Tag Archives: Travel

Oh man.

Where to begin?

 

First of all, we’re in Akron.  Unfortunately we’re not in our new house yet.  No, we’re not happy about that (duh).  Let’s just get that out of the way.

 

Leaving LA went about as planned, and the boys’ drive to Akron was OK.

 

Simes and I spent two days at Mom and Dad’s house: Granddad had a short stint in the hospital for an infection so we drove Grandmother to visit him.  I got to have a GREAT lunch with Stef and Mandi, sans baby (Grammy’s babysitting service!  The price right ;-)).  We got haircuts, hung out with Aunt Judy for a bit, did some laundry and picked Linda up from the airport.  On Wednesday we drove (well, Linda drove.  I sat in the back and entertained Simon) from KC to Indianapolis, with a long lunch- and yarn-buying-break in St. Louis (got to see Jeff’s cousins Katie and Carol, and Linda’s best friend Paula).  We met up with the guys in Indianapolis, and yesterday we went from Indianapolis to Akron.  That’s where it went tits up.

 

I made this gussied-up picture when I was young and optimistic (soo….Thursday morning):

The guys had had usual little problems on their big drive – Dad had some minor issues with the truck, Jeff got tired of lugging the kennels and coolers and Gretchen into hotel rooms every night, Dad accidentally put his hand in dog puke and had to ride like that 15 miles to the next exit… all the little things you can look back in 5 years (or 5 weeks) and laugh at.

 

We will NOT be laughing at this current situation, though.

 

About an hour before we all got to Akron, Jeff got a call from our new landlord.  The previous tenants – a somewhat less-than-desirable-seeming family – hadn’t vacated the house as planned.  Consequently, the maintenance guy(s) weren’t able to take care of all the fixing up that the house needed to make it habitable.

 

Why on earth did they wait until just before we got there to tell us this?!

 

Our landlord assured us that he had three men working on the house, and that it would be in tip-top-shape by the time we arrived.  So we pressed onward.

 

We got to the house, though, and of course everything was not OK.  The kitchen was filthy, the walls still full of holes (nail- and fist-sized).  The windows have dust half an inch thick.  The carpets…::shudder::.  And the upstairs floors were still covered in debris the previous tenants left behind.  It’s just a mess 😦

 

So I called the landlord and told him about our concerns; he told us he’d have the crew back the next day to keep working on the place, and that we should go to a hotel for the night (whether he’ll pay us back for that or not is to be determined.  Also, fun fact:  the only hotel in Akron that accepts pets but isn’t also infested with bedbugs, costs $100/night.  Wowee!  Good thing that Jeff and I are so independently wealthy!  /sarcasm)

 

Yesterday morning we woke up, bright-eyed and optimistic about our new home.  A crew had allegedly been working diligently since 6am to make the house move-in ready.  So what do we walk in to see?  A guy re-painting the only room in the house that didn’t need to be re-done (and, of course, completely ignoring the other 8 rooms that were a mess), some Kaboom ineffectually squirted on the moldy kitchen tile, and (to be fair) a lawn guy working quickly and steadily to rid the garage and yard of all the crap the previous tenants left behind.

 

So we sat around on the front steps and tried to stay out of the way, and tried to figure out exactly what this three-man team had been up to for the past five hours (I told Jeff that I could’ve gotten more done myself in that time, if I’d been bopping to music and had a cooperative baby on my back).  I had to pester the landlord *again* about my concerns, and he talked to his guys (probably bitching about me).  The crew packed up and left at 3:00 on the nose, one coat of paint hastily and crappily applied to the bedroom walls, and a scrap of wood covering the hole in one bedroom’s floor.  The whole place was filthy, but apparently they were “done”.

 

Here, I made you a picture of me, at that news:

Clearly you don’t want to be dealing with me.

 

More angry phone calls, etc etc.  Landlord told us he’d call a carpet cleaning company to deal with that, he’d contact the owner for permission to repaint the first floor and finish the painting on the second (apparently asking for two coats of nicely-applied paint is a really unusual request), and that if we weren’t happy with the cleanliness of the house (that’s putting it mildly), we could hire our own cleaning crew and have the bill sent to him.  So that’s exactly what we did.  Our cleaners are going to work this afternoon and evening and tomorrow, and with any luck they’ll be done by tomorrow night.  In a single fortuitous turn of luck, the clerk at our hotel (which is a really commodious, friendly and helpful establishment, for all the exorbitant expense) also does housekeeping and home repairs, and when I mentioned our troubles to her she was happy to get her crew right on the job.  Which was good, because none of the other housekeeping companies I had called first were answering their phones at 5:00 on a Friday afternoon.  (Shocking!)

 

In the end, we’ll have accrued (hopefully no more than) a three-night hotel bill, an extra day of truck rental, and at least 900 bajillion phone calls, untold amounts of stress, 45 bottles of Diet Coke, and 8 Subway sandwiches.  And a new dress shirt for Jeff, because all his work clothes are packed away in the truck and did I mention he starts work on Monday?  (!!!)  And I went and got ice cream sundaes for us last night because DAMMIT WE DESERVE IT.

 

We’re about to head back over to the house and see if this mythical carpet cleaner guy is really as good as the landlord insists (I remain dubious), and meet with the housekeeping crew to make sure they see everything that needs to be done.

 

Later – not now – I’m going to get on the landlord’s ass about the paint that his maintenance guys smeared on the light fixtures, the fact that they re-hung the bathroom cabinets about an inch off, and figure out exactly when the new, non-mold-filled dishwasher will arrive.  We also need to attempt – for the third time – to schedule someone to come unload our moving truck, and then worry about anything that may have broken in transit (I’m a little bit suspicious of the apparently-precarious positioning of our sofa in there).

 

At our leisure, Jeff and I are going to repaint the front porch with Killz (it’s all sorts of moldy), weed and winterize the flower beds (there are long-neglected raspberry bushes there!), plant some pretty climbing plant for the pergola, repaint the back door, and probably paint and scrub the basement stairwell.  And other assorted little jobs.

