Thursday, 27 December 2018

London, England (49 Theseus Walk)

I should have expected that traveling by train to Wales on the 23rd of December was going to be a challenge. When I arrived at Euston Station it was packed with people who were heading out of London. I had a bit of trouble getting my pre-purchased ticket from the ticket machine at the station so had to buy a new ticket before boarding the train. 

When I boarded the train I found that it was packed with people. I sat on my suitcase (no vacant seats) until we reached Crewe two hours away. Fortunately I was with a group of people with a good sense of humor so the time passed quickly. Eventually I arrived at Abergavenny where I found a taxi to take me the rest of the way to the house that Prean and Viktor are leasing.

Joining us this year for Christmas was their friend Sabrina. We all got along very well and managed to put together an evening meal from items we brought with us. Tomorrow we will visit Waitrose and buy more food including what we need for our Christmas dinner. The fireplace was essential to warm up the living room (also referred to as the lounge) while we visited.

Sabrina and I each had our own rooms and Prean and Viktor slept at a neighbor’s home since they were away for the holiday. Fairly typical where neighbors become good friends and help each out throughout the year. In fact, three of their neighbors will be joining us for Christmas dinner. 

On the 24th, Shopping at Waitrose was fun. Sabrina was very organized and brought with her a list that we put together so we have everything we needed. No quick trips to a nearby market. We were staying in a very remote part of Wales and it was important to plan ahead before leaving the house. Waitrose was crowded with holiday shoppers, but the friendly Waitrose staff was there to help us out and we were in and out in no time.  

I fixed french toast for breakfast both on Christmas Day and the day after, by popular demand. Always an interesting exercise to cook something in an unknown kitchen, but I managed to complete the task with the tools available. Having access to the neighbor’s kitchen for cookware and odd and ends made our experience so much the better. 

No TV in the house and we relied on conversation to pass the time. Also a few naps by all of us as time permitted. A neighbor took Prean, Viktor and Sabrina on a hike up in the hills one day (while I napped in the lounge) then took us on a tour of the town of Hey on the 26th. I forgot my phone so don’t have any pictures of our visit. He then took us on a tour of his home that is near to ours. The home was quite large and said that he employed two gardeners to maintain the gardens and fields. 

Our Christmas dinner was a success. Peter and Ann, who live a short walk away, joined us as well as well as Howard who lived up the hill. Conversation was lively as well became acquainted as the day progressed. The dinner, with many courses prepared by Prean, filled us up. Then we had two desserts. Christmas pudding (with brandy sauce) and mince pies. 

The kitchen sink backed up earlier in day but Peter, a retired plumber, got it working again. Now sure how we would wash all of the dishes with a plugged sink. Sabrina did most of the washing up since Prean and Viktor were exhausted from the day’s activities. Viktor had become ill on Christmas eve but improved dramatically by the time Christmas Day rolled around. Prean was up early to start on making our dinner. 

Again, we enjoyed having a fireplace that we kept burning all day and into the night. The heating in the house, provided by a boiler and registers, kept the rest of house house somewhat warm, was not enough. The fireplace provided a central place of comfort as we enjoyed conversation and naps. Several times various people fell asleep while we visited in the evening. 

We kept our Christmas simple and our only event was the Christmas dinner. No tree, decorations, presents, etc. to distract us while we rested, visited and relaxed in the Wales countryside. I enjoyed myself very much during this visit and look forward to returning later next year.

I discovered that there was no train service back to London until the 27th, so I stayed an extra day. This actually worked out well. To leave on the 26th wouldn’t really have given me the full experience of a holiday visit to Wales. 

On the 27th, Sabrina drove us (since she was the only one with a car) to take Viktor and I to Abergavenny where we caught a train to London. Prean and Sabrina will stay longer and will return to London in a few days. Viktor has to work on the 27th and I needed to check into my flat in Islington, near King’s Cross station. 

Our train ride back to London involved two transfers and we were able to make both transfers successfully. We parted at Paddington station and I headed to my flat for my check in. 

