Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Big Day

Many of you reading this will likely be disappointed to learn that Josh and I stayed home and watched the Royal Wedding on TV yesterday.  Since it was a holiday here, we decided we'd rather sleep in and get to see the whole thing on TV than get up before dawn to stake out a spot along the procession route just to catch a glimpse of the newlyweds going past in their carriage.  Since the only other people we know here were all sick with colds, and we didn't want to spend half the day at a pub, we just made some celebratory pancakes and settled in on the sofa to watch the festivities.

We were fascinated (and often amused) by the hats on display at Westminster Abbey.  Many of them appeared to have been designed by Dr. Seuss.  While Victoria Beckham (aka Posh Spice) looked like she could take someone's eye out with hers, Princess Beatrice was hands-down the winner of the Worst. Hat. Ever.    There was also a big to-do about the fact that the Prime Minister's wife, Samantha Cameron, did NOT wear a hat.  It's essentially required for women to wear hats to weddings here -- and not just the Royal Wedding.  "Hat hires" -- shops that rent hats -- are a big business here. 

Just to prove we actually watched it, I managed to capture a photo of The Balcony Kiss:
After the TV coverage ended and the sun finally came out, we thought it might be good to get out of the house and get a little exercise, so we walked up the hill to Wimbledon Village.  We stopped in at the Dog & Fox pub, which has been there for over 200 years, for a Pimm's.  There were still groups of people there who had clearly been there all day -- including a large group of women wearing tiaras -- and several tables were reserved for later in the evening.  Any excuse for a party, right?

After we finished our drinks, we walked through Wimbledon Common towards the Cannizaro House, 300-year-old mansion overlooking the Common that is now a fancy hotel and restaurant.
Wimbledon Common
Back side of Cannizaro House
The house has beautiful gardens, which are open to the public:
We didn't have time to explore the entire grounds, but what we did see was just gorgeous.  We'll definitely have to go back sometime to see the rest.
wisteria and peonies (smelled heavenly!)
The houses in this part of Wimbledon are quite swanky, so we cut through the neighborhood to gawk on our way home.
We also passed one of the many street parties that were held all over London (and probably the rest of the country) to celebrate the Royal Wedding.
I was a bit envious.  It reminded me of all the great neighborhood parties we had attended back home.  Since we are currently living in an apartment, we aren't in much of a neighborhood, and we don't know anyone else in this complex.  I'm hoping that will change when we move into our rental house next week.  Our landlords said they were friendly with their next-door neighbors on both sides, one of whom sounds like the de facto social director of the neighborhood. 

It's hard for us to meet people here because we don't have kids, we don't attend church, I don't have a job (yet), and Josh works 35 miles away, so none of his colleagues live nearby.  And, of course, we are married, so we tend not to hang around in bars or clubs.  We seem to be either too old or too young to join most of the social groups around here, but I have seen a few local groups that might be interesting.  It would be a lot easier if all our friends and family could just move here with us!  But I'm optimistic that we will eventually grow a new social circle here once we've settled in.  And we already have a date to see the final Harry Potter movie with Jason & Bethie when it opens in July.  Looking forward to that!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Royal Wedding Fever

The Big Day is tomorrow, and while it sounds like the Royal Wedding is actually getting more hype back in the US than it is here, there's certainly no lack of celebratory ballyhoo here in London.  Many streets, shops, pubs, and even homes are festooned with bunting and British flags.
Portabello Road
Regent Street
House in Kensington
And many stores have created special window displays capitalizing on the Royal Wedding:
Engagement rings at a jewelry store
Cheesy souvenir shop
Accessorize store
It's also popped up in lots of advertising, like this local ad for Merton fitness centers.  (The small print explains that the "Kate" they are referring to is someone named Kate Merrydew, who joined the gym.)
Supermarket ad
Papa John's
I heard that Harrod's had gone all out with their window displays, so I hopped on the tube this afternoon to check it out.  It did not disappoint!
It was hard to get good photos because of the crowds and the glare on the windows, but here are the ones that turned out best.  They had a series of wedding cakes sponsored by various high-end designers, and smaller windows commemorating past royal weddings.  Here are some of the cakes, which were spectacular:

