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In Bruges

On the morning of my 40-something birthday, I woke up here:

This is Kasteel ten Berghe, in the outskirts of Bruges, Belgium.  Just how cool is that?  This structure has been in existence since the 13th century, and has belonged to the same family for 500 years.  Just the other day, I was poking around the internet for ideas about something to do (my hubby had taken the day off, and the weather in London was going to be crappy, so, thinks I, let’s find better weather). A friend suggested “…….go straight to Bruges and stay at the castle.”  So, that’s just what we did.  We left town Tuesday afternoon and grabbed the 3:50 sailing from Dover (yes there really are white cliffs) to Calais.  From Calais, it was just over an hour to Bruges, and this wonderful Bed and Breakfast.

I can’t describe in one short post how amazing it was.  The caretaker showed us around the castle, showed us where we would be having breakfast and then to our room, which was huge, even by American standards (those of you who have traveled internationally will appreciate that).  We grabbed a small bottle of wine from the cellar, and settled in for a quiet evening in our room.  The next morning, the geese were honking in the moat, (yes, there really is a moat), the sun was trying to shine through the high clouds and we made our way to breakfast here:

What you can barely make out on the walls of this luscious dining room are stunning, original Flemish tapestries from goodness knows when, possibly as long ago as the 14th or 15th century.  We ate in a beautiful diningroom, with classical music playing in the background, overlooking the moat, and beneath a painting of the resident family, dating from sometime around 1750, I would guess from the clothing.  They were enjoying a day of picnicking and hunting on the grounds, and the castle is in the background.  It was truly a marvelous experience (and reasonable, I am happy to report).

One more…..a shot from our window.

So then it was off to the city center.  Everything I know about Bruges, I learned here, and it has to be one of the most delightful cities I’ve been to.  Many buildings date back to the 13th century, some to the 17th century and all are remarkably well maintained.  Our first stop was the market square, and what a market it was; fresh flowers and plants, fresh meats and cheeses, fresh fruits and vegies all displayed in this pretty square–tables and tents and trailers full.  We wandered around a bit and then found a cafe for lunch.

From our vantage point, under the green awning, we watched the people go by, and watched the vendors pack up their wares.  It was an amazing site; trucks loading up, trailers housing butcher shops and delicatessens collapsed for travel, and in about an hour the square was empty and the street sweeper had cleaned up all the crumbs.

After lunch we did this:

This nice man and his lovely horse gave us a great tour of the old city.  I have been wanting to take a horse/carriage ride for YEARS, and so I played the birthday card and got something really special.   Such fun. 

After the carriage ride, we did a bit more exploring on foot, taking in the Church of Our Lady with the goal of seeing not only a beautiful church, but the only work of Michaelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime.  You can read about it here

Our last adventure, before heading back to Calais, and the boat home was a boat ride through some of the miles of canals that run through Bruges.  From the boat you can see many further examples of Medieval architechture as well as newer buildings (new as in 17th century).  Some of the bridges we passed under date from the 13th century and are still in use.  I took tons of pictures, but I think this might be my favorite:

The boat driver told us that this guy (girl??) has been in this same window every day for the past 5 years.  He paused for a bit so we could all snap a photo or two (perhaps the most photographed dog in the world??).

It was a wonderful day….Bruges is an amazing city and I really can’t wait to go back.  Care to come along?



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If walls could talk……

Yesterday, dear hubby had an appointment with the dentist at our closest base.  While he was there, I did some shopping, and after he was done I managed to talk him into a wee side trip to Oxford, for a late lunch at The Eagle and Child

I hope you will take a look at what wiki says about this place, but here is a synopsis.  The Eagle and Child has been a public house (ie: pub) since about 1650.  Around 300 years later (take a minute and think about that…..) it became the weekly meeting place of a handful of Oxford scholars who called themselves “The Inklings.”  Among them were C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.  Week after week they sat in the Rabbit Room and discussed their thoughts, read passages from what they were working on and lifted a pint (or two?).  I had lunch here a couple months back, sat in the Rabbit Room and waited for the walls to tell their secrets.

