Where do I begin… again.

I should confess a couple of things.

One. I’ve been a little side tracked from my writing. I started full time work as an on-air promotions writer/producer about three years ago and have not had the time I wish I could have had to work on personal projects like blogging, writing my book(s) and exploring my creativity. Though this full time work did afford me the ability to do some pretty awesome travel of which I hope to share here with the (not so eager?) world (is there anyone out there?), there’s a little snag…

I’ve been even more sidetracked from taking photographs. So much so that I feel that the name of this blog is a little misleading now. I sold cameras. I started Instagramming. That’s right, I traded in my Olympus Pen for my iPhone.  (Actually, it’s just sitting on a shelf.)

But haven’t we all? Okay, maybe we all actually have not, but what I’m getting at is that sometimes you have to pare down, to go back to one before you can build yourself back up again and do another take. Am I right?

A lot, yet not so much, has happened since that post. I started working full time as I’ve already reported, and there have been trips. Oh trips have there been. Hawaii (x3, about to be 4), Paris, London (of course, a lot of London), many trips to Santa Barbara wine country, The Netherlands, Seattle, Berlin (!!), Prague, Pennsylvania, Hong Kong, Singapore, AUSTRALIA (in caps cause it’s AWESOME) and, of course, a magical place which stole my heart and taught me to love whiskey: Scotland. Scotland. Scotland.

And that brings us back to my last post which left us in the beautiful northern England market town of Richmond. I feel that is where I should start back up again…

Until tomorrow, of which I leave you with a music recommendation: Frightened Rabbit’s newest and fantastic album, Painting of a Panic Attack. Here’s a Spotify link.

You’re welcome.

 

(Edited to add: oh yeah, still to cheap to upgrade. Sorry about any ads – they don’t belong to me!)

I promised you a post about Eataly…

So I’ll keep it brief. After all, it’s been two months since we visited NYC, and my memory of it may be a little faded, but the photos I took keep it fresh in my mind. Like the daintiest of fresh pastas, it didn’t take long looking at the photos to bring it all back.

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Eataly is a gourmet Italian food market just next to the Flatiron Building at 23rd Street where you can not only have a meal or a glass of wine, but you can stand at a coffee counter, a la Italy itself, or take a delicious gelato on the go. There are areas for all delights: pizza (la piazza) meats (manza and rosticierria), fish (il pesce), paninis (panini), and vegetarians (le verdure), where we found ourselves on our last day in New York City.

We’d been walking around the 911 Memorial all morning, taking in its somber atmosphere and enjoying a moment of silence for those who lost there lives. We also enjoyed a few photographs to keep it fresh for us;

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When completed, the 911 Memorial is going to be a lovely public space. Though I wonder if they’ll have the kind of security we had on our visit. Queue after queue, ticket check after ticket check, bags searched and x-rays performed. But a lovely visit nonetheless.

Oh, did I mention it was freaking hot? Not much shade in the memorial queues, so it made our decision to get gelato instead of go to the Natural History Museum that much easier. We escaped into the air conditioned subway for a quick ride to 23rd Street and transported ourselves back to Italy.

It’s easy to spend a good amount of time at Eataly, and with row after row of imported Italian goods surrounding us, it’s not surprising DH did a little jig:

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Nice.

Our immediate thought was la Piazza. But after a look at the busy dining area we made a bee line to il pesce where the prices gave us a fright. And upon looking at the vegetarian menu, Le Verdure was the spot. Fresh, seasonal ingredients filled every dish. I had the Farrotto, Faro cooked a la risotto, and in my memory (because it didn’t last long enough for a photograph) it was filled with peas, parm and a little mint. It was delicious.

Top marks to the guys behind the counter.

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And, since you asked, here is the rest of our Eataly experience, in photo:

**warning, photographs of meat to follow**

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I wanted to take everything home with me, including the guys making homemade gnocchi. Surely they’d fit in my suitcase, no?

But alas, I could have none of it, for I was leaving later that day for England, and part of me knew that if I really wanted fantastic Italian goods, what better way to get it than in Europe?

I have one last thing to say to Eataly: come to Los Angeles!

