Last blog from London

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Sadly with all good things, our two year stay in London has come to an end.  The house is all packed Packing (1)

and boxes moved out of the house.  Post-packing (2)  I remember seeing the Mews flat for the first time looking just like this when we did our housing tour two summers ago, almost exactly at this time.

We are moved into temporary housing nearby on Blythe Street so that Shea and Mei Mei can still walk to school.  Just even being a dozen blocks over from Astrop Mews, we have discovered some great new neighborhood pubs.  IMG_4019 We had a lovely dinner of authentically thin crust pizzas at The Bird in Hand last night.

This is our last weekend in London so its been harried running errands, seeing friends and fitting in a last few Top 3 Things <to do on London before we leave>.  We hit my last one– dining at The Dove.  It wasn’t just dining at the pub, but specifically sitting on the upper landing of their gorgeous outdoor terrace.   It overlooks the Thames and on a gorgeous summer day (which it was) its a beautiful experience.  IMG_4022

Two weeks earlier, we had hit another one on my list, watching The Book of Mormon.  It was entertaining, but unfortunately my expectations were higher the play delivered.  Or maybe just not my kind of humor.  I followed that up my second ACL surgery and have been regaining strength since.  I’ll leave England on crutches.

It’s been a fabulous two years in London.  We’d do it over in a heartbeat.  Wonderful friends we’ve made, fantastic places we’ve explored.   An unforgettable chapter in our lives.  Thank you, London!

British Museum, an amazing collection

British Museum June 2015 (3)

On Sunday we visited the British Museum, which is on my list of Top 3 things to do before leaving London. Astonishingly, it is ranked #1 on Trip Advisor of the 2,385 things in London, above the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster, Hyde Park. Once you are inside, however, I realized that maybe its ranking isn’t so astonishing.  The huge mansion (which originally was the home of the 1st Duke of Montagu) is gorgeous; my favourite is the huge open atrium added in 2011.

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The museum is over 250 years old and is one of the largest collections recording civilization in existence.  It boasts the Rosetta Stone from Egypt, British Museum June 2015 (5), the Elgin marbles from the Greek Acropolis and Parthenon, as well as antiquities from their old back yard, like this Welsh golden cape,  British Museum June 2015 (18) and Viking battle axes.

We knocked Matilda, the Musical off of Mei Mei’s Top 3 list, including her request to be seated in a balcony Matilda June 2015 (8).  While the balcony is a great place to be seen by all the other theatergoers, the view is partially restricted. This is somewhat made up for as actors appeared in our balconies (Shea and I were seated in the balcony across from Tristan and Mei Mei) a few times to sing.  The play was surprisingly good.  Lots of talent in the cast of nearly all children.

Royal Albert Hall.June 2015 (1)

Mei Mei was also privileged to perform in the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday.  It was the Tri-borough music hub bringing together schoolchildren across West London, the Royal College of Music and the Aurora Orchestra performing Seven Seeds.

Royal Albert Hall.June 2015 (4)

The interior of the hall was neat to see.  Pretty cool that this same venue hosts events from Cirque de Soleil to tennis championships.

 

New Routemaster bus

We rode the new Routemaster bus with its unique curved rear staircase and rear entry/exit last weekend as well.  This was on Shea’s Top 3 list.

Father's Day June 2015 (2)

We have less than a month left in London.  Weekends as busy as we fit in all the things we don’t want to miss.  It’s a good thing my ACL rehab is going well, so that I can keep up with our hectic schedule.  IMG_3946 I should have guessed that seeing FIFA’s official physiotherapy agency would mean getting top results.

British pub sign to call our own

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Tristan has been keeping his eye on the retired pub signs sold by the Fuller Brewery company.  These are signs brought back for a 2nd life after hanging somewhere for ages welcoming visitors inside to raise a pint.  We finally found ours last weekend, purchasing The Ship Inn.  As with many things that are observed from a distance, this sign is a lot bigger than it looks.  It measures taller than me (not saying a lot) and probably weighs more than me (now that says something).   We’ll need a creative way to hang this in our Bellevue house given the weight.  We are envisioning it in the entry way as you walk in the door.   It’s been fun searching online to find the history of this sign.  So far, I haven’t found a match of this sign image and a pub in England.  Somewhere, somewhere, it’s out there.  June 2015 Pub signs (11)

We left behind some other brilliant ones.  A near miss was The Churchill Arms.  June '15 Pub signs  (3)  Historically significant, and a pub sign that has the word, Arms in it, really says ‘British’ like nothing else.

