Sunday, January 29, 2012

Duncan and Arta off to the theatre

The 'grandmas' (my mom, plus 'grandma aunt wyona' and 'grandma aunt moiya') have been in and around the environs this month....Alex got to go cruising with them, and Duncan has been taken off to musicals. I should blog it up, but WHY?! (since Arta already has!)

Click here to get arta's report on taking duncan to see Roald Dahl's Matilda. she also took him to see Shrek, but we haven't got the report on that one yet!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Trip to the Tower of London

Steve and Duncan on the wall walk at the Tower of London

The house has been a bit quiet this week. We had my mom, aunt wyona and aunt moiya here for a whirlwind visit, but then they headed off for the Canary Islands (with Alex in tow!). So... Sunday being a cold and clear day, and there being no need to rush Alex off to a rugby game, it seemed the perfect time to bundle Duncan off to see the Tower of London [the London Walks people do a tour of the Tower of London every Sunday at 2pm] It is always a trade off: it is chilly to do a tour in the winter, but there are also no crowds, so it is much more pleasant to be there. Duncan and I were bundled up warmly, so i think it was only Steve who was slapping his hands together for warmth!

I already forced Duncan to give me his top 5 things from the trip out.  That left me thinking about my own list.
the former London Port Authority building
 Because the day was clear, I got a chance to enjoy the colour contrasts... like the blue of the sky against the white stone of the Former London Port Authority Building in Trinity Square Gardens (on Tower Hill itself).  On grey days, the effect is totally different.  Either way... it is also odd seeing such a gorgeous site (both buildings and gardens) in a location so steeped in blood and gore.
more colour contrasts...

The colour contrasts were there in nearly every angle:  I loved the white of wooden bell tower set off against the stone, with the branches of the chestnut tree cutting black lines against sky, stone and wood (its shadow creeping up the bottom of the tower).  I 'think' this is the tower in which Sir Thomas Moore was imprisoned (but my memory is a seive these days, so i am not positive).
Tower Bridge beind the Tower of London
Other things I loved?  Seeing Tower Bridge rising up from behind the Tower of London.  I know these locations are in close proximity to eachother, but in my mind, they all exist is some kind of separation from eachother.  Maybe this is just a function of having learned about them in the abstract...or of growing up in Canada where you have to drive ages to get from monument to monument.  haha.   even after half a year living here, i find myself surprised to see structures 'in the same frame'.

The Guards Marching by in step
  Of course it is always fun seeing the guard march by.  Each time they passed, our tour guide would move us to the side, warning us that we would just get run over if we didn't get out of the way.  For those of you who have seen the new Andrew Lloyd Weber version of "The Wizard of Oz", i will confess that, watching them march by, i could hear running in my own head the riff that Andrew Lloyd Weber uses when ever you see the guards belonging to the Wicked Witch march by.  Made me smile.

I also loved looking a bit more closely at the 'details' of a castle.  For example, looking at the 'arrowslits':  spots where the archers would have been standing, seen from both from the outside and the inside.  All those years of reading books about castles.... and then it just seems so wierd to finally see what those things looked like, and to get a better sense of how archers could shoot from fairly well protected vantage points. 

An arrow slit in the tower...

... and seeing the arrow slit from the other side

We stayed at the tower til the end of the day, and had a bite to eat at the pub on the corner.  When we came out, evening was well upon us.  The contrast of stone and sky by night is another piece of beauty!  Still... as we were heading home, and as I was grilling Duncan on things he remembered from the tour, he remarked that it was surprising that a castle can still be boring (presumably, this means having to tour a castle with your parents!).   hahaha

The Tower by night....

Duncan's Report on the Tower of London

feeding pigeons by the roman wall
We went to the Tower of London on the weekend.  Here is a photo of me feeding the pigeons while we were waiting for the tour to start.  The wall you can see behind me was made by the Romans.  My mom says I have to report 5 things about the trip to the Tower of London, so here they are:

1.  They used to have a really deep moat around the tower to protect the castle, but then it was really full of poop and stuff.  They tried to make a sluice gate so all that stuff would go out into the river, but it didn't work and all the poop just stayed.  So... it turned out that the moat WAS a really big defence because it stunk so much that no one wanted to conquor it.  Even the people inside the tower left because they couldn't stand the smell. It was too stinky for the king to want to live there, so he finally had the moat filled in with dirt.   No more moat!

outside the walls of the Tower of London
2.  They killed A LOT of people there.  No one really wanted to be the executioner, so they would tell prisoners that they could go free if they would be the executioner.  Sometimes the executioners were even young kids like me.  The tour guide made me come to the front when she told everyone about some guy (my mom says Thomas Cromwell) getting killed by a kid my age.  It was a bit annoying to have to be at the front.  Still, if i had to choose to be killed or be an executioner, i think i would be the executioner.

why does a polar bear statue need a chained ankle?
 3.  They also used to have animals and stuff there living in the Tower.  Bears, and tigers and ostriches and stuff. People would bring wild animals as a gift for the king, and he would just let them hang around in the tower. Once a lady got her arm ripped off trying to pat a lion.  Not so smart. The animals aren't there any more, but they have some really cool statues of animals all over the place inside the Tower (they are made of wire mesh!).

lion sculptures in the moat

monkey teeth and monkey butt
 4. They have these big birds there.  My mom says they are ravens.  A legend says if the birds ever leave the tower, the tower will crumble and be destroyed.  You can see the birds jumping around on the lawn.  They clip their wings so they can't fly away.  They also feed them lots of meat and bread soaked with blood and eggs.  Not my idea of a good meal, but they seem to like it.
A Raven sitting on a stump

The Raven Cage (against an old wall)
5.  We saw old graffitti scratched into the wall, and they also had a room where you could try out a helmet and a crossbow.  That was not too bad.
Graffiti carved on the walls in the Tower of London
A less than comfortable hat...
...but the crossbow was cool.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"Losing it in Belgium: or... the real truth of family holiday"

Steve and I figured this ("Losing it in Belgium") would be the best tag line to summarize the family's holiday vacation. It was a vacation with plenty of good things in it, but it was also (and perhaps this is just the norm for ALL of us) a time of loss. Loss, you ask? Yes. Loss. Any loss in particular, you ask? Well... lets see. Things lost?: travel time, appetite, cash, travel plans, expectations, sleep, phones, skin, way,luggage, temper and teeth. I am sure I left something out of there, but... if I were to elaborate just a bit, it would look like this

1. Travel Time: see earlier blog post reporting on the outbound trip from London to Brussels (where we saved 50 pounds, thereby losing us 9 hours of vacation time each way... ie 18 lost hours in total)...the eurostar from London to Brussels takes only 1 hour 45 minutes. Sigh.

2. Our stomaches: on the way to Brussels (before boarding the bus), Steve bought a bag of samosas for us to eat during the day. They turned out to be the greasiest samosas in the history of time... oil was dripping out of the bottom of the bag onto our clothes and gear. There was a nice grease stain all the way down the leg of steve’s favourite jeans. We are all feeling a bit off samosas now...

3. Our Cash: on our first day of vacation, Steve has his eyes off his wallet for just long enough for someone to relieve him of both his euros and british pounds. Ouch. At least the thief was kind enough to leave the credit cards.

