Wednesday, September 23, 2009

London

We finally made it into London. We got an early start on Sunday and took the Oxford Tube (a frequent bus between Oxford and London) into London. Dropped off near Victoria Station, we walked up to our first stop - Buckingham Palace.
We shrewdly planned our visit on the Sunday as the changing-of-the-guard happens only every other day in off-peak season and Sunday was it according to the schedule. We got there nice and early, grabbed our spot by the gates and waited as the crowd grew and grew. We waited and we waited. 11:30 came and went and still, we waited. You would figure that the changing-of-the-Queen's-Guard would be something you could set your watch by. But thousands of people were waiting - it must have just been running a little late. After all, the Queen is up at Balmoral - maybe her guards get a little sloppy when she's away? Finally, about 11:50 we decided to walk away. We had a tour to catch and we still had to get lunch. As we made our way across the square to cross the street, we happened to notice, purely by accident a 2x2 placard mounted at the far end. We walked a little closer to read the small message - "changing-of-the-guard cancelled today." Oh bless British efficiency! A major tourist draw. Literally, thousands of people gathered and waiting. And one small, hidden sign announcing the cancellation. I don't know how long it took for the crowd to disperse, but I imagine there were a few hearty souls still there in the late afternoon.
It turns out the reason for the cancellation was the Mayor of London's Skyride. With our usual impeccable timing, the one day we choose to travel into London is the one day a year the centre of the city is literally shut down for bicyclists to ride through. So in addition to missing out on the changing-of-the-guard, we spent much of the day dodging bicycles.

Mira waits for the changing-of-the-guard.


At least we saw the guards.

After lunch near Trafalgar Square, we set off on our coach tour. I have mixed feelings about coach tours, but with kids it seemed the best way to see some sights and not go mad in the process. The first stop was St. Paul's Cathedral. It was interesting to learn that the fact that St. Paul's survived the Second World War bombing unscathed was down to a few brave men and women who camped out atop the dome each night and threw the bombs away from the building when they landed. The bombs were time delayed so there was enough time to either toss them or sandbag them once they landed. Really quite amazing!
The girls, who saw Mary Poppins for the first time just a few months ago, had fun sitting on the steps of St. Paul's and singing "Feed the birds."
Next stop was the Tower of London. Now this is an interesting place to bring children. How does one explain the concept of treason and beheading to a 4 and 6-year old? There is a lovely memorial to the likes of Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey. A crystal pillow is encircled by a plate that bears the names of the unfortunates who met their end upon that spot. One is meant to walk round it, read the names and have a quiet moment. Hannah piped up first, "What? They put their head on the pillow and then someone cuts it off?" I tried to quietly whisper an explanation while I sheepishly looked around at the faces of the other tourists. Then Mira chimed in, "But what? Where do they put the heads?" At which point, myself and the poor woman in front of us lost it. I'm sorry Anne and Jane, I couldn't help but laugh.
We all enjoyed having a peek at the Crown Jewels. The girls were very excited to see all those glittering gem-encrusted crowns and swords.
After the Tower, we took a boat ride up the Thames to Westminster and caught a glimpse of Big Ben and the Parliament Buildings. Then it was time to wind our way back up to Victoria Station, grab a quick bite and hop on the bus back home to Oxford. I'm not sure who was more tired - the kids, or Stan and I? Sightseeing with children is hard work!

Hannah looks at two of the ravens that live at the Tower. Legend has it that if the birds ever leave Tower Hill then the city and the country will collapse. Needless to say, they are kept well-fed and happy!

Mira and Hannah had a little chat with Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn.



We turned round a corner and there was the Canadian Embassy!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bad Taste Bathing

Since returning from our sunshine vacation in Turkey I've had time to mull-over a phenomenoa that is quite disturbing...

OK, I admit it isn't a matter of national security. However, it is, more importantly perhaps, a dire matter of good taste. Where in fashion history did someone decide that men should parade the beaches of the Europe in skin-tight spandex?! Europe may be on the forefront of world fashion, but sadly, its poolside attire does not qualify.

Speedo bathing suits break all rules of aesthetics and good taste. The very idea of squeezing all of one bits into a piece of nylon and lycra underwear is just plain offensive. Is it an equality thing? Did some man decide that gents should have the equivalent of a bikini? One big, big difference - women have some sense of whether or not their body is actually suitable for a bikini. Oh, and women use depilitaory creams!

