July 12, 2015

So, that took awhile…

I haven’t posted on here since 2011. Time flies, and a lot has happened since then, so much so that just about everything is a bit different. 

In that time, I’ve frequently regretted not writing about my trips, as rereading my accounts has let me both reexperience those adventures and allowed me to easily share places I’ve really enjoyed with friends. 

So, after a two week visit to the States, it’s time for me to stop over 3.5 years of procrastination and write a story. (It’s bedtime, so I’m giving myself the week to actually deliver.)

September 27, 2011

Explanation for the Lull

I haven’t posted much lately, reasons include:

  • Busy with new job
  • Haven’t been making much stuff (I *do* have a cake to post, though) or going places since I started the job
  • Did I mention busy with new job?
  • Maffetone Training
The latter deserves a bit of explanation -“Maffetone Training” is a style of endurance training championed by a guy named Phil Maffetone (shocking, right?). Anyway, it’s all about working at your maximum aerobic threshold and no greater, so this equates to a lot of very slow jogging for me right now.
When I decided to try this training method out, I searched around the internet, and I couldn’t find a normal person’s day to day account of doing this, so I started my own.
If you want to read about my glacial workouts and a dietary test involving a lack of carbohydrates, mail me and ask for a link. I don’t blame you if you decide not to, though!
August 31, 2011

Salisbury, England

After nearly four years of my whining about wanting to see Stonehenge, we finally made this happen.

Funnily, what made this trip really happen wasn’t my nagging but my desire to visit a tack shop in Wilton, which is right next to Salisbury. The things one does for the right boots…

Anyway, I was really looking forward to this trip, and I set off to roughly plan what we would do.

Darren takes great pride in planning our trips to the nth detail and said it was my responsibility to do similarly. I delivered with a spreadsheet and a google map (Shocker), that we largely adhered to. (note: this was the first spreadsheet to include specific timings.)

So following our arrival we hopped on the Stonehenge Tour bus outside of the station and enjoyed a historical tour of Salisbury en route to Stonehenge. Stonehenge is first visible from the A303. I saw it a few years ago en route to Cornwall, and it was such a surprise to see it there. if you want to see it a bit closer, you have to buy tickets and enter the site. Seeing Stonehenge doesn’t require a lot of time. We walked around the site in its entirety in about 40 minutes. There’s a free audio guide as well, but we decided to skip that because we hoped to take the earlier bus back into Salisbury.

The Pheasant Inn

We took the tour bus to Blue Boar Inn, a listed building right near the city’s Guildhall and Central Marketplace in search of lunch at The Pheasant Inn, a pub located in an old 16th century inn.

After an undocumented lunch of Steak & Ale pie and Bangers & Mash, we headed off in search of the perfect riding boots.

Equishop came highly recommended by a riding instructor I know,and given that I was having a miserable time finding boots, it seemed worth the trek. Unfortunately, my experience wasn’t as good as his was. The overall customer service and selection available within the shop was quite good, but the fitter who helped me seemed very content to sell me a pair of Ariat boots that had way too much free space in the calf. My acquaintance’s experience was completely different. he joked that they made him try on every pair in the store and checked the fit like he was five years old, which was exactly what I was looking for. Would I go there again, yes, but something I’ve learned on this boot hunt is that you need to find the right fitter and I didn’t do that in this case. (I’ve since found boots and am a happy girl.)

Cathedral Exterior

So, leaving the shop a bit deflated and empty handed, we headed back into Salisbury to the Cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral, built in the 13th century is famous for its 123m spire, the tallest in England. One can visit the base of the spire via 332 steps on organized tours, but we arrived too late for the last one on a summer Saturday (1530). It’s also famous for being the home to one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta and houses the world’s oldest, still functioning clock, built in 1382.

I’ve included some interior pictures of the Cathedral, but photos in the Chapter House, where the Magna Carta is housed, were not permitted.


After seeing the Cathedral, we had a bit of a wander around the City Center, followed by a pint at The Chough. A chough is a type of bird – I learn something new every day.

Then, unfortunately, it was time to head back to the rail station!