For a rare date night last week, I walked over to the West End to try my hand at the lottery tickets for The Book of Mormon.  The walk over was, itself, fantastic.  It was a <rare> beautiful, warm sunny day in London.   I loved the sights I passed on my way– a mix of old, like this bookstore, Hatchard’s selling books since  June 2015 walkabout (2)  1797 (geez, that’s almost as long as the US has been a nation; granted that’s a short yardstick to measure time by in the UK) amongst all the tourists already crowding the town. June 2015 walkabout (1)  The statue in front of Buckingham Palace was particularly gleaming in the sunshine.

June 2015 walkabout (4)

For the Book of Mormon ticket lottery, it was a matter of entering my name to win the right to two tickets for 20 GBP a piece, rather than their normal 79-150 face value.    The odds looked good when I inserted my slip of paper, at the beginning of the 30min lottery window.  However, by the time of drawing, the crowd had swelled to over 100 hopefuls June 2015 walkabout (5).  Naturally, I didn’t win.  Plan B, however, was dinner at Tristan and my favourite restaurant, Mr. Chow’s.  As a Chinese person who loves her authentic Chinese cuisine, it’s odd for me to say that this somewhat angelicized Chinese restaurant is excellent.  However, it is.  We’ve been coming to this location, in Knightsbridge, for over twenty years, together and separately with Tristan’s dad.  It’s overpriced,  but the food is delicious and the service is good.  I came away with having learned something new this time– the water brand served, BeluJune 2015 walkabout (8)It donates 100% of its profits to WaterAid, which aims to provide clean water around the world.  Belu’s bottles are the first 100% carbon neutral water bottles in the world.  Very cool.

The Ansell family has begun ticking through our list of “Top things to do before we leave London”.  Mr. Chow’s was on Tristan’s list. Another one riding the Thames at high speed.  We rode the Thames RIB Experience on Sunday under beautiful blue skies and warm temperatures.  Thames RIB experience June 2015 (3).  Rocking out to James Bond theme music while zooming past iconic sights Thames RIB experience June 2015 (24) was pretty amazing.  I like seeing some of lesser known sights, like this old fish market.  Thames RIB experience June 2015 (19)  Or this, the oldest pier on the London Thames.  Thames RIB experience June 2015 (17)

When walking through London afterwards, we passed this park where a high school band from Oklahoma was playing.  Thames RIB experience June 2015 (2)Made for such a nice ambiance for a Spring Sunday.

On Monday, I had ACL reconstruction on my left knee at The London ClinicJune 3 blog (2)Nice place.  It felt and was designed to resemble a hotel experience.  I was checked in by the receptionist.  The porter took me to my spacious private room.  Room service was ordered by dialing 2000.  And tea service was really nice.  June 3 blog (6)  Why am I not surprised that even a icky surgery can be turned into a pleasant experience in England?

Beach vacation, at last, in Mallorca

Mallorca May 2015 (95)

Tristan has been wanting to take a hot, beach vacation for awhile. So finally on our last half term break before heading back to the US, we made a pilgrimage to Mallorca.  Airbnb came through yet again with a rustic country house outside of Manacor on acres of land; with so much spaces we didn’t need to worry about neighbors being bothered by all the noises we make, as we do in our London flat.

Our only requirement when finding a house was that the house come with a pool. The house, a finca, didn’t have wifi (gasp!), and it was our gamble that the pool would make up for it.  It did.  The kids jumped in the pool first thing in the morning before breakfast, after coming back from our day’s excursions, and again after dinner.  Happily, the finca was also home to four cats (Mama and three kittens) Shea Mallorca May 2015 (88) as surrogates for the two we left at home.