 

To say these past few days have been rough is…a bit of an understatement.  I would like you to note that I will not be reclining on the screened-in porch with iced tea anytime soon, nor will I be preparing a hearty and homey dinner in that kitchen tonight.  I do remain ever-optimistic, though, that maybe I won’t have to sob on the living room floor at any point today.  But we shall see.

 

I’ll wrap up with a couple cute pictures of Simon and Granddad.

 

He got to drive from Indianapolis!

 

 

And that’s all I’ve got.  Wish me luck as I head back into the moldy, dirty abyss!

 

Someone convince me this will all be OK in the end…?

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I AM GOING TO SABOTAGE THAT SEAHORSE’S EMPLOYMENT WITH THIS ESTATE.

One of the things on our “Leaving St. Louis bucket list” (Subtitle: “Katie quit calling this a bucket list“) was to make one more trip to Chicago.

Every two or three years since we’ve gotten together, we’ve taken a long weekend to Chicago.  Like this one.  So we decided to repeat that once more while the beloved city is only 6 hours away from home.  We woke up bright and early Friday morning and were on our way!

For the first time ever, we drove.  We’d done some price comparison, and even with the cost of overnight parking downtown it was still the cheapest way to get there.  Which is sorta weird, because I’ve always flown, taken Amtrak, or done MegaBus before.  Because cars are scary.

But anyway.  Car knitting:

That’s a Saroyan shawl out of Dyeabolical limited edition (now discontinued) tussah silk.  I love that yarn so much it isn’t even funny.  It was seriously hard to actually knit it up, because then it wouldn’t live in my stash anymore.

And then for when I finished the shawl, I had this:

That is Madtosh Lace in “Steam Age”, and is in the process of becoming a Featherweight Cardigan as we speak.

(And despite having 960 fresh yards of laceweight, plus sock yarn, plus easy access to at least three yarn shops along the route, I was *still* worried about running out of yarn.  Knitters, you get me.)

Anyway.  Six hours and 24 potty stops* later, we were in Chicago!

This is on a big scary highway, full of people merging all over the fucking place and not using blinkers and just GOING wherever they felt like. It was terrifying. I hate city driving.  Jeff got snippy at me and then I snipped at him but then we got off the highway and found our parking garage and all was well.  WE SURVIVED.

We checked into the hotel then wandered downtown a bit.  And then we found Oysy sushi and we were done for.

SO MANY NOMS.

NOM SALAD.

NOM MISO.  (Actually it wasn’t quite salty enough. But whatever.)

AND SO MUCH NOM SUSHI.

This was the Chicago Crazy roll, and the only thing crazy about it was how much I nommed it.

NOM.

Hot damn that was good.

After that we were pretty well spent, so we retired to the hotel (the Comfort Inn on Ohio just west of Michigan, in case you were wondering.  Very nice.) and watched Downton Abbey off Netflix and fell asleep.**

On Saturday morning I steam-blocked Saroyan, following Kara’s and Rachel’s advice:

Whee! I love steam blocking.  It’s about the closest thing to instant gratification that you can get during knitting.

See?

(I actually didn’t end up wearing it on Saturday anyway; this is from Sunday.)

First order of business: the Art Institute!

(True story: I totally meant to download the music from that scene in Ferris Bueller to my iPod then make Jeff listen to it with me while we stared at this, or kiss me in front of the blue stained glass, but I forgot.  Oh well.  The better to embarrass our kids with when we go back in like 10 years, I guess 😉 )

Obligatory Jeff-with-map photo:

Because I know how much you like those.

Here, my esteemed husband muses upon last summer’s England vacation:

He also wonders if I’m ever going to finish blogging that trip.  Answer: I hope so.

The textiles exhibit was my most favorite, though…

I told Jeff more than he ever wanted to know about quilts and fabric and patterns and embroidery.

OK so then!  We left!  And had a late lunch/early dinner/whatever-you-call-eating-at-3:30pm here:

(We went to the one on Lake, just north of the park).

There was calamari:

Unf. So good.

And pizza (half mushroom and onion, half pepperoni. You can guess which is which.)

I know, food photography is not my forte.

And also, I have now died of fat.  DIED.  There was so much freaking cheese in that pizza that I made Jeff tie me to the back of the car, then run all the way back to St. Louis.  To be fair, he did drive kind of slowly.

But it was worth it.

From there we went back to Loopy Yarns (a tradition at this point), of which I took no pictures.  But I did find some yarn.  Which you will hopefully see in a forthcoming WIP post.  (Hint: think alpaca. Think laceweight.)

It was about 6:00 by then, and we had two options:

1)Go back to the hotel, watch Downton Abbey and fall asleep

or

2)Act like the 20-somethings we are, and do something vaguely nightlife-y.

Surprisingly, we chose 2).  For a bit. 😀

We’d heard somewhere that the view from the bar in the John Hancock building was actually better than the $$$ observation deck tourist experience.  So we went there.

And it was really dark.  Err sorry I mean, “romantic mood lighting.”  (Translation: I had trouble finding the table, and definitely couldn’t even see to knit. I mean really.  REALLY.  What kind of bar doesn’t even have convenient knitlighting?)

Jeff had a couple $9 beers, and I had one (1) $7.50 martini glass of pineapple juice that was nominally a virgin something-or-other.

(Ssh! Don’t tell the pregnancy police! I had a sip or two of this and it was good.  Not $9 good, mind you, but good.)

In case you ever wanted to know what a $7.50 martini glass of pineapple juice looks like situated next to a cocktail table candle (that, by the way, was our only source of heat), well, have I got a treat for you!

I told Jeff that next time I want to drink in the dark, I’ll just buy a container of juice from the store and stand in the kitchen with the lights off.  He said I was missing the point. I said he was right, because at home I wouldn’t bother with the maraschino cherry and pineapple wedge garnish.

Then I ate the garnish.  I’m getting my $7.50 worth, darnit!

I will admit, though, that the views were quite lovely:

So I suppose that made it all worthwhile.

BTW.  They say that the view from the ladies’ room is the best, and it’s true.  One whole wall overlooks downtown, and it’s not crowded with bar tables like in the main area.  Only thing is, you feel like a perv standing in a public bathroom taking pictures.  But whatev.