Keeping weird in Austin, day 2; Bridges, Bats and Boats: oh my

Okay, so did you know, that Austin, Texas is the home of the world’s largest bat colony?

Fact.

The Anne W Richards Congress Bridge over Lady Bird Lake houses the world’s largest urban Mexican free-tailed bat colony. These little migrants spend the summer in Texas and the winters in Mexico. Who knew?

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Here’s the deal – at dusk, they start to leave their nests under the bridge in an orderly fashion, heading east to the fields to feed on juicy organic bugs, and then returning at dawn to spend the day in their little crevasses, protected from the Austin heat. It’s really quite a sight, and if you can’t get yourself a seat on one of the tour boats that cruise the lake and give you a prime view…

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… you can hang out on the bridge and see it from above. I recommend both.

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The tour is $10, and reservations are advised. It’s really quite a fun little trip, the boat master gives you a bit of history of the skyline and waterside sites, like when it was so hot in Austin that the brand new W hotel’s windows exploded. Oops.

They are also the local experts on this urban bat population. They get calls from lazy scientists about what time the bats took flight, how many there are, etc…

I took quite a few photographs, of which I will share with you, for that is how I roll. I can’t guarantee I’ll remember much from the commentary, though. Sorry about that. I’ve included some links to video I shot at the end of this post so you can hear some of what the expert boat driving guy was saying. Like things about guano and insects. Fun!

And it’s not a bad view.

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You can barely see it, however in that photo above, there is a Canadian flag in the little square between those three buildings. It’s not the Canadian Embassy, but a Hilton. On street view there are also Texas and American flags.

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See?

So who knows if it has to do with the hotel or one of the businesses in those buildings or just Austin showing its love for our northern neighbors. No really, I’m asking. Who knows?

So the boat launch is just below the 1st Street Bridge, and the steps down to the water is this little nugget of misspelled youth:

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Jesus always was a profit. Was the grafitti-er ronic or just a bad speller.

Take the little gangway down, pay the man, and boat up. And if you’re lucky, you’ll not only see bats, but other local wildlife. Like turtles!

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The first leg of the cruise is heading west down the lake to take in the sunset. The 1st Street Bridge is not the bridge we’re looking for.

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But this sunset is.

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Here’s the very knowledgable boat master, and behind him the Reggae Festival.

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I believe he is telling us something very important that I cannot remember. Maybe something about this railroad bridge and all the construction and revitalization going on all around Austin. Oh yes, I remember…

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There was a joke about the newest bird in Austin – the Crane.IMG_1072

Ho ho!

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And more sunset behind the railroad bridge, where we turn around.IMG_1077

And the Pac Man graffiti on the railroad bridge is revealed.

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Well? Will you?

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We’re lazily making our way back to the Congress Bridge, where the show will begin any minute. Around us on the lake are other tourists who’ve rented those banana bike things (see photo above), kayaks, stand up paddle boards and small boats. There are a few small cruises dotting the lake.

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Including one whose occupants are all dressed in steam punk regalia:

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Can you see them? Aren’t I being sneaky?

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There’s our hotel, the slick, grey and glass tower. The W Austin is quite a scene. I’d definitely stay there again if they lower their prices from $495. Seriously.

To the right of the W is the Owl Building. I’ll show you what I mean in a later post.

And just like that, the people gather on the bridge…

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And the bats come:

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They don’t just fly out all willy nilly, no. They follow each other down around each leg of the bridge, then out in a single file line.

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Who knew bats could queue? Maybe the girl on the banana boat bike:

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The almost million strong bat colony (the babies aren’t born for a couple months) keep this up until the sun sets. There’s more bats in Austin in spring and summer than residents.

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Happy trails, little dudes!

It’s time for us to head back too, just as Austin comes to life in the sunset, so must we.

I mean, we’re hungry. It’s time for dinner, already.

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I have some pretty cool video of this, but sadly WordPress would make me upgrade and pay for my blog in order to show them to you.

