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.

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

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

Parting Shots – Goodbye to London


I’m on my way back home to Canada – but I can’t help but leave you with a few more true stories of the strange things I’ve seen here in England.

Homeless Dog Sitter – we were outside of the V&A Museum (wonderful museum – highly recommend it), there’s a nice pedestrian area there that makes for very pleasant walking. It was right around 6:30 – and we saw the absolute strangest thing. An apparently homeless man was sitting with his arms around a large brown dog, holding a sign. “Just a man and his dog – Please be generous”. Ok – seen that before. But here’s the odd part. As we watched, another man, wearing a nice coat and looking quite established walked up to the man – no words were exchanged – but the man took out from under his coat a leash, a harness, and a dog jacket – proceeded to put the jacket on the dog, add the leash and harness – and then walked away. The homeless man turned around, and flipped over his sign.

What do you think that was all about?

Ok – Subway manners. In Korea they have signs indicating the locations sections of the metro cars designated for the older, the pregant, or the infirm. If someone sits in one of these sections by accident – the proper occupants will hiss at them to move away. Totally works. In London – it’s a bit different. The seats nearest the doors are all marked as special seating – it’s emblazoned on the backrests – and sometimes on the the window. But you don’t know where the doors will end up, so you are often trying to guess where to stand. But that’s not the subject of this story. I need a seat on the subway – the jerky motion makes my knees ache – so I always try for a seat – and I don’t mind asking someone who looks young and healthy – but has decided to sit in the special seats to get up. Not everyone who needs a seat is that forceful however – and we boarded a subway car with another older woman. I asked a young man to get up – which he did. Across from him – also sitting in a seat designated for older, pregant, or infirm – was another younger gentleman holding a briefcase. He made eye contact with the other older woman – and proceeded to shut his eyes and clutch his briefcase to his chest – faking sleep.

Really – you can’t be bothered to get up – and you are willing to fake sleep to aoid it?

Ok – Subway manners again. Remember that the special seats are for older folks, infirm – or pregant. But how do you know a woman is pregant? When I was in the market stall at Fenchurch Station – I noticed young women – some obviously pregant, some not so obvious – sporting a button that said – “Baby on Board”. I thought – that’s funny that they all bought the same button. But my daughter tells me that I’m wrong. In fact – Doctors give their pregant patients these buttons – which are distruted by the transit authority – to allow them to claim those special seats.

How cool is that!

One last story – then I’m off to a new adventure.

Brits are amazingly polite in general. I worry for the newest generation – but generally speaking they don’t like to say no. So when I was giving out samples of Crown & Queue Sausages (curedmeat.london), if they didn’t want to buy something – they would fake an excuse. “I don’t get paid till tomorrow”, “How late will you be here – I’ll come back after work”, “I’m going to tour the market and then come back”. The last actually wasn’t a clear no – often they did come back – which they would announce! “Hi – I’m back – and you have the best sausages”. Actually – we had just about the only air-cured dried sausages – but I agree they were awesomely good. But here’s my favorite way for Brits to say – Thanks but no Thanks. “Will you be here tomorrow/on Monday/next week?”. At first I’d honestly tell them – Yes. But I quickly realized that was just another way of saying no. So I finally started to say either “No – today is our last day”, or “We aren’t sure yet – if you want sausages – you should get them now”. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that it is possible that some people – having been called out on their polite rejection – perhaps bought a sausage. Who knows for sure!

Ok – that’s it for my report from London. I had a really great time visiting with my daughter – albeit the sleeping arrangements weren’t always the very best. We managed to spend 3 weeks in extremely close company – and didn’t kill each other. We didn’t even have a fight. Must be a record of some kind.

We did have some laughs – did some Christmas Caroling – some organized – and some in the Market Stall, and we shared a lot of meals. But most importantly – we had plenty of bonding time to talk about this and that. It was fun.

