Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Year in Review: 2014

One of my New Years resolutions for 2015 is to resurrect my woefully neglected blog.  I took a break from it when my father passed away unexpectedly two years ago and then was so overwhelmed by the backlog of posts that I didnt know how to start it back up again.  I really enjoyed writing it, and I hope a few people enjoyed reading it, but my primary reason for doing it was to record of all the amazing experiences we have had during our time in London.  So much has happened over the past two years that it would take me months to get caught up, but I dont have that kind of time, so I will just attempt to summarize (with some help from Josh) the events of the past year.  Its a start

We started off 2014 in Seattle, WA, where we rang in the New Year with Joshs brothers family.  Our stateside adventure began with a week in Washington, DC, followed by Christmas and New Years in Seattle, and then met up with my mom and sister in Jacksonville, FL to attend my cousins wedding.  (We racked up a lot of air miles on this trip albeit on several different airlines.)  After several days of festivities (it was an Indian wedding), we all headed down to Orlando to visit our old pal Mickey Mouse.  Shortly after returning to London, Josh tripped on the stairs in our house and managed to dislocate his shoulder, but after an awkward car ride his arm was put right by the nearest NHS hospital. I took advantage of the January sales at the annual American Womens Club (AWC) trip to the pottery factory outlets in Stoke-on-Trent, and Josh flew back to DC for a quick business trip. 
Celebrating Elizabeth, Ann, and Diana's birthdays in DC
Christmas in Seattle with the "Fitzniuks" (Fitzhughs and Bilaniuks)
Our Indian wedding attire
The lovely bride and groom
Sonia tries to use The Force at the Star Tours shop
Josh's MacGuyver-esque sling, courtesy
of the NHS
Bottle kiln at the Moorcroft pottery in Stoke
In February I took an overnight trip to Jersey (the old one) with some AWC pals, where we learned about the complicated history of the island and commandeered a taxi to drive us around.  The driver was very confused as to why 6 ladies traveled from the US to spend one night in Jersey, until we finally explained that we all lived in London.  I later caused quite a stir as the Director of Programs for the AWC by booking an American stand-up comedian to speak at the February meeting, which was held on a Tuesday morning at the Royal Thames Yacht Club in Knightsbridge (which is very nearly as posh as it sounds).  Although I had specifically asked him to keep it PG-rated, when confronted with an audience of 50 smartly dressed American ladies, he went off the rails and started dropping f-bombs left and right, bizarrely ending with potty-training tips for our Presidents 2-month-old son.  No one will forget that meeting!  Josh and I ended the month with a combined business trip and birthday outing to Brussels and Bruges, where much chocolate and waffles was consumed.
Jersey girls
The Jersey shore
Brussels city hall
Dinner in Bruges with AWC friends who just happened to be there
the same weekend.  This happens surprisingly frequently...
In March, Josh embarked on a 2-week business trip to Australia (where he had a koala come to his rescue, and finally learned to surf) and the Middle East (where he hunkered in a bunker but otherwise had little in the way of adventures).  Unfortunately his trip coincided with a week-long visit from his best friend from law school, whose family had never been to London before. They are close friends of mine as well, so I put on my tour guide hat and took them to Kew Gardens, Hampton Court Palace, the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, a Chihuly exhibit, and afternoon tea.  We had a great time, despite Joshs absence; he regretted missing it.
McIntoshes at Kew Gardens
Chihuly exhibit
Hampton Court Palace
In April, Josh headed up to Birmingham for a few days while I attended the AWCs annual Founders Day celebration and fundraiser, commemorating the 115th anniversary of the club.  My mom and sister came for a visit, during which Josh conveniently flew back to DC for yet another business trip.  We visited Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey), and saw Arthur Darvill (from Dr. Who and Broadchurch) perform the lead role in Once.  They also spent a few days in Belgium and the Netherlands, and came back weighed down with chocolate.   At the end of April, somewhat to my surprise, I became the President of the American Womens Club of London (AWC).  Mostly this was to upstage Josh, who had just become Vice President (not of the AWC) in March.
AWC Founder's Day Committee
Tea at the Pelham Hotel with mom and Sonia
Highclere Castle
"Once" -- great show!
The first Monday in May is a bank holiday in the UK, so Josh and I took advantage of the long weekend to visit York (the old one).  We particularly enjoyed the beautiful Minster cathedral and fantastic rail museum, where we got to drive an early steam train, as well as the home of the family that owned Terrys Chocolates, famous for everyones favorite stocking stuffer, the Chocolate Orange.  The last Monday in May is also a bank holiday, and we spent that long weekend touring Istanbul with a group from the AWC.  What an amazing city!  It has 2000 years of history all right under your chin.  Josh and I extended our trip and spent an additional week touring Turkey.  Highlights included the ancient biblical city of Ephesus, a day-trip to the Greek island of Chios, and a sunrise hot-air balloon ride over the alien landscape of Cappadocia.  In between the two trips, I finally made it to the Chelsea Flower Show.  And, as is a bittersweet part of expat life, I attended the first of many going-away parties for one of my dear London friends who moved back to the US.
Terry's Chocolate Orange
York Minster
Old rail signs at the Railway Museum.  Can you spot the one from Wales?