So if you fancy seeing this phenomenon of bats in action, of which you should because it really is quite cool, head to my Flickr page:

Austin Bats: the backstory

Austin Bats: they be flyin’

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And finally, the last of the bats drop off Congress Bridge and fly out on their nightly hunt with Austin’s skyline in the background.

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Not too shabby, Austin.

Keeping weird in Austin, Day 1

Keep Austin Weird.

Hey, Austin. Isn’t that Portland’s line?

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If you thought that, like I did, you’d be incorrect. So much for Portland being the hip, trendsetting city it touts itself as. Turns out Austin was there first. Portland is a copy cat.

I had my doubts about Austin, Texas. Yes, they have all sorts of live music. Some fantastic acts have come out of the capital city. If you haven’t heard of the music and tech festival South By Southwest, you’ve likely either been living under a rock or are living in another country. I won’t go in to any of that because all I know about SXSW is what I hear on public radio whilst it’s happening. Instead, I chose to go to Austin during the Reggae Festival.

Ya mon.

One of my BFFs (yes, I have sooo many) was in town for work, all the way from London, and I, being the globe-trotting travel junkie that I am, promptly flew out for a girlie weekend in the so-called Live Music Capital of the World. Having just moved house I needed the break. So swiftly into the sky via Southwest I went, an easy 2.5 hr flight from LAX.

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I love their new logo, of which I was up close and personal with having lucked out at a front row center seat.

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My trip was pretty eventful as I had a leisurely chat with the woman seated directly to my left. As it happens, when you fly from Los Angeles, you might find yourself sitting next to celebrities or personalities. I was sat next to the fabulous Kari Wuhrer, star of many B-movies and my personal favourite sci-fi show: Sliders. Oh, and of course don’t forget Beverly Hills 90210. I only wish I’d recognized her sooner, as I’d have definitely told her what an honor it was to be sat next to her, chatting about the industry and projects etc. She even introduced herself (first name only) and my brain still didn’t put two and two together.

If you are reading this, Ms Wuhrer, have fun in Austin!

Upon arrival, a taxi spirited me straight to the W Austin, located next door to the famed Austin City Limits. (If you don’t know it and love music, look it up.) On the eighth floor, we had quite a view of the Lady Bird Lake and the green beyond:

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But enough about the views. It was time to do what any self respecting girlfriends do on a weekend of girliness: we went shopping.

Off to the SoCo neighborhood, a little shopping district walking distance from downtown on South Congress Street. We popped our heads into a few boutiques and filled our suitcases with wares from the independent shops that line this vibrant street. I dug the signs, their age turning them into retro chic.

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We popped into Heritage Boot and my cohort purchased some beautiful handmade cowboy boots in red whilst I tried on and lusted after these deer skin, $600 beauties:

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My wallet not allowing such an extravagant purchase (it whispered to me something about airline tickets), we moved on instead to the shop next door: Blackmail, which was so up my street with its dark vibe and rock influences, clothing with a nod to All Saints and a few original pieces by its designer. I myself steered toward the more inexpensive pieces. If you aren’t sure that cowboy boots are your thing, stop in to Blackmail Boutique instead.

After a bite to eat and glass of wine we powered back to the hotel for some late afternoon sun bathing. The W Hotel Austin is kinda awesome for that sort of thing. I’ve never been much of a poolside holiday type of girl. Let me tell you, I am now.

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I spied Pimm’s behind the bar, and bless the little Texan bartender if he didn’t have any idea what to do with it. He made a pretty good drink out of lemonade, soda water and a strawberry. Not exactly a Pimm’s Cup, but who’s complaining?

Cheers:

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When in Texas, you must have some of the local cuisine, aptly named Tex Mex. Keen to keep with the walking tradition, our group headed to Michelada’s (where, yes, I did have a Michelada – basically a bloody mary with beer in it. F’ing yum.) on our way to Rainey Street.

Rainey Street was once a residential street filled with big old houses with front porches and even larger back gardens. During some development snafu, these houses being slated for much bigger things, bar and restaurant owners moved in and turned the street into an eating and drinking paradise. We visited Lustre Pearl, which was the bar that started it all (so says its website). Upon entering, it felt like a cross between a shabby frat house, cleaned up crack house where they left all the original features and college house party in someone’s parent’s back yard. It was a hoot:

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From the trees hung mason jars with little lights in them, and as you can see from the photo, the vibe ranged from sweatshirts to button downs. Everyone was welcome and seemed relaxed. Great place to grab a can of Shiner Bock and pull up a pew on a picnic table. Good vibe overall.

