Sunday, October 30, 2011

Following the Wey, and the Way, to the Watts

The weather forecast for Saturday looked promising -- upper 50's and sunny with little chance of rain -- so Josh thought it would be a good day to take his new hiking shoes for a test drive (or walk).  Since we were getting a rather late start, we didn't want to venture too far afield, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit the Watts Gallery, just outside of Guildford.  Someone had recommended it to me after I mentioned that I was a fan of the Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau movements, and after tracking it down online, I discovered that they had a handy set of directions for a scenic circular walk to the gallery from the Guildford train station.  What could be more perfect?!

We packed some water, snacks, and rain gear (just in case) and took the train from Wimbledon station down to Guildford, which is about 25 miles southwest of London.  The walking route took us through the city along the River Wey.
The way along the Wey
Canal boats on the Wey
Just a hint of Fall color
We stayed along the river until we reached Ferry Lane, where there is now a footbridge.
Ferry lane
At this point, we turned away from the Wey, and intersected with the North Downs Way, a 153-mile walking trail across southeast England.
The way to the North Downs Way
The weather cooperated, and we were treated to some lovely scenic views along the way -- or, should I say, along the Way?

(those are horses)
It took us about an hour and a half to reach our destination, the Watts Gallery.   The gallery was built by British artist G F Watts and his wife, Mary, (also an artist) in 1903 to showcase Watts' paintings.
The Watts Gallery
Since we had not eaten anything since breakfast, the first order of business was to visit the Tea Room in the adjacent building, where we had a tasty lunch (soup, sandwich) immediately followed by tea with cake and scones, all served on handmade pottery and antique mismatched china. That really hit the spot!  Then we were ready to visit the gallery.

We were not allowed to take photos inside, but if you are interested in seeing Watts' work, you can browse through the gallery's collections online.  There was a special exhibition dedicated to Watts' most famous painting, Hope, which was iconic enough to have been copied and parodied by other artists. It was one of several paintings that I really liked.  They reminded me of artwork by some of his contemporaries (Whistler, Sargent, Thayer) in the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery, where I used to work.

After working our way through the gallery, we headed up the road to the most eagerly anticipated part of our walk, Watts Chapel, which sits on a hilltop in a small cemetery just down the road.
Entrance to Watts Chapel cemetery
Josh in the cleavage of giant evergreens.
The chapel was designed and built by Mary Watts, who started a clay modelling workshop in order to teach local residents how to make the tiles needed for its construction.  The results of this community project are amazing.  The chapel is small, but incredibly ornate, both inside and out.
Watts Chapel (with Naina for scale)
The exterior terra-cotta tiles have a sort of Celtic/Art Nouveau look, although the official description says that Mary also incorporated Egyptian and Romanesque influences, as well as her own original style, into the design of the chapel.
The front door
Exterior detail
The interior was a bit dark, even after we found the light switch, but we were amazed by the vibrant colors and detailed ornamentation that covered nearly every surface.
Interior ceiling
Interior wall detail
Even the surrounding cemetery was quite lovely, and many of the grave markers and other structures reflected the style of the chapel.


The sun was starting to descend towards the horizon, and since we knew it would take us another hour and a half to walk back to the train station, we couldn't linger too long.  The suggested route took us back a different way, so we were treated to a whole new set of scenery.
Sunset over grazing cattle
Sunset over mistletoe-laden trees
We walked past the grounds of Loseley Park, a 500-year-old estate that is still owned by the same family and has been used as a film location for TV adaptations of Jane Austen's Emma and Sense & Sensibility.  The house and grounds are open to the public during the summer, and their dairy farm is said to produce delicious ice cream and yogurt.  Sadly, we were not able to sample any of those things, but we made a mental note to do this walk again next summer when we have visitors, since it's easy to get to, and combines a reasonable amount of walking with some lovely attractions -- not to mention a tea room AND ice cream!
Loseley Park
We made it back to Guildford just as it was getting truly dark, and managed to find our way back to the train station without falling into the Wey.  It was a good way to spend the last day of "British Summer Time" before having to set our clocks back an hour later that night.  Now it's pitch dark by 5 pm, and the days are still getting shorter.  Great for the upcoming trick-or-treating and fireworks, but not so great for day-to-day life beyond that...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bloomsbury Festival

After returning from DC, I spent the rest of the week shaking off jet lag and culture shock, restocking groceries, and tackling piles of laundry and mail.  As I've mentioned before, living in London is like being thrust into an alternate universe, where reality is shifted just enough that you can function, but the landscape, culture, and language are still a tiny bit alien.  It takes some getting used to, and once you've adapted, it can be a bit unsettling to go back through the wormhole to your own universe for a short time and then find yourself back in bizarro-world again.  At this point, it's easy for us to go to the US and slide back into familiar surroundings, but when we come back to London, it takes me a few days to transition back to this alternate reality.