Signing off to head home,

The Soup Lady

Frighteningly Awesome Theatre Experience


Why do we go to live theatre – seriously – you ever asked yourself that  question? I mean it’s expensive, you have to buy tickets in advance, arrive early, wait in line, and risk disappointment since most live theatre, at least in Montreal, doesn’t stay around long enough to get much of a reputation.

Well, I can share why I go. It’s the thrill of the chase. The anticipation when you are sitting in the lobby – will this be a winner – or a loser? The tension between audience and actors – can they make me believe it’s real – do they want to?

All of which leads up to my review of “Butcher” – the current offering from Centaur Theatre. This is a 10 out of 10. Top rating – must go – Loved it review. But go prepared for heart wrenching, stomach turning, reality check level experience.

This play is not easy to experience, well worth it, but not easy. How hard is it? During our performance, close to the climax – suddenly the lights went on in the Theatre. An older woman had apparently fainted and fallen to the floor near the back stairs. The ushers and her husband were attempting to revive her – and the action on the set froze as the people helping her got her to her feet and out of the theatre. Close on their heels were another couple – much younger – clearly taking this opportunity to make a fast exit.

Questioning the staff after revealed that this had happened several times already during the run of this play. Okay – seriously brutal topic – so well acted that you totally buy into the story.

I’m not going to reveal plot – or plot twists – but I will tell you to go. This is a tale ripped from today’s headlines – complete relevant to what we’ve been reading in the newspapers – and yet a story as old as time itself. When is enough, enough? When do we agree it’s time to stop hating people for what they have done to you?

What is an appropriate punishment for crimes against humanity – and why does it happen? When do these things start, where and when do they end?

The author has crafted a wonderful piece of theatre, the talented actors and directors at Centaur have brought it to life, and the sold out audience stood to appaud their efforts.

Get tickets – Go.

Welcome to Russia! Welcome to St. Petersburg!


Our first morning in St. Petes – and it’s lovely – cool and crisp – but clear. Our hostel – The Suricata – is located in the back of a courtyard and we feel far removed from the hustle of the city. It turns out that this is a typical construction design for buildings near the city center. There is a gateway off the road – that leads under one side of the building into a center courtyard. Then all the rest of the building faces this courtyard. Even the flats that have windows facing the street have their entrance doors off the courtyard!

The yard doubles as a children’s play ground and a car park for the apartments, flats and condos that fill the buildings. Each section has it’s own entrance off the courtyard – generally there are only 2 flats to a floor – and the max height appears to be 4 stories – that limit related to the distinct lack of elevators!

Our hostel is located on the 2nd floor – one flight up from the ground. This is the primo level because on the ground level are generally stores and shops – and as you go higher – you have more stairs to climb.

But back to elevators – We noticed it first in the metro – but as we’ve visited places around the city – it’s become even more obvious. There are very few elevators in St. Petersburg – even in the museums. Handicap friendly – Nope.

Anyway – the door to the stairwell that leads to our hostel is directly across from the gate – so we are quite far from any traffic noises. There are windows on only one side of the flat – because there is another building that abuts ours – but it is entered from the street behind us. In buildings like the Hermitage or Winter Palace – the same building design is repeated – just on a grander scale. And of course – there’s no building backing up on a palace – so they have windows on 2 sides in many rooms. One side overlooks the street (or the river in the case of one entire side of the Winter Palace) – the other side of the room overlooks that omnipresent courtyard.

The owner of the Suricata is on hand to greet us – he wants to be sure that our dates will work out – and I guess he’d like to be paid. But since he insists on cash – this is a very cash oriented society – he’s going to have to wait. We need to find an ATM.

Unlike the Cat’s Pajamas – there is no option to buy breakfast at the hostel. They do provide (for free) Tea, Instant Coffee, and some basic cooking supplies like oil, salt and sugar. One day they even offered us Oranges. But generally this is a fend for yourself food situation – so we will have to find a local grocery store – and soon. For today – we make do with breakfast from the local food shop – and head out to the Hermitage.

Following the advice on the internet – we bought 2 day tickets on line – and we want to see what the fine print has to say about what we can and can’t do. We are easy walking distance from the Winter Palace – so we amble over and check things out.

