Archive for January, 2016

16
Jan

What we REALLY did on New Year’s Day

   Posted by: MB    in Daily

16 January 2016

Champagne!

Addendum to entry from 1 January 2016

Kyle and the Babes 2015.

After two weeks of anxiously watching Facebook and my text messages, the news finally was released to the public, yesterday. Our dear friends, Christopher Buehlman and Jennifer Schlitz are engaged to be married!

This is excellent news for anyone who knows and loves either one of them, and doubly so for those lucky enough to be friends with them both. And, as our little group of travelers through Britain were fortunate enough to be a part of the proposal process, we’re on Cloud 9 to finally be able to share the news with everyone else. So, here’s our version of the story.

Kyle and MaritaBeth had barely acclimated to the new time zone when we got a message from Chris saying he was looking forward to seeing us in Edinburgh and giving us a “heads up.”  He wrote that he was planning to propose to Jen while in Edinburgh, and that he would really like for us to be there. In fact, he indicated, he might need our help in managing the details which were to include a vocal soloist and a song at a predetermined place and time.We were thrilled to hear the news and honored to be “in the know.” We congratulated him as enthusiastically as possible over electronic messaging, and we helped him narrow down place options based on our experiences in the past, promising that we’d be there, where ever and whenever he chose.

The next days of our holiday trip included Christmas markets and stone circles, castles and castle ruins, pub crawls and charming village inns, and even a toe-dip in the North Sea.  Ten days or so later, we arrived in Edinburgh on the 29th of December, checked in to our Edinburgh home with Erlend and Helene, and eventually met Chris and Jennifer for drinks after dinner. During a ladies’ room run, Chris confirmed plans with those still at the table, that he’d decided on January first as the day, thereby getting the Hogmanay festivities out of the way first, and ultimately starting the New Year with a new and wonderful purpose. Perfect!  He’d picked the ruins of Holyrood Abbey as the place and four o’clock as the time.  The venue was open on the day–he’d checked all that–and that allowed plenty of time for us to get there around 3:30, do a bit of a tour of Holyrood, be in the Abbey by 4, and make eye contact with musicians (not just a soloist but a guitarist and fiddler, as well) to kick off the big moment and be done and out of there before they closed at 4:30. The plan seemed sure and secure.

The next couple of days were full of more pubs and more shopping, the torchlight procession, giant crowds, great music, and fabulous fireworks.  By January first, the city is partied out, and that day is fairly quiet.  Especially with it falling on a Friday, I think, there was even more calm to the day than there would have been on a weekend day, or a day immediately to be followed by a work day. So, our relaxed morning at the house, and a later start than normal seemed just right.  World's EndWe had arranged for the four of us to meet the two of them at 2 p.m. at World’s End Pub, a lovely little pub, often not as busy as most, located about a third of the way down the Royal Mile.  We all enjoyed a round of adult beverages and then donned our jackets and scarves for the walk to Holyrood Palace at the bottom end of the Royal Mile.  We had all discussed that we wanted to do the tour of the place, Kyle and I mentioning that we’d never actually done it before, so we were looking forward to it.

As I recall it, we arrived at 3:29.  Right on “schedule.” The six of us happily entered the welcoming vestibule between Palace entrance and gift shoppe and approached the ticket counter. Chris, no doubt a bit nervous, took the lead and went right up to the counter and informed the woman sitting behind the desk that we were six to tour the Palace and Abbey.  Her response was a very reserved, “We’re done selling tickets.”

Oka-ay … that wasn’t the expected response. So, undaunted, we tried again, this time, I’m not sure if it was Chris or myself who spoke: “We are here to do the tour, and you’re open until 4:30,” politely pointing at the sign behind her head clearly stating such.

“Oh, yes, we’re open ’til 4:30,” she said, “but we’re done selling tickets for today.”

Now, I know it was me who said, “What does that mean?” And she, finally realizing our confusion, explained that they sell the last ticket at 3:15, to allow all guests to make their way through the site by the 4:30 closing time.

“I’m crushed,” was Chris’ response.  I’ll never forget it. “I’m completely crushed.”