Thursday I managed to drag myself out of bed early enough to meet some local AWC members for a walk in Wimbledon Common, which helped shift me back into London mode.  Saturday Josh and I tackled some projects around the house, and then saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy at our local cinema.  I really wanted to like it, but just couldn't.  About halfway through the movie I gave up waiting for something interesting to happen and just hoped it would be over soon.  Since it hasn't even been released in the US yet, I won't spoil it for you, but I would have rather spent those 2 hours (and $16 each) doing something else.

Sunday afternoon, we took the Tube into central London to catch the tail end of the Bloomsbury Festival.  On any given weekend, there always seems to be some kind of festival going on somewhere in the greater London area, and we've found this is a good way to get to know other parts  of the city.
Bloomsbury Festival
The festival was centered around Russel Square, where they had food and craft vendors, children's activities, and a performance stage.
Beautiful voices!
The neighborhood museums were offering free admission during the festival, so we paid a visit to the Cartoon Museum.  They had a small but comprehensive collection of political cartoons and comic strip art dating back to the 18th century.  I was particularly intrigued by their special exhibit of Dr. Who comic book art from 1964 to the present.
Doctor Who through the years...
Many of the British comics I didn't recognize, but they did have an original "Peanuts" comic by Charles Schultz, and giant cardboard cutouts of Andy Capp and his wife, Flo.
Andy Capp and Flo
The museum closed at 5:30, just as a concert was scheduled to begin at a church across the street, so we decided to check it out.  Here is the description:
Acoustic Architecture
Discover the architectural intricacies of this stunning venue as illuminated by a distinctive musical journey. This performance is the culmination of a site specific exploration to capture the essence of the external and internal. Hannah Dunster and Gail Macleod have been working with a host of musicians on site to create a unique experience which highlights the transient beauty of these sonic environments.
We arrived just as everyone appeared to be filing out of the church.  Did we get the time wrong?  No, a woman handed us two paper tickets and told us to follow the group around to the side of the church.  There we found a courtyard with two cellists and two violinists playing what seemed like random bars of music accompanied by an unseen soprano.  There was no place to sit, so we stood and listened. 
It was interesting at first, but didn't really develop into anything more cohesive.  We couldn't leave without pushing our way through all the other attendees, so we stuck it out until the musicians stopped playing and we were lead back into the church through the back entrance.  Since we hadn't had a chance to see the interior of the church, we followed the crowd inside.  All the pews had been rearranged into concentric circles facing out from the middle.  We sat towards the outside, figuring we'd listen and admire the interior of the church for a few minutes and then slip out.  Unfortunately, they closed all the doors, turned off the lights, and subjected us to the sounds of unseen musicians banging on the pews above us, followed by what sounded like an orchestra warming up.  Not our cup of tea.  Eventually we gave up and made our way out the door as discreetly as possible, celebrating our new-found freedom with dinner at a nearby Lebanese restaurant.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Back in the U.S. of A.

As much as we enjoy living in London, there are still a lot of things we miss, including our friends in the DC area. So when Josh was scheduled to give a presentation at a conference in Annapolis, MD on Oct 12-13, that seemed as good an excuse as any to plan a week-long trip back to DC.  We flew out on Friday, Oct 7, which gave us just two days at home to unpack, do laundry, and repack after returning from Vienna.  Josh came down with the same nasty cold I picked up in Vienna during that time, so we were both pretty miserable when we flew to DC.

Nevertheless, after we arrived and got settled in at Josh's parents' house, we ventured out for a quick dinner with our friends Rob and Diana, since we weren't sure if we'd have another opportunity to see them while we were in town.  Despite the jet lag, we had no trouble falling asleep at a decent hour.

