Words of wisdom

Words of wisdom

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Thought I would start Part II of my London odyssey with a photo of 'da Queen' - as we Chicagoan's would say.  She is so very British and did you know that if she lives until September 9th (and there is no reason she won't) she will be the longest reigning British monarch, ever, eclipsing that old royal standard bearer, Queen Victoria.  

The last time we were together, I had just finished my 3rd full day in London, with 2 days to go.  So lets get started with....

Day 4 -  The sun was shining!  I hopped on the River Bus and was greeted with great photo ops of The Eye and Big Ben and Westminster as I got off at The Embankment stop on the Thames.

The Eye

View of Big Ben and Westminster from the Thames
Today I had signed up for a Sandeman's New Europe Free Tour of London.  This company offers 2 1/2 - 3-hour free walking tours of 18 of the major European cities.  Their guides are outstanding and normally are local residents who love their city.  But guess who I got for London?  John from Mankato, MN!!!  John has a degree in Communications from St. Cloud University and moved to the UK 3 years ago when he kept getting laid off from jobs in the States.  He fell in love with England, and because he holds a dual Irish passport, he has no plans to leave. 
He was one of the best tour guides I've had!  He really 'knew his stuff' and the extras he threw in about the history and local politics made the tour even more interesting. 

We met at Covent Gardens,  where I could have stayed, wandered and shopped for hours.  Covent Gardens is located in the Borough of Westminster.  London city proper is really just a tiny part of what we think of as London. Westminster is one of it's largest boroughs and contains some of the most interesting sites.
Covent Gardens 
Our tour started on cobblestone streets and down tiny mews to points of interest throughout this history-laden part of London. Here are photos of just a few of the wonderful places I saw while on this tour...

Private 'Gentleman's Club'.
Some still do not allow women members
Winston Churchill's Bunker
The start of the Changing of the Guards at St. James Palace

Flower Garden on the lawn of Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

A view from the bridge in Green Park
                    Big Ben                  

A Harry Potter movie location
Trafalgar Square

St. Martin in the Fields Church
Jamie Oliver's restaurant in Covent Garden

Phew!  Are you exhausted?  I know I was.  The sheer amount of interesting tidbits that John shared with us during the tour was amazing - plus the actual amount of ground we walked.  When he suggested we all adjourn to a pub for lunch and a pint, I think all but 3 of the tour members cheered loudly and said  Yes!!!!

And of course, pubs in England are just so damn old - and quaint!  They sit right between huge, new, modern skyscrapers, with baskets full of blooming geraniums in their window boxes offering a nice lunch along with a choice of 100's of beers!  I enjoyed talking over lunch with tour members from Italy, Germany, Australia and the U.S.  By the time lunch concluded and I strolled around Parliament and in and out of the nearby park, it was time to head back 'home' for wine and dinner.

Day 5  -  I had pretty much decided that this would be a non-museum, ancient history day.  It was also a day I needed to do some laundry and get packed before my early-morning departure tomorrow, so where to go?  Why not spend the morning exploring the funky, weird and totally wonderful Camden Market?  And I think you will agree, seeing the photos, that it was totally weird - and wonderful!



 This is a store front! The other is a shoe store - with a scorpion on the front!  Weird - and wonderful!   They also have a fabulous outdoor area that is filled with over 50 food tents from every part of the world.  I got to sample 7-8 choices before choosing yummy pork sticky buns with kimchee and salad from Korea for my lunch.

My last night at my AirBnB David made chicken pot pie with a beautiful flaky crust top - with my name in pastry.  Unfortunately my camera completely gave-up-the-ghost and died on me when I took a photo of this delicious meal!

Day 6 - Early a.m. and off to Stanstead Airport to catch my flight to Edinburgh and my new housesit.  If someone tells you Stanstead is a 'London' airport, they're lying!  It's even further out than Luton! Took a Light Rail, Tube and shuttle bus (40 minute ride) to get there.

Oh, before I left town, The Windsor's stopped by to say goodbye - which was really quite lovely.  I had a great time and didn't begin to see everything I planned to see. But there will always be 'a next time.'

Until then......

