Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gnew Gnoah Gnome goes to Paris.

Gnew Gnoah Gnome stowed away in our luggage for a free trip to Paris over the weekend. Amazing how he always seems to sneak in at the last minute. Gnome's sure are sneak little garden creatures!!
Gnew Gnoah was mesmerized by the Eiffel Tower. We thought we'd never be able to pry him away from the side of the Seine!

However, the promise of a cafe au lait and pain au chocolat did the trick. Now that is one happy, flower toting gnome!

Gnew Gnoah was less than thrilled with our photography tricks! All he wanted was to relax and take in the Parisian atmosphere in peace...

Chris shared in that hope... They both got their wish as we relaxed in the Tuileries Garden around one of the round fountains/ponds.
With only 35 hours in the City of Love, we had to cut our sight seeing short... we had a bike race to watch ;-)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Vive le Tour!!!

A weekend in Paris? Why not. Does 35 hours count as a weekend? Sure. Is Chris allowed to book anymore flights or trains for 6 am on a Saturday morning? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! Unlike Barcelona, we were better prepared for the early morning departure so it wasn't so bad... However, we did get up at 4 am and that is never a good thing in our house. Couple the early hour with my no caffeine thing and it was close to miserable... or at least it would have been if we weren't going to Paris!!!
We arrived to our hotel around 11 on Saturday morning and headed to the Champs-Élysées for a bite to eat and to scope out our spot for the next day. After all, our whole reason for the trip to Paris was to catch the final stage of Le Tour de France! And to squeeze in whatever else we could in our short 35 hours but more on that later ;-)
Our early morning wake up started to take it's toll around 4 in the afternoon so we headed back to the hotel for a quick nap and a shower prior to heading out for dinner. We were staying at Le Meridien Etoile on the last of Chris's Starwood points. Chris picked the hotel based on it's close proximity to the the Champs-Élysées and because they had rooms available... so imagine our surprise when we awoke from our nap to find team cars, caravans and equipment trucks lining the street in front of the hotel!

I snapped this shot from our room just before we headed out the door for diner. Chris and I laughed about the possibility of running into riders in the bar or lobby. After dinner we came back to the hotel and had a drink in the lobby... just in case. We saw a few people in team shirts but no one that we recognized so we called it a night.

Sunday was another early morning as we wanted to explore the city some before staking out our place on the course to wait for the riders. Exiting the hotel we found the street was a buzz with activity. The team trucks were open and guys were working on bikes and preparing for the day. Chris and I headed down to the Astana Team truck (Lance Armstrong's team) and what did we find...

Lance's bikes laid out for the world to see!!! I took a billion pics but they are fairly uninteresting looking back now. The picture above is the bike designed by Damien Hurst. Apparently, the artist used real butterfly wings achieve the design... not exactly kosher in my book but it was a pretty impressive thing to see up close. It was even more impressive when we saw Lance zoom past us on the exact bike we had stood in front of hours earlier!! The black and yellow bike behind the Hirst's was designed by Shepard Fairey. Both of the bikes, along with a few others, will be auctioned off to raised money for Stages, a part of Lance Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation. **Correction: Looks like I made a boo boo about the black and yellow bike. At closer inspection, it is not the same bike designed by Fairey. Still trying to figure out who it was designed by??? Sorry**
After snapping a bazillion pictures and wondering if Lance would pop around to check on his bikes, we decided it was time to stop being groupies and continue with our day. As we passed by the front of the Astana truck we saw a cooler of Champagne being iced down for the traditional toast at the beginning of the stage!

Now Chris and I were starting to get excited... how cool that we were watching the preparations to help celebrate the winner of the 2009 Tour de France! A race that is in my opinion the greatest test of human ability... 23 days and 2,200 miles with only 2 days off!! The guys that complete this and other races like it amaze me and seeing it unfold before my hotel made me feel a part of it!

We headed down to the Eiffel Tower for some mandatory sight seeing and enjoyed a walk along the Seine before making our way to the Champs-Élysées. And yes, I will post more about Paris later for those who are less enthusiastic about Le Tour ;-) We made it to the course just after 11 to find most of the good spots already taken! The riders weren't expected for another 4 to 5 hours! We thought we would have a pick of spots but instead we were on the hunt for the best possible spot left! With a little luck and a lot of effort we eventually found a good spot on the about half way between the Arc de Triomphe and La Place de la Concorde and started the wait.