After dropping $25.50 + tip on three drinks with a collective alcohol content insufficient to give a yorkshire terrier a mild buzz, we were nearly fun’ed out for the night. So we stopped by Garrett Popcorn on the way back to the hotel…

And then crawled into bed with caramel corn, $15 worth of cranberry juice from the hotel breakfast area***, and and Downton Abbey on Jeff’s laptop.

Hey, we partied!  That counts, right?  (Right?)

Sunday morning we found ourselves here:

Where we waited in line for over an hour just to get in (grumble), only to find out that they changed the ticket pricing structure so now unless you’re willing to sell your firstborn****, you can only afford to see like three rooms.  All the cool stuff is an extra $20 a person.  NO WAY JOSE.  I’m not paying THREE WHOLE PINEAPPLE-JUICE-IN-A-MARTINI-GLASSes just to see the jellyfish or whatever.

(Oh god. I really am old.)

So instead we waited in line with the other cheapasses, and took pictures…

And then paid our $8 each and got to look at the proletariat fish.

YOU. SEAHORSE.  YOU ARE UNCOUTH AND A SCOUNDREL.  YOU ARE NOT FIT TO BE MY BUTLER.  AND YOU PROBABLY SWIM WITH A LIMP. I DO NOT TRUST YOU.

I SHALL CALL YOU O’BRIEN, FROG.  BUT KNOW YOUR PLACE.  KNOW IT!

AND YOU ARE DAISY.

You’re OK, Daisy. I like you.

(Meanwhile, all the otters and dolphins and stuff were off in the expensive areas, being all “Week-end? What on earth is a week-end?“)

Anyway. My point is, the Shedd Aquarium is a ripoff.  Cool, but stupidly expensive.  (Much like those drinks.  Which yes, I’m still on about.).

So then we had lunch at the aquarium restaurant, and then we went home and drove in this thick sleety snow and it took like 7 hours to get there, but that’s OK because I have this little dude and it wraps around my seatbelt and then I can see to knit without bothering Jeff.

In conclusion:  GOD I AM SO OLD AND UNCOOL.  I think next vacation Jeff is just going to take me to a Super 8 in a cornfield or something.  Maybe I’ll get to buy an Amish basket if I’m on my best behavior.

~~~

*Slight exaggeration.  Maybe.

**Because we’re hardcore party animals, that’s why.

***Using Hancock Building bar standards, of course.  Because we are normal people, though, I had nicked the juice that morning and stashed it in the room.

****They’re not interested in 15-week fetuses. I checked.

KC Renfest 2011, and starting the long goodbye

This is, I think, the first of our “lasts”.  Last weekend we went to KC to visit some family, eat angel food cake, and take our annual “sometime in the vicinity of my birthday” trip to the Kansas City Renaissance Festival.  A tradition we’ve held for six years running, it’s not one I’m eager to turn loose.

There’s comfort in certain things like this, isn’t there? Knowing you’ll always see the same vendors in the same locations, get to eat the same food, watch the same acts, hear the same stupid jokes about your dog being a ‘pack mule’.  But at the same time, you never know what new artisans or performers will show up, or when the price of a tiny cup of mead will leap to $7 (!!!).

So even though this was familiar and comfortable and a good way to appreciate a “last”, it was every bit as fun and exciting as always.

Our little smiler just keeps being more and more well-behaved…

(She sat on that dude’s foot for the entirety of the joust, and he absolutely didn’t mind.  Methinks he’s used to big goggies.)

Really.  $7 for mead:

(and an out-of-focus photo).

At $7 per, we decided to just split one and then go buy a whole bottle at Randall’s.  Because we’re cheap and, apparently, old.

And, of course, the joust:

This year we decided to keep a tally of the “pack mule” and “workin’ for a livin!” comments from our oh-so-witty fellow festivalgoers.

Surprisingly there were only about 12, all day (much, much fewer than ever before. Seems that Jeff and I have perfected our “fuck off” faces.)

I haven’t grabbed a picture of it yet, but my souvenir this year is something I’ve had my eye on for a while – a bread baker from Ayers Pottery.  Photo shamelessly stolen from their site:

I haven’t used it yet, either (Yeah. Fail.  Sue me.), but I think this weekend I’m going to make a batch of blueberry bread in there, and call it a “giant muffin”, and it will be delicious.

Goodbye, KC Ren Fest. I’ll be back someday, but probably not every year.

~~~

So when I mentioned that whole ‘first of the lasts’ thing above, I wasn’t being overdramatic (well, I wasn’t *trying* to be overdramatic, at least).  Last night Jeff and I were lying in bed talking about our impending move, and we decided that we need to take advantage of our remaining months here in Missouri.  So, in classic “Type A” form, we’ve started a list.  And because I know you’re SO INTERESTED, here it is.  These are all things that are Missouri- (or at least Midwest-) specific, which we’ve either not done before or want to do again before we run off.

They are:

Cahokia Mounds

Nelson Art Gallery (this is a running thing – for over six years I’ve been promising to take Jeff there during one of our KC trips, and we’ve just never gotten around to it)

Hannibal, MO

Chicago (y’all know we love our weekends in Chicago…)

The Brass Armadillo

Crown Candy Kitchen

Lawrence, KS

Kville

Plaza Frontenac (eeeet’s so faaaancy!!!! I mainly just wanna go and feel like a redneck. And go to Sur La Table)

Hillsdale BBQ for a gallon of sauce

Country Club Plaza/Crown Center (maybe this holiday season to see the lights :-))

The list is subject to change, as we remember more things.  And right before we leave, we’re planning a “farewell to St. Louis” day of other places we’ll surely visit in the meantime (our frequent offenders, if you will) that will include the likes of Ted Drewes, Fozzie’s, the zoo and Left Bank.  But that’s for next spring/early summer.

What would be on your “must visit” list if you were leaving your city?

England: Day 1.5 (ish)

Grab some tea with milk and sugar, and get comfy:  it’s finally time to talk about England.

(It really did take me a long time to “digest” this trip.  We saw so much, and I loved it so much, that I feel like I can’t possibly encompass it all in a few blog posts.  I’m going to try my best, and I think all this will do is make me want to go back.  To spare you total vacation-photo overload, I think I’ll break it down to one post per day, m’kay?)