Saturday morning we met our friends Jason & Elizabeth and Ann & Matt (and their kids) in Arlington and took a quick tour of the house Ann & Matt are building a couple blocks away from ours (and yes, we are ALL sad that we are not living in our house while this is going on).  Then we piled into two cars and drove out to Harper's Ferry, WV, to recreate a similar outing we had all taken together a year ago.  The weather was considerably warmer this time, and Josh and I hoped the fresh air and sunshine would help us shake our colds.  We had been planning this Harper's Ferry trip for weeks, so we weren't about to let our runny noses hold us back.
Josh, Matt, Elizabeth, Ann, and kids
I agree with Thomas Jefferson!
 There was just a hint of Fall color, and a profusion of stink bugs, but it was a lovely day.
Historic Harper's Ferry
Soldiers in period costume
We had lunch at the same "train restaurant" where we ate last time, since the kids loved not only sitting in an old railroad car, but being able to see trains coming into the station across the street. 
Lunch al fresco
Afterwards, we went for a short walk across the river.  While we were on the bridge, a train went by carrying dozens of these red and blue tractors.
tractors on a train!
Proof we were in HF
The bridge across the Shenandoah River
Lauren stopped to make a bouquet of wildflowers, and was hounded by the paparazzi.
the prey
the hunter

Lauren & Jason
We would have liked to spend more time there, but we had dinner plans to get back to, and the kids were starting to get a little tired.
Taking a rest
Ann & Matt drove us back to Arlington, where we retrieved our rental car from their house and drove down to our friends Scott & Paige's house in Alexandria.  They are just finishing a major addition to their house, so we were treated to another fabulous house tour before changing for dinner.  To celebrate Scott's 40th birthday and Scott & Paige's 10th wedding anniversary (yes, they got married on Scott's 30th birthday!), we met up with some of their friends at Brabo for a nice dinner.

Sunday we were pretty wiped out from having such a full day on Saturday, so we nursed our colds at Josh's parents' house for most of the day, and then met up with our friends Kevin & Jessica and their three daughters at the National Building Museum in the afternoon to see the LEGO exhibit.
National Building Museum interior
LEGO model of National Building Museum
Trying, and failing, to build an arch
After the museum closed, we had dinner together at the Austin Grill (ahhhh, Tex-Mex!) and then splurged on cupcakes from the Red Velvet bakery nearby.  Yum!

Monday we laid low again during the day, and Josh did some work from home.  In the evening, we went to our friends John & Jen's house for a barbecue (ahhhh, barbecue!).  We had fun playing with their two adorable daughters.
Cutie pile
Tuesday morning, Josh had to go in to the BAE office in Rosslyn to do some work, and then drove to Annapolis that afternoon to check in to the hotel for his conference.  Meanwhile, I had a dentist appointment downtown, and then borrowed my friend Ann's car to drive to a hair appointment, Trader Joe's, and Tyson's Corner, where I did some clothes shopping and then met my friend Margie for dinner.  By the time I returned the car and took the Metro back, it was after 11, but Josh's dad was still up, reading in the living room.  If I didn't know better, I would have thought he was waiting up for me.  They had just driven home from Vermont that day, so even though we had just seen them in London, they were disappointed that they missed seeing Josh before he left for Annapolis.

Wednesday the warm, sunny weather we had enjoyed when we first arrived had cooled down and turned rainy and windy.  I met some of my Discovery friends for lunch in Silver Spring, and spent a couple hours in the Discovery building visiting a few others.  Then I met my cousin Nirmita for an early dinner downtown.  We took advantage of the happy hour specials at Chef Geoff's, and I had a tasty burger with French fries -- much better than the meatloafy burgers and soggy chips you find in London -- and a glass of sangria, which more than made up for the inclement weather.

When I got home, the house was empty, so I took the opportunity to Skype with my parents.  Our conversation was interrupted every few minutes by someone coming through the front door.  First it was Josh's mom; then his dad, accompanied by a newly-arrived visitor from Mongolia (really!); and finally my sister-in-law, Laada, who had flown out from Seattle to attend a meeting at the National Science Foundation.  I eventually gave up and promised to call my parents back another time so I could catch up with my in-laws.   We had quite a full house that night!

Thursday I met Ann & Matt for lunch, and then Ann and I went to the Pentagon City mall to run some errands and do a little shopping.  Everything is so expensive in London, and the brands and sizes are all different, so I find it easier and much more affordable to shop for myself when I'm back in the US. (Good thing I have a big suitcase!)  Most other Americans I've meet in London do the same.  Josh returned from Annapolis in the evening, and we all gathered for dinner with his parents, godparents Stephen & Joan, and Laada to celebrate our anniversary (Oct 14), Ben & Laada's anniversary (Oct 15), and Stephen's birthday (Oct 15).  Lynne made a wonderful dinner and blueberry cake for dessert.  Then Josh and I packed up our things and decamped to the Westin hotel in Arlington, since we didn't really want to spend our anniversary sleeping in twin beds at his parents' house.  They were disappointed that we were leaving, but admitted it was getting a bit crowded.