Even being pre-warned about the crowds doesn’t do the mob scene at the Hermitage justice. It’s pretty unbelievable. But there are people who speak English, although it takes us visits to several different desks to find them. Certainly buying tickets ahead was brilliant – that makes things a lot easier.

Some important notes about tickets bought ahead. They are for 2 consecutive days. No options. So you do want to be sure to pick your first day carefully. We decide to wait till Tuesday to start our Hermitage tour – that will give us Tuesday and Wednesday – Wednesday being the day the Hermitage stays open late. Since today is Saturday – we leave the crowds behind – and head out to walk the city.

Suffering from a severe lack of breakfast – we go back to that wonderful pastry shop and check out their lunch options. I have the Russian version of dumplings, IT had Stronganof, and MP enjoyed a Borcht. All 3 – delicious. For dessert we had, of course, more of their yummy pie. I had a Latte. Then MP had a latte. Then we both had another. Poor IT – she only drinks tea.

Next job – find a larger grocery store – and we do. It’s quite close to our hostel – prices are reasonable – they even offer meal options to go – roast chicken and various sausages. And a fairly decent wine selection with about 20 different Russian wines. There is also a huge selection of different Vodkas. We’re in Russia after all!

We decide to brave the metro again – it should be easier without suitcases – and travel to Dostoevsky’s Flat. On the way we visit a cathedral, a local food market (It’s going to be bread, cheese, sausage, cucumbers, tomatos, strawberres, and wine for dinner tonight), and of course get just a bit lost. I think getting lost is going to happen a lot. The good news – there are always people around to point you in the right direction – even if they don’t speak a word of English!

Dostoevsky’s Flat is really interesting only to fans of Russian Literature – but it does rather forceably remind one of how lucky we in North America to live in our fancy homes. Despite his fame, and probably because of his gambling problem, Dostoevsky’s flat is remarkably small and simply furnished. Interesting stuff. There’s an audio-tour in English, and across the hall from the flat is a collection of images of places mentioned in his books.

After our visit – and of course a mandatory break for tea and Russian pastries – We then move on to what turns out to be the highlight of the day – Russian Orthodox Services at the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Savior.

We arrive shortly before services begin. The bells are ringing – summoning the faithful to church – and the lights of the Cathedral are on – making the mosaics and gilded twirls and whirls of the decorations glow. Icons are strategically located around the nave – covered with silver and gold beaten panels to enhance their beauty. The faithful – mostly women – are all standing around quietly, waiting for services to begin. All women have their heads covered – all men are bare headed. And there are no chairs and no pews. Not for the congregation, not for the priests.

Fortunately – this Cathedral is quite large, very famous – and is aware that it draws faithful from other lands. Thus it does provide a small rack of those small folding chairs that you sometimes see in Museums. We get one each – I don’t think even MP – the youngest of us – can stand for the entire 2 hour service – and surely neither I nor the Intrepid Traveller is up for that!

The altar in a Russian Orthodox Church is ‘hidden’ behind a Iconostasis – an elaborate carved dividing screen that holds at least one if not more icons. There is a gateway in the Iconostasis that can be opened to show the altar to the congregation. When the gateway is opened – the lights above the Iconostasis are turned on to show that G-d’s light shines on the world. And this is how the service starts.

The lights above the Iconostasis are turned on – and the female choir in the choir loft behind our heads begins to sing. The altar doors open to reveal one priest with two helpers praying at the altar – his back to us. He begins to sing – and swings an incense burner.

Eventually he is joined by 18 other priests and helpers – who take turns swinging the incense burners (there are 2), singing in the most magnificent voices imaginable, and marching around the church in loops so that everyone can see them and so that they can bless all the icons on display.

At certain points during the service, Church lay people roll out carpets for the priests to stand on while they read the bible and do the sacraments in the center of the church – right in the middle of the congregation.

