when I arrived here in Toronto, and 2:00 AM London time. I’m going to have to hang tough on this one. I’m tired, I’m sore, I’m not happy – and I’m scared of exposure. I’m wearing my mask, my face shield, I’m sanitizing everything – and I’m still scared.

I walk and walk till I find the Montreal Gate. It’s isolated at the far end of one of the long halls – and at 5:00 PM is relatively empty. I sit down, but after about 30 minutes get very uncomfortable. Since this is the only flight to Montreal – anyone who is flying in from Florida, from Mexico, from Cuba, from any of a zillion holiday sun destinations – is coming here to sit and wait. And a lot of them are clearly NOT taking COVID seriously. Too close together, too many, too casual about masking.

I’m moving.

I find another area of the terminal that is much less busy, and settle down again. This time, it’s clear I’m not going to have to move on. No one is coming near me at all. I set a timer to remind me when to move back to my gate – I don’t want to miss the flight – and eventually it rings.

Walking back to my gate I realize that things have gone from bad to worse. Flight after flight must have arrived – and the number of folks waiting to get to Montreal has sky-rocketed. This flight could well be full – or at least a lot more crowded that I’m comfortable with.

Eventually they start boarding the flight. No temperature check. No looking at COVID Negative results – just scan your boarding pass (lower your mask so we can see your face) – and then on board. Oh dear.

There are lots of folks who have clearly returned from ‘sun’ destinations. They have beads in their hair, kids in tow, suntans, masks hanging from the glasses instead of snuggly around their faces, sandals and palm frond hats.

The Prime Minister of Quebec has been going on and on about folks taking these all inclusive holidays – at bargain rates I might add – and then returning – infected – back to Quebec and Montreal. He has been publicly blaming them for Quebec high infection rate – not that this has prevented them from going apparently. Part of the logic behind implementing the War Measures Act (Emergency Act) is to stop folks from doing exactly this – And I’m going to be on a plane full of them.

Oh dear.

My seat is on a row to myself, but there are folks behind me and in front of me who are clearly returning from these ‘sun’ destinations. I try to figure out where I can move that would at least feel safer. I try moving further back – but that feels worse. Finally I spot a row near the exit door that is empty. At the last minute I grab my things and take one of those seats. There is still one guy in front of me – and a lady to my left, but they both look like they are treating COVID more seriously.

At this point, the lovely stewardess comes over to hand me my forgotten back cushion. I guess she had spotted me trying to find another place – and knew exactly where I’d dashed off to! After handing me my cushion, she takes her place in the jump seat just in front of me – but safely distant.

The flight lasts for a very scary hour and a quarter. I drink the water they hand me – I don’t want to get dehydrated, but otherwise my mask and face shield stay firmly in place. If I don’t get COVID from this flight – it will be a miracle.

When we are landing, the nice stewardess sits back down on the jump seat – and I ask her if she’s concerned. She admits that the flight is quite a bit more crowded than normal – and it’s a tad alarming, but says that being careful seems the safest option. I hope she’s right.

I wait for EVERYONE to get off the plane before going back for my luggage, and then drag myself down the aisle,

Naturally – the terminal is basically empty. Everyone from our flight has bee-lined to the luggage pick-up location, and since I was last off, I’m basically alone.

I make the walk to the luggage carousel hoping that the suitcases have already been delivered and picked up. No such luck. The herds from our flight are all clustered around the carousel – waiting.

I back off, and move to a quiet area and wait. When I spot my suitcase, I circle around the hoard and grab it off the Carousel.

Now I just need to get a taxi and I’m home. The taxi proves to be more challenging than normal. There’s no one running the dispatch line – it’s a free for all as folks push past me to grab a cab. Finally one taxi takes pity on me and actually stops right in front of me. I get in, we leave, I get home. I’ve never been so glad to see my home – EVER!

Hubby, Bed, Bathroom, my fridge, my house, my yard, my bird feeders… I’m so happy.

Signing off in fond hopes that things are going to get a lot better – soon would be nice… The Soup Lady

The trip Home – Travel in the time of Covid


War Measures Act? – OMG – Friday – Jan 22. The news from Canada is taking a frightening turn. Not that cases and deaths are going up – actually they are going down a bit, but the government is mulling mandatory 2 week quarentine in hotel rooms for all incoming travelers. And this morning they are talking about invoking the War Measures Act. This allows the Federal Government to over-rule the Provincial Governments in time of crisis. Think Biden’s Executive orders on Steroids.

To say that my husband – who has manfully been living at our house in Montreal all alone – for 3 months – put his foot down is understating the obvious. I need to get home. And I need to go NOW!

So Friday – while playing my scheduled Bridge games – I need a Mountain of Silver to earn Life Master status – I’m madly trying to piece together all the things that have to align for me to fly from London to Montreal on Saturday.

No two ways about it – that’s short notice.

Ok – the pieces. Move the plane tickets, figure out how to get a COVID test that reports fast enough for me to get on the plane, Cancel my hotel reservation, Figure out how to use the ArriveCanada App. Deal with the emotional upheaval leaving my daughters will create. Pack – figure out how to get to Heathrow. – the list is endless.

And the best way to deal with endless lists is to just start.

