Sunday, May 29, 2011

How to Eat Like the English

On the day of our wedding vow renewal, Betsy's sister Susan met us at our hotel and we decided to have a light lunch before heading over to the Ritz for the ceremony. Both Susan and I ordered Duck Egg Soldiers with Asparagus (I did so on Susan's recommendation).
This is an extremely English dish and I asked Susan for advice on how best to approach it. I captured her explanation on my iTouch on the spur of the moment just for fun. At the time I had no idea what I was going to do with it.
Once we returned home, I loaded the clip into iMovie, added some titles and music and thus "How to Eat Like the English" was born. I hope you like it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Things to Remember for Next Time

Some lessons learned from our recent trip:

  1. Take a bit more cash (We took a lot of cabs and I almost got through the trip without hitting an ATM. Almost.)
  2. Take an extra pair of pants. (In my defense, I thought I had. But when I got home, there they were still in the pants press.)
  3. Take more advantage of the hotel laundry service. (It's a bit more humid in the U.K. than I'm used to in Colorado and shirts get 'pitted out' quickly.)
  4. Take a portable GPS or a smartphone with GPS. (We got lost while walking through Hyde Park and it's tough to spot landmarks through all those trees.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Post-Travel Interlude #1

Sorry for the lack of posts, but it seems that ignoring your wife while on a romantic holiday in celebration of 20 years of marriage is considered somewhat rude, if not counter-productive to the idea of further years of said marriage.

That being said, we're home now despite Iceland's futile attempts to delay us and I'm going to continue posting about the trip (post-trip, as it were).

On an only slightly unrelated note, if you enjoy reading comics on your iPhone, iTouch or iPad as I do, then you may want to take a look at the Dark Horse comics app. (Apparently an Android app is currently in development.) I picked it up last week on our holiday and it's supplied me with hours of reading fun while British Air was busy dodging that pesky volcano on our way home to Denver.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Travel Tales Pt. 9 - "If I Were as Tedious as a King"

(Sorry about the gap in postings but we had to get some vacationing in while we're here. However, I've got plenty of thoughts, photos and videos to share so I'll post as I have time.)

Betsy and I enjoyed a performance of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing at the Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End. (Right next to the Leicester Square tube station, in fact. Literally.)
I'm no Shakespeare scholar, but I have performed in both Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream as a young man in school so I'm not completely unfamiliar with his work. In addition, the 1993 film production of the play by Ken Branagh is one which we've viewed many times. (Though Keanu Reeves is not the strongest member of the ensemble. We just squint whenever he's on screen.)
Any theatrical production is only as strong as its source material and I consider this play to be one of the authors most approachable works. The superb timing, the expert and lightning-fast shifting between romance, drama, tragedy and comedy, each emotion intensifying the others, shows that this style of writing did not originate with Joss Whedon but that Joss stole from the best. (And I say this as a devoted Whedonite.)
In addition, Betsy and I are big fans of Doctor Who and the fact that our favorite play starred David Tennant as Benedick and Catherine Tate as Beatrice, one of our favorite Doctor/Companion match-ups, meant that we had to see this, come what may. The rest of the cast also did not disappoint and looked to be enjoying themselves thoroughly.
But first a few sentences regarding the theater. The Wyndham's is in London's famous West End and is what is known as a 'listed building'. This means that it is of historical significance and that you are not allowed to do any significant changes, additions or renovations without prior approval from the appropriate authorities responsible for conserving landmark architecture. Of course, this also means that you can't bring listed buildings in line with modern accessibility requirements and as Betsy was in a wheelchair for the trip, this was a consideration that was much on our minds.

Fortunately, the theater had a work-around. There is a box seat at the rear of the Stalls which is used for disabled customers. It is accessed directly off of the street and there are about two small steps leading down into a small enclosed area with four chairs and a little bathroom off to the side. Two theater employees helped carry Betsy down into the box.
Here's a quick iTouch shot:

Despite being at the back of the theater, we had a pretty good view:

The Wyndham's was smaller than I had pictured and that actors weren't miked as they often are over here (I wonder if that would have constituted a 'significant renovation'?) So they had to resort to good old fashioned projecting from the diaphragm as I was taught in my youth. Still, I had the sense that if I hadn't already been somewhat familiar with the play I would have missed more of the dialogue. (I just checked the Wyndham's Web page where they note that they have an infrared sound amplification system....with 20 headsets. But we did fine.)