But first I have to tell you:  this trip was the culmination, for me, of *many* years’ wishes.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to go to England.  England was where everything charming and beautiful comes from.  England was understated and awesome and fantastic.  Or at least, that’s how it seemed in pictures and stories.

Guess what?  Pictures and stories didn’t lie:  England was all of that.  And more.  England was my favorite.  I can’t wait to go back (Jeff can I please go back?).

So….

I took a half-day of work that Thursday, and we did all sorts of fancy juggling with the dog and suitcases (the dog threw up and the suitcases smashed my toe.) and then…we left.

(Right about now you wonder if the entire story is going to be so slow-paced.  No, it won’t.  It will be worse.  Hang on.)

We flew from STL to O’Hare (where our plane was late, and we very nearly missed our connecting red-eye to Heathrow).  The longer flight was notable only in that it was my first transatlantic flight, and first red-eye all in one.  And my first dose of a horrifying full Airplane Meal.

Look! I made you a picture!

::gag::  That was their idea of vegetarian ravioli.  I wasn’t really expecting better, though, so I wasn’t disappointed.  I mainly just chewed on the inside of my cheek and thought about scones.

Behold Jeff’s look of ecstasy as he noms an airplane breakfast artfully called “yogurt + spork”:

Beautiful, huh?

We landed in England at about 9am, and spent an appropriate amount of time attempting to gather luggage* and buying Oyster cards and getting our bearings.  We were pretty confident about getting around via Underground, since we’re both already really comfortable with public transit and the whole system is so ginormous and efficient.  It was ridiculously easy to get from Heathrow to our hotel in Russell Square.  I even knitted on the way.  AND NO ONE SAID ANYTHING.

(England transit was much shorter on “hurr hurr”-type people than I’ve encountered in DC or even in Chicago.  MYOB seems to be the standard mode of operation, and it was nice.  Don’t get me wrong: there were plenty of Harolds and Irmas (mostly Americans, of course).  But on the train, I was largely left alone.)

We dropped our luggage at the hotel and found lunch + caffeine just down the street in Russell Square (just sandwiches from some local shop) before heading over to the Tower vicinity.  I also had my first Costa latte:

There were almost as many Costas as there were Starbucks, but because I was being a world traveler and being adventurous and being daring, I didn’t get a single Sbux the whole time.  You can have that whenever, right?  Throughout the trip, Jeff and I usually carried Diet Coke/Coke Zero in his backpack at all times (I am SO FREAKING GLAD that Coke products were all over the place there. I’d have died going 8 days without Diet Coke), and then supplemented with either Costa or tea from random cafes whenever the mood struck.  I tried tea with milk and sugar.  I fell in love with tea with milk and sugar.  It changed my life.

So anyway.  Suitcases + lunch + caffeine + Underground.  Now to the Tower!

I took this super impressive photo right outside the train stop for the Tower:

Really effin’ impressive, huh?  Just bear in mind that our sense of time was royally fucked up at this point, and we’d effectively pulled an all-nighter just prior.  Sort of.  And were juggling lattes.  And were confused.

…actually, bear that in mind for all the trip photos, m’kay?

Here’s Jeff’s “exhausted and filthy and in a foreign country” face:

And here’s mine:

Charming.

Here’s LONDON VACATION MAP PHOTO #1:

We’re gonna keep a tally, OK?  Because y’all know: if there’s one thing Jeff likes, it’s maps.

Eventually we started heading toward the actual Tower, which was somehow exactly like – and very different – than we’d expected:

The one thing I just couldn’t get past – and this is for all of London, not just the Tower area – is the combination of old and new, of modern and ancient.  It just tickled us silly to see the Gherkin peeping up behind a church from the 1500s, or the Shard dominating the skyline, or this thing as a backdrop to the Tower:

(That’s City Hall.  Weirdest-shaped City Hall I’ve ever seen…)
There’s really nothing like it at home, and I absolutely adored it.  It also made me think about the Great Fire, and how London might be different today had the fire not been so destructive:  would old buildings have been demolished and supplanted with new, perhaps at an accelerated rate?  Or would the old city center have been preserved, resulting in waves of new construction surrounding?  Either way, I’m sure that it wouldn’t look the same.  I’m not *glad* of the fire and destruction and loss of so much history, but I do love how the city looks today.

This sign made me giggle:

Because it’s a white image.  Of the White Tower.  And …and… maybe I’d best just let that one go.

Inside, we saw how the whole area is a series of concentric areas:  this was called Mint Street, and it’s where a bunch of fun stuff happened in the 17th century.  Coins were minted.  Coins were spent.  Love was made.  (Sometimes the latter two in the same transaction).

Our tour was led by a real-life Beefeater:

He was very funny and sincere and British.  And clearly, Mr. Palm Pilot Holster over there approved.

LONDON VACATION MAP PHOTO #2:

I’m not sure why Jeff needed a map for this bit, since we were being led on the tour, but whatever.  Jeff also appears confused.  Or maybe just jetlagged and exhausted.

I fell in love with all the architectural details, like the decorative brickwork and ginormous painted iron lamps, and cobblestones that made my be-Fluevogged feet unsteady:

New desktop background:

Here’s our first stop at Traitor’s Gate:

The tour guide briefly talked about what had happened there, and the legions of tourists snapped photos and shuffled on, and I followed along because I didn’t want to get lost.  But I knew I needed to go back, and tell Jeff all about Elizabeth’s speech on the steps, and the driving rain, and the heads on spikes.  There was too much history – too many absolutely fascinating things – for me to just take a picture and limp on.  Traitor’s Gate was my favorite.

LOVE.  But also sad.  But LOVE.

Our first time where you could really see the White Tower:

Gorgeous.

The lawn around was so gorgeous!

I’ll spare you the full list of who-all has been held there – either voluntarily or by force – over the past 600 years, but I will say that Guy Fawkes was interrogated in that room with the big bump-out window at the top right.  Which was awesome.  And also:  FUZZY HAT GUARD!!!!!!!!!

Look! He’s doing the funny guard walk and everything!

I am easily entertained.