Throughout this entire time – a total of 2 hours – the congregants remain standing. At the end of the service – as if on some mystical cue – the congregants move to one side of the church and line up for blessing. One by one the main priest paints the cross on their forehead with holy oil, and they kiss a cross on his sleeve. Since there are at least 500 particpants – this takes a while. Next to the main priest stands an altar boy holding a bowl full of pieces of bread. Each person takes one after they are blessed.

About 1/3 of the congregation now moves to the other side of the church, and lines up again – this time for confession. It’s done in the open – although many times the priest puts a cloth over the head of the person confessing to give them both privacy.

Amazing experience. The singing of the priests and the choir are outstanding – the emotional commitment wonderful to behold. I’m privileged to have been permitted to take part.

We walk home slowly – past the Church of Spilled Blood – glorious in the glow of a late setting sun at just after 9:00 PM. Days start early and end late in St. Petersburg during the White Nights.

What a wonderful way to be welcomed to Russia.

Signing off – MR, The Intrepid Traveler, and of course – The Soup Lady.

Carnival Time in Berlin – Who Knew?


I couldn’t have planned the timing of our trip to Berlin better if I had tried – but I’m ahead of myself a bit. I’ll back-track and then move forward in time sequence.

Our landing in Berlin at the smaller airport of Schoenfield was uneventful – luggage arrived, bus to metro organized – no problems at all.

We opted to take the bus in all the way to Hermannplatz – we could have switched to the Metro – but riding the bus gave us time to get a feel for the outer limits of Berlin – probably the only time we’ll actually see where ‘real’ people live!

Once we arrived at Hermannplatz – finding the Cat’s Pajama’s hostel was also simple. And what a lovely hostel it is too. And yes – Pet very very friendly! But that doesn’t bother us a bit.

Our room is a small, but a very nicely located double -on the third floor with shower en-suite – Overall – it compares nicely to more expensive places – it even has a 27″ flat screen TV (not that we’ve even turned it on yet). First time I’ve seen that in a hostel. And at least every other day maid service. In a Hostel! Top that Marriot.

As expected – there’s a huge kitchen, 3 full fridges for people to store their food in – and there’s a party happening tonight. Free bratwurst and Free beer – all you can eat and drink.

Nice way to be welcomed to Berlin, eh?

Turns out that this is the start up to Whit Sunday – or Pentacost. The Intrepid Traveller knew this was a big deal in the Catholic Church – what we didn’t know is that it’s a big deal in the Hermannplatz area. Once a year – on this Sunday – there is a huge – huge – huge Parade! It starts at noon on Sunday – and lasts till 9:30 in the evening. Over a million people will be watching. And it all happens right outside the door to our hostel. It’s a diversity parade – if you have a group – you can join. The ‘floats’ and I use that term very generously – range from wagons pulled by the participants to highly decorated vans and trucks. The music is loud and raucous – the dancers in many cases barely clad. Head dresses and tail feathers with thongs of various sizes were the norm – not the exception. There were groups of drum core teams, there were lots and lots of folks representing various Native tribes – from all parts of the world. Africa, South America – you name it.

It was the Berlin version of Mardi Gras on a penny-wise budget – but playing to an audience of over a million. The Intrepid Traveller and I can’t think of anything in Montreal that would pull such a crowd.

Before the parade started – we had to go to church of course. I picked the Cathederal of Berlin – I mean – why not. And we picked High Mass. So we were treated to a full orchestra, a choir of about 30 young ladies and a male soloist, the church organ with it’s over 7000 pipes, the current arch-bishop of Berlin, 5 more priests, countless alter boys and girls, enough incense to full the huge church – and confirmation!

It dawned on me about 1/2 way thru that the only way to really enjoy church music is when it is played to an audience of devotees. And it is glorious. The building resonated with the music – the audience hung on every note. Magnificant.

So – Pentacost services, Carnival Parade – and for dinner – Doner and Pizza. Hey – it’s Berlin.

Signing off to plan tomorrow’s adventures.. The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveller.

Suggestion 3 – How to Travel far from the ‘Madding Crowd’


Be a cultural Chameleon

This is a lot tougher than it sounds at first because the idea here is to do as the locals do. And sometimes that’s – well – scary.

