Thursday, November 19, 2009

London: Day 3

Our second morning in London dawned brisk and cloudy and, unlike the previous day, we were awake to greet it! Poor Woodley didn't get much sleep that night because had slept most of the day and night before but he appeared to be ready for action as soon as I woke up around 5:30am local time.

Breakfast at the Edgerton House is served on the ground floor starting at 6am and we fully enjoyed the delicious spread. As we munched, I decided that my new favorite breakfast is a rustic slice of bread with a hunk of cheese and ham. Yum! Woodley stayed clear of the ham and instead enjoyed yogurt with granola and fresh berries.

After breakfast we set off to stroll over to Buckingham Palace which was located just a little over a mile from our hotel. After a few false starts (normal looking streets that turned out to be dead ends) we were on our way!

As we walked I admired all of the beautiful red brick buildings with their white trim and festive greenery. We especially liked these angelic corbels.

Before long, we found ourselves walking along the perimeter of the royal gardens. Sadly, there was no chance of getting a peep inside. The walls were very high and were covered in a vast assortment of spiny metal. I guess they don't take kindly to trespassers on the royal property.

Some seriously big spikes!

As we approached the palace we joined up with a tour of school children. We admired their uniforms and listened in as their teacher lectured them about the palace and the queen. We learned that the flag flying on the top of the palace meant that the queen was in! In the photo below the children are waving at the palace and some of the guards on top were waving back - although it is hard to see.

We began to notice that many of the roads around the palace were blocked off and that there were quite a lot of policemen about. Normally we would have assumed that this was for the changing of the guard, which neither of us had seen before, but since it was an even numbered day, that traditional ceremony wasn't supposed to be happening.

As more and more people began gathering around the palace we finally decided to ask a policeman. He informed us that it was the first day of the new session of parliament and that in about an hour and a half the queen would be coming by on her way down to the parliament building where she would give her annual address to the members of parliament. I guess we picked a good day to visit the palace!

At that point, we were quite torn about whether or not we should try to stay and see the queen. It was getting close to 10am, the time when the Natural History Museum would be opening and since we had to leave for the airport at noon, we didn't have much time. We ended up staying around long enough to see a bunch of soldiers and a marching band, but left before the main procession began.

Buckingham Palace

As you can see, the road was blocked off and barriers were up to keep the crowds back.

On our way to the tube we passed by some beautiful fall scenery,

And a lovely fountain,

And more soldiers on horseback!

After a quick ride on the tube and a short walk we arrived outside the Natural History Museum. The building was quite impressive, as was the admission price: free! It was so nice to just be able to wander in and admire the collections!

Once you step inside the doors you are immediately greeted by an enormous dinosaur staring you right in the eye. The architecture of the entry hall is also quite impressive.

And in the center of the staircase, overlooking it all, Charles Darwin.

A view back towards the front entry from the stairway. It is quite a lovely building!

Since we only had an hour, we knew we would have to pick and choose what to see and move fast. Accordingly we first sped to the hall of minerals. Below, Woodley is standing in the main aisle that leads down the hall towards the vault. On either side are display cases featuring all sorts of minerals from all over the world. I wished we had had more time to browse through them! It is quite an impressive collection!

One of my favorites was this interesting looking mass of Prehnite. The placard informed us that it is  "pale green tubular epimorphs after laumontite," from Maharashtra, India.

Of course, we had to visit the vault to see the collection of rare and interesting minerals. A couple of my favorites were: The Latrobe Nugget, pictured below. It is a 717 gram piece of gold discovered in Victoria Australia in 1853. In addition to its size, it is interesting because it is actually crystallized and is formed entirely of gold cubes, "some of which are more than one centimeter across."

And The Aurora Collection, an amazing collection of 296 naturally colored diamonds. It was quite something to see all the different colors that diamonds can come in.

I had heard of yellow and pink diamonds before but I had no idea they could come in all these colors:

The display changed from normal lighting to ultraviolet light and, as you can see, some of the diamonds glow quite brightly while others aren't lit up at all.

