Sunday, January 31, 2010

Portland: Beer a day keeps the rain away

We have visited Portland once before but we didn't end up visiting any of the famous brewery options, so this time, I (Steve) insisted that we make a beeline for Deschutes Brewery for lunch. It is a cavernous restaurant and brewery, with a long, long line of home brews on tap and some tasty food to boot. It is located in the Pearl District of Portland, which is the old industrial area that has been renovated into lofts, cafes, and many hip little shops. It is also right around the corner from Powell's - a massive bookstore that winds through the four old buildings that have been renovated to be one big store.

But anyway, back to the beer. We had to wait for a bit to get in, and ended up settling into a couple of bar stools facing a long line of taps. The bartender gave us a sheet describing each of the available brews and I was able to pick six from the list for a sampler. I went with Obsidian Stout (whoa...), Green Lakes Organic Ale (nice, though not too exciting), Hop Henge IPA (nice and hoppy but a bit sweet), and Bachelor Bitter (yum, definitely my favorite) - 6 beers for $6.50.  We're not  in Canada anymore, Toto.  I also polished off a delicious plate of Halibit Fish n' Chips. All in all, a wonderful brewery experience with some experimental and delicious beers. Highly recommended as a Portland watering hole. I'll be coming back at you soon with some photos and clips from Rollaway's gig at Mississippi Pizza in the very near future. 

Friday, January 29, 2010

I wanna drive it all night long

Hello Blog!  It's been a while...Sarah here reporting on the excitement that's building while I sit at work in anticipation of heading to Portland, OR for the weekend.  The band I sing with, Rollaway, (here's our website and here's our myspace page - have a look and listen!) is performing on Saturday night at a place called Mississippi Pizza Pub in Stumptown (thanks for the nickname, Jonesy).  I dare say we are going on tour, though there are no crazy painted band logos on the side of our Subaru yet.  Yet...

I'm told the sound will be good, the beer will flow freely and cheaply, and the road trip alone is sure to be a highlight.

It's amazing to hop on a plane and explore new places, but there is just something organic and damn fun about putting a mix CD in the stereo, grabbing a cold something-or-other to drink (my vote is a coffee coolatta from Dunkin Donuts if you're in a pocket of the world with a Dunkies...lucky basterds), a driving buddy (perhaps with glasses and a bar through his ear), maybe a Harry Potter book on tape, some motion sickness pills so you can knit in the car, and just hitting the road.  And to boot - the gas is way cheaper south of the border than it is up here in Canadia.

So, yes - I'm an excited gal right now.  More Portland blogging to come!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Run around, run around, we get around

Whew! I think I need a vacation from my vacation.

Some stats:
Vancouver - California - London - Vancouver
Total days - 17 and change
Total kms - 17926
Total tube trips - 17
Total hours waiting for delayed transit - 5.5
Total blog posts - 8

In the grand scheme of practicing our blogging chops from the road, I'm pretty happy with how it went. I can't vouch for my grammar when writing at 1am, but it was a lot of fun to recap as we went along. I found that as I was walking along the streets of London I was thinking, how am I going to create a story arc for this day, this event, this experience? It sharpens the mind a bit to think that way. I started taking better note of the historical markers around us, a keener eye out for photo ops, and perhaps trying harder to engage in the experiences.

And then there was the nine-year old. Traveling with kids = completely different from just Sarah and I on the road with a map (if we remembered one) and a rental car. I know this is old hat for many of you out there, but it was new for me and wow is it amazing and exhausting. At the end of the trip, I took a look through Sophie's pictures (she got her first camera before the trip) and found that most of the pics were of the fam - of Katie studying, or Rachael making funny faces, of Bella and Rascal (the Haynes dogs) starting up plaintively at the camera. I had a moment where I wondered if I should have pushed her to take more shots of the sights, worried that she would regret not having them later. But then I realized that what she took pics of was what was important to her, and that was a bit of a soul-warming thought. If she turns fifteen and wishes she had shots of Big Ben, well Cousin Steve took about a hundred, so we've got that covered.

I was going to go off on a big tangent about the struggles of blogging from the road, but I'm feeling more like looking through pics instead, so I'm going to do a short photo recap of some of my favorite moments. Hope you enjoy!

The clear day when we went to the top of Mt. Diablo was amazing. I was able to point out to Sophie and Sarah all of the landmarks we'd seen or were about to see - Mom's house, Dad's house, Golden Gate, Tahoe, Walnut Creek, etc etc. I could almost see all these names connect in Sophie's head to the expansive landscape sprawling out in front of us.

Does it get any better than old friends, breakfast at Mary's Kitchen, and a nine-year old in a red beret? I think not.