First step – figure out how to get the COVID test. Lots of folks I know have gotten one – including my daughter and her husband. They have been getting their tests by mail order – for free. But the rules in Britian are clear – you can only get free tests if you have symptoms or have been exposed or work for an essential service. You can NOT get a free test if your purpose is travel.

Sigh. My purpose is travel.

So – it’s google time. There are lots of folks offering quick turn around COVID tests – with prices from 100 GBP to 200 GBP (that’s about $150 to $250.. like that). But the standout option is a testing center at Heathrow that offers RT-LAMP tests with results in 60-90 minutes. And there test is a bargain 79 GBP – about $135. That would work. But first I have to figure out when I can get to Heathrow.

Consider the complications – My daughters Flat – let’s call it point A – is at least an hour to 2 hours away from Heathrow – let’s call it point B. So I have to figure on a 2 hour drive. (She’s got a 4 hour drive… but there aren’t really safe options. She is going to suffer. I’m so sorry). My flight leaves at 2:00 in the afternoon. I want to check-in at least 2 hours ahead, the test results take up to 90 minutes… I need to plan to get the test as soon as the testing center opens basically.

So I make an appointment – Saturday, Jan 23 – 8:45-9:00 AM. We’ll get up at 6:30, leave by 7:00 – should be ok. It’s Saturday during lock-down. How much traffic could there be?

Then I discover that the Testing Center’s system – while showing me booking for the 23rd – emails me that I’ve booked on the 24th. That’s odd. I’ll do it again. Nope – same result. I fill in the form a third time – take photos of it showing me booking on the 23rd, and the email confirmation clearly says the 24th.

Ok – I’ll contact them. No phone number. An email address only. Ok – I’ll email. Surely they can straighten this out. Step 1 -maybe done.

Now – step two – move the plane tickets. That turns out to be the easiest thing. I call Air Canada – I explain the decision – They (FOR FREE) move my flight and change my seats. Whew. Step 2 – Done.

Now – cancel my hotel reservation. Originally I was flying out on a Friday, but my daughter didn’t think we could make the drive from Point A to B in any reasonable time on a Friday morning. Most of the drive is thru the crowded, narrow, stop light filled streets of London – and on a Friday morning – even in Lockdown – these would be mobbed. So we decide that I will spend the night in a hotel near the airport. But now, moving the flight to a week early and on Saturday means she can drive me in the morning. Won’t be fun – she doesn’t generally get up and out that early – but it’s possible. So I call Hotwire – and low and behold – they offer me a choice of a full refund or a different date. Refund please. Step 3 – Done.

Now – on to ArriveCAN – it’s an app by the Canadian Federal Government that you must use prior to traveling to Canada. You tell them how you plan to Quarantine – and they keep track of you. Cool. I had already filled it in for my original leaving date, so I went back in. No way to change anything. Hmm. Ok – maybe a new application. I try that – and the app works. I take a photo (as directed) of the final screen with my ArriveCAN Receipt ID – and figure – Step 4 – Done.

What else – well – Packing isn’t that difficult – I only take a week’s worth of clothing on these kinds of trips – and I don’t need stuff to be clean to pack it. I toss my suitcase together, leaving out what I’ll need in the AM and search the house. I definitely don’t want to forget anything. The $$ for sending stuff by post from London to Montreal is crazy. Step 5 – Done

What else, what else…

Food – I had a horrid food experience on the flight here – they served me an ice cold Eggplant Parmesan which was inedible. So I raid my daughter’s fridge. Carrot sticks, 3 quick peel oranges, nuts, prunes, some candy. We can’t go shopping – too dangerous to go to the stores – so I’m just grabbing things that will be easy to eat and stuffing them in my backpack. At the last second my daughter hands me an Apple. Step 6 – Done

Meanwhile – back to Step 1. Remember the COVID test date issue? Well they finally (hours and hours later) email me back to explain that the problem isn’t on their end – it is the date setting on my ipad. Really? It’s on British time, and has been for 3 months. But I try their site again – using my daughter’s computer – and what do you know – this time the dates match up. Problem – the time slots earlier are gone. I book for 9:15 – the earliest – and figure we’ll just beg. Begging often works, right.. Ok Step 1 – Now really done.

I try to remember to notify everyone that my flights have DRASTICALLY changed – I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone and I’m sure they will let me know. (Turns out I forgot a lot of people – but that’s the way the Rushed up cookie crumbles).

My husband emails asking me for my food list for the lock-down. He can’t go shopping after I arrive and needs to stock up the fridge. Our plan is 14 days of ‘together’ time – otherwise known as mandatory Quarentine – and he won’t be able to leave the house. So he’s doing a massive shopping and needs to know what I think is essential. I tell him fruit – lots and lots of fruit. And Fish and Steak for dinner. I have kids who live in Montreal – and they have said that they will shop for us as needed – so we’ll be fine. But it’s hard to pre-plan 2 weeks of meals. I feel really sorry for folks forced to do this without some of the advantages we have – like kids nearby and friendly neighbors. It’s not easy for us – it must be insane for other folks.

My daughter had planned on a nice dinner and a game night with her husband and me as a farewell kind of thing – and we slide those plans forward to Friday night. We actually end up playing Monopoly – a British version with the names of the properties all strange.. Or exactly right if you ask my daughter’s husband! It’s a 80 year celebration set – so the playing pieces are actually metal, and the money looks right. We love it – and my daughter wins. Then we watch a final episode of Ru Paul’s drag race and it’s definitely bed time.