Christmas Eve with wifi and Stella
 4. Travel Plans/Expectations: Alex was sick. Really sick. Sicker than he has been in his life. Sick enough that he was unable to move from the bed, which meant that the rest of us were held back at the hotel. So much for the plan to visit Vimy Ridge, stroll along the canals in Bruge, or roam around Flanders. Instead, we hung out in the lobby of the hotel. Because we were too cheap to pay the 15 euros for internet in the hotel room, we made use of the free wifi in the lounge. Of course, this meant getting kicked off and having to re-sign back on every 30 mintues... thus a whole stream of lost emails and blog posts. Still... we were not deterred in our desire to maximize our use of the ‘free’ wifi! So we just sat around the Christmas Tree in the lobby humming our own Christmas carols (with a Pint of Stella).... Steve and I took turns wandering out (sometimes with Duncan, sometimes alone), leaving the other parent to hold the fort in the hotel lobby.
5. Our Sleep: See above. Alex, sick and dozing in and out of sleep, kept shouting out during the night that he couldn't sleep, and it was not fair that the rest of us were sleeping when he wasn't [note: uh... nope... the rest of us were sharing his state of wakefulness]

6. Our Phones: Plural. Steve's was the first to go. Well... not the ‘whole’ phone. Steve watched with horror as his phone dropped to the ground and bounced near a grate. The back popped off, but he managed to find both front and back and pop the phone back together. It was several hours (and several unsuccessful phone call attempts) later that he realized there was no longer a battery on the inside. I guess it is laying somewhere at the bottom of the grate. As for mine? I think it fell out of my pocket in the bathroom at the Customs Control leaving France.

7. Our Way: yes... we ‘lost our way’. Or rather, Steve lost his way, trying to take the train to the airport to pick up the rental car. He got on a train going the wrong way, and ended up instead in Leuven. He says that this 'loss' ended up being one of the happy moments of the trip, since the train went right past the Stella Beer Bottling Plant.

Dinner with Sophie
8. Skin: It was only Duncan who lost skin... We had a great dinner at my friend Sophie Moonen's house, and she introduced the kids to Raclette. Yum, yum....Duncan now knows to hold the little heating pans by the handle, and not to touch the metal directly. A lesson we all learn at some point. He also learned that you can eat an entire meal while holding one finger in a glass of ice water (which you can see him doing in this photo!).

9. Integrity: well.... that was sort of by accident the first time!  We were running late to get to Sophie's for dinner, and hopped on the metro without having a valid ticket first... there wasn’t a gate there, or a ticket booth, so... well... no excuses. Our integrity was compromised (though we weren’t caught!)

At the Metropolitain Police...
  10. Our Luggage: on the way home, at the Gare de Nord bus depot, a thief got the best of us, and, just as we were boarding the bus, made off with Duncan’s knapsack.  Of course, it was a knapsack I had carefully backed that morning, ensuring that it had everything he needed in it for the 9 hour bus-ride-from-hell that lay ahead of us: his laptop with powercord, ipod, his DS, and a bag containing all the DS games we have purchased over the past 8 or so years. ... oh yes... AND the treats I had purchased just before leaving, so we would all have snacks to eat on the 9 hour bus-ride-from-hell that lay ahead of us. Thieves are smart. When you are about to board a bus, and you are robbed, there is not much more you can do but just get on your bus. grrr...Here is a photo of Duncan at the Metropolitain Police station back in London, where were were trying to report the theft.

11. Our regularly Scheduled Route: Once we got home, we discovered that the Northern Line (which goes to our house) was down for the week for maintenance, so we had to find a bus to get us home from Victoria Station.

I know there are a few more bizarre moments mixed in there, but my fingers are getting tired of typing.

So.... what do you do with a vacation like that? As the British would say, "Stay Calm & Carry On". It was like the Mastercard commercial on TV... the list of expenses followed by the tag line, "Memories? Priceless!" I guess that about sums it up (in a dysfunctional and sick sort of way) A mixed of hysteria and hysterically bizarre/funny.

In short... just another normal family vacation!

A twist on "Man Bites Dog"?

Grocery shopping here in London is always an adventure... I never quite know what new product lies around the corner. This morning, at Waitrose, here was the shelf before us. I know that sometimes my level of humour is a bit 'elementary', (or, if you prefer the more erudite terms, 'Rabelaisian', or indeed'scatelogical'). And even though the phrase 'meat balls' evokes no giggles from me, somehow 'fish balls' does make me snigger. But it was the placement of 'Fish Balls' and 'Tuna Bites' along side eachother that was the kicker.... yes... a interesting shift on "Man Bites Dog" :-) I don't know whether to feel more sorry for the Fish or the Tuna!

