Archive for category travel

Gyms I’ve been to in the past two months

As I was walking back from New York Sport’s Club in Brooklyn, it dawned on me that since September 1, I have worked out at a lot of gyms across California, Hawaii, London, and New York. And because I love lists, I might as well list my favorites.

Ranked in order of best to last:

1. Equinox – San Francisco – #3 pool
2. Club One – Oakland City Center – #2 pool
3. New York Sport’s Club – Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York
4. Virgin Active – Hammersmith London – #1 pool (though a bit too warm)
5. 24 Hour Fitness – Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii
6. Pools on the Park – Richmond, London – #4 pool

I could have ranked the above by cleanliness, equipment, clientele, cost, locker rooms, showers, customer service, etc. but why kill the gym buzz? Plus, I think I’ll have a few more gyms to add soon. I still need to find a gym by the office and if I do, I’ll be saying goodbye to the Richmond gym and replacing it with something a little more … modern.


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The Lost Lamb aka Lamb Rescue 911

The Cumberland Pencil Museum was supposed to be the highlight of the day … at least for Shelly. And then buying food stuffs for our lunch was supposed to be just that, going to a grocery store. But, I got sidetracked in the beer aisle, I mean beer section.

How could I choose just one?

And the walk to Castlerigg Stone Circle – this area’s Stonehenge – was supposed to be a relatively quick 2.5 hours hike. But the day didn’t turn out as planned.

On our way to Castlerigg, we stopped and had lunch (yes, I carried a full bottle of cider and a pint of bitter – heavy) and then continued up the path toward the top of the hill. Many great views and dozens of sheep sightings slowed us down a bit – I took way too many photos of sheep and their babies. As usual, Shelly was way ahead of me as I lingered back for photo ops. My eye caught a handful of lambs gathered at a gate down a driveway. I motioned to Shelly that I was going to wander off to take their pictures.

I approached the babies, took a photo, and then realized something wasn’t right.

On the wrong side of the fence

The babies were hanging out at the fence because one of their own was on the wrong side of the fence. He’d probably been showing off, escaped to the other side, and couldn’t get back. No one was around. No sheep herder. No guy on his tractor with his trusty border collie sheep herding dog by his side.

OK. Something had to be done. I tried wrangling him back through the gate myself. Everyone started baa-ing, babies, moms … it was getting loud. The sheep backed off from the gate enough so I could open it and try and shoo him in. Not happening. I started to hope that Shelly would notice I was taking a while and come back to help me. She showed up just as I was shutting the gate and as the little sucker got through another gate into another empty field. I motioned her over, we removed our packs, and got into operation lamb rescue. She went into the next field as the baby was running up and down the fence, trying to head butt its body through the wire. We thought he was going to hurt himself. And boy, was it cold up here. Shelly kept getting smaller as the lamb led her farther and farther away.

I had had enough, opened the second gate walked a wide circle around the lamb, got behind him and border collied him back out to the driveway. I ran over to the original gate, opened it wide, got out of the little guy’s way … and waited. Naturally, he thought this was the best time to stand still and stare at us both. I told Shelly to scare him through the gate, but was scared he’d bolt into the street. Finally, the little bugger darted back into the field baa-ing as he made his way back to his mom. We high fived each other and watched as he got a well-deserved milk break with his mom. We told him to stay put and set off again toward Castlerigg.

And yeah, Castlerigg and the hike down was pretty cool. We made it back into town more than four hours after we set out.

Looks a little like Easter Island

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An ash-free post about our drive to Cumbria

Sunday April 18

Woke up to a rainy last morning in Edinburgh. Startled our B&B hosts with our yogurt and muesli breakfast, but you can only do a full Scottish breakfast every few days. We passed on the double decker bus in the drizzly weather and took a cab to Edinburgh Waverly station. Time for our car trip to begin.

I’ve driven in the UK three times before, but it had been since the start of the Iraq war (the last time we were here). I grew up driving stick so that wasn’t a big deal, it’s just the whole driving on the left side of the road thing. Throw in a couple of manic roundabouts and now we’re talking a bit of stress.