I always have trouble sleeping before I travel – tonight is no different. I toss and turn and read my book (Great Story called Camino Winds by John Grisham – real page turner). Too soon it’s 6:30 and time to get up.

Tune in tomorrow for the actually adventure – and remember – it’s not an adventure unless something goes wrong…

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Day 240 – Commandment #11 for Seniors


“One for the Road” means peeing before you leave the house.

I looked it up – One for the Road – besides being a hit song for the Arctic Monkeys (ever heard of them? Song was published in 2013 – never made it to my hit list) – is actually a two part phrase.

The ‘for the road’ is the earlier portion – dating back to at least the 1700’s when finding food and drink during travel was problematic. The smart thing to do of course was to take something ‘for the road’ – generally considered to be provisions of a general nature.

However – by the 1930’s – the ‘One’ because associated with alcohol. With the generally understood idea that you were taking an extra drink (generally grog in those days) to carry you thru your journey home.

None of that has anything at all to do with the fact that today – when I say ‘One for the Road’ – it means that I’m visiting the toilet prior to leaving the house. And we all know why of course…

With COVID restrictions the way they are – finding a public toilet is not easy. I mean it was never ever simple – unless you were in Tokyo where public toilets are as common as fleas (which one doesn’t see in Tokyo), super clean, and absolutely wonderful. In Montreal the law was that you had to have a public toilet if you were a restaurant – so finding a place to ‘go’ when out wasn’t difficult when all the restaurants were open.

But now – with the COVID lock-down happening – all the Restaurants in Montreal are closed. So where does one go to ‘pee’? Problem. Big problem.

But I’m in London right now – so does that change anything? Quick answer – NO! Unfortunately – all the Restaurants here are open only for Take-out, and unless you have a really solid relationship with the owner/staff – going to the door and looking desperate won’t get you access to the toilet.

The good news – there is a place near where my daughter lives that both has a toilet – and friendly enough staff to let us take advantage of it. That’s a shout-out to #The Pear Tree – if ever I saw one.

But even knowing of one place to go doesn’t solve the basic problem – you just don’t want to be caught short….

Hence – ‘One for the Road’!

The Soup Lady

Day 235 – Commandment #7 for Seniors


Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could put ourselves in the dryer for ten minutes, then come out wrinkle-free and three sizes smaller?

That definitely sounds like a great idea – and with the toll that COVID lock-downs have been taking on folks waist lines – we could use that technology sooner rather than later!

I read somewhere that we have 3 choices during Lock-downs – to be come a drunk, a hunk, or a chunk. In my opinion, break maker should be on that list – but I guess it doesn’t have the same poetic resonance..

Re Drunk – One of my friends actually commented that she was taking out her recycling and was stunned to discover how many empty bottles of wine had gotten into it! Yikes.

Re Hunk – Yes my hubby and I are exercising more – a LOT more to be honest. Where a walk was a once a week treat, it’s now become a daily event. And we are also working out more often – thank you Zoom. So we have managed to keep the weight off – and my arms look awesome… But I’m not sure I can keep it up if I try to go back to working. Which hasn’t actually happened yet – but I have high hopes.

And of course – Re Chunk – The subject of this blog post. Weight loss is such a touchy subject – we don’t want to stress it, but we all (ok – maybe only women) would love to be a slimmer version of ourselves – even if our current version is just fine – Thank you very much!

And gaining weight when you are effectively confined indoors is way too easy to do. I have no solid advice on this topic of course – but I am hoping for that washing machine fix.

I do have one crazy suggestion to share – I never eat after I finish dinner. It takes hard work I have to say – but it’s been like that for years. At best I might treat myself to a few pieces of liquorice- but if I’m really having issues resisting the food – I brush my teeth. That tends to stop my food cravings completely.

In any case – I’m signing off now. But keep me in the loop if you ever find a machine that will create that magic fix… The Soup Lady

Day 226 – 7 Days of total Quarentine done…


And no blood on the floor. Yet. Has to be a record.

When last we chatted – I was flying into London just under the ‘total lock-down’ wire to visit my daughter, her hubby, and my grand-daughter. She had picked me up at the airport – and we’d arrived at her home (a lovely, but extremely cozy – no other term for it really – flat) in London.

The rules for foreign travellers coming into the UK is quite strict. You actually have to fill in a form giving your ‘Quarentine’ location before you board the plane – and they insist on knowing exactly how you plan to get there, if you plan to change location, who will be impacted… ya da ya da.

And they check up! Seriously. I arrived on Wednesday – Nov 4, and on Nov 5 I got a call to verify that I was where I said I’d be – that I knew that Nov 5 counted as day one, and that I wasn’t planning on moving!

Nice to know they are taking it seriously.

So – how is a week trapped in a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, 1 living/dining/kitchen room flat in London faring?

As I said before – no blood on the floor. Has to be a good sign, right?

To say we are close is an understatement. And while the flat is well insulated for sound – I can’t find anywhere I can sit and chat with my husband or my friends that I’m not overheard by at least my daughter. Her hubby might be listening in – but at least he doesn’t comment on my comments. Privacy – not really happening here!

On the good news side – I’m in London. And my daughter is a chef (runs in the family, eh?) so the food has been really good.