We found Mallorca to have a bit of a split personality.  There were parts which were massively overdeveloped for tourism.  Entire beach towns built cheek to jowl with tired looking hotels jammed next to one another.  Souvenir beach shops lined up selling trinkets like these bottle openers of questionable male spirit  IMG_3735.  And then there was the Mallorca of unspoilt beauty– of pristine beaches, small villages, and a rich mixed Arab (Moorish) and Christian history.  In Pollenca, we literally walked through Roman ruins dating back over two thousand years. There were no railings, no signs of, Do Not Touch.  Mallorca May 2015 (47).  Another oddity, I heard more German on this holiday than I did Spanish.  Astounding number of German tourists!

Our favourite day was hiking five miles to visit four coves accessible only by foot or by boat. Mallorca May 2015 (58) - Copy We only made it to two of them, as Cala Magraner, was so nice that we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon here.  IMG_3726  We were joined by four other pleasure boats by the time we left but it still felt like our own private beach.  Mallorca May 2015 (113)  The water was shallow so that I could wade out nearly 100 meters and was so clear that I could see all the way to the bottom.  Everything felt so calm that it didn’t seem that unusual when I stepped on an octopus by accident.  Our last view of protected cove as we hiked out was a lovely one. Mallorca May 2015 (73)

Contrast that with the Cala sa Nau beach which is renown for its white sands.  IMG_3736 It boasted a similar protected cove with sailboats coming and going, however this beach was commercial, with covered huts that could be rented by the hour, a snack shack, and free wifi.  IMG_3737 What!  Wifi?!!!

The small size of the island made it remarkably easy to visit most of the cities along the eastern half of Majorca.  Away from the beaches we explored some interior towns. Arta was thronged by visitors for its Tuesday market day.  Mallorca May 2015 (2) We hiked up to castle, Santuari de Sant Salvador, overlooking the town.

Mallorca May 2015 (14) Like the sentries of old, we walked the ramparts of the castle.  It was a bit unnerving that, several hundred years later, there were still no rails preventing the explorer from falling off the ledge.

In the end, we cut the days short so that we could come back to the finca and enjoy the pool, even if to read alongside.

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A few other neat sights in Mallorca:

Mallorca May 2015 (91)  the Caves of Drach in Porto Cristo with its millions of stalacites and stalagmites and underwater later.  We finished reading Harry Potter book 6 on this trip so this lake took on special meaning

IMG_3720 Beautiful streets signs in MallorcaMallorca May 2015 (134) Another view through the castle in Arta of the surrounding countryside

Mallorca May 2015 (135)View of the town of Capdepera from the fortress of the same name, which guarded the Mallorca coastline from invaders. Built in the year 310.

Mallorca May 2015 (158) View of the Mediterranean Sea from the Cap de Formentor, the northern most point of Mallorca.  Parking was a zoo.  I was delighted to read that the Cap’s lighthouse has been updated with solar panels

Mallorca May 2015 (162)  The 14th century church in Alcudia

IMG_3721 Crystal blue waters in the marina in the popular coastal town, Cala Rajada

Blotched day trip turned country drive

Windsor Castle.May 2015 (2) We had planned for a day of rally car driving in Essex, my delayed Christmas gift to Tristan. The school ended up being very uncool, refusing service as we were 10min late despite a two hour drive from London in a rental car.  So, at 1pm we had the afternoon free and England before us. Where to go?  I’ve got to hand it to Tristan and the kids for salvaging a great day of it.  Over a pub lunch in a tiny village a few miles away (I had the requisite yummy, fish & chips), we considered our options– Cambridge (nearby but we’d already visited, Oxford (two hours away) and Windsor Castle (all the way back to London, and then further south).

Windsor Castle.May 2015 (2)

We decided on the last and got there in the nick of time, last admission at 4pm. The most amazing thing we saw at Windsor was not the stoic bear hatted soldier (although he was impressively still)  Windsor Castle. May 2015 (1).  It was a century old doll house that was a gift to Queen Mary, containing all the actual accoutrements of a royal household, in miniature scale.  Windsor Castle.May 2015 (8) Mini automobiles with engines that ran, shotguns that fired, sterling silverware, monogrammed linens, etc.  The best part?  Each of these items was actually built by the most notable artisans of their time.