When I arrived at my London flat I was going to take shower but discovered that I couldn’t fully adjust the temperature of the shower, so it was a very warm shower. Then discovered the heat in the flat was not working. But because of my time in the country home in Wales, I was used to being cold part of the time. I’m still waiting for both of these items to be fixed as I write this update on the 28th. 

The bed seems comfortable and enjoyed a long nap after my shower. Not sure what I’ll do between now and the 8th of January when I leave for Cyprus, but I’ll find something to keep me busy. After all, I’m in London and there is always something to keep me entertained.

Friday, 21 December 2018

London, England (Kensington Hilton, Holland Park) 

Csabi and I went shopping at Westfield Thursday morning before before he returned to Milton Keynes. We also had time for a cup of tea as well. Not sure if I’ll see him again before I leave London. He is traveling to Hungary just after Christmas and returning after I leave for Cyprus. 

The only other thing I did on Thursday was to pick up some pants from the dry cleaners. When I got to the cleaners I didn’t have my ticket so we had to look through the rack to find my pants. Almost took home the wrong pair since there was another pair hanging next to mine, same color, and also corduroy purchased at M&S. 

I slept most of the rest of the day because I didn’t get much sleep the night before. But I try to put the awake time to good use by doing travel research. Still, it is frustrating. I can easily fall asleep when taking a nap, but when I plan to sleep at night, it is off and on. 

On Friday I was busy either on the phone or texting. Spoke with Cousin Donna to wish her a Merry Christmas. She is busy with her family who are visiting her and also doctor appointments (nothing major). Then texted a friend who I’m giving my American air miles to because I won’t use them. And heard from Hussein who has been busy with a commitment with the Egyptian army for the past couple of months. Also resolved a couple of financial matters. Contacted GWR to see if I could change my ticket for when I travel to Wales on Sunday so I can travel earlier. I got the okay to use my ticket for an earlier train and Prean said that would be a good idea.  

Later in the evening I decided to see the new Mary Poppins movie. I’ve heard some mixed reviews so I had to see the picture and see for myself. Again I went to the wrong theater because both are named almost the same. One theater is outside Westfield and the other is inside. I had the same confusion with the Lloyd Center cinemas. I arrived the correct theater just as the movie started. I liked this version of Mary Poppins but it doesn’t come close to the original. 

Tomorrow I’ll get ready for my trip to Wales and for staying at the Airbnb when I return to London from Wales on the 26th.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

London, England (Kensington Hilton, Holland Park) 

Monday was laundry day for me. I have rarely used a hotel’s laundry service, but rather enjoy visiting a local coin-operated laundry. Give me a better feel of the neighborhood. From the hotel where I’m staying, the laundry is a short walk away. I also took a pair pants (or trousers as they are called in the U.K.) to get dry cleaned. 

After getting my laundry done, I took a nap. After waking up I then decided to attend the evensong service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s is on the Central line so easy to get to from the underground station near the hotel. I left a bit early so I could get a good seat for the service. Today the service will feature a youth choir.

As I arrived at St. Paul’s, I asked where to find the best seats. I was directed to an area off to the left of the main body of seats. As I approached this area the choir (or quire) section was opened up to the public so I decided that this would be a better location. 

The service was 30 minutes long and lessons were read with music by the youth choir provided between readings. The sound of the organ and the choir echoing through the Cathedral cannot be described. Between the music and looking at the interior of the Cathedral, it is really gives one a sense of calmness and gratitude.

After leaving the Cathedral, I took some photos of the exterior. My first up close photos of the Cathedral at night. Though due to the size of the building, difficult to get everything in one picture.

Before getting on the underground for my return trip to the hotel, I stopped by a Co-Op store to buy a few items for dinner. 

On Tuesday I met with Viktor at the Grosvenor Hotel neat to Victoria Station for tea and deep conversation. I can count on having long conversations with Viktor about any number of topics. He left me with the question of who I would like to be if I could come back and live their life. Good question. My initial answer was I would like to come back as myself, but he asked for someone other than myself. This is a question I’ll have think about some more.  