We got a snappy little 4-door Peugeot that could barely hold our two carry-on bags in its trunk. Getting out of town wasn’t horrible – the dozens of grazing sheep and their babies helped – and before we knew it, we arrived in Biggars, Scotland for a lunch at the Aroma Cafe. Coffee, tea, soup, and filled sandwiches for lunch, and back into the rain for a drive on the highway to the Lake District.

Keswick (Kess-ick) is an adorable town that sits close to the largest lake in the area, Derwentwater. Our room at the Dunsford B&B was of course on the top floor. Of some very narrow stairs. What better way to get acquainted with the town than to walk down the street to do laundry. Shelly gets a bit disappointed if she can’t do laundry while we’re traveling abroad.

Looking toward Keswick from the other side of Derwentlake

In between the washing and drying cycles, we got our bearings a bit and decided on The Dog and Gun pub for dinner. Why that particular pub? Because as we were walking by, we saw a dog sitting upright on a chair next to his person who was drinking beer. Our kind of place.

Well, as we later found out, the dogs were the best part of the pub. There must have been 10 dogs in that place: labs, airedales, terriers. The ale I had was good, but the veggie choices weren’t many and the special Shelly had, let’s call it roast beef with veg, looked and tasted like prison food. Don’t know when Shelly was in prison, but perhaps that’s another blog post.

To get rid of the prison roast beef taste, I took Shelly to the Rembrandt Restaurant for tea and dessert. When asked, the waitress told us she preferred the Bananoffee pie over the Sticky Toffee Pudding. Mistake. Take a bad pre-made transfat crust, add a layer of bananas (fresh thankfully), plop on some toffee stuff, add whipped cream, and place on a chocolate and toffee decorated plate. Serve. We think this place was a Marie Callendar’s in disguise.

At least we had something to laugh about on the walk back to our B&B.


Dolly Parton, Princess Leia, and some bird from the ’70s

Saturday April 17

Damned if the fricken ash cloud isn’t the talk of the B&B. Starting to think we should really start to worry about getting back home on schedule. Weird to have to think about. Honestly, it’s the dogs we worry about.

The weather changed back to not-summer weather. We spent a low-key day on the new side of town in Edinburgh. Tons of walking. Got a perfect lunch from Sainsburys – yogurt and satsumas – and ate at a park. Walked back through a great cemetery/park under the shadows of the castle. Very very cool.


Looking up at the Edinburgh Castle

Dinner was a fantastic Indian meal. Love it when the Indian veggie choices are something you’ve never heard of.

Got back to the B&B only to run into Dolly Parton, Princess Leia, Kate Bush, and some bird from the ’70s. Our B&B hostess and her daughters were heading off to a costume party. She even left and emergency phone number with us. Should we be worried?

Well, worried didn’t fit the bill. Let’s just say the party came back to the B&B around 2am and carried on to at least 3:30 am. Needless to say, that Jill, our hostess, didn’t get us breakfast the next morning. She was having a long lie as her daughter put it. Long lie indeed.

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I got a sunburn in Edinburgh

After the adventures of the day before, we slept pretty hard. Woke up to a full breakfast – scone, eggs, this and that – and clear, sunny skies. So sunny that the locals were declaring it summer and donning shorts. We weren’t that brave and headed out properly attired. We hit one of the must-see spots – the Edinburgh Castle. Amazing views and very old castle-like buildings. We skipped the crown jewels and the military museum. Seen one jewel, seen them all.

Castle-eye view

Got a great Iranian/Kurdish lunch just around the corner from where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter. Went to the (free) National Museum of Scotland. It was actually a cool museum. Nice to see a museum point out the history of the world in millions of years, and backing up their claims with factual evidence for doubters. My kind of place. Lots of bones, leather shoe remnants, jewelry (not of the crown jewel persuasion), metal works … fun stuff.

Is that a kilt in your pocket?

Jumped back over to the Royal mile which was basically street after street of kilt and sweater places. Wool socks, three for £5. Fisherman’s Wharf, you’ve met your match. Used the loo at Queen Elizabeth’s holiday Palace – Holyrood Palace. Decent bathrooms. Because it was after 4, we decided against tackling Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano (that caught fire later that night). Walked aimlessly a bit toward our B&B and then hailed a cab to Bierex, a pub we could walk home from. Had some good ale, hard ginger ale, and the standard pub veg burger and haddock meal.