Quickly realizing the slinky was horribly kinked, Roxy and Mandi swooped into action–someone asked if we could at least visit the gift shop, they were told yes, of course, and the two of them herded Jennifer and Kyle into the gift shop.  At the same time, Chris was asking the woman behind the counter to come to the side, so he could speak with her privately.  I stood there, hoping there was a way to get around this ridiculous, unpublished curve ball–still feeling strangely confident.  He whispered some things to the woman, and as she raised up from the quiet consultation, I heard her say, “No, I’m sorry, we just can’t. We sell the last tickets at 3:15.”

So, now, Chris is not only crushed, he’s at least a little bit mad. He went outside, phone in hand. Heaven knows he had checked and double-checked times and we’d looked it up, too.  Nowhere had any of us seen anything about the ticket sales closing earlier than the venue. And, if we had known, we’d have simply walked down the street fifteen minutes earlier! It was all so silly it was maddening!  I have no idea how much Chris spent on the amazing romantic touches of music that were to be a part of his proposal, but it was surely not nominal.   Now, he was seeing his carefully laid plans implode, and having to contact those three people who were no doubt already parked and walking toward us, to alert them to the new development, and make some snap decision about a change of venue–on the fly–on a holiday–with only half an hour ’til “go time.”

I followed him outside, and verified that he was able to reach his musicians.  I did my best to calm him and was already hatching a plan in my mind. “Just tell the musicians to hold on for a moment or two. Don’t change anything, yet,” I told him.  He said okay, and I went back inside.

With an undying romantic streak, I decided the woman simply could not have understood the magnitude of the situation. So, I walked right up to her, and leaned really far over her ticket counter. Her eyes got wider and when I knew she was tuned in, I asked her if my friend had fully relayed the situation to her.  She responded by saying he’d said something about musicians and 4 o’clock, but that there was nothing she could do … I stopped her mid-excuse and said something very much like this:  “Of course, I suspected he didn’t make it clear enough. So, here’s the real situation: The six of us are visiting Edinburgh from the United States … Texas, Florida, Colorado … all over. We converged here today, on your beautiful spot, because it’s the spot that wonderful man has chosen to be the backdrop for his proposal to that beautiful girl in there. (pointing in two directions as I spoke.) He has hired musicians to meet us here and make the moment even more spectacular. When he says to you, he’s crushed, he means crushed. As in devastated.  (by this time, I’m a little choked up) I’m not sure what he’s going to do if this plan all falls apart … we didn’t know about the 3:15 deadline, but we knew we’d be all done by 4:30.  We can skip the whole palace and art gallery bit … is there any way you can just let us get into the Abbey and let this beautiful proposal thing happen?  Please?”

She had obviously begun to melt. She blinked and said she really hadn’t understood.  She asked me to wait just a moment while she went to get a supervisor.  Seconds later, she re-emerged from a side door with another young woman in tow.  “Tell her all about it,” she said.  I gave a somewhat briefer version of our story, and the young woman, obviously primed before meeting me, said, “Absolutely!  We can do this!  I’ll take you right on in there, myself!”claire-3_23504993724_o

I’m pretty sure that’s when I breathed out for the first time! I thanked her profusely and asked her to give me a moment to “herd my cats!” I ran outside to tell Chris, we were in! I introduced him to the young woman taking charge, and he made arrangements for the musicians while I went inside the gift shop to perform one more little bit of theatre. I went to where Mandi was apparently, we later learned, blithering on to Jen about lavender and all her supposed experiences with it (making shit up to keep Jen distracted), and told them that my “tourist-fu” was strong today!  I’d talked to the girl at the desk and told her how much I’d been looking forward to coming here and how badly I just wanted to see the Abbey and take a few pictures and how I was here all the way from Texas … and I might have cried a little (that part was true) … and that they were going to let us in to see the Abbey after all, but someone was going to walk us in there and we had to go right now…We gathered ourselves behind the nice young woman and followed her through giant doors, she had to knock and use her power to pass through, across the beautiful Holyrood Palace courtyard, and right on around to the amazing abbey ruins. She left us there, wished us good fortune and refused to allow us to pay anything for either entry or her services.