Later I met with another friend and enjoyed time visiting. Tomorrow, Csabi will be in London and will get a chance to catch up with him when he arrives at the Euston station. 

Actually went to bed quite early, but woke up several times during the night. Which is okay, I just take naps during the day to catch up on my sleep.

Had a great time with Csabi after he arrived. We first had tea then decided to visit Tower bridge and go on the tour. He wanted to walk there from the station, but it was an hour walk through London and didn’t think we had the time before it gets dark. Sunset is now before 4:00 p.m., so you have to make the most of the daylight while you have it.

On the way to Tower Bridge, after a short underground ride, we walked through the financial district and admired the tall buildings. We could see a number of new buildings currently being built in the area. It is becoming to look more like New York City every day. 

Our tour of Tower Bridge was interesting. A number of video presentations and we were able to walk along the walkway high above the street and river. One section of the walkway was of a clear material where you could see the street and river below. Not for people who are afraid of heights. A great place to see the city and I took several photos. From there we saw the old steam engines that were used to raise the bridge. (Replaced by electric motors in the mid-1970’s.) When the traffic on the bridge was greater, the bridge was raised around 10,000 times a year, but now it is raised about 1,000 times. 

By this time we were both getting hungry and had dinner at a restaurant where I’ve eaten before. I couldn’t believe Csabi ate a whole pizza. So much to talk about. Not sure if I’ll see him again before I leave. In any case, was good to see him again. 

Not sure what I’m doing tomorrow. Perhaps sleep some more if I don’t get a good rest tonight. Glad I have my train tickets purchased for my ride to Wales where I’ll spend Christmas with Prean, Viktor, and their friend Sabrina. The location of their place in Wales is outside of Abergavenny (near Brecon) in a fairly remote area in Brecon Beacons National Park. Guess I’ll know more once I get there on the 23rd.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

London, England (Kensington Hilton, Holland Park) 

The rain stopped today and it looks like a fairly good day outside. I’m meeting Prean and Viktor for a late lunch later today. Of course just as soon as I woke up I was looking forward to going downstairs for my Hilton breakfast. I truly believe that I could eat the same breakfast every day for a year and I wouldn’t mind. As long as there was raspberry jam to put on my toast. Though since I’m not using butter anymore, the jam goes directly on the toast. 

As usual, I got back to my room for a good after-breakfast nap. I woke up in time to get ready for my lunch with the guys. I wanted to return to the restaurant that Corrine and I discovered during our very wet walk on Kings Road this past October. I remember the delicious Eggs Benedict and wanted to try them again. The Gallery Mess is a nice restaurant next to Saatchi Gallery and the staff there are very professional, which I like.

After we were seated I noticed that my Eggs Benedict was not on the menu. I found out this menu item had been discontinued. I ordered a turkey dinner combo instead. While we enjoyed our lunch we planned our holiday at their home in Wales. They will ride down with their friend Sabrina and I’ll take the train. There will be no room in the car for the four of us, my suitcase and their luggage as well.

I noticed as we finished our meal that parents with their pre-school children were letting them run around the restaurant. I almost stepped on a child while making my way to the restroom. I don’t know why this bothers me so much, but it does. This went on for about 30 minutes then, almost like there was a signal, all the parents and children left. Finally we had some peace and quiet. 

We walked over to the gallery for awhile and looked at the art. Mostly modern works. Some were fairly clever and fun. After about 20 minutes or so we were done and left. We’ll probably meet up again before we leave next week to finalize arrangements.

Talking sometimes wears me out and was looking forward to a solid nap when I returned to my room. I managed to write up a blog entry before watching TV then going to bed. 