Chelsea Flower Show
Thai display at Chelsea Flower Show
Outside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul
Inside the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
Cruising on the Bosphorus
Spice market, Istanbul
Rainbow stairs in Cesme
On Ilica beach in Cesme
Library of Celsus in Ephesus
Medieval village of Mesta on the Greek island of Chios
Otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia
Amazing hot-air balloon flight over Cappadocia, Turkey
Gorgeous Turkish ceramics
We spent the first weekend of June sailing off the southern coast of England.  The sailing trip had been donated to our Founders Day auction by one of our Board members, and Josh and I were invited as the guests of the winning bidder.  The weather was perfect, and our hosts were happy to have Josh aboard, as he has some actual sailing experience and was able to make himself useful.  I took an overnight trip to the Peak District with two fellow Jane Austen fans to visit the two houses that served as Pemberley in the TV and movie versions of Pride & Prejudice.  No sign of Mr. Darcy, but we still had a great time.  Our corner of London is generally pretty quiet, but at the end of June, all eyes turn to Wimbledon to watch tennis.  We missed the first week as we met up with Joshs parents and godparents in Budapest another great city!  
At Port Hamble Marina
Flying the Stars & Stripes, of course
Rivette and I waiting for Mr Darcy at Lyme Park
(Pemberley from the 1995 TV adaptation with Colin Firth)
Chatsworth (Pemberley from the 2005 movie with Keira Knightley)
The closest we came to finding Darcy... 
This was a prop from the movie
Dinner with Josh's parents and godparents in Budapest
Evening cruise past the Parliament building
Liberty Bridge

The actual Grand (Budapest) Hotel
Bridal shop in Wimbledon
I did manage to go the second week (and write a blog post about it!), and was lucky enough to get a 3rd-row ticket to see Roger Federer play in No. 1 Court and watch the Williams sisters forfeit a doubles match due to Serenas sudden inability to get the ball over the net. July also included the Farnborough Air Show, which Josh got to watch from his office window; a short visit from my friend Kinnari; and an evening of hilarity watching the surviving members of Monty Python reunite at the O2 Arena.  Another highlight was meeting Lady Carnarvon (for the second time) when she spoke at the AWC July meeting about her latest book, Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey.  She was a great speaker, and very gracious and down to earth.  At the end of the month, we took a 10-day trip to DC (Josh for business, me for pleasure).  I normally wouldnt chose to visit DC in the middle of summer, but the weather was surprisingly mild and it was nice to catch up with friends I hadnt seen since last December.  Going-away parties: 2

Roger Federer
Venus & Serena Williams, having a bad day
At the O2 Arena to see Monty Python (Mostly) Live
Afternoon tea with Kinnari
With Lady Carnarvon at the Royal Thames Yacht Club.
(She is the actual lady of Highclere Castle/Downtown Abbey)
I had yet another opportunity to wear my tour guide hat when my friend Brian spent a couple days with us in mid-August.  Josh had to go to Hamburg on business at the end of the month, which coincided with another bank holiday weekend, so we planned a trip to Berlin around it and crossed another major city off our bucket list.  I had been to Berlin before, but it was a very different city when I visited with my family in 1985.  Hamburg seems to be mostly devoted to high-end shopping, but it does have a few interesting sights of its own.  Going-away parties: 2

Checkpoint Charlie
The Brandenburg Gate
Holocaust Memorial
Hamburg City Hall
Josh spent a good chunk of September back in DC for work (Why couldnt we have stayed in DC and just traveled to London frequently?), so I invited a friend to use his ticket to the Proms in the Park, which is a huge concert celebrating the end of the BBC summer concert series known as The Proms.  We attended a few of the concerts at the Royal Albert Hall (RAH), including Joshua Bell and Paloma Faith, but the final night is so popular that they hold outdoor concerts in parks around the UK leading up to a simulcast with the concert in the RAH.  It is great fun, with elaborate picnics, flag-waving, dancing, patriotic attire, and a sing-along.  This years headliner was Earth, Wind & Fire.  Really.

Proms in the Park, in Hyde Park
Joshs work took him to Amsterdam and Munich in early October, while I flew to Dubrovnik, Croatia with a few of my AWC friends for an action-packed adventure that included a Game of Thrones tour, day trips to Bosnia and Montenegro, and one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen.  My mom and aunt came to visit for a week before embarking on a transatlantic cruise.  I got them tickets to see the Lion King and Book of Mormon, which they both loved (whew!).  We didnt manage to make it to the Tower of London to see the poppy installation, but Josh and I got to see it a few weeks earlier.  It was spectacular and sobering at the same time.  Josh had a conference in DC in late October, so I had made plans to go with him, but of course his schedule changed after I bought my ticket and we ended up only overlapping for 2 nights.  Oh well.  I still enjoyed my visit, particularly meeting my friends week-old baby daughter, Evie, and being back in my neighborhood for Halloween, which is totally over the top.  My friend Ann, who I stayed with, lives 2 blocks from my house and gave out something like 400 pieces of candy.  Her husband designed an insanely complicated yard display involving theatrical lighting and smoke machines, and Ann and I spent most of the day as roadies, running cables and hooking up extension cords and then had to take it all down and bring all the equipment inside before we went to bed. 