After a bit, we took a walk down the High Street (remember….every village has one), got some keys made and a cup of coffee for the road.  Seems my time in Oxford is never as long as I would like it to be, there is so much to explore.  On my last trip, I popped into Alice’s  Shop, and picked up the connection with Lewis Carroll.  At that time, I also discovered Mad Hatter Tea-–which I am enjoying most mornings these days. 

Oxford is not only a delight to the eyes, but to the book lovers senses.  Can’t wait to go back 🙂

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Over the weekend….

……..I was here:

This here is the cozy little home of the Duke of Marlborough.  There is a fantastic article here, that explains all the history of Blenheim Palace, and honestly, it’s worth the read.  I went along with a group of International students from Brunel University, and some folks from our church—-we had a blast.

A couple interesting things.  Blenheim Palace was a gift from Queen Anne and the British people to John Churchill, who then became the 1st Duke of Marlborough.  The Queen wished to thank him for defeating the French at the Battle of Blenheim—nice gift, huh?  On the South side of the palace is a 30 ton bust of King Louis XIV, that the Duke nicked from France and had installed in such a way that when he sat in his saloon, his back would be toward King Louis (take that).

Makes me wonder, though; exactly how does one get a 30 ton bust home from France in 1705?

Interesting fact number two:  Sir Winston Churchill was born in this house.  You can visit the room he was born in, see a portrait of the young Winston (what do you suppose he was called as a lad???  Winny?  Hmmmmm) and see some locks of his strawberry blond hair.  What I found more interesting than that, however, was that Sir Winston was quite a good painter; several of his paintings hang in the palace.  And, something else I didn’t know, was that he won the Nobel Prize, not for peace, but for literature.  He proposed to his wife, Clementine, here in the Temple of Diana.

With a view like this… could she say no?

Aside from the grand house, there are equally grand grounds.  The 4th Duke hired none other than “Capability” Brown to transform the grounds to a more natural, park like setting, and he did not disappoint.  The property had a wee river winding through it, which Brown damned up to create the lake and this wonderful ‘cascade.’ 

There were even SHEEP!!!

I’m quite sure there were several in the group that thought I was nuts to want a closer look, but seriously, you can’t take a knitter/spinner to a place like this and NOT expect him/her to want to get a good look at the woolly beasties.

(Which reminds me, all last week there was a show on BBC called Lambing Live…..and yes, that is what it was about.  5 nights in a row, on a sheep farm watching ewes giving birth, and getting the back story of the farm and everything that goes into getting to the lambing part.  I was completely absorbed.  Completely.  And I kept asking myself, where else in the world could I be watching a show like this?  Let’s put that on the list of things to love about living in England…..Lambing Live.  Who knew?)

Anyway, back to the palace.  It was a gorgeous day, we had a great visit and I got there and back with my car full of Chinese students without mishap.  All in all a successful trip, I’d say.  I’ll leave you with a couple more photo’s, but I encourage you to click the link above to see more, and read the whole story.


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Big, Fat, Rant

Anybody checking in to see what’s on the needles or if I’ve done any interesting travel may want to stop reading now.  Come back another day when the content will be sunny and the photo’s amazing.  Today, I’m going to post a letter I just finished to the fine people at Sky. 

A couple years ago, a friend had a frustrating experience with British Telecom, and spoke about it on her blog.  I just finished reading the comments that ensued.  Holy Cows.  In case you’re interested, you can read the post and comments here.

The letter is fairly self explanatory, so I won’t wax on here.  Feel free to leave comments, but please be respectful of each other. 


Sky Subscriber Services, Customer Marketing Director

PO Box 43

Livingston, West Lothian   EH54 7DD

To Mark Anderson, or representative,

I wish to outline the frustrations my husband and I have experienced since deciding to use Sky for our television, phone service and broadband.  I apologize for the length of this letter, but wish to be very clear.