And more good news side – I have my own bedroom with a proper bed. And why is this special? Because my grand-daughter is not in London. She’s ‘camping’ out at her other Grand-parents in Sutton Courtney because she can’t be exposed to me until after I’ve done the 14 day required Quarentine. So – I’ve got the 2nd bedroom. Once she returns to London – she gets her bed and bedroom back and I’ll be sleeping on a air mattress in the living/dining/kitchen room..

Why is sleeping on an air mattress in the living/dining/kitchen room a downgrade? Because it’s on the floor! And at this point in my life, getting up from the floor is a lot harder than one remembers it being even 2 years ago… But I’d do anything to be here… I can re-learn how to get up off a floor if I have to.

Sleeping arrangements aside – life in a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, 1 main room flat is actually pretty busy. I’ve been helping my daughter out as best I can – which entails doing some data entry (ah – that long ago typing course is yet again a life-safer), some newsletter design, and learning a lot more than I did before about SEO.

She signed up for the amazing on-line E-commerce Growth Hub Program – and it’s awesomely good. I admit to being completely impressed. There’s a section on SEO that I’ve been listening to with my daughter and I am sold. These folks are inspiring, effective, efficient and super knowledgable. Man – I wish I’d known this stuff when I was running a website store.

I haven’t, unfortunately, been playing much bridge. I’m sure my bridge partners are missing me – but the time change is not working in my favor – by the time games start on the East Coast of the US – I’m eating dinner here in London. And it seems wrong to say – yup – traveled all the way here and I’m not joining you guys for dinner. So I’m back to doing the substitute route – and even that’s not working that well. I need at least 2.5 hours free time to volunteer to be a sub – and my daughter is quite capable of making sure that doesn’t happen.

I’ll be fine – the bridge can wait. And honestly – I don’t need more Black MP – I need SILVER MP – and the ACBL (that’s the group that controls bridge playing and the granting of ‘life master’s’) hasn’t offered any opportunities to earn Silver point since May. Boo-hoo.

More positive things – I’m getting very very good at using ZOOM! I’ve been able to chat with my sisters, my friends, my husband – with other bridge players – you name it – there’s a ZOOM for it. I’m on an HOA board in Vermont – no problem, we ZOOM our meetings. Want to discuss bridge hands – you got it – do a ZOOM. Man – I think I should buy stock! They must be laughing at their numbers.

Down sides of this experience – We are definitely having challenges with garbage. As I mentioned – this is a flat (condo?) in a 6 floor building in London. But there’s no garbage chute. Instead there’s a Garbage room on the ground floor – entered thru an outside doorway. But we can’t get there. We’re not supposed to leave the flat. For any reason at all. So the hallway outside and the elevator and stairs are off limits.

What do you do with the garbage and recycling piles that are building up? Answer – we’re not sure. We’ve put one big bag of garbage outside on the mini-balcony – and I’ve repackaged the recycling 4 times to make it as space efficient as I can. And it’s only week one…. I’ve suggested asking neighbors for help – but you need to be really friendly with a neighbor before you can ask them to handle your garbage for you…

I even suggested handing the garbage to a delivery guy.. but that’s a no go either. So it’s going to be building up in here…

Food is also a bit of a challenge. Since all of London is on ‘lock-down’ – available slots for grocery delivery got gobbled up quickly. When we looked last the first available date for the major on-line grocery site was late November… Not good if you need food for this week!

Fortunately – my daughter – being in the food industry – has alternative resources! She can call on friends that are Green Grocers to deliver – and The Butchery that is next door to the place she makes her sausages has offered to do a meat run (ok – I adore meat… get over it!).

We did have some run-ins. Our first attempt to get apples went afoul of our ability to understand units of measure. We thought we were getting a kilo of apples, pears, and red peppers – they sent us ONE Apple. And ONE Pear. And ONE red Pepper. Ok – lesson learned – read the units of measures carefully!

To be honest – we could have figured it out if we’d thought about the prices… but we were in a rush – and you know what happens when you rush… Clearly you end up with an order for One Apple, One Pear, and One red Pepper.

Evenings at my daughters are spent either playing board games (which I love), or watching Netflix. I admit to being rather addicted to RuPaul’s Drag Race, and we also watched some strictly British offerings like Staged. It’s a ‘lock-down’ based drama about two famous actors – David Tennant and Michael Sheen – who are trying to deal with lock-down, the impact of the pandemic, and life lived too close for too long with loved ones. I was particularly intrigued with the idea of going out into the garden and just screaming… Too bad the neighbors got nosy.. If I did that here – I’d be on a tiny balcony in full view of the world..

Not happening.

So – while I can’t say things are going smoothly – my daughter and I beg to differ – loudly – on many issues – there is no blood on the ground. Yet.

Signing off to start yet another day of lock-down… The Soup Lady

Day 219 – Traveling under COVID Restrictions


Getting stir crazy yet? How about a trip across the Ocean – does it sound a bit scary? Well – It seems really scary to me

But my daughter lives in London – and she needs me/wants me to come. And I need/want to come. And since saying no to my daughter just isn’t happening – I’m heading out, masks in hand.

All this explains why I am sitting in a deserted airport lounge waiting for my flight to London to depart.

Last time I flew was April 1 – on my escape from St. Croix (I’m still sorry I had to go – but that’s another story). The airports were deserted then – and trust me – that has not changed! If anything, more things are closed, there are more barriers up, and you can forget about eating anywhere that looks like an inside.. Closed, Closed, Closed!!!