Christmas day with the fam is one of my favorite days of the year. It doesn't get much better than a sugar rush before 8am.
The Victoria and Albert Museum. Bad ass. Just like Queen in 1977.

This pub was nearly enough to make me move to a tiny hamlet outside London, buy a barstool and become the English version of Norm. Roaring fireplace, 7' ceilings, families playing board games. Amazing. (Though can I please please get a cold beer? I know I'm an ignorant American. Just get me an ice cube.)

Standing in the middle of the Millennium Walkway, the railing dips down below view and it feels like your standing on the prow of a massive ship as it steams up through the city. I love how London mixes the old and the new to make something stunning.

Favorite pic from the trip. If you have a moment, click on the photo to see the large version. Wandering through the Cotswolds, I kept expecting a knight on horseback to ride up to the side of the car and ask me as to the nature of our metal carriage.

You'll appreciate this later Soph, I promise. :)

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Like hand-delivering a post card to a loved one, I'm sitting in our living room in the 'Couv reminiscing about a lovely 2 day trip Steve and I took through the Cotswolds less than a week ago.  It's a baffling feeling to think that just 5 short days ago, we were driving through villages one could miss if they blinked, whilst bookended by sheep in passing fields.  Now we're home and as I write, I smell the sweet aroma of fresh paint from our bedroom as we dive back into putting our apartment together (having moved a little over one month ago, as shared in this posting).  I think Steve got the (pardon me) shit end of the stick, as he's the one getting Pacific Pine green dribbled all over him and I'm the one assigned to sitting in a comfy chair and writing about our excursion, but I'll see if I can do some extra cleaning when he sits down to write more about our trip in a couple of days.

The scene above is a typical view out the tiny car window of a town in the Cotswolds, a county about 1.5 hours northwest of London, and stuck about 1.5 centuries back in time.  My Bubs and Zayds had been talking about the thatched roofs and brown brick for a couple of months now as we've been planning our trip to London, and I'm happy to say the combination of their suggestion to visit the Cotswolds and my aunt and uncle's long list of little towns to drive through made for a remarkable 2 days in the country.  You've already heard about our jaunt to Oxford in our previous post, so now I'm reporting on the rest of the trip.

It was lovely taking turns as navigator as we wound our way through the villages.  Rather than following street names, we were pointed in the direction of one town or another by signs that listed the name of towns and the distances to them.  Though we had some suggestions of places to visit, we quite literally stumbled upon towns with lovely names such as Moreton-on-the-Marsh or Bourton-on-the-Hill or Stow-on-the-Wold (incidentally, through deductive reasoning, we determined that "wold" is indeed a "hill").  We wandered around some of the towns which generally consisted of one mammoth cathedral, one quaint pub, and a smattering of cottages that each had equally precious names (see right) to the towns they were in. 

We were fortunate to hit one final stop-off just as the sun was setting, illuminating the gorgeous cathedral in the town of Churchill.  Needless to say, we took full advantage of the "golden light phenomenon" (thank you, Gabe, for the term), and snapped many shots of the town center (see below).


We spent the night in the the above-mentioned town, Stow-on-the-Wold.  This proved to be one of the larger towns that we happened upon and at the quick hands of my aunt Laura the night before, we found an amazing deal on for a B & B called Fosse Manor House.  The accommodations were delightful, the gardens unique (see the garden nymph I fell in love with in the photo below), the soaker tub deep, and the proper English breakfast delicious.  Before drifting off to sleep in the 1800s former home of a King Edward III descendant, we wandered the town, passing small footpaths/alleys between the brick buildings, the oldest hotel in England (dating back to 947 C.E.), and of course, the town cathedral.

When not hugging the opposite curb than we are used to here in Canadia, letting huge lorries (aka trucks) pass us on the small roads, we enjoyed locating towns in the distance by their spires and witnessing the wildlife that populates the area (quail, grouse, sheep, badgers, etc.)

After a few more stops the second day of our travels through lovely towns on their respective rivers, wolds, hills, marshes, etc., we made our way to Sudeley Castle in the town of Winchcombe.  We found the castle closed until spring, though it did not prevent us from walking the half-mile in the snow to discover the 12th century (in parts) castle.  Part of the castle was in ruins (which I later learned was from Thomas Cromwell's order to destroy it in the 16th century) though it was later restored in the mid-1800s, first becoming a place of residence by a Worcestershire glove company and to this day is a country home to a couple of noble families.  We happened to catch it when the fams were out of town, allowing us the liberty to walk around the grounds, snap a few shots, and then trudge our way back through the snow to warm up at a local pub before braving the elements on the long ride home to London.