Within an hour we had eaten our sandwich, drank our water, checked out the shopping opportunities (you know how Chris is when it comes to shopping... can't keep him out of the stores,) people watched and declared ourselves tired of waiting! The crowds were steadily growing and we were constantly fending off people trying to steal our spot. Granted we had staked out enough room for 6 people in hopes of having a little bit of space between ourselves and the chain smoking Europeans. There are aspects of the European culture that I adore but I will never get used to the smoking. Yuck! Soon enough we were joined by none other than a few Tennesseans! Leave it to me to make friends with Tennesseans when I am in Paris! Ken, Ann and Judy made excellent, non-smoking neighbors who very generously shared their picnic with us and even bought a few cold beers for Chris!

We settled in with our new found friends to wait for a few more hours before the first group of riders flew past us at about 55kph!

The lead group of sprinters were about 30 seconds ahead of the peleton...

The first pass of the peleton! If you look closely (click on the pic to enlarge it) you will see the green, white and yellow Jerseys as well as Lance Armstrong on the butterfly bike! However, for the sake of full disclosure, I admit that they were going so quick that I had to look at the view finder after the passed to see who was in the pack!

This is the only time we saw Contador and Lance anywhere near each other.

As much as the riders amaze me... they still don't compare to the camera guys! Could you imagine bouncing along the cobblestones on the back of a motorcycle with you face in the view finder for mile after mile with no break!

After 6 passes the race ended out of our view and about an hour later than anticipated. We made our way back to the hotel via the back streets to avoid the massive crowds only to find a madhouse at the hotel. Apparently, Le Meridien Etoile was the final destination for every rider on the tour! The lobby was mobbed with photographers, news cameras, autograph seekers and riders. Some of the riders were actually arriving to the hotel on their bikes! They would ride up to the door and dismount, handing their bikes over to the team equipment guys and then stroll into the lobby and check in to their rooms!

We went inside to pick up our bags only to get caught up in the storm... the next thing I know I am standing next to Mark Cavendish with my hand on his squishy pants while Chris is taking a picture!

That look on Cavendish's face is likely due to my hand on his bum...
It was an accident, I swear ;-)

We took pictures of guys coming in with no idea who they were and waited in hopes of Lance turning up. After about 30 minutes, we called it quits and headed out the door only to see the Team Astana bus turn the corner. I left Chris on the curb with the bags and landed myself a spot in front of the bus door!

A team of police officers formed a barrier from the bus to the hotel lobby. As various team members exited the bus with little recognition, the officer who appeared to be in charge asked the driver if Lance was on the bus. The driver respond no and the the officer turned to walk away, dismissing the barricade and shaking his head. The driver quickly called him back and said Contador was on the bus. The gave him a confused look and the driver said "maillot jaune." The officer quickly apologized and called the other police officers back just as Contador exited from the bus...
The 2009 Tour de France winner, Alberto Contandor!

So no Lance Armstrong... but I was inches away from the current champion.
Not a bad days work!

After the hoopla at the hotel, we made a b line to the train station for our 9:30 train which turned out to be a 9:13 train that we almost missed! A few short hours later we were back in London... back to reality...

Until next time!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Flour Power

Came home from work early today for a little R & R (yes, I realize it is only Monday) and decided to make chocolate chip cookies. Mixed everything together and put the first batch in the oven. The moment the scent of fresh baked cookies hit my olfactory I started to drool... and then I opened the oven door to find a dozen pancake flat cookies! At first I thought I didn't add the baking soda but I did... and then I looked at the flour... self rising! Opps... I guess flat homemade cookies are better than no cookies at all!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Summer Weather

We have officially lived through 3 seasons since moving to London. I can honestly say that winter and spring are pretty predictable. My Mema Hilda told me all spring that every time she looked in the Tennessean it said that it was 45F and raining in London. I can honestly say from Mid February until early May this was the case. Then along came summer! Sunrises getting earlier and earlier, sunsets getting later and later. Temperatures rising and the rain drying up. June was amazing and my love of this city grew each day that I woke up to birds chirping and the sun shining. I should have known it wouldn't last. London is fickle. And it's weather is no different.
Since our return from Barcelona, the weather has taken us on a roller coaster ride. As I type, it is thundering and lightening and of course, raining. There are days when we have all 4 seasons in a single day... hot, humid, sticky rain; bone chilling, gusting wind; fluffy white clouds, soft breezes, and full on, intense and hot sunshine... and this is all before noon! I repeat a previous comment from November... this city is trying me! Have you ever tried to dress for all 4 seasons? Layers is the only reasonable solution which inevitably leads to me caring around a sweater, rain coat, and umbrella along with my bag.
Fingers crossed that this weekend will give us a window of good, steady summer weather... i.e. sunshine and a cool breeze but no rain!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sagrada Família