And coming into the airport is now restricted – or at least there is only one working door (conveniently in the middle of the airport – so FAR from where I need to go). I snake around the barriers, spritz my hands, and walk into the empty main concourse. Air Canada is located to the far right – so I drag myself and my luggage basically 1/2 the length of the very long terminal building to the check-in desks.

The plan is for me to leave Montreal and fly to London. I first checked with American Airlines – who are holding my tickets to London on British Airways. BUT… they can only fly me to London via the US. And I’m not going into the US right now. I’m not easy about being in the airport in the US – I’m definitely not going to be in an airport on Election Eve in the US.. Nope. Not for me.

So I had to get a credit for that trip – and re-arrange my trip. I had a choice – X for a flight that changed in Toronto – and Y (X ++) to fly direct. I choose direct. I am not comfortable with going to any more airports than I need to.. No way.

Ok – so I choose Air Canada. My logic here was – it’s the national airline of Canada – no matter what they will get me home from London.. At least that’s the plan.

I had pre-checked in – which may or may not have helped because when I get to the check-in counter they ask for my COVID form for the UK.

Huh? What form?

Conveniently they have an OR code for me to scan that takes me right to the form – so I stand near the check-in desks to fill it in – Nope, I don’t know anyone with COVID. Nope, I don’t have a fever. Nope, I don’t have other symptoms, and Yes – I have a place to Quarantine when I get to London.

Form done – I go back to the counter – and the gal makes a scary statement – “Cutting it close aren’t you?” I immediately start to panic. I thought I’d have 2 hours to clear security and walk to the gate before it was time to board. Time to even include a bathroom stop. Now I’m upset and alarmed – I must have the time wrong – I’m going to be running.

I do the really old lady run (ok – don’t laugh – we can run, it’s just a very slow thing to watch) and get to the snaking line that goes to security. No surprise – it’s empty.

As will quickly become the norm here in the airport – there is more staff than customers in the security area. I breeze thru – well, except I forget that my watch is made of metal – which causes the bells on the metal scanner to go off. Take off watch, leave on counter, go back out, come back in – all clear. Sigh.

Now I need to get to my gate. For those unfamiliar with the Montreal Airport – there are 3 distinct sections. There’s the part that goes to the US (I’m not there), then there are the co-joined parts that go either to other parts of Canada or to other parts of the world. The issue here is that there’s US immigration here in Montreal – you effectively enter the US on Canadian soil – so that part is isolated.

I’m in the Canada and the rest of the World section – with the Canadian gates to my right – and far far far on the left – the World gates. Naturally – my gate is almost at the end of the far left section. Another long long ‘run’ dragging only my carry-on this time – but still – down an effectively empty concourse.

I reach my gate – and discover that the friendly check-in gal was thinking I was going to Paris – not the UK. Her time is short alarm was based on when the flight to Paris left – not when my flight departed. I do have the hour and more to wait that I’d figured on. But now I’m sweaty, I’m panicked, my stomach hurts – and there’s nothing open. I’m not walking back – so it’s find a seat far away from everyone else, recharge my phone and ipad – and wait….

Eventually – and on time I will admit – they load our flight. I’m counting passengers – and it looks like about 40-50. Given that this is one of those massive trans-ocean flights – seating upwards of 400 passengers- the flight will be empty. In fact – there are more staff than passengers. Not only is my entire row empty – so is the one in front and in back of me.

I’m very happy about that. Fewer people, less exposure.

The food is predictably lousy – a cold Eggplant Parmesan which would have been lovely heated, some kind of strange salad I couldn’t eat, and a too too rich piece of chocolate cake. No dinner for you dear!

Well – my husband kindly packed my grand-daughter’s Halloween treat bag gift – so I ate that, watched a movie, slept in a contoured position, and woke to the flight crew announcing that we were landing in London.

Cool – that was painless.

I’m all the way in the back of the plane – so to get off – it’s yet again with the drag the bag. And then there’s the forever long walk thru the empty terminal towards British Immigration.

Huge lines (where did all these people come from?) snake from the immigration booths towards me – and again I panic needlessly. I’m carrying a Canadian Passport with the seal that lets me use the electronic booths – and I’ve pre-filled in that form. I literally breeze past everyone else – walk up to an empty electronic booth – present my passport – and I’m in! Well – that was easy.

I find my suitcase, exit the secure part of the airport and drag myself, my suitcase, my carry-on, and my Montreal weight Winter Coat to my favourite first stop in London. Cafe Nero at the airport for a Late and a scone with Clotted Cream and Jam. Heaven on a plate! And they are open – and they have seating… And the seating is well spaced.

I’m a very happy camper.

Now I must wait for my daughter to arrive. My plane arrived at around 7:00 AM, I was out of the secure portion of the airport by 8:00 AM – and my daughter can only pick me up at 1:00 PM. I’m going to be hanging at Cafe Nero for a while.

But except for a group of airport employees on break that weren’t wearing masks and decided to cluster at a table near me (I picked up and left that seat) – I was fine. I found a comfy chair, put the cart with my luggage in front of me blocking anyone from coming to close – and I played bridge!