At the outset I wish to say that thus far we’ve been pleased with our television service, however, had we known the struggle we would have, we would have made a different choice.  I originally began this letter on the 2nd of February, and set it aside believing that all issues were solved.  I’ve been proven wrong, just today.

Our adventure began with an order we placed at the Chimes in Uxbridge on the 21st of August.  We were due to move into our home on the 24th of August 2009, and wanted to begin the process so as not to be waiting for a prolonged period for internet services.  Shortly after moving in, a Sky Engineer came round to connect our Sky HD box.  The house was prewired for satellite TV, but without even checking to see if there was a signal, he said he could not connect the service without talking to the person who had done the wiring in the house, and left.  We subsequently contacted the contractor who had wired the house, found that he is a “Sky Buddy” and had him do the installation—at a cost of over £200.

With the TV service hooked up, it was time to work on getting the phone activated (SkyTalk Unlimited).  On 1 October, we received notice that we had been debited £39 for line activation.  On October 20th, 2009 the OpenReach Engineer came to install and activate the phone line.  It was then  discovered that there was no phone line to the house, that when the new house was constructed, the line was not brought onto the property.  The engineer left without being able to activate a phone line.  The following day, a Survey Engineer came to assess the problem and outlined a couple of solutions.  And that’s the last we heard.

On the 16th of November, I made a call to Sky.  The customer service representative was very nice, but couldn’t find any update as to what was going on with our order.  He gave me the reference number for BT and suggested I may be able to get an answer directly from them.  So, I rang BT and was told they were not allowed to speak with me since I was not their customer, and that any information I needed I had to get through Sky.  Again, that’s all I heard.

I made another call to Sky on December 2nd, 2009, spoke with Dale, and was told that the line had “been rejected” on the 12th of November and the order canceled.  He added that “problem resolution” paperwork had been initiated on 29 November, and we would not be able to ask about the progress until 21 days after the initiation of that progress (14 December).  Two days later, the survey engineer came by again, said he didn’t know anything about the line being rejected or the order cancelled, and would contact our landlord to discuss options for getting the line to the house.  On the same afternoon, Charlie from Sky phoned to let me know that we would be getting a further update from BT on 7 December 2009.  The update never came.  At some point during the month, another OpenReach Engineer came to install the line, and seeing that there was no telephone pole, left.

After we returned from holiday, I made another call to Sky on 11 January, 2010.  Stuart informed me that the order had been deleted from your system and would need to be placed again.  He also phoned BT and relayed to me that BT had told him that the project had been assigned to an engineer and the line would be installed in the next 3-5 days.  We reinitiated the order for phone service.

On the 10th of January we received notice that an engineer would be installing a phone line on the 2nd of February, with a different number than we had been given originally and that we had ordered SkyTalk Freetime (when it is Unlimited that we want). 

On the 19th of the month I phoned Sky to ask if there was any news regarding bringing the line to the house.  Steve kindly rang BT and was assured that there would be a phone line activated on the 2nd—and that they didn’t need a pole.  At this time, Steve posted 2 discounts to our account.  At that time, I tried to sort out the phone package, to get the SkyTalk Unlimited as originally ordered.  I was informed that I would need to wait until the line was active before it could be changed.

On the 28th of January, BT workers came to the property with telephone poles, and asked me if my husband was going to dig the hole for the pole.  I’m not joking.  I had them ring the landlord, who came by, and work commenced.  The following day, the pole was installed, but not connected to anything, so on Monday the 1st I called Sky to make sure everything was in place and the line would be installed on time.

I am able to report that after 5 months of waiting, and making calls to Sky, there was a phone line.  Believing that I have an active phone line, I again called Sky to get the plan changed to SkyTalk Unlimited and to get the broadband sorted.  The representative informed me that they had no record of our order.  So, we re-ordered the broadband and the kit should have been on its way. Unfortunately, she could not, for some reason, upgrade the phone plan, since she was not seeing an active phone line.