Speaking of guards doing awesome things, I convinced another Beefeater (not our tour guide) to hold my sock:

Somehow I highly doubt anyone else asked him to do that on that day.  I also doubt that he was terribly amused by my request.

(That’s the second Minerva’s Tower sock, BTW.  I had put my Crumpets and Crazycakes in the luggage I’d checked, which was at that point still hanging out somewhere between Chicago and London.  ALWAYS BRING BACKUP YARN, my friends.  Always.)

Here’s one of the ravens which were all over the place:

Those fuckers are a lot bigger than you’d think.  Like, chicken sized.  They’re ginormous and stolid: they just walked about on the lawn posing for photos and being huge bad-ass birds.  (There’s some sort of legend associated with ravens at the Tower: if the ravens ever leave, the White Tower will fall down and England will all go to shit.  I’m paraphrasing, here.)

Here’s where the ravens are kept and trained:

And here’s what I call “time out for bad ravens”:

Nobody likes ravenjail.

The White Tower is what everybody comes to see (that and the Crown Jewels, in a separate building):

The weaponry/armor exhibit inside the White Tower was pretty much the coolest bit of the whole experience (almost.  Either that or the room where the princes were kept.  That was pretty cool, too.)

The exhibit seemed to just about fill the Tower, spanning multiple levels.  Whoever designed it was really mindful of the flow of people, and they also took pains to create a scene/atmosphere.  There was this awesome music/sound-effect thing – the closest parallel I can draw is to say “it’s like the walk-through ‘rides’ at Disney World” – but it was really so much cooler than that.  It really made the whole experience (and sort of helped justify the 20GBP/person admittance fee :-D)

Some of Henry VIII’s armor from his “burly and athletic” phase:

And here’s some from his “old and no longer athletic but not yet grossly obese and gout-ridden” phase:

Notice anything on that armor, though?

HOLY SHIT, HARRY OLD BOY.  You’re not foolin’ anyone there.

And look! There was tiny armor, too!

I don’t remember who that belonged to.  Charles II, maybe? (don’t quote me on that.)

You’ve no idea how badly I want a helmet with a tiny dragon on it.  I would wear it at work, just ’cause I can.

This set of child’s armor was amazing because OMG look at the detail!

No, really.  Look!

Each panel represents a scene from Plutarch’s Life of Alexander.  Actually, maybe this one belonged to Chuckles II?  Hell if I remember.

Everybody enjoys great size discrepancies, right?  I get such a kick out of tiny things next to giant things.  (like laserdiscs next to those tiny CDs, or espresso cups next to big mugs. I’m easily amused.)

The large suit was for a knight who stood about 6’10”; the small is the dragon armor I pictured above (for a 3-year-old child).

And just think, the little guy totally kicked the big guy’s ass, then stole his wife and his finest horse.***

(I made that up.  History is so much more fun when you’re not hung up on facts).

You haven’t lived ’till you’ve seen an authentic castle WC:

And tested it out…

(Imma print that out, like, 18×24, and hang it on the wall in our living room.)

After the armor and the toilets and such, we wandered through the exhibit to the (yay?) guns ‘n swords ‘n stuff.  Here is where I started to zone out.  But Jeff made me take pictures of a steampunk-y gun:

Dude, that was steampunk like 300 years before there WAS steampunk.

And then there were a bunch of swords that were like 20 feet long, and daggers and even a mace or two, but if you’ve seen one you’ve seen ’em all, y’know?

I had NOT seen anything like this before:

I love how it’s in a historical armory thing but wouldn’t it look equally at home in some rap video or something?

Enough guns.  Now for pretty things!

Alas, Jeff steadfastly refused to create a distraction so I could pry that gorgeous window out of the setting and take it home.  Jeff is mean.

Also, that window *may* have been in the building’s chapel, where we later learned no photography is allowed.  Oops.  Oh well.

One thing that we got *really* used to over the course of the trip was the whole idea of “exit through the gift shop”.  And you really can’t leave unless you wind through the whole thing.   They weren’t kidding: that shit’s *everywhere*.

See?

But I really didn’t mind too much, because how else would I find a giant-penis-holding-armor oven mitt?

Answer: I WOULDN’T.  (I sort of regret not getting that.)

Have I ever told you about my thing for squished pennies?  I LOOOOOOOVE squished pennies.  Anywhere there’s a squished penny machine, I’m on it.  So everywhere I found a squished penny machine in England, I made one.

SQUISHPENNY!!!

That’s not a fake smile.  I’m really that happy.  I LOVE SQUISHED PENNIES.

Back outside…

I call this one, “Jeff + giant cannon”:

I’ve no idea WTH is happening here:

But I’m gonna go ahead and guess that the guard didn’t find it terribly entertaining.

“Mum said I should’ve gone to trade school. Mum was right.”

We also saw the crown jewels (which was really awkward: you wait in line for a long time watching looped clips of coronations, and then you get one one of those human conveyor belt thingies like at the airport, and you’re not allowed to walk forward or backward and it just whizzes you right past the jewels and then you’re done.  No photography allowed either, obv.), and one of the possible rooms that Lizzie the First got to hang out in (mean older Catholic half-sisters are a real bich, amirite?), and the space where the Princes lived and died and were hidden.  Which was all very fascinating and rather heartbreaking, and also obscenely crowded (which was heartbreaking in its own right, in that I took an elbow to the sternum from some obese septuagenarian snapping a photo of his trophy wife).

We escaped all that soon enough, though, and took in some sights outside the tower area proper.  Like Tower Bridge!

(Jeff took that picture)

If you’re ignorant and confused as I was, you may think that that was London Bridge.  You would be wrong.  That is, in fact, *not* London Bridge.  (I know better now, and I’m making it my mission to gently correct everyone else who suffers the same misunderstanding, as well).  It is Tower Bridge.  Not London Bridge.  London Bridge is flat and boring and ugly and we’ll see it later.

Exhausted, tired feet, sore shoulders, and happy:

::sigh::

By that point it was about 5:00 and our bodies had no idea what the hell time it was anyway, so we determined that we needed food.  Preferably from a pub, and preferably of the greasy and plentiful variety.  So we wandered around until we found this place:

Which was under a bridge.

