England’s Charm

UK-2041xNow on a good note, Hever Castle the home of Ann Boleyn. She was the infamous 2nd wife of King Henry VIII. What a lovely place, all the way around. We were able to walk there from where we are staying. There is nothing like walking through the English countryside. The people were so friendly, and so much beauty to see. Even the old letterbox had so much charm.

 

 

UK-2061xWe had lunch at the castle, and walked around the grounds. We toured inside and took all the history in. I so totally enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t swarming with people, and we could take our time. We learned a lot, and so appreciate all the effort put into keeping the history alive.

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Lunch at the Tower

tower_lunch_3What an adventure our lunch at the Tower of London turned out to be. To give a little background I had twisted my ankle at Buckingham Palace. So we were taking it very slow and easy.  We walked to the Westminster Pier and got on a boat to travel up the Themes to the Tower. It was a wonderful trip, but the sun was hot. So when we reached the Tower we were looking for a shady place to get lunch, a cool drink, and sit. We found a doorway with large advertisement signs around it, “Fresh Fish and Chips”. A peek inside found another sign,” please wait to be seated”, so we did. A petite young girl with a strong accent (I think Italian), asked how many and we said 2. She led us all the way to the back of the restaurant, placed two menus on a table, said “here”, and walked away.

tower_lunch_1We were left looking at two four-seater tables pushed together. At one end were two children with their parents. At the other end was a very nice elderly Italian couple sitting with their chairs up against the end of the table with their table turned the other way. As in their chairs were up against the side of our table. There was no way we could get through to the other side but to ask them to let the youngest in. The poor gentleman didn’t understand what we were referring to, but fortunately his wife got the idea. In the meantime a young couple were seated at a table by the window, just the other side of the family.

We saw the waitress talk to the young couple just after they sat down. I mention them because about 10 minutes later they were brought their food, but yet neither the family nor we had been seen to at all. Finally the waitress came up to us and asked if we were all together. We told her no, and as I tried to explain the family had been there first, the girl didn’t seem to understand me. The Mom gestured to me to go ahead. So we ordered, but not before the waitress was very adamant that we had to pay with cash. On a side note here, they only had hot food, as in fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and pizzas. A couple of cold sandwiches on the menu would have been wonderful on a hot day.

Next we see a commotion as the family started to get up. It seems they were not able to pay with cash. The Mom said something about being tourists paying with credit cards. Then as she left she said over her shoulder, “the least you could do is have it posted, or printed on the menu, and not have us sit here for ages waiting.” She was angry to say the least, and I totally agreed with her. Luckily we stopped at an ATM at the train station on the way to London. We were brought our drinks, the cans and Styrofoam cups, no ice. They were at least chilled.

Next the elderly Italian couple were trying to pay. What seemed odd to us was that the waitress was speaking English to them when she was Italian. They didn’t understand her, but she did them, but refused to speak Italian. A little while later we heard another waitress speaking to a guest the same way. He said in very broken English, “why you speak English to us?” She said, “We have to speak only English.”

At this point I have to mention the chairs. Wooden chairs on a brick floor with no sliders on the bottom of the legs. What an awful noise, and it got louder and more grating on the nerves the longer we sat there. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the staff would have at least taken some care when pushing the chairs back to the tables, but they just shoved them in.

tower_lunch_2When our food came we were finally pleased, it was actually very good. We were very grateful for that. The girl that brought our food out was not our waitress. We noticed that she was a food runner, only bringing the food out. The thing was that she spoke perfect English, smiled at the guest, and was genuinely friendly, unlike the rest of the staff. As we ate and watch the staff and guests interact we saw a terrible mess. It seemed that the staff were all either Italian or Armenian, and English was far from their first language. They were struggling with every order, and so were the guests. To actually be told to not speak the language of the guest was just nuts.

After we ate we each decided to use the bathroom before moving on. It was out the front door, and down stairs. I won’t go into details, but not a pleasant experience at all. It was at least somewhat clean though.