After finishing up in the vault, we decided to quickly run through the dinosaur exhibit before heading back to the hotel. As you enter you are greeted by a large dinosaur skeleton and are directed up a staircase to a walkway that runs above the entire length of the exhibit.

From the walkway you can look down on the exhibits below and get an excellent first glance at the dinosaurs from above. This exhibit is quite popular with the school children and there were several classes enjoying it with us. It was fun to see how the children reacted to the big (somewhat scary) dinosaurs.

At the back end of the overhead walkway we were directed around a corner and down a ramp to view the T-Rex. He was quite lifelike and it was actually a little scary standing in front of him as he growled and lunged at us. Some of the small ones were definitely scared by that part of the exhibit. But things got less scary quite quickly and soon we discovered a big nest of dinosaur eggs with some cute little dinosaurs just hatching!

After working our way through several more crowds of school children in the maze of the dinosaur exhibit we rushed through the mammals on our way to grab a sandwich and head back to the hotel. The blue whale was the biggest and best of all. It was amazing how large he was compared to the land mammals that we normally think of as being really big.

All too soon it was time to head back to our hotel to quickly pack up and take off for the airport!

Goodbye Edgerton House and London!


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

London: Day 2

Well, there isn't too much to report about our second day in Norway because we slept through most of it.

After getting to bed around 12:30am London time, I woke up at 4:30am and couldn't get back to sleep. So, I worked on a post about Nicola's quilt until 7:30am when I decided to try sleeping a bit more. I didn't mange to get to sleep again until around 9:30 and when I tried to get up at 10:15 I had a headache and stomachache. Woodley decided to let me sleep in a bit more and the next thing we knew it was 4pm! Woodley opened the heavy blinds and we realized we were just in time to watch the last rays of sun fade from the sky. Oops! At least we got caught up a bit on our sleep although I fear we are doing a lousy job of adjusting to the time change.

We lazily got dressed and decided to take a stroll down the street to see what we could find. Just a few blocks away glittered Harrods and it was quite visible, even from a distance:

We wondered about the green lights but as we got closer we realized what it was all about. Currently Harrods is completely decked out to the theme of The Wizard of Oz (in honor of the 70th anniversary of the film which occurred this year). The theme can be seen throughout the store and all the decorations are way over the top! Woodley didn't care for it but I thought it was tons of fun. The theme also works well with the green holiday decorations that they have added for the Christmas season.

Outside the store, window displays combine strange visions of the Land of Oz with very very expensive clothing.

I didn't take many photos inside because I wasn't sure if I was allowed to or not, but the store was quite something to see! It was like a huge maze and around ever turn was a room that seemed more beautiful than the last. My favorites were the hall of crystal, the Egyptian escalator, the Christmas area, and the yellow brick road of the shoe area that featured versions Dorothy's red slippers by all the biggest name shoe designers (most of them had 4 inch heels and were covered in red crystals). They even had a room specifically devoted to Dorothy's slippers! The clerks are all dressed up as dorothy and the walls are lined with shoe boxes, each containing the perfect pair of red slippers! (That was the one thing I saw that tempted me the most.)

The Wizard of Oz theme seemed to pop up everywhere. In the cooking department there was a tin man completely made out of pots, pans, and other metal cooking tools. On one of the other escalators we saw this display:

One of the funniest things to me was that, in several places throughout the store, Kansas was portrayed and described as a mythical and magical place. Thinking back to my own experiences of Kansas, I just had to laugh. My memories really didn't seem to match up with the grandeur of Harrods!

Our trip to Harrods turned out to be very valuable because I was able to pick up some moisturizer that matched the kind I use at home but which I had forgotten to pack. Also, we found a universal camera card reader which was also something we forgot. Thanks to the card reader, I can now get photos off the camera! Yay!

On our way back to the hotel we stopped for dinner at a little Italian place. I hadn't realized how hungry we were and it felt so good to eat some real food. Full and cheered up, we strolled back to the hotel. On the way we passed this cute street:

The holiday lights remind me of a scene out of a christmas book we had growing up. I just love them!