Barcelona is famous for architecture, mainly the work of Antonio Gaudi. Gaudi's most famous building is the Sagrada Família which is a temple in honor of the holy family. Construction started in 1882 and expected to be completed in 2026! Pictures will not do the place justice. The facade completed in Gaudi's lifetime is hand carved stone with every inch covered in animals, flowers, insects... all forms of life. The other facade looks like something out of Star Wars... complete with storm troopers!
The Nativity Facade... a little overwhelming when you look at it all at once.

Still overwhelming when you break it down into small bits.

The 'Storm Trooper' side with full frontal Jesus...

My favorite part of temple is this guy... just chillin' in the sea breeze.

The inside also looks like something out of Star Wars. The place is enormous! Because it is still in progress, you can see the blue prints and plans. The difference between now and when Gaudi was in charge is that computers and lasers are being used to precisely carve stones.

Like I said, Star Wars...

A close up of the Nativity Facade...

All of the pillars have giant sea turtles at the base... it looks like they have been impaled or maybe they are just parched!

Instead of gargoyles, the temple is lined with lizards, frogs, snails, and snakes.
The entire place was definitely one of the most interesting and slightly disturbing places I have ever been. And to think that it is a temple/cathedral/church!

Heat Wave

London has been experiencing what the locals are calling a 'heat wave' for the last few weeks... I am a little late with my post so the 'heat wave' has been over for a week. What exactly does a heat wave look like in rainy, gloomy, usually cold London? Temperatures between 80F and 90F, 70-80% humidity and no clouds! For a Florida Girl this is a warm wave! However, the most important difference between Florida and London... AIR CONDITIONING! This city doesn't know the meaning of the word which makes 88F with 80% humidity a touch on the hot side! Couple that with the fact the the buses still have the heat on and the underground is also A/C free and what you have is some hot, stinky, irritable Londoners!

In order to stay cool we bought a fan. Luckily, since our flat is so tiny we are able to cool the entire place with an 8 inch desk fan! We open all the windows and let the fan blow! The temperature is fine but I do find that the humidity makes everything feel damp. We need the A/C to take the moisture out of the air more than to cool it.

The goods news about London style 'heat waves' is that they don't last long... When we left for Barcelona on Saturday morning it was 80F at 6 am and when we returned on Tuesday morning at 6 am it was 50F!!! We have spent the last week dodging rain showers, flash floods, and hail with temperatures topping out in the high 70s. If given the choice, I think I would take the 'heat wave' over rain any day!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

El nostre viatge a Barcelona!

After spending the last several bank holidays in London and listening to all our friends talk about their trips to Poland, Egypt, Croatia... we decided that we had to get out of London! A quick visit to and and we were booked on a July 4th flight to Barcelona for a 3 day weekend! As many of you know, I usually spend weeks and weeks planning trips. I study maps, read as many guide books as I can find, search endlessly on the Internet for tips and ideas... I am a control freak! However, this trip snuck up on me and a little to no planning had been done. I was surprisingly calm about this... stop laughing Kirk and Nicholas... I really was calm! Calm enough that we went out to dinner with a few friends on Friday night and didn't get home until close to 10 pm! By the time we packed, it was midnight and we had to get up at 4 am to catch our flight! Around 6:30 am, we bought a guide book at the airport and by 10 am we were sipping cafe con leches in 90% humidity... loving every minute of it!!!
Sit back and enjoy a photo tour of Barcelona Kipphut style!!!
An alley in Old Town, around La Rambla

Barcelona has a thing for street lamps... I took about 60 pictures of them during the trip and they are all rather unique and different.

I think that Barcelona is Spanish for 'City of Fountains'... and yes, I took a million pictures of them, too!

Get used to this picture... Chris, by a fountain, looking at the guide book, trying to figure out where we are and/or where we are going!

Gargoyles at The Cathedral of Santa Eulalia. We stumbled upon the courtyard while we were wondering through Old Town.

I had no idea what an amazing place the Cathedral was... the archways and carvings were great but once we were inside the courtyard, we discovered a little piece of heaven!

Pictures can not do it justice...