Duncan's List of Fun Things from Christmas in Brussels

My mom said I should make a list of things i did in Brussels that were fun or interesting. Here is my list of things. 
lights on the Bourse

Here we are at the Winter Market by the Bourse.  The Bourse is the Stock Market.  Here, I have hot chocolate, and also got a crepe.  We were listening to a guy play Jingle Bells on an acordian.  On the wall of the Bourse, they were shining different colours... just like at the Grand Place 

by the Bourse

Here is me ordering cotton candy at the Market.  I asked for a small (petite), but it ended up being bigger than my arm!

hanging out in the hotel lobby
 Here is how I spent most of my holidays.  I am playing on my computer in the lobby of the Sheraton hotel in Brussels.  The reason for this is that my brother was too sick to go anywhere, so we had to stay close to the hotel.  He was so sick, that we couldn't even stay in the hotel room with him, since he was in bed with the lights out. Second of all, we didn't get connection in our room, but we got free wifi in the lobby.  I usually stayed up til 2 or 3 in the morning, sitting in the lobby.  Luckily there was a store right by the lobby, so we could go there for pain au chocolat and hot chocolate.

our christmas tree

This just happens to be "our christmas tree" (in the lobby of the Sheraton hotel).  but... on christmas morning, there were no presents waiting under it for the carter-johnson family.  Not even a gum ball or a gummy bear.  Nothing.  absolutely positively nothing.  when i say I got no presents, my parents go absolutely crazy.  My dad says "are you nuts?!  you got to go to Brussels!"  But I say, "that is not a present. that is a trip."  I know perfectly well that for it to be a christmas present, it has to go under a tree!!! (well... or maybe it can be in a shower... which is where Santa left one of my presents 2 years ago)

walking on Rue Neuve

yummy waffle store!
 On Rue Neuve (right next to our hotel), i think there might have been 10 waffle shops, and just as many chocolate stores.  Here is me and my dad by the signpost on Rue Neuve.

This happens to be one of the chocolate shops that I ran into.  If you look close enough, you can see that there are different colours of boys trying to piss on something... they are made of chocolate in different colours.  We got three packages of small ones, one of each colour (10 in a bag). 

My mom says it is wierd to eat a naked boy, even if it is made of chocolate.  I told her to mind her to mind her own business, and eat her own chocolates!

the Ice Beast
 You know those big inflatable walk through balloons (usually dinosaurs or monsters of some sort) that you sometimes see?  well, this one is supposed to be a ginormous icemonster.  You think these things will be just for kids and be sort of boring.  But this thing was completely different!  First of all, it was as scary as watching every single justin bieber video for the rest of your life, while sitting in a chair with nothing to eat but lettuce, while a scary clown is dancing in front of you.  it was really dark inside, with flashing lights, so you couldn't see anything except for organs and things.  You have to walk through the monsters guts, til you eventually get to its heart, where you can't hear anything except for the heart beating, and it gets louder and faster the closer you get to it.  You need to be really careful, since anytime you touch anything, there is a big scream.  eventually, you get to the stomach, which was really creepy.  you have to take floating rafts, but you can see people who aren't yet dead being digested in its stomach.  The worst of it is that you have to exit through the monster's butt!  Right at the end, instead of just walking out, you have to get shoved out the hole.  it is scary because you think you are going to be crushed by the walls pushing against you, but you just pop out through the end.  Gross but really fun.
This is a statue of warrior pigeons.  It is a memorial for all the pigeons soldiers that gave their life for their country.  They were useful for delivering messages.  I think it would have been even more awesome if they were also used to attack the enemy soldiers.  they would have been pretty great, becuase it is not all that easy to shoot a pigeon in flight.