Chicago, IL, USA


Sears Tower


As this brief stop was also Darren’s first in Chicago, I had great intentions to write about it as well. Unfortunately, I failed miserably! Our two full days went largely undocumented.


View from Lincoln Park


We had great intentions about the Architectural Boat Tour, but ended up walking from Lakeview into the city, with a nice stroll through Lincoln Park. After lunch with out friend Victoria (of Amsterdam fame), we headed to Rock Bottom to meet my friend Alberto for drinks before heading back home for dinner with the kids.

The next day, we decided to continue to eschew tourism, opting instead to head up near Evanston to accompany Victoria to return her rental car. This wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy, only the rental car was a Dodge Charger, which was the most unlikely car I could imagine my dear friend driving.  Even more noteworthy was the layer of  crumbs that had struck the backseat of the car over the course of the three days or so the car was in her possession. It seems two children under the age of three are a bit like having a tornado in tow at all times; a really fun tornado with a trail of raisins and cheese sticks!


The Infamous Cinnamon Rolls


We did this on a very full stomach after hitting Ann Sather‘s like we were going to the electric chair. Darren’s decision to get the cinnamon rolls and the potatoes as his chosen sides was impressive, but he didn’t actually eat it all.


Alberto and I at Rock Bottom


For lunch we met up with our friend, Neil, at one of his old haunts, Piece. Unfortunately, we didn’t receive his message advising us to, “save room for meatball subs!” As we were still in an Ann Sathers’ coma when we arrived, we pathetically had to watch Neil eat his sub while he mocked us.

Dinner that night was at one of my favorites, Mia Francesca, and I had the extra joy of eating with lots of people I like: Victoria, her husband Troy, her brother Stephen, and Stephen’s girlfriend, Suzanne. I ate a mighty bowl of sausagey pasta, enjoyed everyone’s company, and didn’t take a single picture!

Our flight the next morning was at nine, so the fun had to end.  Maybe next time we’ll take that boat tour….


Jacksonville, Florida, USA

Kiely and Darren with the newly acquired hotsauce

I’ve never thought to write about a Jacksonville trip. I lived there as a child for a while, and after many years, my mother decided to return there to escape the winters of New York State.

I’ve only been back a few times since my mother returned, and I often find myself in the car, nose nearly pressed to the window, trying to pick out the buildings I recalled from my childhood surrounded by so much new construction.

I decided to write about it this time because this is Darren’s very first trip to Florida, which meant a dash of tourism for a few days!

We flew into Orlando, as our closest option for a direct flight and had a 3 hour ride north to Jacksonville.  We opted to stay at a local bed and breakfast a few blocks from my mother’s, The House on Cherry Street.

The Spoils of Cherry Street!

The first thing I’d like to highlight about The House on Cherry Street is that it is the best B&B experience I have ever had – and the website pictures don’t even begin to do it justice. The house is lovely, our room was charming, the breakfasts wonderful, and the company of our hosts, Victoria and Robert, was an absolute pleasure; so much so, we found ourselves planning our next visit and encouraging Victoria and Robert to come to London.

So, that first night, we opted for one of my favorite pizzas in the US, Moon River Pizza. My mention of it clearly made an impression on Darren, who counted the minutes from Orlando until dinner.  The food is inexpensive and their pizza is consistently good and not greasy. We crashed shortly thereafter,  full of jetlag and meaty pizza.

Day II:

Deep Fried Gator Tail!

We headed out to the Riverside Arts Market, which reminded me a lot of a New York City summertime Street Fair.

The Market includes live music, a farmer’s market, a crafts market, food, and in the evening, films are screened on thewaterfront. This week’s film was The Wizard of Oz, but we sadly missed it. Darren bought BBQ sauce (above) , and we went for a walk on the waterfront before heading out towards Mayport in search of a lot of deep fried at Singleton’s Seafood Shack.

Singleton’s promises a lot of fish and a museum of handmade wooden boats, crafted by the original Singleton.  We opted for deep fried gator tail to start, and by the time the fried king fish arrived, Darren was broken. We dropped him back at the B&B for a rest, yet none of us really recovered from all the fried, so a dinner of salad followed.