May 23 blog (5)My favourite was seeing the attention paid to the smallest details, like the richly decorated crowns sitting atop the lampposts across the grounds.

As we prepare for our move back to Seattle this summer, we are collecting a few more mementos to remind us of England.  Tristan’s been set on acquiring a retired pub sign to hang in our house.  So, yesterday we cycled two miles May 23 blog (1) down the Thames to visit the old Fuller’s brewery where beer has been brewed since the 17th century. May 23 blog (2)There, lovingly hung pub signs now sit waiting for someone to return them to a hung state.  May 23 blog (3)  We didn’t see one that struck our fancy so we’ll be back to see the inventory added over the next few months.

London is entering the busiest tourist period of the year. Gardens outside Buckingham Palace got a fresh spring planting this week.  IMG_3695 The Household Cavalry was in full dress uniform riding early one morning IMG_3687 in Hyde Park. With the sun more visible these weeks,  I am thrilled to be wearing my sunglasses one most mornings AND evenings when cycling to and from work.

Inspiration of London marathon

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In the London Marathon last Sunday, we were thrilled to cheer on Meredith, our good friend from Minnesota.  We joined Sam and her family along the route to witness the thousands of people of all ages and ability running, many of whom for charity.  A surprising number of people ran in costume, including Big Ben, an ostrich, two person camel and our favourite, a herd of rhinos.  IMG_3635  34 Guinness world records were set with these costumes.  The kids were bolstered by free Lucozade (British equivalent of Gatorade) handed out on the route IMG_3636.  We were all inspired seeing Meredith and her brother finish in great spirits IMG_3638.

We took advantage of Bank Holiday this weekend to visit the Tate Modern museum, another amazing museum free to the public.  We loved seeing the iconic Andy Warhol print of Marilyn Monroe IMG_3660.  Mei Mei thought the artist spilled orange juice on this one to achieve the colour.  IMG_3659 I found myself having to explain to the children how record players worked.  IMG_3661 Geez, how times have changed.

This was Royal Baby watch week.  IMG_3644 News vans were parked outside Buckingham Palace all week; they were there when I cycled past in the morning, and still there when I returned in the evening.  Kate Middleton babyFinally, the news of the birth hit on Saturday.  And today, the name of Princess Charlotte was announced.  Royal baby name Charlotte I had guessed Charlotte; Mei Mei had odds on Catherine.

Other sights around London:

At Cleopatra’s Needle, one of three in London, Paris and New York.

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Beautiful tulips in a London park:

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Love the sign outside a coffee shop:

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Crossing Millennium Bridge with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background

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Rush hour traffic on my commute home in Hyde Park:

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Tuscany, a top 5 destination!

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We looked forward our week in Tuscany for the warmer climes and came away with a real delight in the region.  I loved the beautiful how the old just blended with the new in each village, each city. There is something startlingly about walking about Pisa, then looking up to see the leaning Tower peeking over some modern buildings and modern lamppost.  The juxtaposition was awesome.

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Yet, we loved Cinque Terre probably best of all because it preserved the old.  The string of five ancient fishing villages along the Italian Riviera are only really accessible by sea or by train, as cars are not allowed.   We took the train into one of them, Monterosso, then hiked 90min to the next, Vernazza. The view when approaching on the steep pathway was as rewarding as the gelato we enjoyed when we arrived.

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Lucca was our next favorite city.  We spent the day exploring the walled medieval Old Town, which first became a Roman colony in 180AD. We climbed two ancient bell towers (campanile).  Amazingly, one had old trees planted at the top, offering beautiful views of the town.  Lucca.Tuscany (25)  We rented a quad bike to ride the 4km long path along the top of the city walls.  It was a fun way to see the entire old town, and rest the legs.  IMG_1232

We stayed in Camaiore, a tiny village west of Lucca, in a lovely old villa that used to be an olive oil factory.  It was a wonderful spot from which we drove in our tiny Fiat Panda on our daily explorations.  Florence was our furthest city.  It was filled with beautiful sites, least of all the museums like the Uffizi that contained treasures from Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, et al.  We actually lasted longer in the Uffizi than we did in the Louvre last year in Paris.  Could the kids be building a tolerance for cultural things?