Eventually my daughter arrived – wearing a mask of course. As were most of the folks I saw. We exited the airport, loaded my suitcases into her car – and started the long (over 1.5 hour) drive back to her place. London traffic on the eve of a Lock-down is insane. But the rules are that I must go directly from the airport into lock-down, and we’re following the rules.

Our plan now – my daughter and her husband are joining me for the required 14 days of Quarantine. They have been shopping madly, and stocked up. Plus we can get delivery – no worries. So we’re going to hang out here in her tiny condo and try not to get on each other’s nerves or in each other’s way.

Signing off to finally sleep…. The Soup Lady

Well – about time I posted again, eh?


Yeah – I know – been gone for months.

It’s not that I wasn’t busy – not busy isn’t in my vocabulary, it’s more that reporting on trips to places like Maine (I love the sea – but is a family holiday worth a blog post) or Toronto (to play bridge – at the National ABCL conference – can you say boring) worth blogging. I say no.

So – what am I doing that is worth Blogging? Ah – that’s a very good question.

I just spent 4 wonderful days doing Theatre in London – which besides being unbelievably expensive – is also a top ranked city for theatre.

We caught two current offerings – Woman in Black (Ghost story that’s been running for 28 years or so) and a brand new play – The Play that Goes Wrong. We also opted for pre-fix meals before the theatre – one of which was a huge bargain, the other of which was terribly over priced. So even the best of planners can go astray.

First review – The Woman in Black with dinner at the Homage Grand Salon – in the Waldorf Hilton. First question – What happened to “Waldorf Astoria” – did Astoria lose out to a bidding war with Hilton. I suspect yes, but the signs were very consistent. But I digress, as I so often do. On to the review. The meal started off nicely – my daughter opted to join us – and the very kind Matre D’ allowed that he could seat 3 as easily as 2. Given that the place was sold out (he turned away folks while we were waiting to be seated), I was pleased. But I was much less pleased with the meal. I don’t mind small portions, in fact I prefer them. But these portions had been downsized to non-existence. And it wasn’t that much of a price bargain either. 23 pounds per person, plus extra for dessert, extra for drinks, extra for coffee – extra for tip – and some of the meals on the menu had surcharges that ran 50% of the price of the meal. Very very pricy dinner for a lovely restaurant, kinda icky service – we had to go find people to get water, butter, a knife – and to order dessert. Which by the way was the highlight of the meal. A decided high note in a meal that didn’t rate 2 stars – let alone 5.

But on to the Show.

The theatre is one of the smaller theatres in the West End – and it was packed with young women – looking for a good scare. And they obliged the actors by screaming pretty consistently at almost everything. Which is a good thing – Ghost Stories are much more fun if people scream.

The story of the play is pretty scary – although it takes some time to get to the scary parts. And the acting, as would be expected in London, was top notch. I won’t give anything away by saying that it did succeed in scaring me. I’d rate the play 4 stars, dinner 2.

The next night we picked much, much, much better!

Dinner was at a very casual place called Boulevard Brasserie – a ‘French’ restaurant within 150 feet of our theatre. The meal actually started off better – the waiter was much less pretentious, and while our table was smaller – the restaurant itself was cute and fun. Decidedly brasserie. Again we had pre-ordered the theatre meal – and were extremely impressed with both the quality of the cooking and the size of the portions. At least here they don’t think smaller is better! Bread was extra – and I needed to order the bread. My smoked salmon appetizer simply begged for it. And good bread it was too – served with both butter and an olive paste. Yum. My dinner was a lovely cooked trout, at least twice the size as the fish I’d starved on the night before – perfectly cooked and delicious.

Dessert was the only course where the Homage Grand Salon trumped the lowly Brasserie. Their potted chocolate was far superior to my too large and too dense Valrohna Chocolate Tart. But hey – at 1/2 price – the Brasserie was by far and away the better bet.

Again on to the Show..

We’d picked “The Play that Goes Wrong” because Victor felt strongly that we wanted something light and funny – enough seriousness in our lives. So the reviews made this one sound perfect.

Curiously – we had to subject ourselves to a bag and personal pat-down before we could enter the theatre. This hadn’t happened the night before, but we were assured that it wasn’t that unusual for London. Our seats – purchased at a substantial discount thru Time Out, were on the front row. But in these tiny theatres, it’s rather hard to get a bad seat. And we were center front at least.

The play started with a bang – the mantle of the fireplace falls off, and the stage hands madly attempt to fix it with duct tape while trying to tell the audience to ignore them.

And the play goes up, or perhaps down, from there. It is absolutely historically funny. So funny that I actually had issues stopping laughing – not helped at all by one of the actors breaking character to chastise me from the stage – “This isn’t funny – stop laughing!” You try to stop after that – I dare you!

The idea is that a group of rather amateur actors are finally getting to put on a play in a ‘real’ theatre – and the play in question is a murder mystery. There’s all the requisite components – house with hidden doors (including one in a grandfather clock), folks with too many secrets (including romances between several of the characters), and a section of the stage that serves as a study raised above the rest of the stage and reached by an elevator on stage. But of course – things go wrong, the mantle falling off is just the first of many gags that combine physical comedy with exquisite timing. When the study threatens to fall off the walls into the audience – with two actors continuing to speak their lines while game-fully trying not to slide off – well – the audience is torn between laughter and concern for their safety. I still don’t know exactly how they managed not to slide down – the angle of tilt was at least 35 degrees! It was steep!