(No, really.)

And there were lots of office workers in there having an after-work drink, and fish and chips and beers were obtained post-haste, and we were happy.

(Best. Photo. Ever.)

And then we left, and saw our first-ever red double-decker bus:

And then we went back to the hotel and tried really hard to stay awake as late as we could, but seeing as how we’d been up for over 36 hours and were full of dark beer and greasy fish, it wasn’t easy.  We were asleep before 9pm.

To be continued…

~~~
*We had one carryon suitcase, one checked suitcase, Jeff’s backpack and my pursebag, for the whole 8-day trip.  The checked bag missed getting on our connecting flight, so it arrived in London later that evening (and Delta delivered it to our hotel at about 8:00pm).  Luckily, I’m a suitcase-packing goddess and was equipped for any contingency.  Rather than having “Jeff’s suitcase” and “my suitcase”, I put half of our clothes in each suitcase: so even if the checked bag got lost altogether, neither of us would be left without the necessities.  I also put bare essential toiletries in Jeff’s backpack (but we checked things like hairspray and makeup), and a change of undergarments and t-shirts.  That way, we could change clothes in the airport if need be.  It was actually quite helpful, after we landed, so we could freshen up before that first exhausting day of sightseeing.  It’s a wonder the difference that clean underwear can make.**

**I’m going to embroider that on a tea towel.

***She was ugly as sin, but she could ride for miles and miles without rest…

Before I run away

I have some loose ends to tie up, before hopping on a trans-Atlantic flight TO LONDON, MUTHAFUCKAS! this afternoon.

 

So strap in and hold on (or strap on and hold in, if that’s your thing. But I really don’t wanna know.  Seriously.  Don’t tell me.)

 

1)  My mom won the awesome caption contest from holyshitwasitreallytwoweeksago?

Mom can speak LOL like no one else.  It’s a talent.

However, I’m not going to give her a prize, because I’m already knitting her a crazy Fiddlesticks shawl, and to add anything on top of that would just be ridiculous.  There’s YO’s and dec’s every fucking row, so it’s like I might as well be knitting two shawls.  Anyone who’s getting two shawls doesn’t need another present.

Honorable mentions go to Rachel and Monica, though.  Forsooth, I chuckled.  Maybe even chortled (or cackled).

 

2)  Wozzie was so ‘cited when Jeff came home!  She turned herself inside out. It was cute.  Wigglebutt!

 

3)  I just managed to fit two full grown peoples’ worth of stuff for an 8-day trip into one carry-on suitcase and one small checked bag (1″ too tall to carry-on).  With room to spare for souvenirs.  I’m a freakin’ packing ninja.

 

4)  (I don’t think I’ve told this story before)  So when I went to DC to visit Jeff, Morgan and her 5-year-old son watched Macbeth.  Since Macbeth is terrified of strangers – especially kids – he was hiding under our bed.  Morgan and Jaxon went into the bedroom to make eye contact with Macbeth and make sure he was OK, when Jaxon spotted my neatly-folded stacks of handknit socks.  He said, “Mom! I think Kate owns a sock store!”

 

😀

 

So I knitted him a pair for his very own:

Because if that awesome comment isn’t worth handknits, then what is?

 

(socks for a 5-year old: basic cuff-down sock pattern over 48 stitches, knitted for a 7.5″ long foot.  Took less than 50g of some random old kid-friendly yarn in my stash)

 

5)  A few weeks ago, I asked Rachel if she would custom-dye some sock yarn for me, for the trip.  She asked me a lot of very important questions about my affinity for various BBC shows past and present, English royalty, and intended knitting pattern.  And then she dyed this:

!!!  (That’s me being speechless)

 

I got to help name it, so it’s called “Crumpets and Crazycakes”.  I think right now it’s a one-off color, but now that the hank is a cake and sitting in my checked bag, I’m already missing having it sitting in my stash.  I may require more, in the future.  For science.

 

6)  Last night, against my better judgement, Kara lured me to Knit Night with these:

That’s a butterbeer cupcake, and it’s the most delicious thing in the entire world.  Ever.  No, really.  EVER.  You’ve gotta try it.  (She even brought one to take home to Jeff!  He took one bite and said, “Please. Get. This. Recipe!”)

 

7)  I’m trying to decide if I should load up on caffeine today, or abstain completely.  At 6:00pm we leave O’Hare, and when we land it will be 8:00am in England.  Theoretically I’m supposed to sleep in-between.

 

8)  I made a single-ply artyarn! It is beautiful, but I haven’t taken pictures yet.  Suspense.

 

9)  Love you! Miss you! Be good while I’m gone!  (Here’s $20 for pizza, and absolutely no parties.*  Do you understand me?)

 

 

~~~

*Especially ones involving strap-ons.

DC Saga: Saturday

Saturday morning we decided to do the tourist-y thing together (so much more fun than doing the tourist-y thing alone):  Smithsonian stuff, the national mall, and a boat ride.

So we had to have a POWERBREAKFAST! at Founding Farmers:

(Nothing says “hardcore” like egg whites, fresh veggies and whole grain toast.  Amirite?)

Jeff also let me sample his buttermilk pancakes with cinnamon-infused maple syrup:

Seriously delicious.  And look at that little syrup distribution system!  So cute.

 

And since we’re on the MAGICAL INTERNET and you don’t have to watch our 10-minute walk and train ride…

 

Ta-da!  Look!  We’re at the Mall!

Here’s my first artistic portrait series, inspired by the works of art at the Smithsonian.  I call it, Annoying one’s husband as you walk down the Mall.

“1:  Studiously ignoring the wife.”

“2:  About to sneeze.”

“3:  Post-sneeze nose rub.”

I AM AN ARTISTE!

I don’t even know.  He’s gonna yell at me for putting this up:

Can anyone tell me why I took this picture?

Ooh but this was the most exciting of all.  Behold:  a tract in the bathroom at the Washington Memorial!

I tried to dry my hands on it but the pages were too slippery and non-absorbent.

(Has anyone cornered the market on towel tracts yet?)

Here’s Series 2, entitled Annoying one’s husband while he waits for you to finish taking pictures of tracts in public restrooms.