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One of the themes of our trip was climbing towers, so we climbed the bell tower at the Florence Duomo.  The line was shorter than the hour wait it would have taken to climb the Duomo cathedrral tower itself.  Florence.Tuscany (47)The hike to Piazza Michelangelo outside the old town offered a lovely view, especially of Florence.Tuscany (8)Ponte Vecchio.  I might not have known it was a bridge just from walking on it, bordered on both sides by shops, vendors and only the occasional view of water.

The kids had wondered whether pizzas would be sold in vending machines in Italy.  There weren’t.  However, we did condoms vending machines commonly outside pharmacies or on random stretches of city streets.  IMG_3476

Two more fun pictures of Tuscany, both of Pisa:

Street art by late American Keith Haring.  Actually painted on the side of a church

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Tristan and the kids doing their part to hold up the desperately leaning tower.

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Stonehenge, Bath and pretending to be English

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We were lucky to have brilliant blue skies on our visit to Stonehenge, so that it wasn’t cloudy AND cold. It was just cold.  Despite all the hype about Stonehenge, it is a pretty amazing site.  With nothing but green fields and the odd burial mound (there are 500 of them scattered in various directions) for miles around (ignoring the highway running past 300 yards away), the view is 100% focused on the stones. Mom's visit April 2015 (35)I didn’t realize quite how ancient Stonehenge is– older than the Coliseum, than the Acropolis, and as old as the Pyramids.  And even with the dignity of age, tourists will still do silly things like photo bomb their grandma. I love this picture.  He-he.

Things have really changed since I last visited Stonehenge during my study abroad year in university.  The stones, of course, are the same.  🙂  However, the parking lot used to be just a short walk away, not miles away.  There wasn’t a carefully manicured gift shop selling mini ceramic Stonehenges, magnets, and Stonehenge candy rocks.  There weren’t audio guides being bundled with every ticket. Somehow it felt a little strange to haveall the commercialism surrounding something constructed over 4000 years ago.  I am sure the Egyptian pyramids are the same, but the change still struck me.

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We had lunch at a charming 14th century village pub a few miles away from Stonehenge, in a town called, Wylye.  It was Sunday so it was Sunday roast on the menu, plus a cauliflower bake for those vegetarians in the crowd (I ordered one).  Yummy. We continued onto the historic city of Bath, a World Heritage city because of the Roman baths (dating from 60AD) Mom's visit April 2015 (51).   Lovely architecture throughout, however aside from theMom's visit April 2015 (53) Baths and Mom's visit April 2015 (54)the Bath Abbey, we didn’t find too much to see.  We did enjoy finding a Krispy Kreme shop.  Is it gauche to admit to driving away from this venerable town with a dozen glazed donuts in the car?

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I know I frequently mention my sightings of the Queen’s Calvary on my daily commute through Hyde Park and down the Mall.  It just tickles me to see the horses and their riders adapting to the modern age, whilst maintaining their customs and costumes.  Such as wearing high visibility (as they call them in the UK) vests paired with a top hat. Mom's visit April 2015 (58)  Magnificently garbed soldiers and horses merging with traffic.

Does it make you officially English when Google Map captures you on their Street View of London streets?  My kids spotted themselves in this picture taken a block away from our flat when panning through Google Maps for our neighborhood.  Lovely to have blurred out their features.

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We’ve gotten around to do a few other English things these past few weeks– The Lion King (loved the updates, like humming Let it Go from Frozen as a tension breaker), Mamma Mia (great costumes!).   Mei Mei and I took English tea yesterday at Grosvenor House in Mayfair.  They served a nice children’s tea, complete with fruit, ice cream and French pastries.  Mei Mei loved pouring her hot chocolate from  IMG_3451 her very own fancy teapot.  The gift of Grover, a stuffed animal, was a nice touch. IMG_3452

We took some time before tea to walk around Mayfair a bit to enjoy the lovely surroundings.  The US Embassy (recently sold for pretty penny) takes up an entire block of this prime real estate.  IMG_3442In our window shopping, I saw this lovely bridal gown (for a cool USD6K).  A quiet little mews tucked down a side street.  IMG_3444

Spring is officially here.  Our daffodils have been blooming for a few weeks now.  Brings a smile to my face.