And once you’ve realized just how tired you are after a long day of travel, shopping and pool hopping, the very best way to get back to your hotel after you’ve enjoyed a drink on Rainey Street is via pedicab.

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These guys and gals have no fear. Weaving in and out of traffic, it’s almost an amusement park ride. I don’t usually condone bicycles plowing through traffic lights or riding into oncoming traffic, however within seconds we were back at the hotel having seen more of the city than we would have on foot (like the metro and dedicated, separate bike lanes! Come on, Los Angeles!). And besides, it meant I no longer had to walk in my heels and we even had a wee blanket to cover us. Lovely.

To recap. Austin is not at all what I thought it was. It’s not just some landlocked city with lots of students and some live music to boot. It’s a forward thinking mecca of innovation. With a river. And trees. In Texas.

Who knew?

(no offense intended)

Keep an eye out for my next update where me and my friend explore more of Austin – even more than our concierge knew existed. Who’s trendsetting now?!

After a Shropshire wedding on New Year’s Day

It’s too late to say Happy New Year. And it’s probably too late to show off the photos I took the day after my wonderful sister-in-law’s wedding deep in the Shropshire countryside at the stunning Ellesmere College.

For those of you not versed in English English, college is not always what you think it is. It has many definitions, for example it could be a section of a well known institution of higher learning, like Oxford or Cambridge. It could also be a place that one goes to learn a trade, like a vocational college. In most cases, however, it’s basically high school. So as an American, if you tell someone who is not versed in American English that your highest education was from a college, well they may think you just went straight from high school into your career. University, or “Uni”, is the common term for further education degree program.

Back to Ellesmere. About 35 minutes through narrow and fast moving roads you’ll find the imposing college campus set amongst rolling green hills. It was founded as a boys only boarding school in 1884, eventually admitting girls in the 1970s. Everyone kept going on about how the building was out of Harry Potter. And I have to say, they aren’t wrong. Sure, it’s not a Scottish castle up on a stony crag. But it does have its gothic influences, and its large hall could very well be imagined to have floating candelabra under its roof.

And on New Year’s Day the family all banded together to tidy up after the wedding and party of the year. Of which I was able to take a few snaps in between trips to the car.

Starting, of course, in the lovely town of Shrewsbury.

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Let’s talk about Shrewsbury for one brief moment. This is a market town full of contradictions. And by that I mean of how the name of the town is pronounced. There are two schools of thought, possibly depending on what side of the River Severn you live. Our taxi driver back from Ellesmere told us that Shrewsbury is pronounced how it looks. Shrews-bury. I have found absolutely no evidence that this town was named for its over abundance of the eponymous mole like mammal. However why it also has a pronunciation of Shrows-bury I will not ever know. Apparently the posh pronounce it the latter, and the more common folk say “shrew”. This will be an argument that might never be settled.

The above photograph is taken from the Lion + Pheasant Hotel, a lovely old building with creaky, original floorboards with little sound proofing (we came in from the wedding at about 1:45am and the NYE party was in full, drunken swing downstairs. Directly downstairs from our room. If I had any more energy I’d have been down with them, reveling away. But instead I waited out the thump thump thump in the comfy bed and eventually fell asleep, dreaming of a bloody mary with my cooked breakfast). The street is called Wyle Cop, and it is a very historic street. Look, someone even posted an image of a painting by Louise Raynor of Wyle Cop on wikipedia. How handy:

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I wonder if that building on the right is what is now the car park in my photo above? I think so, because when you look at this little pano I took from the window of our hotel, you can see the spire in the distance. What you don’t see is that the building next to the modern, brick car park is a beautiful old tudor style building, very common to the area.

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And to look right you can see the bridge over the River Severn. And another stunning blue sky, the first in a long time. The Severn had completely flooded its banks due to the deluge of rain. Good thing we were in a hired SUV. Flooding? What flooding?

