Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Music and Fireworks

Several weeks ago--yes, we're way behind on blog posts--we enjoyed a fun evening out at Audley End, a former abbey that Thomas Audley converted to his impressive personal mansion after King Henry VIII bestowed upon him the building and beautiful grounds. We had visited last year for a Christmas market but the attraction this summer was one of Audley End's picnic concerts, with the Gypsy Kings. We had hoped to come early in the day and bike or walk around the grounds but it was sprinkling and threatening heavier rain so we waited til the last second to hop in the car and head south--it's about 30 minutes away, halfway to London.

The outdoor stage was set up so the mansion was in the background--very photogenic. We're always impressed at the elaborateness of British picnickers. We thought we had brought a nice spread, but people had full-size tables with white tablecloths and real silverware, selections of wines, and an amazing variety of food. KT was particularly amused at how many brought lanterns/candles. We were just happy to get our wine open as our corkscrew broke off with the screw still in the cork!

There was a nice solo opening act and the Gypsy Kings came on around at 8:30pm to get people, including KT, up and dancing. The band was excellent although their set was a bit too brief as they ended promptly at 10pm. I suspect they had a hard deadline as almost the minute they finished their encore, gorgeous fireworks started to light up the night sky and illuminate the mansion. All in all, thanks to the rain holding off, a fine evening.--jt

Click here for a web album of the picnic concert.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Check out our new house!

OK, we're not really moving into Buckingham Palace. But, starting today, you can visit the State Rooms of the palace. This year for the first time, they have set up the ballroom for a state banquet and, from the pictures, it looks quite grand. (News article here.)

Buckingham Palace is open each summer during August and September while the Queen takes her summer holiday at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. (Must be nice to have a residence for each occasion; we've visited the Sandringham estate, which is where the royal family spends Christmas.) I visited the state rooms several years ago, and it was truly incredible, in part because the docents in each room are very knowledgeable about each and every knicknack and will answer as many questions as you can think to ask.

Royal watchers can check out the Royal Residences Web site to see which residences are open when, in case you'd like to plan your vacation to visit us around what palace you can visit. Besides our palace on Paradise Street, of course. :)
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Crossing the finish line

We did it! Two DC Editors, 2 bikes, 55+ miles from London to Cambridge. It wasn't always fun, it was dang hard, and it actually hurts to lift my fingers to type this, but we also met some great people, and let me tell you, crossing that finish line was sweet, so sweet. Here, I'll share:

Finish line! from dceditors on Vimeo.

We were chatting with one of our friends recently and mentioned this ride. "Have you started doping?" she asked. In retrospect, that might not have been a bad idea. JT set his sights on this ride almost a year ago, but has more recently been put in jeopardy by the theft of my bike, the lack of preparedness that we probably should have had, and JT just coming off the D.L. with a wrenched back. All things considered, I'm darn proud of us, and I'm darn proud of John. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go take a handful of Advil and root around in the freezer for the best frozen vegetables to ice each joint. Any suggestions for the bicycle seat pain?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Casa, sweet casa

Apologies for the blog silence for the last week ... errrr ... more than a week. We're home after a been in Barcelona for a meeting, and both of us were blogging other (JT) places (KT) during it. Despite the intense work, there was plenty of time for intense fun as well. We met new friends and saw lots of old ones. See, for example, the ladies at right, who were all part of ... let's call it a "club" in DC and who now all live elsewhere. (Photo by Sarah, or rather Sarah's camera.)

We'll post more soon, although it will be nothing like the sightseeing- and food-heavy trip from last year, although it does include a return to at least 3 places I went last year because, well, why not? This year's trip also includes a tale of JT fighting off a pickpocketer with his bare hands -- an experience we could have done without. Nevertheless, we had a good time, and reinforced how much we like Spain.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Trip Report: Amsterdam

(This is from a trip on May 31/June 1. Yeah, yeah, I know.)