Platform 9 3/4 and other London sights of the week

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After months of dithering, we finally got up on a Sunday morning to make our pilgrimage to Kings Cross Station to see Platform 9 3/4 of Harry Potter fame.  We always knew we had to go early to avoid the long queues.  We did alright.  A short 20minutes later, it was our turn with the stymied luggage cart caught halfway between Muggle land and the magical platform where the Hogwarts Express awaited.  Platform 9 3 quarters (2)

A helpful shop person from the nearby Harry Potter gift store stood ready with scarves from each Hogwarts house and with tips on posing (now lean forward and jump!).  We picked up a few trinkets from the store and a quick $45 later, we came out with chocolate frogs, some postcards, Bertie Bott’s every flavoured beans.  IMG_3328The nasty ones are truly inedible.  Tristan and I tried rotten egg and despite my best attempts to swallow it, I couldn’t.   Bugger, Vomit, Grass, and others were the only ones left in the box when we were done.

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Springtime must be near as we saw a ladies’ rowing race on the Thames yesterday.  The Hammersmith bridge is a lovely backdrop, often the half way point in races, where there were fans aplenty gathered atop with signs and shouted encouragement to their boat.

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Last Sunday Mei Mei and I went to see the wedding dress exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  It was amazing to see a collection of dresses that spanned two centuries, with such modern additions as from Gwen Stefani and Kate Moss.  I think I was most amazed not by the incredible handiwork in these creations, but in the small width of the waists in these dresses worn by 19th century brides.  Geesh.

The exhibit is housed in the Victoria & Albert Museum, one of my favorite museums in the city. As with most museums, the building itself is beautiful.

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A few sights from the week:

a police escort for some personage of importance– going here through the Wellington Arch Memorial, vs taking a bit more time to circle the roundabout like normal cars.IMG_3286

Cycling past the Queens Household cavalry drilling one morning riding abreast through Hyde Park in the early morning light.

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Looking up at chimneys to see how many smokestacks are squeezed in, indicating how many fireplaces are in that building flat.  Stands to reason that without electric or gas heaters you’d have smokestacks in abundance in these old buildings!

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And sadly, a cycling death that happened nearby last week, marked by flowers for the poor victim.

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Ending on a proper high note– sharing a picture of us this morning before emptying our pocketbook in the store!

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Borough Market in a cornacopia of tastes and smells

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Borough Market is one of the most popular outdoor markets in London.   As part of my birthday weekend, we enjoyed a few things that I love, tasting food from stalls upon stalls of food artisans, IMG_3182 then visited Chinatown to celebrate Chinese new year, ringing in the year of the Ram. IMG_3241

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Borough Market covers a large area, half covered and half open to the air.  We had forgotten to bring our hats and gloves, and paid the price in a chilly morning while browsing the stalls.  Although I have to admit bare hands did make it easier to sample all the goodies, from big, fat strawberries to fresh parmesan cheese, ground directly from the massive wheels stacked in the stall.  From freshly stuff pasta to freshly baked pastries, to freshly squeezed juices (they looked so tasty that the kids chose these cups over toasty mugs of hot chocolate to warm their hands with), to freshly cooked soups (I opted for this!), to massive Turkish baklava squares, it was a feast for the senses.

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Tristan got his delicious toasted chorizo sandwich, we munched on hot chips (yum!) and enjoyed a nice view of the Shard

IMG_3203 on our way out of the market.  IMG_3208 Outside the market was a delightfully warm coffee shop with exotic beans from far-flung places IMG_3207.  One of my favourite things about the market was a chalk board marking wishes of the people who visit.  IMG_3201Shea liked the one about swimming with Great White Sharks!

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Afterwards, we took ourselves off to Chinatown, where we picked up our ingredients to make dumplings to celebrate the new year, and had the delightful surprise of watching numerous lion dances.  The lions were busily visiting the shops to ask for their red envelopes.  IMG_3247 The lions cleverly retrieved the red envelopes suspended in the shop doorways, tied to a white cabbage for good luck.  IMG_3253

I could have asked for a more wonderful way to spend a birthday!

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