December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve in Montserrat

It took us two metro lines, a light rail train ride, a hike along the highway causing several bruises and a mountain-hugging tram ride totalling nearly three hours to get to Montserrat Spain and believe me, we earned the rewards. At the top of this remote mountain was a monestary, a Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat, breath-taking views and some really good chow.

The image with the river is from the start of our journey which began with us getting off at the wrong train stop. The only option was to take a air tram up to the mountain. Despite Julie's greatest efforts I didn't go for it. Instead we walked along the highway to the town of Montserrat. Looking back on this leg of the journey it helped us appreciate the journey of pilgrims who have visited this site since the 12th century.

During the tram ride up the mountain Julie described the view as being like the Grand Canyon. I was busy looking at the side of the mountain (NLP therapy does not seem to have helped - but may have made fear of heights worse).
The top of the mountain was very much like a scene from Arizona - except of course for the monestary.

It was amazing to see the quality of the materials and craftsmanship that went into creating the cathedral. The mountain poked out from behind the buildings. At times it felt like the buildings blended with the landscape and other times they appeared to be in great contrast.

In the monestary was a room with items from people who were ill but had found their salvation/recovery at the mountain. It was a strange collection of things - from baby clothes to plastic legs and crutches.

Julie bravely went up on the final furnicular to the top top of the mountain. It was a steep climb - 65 degrees.

How in the world are we going to find energy to do anything tonight for NYE? It is 8.07pm and apparently people don't start to party until 1am. Perhaps we'll celebrate at 9am on NY Day with our California friends and family.

December 30, 2007

Bus Tour of Barcelona

The best way to start a city visit is to take the double decker bus tour. Sure, it feels uber touristy at first but when you're crusing along in the front seat on the top deck, wind in your hair, sun on your shoulders, something special happens. Suddenly being a tourist is OK.

What impressed me the most was the creative architecture, old and new buildings beautifully blended and the impact of the 1992 olympics. We concluded our bus tour at The Montajuc which means Mountain of the Jews Julie informed us. This is the site of the Olympic games and ceremonies. Julie took a ski lift monorail thing up to the Castle which sits on top. Stephen and I hiked it. Views from the top were amazing.

Stephen and his new friend take turns on a zippy swing in the olympic park/botanical gardens.

We ended the day with a Spanish Guitary concert at Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi featuring Manuel Gonzalez.

December 29, 2007

Barcelona Dining

We arrived earlier this afternoon in Barcelona. What an amazing city. We've only been here six hours and we've already enjoyed two full meals. The cuisine is delicious. Paella, chorizo, sangria and roasted veg of all sots.

Tomorrow we're taking the hop-on-hop-off bus around the city. Photos to come.

For those of you who are interested in my spelling "issues" I'm having a fun time using the spell check on this computer - all in Spanish.

December 28, 2007

Barcelona for NYE

Stephen and I are back in London for a brief laundry break and then we're meeting our cousin Julie in Barcelona tomorrw afternoon. She's already there - started her 18 hour journey yesterday from San Francisco. Hoping to get photos posted while on our trip.

December 25, 2007

Cramond on Christmas

This morning, in preparation for the day-long feast of Christmas with my in-laws I took a long walk down to Cramond outside of Edinburgh. If I recall correctly I did the same thing last year so this is becoming a Amy tradition.

Cramond is a spectacular little area on the River Forth that was the home to a Roman fort. One of the finest pieces of Roman sculpture discovered in Scotland was uncovered in 1997 at the mouth of the Cramond river which spills into the River Forth it is a lioness which is now housed in the National Museum of Scotland.

I was lucky enough to get to Cramond when the tide was low. Out in the middle of the River Forth is Cramond Island and at low tide you can meander out along the causeway. Today was the first occasion that my timing was perfect to make the trek - at least part way as the tide was starting to come in.
The morning was frosty but sunny and clear.

December 23, 2007

Not Watching the English Countryside

Yesterday we took a train from London to Edinburgh. I love taking the train. The travel is so relaxed, space to spread out, beautiful views. Stephen even got us first class tickets. We were going to travel in style.

As we approached our seats I noticed something very frightening. Our windows was blocked. The other two seat occupants, in the four seat box, had placed a wrapped Christmas present - apparently a picture for their daughter - in front of the window. Let's be clear, this is a giant window and it was two thirds blocked by this giant picture. I lost it. How in the world could they be so selfish as to block the window on a 4.5 hour train journey. There are spaces behind the seats that could easily accommodate their picture.

Being American I was fuming to say, "could you please find a different location for that picture?" However, Stephen just ignored it and sat down to read. This was my clue that it is not British to say anything about this utter stupidity. For the first thirty minutes I huffed and puffed with anger. The man finally apologized and said that he was sorry about the picture but it was a gift for his daughter. I suggested that he put it behind the seat and he responded. "No, I don't think so."

I'm currently reading the book Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox. It has helped me understand why the British do not say anything to folks who take the piss such as this couple. Even more helpful, it explains why people do these kinds of things. My interpretation is that it is a daft class thing. The couple thought, "We bought these seats and we get this window and we have this important piece of art to transports and at least we can see through the tiny cracks on each side. You, seat mates, have other windows through which you can gaze." Frankly, I wanted them to pay us 10% of our ticket fee for the loss of view.