This production was set in Gibraltar, in the early 90's, the tail end of Thatcher's Britain. Not a great time to be working class or poor, but a fabulous time to be rich. This was the first stage production I had seen of this work and the differences, while reasonably obvious, are worth noting for their effect on how I perceived the story. In a film, we view what the director lets us view and the soundtrack tells us what feelings to have as the story progresses. This production had no orchestra (all of the music was generated on-stage as part of the scene) and I could focus on any part of the action I wished.
This changed the way I viewed both Beatrice and Benedick. Beatrice is outwardly a snarky, funny lady who is the life of any gathering. But Beatrice also keeps a lot of pain inside. First of all, she's generally the smartest person in the room, which was not considered a positive quality in a woman and this is referred to (albeit jokingly) by several others throughout the play. She can't respect a man who isn't at least as smart as she is and men in general don't care for women as smart as she is. So she resorts to sarcasm as a defense mechanism, to put off men before they have a chance to reject her. Tate portrays the internal life of this character beautifully, even as she uses her considerable comic skills to elicit laughs with as little as a word or glance.
Physical casting also made for some differences as well. David Tennant is a very slim 6' 1'' and Tom Bateman (who plays Claudio) is at least a head taller and is built like a linebacker. So the scene where Benedick confronts Claudio over his treatment of Hero and challenges Claudio to a duel is made more serious by the physical disparity between the two actors. Benedick issues the challenge with the knowledge that there is a good chance he won't survive the duel. But Tennant plays this scene (one of my favorites) perfectly and it's almost heartbreaking to see Benedick risk his life this way out of love for Beatrice.
The entire cast, for that matter, was just pitch-perfect. The production moved quickly and was a wonderful roller-coaster ride of emotions. As the old gag goes, "I laughed, I cried, it changed my life."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Travel Tales Pt. 8 - Interlude 2

Yesterday's celebration went off without a hitch!

Plenty of videos and photos to share but right now we're getting ready for a cruise down the Thames (and more photos/videos from that as well!).

Tonight we've got the theater (or Thee-Ah-Tah as it's pronounced around these parts) so I may not be posting until tomorrow, but as always I'll tweet updates.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Travel Tales Pt. 7 - Tragedy, by W. S.

"Everyone can master a grief but he that has it", Much Ado About Nothing, Act III, Scene II

Well, that didn't last long....

Since we used a somewhat dodgy third party ticket broker (*Cough*ViaGoGo*Cough), our tickets were nowhere to be found.

However, we were sold a pair of tickets for this Thursday evening (at a much better rate, by the way), given a letter by the theater to help us get a refund from my credit card bank and they will have some drinks out for us when we arrive later in the week, as a bit of apology, even though they didn't have anything to do with our problem.

Nice, polite people, the English.

SO...we're going to order some room service, load up the 1993 Ken Branagh production of "Much Ado About Nothing" with Branagh, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves and Michael Keaton. It'll still be a fun evening.

More on the Harrod's visit later.....

Travel Tales Pt. 6 - Much Less Ado About....well, Stuff

Good news on the theatrical front: We contacted the theater (or 'theatre' as they misspell it here) and explained that we had left our tickets at home. They told us that if we could find the seat and row information then they could print us some replacement tickets.

We contacted Daryl, our house-sitter, and had him look for that info and we just got an email from him with the row and seat numbers. Huzzah!

At any rate, it looks like we're off to "Much Ado About Nothing" with David Tennant and Catherine Tate this evening so cheers, everyone!

More news later....

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Travel Tales Pt. 5 - Body Issues

So I call down to room service to order some dinner. Betsy and I are having the same order but she's going to have some water and doesn't need a beverage.

For some reason, this call turns into a desperate attempt by me to convince the room service person that just because I'm having two orders of an entree with one beverage, that doesn't mean I'm eating both of them. The twisted thing here is that she understood exactly what I meant when I told her "Service for two". I was the one having the issue.

Me: "Okay, and that's service for two."
Her: [she repeats the order exactly as given]
Me: "And you realize, that this is for two, right?"
Her: [ Repeats the order ] "I'll keep repeating it, sir, until I get it right."
Me: "No, you're doing just fine. I'm apparently the one having the issues here."

For some reason I felt like the kid who's trying to convince his buddies that he has a real girlfriend....

"Guys, she and I totally made out...."
"No, you don't know her, we met at summer camp...."
"Yeah, she lives in Canada...."

I am a sick, sick man.

Travel Tales Pt. 4 - Interlude 1

There is a trend in world travel these days known as 'Travel Without Baggage'.

Betsy and I, however, decided to go a different direction....

Yes, that's a wheelchair AND a walker....