Through all the mishaps – only one actor manages to stay serious – and I truly have no idea how he manages that feat. There are actors who overact their parts – there are stage hands that try desperately to fix things (doors that won’t open, props that go missing, and sound effects that either happen late, don’t happen at all, or happen incorrectly. A door slam to the face takes out one of the lead characters, and a stage hand with a script is quickly drafted to take her place. When the lead actress recovers and tries to get back her role a bit later – a fight ensues between the stage hand who is enjoying the applause and the over-acting lead actress not pleased at being replaced.

If you have ever been involved in amateur theatrics – or if you just want to laugh until your sides hurt – this play is completely irresistible.

5 stars for dinner, 5 stars for the Theatre – a prefect evening is a lovely town.

On Tuesday our trip changes pace – we’re heading to South Africa! So stay tuned.

Signing off to play with her newest grand-daughter – the Soup Lady.

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.

London’s Top 12 Museums – Rated and Reviewed for your Amusement


12 museums in 13 days – hours and hours spent walking up and down stairs and corridors – and the result is our list of the 12 Top Museums in London – in order from Best to least favorite. Enjoy – and let us know if you agree – or disagree!

1. Museum of London – This is one huge exhibit divided up into generations of London History, and it’s astoundingly well done. I loved strolling the Victorian Shop Street and evesdropping on the Regency chatter in the Secret Garden. I suggest skipping the pre-history and start with the Romans – walking through and around the displays is simply incredibly interesting. And take a moment to do the docent guided talks and tours. Super. Plan on 3/4 of day – maybe more if you watch every video and listen to every talk.

2. Natural History Museum – Dinausaurs, Human Biology, Creepy Crawlies are steller displays – and rate a “Must See”. This museum really needs an entire day – we had to skip at least one major secton – Human Evolution. Human Biology is a remarkable collection of interactive toys and videos and games. It is a challenge to leave. And the Dinosaur Display is justifably famous. The audio-animatronic T-Rex is worthy of Disney Land, and the multi-layered effects create a dramatic and exciting stage on which information about Dinosaurs can be displayed.

3. Somerset House – The Courtauld Galley – Outstanding collection of Impressionists. It’s hard not to love a museum that boasts such an extensive and well laid out colleciton of such magnificant works of art from Degas to van-Gogh, Monet to Manet and all the artists inbetween. Well lit, well curated, interesting tid-bits of information – what’s not to love. It’s really only two floors – so 1/2 a day is enough to see everything.

4. Design Museum – The only free section is on the third floor – but it’s outstanding. It covers Industrial Design from the Designer, Maker, User perspective starting in the 1700 and in a rather jerky fashion – moving forward till today. And it’s brilliant. Engaging, entertaining, and in some cases – down right funny. Since you only see one floor – you can do this one in 1/2 a day, easy.

5. Imperial War Museum – Only the WWI and ‘Family thru the War’ sections are worth spending time at – but the WWI exhibit is truly outstanding – probably one of the best and most complete museum treatments of WWI I’ve ever seen. I even enjoyed walking thru the Trenches. So see those 2 – and leave. Budget 1/2 a day here.

6. Tate Modern – it took us a day and 1/2 to ‘do’ the Tate Modern – there’s simply so much information crammed into the audio tour. But this is modern art – and not all of it is going to be your ‘cup of tea’. So it’s easy to skip past some very interesting exhibits because you just don’t understand or can’t appreciate what the artist is trying to do. Budget a day – but be prepared not to finish if you opt for the audio tour – which is highly recommended.

7. National Gallery – The individual talks about specific paintings by a curator are not to be missed. We lucked into one about a Rembrant – and she made the painting come alive in surprising ways. Highly recommend figuring out where/when these talks will happen. 1/2 a day was long enough to get the idea – they have a lot of art! Be aware that the Rembrants have been moved to the first floor to make room for a special exhibit – we ended up circling around twice before we found them.

8. Tate British – Like the V&A, this is a mother-ship of museums and could use a bit of sprucing up. The Turner collection is huge – and honestly, if you’ve seen 10 Turners, you’ve seen them all. I did love the small collection of Henry Moore pieces – donated in most part by the artist. And there are some stunning pieces hidden in almost every room – which makes the Tate British slow going. You skip ahead at your own risk. You will miss something amazing – you have been warned.

9. RA – Royal Academy of Arts – America after the Fall. This special exhibit was a block-buster – but since there are constantly new special exhibits, and no standard exhibit – we voted to demote the museum to the #9 slot. But given how great the exhibit was, I’m willing to suggest that this is one museum where paying the extra for the ‘special’ exhibits might actually make sense. How often does one ever come face to face with Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

10. Kew Garden – comletely weather dependant of course – but the Princess of Wales Conservatory is the star attraction – and possibly one of the best of these we’ve ever seen with over 14 different climate zones and simply incredible flowers. I found the 2 carnivore sections particularly interesting. The acres and acres and acres of wandering space is also wonderful.

11. Victoria and Albert – Great Tour, Great Restaurant – rest of the museum is more ho-hum. There is a lot of wonderful things inside, but it’s hard to read the signs, and there’s little to engage you unless you have a specific interest in the topic. One clear exception, the Display on Theatre and Staging. That we can easily recommend. We also enjoyed the free hour intro tour to the Museum. It was fast, but surprisingly entertaining.