At least for the final hour I was able to move to an adjacent empty seat. Now I understand why this is a drinking culture.

December 20, 2007

The gift that didn't keep on giving

Is it customary to get your house cleaner a gift for the holidays? Here in London I would say the answer is the same as in the States - yes. Well, I got a nice gift card voucher for our cleaner and wrote her a nice little note and put it on top of a nice little box of chocolates. However, when I got home it was still sitting there on our nice clean counter. She was here - I can tell - but she left the card and chocolates.

I moved her card and chocolates and a little note slipped out - "sorry, please, cleaner" it said. Then I noticed that the envelope was taped back up. Did I insult her? Here's a major confession - I don't even know her name. Perhaps "Thank you for cleaning our home lovely" is a bit too anonymous? Oy. Who doesn't like chocolates? Oh yea, me.

December 19, 2007

4 OD

We've been without TV for about a month now and I'll admit that I miss it. Having spent the past four days sick in bed I've discovered TV on demand. Channel 4 and BBC offer free TV programs online for up to a month after they were broadcast. Channel 4 calls it 4 OD (4 On Demand) and let me tell you - I have officially ODed. My legs ache from acting as a TV stand for the laptop. I've lost peripheral vision from staring straight ahead for hours. But you know what? I'm loving it. TV, welcome home.

Do I really have to go back to work?

December 18, 2007

Cold in London

Poor us. Stephen and I have had two weeks of cold and flu. Stephen got hit first and I followed a few days later. Each of us has had different symptoms so I think we aren't suffering from the same bug. Then again, it could just be our different styles of being sick.

Stephen being sick:
Fester unwashed in bed for days. Read or listen to Lord of the Rings trilogy. Barely eat or drink. Take no medications.

Amy being sick:
Constantly repeat, "I am so sick, I am so sick..." even if home alone. Drink gallons of tea, throw used tissues all over the bed and floor, make a daily trip to the store and regret it later, continuously lubricate nose with Clinique products, smother neck with tiger balm, shower for 30 minutes mid-day, and take cold medications.

I would say that Stephen has the Scottish approach while I use the US East Coast Jewish techniques. However, what we both lay in bed surfing the internet and watching tv on demand programs. Of course Stephen's will be sports or history and mine will be cooking.

You should be happy to note that I still have not checked any gossip blogs.

December 15, 2007

NLP in Action

So the fear of heights therapy turned out to be Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) in action. It was powerful to experience the exercises that I learned in the NLP course I took this autumn to earn my INLPTA diploma.

It was much easier for me to get into what the therapist was doing instead of over-analysing it if I had been completely unaware of the techniques. I couldn't help wondering if someone with no knowledge of NLP would find the whole thing, well, a bit cheesy. However, I was a customer for change so I went all out.

I have yet to test out the results. The therapist recommends I start with something less challenging than the London Eye. Today I'm suffering from a cold so the test may have to wait a few days. Stay tuned.

December 13, 2007

A Customer for Change

Tomorrow I am seeing a phobia specialist to help me get over my fear of heights. You may recall that last week I went to the Royal Albert Hall to watch a tennis match and the seats gave me a huge scare as they were so high up. Last night I was again at RAH to see Miss Bollywood the Musical and although I sat on the arena floor I could feel the fear creeping in when I looked up at the ceiling.

Enough is enough. As we learned in my coaching course - you need a "customer for change" if you want to ensure that someone is committed to adjusting their behaviour. Yes, I am committed, willing and able.

I hope to be able to say here in the next few days that I am no longer afraid of heights. Stay tuned.

December 12, 2007

Miss Bollywood the Musical

Dazzled. That's all I can say. Dazzled. Just got back from Miss Bollywood the Musical and my heart is still pumping. I was lucky enough to get front row seats for the performance at Royal Albert Hall. What a seat. Because I went solo (do you think I would submit anyone else to an over-the-top musical?) I was able to get the last seat in the row. It was fantastic!

I could see the actors' expressions, see the details in the costumes and even get to dance with one of the dancers when they came down into the audience for the final scene. My dancer tried to get the two people next to me to dance. I reached out and I'm sure he thought, "can she dance?" well yes! I showed them. I went for a full two minutes of rocking dancing.

The performance featured Shilpa Shetty who was already one of my favorite stars. She proved to herself to be a loving person when she won Celebrity Big Brother last year despite the horrible bullying she received from other housemates because she is Indian. Shilpa proved herself to be a loving and forgiving person and it was apparent from her presence on stage tonight.

At intermission I saw a bracelet on the floor - a piece of costume from the show. I picked it up and placed it in my pocket. On stage it was glistening and off stage it was just a simple piece of plastic jewelry. That was the magic of the show - spectacle and event.

December 11, 2007

What's Driving Avenue Q?

Last night Marlene and I "took in a bit of theatre" and went to see Avenue Q on London's West End. For years I've been hearing about how this show is funny, racy and radical. Of course the offer of half price tickets further convinced me that it was the show for us!