I mean, we had to drag the cats out of the garment bag because they kept getting sucked into it's gravitational field.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:London Hilton Park Lane

Friday, May 13, 2011

Travel Tales Pt. 3 - Lost in America

We have about half an hour before we need to get to our gate. In the meantime, an unexpected benefit of our BA business class fare is access to the BA club lounge. A very proper, Oxonian-accented gentleman greeted us and showed us to a seat where we are currently having a cool beverage and taking stock.
The Taking Of Stock has almost become a ritual for us when traveling. It mainly consists of figuring out what we forgot to pack.

So far, the tally is:

Our wedding album - Not a major loss, but it would have been nice to compare and contrast, particularly since the guests for our renewal ceremony were unable to make it to our wedding.

Betsy's wedding ring - A bit of a bigger loss here, as our ceremony does include an exchange of rings. Two options: a re-write or try to find her a ring in London. I'd like to do the latter as it would symbolize a renewed commitment.

Betsy's Chapstick - Okay, not huge. But I like to be thorough.

Betsy's wedding hat - In my own defense, I had not been informed that this was a part of the wardrobe. Once again, possibly a visit to Harrod's or M&S might sort this out.

Theater tickets - Ouch. We had opening night tickets to "Much Ado About Nothing", starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate. As dedicated Whovians we were both terribly excited about this. I need to make some calls when we land.

And so it goes....

Location:Peña Blvd,Denver,United States

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Travel Tales Pt. 2 - Logistics

This is definitely one of the more complicated trips we've done. Our usual M.O. is more like:

  • Figure out where we're going.
  • Get a place to stay while we're there.
  • Go there.
  • Come home.
This trip is a little more complicated for a number of reasons. First of all, twenty years ago my wife could still get around with a cane but now she needs a walker for inside distances and a mobility scooter or travel chair for outside. In addition I was planning to renew our vows on the trip. The third complication is that we don't rough it when we travel. We like to go places that are nice, with plenty of people to do our bidding and if possible, a spa/pool/etc. onsite.
I realized I couldn't do this on my own. Not only that, but Orbitz and Expedia aren't going to be much help either.

I needed a travel agent.

I didn't even know if travel agents even existed anymore. It seems like such a quaint profession, like elevator operator or town crier.
Turns out that they're still around, but they've had to raise their games considerably. After all, we can handle the simple stuff (airline, hotel, rental car) and some travel sites let you automatically add 'extras' like tour packages or theater tickets. Modern travel agents have to be specialists, with plenty of local knowledge for your destination, in addition to contacts in related businesses to handle the special stuff.

After extensive searching (okay, I Googled. Don't judge me...) I located a travel agent that specialized in both luxury and disabled travel, David Clifford.
Once we had explained our situation to David, he ran with it. For example, we wanted to take my wife's mobility scooter to make it easier to get around but David advised that British health and safety laws prohibited these scooters from many public buildings. (The 'A' in ADA stands for 'American', folks!). He engaged a local firm to rent us a travel chair for the trip so we wouldn't have to lug our own. In addition, we were advised of the accessibility options available at local hotels.
As for the vow renewal ceremony, I had originally thought to do it in a local registry office, the equivalent of a civil ceremony over here. But I was informed that since vow renewals weren't legally recognized, we couldn't do it there so David engaged a wedding planner to scope out an alternate location and put together all of the arrangements, including someone to officiate, a photographer and a hired car to and from the ceremony. He even threw in a couple of more 'touristy' outings that were wheelchair-friendly, such as a Thames River tour down to Greenwich.
So, to sum up: Travel agents - still around. Do you need one? Mostly not. But, if you've got special needs and don't have the resources to get the local knowledge you require then a good travel agent can be a godsend.

Travel Tales Pt. 1 - The Preparizing

In a couple of days my wife and I will be traveling to London to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. This will be extra special because the last time we were in London was twenty years ago this past March. We did so well together that we decided to move our wedding date from October back to May, before we left the U.K.
So it's been a while since we've done this kind of trip and...things have changed. I'm reliably informed that nobody uses traveler's checks anymore so that cut a step out of my prep. I still felt I needed cash so I was Googling for the nearest Thomas Cook and found out that I could order foreign currency on the Internet. Not only that, but they do home delivery. Since I'm such a huge nerd, the idea of ordering money over the Internet and having cash delivered to me was appealing so I gave it a try. Sweet! FedEx just came by about an hour ago and dropped it off.
Given the changes in the world since we last went overseas, I also decided to take my nerd cred to a whole new level with this trip. Not only am I taking my laptop, iTouch, iPad and AppleTV with us (just plug it into the hotel flat-screen), but I also plan to blog, tweet, post photos and video while we're there and keep in contact with family and friends back home.
I realize that this is not a new idea in general but it's certainly new to me. The last time we were in London I didn't have a laptop, much less Internet access, and I'd like to use it to help me build some memories. So keep checking in and I'll be posting more Travel Tales.