July 30, 2011

NYC Cycle Routes: City to Piermont via 9W or HHD

Another route I often enjoyed in my NYC days was from home to Piermont. One can go via 9W or Henry Hudson Drive (HHD), and I’ve mapped both for you with the HHD bit in purple.  
In the city, I tended to use Riverside Drive, rather than the greenways to get to the GWB because it was faster and I don’t always have enough fear for my own good. (I took the Manhattan Bridge with the cars once on my bike. I can assure you this was not wise.) Taking Riverside Drive is totally OK, though. I wouldn’t suggest anything intense on here.

Anyway, as before: look at the underlying googlemap, as I’ve left notes on the markers to help.

Any suggestions/ amendments, let me know!


July 18, 2011

NYC Cycle Routes: My Brooklyn Route

This is a pretty fun route that I’ve shared with a number of people, and I’ve finally gotten around to mapping it. I plan to map out a few more in the coming weeks, as else, I might start forgetting them. (I left New York in December 2007)

I think this is a ride best done in the early morning, as then you avoid, the heat (if summer), traffic, and hoardes of tourists on the Brooklyn Bridge who don’t understand that they belong on the side of the bridge that doesn’t have a picture of a person with wheels on it. Also, the Ocean Parkway bit has quite a few synagogues, so you may want to avoid timing your rides for temple time, as the service roads have a lot more cars then.

Do look at the underlying googlemap, as I’ve left notes on the markers to help.

Any suggestions/ additions are welcome, just let me know!

July 4, 2011

Walking in Search of US Presidents in London

In honor of Independence Day, Darren suggested we go on a walk around London in search of statues of former American Presidents.

Thus, off we went! (The map includes our route and markers for each statue.)


We kicked off the walk at Great Portland Street tube stop, right next to Regent’s Park and a statue of JFK. This Statue was funded by Sunday Telegraph readers, each allowed to donate no more than £1. The statue cost £50,000.

JFK at Regent's Park

From JFK, we headed South into Mayfair to the US Embassy and Grosvenor Square, which is really the Powerball of presidential statue spotting in London. The Square is home to three of them: FDR, Eisenhower, and as of today, Reagan.

FDR in Grosvenor Square

Ike in Grosvenor Square

Reagan in Grosvenor Square

We then headed back to Bond Street to visit FDR & Churchill.

Churchill & FDR on Bond Street

Walking South through Green Park and through Victoria, we found  Lincoln, across from Westminster Abbey.

Lincoln near Parliament

Wrapping it up, we visited Washington, a gift from the Commonwealth of Virginia,  in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

Washington at the National Gallery

June 14, 2011

Regents Canal Towpath

Where to go...

Darren and I recently took advantage of a sunny day to head over to the Regents Canal Towpath and Little Venice (where Regent’s Canal meets the Grand Union canal)  for a bit of a walk.

The map covers our route once we arrived at the path and just the bit that we followed. In its entirety, it runs from Limehouse  to Paddington. You can walk along the route, or you can take a boat.

Built in the early 19th century and whose design was guided by the architect, John Nash of Brighton Pavillion fame, the canal paths were used heavily to transport goods until the 1960’s.

Some pictures! (and evidence that my camera has been neglected for a while!)

You can visit the London Zoo from the path and see the warthogs!

View of the path heading West

Someone's shack along the path.

One of the Canal Boats available for rides.

There are many houseboats moored along the walk as you get closer to Little Venice.

A view of Maida Vale's Little Venice

April 23, 2011

Places I Love to Eat in NYC

As I find I am often asked where to eat in New York, I decided to respond to this when most recently asked with a Google Map, so here it is:

This list is hardly exhaustive. Even as I write this, I find myself thinking of more places to add! (Please feel free to remind me of places I’ve left out!)

It’s a bit of a work in progress that is based on knowledge that may be 3 years out of date, but these are all places I’m always happy to return to when I am back in the City. They’re all places that have consistently served me well over the course of my 13 years as a New Yorker.

I’ve made notes on each restaurant as well, which you can view by clicking on the markers. It may just be easier to visit the map itself, though, where you can see the map and all of the notes at the same time.