I will say this of Amsterdam: Aside from the prostitutes, it's a fantastic city.

I didn't so much take a trip to Amsterdam as I had an extended layover there. Flying in and out of Amsterdam's Schipol airport was a cheap(ish) way for me to get to a meeting in the south of the Netherlands. I extended my trip by a day to have 20 or so hours in Amsterdam.

I arrived late in the evening, checked into my hotel (the quirky and amusing Times Hotel, whose location can't be beat but whose obvious lack of insulation will be problematic if you're a light sleeper, particularly if you get the room over the front door, as I did), and headed out to Dam Square for some dinner. I ended up at the pricey but ideally located Majestic Cafe, where I had a delicious tuna steak and fabulous apple pie.

I got back to my hotel just before a thunderstorm unleashed. In the morning after I checked out (about 12 hours after checking in), I headed to a restaurant called Pancakes, which was highlighted in a New York Times article. It was plenty good -- I had an enormous crepe-style pancake with yogurt and fresh strawberries, all sprinkled with sugar -- but I'm not sure it was the destination I had turned it into. Nevertheless, it's a great street for cute restaurants, so check it out if you're in the general vicinity of the Anne Frank house.

Then it was back to Dam Square for Sandeman's New Amsterdam Free Tour. It's a great model -- the tours are free and the guides work for tips, so they're highly motivated to give you a great tour. It also happened that the tour guide Laura is working on a master's in journalism at the University of Amsterdam, so I felt particularly compelled to tip her handsomely. After all, the tour was well over 3 hours long, and a 2-hour guided tour in Cambridge will set you back $18.

After Dam Square, the tour heads into the Red Light District. I was glad it did, as it's silly to go all that way and not see the city's most talked about neighborhood, but I'm not sure I would have gone on my own. (Prostitution is legal and marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms are decriminalized in Amsterdam, and the Red Light District is the nerve center for all of the above activities.) It was like any other place (er, well, most other places) at 11 in the morning, and smack in the middle is the beautiful Oude Kerk ("old church").

From there, the tour went to most of the city's highlights: The Nieuwmarkt, the Jewish quarter, the university, the Begijnhof, the beautiful Jordaan neighborhood, the Anne Frank house, and many others. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I really enjoyed Amsterdam. Laura gave us a great overview of the city's history, and some important cultural lessons, too: First, don't take pictures of the prostitutes; it's considered disrespectful. Second, "coffee shop" means a place where you can purchase and smoke marijuana. The "menu" won't be on display; ask for it at the bar. Third, make sure you always buy your magic mushrooms from a smart shop; you never know what you'll get from the dodgy places. Important lessons, those.

Also: There's a break in the tour for a snack/lunch, beverage break. She took us to La Place inside the V&D. This place is awesome! Tons of different stations for sandwiches, smoothies, pasta, stir fry, etc. If you want a decent, fairly cheap, and fast place to eat that satisfies multiple hankerings, this is a good one.

After my tour, I went to a supposed Amsterdam institution, the Vlaamse Friethuis on Voetboogstraat, for French fries with mayonnaise and curry sauce. (Mini-review: good, but not all that.) I then wandered back to the Oude Kerk, where the World Press Photo Foundation was holding an exhibit of the best photojournalism of the year. Really fascinating! After that, I returned to the Anne Frank house. Everyone who has ever read The Diary of Anne Frank should go to Amsterdam and see this. It's just incredible that those families survived as long as they did in such tight quarters -- and that the world was such that they had to go into hiding. It's hard to even wrap my brain around it.

I finished my brief visit at an outdoor cafe in the Jordaan neighborhood near my hotel (and my suitcase). All in all, I'd say I made the most of 20 hours in Amsterdam. As for my one-sentence review of Amsterdam at the beginning: I was bothered far more than I expected I would be by the prostitution. The women openly sell their services from behind windows at all hours of the day. My first exposure to this was well outside the Red Light District and caught me completely off guard. Maybe I'm just a prude. Maybe it's because I work for a careers magazine -- I don't want to judge based on their career choice, but I just want to talk to all of them and emphasize the importance of a job with better transferrable skills.