Day III:

At Ripley's The Largest Erector Set Creation

Full of nostalgia, we all headed out to The Fox for breakfast. The Fox was and is a diner with a bit of an equine theme, despite the name. I regaled Darren with tales of a hated home perm which had its debut at this venue. It seems a five year old yours truly believed a perm would somehow give me Christie Brinkley hair, but instead, I had little orphan Annie hair. I remember  crying in the bathroom and trying to comb it out before we went out for breakfast, where I was declared, “cute”, by our waitress, Thelma. The good news was that the food was great, even without a perm!

Still on a mission of tourism, we headed to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the US.  First, we also went to the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum, which I always wanted to do as a child, but somehow never did. The Ripley’s museum was fun, but for me, it was really all about the Jack Palance- narrated 1980s nostalgia. We considered a wander around the Castillo de San Marco, but given the blazing sun, decided to opt for a nice walk around in the sunshine, including ice cream and Mexican food.

Day IV and V: This is where tourism was abandoned.

Breakfast included, "Darren's Cheese"

After delicious Cherry Street breakfasts, which included “Darren’s cheese” specially sourced by our hosts,  Darren was left to work on his writing, while I spent time with my mother, catching up, learning why I’m crap at knitting, and helping her with computer stuffs. The latter seems to be the duty of my generation, explaining the mysteries of the home computer to our parents, who just want it to work.

Obligatory picture of oranges

There was a dinner out at The Brick, and a dinner at home with my mother, which included a delicious spinach tart and key lime pie. I also had the wonderful, and internet fuelled chance to catch up with one of my best friends from grammar school, Kyla,  who I sadly fell out of contact with after we moved to New York in 1986. Kyla was always incredibly artistic and I was happy to see she still is, having started her own photography business, Calhoun Clicks.

All in all, it was five days that passed entirely too quickly. We’ll just have to visit again soon!

I am an Ameristuff Mule

Yet another airport line!

In the spirit of my last posting, it seems worthwhile to note the many things I’ve ferried from the US to the UK.

Yes, I am also an Ameristuff Mule! This time, much like during my flight over, I have no haul because I was so busy working there was never any shopping time.

Anyway, here’s a list of items I have been asked to bring to the UK from the US over the past few years:

I am a Britstuff Mule

Newark, Ahoy!
My first name doesn’t fit on the ticket ..

As I find myself embarking on another trip to NYC, it occurs to me that there is another aspect to visiting home:

Being a Britstuff Mule.

This particularly comes to mind because this trip is such that unless you work at my office*and* are involved in the project that I’m resuscitating and expected to present on Thursday, I probably won’t see you. Thus, this is my first trip from London to the US *ever* where I’ve not had goods.

So, as I wait for take off, please enjoy this list of items I have been asked to bring to the US from the UK over the past few years. I’m sure this isn’t all of them…

(I’ve also included a photo of a haul from a 2007 business trip… that bedspread is the Ritz’s not mine!)

“Volcanoed In”, whilst in NYC

Twitter was chock full of volcano.
I really should have taken more pictures for this post.

I think it was Thursday when I had the following exchange at work…

Colleague: Is your flight canceled?
Franc: Why would it be?
Colleague: Did you read the flight alert mail?
Franc: Oh, no worries, I’m booked on Virgin. (assuming more strike action by British Airways)
Colleague: …the one about the volcano?

Needless to say, I never expected to have a flight to the UK canceled because of a gigantic cloud of volcanic ash. I definitely can’t pronounce Eyjafjallajökul, and there I was, “Volcanoed In”.

Once my flight was officially cancelled on Friday night, there was lots of hold music. Lots. Then came hotel swapping, a whole lot of booking drama, and even more hold music.

Roughing it at the Plaza Athénée

Some people were very sympathetic. Was I okay? Did I need clothes or a place to sleep? I was offered my own room, several couches, an aerobed, and a bedroom full of cats.

There were kind offers of frequent feeding; a BBQ, a chicken, and my friend Elisabeth gave me a bag of homemade cheese sticks (awesome!). A colleague even offered to do my laundry. I felt extra loved.

Reminding myself that life was tough, I tried to be strong. I reminded then that while I was suffering soooo much at the Millennium Hilton (my home for the last 5 days of the trip), it was still at least a smidge better than an airport cot.

Others were apathetic. They didn’t relish saying that I had been volcanoed, and well,  they aren’t very fun people anyway. 

My view from the Hilton
The site has come a long
way since I worked on the other side

High on the collective to-do list at work was trying to find an alternative way home once our flights were canceled. My colleagues treated this like a life or death mission..something about having wives alone with hordes of small children seemed to really put the fear in them. I’d get phone calls and emails at all hours, notifying me of the latest Plan, encouraging me to call travel and try to get wait listed for the latest chosen vehicle.

They looked at taking the Queen Mary 2  and at flying to Madrid and taking a car service or train back to London. My employer announced  plans to charter a jet to an undisclosed location from which transport to London would be provided via a British Naval ship and coach bus.

I can think of few greater contrasts in transportation than “private jet” and “coach bus“. 
I concluded the ash would have to go eventually and opted to stay put. After all, I had a pregnancy sweater and a lot of hotel shampoo.

Pregnancy sweaters come from precious people.

You see, I began to run out of clothes on d+1 (d= departure) so I began to collect items from others, specifically items they definitely didn’t mind not receiving back in the near future. I wore them all at the same time, feeling like a spoiled refugee. That t-shirt with a spot, the pregnancy sweater, and the airline socks made for a fine complement to my new jeans on d+2. 

 By the time I left for the airport on d+6, I was definitely ready to go. Two weeks of not sleeping well and working loads has caught up. Even so, the extra week was a blessing in disguise.

Despite being crammed in the office more often than not…

Bagels, just as planned

-I got to catch up with a number of workmates  
-I even managed to see a few old friends, a highlight!
-I learned that Landmarc will not only deliver fantastic food but also beer!
-I had lunch at Google on their roof deck in the sun, and during my visit, saw a live kangaroo.
-I met a dear friend’s new wife and saw him the happiest I’ve ever seen him 
-I bought many pairs of socks 
-I failed to go to the gym, except for one day
-I never had barbeque. I did have a lot of sushi, though!
-I was reminded how convenient 24 hour restaurants are. Thank you, Bubby’s.

So many weird ads on the subway. 888-LAPBAND ?!?!

-I was invited to Brooklyn for chicken, and it was the most fun chicken I have ever had. 
-I learned that restaurants can give you an itemized guest check (key for submitting expenses) after the fact thanks to customer service that rivaled the food at Wolfgang’s in Tribeca.

     …and I learned that there’s no place like home, and that I’m truly lucky to have two.

    San Francisco & Livermore, CA

    A Bit of Background:
    We were very excited to visit San Francisco, as it is a city that we both love but have somehow have never managed to visit together. Conveniently, the wedding of good friends finally gave us an excuse.

    We had about a week in California, during which we spent most of our time in the city of San Francisco, but as the wedding and wedding related-festivities were in Livermore, we spent two nights out there.I didn’t take as many pictures as I planned. I think this is because having been to San Francisco quite a few times, it feels more like going somewhere very familiar rather than visiting somewhere novel.

    On to the Trip:

    Day I: Tuesday

    Eleven hours of flying, and we arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday afternoon.

    We checked in to our hotel for the first half of the trip, The Clift, and my husband and I did what we usually do in the face of a bit of jet lag. I went for a run and he went to the pub.

    Run and Pub completed, we headed out to do a few errands near Union Square. We then headed to dinner at Ozumo on Steuart Street via a pre- dinner drink at a random Czech-themed bar/ restaurant called Cafe Prague.

    The food at Ozumo was very good. I tend not to have much sushi back in London, much as I really enjoy it. As usual, my eyes were bigger than my stomach, but I managed not to point at the menu and ask for, “one of everything”. I also was so enthusiastic that I forgot to take a picture until I was well into the meal. The miso soup was perfect, the fish was delicious, and they had a very good sake list.