12. Science Museum – terrible let down. Could’a been great – didn’t deliver. Skip it. You have better uses for your time – even if you are here with kids. Just watching the horse guards was more fun.

Ok – there you have it – the Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler’s reviews of the Museums of London. I feel a bit like an ad for a financial planner – this represents our views – you might disagree completely. And past performance is no guarentee for success.

Signing off to go tour the museums of the rest of the UK – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Take on the Tate Modern!


So – you think you know Modern Art, eh? Well think again. The Tate Modern isn’t your soft fuzzy easy approach to art. This is ranchy, hard core, over the top (and sometimes under the bottom) art. None of those cutsie Impressionists – no sir. We are the Tate MODERN!

Which doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t visit – it just means come prepared for some rather surprising things to be called art. And some pretty nice things too. This is a museum devoted to the surprise, the curious, the edgy and it definitely delivers.

The building itself is hardly the glory that is the Herschorn in Bilboa, Spain with it’s stunning silvered outside and huge Koons Puppy. Nope – the Tate Modern is housed in an old pumping station and switch house located on London’s South Shore, catty-corner from the Sommerset House with it’s outstanding collection of Impressionists. Talk about contrast. And between the Tate Modern and the Thames is one of the main sections of the Queen’s Jubliee Greenway – a walking, strolling, family friendly path that winds for miles along the Thames. Just walking in to the Tate Modern past the bubble blowers and living statues is an experience!

The building is huge, and the collection is also huge. The ceilings are at least 40 feet high – as befits it’s factory origins. And the renovation has creatively made light as important as the art. The ceiling of the inner courtyard is a massive 2 floor high light box – and the enormous hallowness of the courtyard echos the emptiness that most of the art on display is attempting to explain.

Modern is not necessairly comfortable or easy.

The inner courtyard links the two original buildings. On the Thames side is the Boiler House – 6 floors high, only 2 of which contained ‘art’. The restaurant on the 6th floor was – for us – an overpriced waste of money, but the view was lovely. More stunning was the view from the open observation floor on the 10th floor of the building on the ‘not’ Thames side – the Switch House. Open to the air, and running completely around the entire exterior – you had massive views into the million dollar appartments that are the Tate’s neighbors. No curtains or window treatments blocked the view into these homes, although their mininmal decor made it hard to imagine who might be living in these places. Curiously – signs on the columns of the viewing platform suggested it would be nice to be polite to the neighbors – I’m not sure how we could have been polite given our birds-eye view directly into their homes.

But as usual I meander. This is supposed to be about the art.

We splurged and paid for the audio guides, an expense that is well worth it in this case. Too often you get cheap and figure the audio guides will slow you down – but I find that the better guides give you insights into the art and the artist – and sometimes even the curator – that you would never normally get. And in the case of the Tate Modern – the audio guide is a clear winner. Each selection had at least one short discussion about the art – but often there were additional options, including videos of the artist at work (I loved the one where the artist is shooting at balloons filled with paint hidden under the surface of the work). Do get the guide.

While there are many ‘rooms’ – there are really only two sections that require a significant time to explore – both on the 2nd floor of the Boiler House – the building nearer the Thames. Entitled ‘Artist and Society’ and ‘In the Studio’. I found both well worth the 4 hours we spent in them, although I will admit that ‘Artist and Society’ made more sense to me. It was clear in this section that the artists were responding to the society of their times – and often they were taking on opposing and/or contrasting view points. The counterplay made for interesting viewing.

We had to come back a 2nd day to do the rest of the museum, fortunately the staff maning the audio tour guide desk took pity on us and gave us a 2nd day free. Good thing – you really need the audio tours to make any sense at all of these surprising works of art.

There is one section that I think is a must-see for any woman – artist or not. It’s on the 4th floor of the Boiler House – the building closer to the Thames, and it’s in a general display area called ‘Media Networks’. The room is called ‘Andy Warhol and the Guerrilla Girl’ – and it contrasts the approach towards gender equality that these artists were championing. Andy Warhol’s art appears sexless – while the Guerrilla Girl art is more in your face obvious. One piece was actually a poster showing a naked woman in a traditional reclining pose with the caption – Women – if you want to get in a museum – do it nude! The poster goes on the explain that while 70% of the women in a major museum are in paintings as nudes, only 2 are artists.

Another poster has the headline: The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist:
followed by a list of 13 advantages including:
“Working without the pressure of success”
“Having an escape from the art world in your 4 free-lance jobs”
“Knowing your career might pick up after you’re eighty”
“Not being stuck in a tenured teaching position”
“Having more time to work after your mate dumps you for someone younger”

You get the drift.

Most memorable piece of art? A huge room filled with what we originally thought were giant potatoes, but turned out to be hand sewn brown and burlap sacks stuffed with paper. They were scattered around the room – and the audio defended the display as art explaining that the amorphous forms were made to make us think of bodies.

I must also admit a fondness for the urinal turned sideways and labeled fountain.

Bottom line – worth two days – but not an easy two days.

And if you want to go to the 10th floor to see the view (and you should) – start on floor 0. If you try to catch the elevators upward at any other floor – they will be packed – and you won’t get in. Start at the very bottom. And don’t tell anyone else.

Off to see some more of the Impressionists – now that’s art I can understand without an audio guide….

The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler