Blimey, it's London!

Of all the trips we have (or have had) on our schedule, London was the one I'd least paid attention to. I mean, when I've got a 10-day trip in Italy still requiring reservations for planes, trains and automobiles, a weekend visit to a UK city I'd already been to once before just didn't seem high on the priority list.

So even though I may have been "bad" to London, it sure was good to us. In our typical make-as-few-plans-as-possible-so-we-have-time-to-relax-and-take-it-all-in fashion, we arrived sans any volcano ash and a few minutes early to Heathrow. Three trains later we were basking in the rays of some bright afternoon sun and actual spring temperatures while towing our suitcase down the sidewalk. (Our bags are starting to get a bit battered with all this travel, they came out of the baggage carousel one zipper and two ID tags short.)

Our hotel, the City Inn at Westminster, was great. Modern, clean, roomy and decent location. It wasn't a long walk to get to some of the main streets, like Victoria, which were laden with shops and pubs. The first item on our agenda was, you guessed it, food! (Seriously people, if you don't this about me by know, you'll never learn. I love food. Like, love it. I am always thinking about eating.)

Since London is absolutely loaded with pubs, real authentic pubs, there's never any shortage of places to eat or drink. We found a street corner establishment that looked like it was having a jolly good time during a Friday happy hour and popped in for a pint and some fish and chips. We bought the pint but the kitchen was out of commission so we slugged back our beers then meandered over to another pub just a few blocks away. This time we lucked out with some haddock and a burger and two big ole glasses of Staropramen, a lager we enjoyed in Prague.

We stopped by Odd Bins on our way back to the hotel for two bottles of cab (one of which made it back to Scotland with us... yummy) and got fixed up for the highlight of our entire weekend: Love Never Dies. If you've been reading my blog at all within the past week, you'll know that I've been beside myself with the anticipation of seeing this show. Reliving memories of seeing the original Phantom of the Opera with my mom in London 2006 (read more here) got me all ajitter and I couldn't wait till I was in my seat for the brand new sequel, which had only just debuted in February.

When we arrived at the Adelphi Theatre on the Strand, people were already milling around in reception so we made a beeline for the goodies kiosk and I bought the soundtrack and program. I hadn't heard any of the music yet, but I didn't need to... I knew it would be good! Our seats were in the Upper Class, which was on the second level and about half way back but still good enough to see all the action on the stage and worth the £36 price tag. Two whisky and cokes later, we were carrying our plastic cups of Staropramen (seeing a trend here?) to our seats just as the lights dimmed and the show was on.

It was absolutely wonderful. The production had a few modern techniques to it, like a clear screen that sometimes came down in front of the performers to produce a 3D effect. They would beam pictures or special effects off the screen to add more dimension. The singing was bar none, just fantastic. And the storyline was really well played, not at all a repeat of the original. We stood and applauded our little hearts out at the end; I was on Cloud Nine. Afterwards, just like I did with my mom four years ago, we paused for a few pictures outside the theatre. Another perfect moment captured forever. Loved it!

Our second day in London started off with a patio lunch at a cute pub near our hotel. Steak sandwich with red onion marmalade, delish. We loved sitting outside, it's been sooooooooooo long since we've enjoyed nice weather, warm temperatures and sun. Gosh, I miss sitting on the tailgate of my truck drinking ice cold Bud Light while the sun scorched my skin to a beautiful bronze. (Yes, I know it's a little overkill. No, I don't intend to let up on the summer fantasizing or mentioning 50 times that it was sunny in London. Come live in Aberdeen for eight months, then you'll understand!)

After lunch, we took a trip to Harrods. Just as I remembered, it's a busy circus-like hub of a department store. The famous luxury retail wonderland is 4.5 acres and more than 330 departments of fun, with a glitzy exterior lit by 11,500 bulbs at night. We wandered through the majority of the place, including the vast beauty counters—I bought my very first Mac makeup foundation, go me! And we browsed the pet section, amazed at how easy it would be for someone to drop a couple thousand pounds on their animal. I mean, a fluffy pink princess dog bed or a genuine leather pet sofa?!? Talk about "lapping" up luxury.

Normally we'd take the rail to and from our destinations, but on this particular trip it seemed easiest to just hop in a cab. It ended up not being very expensive (nothing was more than a 10-15 min drive apart) and it saved us a boatload of time and kept our feet from screaming in pain. So from Harrods we headed to Buckingham Palace, since I was eager for Mike to see the official home of the Queen in all its glory. Our cab driver was somewhat entertaining. The conversation went something like this:

Cab driver: Where you visiting from then?
Us: We actually came over from Aberdeen.
Cab driver: Blimey! So where are yous from then?
Us: Well, we're actually from Texas.
Cab driver: Oh blimey!
Us: Yeah, we get that sometimes.

Sun still shining high and bright, we were able to get some good snapshots of the palace. We didn't see the changing of the guard and they don't allow visitors inside the palace until sometime in July we were told. Probably about the time that the Queen heads over to Scotland for her annual summer stay at Balmoral Castle. Guess we'll have to drop in for tea sometime, since she's just up the road from Aberdeen.

After we'd gawked enough at Buckingham, we ended up in the nearby Green Park (yep, that's really it's name... creative huh?). This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Everyone was in shorts or short-sleeved t-shirts or flip flops, totally soaking in the good weather and sunshine. It was picnics galore on the velvet grassy slopes so we decided to plop down for some lounging of our own—people watching, eavesdropping on English conversations and munching on shortbread cookies. A bloody good time.

Next it was off to the St. George's Festival (the patron saint), which just happened to be going on that day at Trafalgar Square. It was mainly just a concert, but people had brought their own beer or wine and packed into the middle of the square, which borders the impressive National Gallery art building. Attracting an estimated 15 million visitors per year, the square is the world's fourth most popular tourist attraction! Rightly so, since we got some great pictures of the area with the sculptures, the concert, crowds of people, a London city backdrop and the London Eye rising above it all. Very English, I daresay.

It was so relaxing to literally stroll through the streets with no agenda in mine and no appointments to keep. I think that's what I loved most about the trip. We did accidentally end up in a gay area of town, not realizing it until we walked into what looked like a typical vintage London pub to find it absolutely packed with guys. And some were very questionable looking. We hightailed it outta there, plastic brews in hand, and downed our beers out on the sidewalk before evacuating the area to find a more suitable hangout.

We ate dinner (Jack Daniel's glazed ribs) on a patio which involved more people watching then ended up back at the same pub we'd started out for lunch. Luckily we found a dart board and three darts, which supplied us with a dart tournament for the next several hours, interrupted only for a couple Jager bombs or more pints. You can tell that sometimes we truly love the simple things in life. (Happy sigh.)

Sunday involved our final hours in London, which we used to visit Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abby. It's just as beautiful every time I see it. And I love Big Ben's beautiful gold-gilded architecture. So stately and ornate. They just don't make 'em like that anymore! (Per Wikipedia, it's the largest four-faced chiming clock and the third-tallest free-standing clock tower in the world.) The sun had finally relinquished to the clouds so it was gray and a bit overcast, but I actually didn't mind for once. Seeing Big Ben against the foggy sky made it look exactly the same as it had when my mom and I stood below it in 2006. And that's just the way I wanted to leave it.

"Forget six counties overhung with smoke,
Forget the snorting steam and piston stroke,
Forget the spreading of the hideous town;
Think rather of the pack-horse on the down,
And dream of London, small and white and clean,
The clear Thames bordered by its gardens green."
~William Morris from 'The Earthly Paradise'


Love Never Dies...

At long last, after six days of completely grounded planes and quiet air space, aviation officials have lifted the ban on UK flights saying it's now safe for them to soar the skies again. See the full BBC report here.

I am so relieved, as I was getting worried we wouldn't make our flight to London on Friday. And I cannot wait to see this:

What a masterpiece Andrew Lloyd Webber is. We have tickets to the show Friday night and I'm just beside myself with anticipation to see it. I love and adore the original Phantom of the Opera. I still crank up the soundtrack in the car while I'm driving sometimes (there's just something about that music that gives you chills), I own the DVD which I've watch often, and I have fond memories of acting as the Phantom atop one of our lifts during a swim routine we performed years ago. It was one of my favorites, too.

I'm fortunate to have seen the original with my mom during our trip to London in 2006. It is one of our absolute favorite memories of ALL time. Here's her recap of that special event, which she wrote just for this blog entry:

"For Amber's 21st birthday I took her on a trip to London! We went on a shoe string it is true! However....we DID GO!! We had the time of our lives on that May trip in 2006. I wanted to do something truly SPECIAL while we were there! When I saw Phantom of the Opera was STILL playing.....after being there since 1985...the year Amber was born...I KNEW that was to be our SPECIAL treat! So I carefully and with much thought bought our tickets long in advance. It truly was the highlight of our trip! We dressed up and rode the red double decker London bus full of anticipation.

Now I must tell you...Amber was a synchronized swimmer for 11 years and she and her team swam to Phantom and it was SPECTACULAR!! That was my all time favorite team event of her career! So Phantom holds a special place in my emotions as well as hers. We were NOT disappointed! The play exceeded all expectations! I just shivered when the music would crescendo! The theater is old and elegant. Seats are very close to one another and there is no air conditioning. You literally feel as if you have stepped back in time! At intermission we caught our breath and enjoyed the whole experience of just BEING THERE!

