Thursday, October 20, 2016

#3 - The London half of my latest vacation

I really like London even though I don't like large cities.  Perhaps it's all the museums or the theaters or the history or just the fact that it is a place where it is perfectly acceptable to be an introvert and not converse with everyone about trivial matters like the weather.  In any case, I have found both new things to try and places that I want to revisit each time that I've gone back, and there are still many things that I'd like to see (can you believe I still haven't seen Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard?!).

Exterior of King's Cross Station

For the majority of my visit, I stayed near King's Cross Station.  This had the advantage of access to multiple Tube lines and also the train that I would catch for the section part of my holiday.  As a side note, the movie versions of Harry Potter used the exterior of St. Pancras station (just across the street) when filming the train station scenes.
Interior of King's Cross Station

One of the things I love about London is its public transportation - particularly the Tube.  The trains go through so often that you usually don't wait for more than a few minutes before you are on your way to the destination.  The lines are color-coded (which even follows through to the colors inside each of the train cars), so they are easy to follow on the map, and the signage is consistent in each station (you always know where to look to see if you are on the correct platform).  I have seen some travel writers compare the Tube stations to ant-hills; however, I've always thought of it as the lair of an ancient dragon ... a wyrm who tunnels below London hissing and belching at each station to "Mind the Gap" as it carries its treasures to and fro.
Marquee for Kinky Boots

Of the things I do on vacation, I love museums; there will be a separate post concerning those I visited.  Theater is another activity that London has in abundance.  On this trip, I saw four shows - two of which are probably on my top 5 in a lifetime list.  One of the interesting things that I noticed on this trip was that there seemed to be many more people going to the West End Shows alone than I have seen before.  This was a welcome change for me; I had some great conversations with people in nearby seats and didn't feel quite so much like the odd single out in a sea of couples.

The first show that I saw was Kinky Boots. I made this choice not so much by the storyline on this one - though it is based on an interesting series of events that did actually happen - what really pulled me to it was that the music was done by Cyndi Lauper.  I hadn't thought about her music in ages, but I was definitely a fan in high school.  Also, it seemed to have the potential for great costumes.  It definitely lived up to my costume expectations ... great boots and over-the-top outfits for Lola and her angels.  The music was interesting - very much plot-driven - there were some songs that sounded like the style I expected and others didn't.  It worked though and was a very fun night out.
Still thrilled that I got the chance to see this

For my second theater adventure, I devoted most of a day to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  Yes, I had tickets that I purchased very early; however, the girl sitting next to me had lucked out and gotten hers in the returns queue earlier in the day.  The girl on the other side of my had gotten hers as part of the Friday 40 deal where the theater is selling 40 tickets from throughout the theater the Friday before.  So, it IS POSSIBLE to see this show despite the media frenzy about how sold out it is.  And, I had an excellent seat - in the stalls, 7 rows back and 4 seats in from the center aisle.  It is more like one show with a very long intermission than the two shows, so I'm glad I took the option to see Part One as an afternoon matinee and Part Two as the evening performance.  This theater is huge - seats over 1,000 - and the stage has some extras (particularly the height over the stage) that you might not find in other places, so I don't expect to see it come to America soon - especially not as a traveling show.  The performance was phenomenal; there was tons of attention paid to little extras like how set pieces were removed from the stage and background sound design.  The sorting hat was very different from both the movies and the picture in my head after I read the books ... and so good that those scenes gave me chills.  This was a performance that I will remember for the rest of my life, and I can't say too much more though since each attendee was admonished after the end of the first part to ...
buttons given out after part one of H.P.&tC.C.