The waitress finally came to ask if we wanted the bill, £29.50 ($46.46). When she picked up the £30 I put down she said, “ok” nodding her head, and I said yes. Not realizing I was agreeing to her keeping the change. She collected money and returned change from a number of other tables before I figured it out. But a 79 cent tip wasn’t worth it to say anything. At this point I was feeling sorry for her having to work in such a place.

tower_lunch_4As we left we wanted to make note of the restaurant’s name. It was nowhere on the building, absolutely nowhere. We were walking away and the youngest did find this with the name on it, Tower Hall Diner.

A very English phrase comes to mind. “What a sad state of affairs.”

Our 3rd Day in Iceland

Reykjavik is a wonderful place to visit. I very much look forward to going again with Hubby in the future. The youngest and I decided to take a tour bus on our 3rd day there to try and see as much as we could. It was exhausting, but well worth it. I will post a slideshow of some of my favorite pictures here now. But when we get home I will put up some galleries with more.

First Days in Iceland

We are having a down day in England today. Such a wonderful and busy week, so we will end it with recharging for what is to come.

We left Ohio last Tuesday and started the trip sitting on the runway for about an hour waiting for a “small maintenance issue” to be resolved. But with the great tailwind we were only a half hour late landing in Iceland. We got on the bus for the 45 minute drive into Reykjavik to our hotel. We had arranged to drop off our luggage as we were there way before check-in. So did, and headed off into town to find a coffee shop. We discovered it was Iceland’s Independence Day and what a treat that turned out to be! They had parades, a stage set up with performers, balloons everywhere, it was great. Then we stopped on the way back to the hotel at the grocery store to get some dinner (you can read my previous post about that).

IS-1690The next day was our Whale Watching Tour. It was a choppy rainy trip, and a bust. I saw a fin, and the youngest nothing. But it was still an adventure to be on the boat and experience it all.

We had a pizza shop around the corner from our hotel, so decided to have that for dinner. It was pretty good, but we passed on the shrimp, tuna, and mussel pizza. IS-1696Across the street was a food truck that sells little donuts. So we went there for dessert, yummy. The man running the truck said 2 years ago there were no food trucks in Reykjavik, but they are becoming more common now.

The next day was really full. So I will post this now with pictures and write about the next day a little later. All I will say is WOW what beauty we saw.

P.S. The picture at the top of this post is a slideshow. If it doesn’t start right away just give it a few seconds and it should, enjoy!

A Tip While Grocery Shopping in Iceland

I think I am going to start a section on this blog about interesting things, facts, and duh moments while traveling. Today’s entry will be about milk. Yes, such a simple thing, until now. This is one of those cultural things. People in Iceland have known this way for a very long time, so it isn’t ‘foreign’ to them. They giggle at us, but I would too 🙂

Islandic Mjólk

What you see in the picture is a typical carton. In the store are a number of different ones different colors. As you see here it is a green and white carton with the word mjólk on it. There were other cartons with words like nýmjólk or léttmjólk in blue and yellow cartons instead of the green. So being logical we assumed that the basic mjólk is plain milk. Nope. It is actually yogurt. Not bad in cereal, but don’t think about buying it to put in your coffee 😛

P.S. it does help if you look at the picture on the carton too, and not just the signs. Yes a duh moment . . .

Are we ready?

I have packed for trips many times in the past. When the kids were little we would drive down from Cheyenne, WY to Tucson AZ every summer for a month or more. It was important to me that the kids know their family; grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends. So packing for a month with all the kids in tow came easy. But this time is very different. Yes, one child is coming, but she can pack for herself. I am only packing for me.  Very odd . . . I have time to think about it, and plan. Yes, I know I will forget something; that is inevitable. But it is so calm compared to the many times in the past.

In planning ahead we did consider the different airlines rules for baggage. I am so glad we did, as Icelandair has different rules for their flights within Europe than internationally. We cannot take our usual carryon luggage on their planes, they are too big. Where we are used to being able to have something 9-10” deep or more, they only allow 7.8”. It is very hard to find anything with wheels that is less than 7.8”deep. It turns out I had an old one we rarely use because it is so small. The general checked luggage is 62” overall, which is typical. The youngest has a hard-shell one, and is right on the inch. Mine is soft-shell and also 62”, but that means I can’t put anything in it or the outside pockets that makes it bulge. No over packing, and we can’t use the zipper to expand it and make more room. Yesterday the youngest thought she was taking her favorite backpack, until we measured it to find it is a good inch too big.

