Sunday, July 29, 2012

All of the UK - explained

The Olympics are upon us!!!  U-S-A! U-S-A!  With the Olympics being in London, there seems to be a lot of confusion about the United Kingdom vs Britain vs England and such.  Here is an awesome video that explains it all:
   
Also, check out our new "morsel of goodness" to the left and the new airshow post beneath this post!

Air Show 2012

The weekend after we got back from London T and I went to an airshow at Andrews Air Force Base.  We took a free shuttle to the base from FedEx Field where the Washington Redskins play.  (Because do you really think they are just going to let tons of people park on a base where Air Force One lives?!)  I've never been to an airshow before and it was pretty awesome even though I don't know anything about planes.  Here's a big one.  (Yes, that is exactly how much I know about planes.)

This is a bomb bay to a plane. (T had to tell me that.  I had no idea what I was looking at.)

Some helicopters doing some fancy type synchronized moves.

B-52 Bomber

I'm not really sure why these guys were at the airshow, but here are the Avengers.  I bet they were just sweating to death.

Checking out some control panel type stuff.  I'm sure it was such a pain after the airshow was over to make sure all the settings on everything were back to where they should be.  I don't know if I would be okay with the general public messing with all those settings on all those expensive planes if I worked on base!

U-S-A!  U-S-A!

T with an F-16.

A different view of the same plane.  
The 113th Wing is known as the "Capital Guardians" because as the name implies, they defend the Nation's Capital.  On September 11, 2001 the wing was given authorization for its pilots to shoot down threatening aircraft over Washington DC.  (Thanks wikipedia.)

The planes on the ground were cool, but the planes in the sky were much cooler!


Something something NASA transport plane that was super strange looking.  Almost like a dolphin.

Cool plane formations!

I think the pilots must LOVE airshow days because it's just fun and showing off. 

This plane looks like a shark getting ready to eat some people.

Get to the chopper!

We were only there for two or three hours because I had to work.  We did see all the planes on the ground but I wish we could have stayed to see the Blue Angels.  Maybe next year.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Londonton Abbey - Observations

Previously, on Londonton Abbey:
Londonton Abbey - Day 3 (Hampton Court Palace)

Some of our British observations / quirks in no particular order that may or may not have been mentioned in previous posts.
  • Why doesn't Great Britain have conditioner?!?!?!?!  Our bed and breakfast in Edenbridge only had shampoo and the hotel we stayed at in London only had shampoo.  They didn't even sell conditioner at the Tesco (a convenience store) - just shampoo!  This seriously irked me.  My hair was frizzy and not very cooperative the whole time due to the lack of conditioner.   I really dislike my hair in almost every single picture we took because of it. 
  • Everyone is SO pale.  Seriously.  We thought we were sorta pale, but we were several shades darker than most Londoners. I guess that's what comes of constant cloud cover and rain.
  • T's British accent got quite good from being around all the Londoners.  Mine was always atrocious.
  • We only saw two homeless people the entire trip.  We're not sure if they had been cleared out in preparation for the Olympics, or if they just don't like London, or if it's just not really a problem there to begin with.
  • Brits only card if you appear to be under 21– which is totally crazy!
  • Tesco jam dounuts are my favorite food from London.  I guess it isn't hard to be a favorite food in a country full of crappy food, but truly, the jam dounuts were excellent.
  • London is EXPENSIVE!  Just everything: food, transit, admission prices.  And that's before you factor in the exchange rate to dollars.  But we still did London super cheap and saw everything we wanted to.  Go team!
  • It never became automatic which way to look when crossing the street.  We seriously would just stand there and look both directions three or four times and then dart across.  We were always happy when it was painted right on the pavement "Look (whichever way)."
  • We never figured out what it means when the crosswalk lights flash.  Here's what a crosswalk without a traffic light looks like: 
  • Sometimes the crosswalk lights (the tall pillars) flash and sometimes they are on and sometimes they are off and we never could detect a pattern. Anybody know what that's all about?
  • The white zig-zag lines on the road were quite common and were seen in all types of road situations but we never figured out what they meant either.  No parking?  No passing?  Stay within the zig-zag lines so everyone looks drunk and no one ever gets a DUI?
  • British drivers are nuts.  They drive fast and with total reckless abandon.
  • Basically what I'm saying is:  It's a very good thing we didn't rent a car.
  • London souvenirs are terrible.  Just ugly and cheap and not worth it.  And we went into pretty much every gift shop and tourist trap around.  We really wanted a UK Christmas ornament for us (in addition to the one we got the one for baby, which admittedly is totally excellent) and really we will probably end up ordering one online!  Ridiculous!
  • Smokers are everywhere!  Even pregnant ladies were smoking!  I wanted to cry and smack some sense into them.  The smokers also congregated right at (and I do mean right at) entrance doors to everywhere.
  • Fish and chips (fries) are everywhere, but fast food chains are not as common as you would think and are actually quite hard to find. (To be honest, there were quite a few sandwich type places around, but we couldn't eat there because I can't eat lunch meat while pregnant, so that did make eating out much harder.)
  • UK soft drinks and candy have very different flavors than the American product of the exact same name and brand.  We're not sure if it's a "real sugar vs high fructose corn syrup" thing or what.
  • Fast food chain menus are vastly different than the menus at the same restaurant in the states.
  • There were quite a few food carts and restaurants selling "pasties."  At first I was excited because I LOVE pastries, but "pasties"  are very much NOT pastries.  The pasties are like meat pies - and not the good kind.  T got a chicken pot pie pastie at Hever Castle and it was incredibly nasty.  Just really terrible.  The crust was flaky and dry and tasteless and was impossible to eat because it was so messy.  The gravy was rubbery and the chicken and veggies were just gross. 
  • Trash cans are rare.  I first noticed this in the airport I had some trash as we exited the plane and literally had to hold on to it for 20 minutes because there weren't any trash cans in the airport!  Trash cans are also not found in the tube stations or along the street or most fast food restaurants (they bus your table for at most places).
  • Everyone is so nice and helpful.  I do think the accent helps this illusion along.
  • E II R is all over the place (stands for Elizabeth the second Regina aka Queen Elizabeth).
  • Everyone wears skinny jeans or black tights (with shorts, even – which I guess makes sense because it's way too cold to wear shorts alone).
  • The Tube is WAY underground. And the escalators/stairs up and down are LONG.
  • The bathrooms, oh my gosh, the bathrooms:
    • Urinals auto flush every 15 minutes (aka are super smelly) and are not built into the wall.
    • Some toilet stalls have toilet paper dispensed in sheets like kleenex.
    • Public toilets have doors that close for real (no gap all the way around the stall door like they do in the states).
    • Some restrooms have two spouts at the stink - one runs only hot water and the other runs only cold water.  There is a plug in the sink and the idea is that you fill the basin and mix the hot and cold water together and wash your hands in the basin water, not the running water.  
    • Some toilets flush by pulling a pull cord.
  • Some different phrases: 
    • "mind the gap" and "mind your head" (mind = watch) all over the tube.
    • "way out" = exit
    • "jacket potato" = baked potato
    • "lemonade" = Sprite
    • "bitter lemonade" = bitter Sprite (we never did figure out how to order an American style lemonade!)
    • "take away" = food to go