A few other windows had mannequins in wedding gowns, elaborately set tables, huge floral arrangements, and photos of the happy couple:

On the way home, I picked up the Evening Standard at the tube station, which of course had many, many articles related to tomorrow's events:
Front page
Royal Wedding Guide
We haven't decided if we're going to try to attend one of the many big viewing parties around London, watch at the local pub, or just hunker down in our apartment, but we'll definitely be watching, one way or another.  It's kind of like the Super Bowl.  Even if you don't care about the teams playing -- or even about football -- you still HAVE to watch it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter/Kew Gardens

We had a lovely Easter dinner on Sunday night with our new friends Jason and Bethie and their 4-month-old daughter, Charlotte.  They moved here from the DC area the same week we did, and since they don't have any furniture, they offered to cook dinner at our place.  It turns out Jason loves to cook, and he whipped up a delicious dinner of prime rib, mashed potatoes, asparagus, and homemade hot cross buns.  Yummy!
Charlotte chills on the floor during dinner.  What a cutie!
Our contribution to the meal -- besides providing a place to eat it -- was to buy most of the groceries and make some snacks to munch on beforehand.  Since it gets very warm in our apartment, I decided to stick to food that didn't require cooking and could be served cold.  I was able to find sour(ed) cream, and Knorr vegetable soup mix at Sainsbury's so I settled on veggies and dip, and hummus and pita.  It was only after I had made the dip that I discovered that the soup mix had tiny noodles in it!  Fortunately, since I made it the night before, they had softened up and were largely unnoticeable in the dip.  Apparently they actually make SOUP with soup mix here!

Bethie and I commiserated about the challenges of trying to make do while waiting for all your furniture, clothing, and other personal belongings to arrive from the US.  Neither of us could have anticipated the unusually warm weather, and it's been challenging trying to shop for appropriate clothing and footwear because (a) everything is ridiculously expensive, and (b) we aren't familiar with any of the stores here, so we don't know where to look.  It looks like the weather will be a bit cooler this week (low 60s), so that should help tide us over.

Sunday night we had a Skype session with our friends Jason & Elizabeth and Rob & Diana, who had just gathered for their own Easter feast back in Arlington.  It was fun to see all of them and catch up on the latest goings-on back home.  I also Skyped with my parents in California and Josh spoke to his dad on the phone.

Monday was another bank holiday, so we spent the morning finalizing our application for tickets to the 2012 Olympics, as today is the last day to apply here in the UK.  It was a bit frustrating as the tickets are very expensive but there are no seating charts to give you a sense of whether it's worth shelling out another £10 or £20 to upgrade to a higher seating category.  And, of course, we won't know who is competing in any of the events for over a year.  What if archery or badminton turn out to be the high-profile sports in 2012? 

After lunch, we took the bus to Richmond to visit Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (aka Kew Gardens).  It was another gorgeous day, so we figured it would be worth the steep admission fee (more than $20/person) to visit the gardens in their springtime glory.  We were right!  We spent more than 4 hours there, and only got to see about half of the gardens, but what we saw was spectacular.  A few highlights:
Chinese pagoda, ca. 1762
Japanese Gateway, ca. 1910
Treetop Walkway
View of Victorian-era Temperate House from Treetop Walkway
A lake full of ducks, geese, and other birds
Egyptian geese with goslings
Fields of bluebells near Queen Charlotte's Cottage
Giant Stag Beetle (carved of wood, thank goodness!)
Masses of rhododendrons in bloom
Chocolate Easter eggs
Chocolate bunnies
Kew Palace
Feral parakeets in a plane tree
At this point, my camera battery ran out of juice, otherwise I would have likely added a dozen more photos.  We stayed until closing time and vowed to come back.  One of the great things about places like this is they are different every time you visit, depending on what's in bloom.

We stopped at a pub by the Kew tube station for dinner, intending to take the tube back to Wimbledon.  But I checked the service status on my iPhone and discovered that the trains weren't running to Wimbledon due to a signal failure -- thank goodness for iPhone apps! -- so we walked back to Richmond and caught the bus back home.