So, there we were! The place, we’ve already talked about and shared  photos of—although these are the photos we wanted to share!

The vocalist, who’s name, I believe was Claire, was magnificently talented and her voice rang through the sculpted ceiling of the abbey. She sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at Chris’ request. And she sang it from the heart.  And she made many people cry with the beauty of it. And, if there were dry eyes as she sang, that likely changed as she finished her song, and Chris dropped to one knee in front of his beloved Jen, and held out the small black velvet box containing a diamond ring.

... marry me?Although she may have thought this moment might happen on their wonderful vacation, Jen seemed to truly have no idea that this was to be that moment.  Her moment.  As she realized it, she drew in a breath, pulled her hands to her face, and although we could not hear the words either of them spoke, the result was him rising, her arms encircling his neck and a beautiful passionate hug and kiss. Then, Chris’ words, let’s go the pub were the cue for the guitar and fiddler to begin to play a lively jig that they continued all the way out of the Abbey, past a gruff-looking guard, and right on up the Royal Mile to the Jolly Judge.Will you ...?

As we processed we enjoyed comments from other guests at the abbey that indicated how magical it was to have been a part of and how their engagements hadn’t been nearly so romantic! At the Jolly Judge there was champagne and cider and beer and photos (the photo at the beginning of this post is of the guitarist, Chris and Jen, and the soloist Claire) and then we went on to our dinner reservation, all carefully pre-planned by that thorough groom-to-be. (Those who received a postcard from us postmarked in Edinburgh: those were mailed during that procession up the hill!)Mail PostCards ... Check!

The drama of the plan taking a sideways turn will forever be one of the most fun stories of the trip.  We were so honored to be there, and so glad to have had a small hand in making things turn out so well.  Our best wishes for a happy forever for our friends Jennifer and Chris.

Slainte!

~MBCongratulations!

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9
Jan

Pounds to Dollars

   Posted by: MB    in Daily

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

the-final-purchase_23572682454_o

 

Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Twenty.

The hardest day of all is the day you zip shut the suitcase for the last time.

We headed out very early (we were on a bus for the airport at 7:30 a.m.) and got to Heathrow with plenty of time to get checked in and through security before our gate was even announced.   We hugged Roxy farewell (Mandi’s flight was later, so she took a separate, later bus) and sat down to our last English breakfast.  We had managed our cash usage pretty carefully, so we’d be out of British currency just before we left. But, with “ones” being coins, it is almost inevitable that you end up with pockets full of jingly coins after very few transactions. So, we solved that problem by paying for breakfast with coins!  I’m not sure if the restaurant folks loved us or hated us!

By the time we finished eating we knew what gate to head to, and by the time we traversed hallways, and people movers, and escalators and elevators and a tram, our flight was boarding when we arrived.  The giant maze of jetbridges was amusing, and of course, the seats were small and storage was at a premium, but we were on board and headed home.

At that point, I have no defense mechanism against the sad, except to focus solely on the good things on the other end of the flight:  good friends many of whom are chosen family, the cat and the dog, and high on the list–our incredibly comfortable mattress!  I had already cried during the drive south from Scotland, and leaving London isn’t quite as hard, but still … Texas is never our favorite destination.

Luggage CarouselWe watched a couple of movies on the flight, had a couple of mediocre meals, read a bit–all those things you do to attempt to make the miserable time pass.  I am most decidedly NOT a British Airways fan. All in all it was, at least, an uneventful flight (just the way you want them to be) and our pass through customs and border security was, as well. The biggest hitch was a sizeable delay in luggage showing up at the carousel, but our dear Scott waited patiently for us, and delivered us straight to our favorite Tex Mex restaurant!

A couple of margaritas and some enchiladas and suddenly Texas is a whole lot more palatable. So, here we are … back in the Lone Star State. Bring on 2016!