Monday, July 9, 2012

Londonton Abbey - Day 10

In case you missed it:

Londonton Abbey - Day 3 (Hampton Court Palace)

Day 10 was our last day in London.  And while our flight was late enough that we could have done one quick tourist-y thing in the morning, we decided not to risk it.  We took a one hour ride on the tube to Heathrow (thanks for hauling our bags about again, T!) where we got our Oyster card deposit back (£5 each so no small deal).  Using the 7 day pass on the Oyster card was one of our best London decisions.  

Since we were 3.5 hours early for our flight, before we headed to the British Airways lounge we went souvenir hunting in the airport.  It was rough goings.  Eventually we found and bought these shirts at the Olympic store.  They were pricey, but it was worth it because we had been looking the ENTIRE trip for a souvenir and hadn't found a suitable one.  
T has worn his (white) several times since we've been home, but I haven't worn mine (blue) at all because I don't want to stretch it out.  

The only other souvenir we bought in London was this super adorable ornament specifically for baby from Buckingham Palace.

The British Airways lounge in Heathrow was incredibly nice and had some awesome food.  We were just hanging out for a while then I started to get antsy to get on the plane because you had to take a shuttle to the terminal and it was 1:50 and the doors to the plane closed at 2:10.  T was kind of mosying about because he thought the doors to the plane OPENED at 2:10.  Anyway, by the time I figured out why T was mosying and he figured out why I was antsy we had to run (literally) to the shuttle and then again from the shuttle up two sets of escalators to the gate.  We were almost the last people at the gate, but we made it!

We got to our seats and sat down and my sides and stomach started hurting.  A lot.  Like crying, doubled over in pain, T asking me if we need to get off the flight pain.  There was no way I was going to get off the flight  - I missed America and I was not about to re-buy expensive plane tickets!  The worst of the pain was over in about 40 minutes and after another 20 minutes I was able to sleep and felt mostly better when I woke up.  We think it was the running that did it?...  Anyway, by the time we landed at Dulles I felt totally fine. While the pain was the worst I seriously said to T "If I can't even handle this how am I going to handle labor?!"  Here's some proof of me feeling mostly fine:

We flew business class again on the way home and once again, it was wonderful.  We slept and read and watched some movies (me: New Year's Eve and The Devil Wears Prada, T: Sherlock Holmes #2, Johnny English, How to Train Your Dragon).  We had two meals (like fancy restaurant meals) and a snack served to us on board.  I am actually a fan of scones and clotted cream and jam.  The scones taste pretty much like my mom's biscuits and the clotted cream tasted like a mix of butter and cream cheese with a bit of lemon in it.  What's not to love about that?  Also, what's not to love about knowing you're over the Atlantic, but not being able to see it?
When we landed we had a message from the guy who we had arranged to pick us up saying that he couldn't pick us up!  But it was okay because he also said that he arranged for our home teacher (not the one who took us to the airport) to pick us up.  Unfortunately, the new guy thought that the pick up time (7:30 p.m.) was the time the flight landed so we had to wait around the airport, but really, there are way worse things in life. 
T and I were both SO glad to be back in the States and back to warm weather.  We were even more glad to get back to our apartment that we had cleaned just before we left.  It was SO nice to come home to a clean house with clean towels and clean sheets and just fall into bed (after we bought some milk for cereal the next morning!)  It was also so nice that we had both intentionally taken the day after we go back from London off from work to recover.  I had an obgyn appointment the next morning and seriously didn't feel jet-lagged at all (though, T did a bit).  We were so lucky in the jet lag department / the timing of our flights both ways!