We were glad to have a room with a real king-size bed (and not two twins pushed together, like in Vienna), but we weren't expecting it to have an exercise bike, balance board, and a set of weights.  This was particularly puzzling since the hotel fitness center was literally right next to the room.  I suspect they normally charge extra for these rooms, but it must have been the only king room available when we checked in. 

Friday Josh and I had breakfast at IHOP before he had to go downtown for a meeting, and I took the car and ran some more errands.  We met up at the hotel in the evening, and I found these flowers on the bed:
anniversary flowers from Josh!
We didn't have a vase, so we used the plastic recycling bin in the room as a temporary measure until we could get one from the hotel.  Then we drove over to Clarendon to meet with our tenant.  Our house looked fine, although it appeared to be infested with giant spiders!  Our neighborhood really gets into the Halloween spirit.
Eek!  Spiders!
We picked up a pile of mail and retrieved a few items from the basement that we wanted to bring back to London with us.  Then we walked up to Hard Times Cafe to meet some friends for dinner.  Normally, that's not a place we'd go to celebrate our wedding anniversary, but since there were 10 of us, including 4 kids (the same crowd from Harper's Ferry, plus our friend Patrick), it was a good choice logistically.  Afterwards, the kids got ice cream from a new place around the corner, which made them extremely happy.
ice cream!
We abstained from ice cream, and after saying our goodbyes, walked back towards our house.  We had been invited to drinks and dessert with some of our neighbors -- Jeremy & Alison and Ross & Melissa.  It was fun to have a chance to catch up with them and hear about the latest goings-on around the neighborhood.  It's not just our house that we miss, but all the wonderful, friendly people who live around it!

Saturday morning we drove out to Fairfax to have brunch with our friends Rob & Addie and their little boy, Quin.  If you read my renovation blog, Rob is the guy who made it all happen, and we became good friends with him during the process.  He made us a tasty brunch of eggs Benedict with asparagus and fruit, and he and Addie surprised us with the news that they are expecting another baby next year.  Congratulations!

After brunch, we headed to the nearest DSW to do some shoe-shopping, and then stopped by Margie's place briefly so Josh could say hello before heading back to the hotel to change for dinner.  This was another event that had been planned weeks in advance -- dinner at Citronelle to celebrate Jason's 40th birthday (and our 11th anniversary).  The food was fantastic, the drinks were strong, and a good time was had by all.  So good, that we broke out the cameras during dessert...
"The gang" at Citronelle
"Chocolate Degustation"  4 chocolate desserts in one!
Diana had something called "Rubber Ducky Taking a Bath" that was a yellow duck-shaped meringue filled with pineapple sorbet sitting on a base of foamy coconut stuff.  Cute.  I, of course, went for the chocolate dessert, which included a chocolate raspberry tart, a chocolate hazelnut mini cupcake, a chocolate-coated ice cream pop, and a home-made Kit Kat bar.  So yummy!  I couldn't finish it, let alone sample the plates of petit-fours that were put on the table for us to share.  Next time I'll have to pace myself better...
Well-fed friends after dinner
Sunday we had brunch with Josh's parents before heading out to Dulles to fly back to London.  Josh has flown on Virgin Atlantic so many times in the past year that he is already a Gold member of their frequent-flier program (and I'm Silver).  One of the perks is being able to use their airport lounges, which are awesome.  The one at Heathrow is by far the best and biggest.  It feels like Austin Powers' swanky pad, with mod, 60's style furnishings, multiple seating areas, bathrooms with showers, TVs, newspapers, WiFi, and a full-service cafe where you can order FREE food and drinks.  The one at Dulles is much smaller, but still a far nicer place to hang out before a flight.  I enjoyed a glass of champagne and berries and whipped cream while waiting for them to announce our flight, which was conveniently boarding at the gate directly across from the lounge.  Sweet!

The flight home went smoothly and I even managed to get a little sleep before we landed at Heathrow at 6:30 am the next morning, although I still took a long nap after we got home.  It's hard to transition back and forth between the US and the UK, but I should be back to normal (whatever that is) in a few days.