My New England upbringing was put to the test as we attempted to drive home through the blinding snow.  The rest of the Cotswolds-ites, the majority of which abandoned their cars on the side of the road and walked to the nearest town, calmed their driving nerves with a pint or two, cheered us on as we drove, or probably just waited out the several-day storm until they could dig their little bicycle-tired cars out of the snow bank.

Overall, a fabulous trip into Britain's history and a real treat for those willing to be a little adventurous with a map and a put-put car.  Per my mom's request, this post was loaded with photos as well as text - a little something to please everyone, for those willing to venture forth. :)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Just came down from Oawxford, dahling

Steve here with one last post before we jump on the flight home. It's been an interesting exercise writing while traveling. I think both Sarah and I are finding we have to push ourselves to write, to look over our pictures for inspiration, and to keep up. As soon as we sit down to do it, it's quite enjoyable, but like any task that requires discipline, it can be slow-going at times. Fun though, and we are creating a bit of a living journal to look back on after our travels are complete. We've still got a couple more sites to write about, but they will have to be posted from back in the land of Vancouver.
But for now, I just wanted to write a bit about Oxford (the town and the university). We rented a tiny little car in London and headed out on the M40 towards our final destination, the Cotswalds. (Side note - bring a letter stating where you are staying, utility bill, and the dates from your hotel or people you are staying with when renting a car in a foreign country. It saves them putting a massive hold on your credit card...)  About 45 mins later, we wove through the windy streets of Oxford and after a scary wrong-way-down-a-one-way street and a face-off with a bus, we parked and wandered around. The building in the picture is Christ Church, which is the largest of the nearly 40 colleges that make up the whole of Oxford University. It was built in 1525 originally as a college for cardinals.  Fun fact: the Dean's daughter was named Alice and inspired one L. Carroll to write about her adventures down some sort of a rodent hole.  What looks like trees in front of the building are actually incredibly well maintained climbing vines (click on picture to enlarge.)
Strolling through the colleges, which are mainly intertwined into the streets of Oxford, I started thinking about my college experience. I started school at UC Santa Barbara, a very standard concrete and cinderblock institution on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. (I used to check the surf conditions by walking to the end of the hall of my dorm in the morning). Being right on the ocean was amazing but the concrete 1960s construction and massive student body gave the university the feel of a factory, pumping out degrees with not much care for each student. When I moved to Wesleyan University (Connecticut) for my junior and senior year, the difference was shocking. Wesleyan dates back to the 1800s, has very small class sizes, and a remarkable attention to individual student development. Critically for me, it also managed to maintain some of the mysterious college experience - that unknown quantity arising from secret societies, archaic school traditions, and collegetown lore. But then, stepping onto the ancient Oxford campus, with its darting passageways, hidden chapels (like the one on the left) and lofty spires, I realized the Wesleyan experience is in many ways the echo of this academic experience. Academia at that time was not something everyone did, it was a lofty pursuit in some ways but also one unrooted from the practical world.
Perhaps in response, academia wrapped itself in shrouds of mystery, myth, and traditions, which all combine to create a powerful sense of prestige and exclusivity. The inner courtyard feel is a great example. The picture on the right is of the square of the library, which is surrounded on four sides by towering walls and stained glass. There are heavy wooden doors scattered around the walls labeled with a specific area of study. Each discipline has a different door, which represents both the physical and metaphysical division between the outside world, and also between groups in the student body.
Darting through the colleges, there are twisting back corridors lined with cobblestones and just large enough for two people to pass shoulder to shoulder. The stones are decorated with intricate carvings and interwoven metalwork, the grass and trees are perfectly maintained, and each nook and cranny seems to hold a new surprise - a cafe, a chapel, or just another locked door into the deeper reaches of the university. I loved wandering around the university. It gave me a feeling I don't often experience - of yearning for a life unchosen. It would take years to even explore each college and many more to be invited into its traditions and secrets. But for now, its exciting enough for me to wander around and daydream about a different path from the thankfully happy one I find myself on. Traveling does that to you I suppose, and though it's bittersweet to envision another version of yourself, it also gives you a greater appreciation for the life you are living and have ahead of you to live and enjoy.
Ok, enough half-baked philosophy, time to jump on the plane and head back to Vancouver! More about the Cotswolds trip soon.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Embraceable Kew

Kew Gardens (a photo essay blog).  One of my favorite places 15 years ago when as a teenager I used to sit beneath the hundreds of trees and write about high school crushes in my journal, daydream about life after the "dependent" years, and wander around imagining the thousands of passers-by who also experienced the royal botanical garden in over the course of its 250 years.  15 years later, with a very different set of life experiences to report on, the gardens were still as enjoyable as they were back then.  Steve and I set off for the gardens a few days ago for 2+ hours of meandering around in the frigid cold.  Armed with warm drinks in hand, a clotted-filled belly, and the digital macro function on our camera, we enjoyed the relatively empty gardens passing the occasional bundled soul and her sweater'd dog.