Next up is our very last post about London (I promise!).

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Londonton Abbey - Day 9

In case you missed it:
Londonton Abbey - Day 3 (Hampton Court Palace)

Monday we went to the National Gallery to see the Impressionism paintings.  It was a very typical British type day with drizzling on and off the whole time.

Impressionism is my favorite kind of art and considering T isn't really into art and the museum is giant we just hit that one area.  My very favorite painting there was Van Gogh's "Wheatfield with Cypress Trees." (image from here)

Like I've said before I just LOVE the impasto in Van Gogh's work.  Really, a poster of a Van Gogh is a waste because the impasto makes the painting and that just doesn't show up on a poster.  I guess someday I'll just have to own an original Van Gogh. 

The National Gallery is directly behind Trafalgar Square.  There is an Olympic Countdown in the square.  It was 107 days until the Olympics.  At first we were very confused, because it should have only been 65 days, but then we realized that this side of the countdown is for the PARAlympics.  So 107 days was accurate.

Then we went to the post office to buy postcard stamps.  The post office is confusing!  Like four different lines for different things plus self serve kiosks that were hard to follow.  But as usual, someone (a worker bee) was very nice and essentially did the self serve kiosk for us and we were out within two minutes.  It seemed like almost everyone in London was SO nice and helpful.  Though I think the accent definitely helped this illusion along for us.  I suppose that some of them could have been rude to us and we just thought they were charming due to the accent.  I choose to believe that even if they didn't have accents, Londoners are nice. 

Next we visited the Imperial War Museum.  Here's some... war stuff...

A German V2 rocket.

A Sherman tank from WWII. It was pretty impressive to see these things in real life.

There were so many obnoxious teenagers (mostly in giant school groups from all kinds of countries) everywhere in London museums.  I know that we used to be obnoxious teenagers, but I really don't think we were that disrespectful in museums.  They were seriously shouting and shoving each other about all the time.  Giant eye roll to all of them.

Here's a missile and a bunch of anti-aircraft guns.

We skipped the Holocaust and Crimes Against Humanity exhibitions.  There was a warning sign (and we read online) that some of the videos are really graphic and not for the faint of heart.  And I just didn't feel up to viewing those kinds of things. 

A Sopwith Camel from WWI.

My favorite part was the Victoria Cross exhibit (aka the Lord Ashcroft Gallery).  As I understand it, the Victoria Cross is like our Purple Heart.  The Victoria Cross exhibit had individual artifacts and stories describing how that particular Victoria Cross was earned.  So basically really awesome, short, accessible stories about incredibly brave people in impossible situations.  The stories weren't arranged chronologically (I actually enjoyed it this way) so there were stories from the Crimean War next to stories from the War in Iraq.

The P-51 Mustang from WWII and Korea.

There was a re-creation of a WWI trench (that we didn't take photos of) and it smelled terrible.  We couldn't decide if that was an intentional part of the re-creation or just a byproduct of a dark, musty, enclosed space. Regardless, it was interesting to walk down the trench and look through the periscopes across the recreation of no man's land.

The Sopwith Camel from above.

Me and the Mustang.


We ate lunch at the train station where I had a bagel sandwich and T ate at Burger King where you can have it your way, unless you are in the UK.  T wanted a double hamburger ketchup only and they wouldn't order it for him.  So he tried to order it as a double cheeseburger, no cheese and ketchup only and they said they couldn't do it that way.  So he ended up ordering a plain hamburger.  Except then they put everything on it instead of leaving it plain.  Sigh.  No surprise that the food in London continued to be a disappointment.

Our whole time in London we had been searching for an awesome London / UK Christmas ornament and weren't having much luck.  So we looked online and found a Christmas store.  We totally went out of our way to get there and the store was a total bust.  Earlier, we had seen an ornament that we liked, but weren't sold on, at the Royal Mews.
We were going to take another double decker bus back to the hotel (because the double decker bus really was one of my favorite things in London!), but instead decided to try to make it across town on the tube back to the Royal Mews before they closed to get the ornament.  We made it in time before they closed, but then they were sold out of the ornament!  It was really surprising that there was a serious lack of good souvenirs throughout London.  I mean, London is a major city AND it is the year of the Queen's Jubilee AND the Olympics and still no good souvenirs?!?!

So we headed to the hotel still completely souvenir-less for the whole trip (minus the ornament for baby - more on that in the next post).  We ate dinner from the Tesco again - really it's so much cheaper and better tasting than eating out.  Sad and true.