Three days later, (5 Feb) there was still no dial tone, so we called again.  My husband was informed that it may be midnight before the line went active and to call in the morning if there was still no dial tone.  Yes, we needed to call.  My husband spoke with a technician, named Brian, who was able to help isolate the problem to what we believed was a faulty box at the phone port.  We then commenced on a wild goose chase to find another box, which we were unable to locate.  My clever husband reconnected the old box, and we found that we had a dial tone—-at one phone port, and since there is service to the house, it is not your problem if it doesn’t work within the house, but I digress. Since we have just the one working phone port, however, we cannot connect our television to the phone line, meaning of course that we are unable to order movies, reach customer service, change a password or erase “kept” programs from our DVR. 

On the same day, we were told that our order for Sky Talk Unlimited would be expedited and we could call back in a day or two to make sure everything was in place.

On 8 February, my husband made a call to sort out what was happening with our broadband order, and we learned the extent of our issues.  Apparently, there were 2 accounts under our name, our original order, and the order that was activated when we were having the difficulty getting a phone line installed to the house.  2 accounts, that were not talking to each other, and needed to be rectified by the IT department.  I don’t to this day know if that ever happened, to be honest.  I do know that although we had tried to have Sky Talk Unlimited initiated, our calls were still being charged through BT.

On 24 February, having returned from a short holiday, I phoned to see if the Unlimited package had been activated.  I spoke with Robert, who, after some checking assured me that the plan was active and that calls to the US would be covered (as long as they stayed under 60 minutes).  The same day, we picked up our modem from the post office and had internet for the first time in 6 months.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I received a phone call today, 11 March, with the good news that our Sky Talk Unlimited service would be activated on 24(?) March.  I’m afraid that I may have been less than pleasant with the nice girl who phoned.  I told her she needed to check again, since I had been assured 3 weeks ago that the service was in place, and that we had been making calls to the States since that time.  I let her know that we would not be paying for these calls, since we had been assured that the plan was in place and active.  This representative was unable to see our account information, but told me that someone from the billing department would be in touch shortly.

This is the last straw.  What has transpired over the last several months has gone from irritating and frustrating, to maddening and now past the point of a civil response.  Something MUST be done.  Sky has a broken system.  There is no way to track sales agreements through the process to completion when there is no established phone line.  Your right hand doesn’t know what your left hand is doing, no one has been able to see all the necessary history and information, and as a result we have been given bad information.  Additionally, the deal we had worked out originally with the representative at The Chimes is worthless, causing us unnecessary expense and frustration.  That plan included free line rental for the first 6 months, and Broadband Connect for £10/month.

I want to stress, everyone I have spoken with from Sky has been extraordinarily nice, but this is ridiculous, I’m sure you can agree.  The OpenReach Engineer, who connected the line on the 2nd of February, stated he had never seen a job take this long, and as he lives on the same street, has been watching along with us for progress since October. He said that he was embarrassed at the way things had taken so long.  I believe this is an aberration, but I cannot, at this time, recommend your service to others.  I am tired of being thanked for my patience, what I really want is a straight answer from someone who knows what is happening.


I hope you can use this experience to improve customer service in the future.  I would very much appreciate a response.


Thank you,

There it is.  I’ll post the letter as soon as I can, and I’ve just finished lodging a complaint using Sky’s online form.  Can’t wait to see what happens next.





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History, revisited

Happy International Women’s Day!  Why haven’t I heard of this before?

It is a beautiful day here in the outskirts of London, much different from Saturday when Brad and I ventured off into the Wiltshire countryside to see one of the most famous sites in England.

Stonehenge (literally, hanging stones) was started sometime around 3000 BC, according to archeologists, making it older than the very impressive pyramids I saw just a couple weeks ago.  One of the first things you think as you approach the stone circle is how the %^&* did they do that?  The next question is Why?   I may be wading into controversy here, but my answer to both questions is: who knows??  I think it’s pretty clear that the prehistoric men who labored to create this wonder understood something about the sun and it’s significance; the sun shines through the stones and onto a central “alter stone” at sunrise during the summer solstice, and sunset during the winter solstice.  Whether or not it was a site of worship, or a way of tracking seed time and harvest, or whether some dude just said one day, “hey, you know what would be cool?” we will never know with 100% certainty.  What we do know, is that it took many, many years to construct, underwent several revisions and was finally abandoned.  The other thing we know for sure, is that it is magnificent to look at, to ponder, to contemplate and appreciate.  There is an interesting article here.