Finally we made it back to our lovely little Edgerton House which is also decked out for the season:

Thus ends day 2 in Norway. Hopefully we can sleep tonight, wake up early tomorrow, and see a bit more of the city before we fly to Rome at 2pm!


London: Day 1

As I mentioned before, we arrived in London yesterday just a little before noon. I wasn't able to sleep much on the plane but since it was only a 9 hour flight I didn't feel too bad. We took a car to our hotel, the lovely and very charming Edgerton House. We had stayed here during our honeymoon and as we stepped into the lobby it almost felt as if we had gone back in time and were still honeymooning.

They didn't have our room quite ready for us yet (it was just around noon which is their check out time so that wasn't surprising). They said it would be ready in about a half hour so we decided to take a stroll down  Knightsbridge, the closest big street just around the corner from the Edgerton House. As we walked, I was amazed by all of the holiday decorations festooning the charming brick buildings. It is so festive and I have now been convinced that the Christmas season is the best time to visit London. (It may have helped that there hasn't been a drop of rain since we arrived.)

When we got back to the hotel our room was ready and it was quite something to see! The hallway outside our room:

As you turn your old fashioned key in the lock, you open the door to reveal a tiny little entryway leading to a second door.

Behind that door is the rest of the room:

The strong blue striped fabric wall coverings give the room the feeling of a carnival which is heightened by the one large painting on the wall:

Continuing around the room:

And we must not forget the blue chandelier:

Or the blue patterned carpet (sorry the photo is a little blurry):

After marveling at our amazing surroundings, I took a nap until it was time to get dressed for dinner and the ballet. We followed the recommendation of our driver from the Airport and had dinner at a lovely French restaurant on a little dead end alleyway called La Petit Maison.

Since it was around 6pm, just after they had opened, we were only the second group seated. The large well lit room was filled with tables but it still managed to feel very open and spacious. Each table was adorned with two ripe tomatoes and a lemon. Our waitress welcomed us and told us about the restaurant's tradition of family style dining. You select a variety of dishes from the menu and they all come in large servings that can be shared around the table. After perusing the many options, we selected a dinner menu of:
 Buratta with Fresh Camone Tomato Relish
Gnocchi with Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic and Parmesan
Turbot with Artichokes, Chorizo, White Wine and Olive Oil
Green Beans
Vanilla Creme Brulee

At the end of the meal we decided that the first and last courses had been the best. The buratta was simply divine! It was by far the best caprese-like salad I have ever had, mostly due to the fantastic cheese the just seemed to melt away in delicious creaminess. The green beans were also fantastic! I joked with Woodley that I now have new heights to aspire to in green bean cooking!

Although all the dishes were family style we were still a bit surprised when the creme brulee arrived. It was a large dish with plenty of delicious custard to fill 3 or 4 hungry diners. For some reason we both had expected something much smaller. However, we dug in with gusto and were not disappointed! As we finished up our meal we sighed contentedly and then glanced nervously at our watches. It was 7:10 and the ballet started at 7:30.

We hurried outside and waited anxiously for the cab that we had asked the hostess to call for us. Although they assured us that it would arrive in less than 5 minutes, it didn't show up until 7:17. We hopped in and our cab driver sped us through all sorts of cute narrow alleys as he tried to avoid traffic and get us to the ballet on time. Although I was worried that we would miss the opening of the show I tried to relax and enjoy the glittery panorama of festive shop windows and holiday lights that flashed by outside the window of the cab.

After what seemed like ages, we arrived at The Royal Opera House and rushed inside. The head usher showed us where to retrieve our tickets at will call and told us to return and see her once we had picked them up. Although we had indeed missed the opening, she told us she thought she could find a place for us to see the rest of the first act. As we had been really looking forward to the show and the tickets were quite expensive, we were both a bit upset. We rushed off to get the tickets and when we returned she looked at our tickets and then consulted her map of the house. Anxiously we waited and watched as she gave directions to one of the other ushers standing near by. The friendly new usher asked us to follow her and we began winding through the hallways of Covent Garden. We went up flights of stairs, through narrow hallways and eventually arrived at a tiny corridor that appeared to be made entirely of wood and which was completely dark. She motioned for us to be quiet and we followed her down the dark hallway. After trying several doors, she managed to find the one she was looking for and motioned for us to enter.