Tomorrow a friend returns from visiting his family and hope to see him before he returns to work on Tuesday. I also need to do some laundry. It doesn’t get done by itself.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

London, England (Kensington Hilton, Holland Park) 

I’m not keeping up with my travel blog like I intended to after arriving in London. Not that I’ve been super busy while I’m here, so have no excuse. I’ve been having problems getting a good night’s sleep and waking up several times at night seems to be getting worse. It could be a result of not working out regularly like I was in Edinburgh. 

On Friday I intended to tour Tower Bridge, but I received a text from Prean and Viktor to meet for afternoon tea. I was actually at Tower Bridge when I got the text so I got back on the underground and rode over to Sloane Square where we were to meet. I’ll do the tour another day.

I arrived at Sloane Square early so I walked through Peter Jones, a large department store next to the square. I bought a new charger for my phone while there. Also took a picture of the decorations in the store’s atrium. The store reminds me of the old Meier & Frank in Portland. 

Was good catching up with Prean and Viktor. We settled on our plans for Christmas at their place in Wales. Just need to get travel plans together, which we will do over the next few days. We’re planning to meet up again on Sunday to discuss more of the details. 

The weather is still very cold and by the time we finished our visit it was dark. I went back to my hotel room and “hibernated” for the evening. 

On Saturday the weather was miserable. Cold, rain, and wind. I had an idea of taking the underground to Ealing Broadway and visiting the small shopping center there. I was there a few months ago to buy my new laptop and thought the area looked interesting. Just another slice of London. I had tea and yogurt at a Starbucks before I walked over to the local mall. I wasn’t there for more than 30 minutes, and because of the weather, I left to return to the hotel. 

I’ve been reading up on diet and cholesterol. I’ve been eating tuna or chicken sandwiches, almonds and Brazil nuts, bananas, anything with avocado, and avoiding beef. No McDonald’s and no buttered toast. In any case I’m not going to starve myself, just eat better. I’ve not been doing a good job getting enough fruits and vegetables. 

Tomorrow I’m meeting Prean and Viktor for a late lunch. The weather is expected to be a little warmer and no rain.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

London, England (Kensington Hilton, Holland Park) 

After I woke up and ate breakfast I decided to go for a long walk this afternoon. I started with a visit to Buckingham Palace by walking through Green Park and enjoying the chilly temperature as I approached the palace. I could tell by the flag on top of the palace that the Queen was not at home. In any case, I took a picture of the palace before walking down the Mall to toward Whitehall.

On my last visit, during Remembrance (Armistice) Day, I wasn’t able to get to the Cenotaph because of the crowds who also wanted to see the Royal Family as they placed wreaths at the foot of the Cenotaph. But today, no crowds. I took a couple of pictures that I posted to Instagram. 

I also took a picture looking up the Mall to Buckingham palace at dusk was approaching. Trafalgar Square was nearby so I stopped there for a moment before walking towards Piccadilly. On the way, I decided that I’d like to have a cup of hot chocolate and saw a Ole & Steen (Danish pastry) shop and coffee house) nearby. Perfect! 

I ordered  a cup of hot chocolate and an open faced sandwich with shrimp and avocado. Just what I wanted to give me a an energy boost as I continued my walk. 

By now I had reached Regent Street, home of many well-known flagship stores and other fine retail stores. As I was walking, just off of this street is the entrance to Carnaby Street (within Soho) and took a photo of the overhead street lights. 

As I was walking towards Oxford Street I took photos of the overhead lights over Regent Street. Think I got some great shots. The lights look amazing after dark. The lights show the outlines of angels flying and change patterns to reflect the flapping of angel wings. 

It was starting to get much colder as it became darker. I was warm enough except for my head since I forgot to bring my hat. I did remember my gloves, so my hands were warm. It has been cold over the last week but very little rain, which makes walking around more enjoyable. 

No plans for tonight. I picked up a sandwich on my way back to the hotel. I’m trying to eat more fish, avocado, nuts, whole wheat, dried fruit and avoiding cheese and butter. Things that will help get my cholesterol where it needs to be and get rid of a few pounds as well. I’ll be able to make better adjustments when I check into my Airbnb after Christmas. 