After we had wandered around long enough to feel frost-bit, we returned to the car and headed toward Salisbury Cathedral, by way of another historic site.

The year is 1066, and the English have been invaded by the French and William the Conqueror.  William, having acquired new territory, needed to stamp his presence all around the countryside, and one of the spots he started was here, Old Sarum.  Around 1075, atop this windswept hill, William’s forces built a castle, a palace and a cathedral, ruins of which you can explore and wander through.  It wasn’t terribly long before the inhabitants decided they’d had enough of the windy hilltop, and the difficulty in getting water, and decided to move on down to what is now Salisbury, in 1220.

Salisbury Cathedral is remarkable for several reasons, but it’s claim to fame is the tallest spire in England—404 feet. 

The cathedral itself took just 38 years to build (remember, it’s the 13th century), and the spire was added between 1280-1310.  The Chapter House within the cathedral holds one of 4 remaining copies of the Magna Carta, which we took a peek at.  I actually found the Chapter House and it’s reliefs more interesting, but that’s partly because I don’t read Latin, I suppose.  Photography was prohibited.

Inside the Cathedral, though, you can snap photo’s to your hearts content, and I did, until my battery died :(.  I adore old Cathedrals, just the thought that these edifaces were constructed to glorify God gives me chills (okay, I will grant that they were also built to inflate the egos of the bishops and the more corrupt elements in the church of that day, that money’s were collected as a sort of sin tax to pay for construction and that many other unsavory facts exsist, but for now I want to focus on the positive).

Want to know my favorite part??  While we were there, the choir was practicing for Evensong, and all throughout the marvelous church you could hear the soaring voices of men and boys reaching to touch the ears of God.  I admit to being close to weeping, it was so beautiful; the clear, perfect voices of young boys stir me everytime I hear them. 

All in all it was a wonderful day, albeit cold.  By the end of the afternoon the sun was shining (not warmly, mind) and we had a nice drive back.   I wonder where we will venture to next?

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On a Grey, Chilly Day

The weather has turned grey and chilly again, and when the weather is grey and chilly, my thoughts turn toward Starbucks…..don’t yours?   I love Seattle to the tips of my toes, but you just can’t spend much time there without fully understanding why Starbucks was born there.  Seriously—coffee is as necessary as air in the cool, grey, damp of the Northwest. 

Now, for me to reach the nearest Starbucks I have to walk a mile to the bus, which comes, like, four times a day, and go to Uxbridge.  The only coffee place in our wee village closes at 2:00, which is exactly the time I’m needing a latte.  So, as a way of remembering what life was like when there was a Starbucks on every corner, we’re going to have a little quiz, sort of a where are we in Starbucks-land.  There are no prizes this time, but let’s see if you can figure out where I took these pictures.  Ready?

This should be easy for all my kids—let’s see if any of them play along.  That there is son #1 Brett.

Next:  Here’s a gimme for the girlfriends 🙂

Okay, this is harder……

Here’s another one from the same general area.

Any guesses?

and the most recent (that’s a clue).

So, there’s a little insight into my psyche I suppose—-I take photo’s of Starbucks as if they were part of my family.  Geeesh.

So do you take photo’s of weird stuff (okay, not counting your knitting/spinning)?  What do you long for on a grey, chilly day?


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The End of Radio Silence

After nearly 6 months, we finally have a proper phone and really truly internet. 

I’ll give you a moment to take that in.

The long, ugly, frustrating story would take me far longer to relate than anyone would be interested to read (the letter I’ve begun to our service provider is 2 pages… far), but suffice it to say, we are now connected, once again, to the world, and it’s a beautiful thing.  During this period of radio silence, a lot has happened, as you can well imagine.  Rather than a blow by blow accounting, let’s have a quick overview, shall we?