“1:  Observing from a distance.”

(And look at that guy in the blue!  I’m so good, I’m even annoying *other people’s husbands*!)

“2:  About to make the kill.”

[“3:  Here Jeff, have a soggy tract.” has been temporarily removed for cleaning and restoration.  Our apologies for the inconvenience.]

And now, a quiz:  Am I standing at the base of the Washington Monument, or in front of a nondescript office building?

Answer:  YOU’LL NEVER KNOW.

We walked over to the White House next:

Though I can understand the reasoning, I don’t really like that they keep the public so far from the building.  Makes me pine for those days ’round 1902 when the T. Roosevelt children and I would play and tumble about on the lawn, and have secret picnics in a copse of trees.

Y’know.  Those days.

This isn’t just an empty signifier of abstract philosophy.  It’s me saying “fuck war” as politely as I can.  I told Jeff that I almost wish there was a draft on, and that women were eligible, just so I could register as a conscientious objector.  I don’t think he believed me.

This is what got me so pissed off at pointless fucking wars started to line greedy bastards’ pockets:

Not to get too political (hahahaha who am I kidding?) but I mean, did we – as a country – learn NOTHING from Vietnam?  Ugh.

(I hope we do move to DC, just so I can take part in any number of protests.)

(I tried protesting here in St. Louis once, but Jeff said that ranting at him in the living room isn’t the same thing as protesting.  Especially when he already agrees with me.)

If there was ONE THING I wanted to do in DC:  hug Jeff.  If there was ANOTHER THING I wanted to do in DC:  see the reflecting pool.  So, of course, they drained the stupid pool:

Very impressive, huh?   I’d worn my swimsuit and eb’rything.

My favorite stop on the Mall was (big surprise) the Lincoln Memorial:

Fantastic:

I tried to read the whole Emancipation Proclamation and Second Inaugural Address as carved on the monument’s side walls, but there were just too many people jostling around and hitting my ankles with strollers (seriously, who carries a stroller up those steps?!) and brushing me with their sticky Banana-Boat-scented shoulders.

Though I guess that’s what you should expect at a tourist destination on a Saturday in June.

(Digression #2 – see that guy off at the left, with the striped shirt and backpack?  That’s a “Harold”:  the quintessential obnoxious, clueless tourist.  By the time I left DC, I was SO FUCKING SICK of the Harolds, and their female counterparts – the Irmas.  Everywhere you go, Harold and Irma are standing – rather than walking – up the left side of escalators, or asking for directions, or gawking at street corners.  Goddamn.  Sweaty, overweight Harolds and Irmas fanning themselves with brochures, or blocking the sidewalk to take family photos, or trying to parallel park their Dodge Grand Caravan.  Fucking tourists.

“Harold and Irma” is a designation Jeff and I came up with several years ago in St. Louis, for the idiot suburbanites who would ride the Metrolink once a year to attend a Rams game, who would jostle about on the train and giggle helplessly and get their purses caught in the doors.  The term translates nicely to all tourists, everywhere, who happen to be in my way when I’m just trying to fucking go someplace.  I can’t stand Harolds and Irmas.)

We escaped the crowd inside the Lincoln Memorial after just a few minutes, and retreated to the back portico where we could sit and swing our legs and watch traffic and drink Diet Fanta.  It was my favorite.

It was getting pretty warm and crazy sunny, so I busted out my parasol (if by ‘parasol’ you mean ‘umbrella purchased at CVS *after* the Thursday night rainstorm’) as we walked toward the Smithsonian buildings:

Contrary to Jeff’s initial statements, I was *not* the only white girl doing this on Saturday – I saw at least two others.  (and about 40 old Asian women tourists, but that’s beside the point)

We decided to see the museums piecemeal rather than try to catch everything in one go, so we just hit up a few exhibits each in the Natural History museum and in the American History museum.

This was my favorite:

Clearly.

Yes, that’s THE Stephen Colbert portrait.  Err…one of them.

Lol.  “Portrait.”

(See what I mean about thorough placards?)

And here’s its prestigious location in the American History museum:

Right by the staff offices and restrooms.  Only the best for Mr. Colbert.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen the famous ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz:

When I was a kid – 11 or 12, maybe – Mom and Dad took us to a traveling Smithsonian exhibit when it stopped in Kansas City.  I remember going, but I even more distinctly remember being way too cool to look at anything, choosing instead to stand off to the side and look aloof and awesome.

God I wish I could go smack my preteen self.

The hat that Lincoln was wearing the night he was assassinated:

Have I mentioned my little Lincoln obsession?  No?

Oh!  But THIS.  This was the best:

JULIA-FUCKING-CHILD, guys.

This is about as close as I’ve ever come to a religious experience.

You can’t actually go in (duh), but you they did set it up with plexi-glass “bubbles” that you can step into so you can see the kitchen from all sides.

It was amazing.  And I would’ve been able to appreciate it even more if Irma and Harold’s 20,000 obnoxious grandkids weren’t screaming and running around the whole time.

But still.  Damn.

From there we went to the Natural History museum, where we sat outside and I ate the best damn soft pretzel of my entire life.

And then we went in and looked at dinosaurs:

I wanna know what this giant sloth and sabre-tooth cat were talking about:

“Hey man, my breath stink?”
“Does your breath stink? Seriously?  It’s so bad my nose just fucking fell off!  You smell like a dead animal.”

I decided to perform a little social experiment.  I stood next to the fish tank for two minutes, and counted the number of times some Harold came by with his stupid kid and said “Hurr hurr!  Look Aiden!  Nemo and Dory!”

8 times, y’all.  8 times in 2 minutes.

When I couldn’t handle the Harold-ing anymore, we decided to leave and go someplace that we could be Harold and Irma.  Jeff had bought a Groupon for a 2-hour cruise thingy on the Potomac, so we did that:

And that’s the only evidence.  It was fun, though.  Even if I did spend the whole time thinking we were traveling east, while it turns out we were really going south (Fucking maps.  How does it work?!)

Good thing they didn’t let me drive the boat.

After that, we went home and… (guess?)…watched IT Crowd, ate reduced-fat Oreos, and fell asleep by 10pm.