Chopsticks for example. The Intrepid Traveller isn’t that great with chopsticks – she’s a lot better today than 10 years ago – no question – but still – they are a challenge. So doing as the locals do when it comes to eating with chopsticks – a challenge. And I’m rarely comfortable eating with my fingers out of a common pot – color me food cautious. But I do try.

Using public transit. I actually love taking public transit – that’s what people do you know – normal people – the kind without tour guides and money for taxis and private drivers. But the idea of getting on a bus when you don’t understand where the money is supposed to go, exactly what the bus route is, and who is going to be sitting next to you – scary – just plain scary. Metro seems easier somehow. The routes are easier to read, and if you get confused – just get on a train heading the opposite way. But Metro isn’t nearly as much fun, or as good a way to see a place – as an old fashioned bus. And in many countries – buses are cheap. Dirt Cheap. So – take a risk the next time you travel – try the bus. Go to the end of the line and stay on. The bus will turn around and take you back home (you hope) – and you’ll get a very different view of the city you are visiting.

Eat in restaurants where locals go to dine. Oh – this is another easy to say, hard to accomplish task! The restaurants that I look for when I’m traveling have locals inside – but often that means no English menus – and maybe even no typed menus. I’ve gotten by with a combination of smiling hard – and pointing at what looks good on someone else’s table. Restaurants to avoid – ones with no customers, ones with people standing outside to usher you in (nothing says tourist trap like that move), ones with English/German/French – but no local language on the menu listings outside, ones with pictures displayed prominately out front, and buffets. Definitely avoid buffets – that’s food posioning heaven! Restaurants to savor – ones with lots of customers who look and sound local, ones with meals that look interesting on other customer’s plates, and ones with table-clothes. I’m a sucker for table-clothes. (Ok – those probably aren’t for locals – but they always look so appealing!) I am also found of restaurants that have grills visible – so you can see your food cooking while you wait.

One cavet on food – I’m always a bit iffy on food sold from stands on street corners. I know that those are often the most local of places – but I want to see them cooking my food before I’m going to eat it. Pre-cooked food that is just sitting there is a buffet – and I always avoid buffets!

Have an open door policy. If a door is open to a church, a museum, a public space – I tend to walk in. Why? Because I’m not sure what I’ll find – but sometimes it’s amazing. I’ve walked into weddings, funerals, baby events, kids choir practice, organ rehersals, and yes church services. And I’ve never ever been sorry. Locals do churches – and so should you. Best local church event – ever? In Florence we happened on the 200th birthday part celebration for the founder of one of the main churches. All the local kids were dressed fit to kill – they had a full high mass (insense burners etc.), the priests were all wearing their full dress outfits – and the kids were performing. It was so so beautiful. The other guests – family and friends of course. A truly local happening – right in the center of one of the worlds most touristy cities.

Be curious when you see a crowd – be really really curious if they seem happy. I’ve seen coq fights in Bali because I couldn’t figure out why a bunch of men were gathered so tightly around an open space (give the birds room, eh?) – I’ve watched people creating art on the street while people gawked – and I’ve enjoyed showy events like bands, singing groups and the like. If people are gathering – there’s a reason. Don’t be crazy – but don’t turn around and go back to your hotel either. There’s always someone around to ask. Case in point – we were in Korea and noticed that people were getting cushions and sitting on seats surrounding an open stage. Hmmm – they looked local – so worth checking out. It was a Korean version of a Gong Show – a school was show casing the work of their students – and the crowd were mostly parents and friends. It was great fun! And more importantly – real. Naturally, we attracted interest – only foreigners in the crowd – so after the show, two young students approached us to ask if they could interview us for their teacher – in English.

The moral here – be comfortable about joining in – particularly if you see groups of locals as compared to groups of foreigners. You’ll might be surprised at how much fun unplanned to you, but highly planned to the locals – happenings can be!

Signing off to check out that group of youngsters all dressed in white in front of that church…. The Soup Lady