April 21, 2011

Practical Driving Exam #1

Little Yaris at the Wood Green Test Center

Months of driving lessons later, I found myself in late December 2010 and all ready to book my practical (road) exam. The closest test center to where I live is in North London, in an area called Wood Green, which is right near White Hart Lane, for all you Spurs fans.

Anyway, I got a test date for April 21, and sparingly took lessons over the last four months to keep up my skills in prep for the big day. I probably should have scheduled more practice sessions/ lessons recently.

See, this post is entitled, “Practical Driving Exam #1”, because yours truly will be pursuing a “Practical Driving Exam #2” in June.

First a bit of background: I had planned 5 hours of lessons/practice time this week, thinking that such would be sufficient to make up for the 5 or so weeks since I had last driven. This might have been so, but this week has been further complicated by my asthma and medicinal side effects, insomnia, in particular. (If you’ve taken Prednisone, you know my pain.)

A view of the parking lot of shame.

Monday’s lesson was the worst one I have *ever* had. I stalled the engine four times, nearly took off someone’s mirror, and really, I just did everything wrong.

Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s lessons near the test center were better, but still, I wasn’t doing well. I felt really out of my element, and the area around Wood Green is full of very aggressive drivers with no sympathy for a car with a learner’s tag. In two days of driving there, I observed a broad variety of hand gestures that I’d not experienced in my own neighborhood. I would have rescheduled the test, but doing so would have been a forfeit, and I thought it best to just experience the exam, as it was already paid for.

Thursday arrived, and I met my instructor at 11 to head up to Wood Green for my 13:03 exam (no, that time isn’t a typo). We did a bit of practice, including a right turn on the Great Cambridge Roundabout, which may not seem like a big deal, but someone even made an instructional video about it and put it on You Tube!

At test time, the first bad news came: my examiner had called in sick. The good news was that they could accommodate me at 14:57 (really!) because an examiner from another center would be coming, or I could just reschedule the test altogether. Initially, the latter seemed a good idea, until they told me that the next date available would likely be August or September. (Note: Wood Green is a small center with a lot of demand, thus the long wait.)

I took what was behind Door #1: 14:57. I felt lucky to at least have the choice!

Two more hours to kill, we took a lunch break (cookies and water) , and reviewed maneuvers. We even did reverse bay parking, one I never mess up. I thought I might as well practice, given that I have the time and I’m paying my instructor.

By the time I returned to the Center, I had already driven for about three hours. (The most I’ve driven in a single go in the last ten years is two hours.)

Anyway, about the Center… Wood Green’s tiny parking lot is anything but welcoming to a new driver. Getting in and out of it isn’t exactly easy, as you’ve got a very short, sloping driveway going into a busy road with a bus stop right where you’d turn left. (You can kind of see it in the picture.) Even the lot isn’t the easiest thing to maneuver. It’s rather small!

After signing in and meeting my examiner, we headed out to the evil lot where the examiner asked me to open Little Yaris’ (yes, that’s what I call her) hood and show him where the coolant goes as well as explain how I ensure that there is an appropriate amount of coolant in the car.

Next, we all got in the car, and I faced my second question on adjusting the headrest. Easy enough.

We began the exam with the maneuver. I was given the easiest maneuver imaginable:

“Please pull out either to the left or to the right and perform a reverse parking maneuver.”

All I had to do was pull out a bit, turn my wheel all the way, drive out of the spot, and then do the exact opposite. It’s the equivalent of putting something down and picking it back up.

Of course, that isn’t quite what I did. For some reason, I decided that was too good to be true.  Surely it wouldn’t count if it was that easy, right?