DC Saga: Friday

Friday was my “unabashedly tourist-y” day.  I messed around the apartment for a bit, tidying up and sorting Jeff’s laundry.  Then I headed out to Bethesda for some yarn shopping.

(Digression #1:  Jeff didn’t bring a car to DC because we knew it would be so wholly unnecessary, so we got around exclusively through Metro, with a couple bus rides and the (very) occasional cab thrown in for good measure.  DC’s Metro is awesome.  So clean and efficient, and really intuitive.  I had no problem going everywhere from Bethesda, to Silver Spring, to Arlington.  Love the Metro.)

The only bad thing about the Metro is these freaking escalators.

Apparently, I have a hitherto unknown fear of massive escalators – which I quickly realized as soon as I got in on Wednesday night.  So for the rest of my trip, I survived by a)taking the elevator b)walking up a stationary escalator or (last resort) c)staring directly into Jeff’s eyes and clutching his arm for dear life.  Once I almost had to ask a homeless person if he’d let me clutch his arm for dear life, but I managed to abstain.

In case you were wondering, there are 143 steps to get up the Dupont Circle escalator.  I counted.  Multiple times.

I visited Knit and Stitch = Bliss on Friday morning:

And I have to say:  I love this shop!  Everyone there was super nice, and they have a wonderful inventory.  They didn’t even laugh at me when I walked around stroking a skein of sock yarn!  I liked it so well that I went back the following week (which is when I took this picture).  If/when we move to DC, I could *so* see this becoming my LYS.

Here’s what I found there:

Some Tosh Sock (I know, I know.  I have a problem.  But isn’t this colorway lovely?)

AND some Habu Wool/Steel and Silk/Steel!

I gotta admit, I didn’t really think this was my thing until I saw a shop sample knitted up – just one strand of each, held together and knitted in garter stitch on US8 needles.  A vaguely witchy-looking little scarf resulted, and I was smitten.  I’ve already cast on.  (Knitters – this will look sort of like the Kusha Kusha scarf that the Yarn Harlot loves so much, but more web-y and less soft.  It’ll be awesome.)

I left the yarn shop and was headed back to the Metro, when I saw a little farmer’s market!

(This is what I love about DC.  There’s hidden awesome stuff everywhere you go.)

I sorta wandered through the outdoor stalls, but didn’t buy anything.  I headed inside to look at the produce and live plants, but was soon led astray by the smell of delicious Indian food at a stall in the back.  I couldn’t resist.  So I got a little dish of rice + something, and a Diet Coke, and sat on a nearby concrete bench to eat it and people-watch.

The most delicious random little lunch ever:

I have no idea what that was.  It was rich but not greasy, and had spinach and eggplant and those little spicy things I can never remember the name of.  No cheese, so not paneer.  It was vegetarian, and seriously nomlicious.

There was, randomly, a Pioneer Mothers statue in Bethesda:

I don’t know about you, but when I think of westward expansion, the Oregon Trail, and “poopface has died of diphtheria”, I always think of eastern Maryland.

After eating, I headed back down to DC proper, to go to the National Portrait Gallery.

On a side note, here’s the moment when I really regretted leaving my big camera back at Jeff’s place:

My phone camera’s lens may be good, but it’s definitely not wide-angle 😉

I totally geeked out here, I must confess.  I spent the next 5 hours quietly wandering around, just taking it all in.  It was heaven!

The museum’s whole Civil War exhibit was especially fantastic, and all the description cards (in all exhibits) were crazy comprehensive and informative.

This was one of my favorites, of General Grant, by Ole Peter Hansen Balling:

Wanna know why that was my favorite, though?  Because of this:

Once an editor, always an editor (I mean, still an editor).  Does anyone know if that misspelling of Mississippi was historically acceptable, or deliberate? I tried a couple quick Google searches and didn’t come up with anything…

Love this one of Hunter S. Thompson:

Flippin’ awesome.

OH!  And guess what I saw?

Unf.  I just died of amazingness.  This was seriously awesome.

My absolute favorite, though – even more than the Hope painting – was Lincoln:

I love Lincoln.  LOVE.  And getting to see one of my favorite portraits in person?  Amazing.

But this was even more amazing:

Those are two life masks of Lincoln, and one of his hands (head:  1861 at left, 1865 at right.  Hands are 1861.)  I must’ve stared at these for 15 minutes, just taking it in.  Absolutely amazing.

I was glad to see one of my favorite anecdotes included in the hands’ placard:

“Lincoln’s right hand grasps a section of broom handle that he obligingly fetched from a shed when the artist suggested he hold on to something.  When Lincoln began smoothing the edges of the sawed piece, Volk told him that it really was unnecessary, to which Lincoln replied, ‘I thought I would like to have it nice.'”

LOVE.

After a while, though, my feet got tired.  (That’s an understatement.  I truly thought they were going to fall off.)  So I decided to relax with a ginger ale in the museum’s atrium, and wait to meet Jeff for dinner.

This was a really great space – if I lived closer, I’d seriously hang out here all the time.  Somehow they managed to make “cavernous” and “cozy” co-exist.  Perfect for people-watching and knitting.

Jeff took me here for dinner:

OMG.  So cool.  They have an awesome ever-changing beer list, and their pizzas have that sweet-salty, super-yeasty crust that I love.

I wish I remembered what this was, so I could tell you to try it:

It may have been a Hefeweisen (brewed by who? I don’t know.).  It was delicious.

IRREFUTABLE PROOF that I’m not just making this up:

That is your tired but contented heroine.

And her partner in life, and in crime!

Cutie pie.  (I love the expressions of both people in the background there, too)

Our foodz:

(They didn’t have anything vegetarian on the menu, so I did a “build your own” with mushrooms and eggplant.  Just look at that!  Oh it was nom.)

Jeff’s was markedly less “light” than mine:

Oh! And look at the ceiling!

HAHA, I just stole your crust while you were staring at the pretty ceiling!  Idiot.

Friday night we just went home and chilled – we watched some IT Crowd, ate reduced-fat Oreos, and were asleep by about 10pm.  Yes, we sure know how to “live it up”, as the youths say.