Little did we know that we had signed up to see a musical - Marlene thought it was going to be a drama and I don't know what I was expecting. When we arrived the theatre lobby was filled with groups of nervous 12-year-olds. That was the second sign that this would be something other than what we'd expected.

The humor was about at the level of a 16-year-old but the cultural references were more targeted towards the 24-34ers and then the Sesame Street/Muppet component was definitely nostalgic for the 35-45ers. Unfortunately it missed hitting all groups. Plus, it was very American and the crowd was definitely British.

Marlene assessed that the whole thing could be improved by chopping it down to a 20 minute short play. I would go so far as to say it was shallow, racist, negative and immature (not in a ha ha kind of way) and needed some serious direction.

The cool bit was the use of puppets and the collaborative approach the actors used to expertly bring them to life. There was also a promising scene about philanthropy which unfortunately ended in a joke that undermined all the good associations. You just had to wonder if the actors were thinking, "we're paying our dues with this show."

December 9, 2007

Taking a Roman Bath

My sister Marlene is visiting from DC and we've been touring in the rain. Yesterday we took the rain tour to an extreme with our visit to Bath, England with the London Walking Tours. The city instantly won me over as we began our tour next to the canal. Although the air was cold and we were already drenched from the rain, the warm water from the hot springs warmed the canal and sent up a hot breeze.

The city feels very ancient and European. Despite being a popular tourist spot and having its over-fill of cheesy shops our tour guide Simone transported us back in history with his explanation of Bath's roman roots and Victorian history.

There are three sources of hot springs that bubble up to surface level. One is encased in a small Victorian bath house. Another, directly across the street, is now the healing water source for a luxury spa and the final spring flows into the restored Roman Baths. The Roman Bath Museum is one of the most spectacular museums I've ever visited. It is highly interactive, ruins are carefully preserved and it is still very much alive. Water still flows from the spring through Roman pipes and fills the restored pool.

Photo 1: Royal Crescent with the ha-ha wall to keep the sheep out of the gardens

Photo 2: Roman Baths

Photo 3: The 2000 year old Roman piping still carrying the spring water - it is 115 degrees!

December 4, 2007

Fear of Heights

It doesn't happen too often but when it does my fear of heights puts a damper on whatever fun we are having. The fear has been there for a long time but the intensity comes in waves and they seem to be getting worse. In recent years it hit hard in San Francisco when I was riding my bike across the Golden Gate Bridge and also driving my car up those curvy hills. I felt like I was attached to the bike or the car and it was going to flip over.

Last year there were two occasions when I became the "crazy women we saw while we were on holiday in Europe" on the London Eye and the Eiffel Tower. Tonight it happened again. We went to the Royal Albert Hall to see the Blackrock Masters Tennis and our seats were against the back wall on the top row. I could only imagine that either the ceiling was going to come down on me or I was going to suddenly fly out from the wall and fall. Not logical, I realise that.

The super weird thing is that we were one section higher a few weeks ago when we went to see Carmina Burana. I think the difference there was that the ceiling was quite close in the balcony - not the dome part but the side of the building. Plus, there was a railing all around the edge and we were sitting on the floor (cheap seats). Tonight I had to scoot past folks, including my friend Hidy was also freaking out about the height. Then I walked on my knees to the stairs and walked down on my rear. Believe me, it was embarrassing, especially when someone said, "Amy, do you have vertigo?" Blah.

I've got to get over this and am going to try getting help. Perhaps hypnotherapy? I'm not sure. I've made a promise to myself that tomorrow I will make an appointment at a therapist my friend has recommended.

The part that really breaks my heart is poor Stephen who really feels for me and wants me to enjoy what we are doing and instead we are both distracted by my anxiety attack. I feel much better after going to Whole Foods, buying Indian food and eating rice pudding.

December 2, 2007

Leisure Rules

A few weeks ago our giant tv died. Stephen can't figure out what went wrong. It has sound but no picture. It can't be the picture tube because it doesn't have one. We went a few days without tv and then Stephen came up with a new solution. He purchased some kind of utility that allows him to watch tv on his laptop.

The best part of the setup is that he now lounges on the couch, watching tv (in super slow motion) on the laptop and uses his, yes, remote control, to change the channels. It cracks me up. The tv is a laptop, how far is it from his hand? Today he had to reach for the remote control which was the same distance (3 inches) as the laptop.

In this palace leisure rules.

Permission from Stephen to post this photo.

The Darjeeling Limited

Get your ticket and run to see The Darjeeling Limited.
This is a beautifully crafted film that leaves you feeling, well, satisfied. Every shot is thoughtfully composed as the script unravels the story of three brothers on an emotional and spiritual journey. Many surprises in this ensemble cast.
The film is both somber and uplifting which is a delicate balance to maintain and here it is successful. The story and images are framed in the colors, flavors and fragrances of India.

Jason Schwartzman, left, Adrien Brody, center, and Owen Wilson are shown in a scene from "The Darjeeling Limited." Photo: AP