    Dinner was excellent, but we called it a night shortly thereafter. I was the only one who slept on the flight.

    Day II: Wednesday
    Wednesday started out bright and early (6am!) thanks to a touch of jetlag and what I have been led to believe is a San Franciscan institution, the breakfast burrito. So much yum.

    Unfortunately, that burrito couldn’t help me really ignore the fact that San Francisco is really cold! London takes a lot of abuse for its weather, and this is totally unfair.

    There more more errands, lots of wandering, meeting up with our friend Robin, and an excellent dinner at Firefly out with our friends, Kendra & Markus, whose wedding has brought us here. I had an excellent entree of scallops, and the chocolate mousse was superb.

    …and after all that eating, it was definitely sleep o’clock!

    Day III: Thursday
    After being woken up at 5am, we kicked off the day with an Ameri-tastic breakfast at Lori’s Diner. There were eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, hash browns, and no need for a belt. There was also a bit of Darren kissing a cow.

    After the morning feast, we took a meandering walk up to North Beach and then back towards the hotel via a visit to the Sea Lions at Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero.

    Swimsuits for much warmer Livermore were acquired ($10 at Marshalls!), and I went for a failed attempt at a nap. The afternoon was spent wandering the city, enjoying the smidge of sunshine that snuck through.

    After meeting up with a very old friend who lives in SF, we headed out for Chinese at Hunan Homes on Jackson Street. While I was advised to check out a spot across the street instead, my late arrival led me to not disrupt the plan, and we were pleasantly surprised.

    Day IV: Friday
    Friday morning we wandered up to Washington Square, joined the mighty queue at Mama’s and mocked these people on segways.

    The decision between french toast and omelette was difficult, but we managed. I went for the french toast sampler, pictured here, with an egg on the side. As Robin would say, we, “ate like big dogs”.

    Following a much needed post prandial stroll back to the Clift, we checked out and headed to Livermore, where we were a bit startled to actually see the sun.

    Day VI: Saturday in Livermore
    While I highly doubt I’d seek out Livermore as a holiday destination, we easily enjoyed ourselves. The warm sunny weather was a welcome change, and there was a swimming pool ideally placed for catching up on one’s reeading.Our plans to visit the Livermore Laboratory were more easily derailed than I should admit by a suggestion to visit In N Out Burger. In my defense, I had committed to going to buy sweaters, but after said task was completed, I could hardly say no to a cheeseburger.

    After eating enough to fuel a family of eight, I headed to the pool until it was time to head out to the McGrail Vineyards to witness the wedding of our friends, Kendra & Markus.The wedding was beautiful, and much fun was had. We were seated in excellent company, and we had a great time catching up with old friends and meeting new people.

    Day VII: Sunday – Back to San Francisco

    We returned to San Francisco on Sunday to find that gorgeous weather had arrived. Our change in hotel also meant we had to do some trekking up and down those famous hills.

    We walked and walked all day. Many pictures were taken with my new lens, which I managed to get dirty. Nearly every picture taken with it has those two spots on it, as are visible in the shot on the right.

    I may post more of the pictures later, but for now, I’m a bit cranky about the lens spots. I always fail to travel with cleaner, and seemingly, I never learn.

    In the evening, we met up with our friend Chris at the Fairmont’s Tonga Room, where one can sit by the hotel’s former pool, which has since been converted to a lagoon, completely with thunder and rainstorm every half hour. It’s a bit like falling into a time warp, only better.

    Chock full of Tiki goodness, we wandered out in search of Mexican food in The Mission and then, unable to resist the siren song of drinks served in coconuts, we returned for more Tonga goodness.

    Day VIII: Monday- the last day of vacation
    Despite quite a few trips to San Francisco, I’d never made it to Alcatraz. This remains unchanged.

    I did, however, manage to not only ride a Cable Car but also to make Darren take me. Prior to doing so, we wandered around the Cable Car Museum, where one can see the cable mechanism operating the system in the basement.

    After a bit more wandering around and even more Mexican food, it was time for us to check out, so we trekked up the hill again, collected our luggage, and headed to the airport.