The kicker is that carry-on baggage size has actually been in the news lately. They want to reduce the allowed carry-on size to 21.5×13.5×7.5. This is actually smaller than what Icelandair permits now. When I went shopping for a small bag with wheels I couldn’t find one locally, and when I went online the search only found laptop bags on wheels that were ridiculously expensive. Even wheeled shopping bags are 8”, so the market is wide open for that now.

Right now we are simply relaxing before our adventure begins. All the baggage issues are behind us, and we are pretty much ready to go. The next time you hear from me it will be from miles away 😀

The youngest setting off on her first adventure, the first day of school.

The youngest setting off on her first adventure, the first day of school.

Working Around the System

Many who read this blog know all about Trina. But there are some in my life now who might not even know who she was. I read a post today on my favorite blog, Under the Sycamore. To briefly explain it is about a project to help prevent parents having to give up their child because they cannot afford to pay for medical care for them. I am very aware of how this works. My first husband and I were fortunate to not have to totally give up Trina, but I understand being in that place.

trina2Trina was born in 1978 at 28 weeks gestation, and weighed 2lb 7oz. She had numerous struggles in her life which I won’t go into. But there came a time when she was just too much to care for at home without help. It wasn’t that we didn’t want her, it was just too much to handle alone. We were living on active duty military pay miles away from family, we couldn’t afford to hire help, let alone purchase all the equipment necessary to properly take care of her. And to top it off because we were military, at that time we were not eligible for low income assistance. She was 7 years old, and there was a special school in Wyoming (about 5 hours drive from us) that she could go to. It was run just like a boarding school, and she could come home for breaks and the summer. It was great. But, to make a long story short, we had to release our rights to her so the state could take care of her. As I mentioned before we were fortunate. This was because we lived in Wyoming where she was still considered our child by the people caring for her.

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Trina was about 13 years old when the government decided to move her out of the school. They wanted school-age children moved into their school districts. She was placed into a private home with a very nice lady who was assigned to be her primary caretaker. This home was completely upgraded with all the equipment needed to care for Trina. They widened doorways, installed a special bathing bed. They also constructed a ramp into the house, as well as the relief caretaker’s house (where she went to on weekends). They also assigned aides to come daily to the homes and assist the caretakers with feeding, bathing, therapy etc. There were also therapists, caseworkers, advocates, and county employees who came to the homes on a regular basis. On top of this she attended public school, so had to get up and be fed, dressed and ready to be picked up by the bus at 6:45am.

Trina came to us every Friday for the night when the school bus would drop her off. There were stairs up and into our house. I had a small ramp for the outside, but no way to get her into the house. So I would have to take her out of her chair and carry her up the stairs. Then wait for someone to get home and help get the chair in. We had no special bathing equipment, only what we could jerry-rig or invent ourselves. The system would not give us any help at all.

Instead of helping us by installing a ramp, helping with a bathing chair, and giving us an aide a few times a week, they spent thousands and thousands of dollars to do it redundantly in other homes, paid salaries for many people, and put Trina through all the stress of traveling around to multiple places. This endless moving around, numerous people in and out all day, and the constant activity was just too much for her. Her system just couldn’t deal with all that activity and stimulation, so little-by-little she shut down. Just before her 16th birthday she passed away – she’d had enough.

So when I read the article this morning it made me very sad to realize it hasn’t changed. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is worse now than it was for us then. I also know it isn’t just with children, but also with the elderly, and others. There are so many decisions made that are not made by people with all the facts.  Assumptions are made, and a lack of knowledge or even a basic understanding of what it is like. They say “you can’t fight Capitol Hill”. Grant it, I have just learned about the organization, but it looks to me like the Morning Star Foundation and The Love Project have found a work-around that is working. I applaud them, and all the people supporting them.