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And back to Ellesmere we went, dustpan and broom in hand. And camera:

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Much mirth was had as after midnight on NYE, this very organ played Jerusalem to the party goers. Everyone sang, raising a glass and toasting their homeland. Well, most of us sang. I actually don’t know all the words, so I just sang this bit:

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?

And then I just hummed a bit until this part:

Till we have built jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

Speaking of, here’s the view from the front of the college.

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It’s not the best of panos, as you can see I lost some of that crazy blue sky. But if you can imagine that behind me is this:

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Well, you have quite the imposing U-shaped school.

Before we left, we raided the kitchen for a post clean up snack. I marveled at the little signs telling the students what not to do. An amused relative cracked about how American I was to take photos of such things. Hey, I call it art.

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American mustard. I just thought it was yellow. Do you think this is how the Chinese feel about Chinese food?

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No snacks for Walt, no matter how hard he begged:

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“Blech: coffee,” scoffs Walt.

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“Oh but I do love marmite.”

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“Please?”

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Upon leaving Ellesmere, our SUV packed to the gills with presents and decorations to be dropped off in Birmingham, we were dying for a coffee to warm up our chilled fingers. So a stop in to the nearest Welcome Break it was:

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A Starbucks is a Starbucks, no mater where you are in the world. Be it LA or just outside Telford.

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Speaking of Telford, I am a bit gutted that our time there was so limited, as this area is rich with history. Telford is the location of the Ironbridge Gorge, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just mere miles away is this beauty (credit to Jason J Smith via Wikipedia):

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And so we didn’t have time to visit it, or nearby Wales, of which the border was only 9 miles away from our hotel in Shrewsbury. But we did have time to visit this little educational hotspot at the Welcome Break car park:

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What could this be?

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Upon closer inspection we discovered…

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Ah yes, a steam hammer. Of course! For use in building the Ironbridge itself.

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But instead of exploring the Shropshire countryside and its Iron history. We instead turned back to our car, the trusty white Qashqai, to get us to Birmingham to unload our heavy, post wedding burdens, egg nog lattes in hand.

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And a sunset in our wake:

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Los Angeles, a space shuttle and a very excited me

My adorable nephew’s fourth birthday is coming up, and as the far-away-Aunt, I want to get him cool things that he won’t just toss into the toy pile.

So this year I decided to get him a space shuttle.

Rewind back to February, a dry, blue skied day and I practically leapt out of bed with the best. idea. ever. Let’s go see the Space Shuttle Endeavour!

Rewind even further back to October of last year when the Endeavour made it’s final flight around the skies of Los Angeles on the back of a 747. It was a big deal, to say the least, putting the local media into a certain frenzy. Toyota jumped on the bandwagon, shooting a commercial (and other promotional items) of its Tundra pulling the shuttle through the streets of LA. I just so happened to live cycling distance from an excellent viewing platform: the beach just below LAX. As it made it’s final pass over LA, I got a sneaky peak of it.

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It’s now housed in a special hangar at the California Science Center, an easy hop, skip and a jump from the westside on the Expo Line. If you live on the westside, really there’s no excuse for not making a day of it, parking up for free at Culver City Station and paying $1.50 each way. Seriously. Get out of your car already. There’s plenty of parking! (Btw, it’s paved now.)

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20 minutes later…

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There’s a fun walk through exhibit that some will find more interesting than others. There are some technical bits, there are some dirty bits (space toilet, anyone?) and there are some really cool bits. Like the wheels that they encourage you to touch. So I did. I touched wheels that have been into space. How many people in the world can say that?

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Jealous?

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Just a wee peak inside…

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And the best part is revealed:

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It’s actually quite a patriotic experience. Not just because there’s a giant American flag in the back, but also because it really does signify an extraordinary time in US history. One step for mankind… one step toward the reality of Star Trek. A few of us are still waiting for that transporter device.

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DH standing under the shuttle.

Oooh, tiles.

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In case you need it, if you want to get rescued, go here.