There were birds chirping, the sound of palm fronds blowing in the breeze and the soothing tinkle of the water fountains... I could have stayed forever!

Gnew Gnoah Gnome (aka Gnewa) was also happy to be there...

I wanna go back...

A close up of one of three fountains in the courtyard...

This fountain was surrounded by 13 white geese... They were beautiful from a few yards back but up close they were disgusting... I guess even a piece of heaven isn't going to be perfect! I took a few pictures of the geese but looking at them now just creeps me out... apparently they have heard the word about the Great Animal Kipphut Conspiracy!!! Just another group of birds giving me the eye and plotting against me!

Chris took the lift to the top of the cathedral while I relaxed in the courtyard. I have recently perfected my fear of heights and choose to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground as often as possible. However, the view does look pretty amazing!

This was the image that I had of Spain prior to arriving... only in my mind, I always thought that there would be an old lady in her dressing gown standing on the balcony...

And there she is... at this point, I was officially in love with Barcelona... I want to grow old and be that lady!

After wandering through Old Town, we made our way to Barceloneta for our first glimpse of the beach and my first ever glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea! As we strolled along sidewalk, we came up on this group of nuns checking out the beach, too. The funny thing is that the beaches in Barcelona are about 50% topless...

Barcelona is known for it's architecture but we were not prepared for a giant steel fish hovering above the beach! We walked about 30 minutes longer than we'd planned just to see it up close!

And came back the next day to get some pictures with it!!!

We got up at 7 am on Sunday morning, had a quick breakfast and headed to the beach. Our hotel was about 20 minutes from the beach but we were there by 9 am... this picture was taken around 11:30 or 12:00!!! It was packed!
We were very cautious about getting too much sun. We loaded up with SPF 20 about 15 times throughout the day and I had SPF 50 on my face! I was determined to come home golden brown and not lobster red!!! We only stayed at the beach for a few hours. First, it was too hot. Second, it was too crowded. And third, we had rented bikes and were ready to tear up the town!

Our first destination via bicycle... Ciutadella Park and the Gaudi fountain!

Nothing like a self portrait to commemorate the trip!

I think that winged lion is spitting in Chris's ear... Run Chris!

Once he escaped the lion spit, Chris was back to the book to figure out how to get to destination numero dos... El nostre viatge a Barcelona II to follow soon! Until then, XOXO

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tennis Anyone?

Once again, my post has been a long time coming... Better late than never should be my catch line ;-)
There were several buses from the Underground Station to the Wimbledon Arena but only one with this much character. I love the old double decker buses. There is one in London (No 6, I think) that is Airstream Silver but I never have my camera when I see it!

Our first glimpse of the order of play... we were hoping to see Andy Roddick and Venus Williams but they were playing on Court No 1 and we had tickets for Centre Court. Which is in the background of the this pictures. We did get to see the British hopeful, Andy Murray.

There are about 25 courts on the complex! The place is much larger than I was expecting.

We found our way to Court 18 to catch the women's number 6 in the world play... forgot her name already... and asked the guy behind us to snap a quick picture. He asked if we wanted center court in the background and we said yes. Apparently I should have specified that we also wanted both our faces in the picture as well.

The ball children!!! They are by far the best part of watching tennis at Wimbledon. They are trained like little army soldiers... I want one to run around my little flat doing chores and catering to my beck and call.

I could do this...

We saw this guy all over the place. Yes, he is wearing a curly white wig over a cap with headphones!!

Nothing like a relaxing day under the flowers, drinking Pimms and eating strawberries & cream... oh and watching tennis.

Center Court... in the shade!

Our first match at Center Court, Leyton Hewitt vs Juan Martin del Porto, Hewitt upset del Porto but eventually lost to Roddick in the Quarter Finals.

The line judges are awesome. Some of them get so into it that you would think they were playing, too. We most have seen them get hit about a dozen times. The wait until the absolute last minute to get out of the way of incoming balls so they can see if they are in or out... considering the serves were between 90 and 130+ mph I imagine they all woke up the following day with tennis ball sized welts!

Chris at the bottom of Henmen Hill... most of these people by tickets simple to get in the gates and onto the first come courts!!! They watch the big matches on a gigantic screen.

A men's double that we watched in passing on the way back to Center Court for the final match of the day...

The great British hopeful, Andy Murray... too bad he is Scottish... and he lost in the final!

We left at 6 pm and there were still people queuing to get inside. I think Wimbledon is just the English word for queue!