~MB

 

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5
Jan

Bittersweet

   Posted by: MB    in Daily

Monday, 4 January 2015

Labels at The Harp

Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Nineteen

A bittersweet veil covered our last day in London. It’s time to go home, but it’s never going to be time to leave. We awoke in our little hotel in Southwark and had breakfast in the below-street-level bistro of the hotel, which is beautifully decorated in Persian style to match the personalities of the wonderfully kind family who owns and operates the place.  We couldn’t dally long, though, because we needed to get on the road to drive across town.  We carefully timed our journey from northeast to southwest to fall after rush hour traffic and yet well-before our noon deadline to turn in the hired car, and therefore coincide with the new hotel check-in time.

Kyle dropped off “the Babes” and we settled into our rooms while he did the round trip to the airport and returned the car.  When he got back, we all boarded the bus to the airport tube station, and rode the Piccadilly line from zone 6 all the way to zone 1 and Leicester Square. We had a banking errand and then a post office stop, and then we were free to do as we pleased. Unfortunately, we missed the start of the walking tour the girls had scoped out. So, we were all disappointed about that. And, we verified that the merchant we were seeking at Covent Garden was indeed not there on a Monday. Two strikes.

That’s when we decided we needed to find a pub.  And Kyle had spotted one he really wanted to check out—a huge and beautiful place owned by a Dublin Brewery—The Porterhouse. We had snacks, including our last real Fish and Chips meal, and some good beer.  And, as we defined our hopes for the day, we realized that our best plan was to split the group in half and pursue our own goals—and turn this final day into more of what we all wanted it to be.  Roxy and Mandi went off in search of souvenirs and Persian food.  MaritaBeth and Kyle headed back to enjoy the antique market and the pub culture of Central London. One of those pubs we visited was The Harp, a favorite from previous trips, with the distinction of having great swaths of wall space covered in the beautiful tap labels that are common all over the U.K. I cannot go in there without taking pictures.

At six o’clock, we all converged again at The White Swan where we were meeting a friend from days gone by at renfaire. Faith had moved to London for her man nearly seven years ago and we rarely get to see her when she comes to the states because her family is in the Houston area. She had been watching our travels via Facebook and reached out to us to try to get together so we could catch up a little and meet the husband.  They live in Kent and work in London, so they each caught the tube and came to a place we knew.  We are so grateful for them taking the time to do that and so glad we got this fun evening with them. We talked everything from sports to Iris and Rose, and took turns buying rounds. They send their love to friends in Texas, especially The Blazing Sun gang. And we all look forward to our next visit, where I suspect we’ll take them up on their offer of a place to stay and tickets to an Arsenal game!

We did have to finally part company with an eye on an early morning flight. We said our goodbyes, and headed for the station, but soon realized we were hungry. So, we went into one more pub, and had a marvelous little fish sampler platter and a pint and still made it all the way back to the hotel before midnight.

Finished the packing … planned the travel day wardrobe … and … zzzzzzz…

~MB

 

 

 

 

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3
Jan

Back in London

   Posted by: MB    in Daily

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Ordering Beer

Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Eighteen.

We left our little four-room inn in Wetherby by noon, and drove south toward London.  We’d conferred during breakfast and booked rooms in an unknown little hotel, sight unseen–always a bit dicey, but especially so in a giant city. So, we were hoping to arrive before dark, but heavy holiday-weekend-ending-traffic prevented that. The worst part of the drive was of course, after we hit London—some crazy zig zagging happened! But we finally made it to The Bridge Hotel. As it turns out, we’re in a nice part of town, and the rooms are adequate and clean, and the staff here is very nice.

After we settled in a little bit, we headed to the nearest tube station–Elephant and Castle, and took the Bakerloo line in to Picadilly Station. There, we switched to the Picadilly line and got off at Covent Garden. We’ve gotten to where we’re almost good at the whole underground thing. And, it’s fun!

At the beginning of the trip, we had tried to get to the market stalls there, and had arrived just as everything was closing.  Kyle has a very specific purchase he wishes to make from a vendor/craftsperson we’ve bought from before, so we had a mission. Today was our second chance.  But, between the rain and the traffic today, and earlier closing time on Sundays (that isn’t a part of the information we could find online), we missed her again, today. Sometimes, it seems the plans one makes are just not meant to be.  Mondays at the market are completely different–the venue becomes an antique market one day a week–and while I’d be thrilled to check it out, our crafter we want to see will almost surely not be there.