Sunday, August 23, 2015


My housesit in the burbs completed, I hopped on the Translink at the Elstree/Borehamwood station and changed to the Jubilee Underground at West Hamp which I took to the Canning Town stop. There I changed again, this time to the DLR (District Light Rail), which took me under the Thames to Woolwich Arsenal, the location of my AirBnB for the next 5 nights.

My hosts, David and Fernando live on the 7th floor of a fabulous condo which has a view looking up the Thames toward downtown London.  How beautiful is this?

Day 1 of my London visits ended with sitting on the deck, sipping wine, getting to know each other and watching the sun set.  Welcome to London!

Well-armed with maps, brochures and a list of places which I wanted to see, plus suggestions from David and Fernando of places I should see, I had a daily itinerary packed from daybreak to dinner time.  And I mention dinner time as this is the only AirBnB that I know of that says 'if you here by dinner time, you are welcome to join us!'  And that's exactly what I did every night of my stay.  

David cooked some of the most delicious meals ever - from my first morning of a full English breakfast (with sausages and blood pudding), Beef Bourguignon, homemade marinara sauce, and my final night a chicken pot pie with a flaky pastry topping with my name spelled out in the pastry!  I really didn't want to leave!

Each morning I could take a 10-minute walk down the Thames to the River Bus dock.  The 'boat/bus' stopped everywhere you would want to stop - Canary Wharf, The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, The Eye, or Blackfriars and St. Paul's Cathedral or go ride the DLR - depending on which part of town I was headed for that day. 

Day 2 - Off the Kensington. Today I took the DLR to the Underground, hoping off at Green Park and walking through the Marble Arch, wandering around the world-famous Harrods Department Store, ogling the designer gowns  and grabbing a lunch in their amazing Food Hall, having a nice chat with the handsomely-dressed doorman at at very ritzy hotel before  attending a concert at The Royal Albert Hall celebrating the 85th birthday of Stephen Sondheim which was broadcast live on the BBC.  



 Day 3 - After taking a fairly bad tumble out of the tub/shower, it was decided I should visit St. Bart's Hospital, directly behind St. Paul's Cathedral, just to make sure all my 'bits and pieces' were still in tack.  Took the River Bus and since I had to get off right in front of The New Globe Theater and there was a tour starting in 5 minutes, I decided the hospital could wait just a bit.  Very fun to see the costume used by Judy Dench when she played Queen Elizabeth compared to the portrait I saw of her at the National Portrait Gallery later in the day.

And since I had to walk right by St. Paul's Cathedral on the way to St. Barts, thought  I could just pop-in, but for some reason all the doors were shut to the public that day.  Spent the next two hours having excellent (and free) medical care from the staff at St. Barts, including x-rays to learn nothing was broken and I still all together.

After a lunch at Ye Old Cheshire Cheese Pub (extremely dark and VERY old) where I had a nice pint and my first order of fish 'n chips, I decided to walk down Fleet Street all the way to Trafalgar Square to the National Museum and Portrait Gallery.  This 2+ mile stroll took me right through the banking district and the theater district known as The Strand.  Ended the day with Henry the XIII and his daughter Elizabeth I.


I headed back to my little AirBnB with very tired feet after a day of great sightseeing.  I was ready to enjoy another delicious home-cooked dinner and several glasses of wine before plopping into my with my lovely XL King-sized bed for the night.  Which seems the perfect place to break this very long-winded blog-post.  Part 2 will follow shortly!

Until then....


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

HOUSE/PETSITTING 101 - Borehamwood, England

This is  my first 'real'  house/petsit.

Much different than my Copenhagen sit where I knew the owners and Rick was at home part of the time, where here I don't know the family. We connected through one of the 3 housesitting websites where I am registered - TrustedHousesitters, MindMyHouse, and HousesittersUK.

My flight from Copenhagen took me to Luton Airport.  Though listed as London-Luton, it's quite a long distance from the City.  I caught a shuttle bus to the train station and hopped the next train to the Elstree/Borehamwood stop.

My hostess, Mandy, picked me up at the train station and immediately took me to a great local pub for lunch, which she bought.  Next we headed to Tesco (England's answer to a combo of WalMart/Costco/Sams) for a basketful of groceries, including wine and beer - which she bought!  Believe me when I say, from all that I've heard and read, this is certainly not the norm.  But she was so thankful that I would stay in her home, for no pay, to watch over it and the family pets, that she said lunch and groceries were the least she could do.  I said 'thank you very much!!!'

Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England is really a commuter suburb of London - just 15 miles out with very easy bus and train connections.  There are no castles to explore, ruins to wander through or history to delve into.

For two weeks, I am making my home in what is called a 'mid-terrace house'.

I was told they were called this because they are a group of homes all in a row, and this one is in the middle!  As you can see, it's a nice-sized house with 4 bedrooms and a bath upstairs and a nice den, lounge, wonderful rain shower/bathroom and fabulous kitchen on the main level.  What we would call our front yard is, as you can see, a car park here, as there are no garages. But do have a look inside....

 My bedroom all done in pink and flowers!  It was their now-away-in-college youngest daughter's bedroom.
I am in love with the kitchen - they had it redone last year.  
A huge side-by-side fridge with ice/water in the door is brilliant!

The dining table sits under a huge skylight and those doors are by-folds, they totally fold back to allow the entire kitchen space to open directly into the garden.

    The lounge with Big TV                           My 'desk' and more fab kitchen space

This 'sit' is for 2 weeks while the family is on holiday in Cyprus (where they are boiling with daily temps of 104ยบ!)  Here it has been sunny or cloudy or raining with temps in the mid-70's.  Brilliant! (English expression I've adopted!)

And what are the duties of a house/petsitter you might ask?  Well, I arise at 7 a.m. and turn on the electric kettle for my first cup of morning tea.  While that is quickly coming to a boil, I feed my charges who are VERY anxious to be fed. While they eat, I sip my tea and check the computer to see what's happened overnight in the world. Then I fix a little breakfast, clean up the kitchen, maybe do some laundry, read a book, work on my blog, walk to the High Street, or  watch some great TV.  

While doing this 'my charges' are running in the garden, napping or trying to stand on my keyboard.  Let me introduce you to.....

LOLA - 3 years old and thinks she's a lapdog

MAX - 9 and still acts like a puppy

And PEPE.  He's 16, talks very loudly, calls this house home, but spends his nights at his choice of several neighbors, all of whom open their doors and let him in for a nibble and a nap.  He usually is pawing at the front glass by 7:30 a.m. wanting breakfast.  He then crashes until tea time at 4:00 p.m.  Then he's off to roam and visit his friends once again.  

Max and Lola take me for my daily walk (literally, as they are both very strong and pull me along with them) at 3 p.m. to nearby Ripon Park.  It's huge, lovely, has a soccer pitch, basketball court, lots and lots of open space and a totally free workout area with really nice gym-quality machines for anyone's use.  

I wasn't kidding when I said BIG

If you click and zoom in you will love the 
lady in the back using the rowing machine

These charming characters greet me every time I run to the neighborhood markets across from the park.

Borehamwood/Elstree is noted for one thing  - the world famous Elstree Film Studios - their massive!

I had to Google them to be able to tell you what all has been done here as they have been in business since the early 1920's before 'talkies' and movies in color where around.   Here's just a really short list -

TV Shows -
- Alfred Hitchcock Presents
- The Saint
- The Muppet Show
- Eastenders
- Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

Movies -
- Murder on the Orient Express
- The Shinning
- 2001 - A Space Oddessey
- All of the Star Wars movies
- All of the Indiana Jones movies
- Paddington
- Mission Impossible I, III & Rogue Nation

Concert Tour Rehearsals -
- Madonna
- Alicia Keys
- Florence & the Machines
- Queen

Etc, Etc, Etc, Etc - I could have listed 100's of others in each category.

They don't offer tours, but during seasonal filming of the TV shows you can stand in line and get audience tickets.  I was told it's never unusual to see a BIG tv or movie star at the local Tesco picking up groceries or strolling down the High Street.  

So that's what house/petsitting is all about.  You'll be learning a whole lot more in the next 3 months as I travel from one end of the UK to the other to take on cats and dogs of all sizes and houses large and small. 

But on Saturday, I bid adieu to Borehamwood and it's off to London for 6 days of just old-fashioned sightseeing! It's been years since I've been there so am really excited.  Staying in a great little AirBnB right on the Thames and will make use of the River Buses for the majority of my transport into the City!  

Until next time.....