As we stepped through the narrow wooden doorway we were surprised and thrilled to see that we had been guided to a private box on the grand tier very close to the right side of the stage. Although we couldn't see the full width of the stage, we could see almost everything and the dancers seemed almost close enough to touch. After watching old movies, I had always dreamed of sitting in a private box, but I never dreamed that I ever would! And in Covent Garden no less! Soon however, we were lost in the music of Tchaikovsky and the glitter of the costumes!

At the first intermission we moved around and located our actual seats which were also on the grand tier but were opposite the center of the stage. We had a better view of the entire stage but were not farther away and no longer in a private box. As I glanced back at our first Act seats, Woodley pointed out to me what must be the Royal Box, it was right next to the box we had been in!

The rest of the ballet was lovely but, by the end, we were very happy to get back to the hotel and fall into our blue bed!


Cutting and Piecing Nicola and Matt's Quilt

Once I had washed, dried, and ironed my set of 80 fat quarters I was almost ready to start cutting it up. First however, the pattern asked me to divide the fabric up into two categories, one group of fabrics with large prints and another group of fabrics with small prints. The large print fat quarters were then cut up into larger pieces and the small prints were cut into smaller pieces. It took me a full day to cut up all of the fabric but it was pretty enjoyable because I used the time to catch up on the last season of The Office. :) Soon I had several big piles of fabric. In the picture below several of the big ones are layered on top of each other.

Next up, I needed to assemble the pieces into small blocks that I would then arrange and sew together into the two big quilts. The pattern allowed for quite a bit of flexibility and it was quite fun to lay out the fabrics and put different patterns together. 

Once I had sewed several sets together I laid them out in the family room to see how the fabrics looked together. 

After several more days of sewing I finally finished all of the blocks and was ready to lay out the final design of the quilt and sew it together. When I started this task I didn't realize how challenging it would be. I grabbed my pattern and began laying out blocks that I thought looked good together. In the end I had two quilts that looked like this: 

Quilt A: 

Quilt B: 

When I finished laying out all the pieces and gazed at the two quilts, I wasn't quite pleased. They seemed so busy, more like a crazy quilt than one that was made using a pattern. I shared the photos with my mother to get her opinion and together we decided to try making a bit of a change. I picked up the pieces and started over, this time trying to make a blue quilt and a green quilt by reorganizing the pieces. After about an hours work I ended up with: 

Quilt A (green): 

Quilt B (blue):

I agreed with my mother that these new arrangements were a bit better. I decided to sleep on it and when I woke up the next morning I realized that I still wasn't quite satisfied. Although I was running out of time, I decided to pick up the pieces once more, re-organize them, and lay them out once more. This time I decided to make a light and a dark quilt. The end result:

Quilt A (light): 

Quilt B (dark):

Light and Dark Quilts:

I still wasn't entirely sure about the busy pattern of the quilt but I liked this last arrangement best so I sent pictures of the two quilts to Nicola and asked her to pick the one she liked best. She chose the dark quilt an I spent another couple of days sewing the blocks into rows and then sewing the rows together to make the final front of the quilt. 

As I continued sewing and ironing the backside became quite a patchwork of seams and colors. 

Needless to say, I was quite excited when I finally finished (as you can see, the finished quilt will be quite large)!

I was also very tired: 

The day before we left California for our big trip, I sewed up the fabric for the back of the quilt and when we were in Bellingham I dropped off the front and back with Betsy of Nautilus Longarm Quilting. Since the quilt is so big I decided that it would be pretty challenging to do the quilting myself in time for Nicola and Matt's wedding. Having the quilt professionally finished seemed like a great option and it is so exciting to think that it will be all finished up next time I see it! I hope Nicola and Matt like how it turns out!