What did I do? Come join in my shame! (I’m the gray car in the diagrams):

First, I pulled out imprecisely because I… am an idiot, as established. I quickly found I was too close to the cars on my right. What to do? The right thing: readjust my position and then reverse in, or…

The wrong thing: I decided to try to get back in the parking space anyway, only I wasnt quite in there because I had started the maneuver too close:

So, I pulled out again, but I wasn’t far enough from the cars on my right again, so I reversed to give myself a bit more space:

Then, I advanced to almost where I wanted to be in the tiny lot to commence the maneuver (a car’s width from the bay) and I reversed into the spot. This time, I landed on the line because I still was a bit too close. *sigh* I wasn’t panicked or stressed, but UGH: I couldn’t help but think how much I’d really like to just start all over again, but in these cases, you just have to fix the mess you make. I had to reposition the car, something that I normally do effortlessly…

But of course, it only got worse.
As I needed to position the car fully within within the lines, I pulled forward and then reversed to straighten the car. Unfortunately, I was just tired and feeling really stupid at this point. I just lost any sense of bearing and instinct. I reversed the wrong way and completely worsened my position

.It was as though a cardboard box of kittens I was babysitting had popped open, kittens were crawling everywhere, and I couldn’t see any graceful way to collect them all. I ended up needing to advance and reverse TWO more times before getting myself nicely centered in the spot.

When “the longest reverse into a parking spot, ever” was finally over, I put the car in neutral, pulled up the parking brake, and accepted that this test was long and well failed.

We kicked off the rest of the test. The rest of the exam was as expected, only it was easier. My later test time (teamed with my very time consuming maneuver) meant that risking the roundabout traffic on the day before a holiday weekend wasn’t an option, time wise. The independent driving sections went very well. Barring a case where I was asked to drive on after stopping where I did not see a car coming a bit of a way back, despite looking, the rest of the exam went well; i.e. there was no further humiliation. My instructor and I had a good laugh about it on the drive home.

What have I been reminded of through experience today: The most simple of things can become intricate when you make them in to something they aren’t!

Oh, and I’ll be taking my next exam at Hendon! (Not because of the parking lot, but because the wait was shorter for an exam.)

April 20, 2011

About the Practical Driving Exam

What you get after the red "L"

First, I have to stress that the UK driving exams seem much harder than those in the States.

In the US, most people I know learned from their parents in a relatively short amount of time. Once granted a license, you are entitled to drive either a standard or an automatic, regardless of which one you used during your exam.

I sat two driving exams in the US: One in New York State in 1994 (failed) and one in Virginia in 1998 (passed, but I absolutely shouldn’t have… that’s a story for maybe tomorrow). New York required a parallel park and a bit of simple suburban driving. Virginia was just simple, suburban driving. In both cases, I wasn’t prepared for the exam. (My dad let me drive his car once or twice in the Fall of 1994 and my mother just made such an ordeal of my trying to learn, I rarely got any practice with her. I couldn’t afford professional lessons, so I just tried.)

I don't recall roads in the States being this narrow. Buses drive on this too!

In the UK, it seems like everyone takes professional lessons, and often, then take quite a few. I read that most people will need at least 40 hours of instruction to prepare; although women tend to take more lessons than men do. As a learner driver, you are not allowed on motorways, ever.

Admittedly, I think you have to be a more skilled driver here. The roads are much more narrow. Check out the picture of Hampstead High Street from Google Street view, and you’ll see what I mean. This isn’t even the worse! There’s a road going uphill to Hampstead where I find I tend to hold my stomach in while driving, just in case it makes my tiny driving school car, a Toyota Yaris, a little slimmer. I can’t imagine driving a Range Rover on that road, but people do, and they all keep their side mirrors.

My instructor's little Yaris is similar.

A UK road exam is around 40 minutes long, and in many cases, it will include a major roundabout and a bit of driving on a busy A Road, where you’ll need to drive in excess of 40 mph. You are always required to perform one of four maneuvers (3 point turn, reverse around a corner, and reverse park (either parallel or into a parking bay).  You are asked about vehicle safety checks, as you are expected to know how to check tires, power steering, oil levels, coolant levels, etc. in addition to knowing how to operate lights, fog lights, wipers, and so forth. Throughout the test, you are advised where to go, except during the two independent driving sections. During Independent driving, the examiner will give you a brief set of directions and you must then carry them out. In 1/3 or so of tests, the examiner will require you to perform an emergency stop. The full summary of fun  is available on this DVLA site here.

I’ll be taking my exam on a standard, and undoubtedly, any doubts about my driving skills that I still carry because I believe I didn’t really earn the license I got in 1998 will be long gone when I pass.

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