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See? Space can still inspire. Even when it seems like no one is watching, really, deep down we are all enamoured by the mystery and unknown possibilities of space exploration.

The Endeavour, having flown many missions, taking its crew to repair an injured Hubble telescope even, may not be in orbit anymore, however it’s providing a different service, perhaps one the designers never considered: one of educator. There likely won’t be any more shuttle launches in my lifetime, but that little girl above might just be around to see the next big thing. And my nephew will now be armed with some of the coolest space knowledge ever.

By the way, did you hear that Voyager 1 may have finally left the solar system? How cool is that?

One year ago in South London, aka taking a walk down someone else’s memory lane

Outside my window right now it looks like this:

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But one year ago, the view looked like this:

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Both days were beautiful, sunny spring days, the kind of days that really stick in one’s memory long after one leaves. Okay, to be fair, that top photo is what it looks like almost every day in Los Angeles. Isn’t that just boring? Sun sun sun!

Blah blah blah, I say.

If I had to chose a winner of a day, it would definitely be 11 March 2012, the day my man took me on a little tour of his old hood, Lewisham and Catford. And of course, I brought my camera.

My London knowledge is mostly centered around west and southwest London, with the recent addition of north London to the mix. It’s when it gets to southeast London that my knowledge gets fairly lackluster, my opinion formed of what my man told me, what my friends told me, what I saw on telly, and that one time back in 2001 when I went to the Greenwich Observatory on my first visit to town. Shame, I know, all those years living in London and the furthest southeast I’d gotten to this point was Bermondsey.

Lewisham has a bit of a reputation for being a bit rough. Perhaps that’s because it hasn’t become as gentrified as other parts of London; it still keeps its urban roots. Ten minutes by train from London Bridge, it’s definitely not a shopping mecca. It’s shopping centres are serious blasts from the past, built in the 60s and 70s and in desperate need of some of that regeneration money that’s being poured into the area. The shops are not Westfield standard. You won’t be buying anything Vuitton here unless it’s a knock off. But in saying that, it’s kept some of the local heritage alive, the fact that American Apparel and Gap haven’t moved in keeps the daily Lewisham Street Market authentic.

Lewisham was actually not so bad once you got to the pedestrian shopping area. Of course, that may have been the sun blinding my eyes. The walk from the station to the high street is down a busy road that’s not quite as pretty. But if you walk left around that first roundabout, you’ll see a little bit of green and an old church that could use some help – and in front of it the River Quaggy, which at this point is what’s knows as an urban stream. Think a really small LA River – once it used to be a natural waterway, but now it consists of run off and is likely redirected because of the population around it. I even think that part of the Quaggy is actually subterranean, but I’d have to look further than just Wikipedia to find that out. Ho hum.

So here’s some photographs of lovely Lewisham to show you what I mean:

Starting with a boot scraper from St Mary’s Lewisham.

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Can’t. Get. Enough.

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A little further down the high street you’ll find the gorgeous old Lewisham library. Not sure what the building is used for now, but it is in incredible nick for its location. Might be used as a government building as it is attached to the Births & Deaths office. Anyone know?

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Now originally I thought that the tower blocks pictured above might have been built on land destroyed by bombs in WW2, as Lewisham was indeed ravaged by German bombs. However, that’s actually not the case  in this instance. This is the the location of Lewisham Park, and it was once surrounded on all sides by houses. But these three tower blocks were built during the mid sixties, an era where councils thought it better to buy up (if applicable, sometimes they just moved residents if they were already council tenants) all the houses along this stretch of the high road and build purpose built tower blocks instead and named them Malling, Kemsley and Bredgar. This practice happened all over London, in many instances to get rid of areas the government thought to be slums: families living in one room, no indoor plumbing, that sort of thing. Little did they know that by building these forward thinking homes in the sky, they were actually creating the very slums they tried to eradicate.

Wow, deep.

Further down Lewisham High Road you hit Catford. Poor Catford really had the shit beat out of it during the 1960s and 70s with some truly appalling architecture. The obsession with tearing down beautiful old buildings and replacing them with brutalist office blocks and residences continued. Lots of brick. Lots of concrete.