Dubrovnik, Croata -- aka King's Landing
Our guide shows us a scene from Game of Thrones
that was filmed where we are standing
The old bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
With my AWC friends at Kotor Bay, Montenegro
Kotor Bay, Montenegro
Dubrovnik from above
Spectacular sunset!
Poppies at the Tower of London
commemorating the 100th anniversary of WWI
Moorcroft pottery factory tour with mom and aunt Sybil
A neighbor's "Nightmare before Christmas" Halloween display in DC
Meeting baby Evie
The last thing I did before flying back to London was vote, since I happened to be leaving on Election Day.  I bumped into some of my old neighbors, who incredulously asked if I had flown all the way back from London just to vote in a midterm election, no less.  Thanksgiving in London is a bit of a mixed bag.  Its not a holiday here, so if you want to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, you have to do it the weekend before or after, and if you want celebrate on the actual day, its easier to eat out at one of the increasing number of restaurants that offers their take on American Thanksgiving.  We, of course, did both.  The Sunday before, we had a fantastic home-cooked meal hosted by our friends Bethie & Jason and their neighbors.  On Thursday morning, I attended the annual American Thanksgiving Day service at St. Pauls Cathedral with my friends Julie and Sheila, and then Josh and I had a traditional dinner with about 160 other Americans (including some other AWC members) at the Clothworkers Hall an event hosted by the Benjamin Franklin House in London.  They served the food family-style, placing some of the biggest turkeys Ive ever seen on the tables for us to carve and serve.  We ate well, and were truly thankful.  Going-away parties: 2
Thanksgiving dinner #1

St. Paul's Cathedral with Sheila and Julie
(former co-workers from Discovery)
Thanksgiving #2, served Hogwarts-style
The day after Thanksgiving, Josh and I flew to Basel, Switzerland for our annual Christmas market trip.   We spent the weekend exploring the city including the delightful Paper Museum, where we learned that Americans and French crumple but Germans fold; no surprise there and then met up with a group from the AWC on Monday morning to explore Alsace and the Rhine region where France, Germany, and Switzerland meet.  We stayed in the picturesque town of Colmar, France, which seemed to be transformed into a Christmas wonderland for the season, and visited more Christmas markets in Riquewihr, Eguisheim, and Strasbourg as well as Freiburg, Germany and Basel again.  By the time we flew back to London on Thursday night, we had mulled wine running through our veins. 

Fondue in Basel, Switzerland

Basel Christmas market
Making paper at the Paper Museum
La Maison des Tetes: our hotel in Colmar, France
Ski Tree in Colmar
Too pretty to eat!
Wine tasting in Eguisheim, France
Christmas Market in Strasbourg, France
Baccarat crystal chandelier in Strasbourg
The AWC group in Basel
Josh had to fly to DC (again!) twelve hours later for a week, and then came straight from Heathrow to Paddington Station on the following Thursday so we could take the train down to Cornwall.  A friend of mine owns a rental property in the little town of Lostwithiel, and offered to let us stay there to enjoy the annual Dickensian Evening they host each year to celebrate the holiday season.  It was very charming, kicking off with a lantern parade down the main street with a brass band and little girls singing Jingle Bells at full volume.  The local shops were all open late, with shopkeepers dressed in period costume offering customers mulled wine, cookies, and mince pies. We only spent 2 nights there, but hope to go back in the spring or summer and explore more of Cornwall. Going-away parties: 1
Josh meets baby Evie (daughter of our friends Rob & Diana)
in DC, clad in her London-themed gift from us

It was just as quaint as the poster
Even the crafts for sale went with the Dickens theme
Lantern Parade
Truro Cathedral, Cornwall
For the first time in our lives, Josh and I are staying in London and hosting Christmas at our house this year.  My mother and sister are flying out from California to join us.  The stockings have been hung by the chimney with care (and picture hooks) and our tiny fake tree is surrounded by a pile of gifts. 
Cheap and cheerful Christmas stockings
Our tiny tree is makes a small pile of gifts seem huge!

We witnessed a few more major events in UK history this year, including Team GB winning 4 Olympic medals in Sochi, the anticipated arrival of another Royal Baby, and the near loss of Scotland -- all eclipsed (in my mind) by the Monty Python reunion over the summer.

I hope 2014 was a good year for you as well.  Here's hoping 2015 has even more adventures in store for all of us.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!