When the play was over and we were carried into the London air by the throng of all the people pouring out of the theater......we were in a daze! We had SEEN Phantom in LONDON!! We lingered awhile snapping pictures....not wanting this evening to end! And it never has, actually!! That wonderful time lives on in my memory and I take it out and enjoy it often!"
 -Linda Chapman


Here's a little background on the show taken from the website:

The principal characters of The Phantom of the Opera continue their stories in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s LOVE NEVER DIES. Ten years after the mysterious disappearance of The Phantom from the Paris Opera House, Christine DaaĆ© accepts an offer to come to America and perform at New York’s fabulous new playground of the world – Coney Island. Arriving in New York with her husband Raoul and their son Gustave, Christine soon discovers the identity of the anonymous impresario who has lured her from France to sing. This brand-new show is a roller coaster ride of obsession and intrigue…in which music and memory can play cruel tricks… and The Phantom sets out to prove that, indeed, LOVE NEVER DIES.

To find out more about the show, tour schedule, background and ticket prices, click here.

“Phantom is one of those musicals that never leaves you high and dry. Once you're on the roller coaster, you're on it for good.”
~Andrew Lloyd Webber


Sizzle Me Baby!

Yep, that's me. I'm a country girl and a Texas gal at heart. Never thought I'd be so into trucks, beautiful hill country, lonesome sunny gravel roads, Bud Light, cowboy boots, Bluebonnets and the heat. But growing up in the pool, drinking in the sunshine and relishing the Texas scenery for the past 24 years of my life must've done me in.

Yesterday Aberdeen received hail and snow and gusty winds. And the temps have dropped to freezing at night this week. In April, you ask? Why of course! In fact, it's even snowing again right now while the sun happens to be out! I'm thrilled to be over here and we're definitely making the most of our last four months, but gosh darn it I miss me some heat!

I didn't make a single complaint about the Texas summer heat last year because I knew I'd miss it after a couple months in Scotland and, boy was I right. I intend not to complain when we return either! I already have two beach trips to look forward to immediately after we get back - one to Gulf Shores, AL. and one to Galveston. I can already feel the sand between my toes. Slather me in coconut tanning oil, baby, and call me a sun worshipper!

Gulf Shores, AL.
Image courtesy of my mom's blog, Linda's Life Journal.  


Wedding Words

These two articles of mine appeared in the spring/summer 2010 edition of Houston Brides, the publication I was the editor of in Houston and which is now edited by the lovely Holly Crawford. I love writing bridal and enjoy contributing to my magazine back home! (Click images twice to enlarge and read.)



Spring Rally!

Spring. Rally. Work. Beer. Friends. Fun.

That about sums up the past five days! I spent the better half of this week doing some writing for several bridal magazines before our friend, Anand, arrived from Houston on Wednesday. We showed him around town a little bit last night after dinner at the Ferryhill House Hotel. (This time I tried something new and got the apricot crusted pork chops and they were delish!) It's always fun having a group of Americans to pal around with over here, we had a great time doing a little bar hopping, enjoying a couple Coors Lights and trying to figure out what "sassage" is. Oh, and we may have indulged in our favorite drink at Soul known as TVR, aka tequila, vodka, Red Bull. It comes by the pitcher = trouble.

I'm not one to chronicle my outfits but after I got ready to head out, I realized I had managed to wear hot pink, bright yellow and turquoise all in one! White jacket and turquoise ring are from Primark, yellow top from Zara, jeans are Top Shop, bag is Debenhams, boots are old ones from Kohl's, turquoise bracelet made by my friend Lisa and brown/gold braided bracelet is Chan Luu. Whew, I am a walking posterchild for Aberdeen shops, ha.

Mike took one look at me and said I must be trying to will springtime into existence. I guess it worked, because the blue skies were in full force this morning as I headed out with my boss and his wife to the VIP Day for the Granite City Rally. It was organized by my boss' company, h-events, and hosted by Station Garage Mitsubishi. Basically, someone had a rally track created on their land specifically for this event. It's layout includes several "pieces" of road inspired by other rally tracks around the country, I believe. Clients arrived and slurped up their coffee and bacon rolls before shimmying into a flattering orange flame-retardant suit and getting their turn in a car around the track. Professional rally drivers did the honors, rattling everyone through the gravel road at breakneck speeds with some breakneck turns. I will admit to gripping the sides of my seat a little tight during my turn, but I kept my bacon roll down!! It was amazing to actually watch a driver manuever through such an intense track. I told my guy that it would be a really bad day if he ever got car sick!

While I was at the rally, the guys were enjoying the weather as well and played a round of golf just outside Aberdeen. Mike's still working on improving his swing so he can play at St. Andrews this summer!

I got a few good pictures of the trees and flowers which are gradually welcoming the change in season. It's so exciting to see the landscapers out and about re-planting trees, green bushes, mowing the grass and arranging flowers. Every day that it's sunny outside, there are kids playing in the park across the street from us. And I think I may have actually gotten a slight sunburn on my face from today... GASP!!!!! CAN IT BE TRUE!?!?!

Tomorrow it's back to work for a long day at the official Granite City Rally, then Sunday it's more writing then work as usual next week before we're off to London! I am really looking forward to eating at Gordon Ramsay's pub and, most of all, seeing the Phantom of the Opera sequel!!!!!!!!!! Hope everyone has a nice weekend and enjoys the weather. Don't forget to wear your seatbelt.
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