After I returned to my room I wrote my blog posting and posted pictures to Instagram then watched some TV. I was ready for bed at around 10:30. The walking made me a bit tired and perhaps the cold weather makes me want to hibernate. 

I’m planning to visit Tower Bridge tomorrow and go on a tour of the insides of the bridge and perhaps walk along the top for a great view of the city. Something I’ve not done before. Looking forward to it.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

London, England (Kensington Hilton, Holland Park) 

The day started early by meeting a friend for breakfast. I’ve been sleeping in most mornings and it was good to be up and about earlier in the day. I used to be a morning person when I was working. Up at 5:00 a.m. (or earlier) to get a jump on the day. Of course I try to fit a nap into my daily activities. That is something that I like now that I’m retired. 

This is my first year when I don’t have a steady travel buddy to share the London Christmas experience. Just meeting up randomly with the few people I know. A travel buddy helps to make sure I’m getting the most out of being in London. Perhaps I’ve been here so many times that it doesn’t doesn’t have the awe and wonder that I found unique when I first visited. Though, at the end of the day, it is a great place to be. 

Last night’s benefit Christmas Program performance (or I should say performances) at the Royal Albert Hall was an experience. Actually any event at the Royal Albert Hall is considered to be exceptional. The venue is massive, well-managed, and the lighting and sound are tuned for the great hall. The Keller Auditorium in Portland doesn’t even come close. 

As for the event last night, being a benefit (for Bloodwise, a charity that supports funding for blood cancer research) there were appeals for funding and testimonials, but the quality of the performers (and singing the Christmas carols) made it special. We had the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra providing the music, an organist, and many guest performers. I had a box seat near the front of the stage, so got a up-close (though I had to keep my head turned towards the stage) look at the performers. But to look out at the mass of people who attended the event (in a 5,200 capacity hall) was awesome. Yet again, no one to share with me the experience. No matter, I still had a great time.

This afternoon I walked over to Westfield (the nearby shopping mall, which is massive) to have a Chinese chicken-noodle dish that I like. Then stopped off at Waitrose to pick up a few healthy snacks for my room. I shouldn’t need anything more to eat for the rest of the day. On the way back I started to get a migraine so I laid down for a quick nap. Before doing so I made reservations to see the movie Bohemian Rhapsody in Piccadilly. 

When I woke from my nap I still had a slight headache, but left for the movie anyway. I had tickets for the 7:40 p.m. showing. I went to what I thought was the place showing the movie, but it turns out many people get it confused with the Vue Movie House at another nearby location. It was getting close to 7:40 p.m. but I knew that there would be 20 – 30 minutes of commercials and previews before the movie. So, no rush. On the way I got to walk through Leicester Square and past a number of West End shows that were playing. The friend I met for breakfast saw Hamilton the night before. But paying over 200 pounds for one show? 

The movie theater had large comfortable seats that reclined slightly. Nice! I had reserved a seat (Row E, Seat #1) but when I got into the theater, I found it was located on the far end of a row next to a wall. I would have to crawl over all of the people who arrived before me. And if I wanted to use the restroom during the movie…  I found an empty seat closer to the screen (one the aisle), which was okay. The movie was very entertaining. Brought back a lot of memories of the music from the period. I can tell when I like a movie when I’m not checking my watch for the time. (I only checked my watch once.)

After the movie I found that the nearest underground station (that would put me on the Central Line that goes to a stop near to my hotel) was a nine minute walk away. This route took me through another part of the West End that I hadn’t been to before. 

The weather is London is turning cold and I forgot to wear a hat. I’ll also need to remember to take along a scarf next time I’m out. It was a cold walk to the underground station, then from Shepherds Bush station (near to my hotel) to my hotel. I was thankful that it wasn’t raining. Was thinking that snow would be welcome though. 

Not sure what I’m doing tomorrow. I’ll decide after I wake up. 


Monday, 10 December 2018

London, England (Kensington Hilton, Holland Park) 

Today I’m using the new software provided by WordPress who provides the web content publishing software. I could take me a few attempts to better understand all of the new features.