I had chosen the third show just because I liked the title - The Play that Goes Wrong - and I am so glad that I picked it on a whim because it also is probably one of the top 5 plays I've seen in my life.  An amazing coincidence to see two very different spectacular performances two nights in a row.  The premise is a not-so-great theater troupe tries to put on a locked room style mystery show and everything goes wrong.  I was laughing so hard by the end that my face was wet with tears and I could barely see the stage.  Having done some amateur theater, it was even more amusing, and I give huge props to the actors who had some very difficult things to manage - staying on a very slanted surface, picking up phone receivers with their foot, staying limp while being picked up and dropped repeatedly.  Not only did I buy the script (it was being sold at the bar), I also booked tickets for one of the other shows that this company is currently performing for my last show of the trip.
The last theater was on Piccadilly Circus, so I got a night shot when I came out

The Comedy about a Bank Robbery ... all I knew about it going in was that I loved the other show by Mischief Theater.  Well, I was surprised that the bank robbery in question was set in Minneapolis MN in 1958 - not exactly a common historical setting for British theater!  This comedy was also lots of fun and very clever in use of space - I particularly enjoyed the scene where you were looking down on the heads of the people in the office done by attaching all of the furniture to the back wall of the stage.  I will say that American, particularly Minnesota, accents seem to be as hard for British actors to keep consistent as the reverse ... but, a very very fun show to watch.

Gaslight in St. James Park

View between bars of London Eye and Parliment
Of course, I did more than just theater and museums during my time in London.  One of the new things I tried was a walking tour - specifically Old Westminster by Gaslight from the London Walks group.  It was fascinating; I never realized that parts of London (including areas that I've been in after dark) are still lit by old-fashioned gaslights.  There was also a lot of history and some nice photo ops along the way.  Unfortunately, this was my first night, and I was so tired from the flight that I was having trouble holding my camera steady enough to take advantage of the evening views.  Another aspect of London that was - unintentionally - highlighted for me as part of this walk was how safe it was ... many people jogging alone in dimly lit spaces, couples in the park in the dark, school kids heading to events without adults ... all signs that crime is not a big worry in the area we were located.

I always love to wander and find new tiny corners as well - fun shop windows, quirky memorials, etc. are all part of the fun as you travel.
Since I was doing Harry Potter, I also had to visit Platform 9 3/4

A different type of street art - poetry!

A very interesting evergreen - no idea what species

It warms my heart to see a memorial to an average-type person

Large size chessboard in the square outside by hotel by Paddington Station

#74 - New foods

I have been described by a number of people as being a picky eater.  There is some truth in that statement, so this goal was designed to expand my culinary horizons a little.  Out of the five new things I tried, I really only liked one; however, I don't see myself actually making it often.  Sadly, I did not take photos along the way, so you'll have to do with my descriptions.

The first try was roasted seaweed.  I had been given this by my brother's family, and it is one of my niece's favorite snacks.  It was very thin - almost like a gelatin sheet - and quite crispy.  However, it smelled exactly like cleaning the tank on the library's pet turtle.  Too much so for me to enjoy despite the crunch.

The second new item was daikon.  This was okay, but I can't say much more than that for it.  I tried it raw, and the taste was actually milder than I expected ... sort of like a radish.  I don't know that I would ever use it though.

The third try was clotted cream which I had with jam on a plain scone.  I had a very different picture in my head of how this would look and taste; I expected something more fluffy and with a more sweet cream taste.  On the other hand, I also had reservations that it might be like a dry cottage cheese which I don't like at all.  Instead, it was a lot like unsalted butter - which made sense after I thought about it.  However, I'm not all that interested in sweet butter as a direct addition to baked snacks, so though I don't really think I'll ever be using it.

The fourth item was my favorite - parsnip soup.  I've had (and enjoy) roasted parsnips, but I had never really thought about making them into a soup.  The one I tried was excellent - similar to carrot or squash soup.  I never use the blender for making soup though, so this might just be something that I keep my eye out for at restaurants rather than making my own.

The last new item was leek soup.  Spurred by both the success of the parsnip soup a few days earlier, and my need to stick to softer food because of having my wisdom teeth out, I tried this even though I am not a big fan of onions.  It was okay, but not something that I would seek out.

#99 - Something that scares me

I had hoped to use this goal for something a lot more fun (but also slightly nerve-wracking) like rock climbing or something.  However ... it became just something that made me incredibly nervous.  I, unfortunately, had a tooth split in August and had to deal with one of my personal terrors - the dentist.  Even worse, it was a wisdom tooth.  Adding to the complication level, I had a huge vacation planned for the first two weeks in October, and the oral surgeon was booked out past that for consulting appointments to say nothing of actual extractions.  However, it all worked out.