We popped into Punch and Judy’s for a snack and yet another beer we hadn’t had before, and then went in search of a little Tapas restaurant Mandi had located online.  It was a unique and mostly delicious meal of meats and cheeses and breads. We found two more sweet little pubs before finally entering the Leicester Square Station and heading back to the Bridge Hotel.

As of right now, we can get everything into the suitcases we brought. (But, I confess, we shipped a box of stuff from Edinburgh.) I simply don’t seem to be able to not bring at least one too many sweaters and probably more than I really need of just about everything else. That means any new aquisitions need to find a way home.  The last trip, we actually bought an extra suitcase! But, this time, we’re on British Airways and the extra baggage charge is crazy, so shipping seemed the better answer.

Someday, I’ll pack lighter and allow for the extra stuff that we accumulate … I obviously need more practice!  Time to plan the next U.K. holiday!

~MB

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2
Jan

A Scotland-shaped Hole in Our Hearts

   Posted by: MB    in Daily

Saturday, 2 January 2015

Our Last View of Edinburgh Castle

Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Seventeen.

Saddest. Day. of the Trip. Time to head south.

But, first, we planned to tour Edinburgh Castle.  Kyle and MaritaBeth haven’t done that since 2008 … and Roxy and Mandi had never been there, before … so after breakfast and packing, off we went.

We did get there later than we’d hoped and while the girls went on inside, Kyle and MB opted at the last moment to forego the castle itself and spend more time in town.  So, we walked and shopped and worked our way a couple of blocks down the High Street, had a beer in the Albanach Pub, and then walked back up the hill to rejoin the girls. They seem to have had a good time there, despite it being too short a time.

IMG_1793

Erlend and Helene

We were all packed before we left the house, so the departure was easy … except for the goodbyes, themselves. We have (even Roxy and Mandi) come to absolutely love Erlend and Helene. Our first stay in their home was incredible.  The second stay was ten times more!  If ever our friends and readers find themselves in Edinburgh, we HIGHLY recommend “2 Cambridge Street” as the perfect place to call home.

As we write and post photos tonight, we sit in the lovely little pub at the Swan and Talbot in Wetherby. We are about halfway back to London–we’ll do the rest of the drive tomorrow. Tears were shed as we crossed the border into England. A piece of our hearts remains in Edinburgh … in Scotland. Until the next time.

~MB

 

 

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2
Jan

New Year–New Beginning

   Posted by: MB    in Daily

Friday, 1 January 2016

Goofy Kyle at Holyrood

Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Sixteen.

Sleeping a little later was the first order of business today … followed immediately by another marvelous breakfast by the Clouston kitchen.

We met Chris and Jennifer on the Royal Mile at The World’s End. From there we visited Holyrood Abbey … a truly beautiful ruin I will elaborate upon later. I still have photos to upload!

The walk to Holyrood was all the way to the bottom of the Royal Mile, and so the walk back up was long and our arrival at our destination was staggered … but we got to the Jolly Judge for a round of drinks and then went back to the Devil’s Advocate for an incredible foodie experience. We enjoyed such dishes as Braised Ox Cheek, Baked Cod, Confit Duck Leg, Lamb Burger, and one of the most lovely Cheese Boards I’ve seen. The drinks there are wonderful, too and the evening was over far too quickly.

Mandi and Chris and Jen attempted to take a Ghost Tour, but, got there to find it sold out, so they joined Kyle and I at the Secret Vodka Arcade Bar, where we had stopped for our nightcap.  We were all very tired and still had packing to do, so we bid one another goodnight and safe journeys and allowed our final night in Edinburgh to come to a close.

Tomorrow, we plan to visit Edinburgh Castle and begin our journey back toward London.  I must steel myself for the heartbreak of leaving Edinburgh.  I am not ready.

~MB

 

 

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