A decent day and a sunburn to prove it.

Nothing better than a pint and a natural disaster

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Planes, volcanic ash, trains, a taxi, and Edinburgh

I’m dusting off my blog to catalog our UK trip to Scotland and England. Wait, I think dusting is not a good word choice here. Read further and I’ll explain.

We boarded our Virgin Atlantic plane around 4:30 pm on Wednesday. Thankfully, we had a two-seat across row, so it was just us in super uncomfortable, cramped chairs for 10-plus hours. The flight was uneventful and usual for a transatlantic flight. We tried to sleep, couldn’t. Watched some airplane movies (The Blind Side for me, Michael Jackson’s This is it for Shelly – who made the better choice? Discuss.) Snacked. Fitfully slept some more. Shelly had better luck napping, although her bobbing head every time she fell asleep was a little disturbing to watch.

Bored, I switched around the TV on the plane and clicked through SkyNews. And found this:


UK airports closed by ash cloud from volcano. Um, excuse me? Is this a bad ’70s TV movie? Where’s Linda Blair with her guitar (only Airport movie aficionados will get that)? I told this to Shelly who apparently was still asleep. The folks in front of me saw it as well and flagged down a flight attendant who knew nothing about it. She came back after checking with the pilot and said it was nothing to worry about.

Well, after circling Heathrow for a while and waiting 20 minutes on the tarmac for a gate to free up, we hear that planes are backing up at the airport. Backed up indeed. The volcanic ash, dust, disturbance, cloud basically shut down airspace over the UK as we were flying in. We were on one of the last planes to make it in before the airport shut down indefinitely. After we got our bags, did the customs thing, catching our BA flight to Edinburgh wasn’t going to happen. So, we rushed through the confused crowds of people, grabbed the quickest train into London, and booked a train to Edinburgh out of King’s Cross. Last-minute train bookings are not cheap but we wanted to get going.

The trains were unbelievably crowded, with SRO and luggage in every nook and cranny, but at 7:45 pm, four train rides and nearly eight hours after we landed in Heathrow, we made it to our bed and breakfast in Scotland. We stumbled around Edinburgh looking for dinner and settled on some decent Thai food. And that was the end of the longest day.

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The last supper and the last gelato

Saturday, September 20

Up early to take the train to Milan, the final leg of our trip. Everything fit in our bags, we washed the dishes and emptied the trash, and took the bus to the train station.

As we were waiting on the train platform, a woman walked by with her little wire-haired dog. Of course, the woman noticed us noticing her dog, and came over to chat. Her dog’s name was Latte (milk) and he had recently been operated on because he had been attacked by another dog. Latte was yet another unneutered dog – we have not seen a single, neutered male dog. They are all intact. But then again, we have not seen a single stray dog.

Our seats on the train were next to a mother and her son. And their cute little dog  named Slinky who looked out the window as the train started up. Okay then. Time to go home to our dog.

Once in Milan, just about two blocks from the train station, we rolled our suitcases over to the Berna Hotel, our four-star hotel, Italian-style. We found a caffeteria lunch around the corner, expensive by our standards, and then retreated to our hotel for tea. We bought yogurt and cheese down the street for our early-morning breakfast. Our hotel is famous for their breakfasts, but since we need to leave at 5:30, we will miss it handily. We caught an episode of the Daily Show on TV. Here, however, it was sponsored by the country of Croatia.

Our last big deal on the itinerary – Leonardo DaVinci’s The Last Supper – was our next stop. You have to have reservations for this masterpiece and only 15 people are allowed in at a time.  It’s not in great condition – some renovation gone astray – but it was completely worth seeing it.

But let’s not gloss over the best gelato I’ve had on this trip. We discovered Chocolat on the way to see DaVinci. Not only did it have a line out the door, but it had at least six different kinds of chocolate. Chocolate, pistachio, and crema rounded out the gelato tastings for this trip. Now, no more ice cream for the rest of the year.

Back onto the underground for dinner by the canal. Pizza for me, pasta for Shelly, and a shared salad. And a walk back along the canal. What a busy spot. People were swarming into the area as we were walking out. But time for us to go.

And that wraps up our 12 days in Italy.

See you back on the other side of the pond.

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