The past couple of days I been running a few errands and shopping. Mostly just window shopping because I don’t really need much of anything. I went to see the new Fantastic Beasts (J.K. Rowling’s screenplay that shows events prior to Harry Potter). 

On Monday I decided to take the train to Windsor Castle to see the Harry and Meghan wedding exhibit, but as I approach the castle I saw that it was closed. From what I was told it closed early. It was a nice ride to and from Windsor so it wasn’t a total loss. I had lunch in Windsor before I returned to London. 

Tomorrow I’ll return to Windsor and tour the castle again and see the exhibit. Still having fun posting pictures on Instagram. See the link below to see what I’ve been posting.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Edinburgh, Scotland (6 Glencairn Crescent)

For whatever reason I didn’t sleep well last night. Perhaps it was the late nap I took after dinner or that I was looking forward to traveling to London today. In any case, I was up early and was packed by 9:00 when the Uber driver came by to pick me up for my ride to Waverley station. I almost went to nearby Haymarket station to catch the train, thinking that my train would stop there after Edinburgh. As I later discovered, it had already stopped at Haymarket (Edinburgh’s other train station.) That would have been a disaster.

The four-hour trip to London went by quickly as I kept busy playing the Hearts game on my phone, emailing, texting, looking out the window, etc. I’ve been thinking I should read a book sometime. I used to read constantly but now I tend to doze off after reading 20 pages or so. I’ll give it a try after the first of the year.

The last couple of days I had two very productive and informative meetings. The first, on Wednesday, with my GP who reviewed my test results with me. And the other with my financial planner on Thursday. All of this fits into planning out the next few years, at least until I turn 70. The new world of being on Medicare when I turn 65 brings up questions regarding how much medical insurance do I need now and later on. Combined with that is the question of where do I want to live. Both are now very much connected.

Good news came from the doctor, who I met with for nearly an hour. The only concern was my cholesterol, but she thought it could be managed by adjusting my diet and it wouldn’t be necessary to take a statin. She recommended I drop at least 20 pounds. I’ll get a full written report in a couple of weeks. She also wrote out a prescription for efudex for my skin treatment. The cost will be around $60 rather than the nearly $200 as it costs in the U.S.

Meeting with my financial planner yesterday also turned out good as well. I’ve been working with her to align my investment income with my financial needs. She was able to take my budget planning spreadsheets and input them into a financial modeling application that her company is now using. I really have two plans. One is my plan from now until I turn 70 and the other is for after the age of 70 when I rely exclusively on my investment, pension, and Social Security incomes. We proved that I can stay in Europe until (or even after) age 70 and that I’ll have enough steady income to last my remaining years, however long that may be. Though, after I turn 70 I’ll have to spend within my means. If I start tapping into my annuity, the income from that income source decreases.

So now I have to face the fact that my body needs to be on a diet as well as my finances. The good news is that I only need to make minimal changes. So much easier when I had a full time job, but I’ll get used to it eventually.

After I arrived in London and got settled in my hotel room I met up with a friend and we got caught up before he leaves to see his family tomorrow. Prean and Viktor are in Wales and Csabi is working in Milton Keynes outside of London for the next 3 days. So, I guess I’m on my own. Which is okay. I made reservations to see a Christmas concert at Albert Hall on Tuesday, but I need to book other venues before they get sold out.

I’ve been posting more pictures on Instagram. Think I’m getting the hang of it now. Still so much to learn, but I’m not in any rush. Good to know that all my travel pictures are backed up, but at some point I need to organize them. Definitely an activity when I have more time off from traveling.

Tomorrow I’ll probably sleep in and get organized before exploring London. I couldn’t think about everything I wanted to do in London when I was in Edinburgh and now that I’m here, I don’t know where to start. A good dilemma to be in.

In the morning, I’ll start with my daily Hilton breakfast where I will substitute my buttered toast and jam with fresh fruit.