My personal terror level in any dentist visit has to do with some experiences when I was young.  One of which resulted in both a free root canal (after the dentist hit and killed a tooth when doing a routine filling) as well as an allergic reaction to the antibiotic I was prescribed.  Needless to say, my anxiety level is quite a bit higher than the normal person's when visiting the dentist, and I have had the tendency to put off dealing with my teeth as much as possible.

I will say that although the process of having both of my lower wisdom teeth removed in my 40s was not at all pleasant, I did find a new dentist who is much easier to work with in the process.  Kudos to Crystal Chopp at Ely Family Dental for not only being good at her job and making sure I got in with a good oral surgeon under my time constraints but also for being very kind through the whole process.

Monday, June 13, 2016

#81 - An old interest

Line of private planes parked at the fly in
When I was a teenager, I spent a fair amount of time learning about aeronautics.  I took an advanced summer course that dealt with airplane ground school topics and model rocketry.  I read about the history of flight and tried to keep up with news from NASA.  Part of this interest came from my Dad's own interest in the subject, part from the fact that my brother-in-law was a professional pilot, and some from watching small planes circle over our farm since it was close to the local airfield. 
T-6 ... these planes were used as trainers for pilots during WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War
As my life changed when I went to college, grad school, and started my career, this is an area that sort of fell by the wayside for me.  I was still thrilled any time that I could actually go up in a plane (particularly a small aircraft) ... though I have to say that I don't really enjoy sitting in coach class during a commercial flight ... but I didn't make time for this interest in the same way as I did earlier in my life.  I've recently started thinking about it more though - particularly regarding small planes and historic ones.  So, this weekend, I started small by taking my parents to their local airport's fly-in / drive-in breakfast.
T-6 from the front

This is a small event - nothing like the huge crowds at AirVenture in Oshkosh or some of the military shows - and most of the attendees drive in rather than fly there.  But it raises some money for local groups (particularly the Lions club who does a pancake breakfast that serves hundreds of people) and gives people an opportunity to see aircraft (and classic cars) up close.  This year's feature was 3 T-6 "Texan" training planes.
T-6 formation

I actually got a better in the sky view of the T-6 planes in formation when they came to land earlier in the morning.  They flew in low turning directly over my parents' house as I was outside with their puppy.  Sadly, I didn't have a camera on me at that point, so those photos only exist in my memory.  The puppy - who was cool with all of the other planes coming in and out - was terrified by the formation because they were flying so low.

Another interesting plane at the fly-in was an Albatross. This aircraft was developed for the military for ocean landings - particularly search and rescue missions.  The wingspan is a whopping 96 feet across, and it had very interesting landing gear that folds up into the side of the plane rather than underneath.  The small bubble window in the front has a seat directly behind it.
I'm glad I took some time for this - especially since it could include my Dad and his interest in planes.  Perhaps I'll try to take in a larger event with more of an airshow component in the near future.

I didn't get the fly-by of the T-6 formation on film, but here's a glimpse of them starting the planes up and taking off.  If you watch closely during the second video, you will see that there was a fairly strong crosswind on the runway.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

#67 - Unexpected Rocking Out

I had no parameters on what sort of a concert that I wanted to attend when I wrote my goals.  I was open to classical, stadium rock, high school band ... basically anything that came my way.  An opportunity in the form of an invitation to see a tribute band play this weekend easily fulfilled the requirement.  So, last night, I attended a concert by Hotel California - an Eagles tribute band.  Ironically, the Eagles played the only stadium concert that I have ever attended thus far in my life, and I attended both concerts with the same person.  It made for an evening of comparisons between the two experiences.

Hotel California was in a much smaller venue, so I could actually see the musicians from where I was sitting.  And, thankfully, although it was loud, I didn't feel the full body buzz for several hours afterwards that comes from being exposed to an extremely loud environment.  They have some very talented musicians - particularly on guitar.  I think that the solo guitar rendition of the Star Spangled Banner was my favorite piece of the night.  I was a little disappointed that the set list was heavily slanted towards the Eagles' earlier work and didn't include many solo or post reunion pieces.  There was even one piece that I don't think I've ever heard before (my friend said it was from a less popular album).  But there were also lots of favorites that I expected to hear, and I had a really good time.