We thought we had the place to ourselves before discovering that everyone was huddled in the humid warmth of the Palm House.  We couldn't blame them as the majority of our time was spent in the warm building under and amongst the tropical plants, bamboo, coffee trees, and blooming flowers.

After a walk along tree-level (see below), a rare bird sighting (below, too), a brisk walk to and unsuccessful attempt getting into the pagoda (yay below!), and trip through an 18th century-designed mock Roman ruin ( know where to find it), we left the gardens a little bit calmer, with cleaner lungs, and a lovely change of pace from the rest of our wonderful UK excursions.


A definite must-see any time of year, at any age, and if you're of the teenage persuasion, I highly recommend you bring a journal. 

Sunday, January 3, 2010

South Bank of the Thames

Steve here - a quick post about our adventures walking along the South Bank of the Thames River before I'm off to bed to get some sleep for our overnight in the Cotswolds tomorrow.

We started the afternoon at the Borough Market at the base of the London Bridge, which was for a very long time the only bridge in London, making the market a critical trading post. It was the beating heart of London for quite a long time and still remains right in the thick of things. These days, the market is chock full of local merchants, organic farmers, and artisans, making it one of the best (and perhaps most crowded) farmer's markets in London. We sampled a huge number of cheeses from local farms and Sophie very much enjoyed all the free cookie samples.

Moving along the river from the market, we ran into a number of historical bits and pieces. The boat on the right is a full-size recreation of the Golden Hinde, which was Sir Francis Drake's boat (he was knighted aboard it by Queen Elizabeth I in 1581). It seemed remarkably small by today's standards, especially considering the many miles it traveled.

We also popped into the Southwark Cathedral, which has been around since at least 1086, when it was noted in the famous Doomsday Book survey. It was a stunning cathedral not for its ostentatious trappings, but for its history. John Gower, one of the originators of the novel format, is buried there, along with Edmund Shakespeare (Willy's brother). William Shakespeare lived in the church for a short time and reportedly did some of his writing there.

We also saw this random-looking wall, which, as it turns out, was part of Winchester Palace, home of the powerful Bishops of Winchester. It was one of the most important buildings in medieval London. And who knew, they even had a bowling alley, tennis court and pleasure gardens there (exactly what a pleasure garden is, no one was able to tell me...)

I love seeing these pieces of physical history. I feel more connected to the historical force of the place by being able to touch the stones, or sit in the same church that people have been coming to for over 1,000 years.

And one more fun little tidbit - we got a chance to see the Clink Museum, which is possibly the oldest prison in London. It was not a particularly nice place as you can imagine and is where all prisons have gotten the moniker "The Clink."

Walking a little farther down the waterfront, we came across the Globe Theatre. Shakespeare et al put up the money to build this theatre in 1599. It burned down once and was demolished once, but was rebuilt after both. We tried to weasel our way in for a look but there was a show on so we were turned down. We groused and they looked at us like we were being annoying US tourists, which after all we were, so we took a hint and kept on walking. If we all look a little chilly in these pictures that's because it was freezing cold and quite windy. If you plan on visiting in January, heavy coats, gloves, and hats are a must.

The next bit of adventure was a stroll across the Millenium Footbridge, which leads to St. Paul's Cathedral. It's space-agey and very fun to walk across because there are sections where the supports are out of sight and you feel like you are suspended in air on a little walkway above a rushing river. Neat view. Funny story - two days after the bridge opened in 2000, an event was held there during which many people walked across at the same time. All those legs managed to hit the right harmonic frequency so that the bridge started swaying widely from side to side. It had to be shut down and worked on for another two years before it was reopened in 2002. Ouch.
The Tate Modern is at the other end of the bridge, where we did not go but hear is quite cool as well. We did a little tromping around right in front of St. Paul's on Peter's Hill, which I have no idea of the history of, but enjoyed watching Peter, Sophie, and Sarah pretend to climb. (The hill is about 3 feet).


Our final bit of adventure was to continue our stroll back over the bridge and down the waterway. (As I mentioned and you can see on Sarah's face - we were frigid by this point - still quite cheery, but chilled right through). The South Bank has been redeveloped over the past 15 or so years and is beautiful now, full of that mix of old and new styles that London does so well. One of my favorite spots was a stretch under an overpass that had been completely spray painted with graffitti. There were ramps set up in random places and teenagers on stunt bikes and skateboards tearing around, hopping around and generally impressing the crowd. Sophie was so amazing she nearly was run down several times trying to get close enough to watch. Overall, an amazing day along the river and an area of town we highly recommend spending an afternoon in.