Also, I heard almost exclusively American accents, very often coming from college-aged students. I met some really great college students on my tour, in fact. But it did make me wonder if American college students are the primary customers of the coffee shops and smart shops, given that Laura told us that something like 92% of Dutch people have never even smoked marijuana. I'll leave the coffee shop research to someone else.

More tidbits and photos are here.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Cambridge Rite of Passage

We've made no secret of how much we've enjoyed bicycling in and around Cambridge. And, in fact, a bicycle is a necessity for getting around town; driving a car in this city is a nuisance. One thing I haven't explicitly mentioned on the blog is that I bought a new bike two months ago.

This is the bike I bought. I bought it just before our ride to Reach, and it was such a treat to have the new wheels for the ride. I was riding it when I took this video, and I was riding it this last weekend on our 25-mile ride from Hunstanton to Wells-next-to-Sea, which took us through farmland and small villages to the beach:

And, I had planned on riding it in 3 weeks on the London to Cambridge ride, which I believe we've mentioned 11 billion times on the blog. I don't have a picture of me riding this bike, and now I never will. It got stolen last night.

I don't mean to be all melodramatic about it. OK, yes I do. As someone who's had her wallet stolen (in Bethesda) and house broken into (in DC), I'm no stranger to crime. But I LIKED this bike. I even cried when JT woke me up this morning to tell me it was gone. And where was it gone from? From its parking spot in front of our front door, right underneath our bedroom window, locked to a drainpipe around the frame and front wheel. No, not the kind of drainpipe that can be moved.

In a way, though, it wasn't a surprise. Our neighbor's bike was stolen last week -- it was the replacement he bought for the one that got stolen last year. Last year 4,964 bikes were reported stolen in the county, half of which were in Cambridge. So, it's practically a rite of passage to have your bike stolen in Cambridge. In fact, when JT walked into his office this morning the first conversation he overheard was another editor talking about her bike getting nicked on Friday.

JT alerted our bike shop, so when I walked by there later today looking like, well, like someone had stolen my bike, The Nice Bike Man offered his condolences and told me to come back tomorrow, he has some nice bikes he thinks I'll like. I bought the last bike from them because they are a knowledgeable father-son team who take good care of us (or rather, our bikes). But I hope I don't have to make a habit of buying bikes. Sigh.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Copenhagenize the Planet

KT and I consider Cambridge a cycling city, but it doesn't compare to Copenhagen. This article in the Guardian discusses Copenhagen cycling fashion and, more important, notes that bike madness there is relatively recent:

Copenhagen hasn't always been wall-to-wall bikes. Its first purpose-built, segregated cycle path was created only 25 years ago. Colville-Andersen says the city's bike culture was built almost from scratch. There was a political will to make it happen, funds were allocated. Funds are still allocated. "We're not bike-friendly because it's a flat city. We ride lots because of visionary political decisions."

These political decisions were unpopular at the time. Now Danes can't remember a time before mass bicycle culture. Cycle use in Copenhagen is 36% (the UK average is 2%). City officials want to see this rise to 50% by 2015, when it is hoped the city will become the world's environmental capital. To reach this target, Copenhagen is closing major thoroughfares to cars, creating bike motorways in their place. Thirty thousand bikes a day, and only 15,000 cars, use Nørrebro Street, making it a prime candidate for closure to cars. Copenhagen also operates a "green wave" system on some streets: if you ride at a steady speed, you'll hit green lights all the way. The city's vice-mayor has proposed that when the pollution levels rise too high, all the traffic lights at the edge of the city will turn red, stranding cars in official gridlock.

This makes me wonder whether our old home, Washington DC, could ever truly become a cycling city, as many mayors have promised. I sadly doubt it--those 100 degree plus humid summers are killers.--jt