But these days it’s probably best known for it’s Cat:

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Its shopping centres continue in the same vein as Lewisham…

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And at least there are small businesses about, like this Chick Chicken! Word of advice: avoid all fast food chicken shops in the UK unless you want to play russian roulette with food poisoning. Luckily I’ve not succumbed to such a fate, but many others I know have. What were you thinking, boys?

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… a stall where you can get a mobile phone case, a banana and fresh fish inside (take that, Asda!).

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Looking down Catford Broadway.

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A bit of old Catford… I think this alleyway into the Catford Conservative Club is a front for organized crime.

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VW driving crime lords. Why not?

Okay, so Catford’s history may a bit prettier than its present, however I think the area has a lot to offer the interested photographer. Fulham it is not – but even Fulham has its rough edges. One day someone’s going to get wise about Catford and spruce it up, because in the light of day, it might not be a bad investment.

I wish I took more photos, but at this point my dogs were barkin’. In Catford.

Get it?

From Clerkenwell, Leicestershire, Birmingham to Shropshire and all I got was this lousy cold

I’ve been a very bad blogger.

But I have a very good excuse.

I promised you photographs of stately homes, British countryside and some more photos sheep. Well I might have a few pics of the countryside somewhere in my bag of tricks, however most of my holiday was actually spent in bed.

Alright you, get your mind out of the gutter. I came down with the flu on Christmas Night, shortly after opening presents, and stayed sick until after I returned from the UK.

Poor me.

Happily I did get strong enough to get off my butt and in to a Selfridges to buy a suitable New Year’s Eve slash Most Awesome Wedding of the Year dress. And shoes. And a jacket to match.

Don’t judge. I just spend four days in bed. I totally deserved that black structured jacket with gold lapel from The Kooples. After all, I missed the Boxing Day sale.

Awww.

Of course this means that my photograph taking, otherwise known as photographing (though that word always seems so weird to me. Go on, say it out loud. See?), was pretty minimal. Here’s what I took around our fabulous hotel, The Zetter Townhouse in St John’s Square, Clerkenwell.

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Besides The Zetter and a couple of glass clad office buildings, with a pub and bistro on the ground floor respectively, is this lovely curved bank of windows belonging to the Museum of the Order of St John. It was, of course, closed when we arrived due to something called “Christmas”, however I was able to at least get a few sneaky pics off and perhaps one day I’ll visit this once priory church, replete with its twelfth century Crypt and Cloister Garden:

View to the cloister garden

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And across Clerkenwell Road, St John’s Square continues with an ancient gate and some other museumey stuff we could not visit due to our ill timing.

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Here’s a view back to the north side of St John’s Square. You can just see the Townhouse to the left behind the Zetter itself, the building with the red Z.

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It’s all very pretty and quiet isn’t it? Well, that’s what you get for the day before Christmas Eve in Central London. Clerkenwell is so quiet, you can almost here a pin drop.

Would you like to learn a little historical tidbit about Clerkenwell? As it turns out, the area took its name from the Clerks’ Well. You guessed it, there is an actual well, with actual water that is still bottled and drunk to this very day by lucky guests to the Zetter hotel. Who knew?

I didn’t, but Wikipedia did know. One day I’ll have to go hunting for the window that still overlooks part of the well. The little American tourist inside me is just dying to get a look.

These shots were taking on our way to our favourite Clerkenwell pub, The Craft Beer Co. And there I went crazy with the camera phone and snapped this nugget:

The Craft Beer Co

And on the way back, I was well impressed by the lovely lights in the Zetter hotel’s windows. But was secretly glad I was going to be spending my time in the Townhouse instead.

Zetter

We spent Christmas Eve eve shopping up Oxford Street, and frankly we were too busy, jet lagged and cranky to take any photos. And I’m convinced that the cesspool of germs that is Selfridges on Oxford Street is what made me ill in the first place. Sniffling, sneezing, flu ridden last minute shoppers, the lot of em.