August 24th, I took possession of the house while Brad was away.  I managed to drive myself to the grocery, and to the house without hitting anything or anybody (success, as far as I’m concerned).  Two days later I was on my way back to Seattle, to celebrate my sweet mother’s 80th birthday, with a surprise party cobbled together across the ocean—-with lots of help.  She was completely stunned, and a good time was had by all 🙂

September brought lovely weather, and a good time of settling in.  We discovered the pub within walking distance, Windsor, and many of the other things in our neighborhood.  Toward the end of the month, we attended Evensong at St Georges Chapel at Windsor with friends we had met just that morning (we walked across the tomb of Henry VIII and third wife Jane Seymour on our way to our seats).

October–on Columbus Day (a day off for Brad, but not the rest of England, obviously) we went to Hampton Court Palace

Since it was the  500th ‘birthday’ of Henry VIII, there were reenactments going on.  Brad and I were in the welcoming party following the Kings marriage to Catherine Parr.  Turns out we are Aunt and Uncle to the new Queen, and she asked that Brad take over as Lord Chamberlain.  Who knew 🙂

Later in the month we were here:

Brad was attending a conference in fascinating Berlin, Germany, and I was lucky enough to tag along.  We explored the area around the Brandenburg Gate; (found a Starbucks 🙂 ) saw bits of the Berlin Wall that are still standing and Checkpoint Charlie.  While Brad was busy in meetings, I took myself to the Germaldigalerie, enjoying an impressive display of Rembrandt’s, as well as other masters.  The conference dinner was is the Parliament Building, with a great view and even better food.  It was a lovely visit.

November, and Thanksgiving rolled around and since it was a holiday for us, we looked around for a quick vacation.  We settled on……

Yep, that’s Disneyland Paris (or what they used to call EuroDisney).  It was cold and wet for the most part, but we were prepared and had a great time despite the weather, though next time I think I may vote for Greece or the Canaries.

December, and even though we had decided we wouldn’t go “home” for Christmas, we changed our minds.  December also brought our 30th wedding anniversary, and we had decided to do Disneyworld, which was the original plan before we found out we were moving to England.  Brad had a conference to attend in Orlando the first week of January, so we just combined the whole thing of it (poor English, but there it is).  SO, we flew from London to Seattle, and Christmas with family, then left on the 28th for Orlando, ready for some sun.  We had a couple really lovely days, spent New Years Eve in Epcot and a crowd of 10’s of thousands, and then the weather turned and Orlando and most of Florida suffered record low temperatures. 

It. Was. Cold. 

Alex joined us for the second week, and he and I braved the cold and wandered from park to park, while Brad was busy with the AIAA conference.  We even enjoyed a Cirque du Soleil performance.

If you were to ask Alex, I’m sure he would say that his favorite part was being able to get beer-to-go at Downtown Disney and Epcot.  Bet you can guess where we spent the most time 🙂

January, and back to England, and the highlight of the month would have to be a day trip to Oxford.  Brad was meeting with a professor at the college, and I spent the afternoon driving around looking for parking, and seeing some of the sites.  I ate lunch at The Eagle and Child, former meeting grounds for the “Inklings”  otherwise known as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkein along with other authors from time to time.  They met at this wee pub in the Rabbit Room, and I sat in that same room and enjoyed fish and chips.  I sat there wishing that the walls could share their secrets.  I really need to get back and do more exploring.

February found us in a place in the world I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be.

You read about it, you study its history, you see the documentaries on Discovery and History, but to stand at the foot of the pyramids, realizing that they are 4500 years old is nothing short of amazing. 

Egypt is full of things to see, and we were lucky enough to spend several days in Cairo and a couple days in beautiful Alexandria. 

 And now we’re home, and the internet works and at least for today the sun is shining.  Life is good.

*just in case this doesn’t work….I can see the photo’s in my edit window, but they don’t show up when I preview.  I’m hoping they will be there once I hit ‘publish.’  Here it goes.


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