So we properly escaped with the family’s pressies and boarded our chariot to the midlands:

Train from St Pancras

And from then on things get hazy. Not much more to say about that. Except at one point, the boy wakes me up to discuss getting a rental car, and I’m sure I heartily agree since I was sure as hell not exactly helping him have fun on his holiday, and he shows up with this beauty:

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And how this Nissan Qashqai saved our bacon, I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say that there was much flooding in many a country road over the next week, especially around the wedding location in lovely Shropshire, and this little 4×4 skipped over the flooding as if they were the smallest of puddles. Our contact at the local Hertz got herself a box of chocolates for the free upgrade.

To catch everyone up on the rest of my trip, really there’s only a few more photographs.

Whilst sat in traffic in Birmingham to get to the nearest Bullring parking lot with spaces:

West Midlands

I love Birmingham’s Selfridges. Might be one of my favourite buildings in England. I have so many fond memories of spending my Boxing Days here with the in-laws, so it was a joy to come on New Year’s Eve eve where it was far quieter, yet the sale was still strong.

Selfridges

Bespoke balloons at the bachelorette dinner, The Lion + Pheasant Hotel, Shrewsbury:

Bachelorette Dinner

And then we attended a lovely wedding and a fantastic reception/NYE party!

Gorgeous centerpieces:

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Plenty of Champagne:

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A completely original Pork Pie Cake cut with a Sword!

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And a gorgeous couple dancing their first dance over their own branded logo in stunning purple accent lights.

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Seriously, what a fantastic, romantic night!

A few relaxing days later, our holiday was finished off with a tidy Jager Bomb shared with available friends and family who saw us off the night before we flew (with a tidy hangover, mind). That’s right, I did a Jager Bomb with a bit of gentle coaxing from my sis in law and new brother in law.

Bless!

Since then things have remained both busy and quiet, with a few weeks of work and now a quiet March with a couple of days in Santa Barbara Wine Country in our future.

Now that will be worth a bit of photographing, don’t you think?

It’s beginning to look a lot like I’m preparing for the Christmas holiday

How, even though I don’t have work until the new year, am I so busy?

It’s like I’ve never been to England before. Didn’t I know I’d need warm sweaters? Shouldn’t I have tried on the dress I plan to wear to my sister-in-law’s wedding earlier than two days before my flight (that’s right, it doesn’t fit. By a few millimeters)? And where the hell is my Oyster card? I last used it not 7 months ago. It can’t have gone far.

I admit it, I’m a little stressed out. I’m on full burn and starting to feel a bit burned out. And the flight isn’t until tomorrow!

Upon landing in London on Saturday, the boy and I will be spending a well needed two nights in a hotel in Clerkenwell, The Zetter. We usually stay at the Charlotte Street Hotel, but their prices are getting a bit ridiculous for the kind of hotel it is, and they still charge for internet use. So I’ve had to strike them off our list because, let’s face it, when I can get free wi-fi at any Starbucks, why would I pay £20 per day to use it? Fail.

The Zetter recently opened its Townhouse right next door and we are very excited to try it out. We love Clerkenwell, and hope the two nights there before heading up by train to chilly Leicestershire will cure us of our jet lag. Of course, there’s the Christmas shopping.

I am the queen of last minute shopping. For one, I don’t really like Christmas. In my family, it’s always something we fitted in around work schedules. With a church organist and choir soloist as parents, you can’t be too upset. It’s not like they are volunteering for shifts. I wonder if they get overtime?

Anyway, Christmas in London however is a different story. I love Christmas. The lights up and down Regent Street, usually sponsored by some animated feature or other. Selfridges all dressed up in big bows, the promise of Boxing Day sales on the horizon. The smell of the roasted chestnut vendors up and down Oxford Street and perhaps a kettle drum band outside John Lewis giving carols an island sound. London knows how to do Christmas. In comparison, Los Angeles might as well have slept through it. You’d never know it’s Christmas here unless you went to The Grove.

So I promise to bring back loads of photographs of London’s streets aglow with Christmas cheer, a detailed chronicle of our various visits to Birmingham, Bicester (more shopping!) and hopefully a stately home or two. Oh, and a wedding in Shropshire on New Year’s Eve.

See you next year!

4283073587_52e551de0a_oHappy Holidays xx photograph’d