Lying poolside, I had dozens of hours to contemplate the different levels of Speedo offensiveness...

Low down on the scale are the lanky, pubescent boys. Now, one can't really find too much fault with these young fashion victims. They don't buy their own bathing suits. In fact, placing a skinny-legged 13-year boy into a piece of skin-tight spandex and then plopping him in the midst of dozens of buxom, bikini babes seems almost cruel punishment. One almost feels sorry for these poor lads.

"Fit" men and weight-lifting types seem to think the Speedo is a god-given right. Strutting around the pool with their bronzed bodies and designer sunglasses, they would seem to be saying "Look at my beautiful body and admire it!" I'm sorry, but even Michael Phelps looks just a little ridiculous in a speedo. And, unfortunately, this Speedo category often boasts a thong behind. Now really! Why bother wearing anythig at all - just go to a nude beach and be done with it!

Next up are the "un-fit" men - somewhere along the line they have drunk a lot of beer and eaten a lot of chips and greasy meat. Their bellies enter the room before the rest of their body. And yet, squeezing into a Speedo still seems appropriate to them? This I do not understand! As my waistline has expanded and my figure has deteriorated with age, I have graduated to a more modest one-piece bathing suit - one that hides the jiggly bits and creates more flattering lines. Do men not have any kind of body image sensibility?

And finally, on the scale of Speedo offensiveness comes the pièce de résistance ... the elderly, leathered speedo devotee. This gentleman is about 86, give or take a year, has skin so sun-damaged it has the texture of a brown leather shoe, most often has a cigarette dangling from his lower lip, and is completely oblivious to the ravages that time has inflicted on his body. And I naively thought that womens' breasts were the only victims of gravity!

So now I've gotten all this off my chest I must send out a big thank-you to all you North American men of all ages who wisely choose bathing trunks over the speedo. You have made a good choice - one that "hides all the jiggly bits and creates a more flattering line." Good on you! Now we just have to do something about your ratty pyjamas and socks-with-sandals!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

School Starts

Hannah and Mira have started school! Don't they look cute?!
It suddenly dawned on me that now they are wearing uniforms they won't need half as many clothes - does that part of the clothing budget transfer to me?








Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Home from Turkey

We're back from Turkey! We needed some sun and relaxation and that's exactly what we got!
We stayed at the Paloma Grida Village Resort in Belek, Turkey, about 45 minutes outside of the seaside city of Antalya. Belek's main reason for existence is golf, sun and sea. It's really a strip of high-end resorts, time-shares and golf courses. So I hope those of you who had romantic notions of our family sampling Turkish culture aren't too disappointed. I wish I could say we saw the country but really all we saw was the pool, the beach, and the buffet!
The resort had lovely grounds with several beautiful pools and some great water slides that the whole family enjoyed. A highlight of the vacation was Mira teaching herself to swim, literally, overnight. Stan and I watched amazed as she dove underwater in the kiddie pool and proceeded to kick her feet and do a close-to-perfect breast stoke. She is a natural fish. We were careful to see that she had her water wings on when she was in the deeper pool without us. However, within a day or so, she was swimming perfectly in the deep water (supervised of course). I think it's time to get this girl into some proper swimming lessons - she'll be at the head of the class by lesson 1!
We were a bit of an oddity at the resort, being Canadian and all. There were a few UK families, but mostly the resort was populated with Russians and Germans. Now, at risk of being somewhat racist... I was a little shocked at the Russians. I have never encountered such surly, disrespectful, downright rude people in all my years. They jumped cues, elbowed disdainfully and looked down their nose at everyone and anything not Russian. Now I'm curious whether this is cultural or more a symptom of the nouveau-riche. I suspect it may be a little of both.
Unfortunately, we dealt with some sickness while away. Mira caught a cold just before we left. She's a trooper, dealt with it and was well within a the first couple of days. But, as you would expect, the germs travelled with us. Hannah came down with it and was pretty miserable. Hers got pretty bad and developed into a chest infection complete with fever and lethargy. We made the trip into the pharmacy and got her some antibiotics. (Turkey is one of those countries where you can literally ask the pharmacist for anything from an antibiotic to Viagra without a prescription. ) Now, the trip to the pharmacy and back took all of about 15 minutes - getting Hannah to take the medicine took the better part of two hours! Finally after she had shed her tears, I had shed mine, and we were all exhausted, we managed to bribe it down her gullet with several candies. Thank goodness it was only a 3-day course! If I had to endure that drama one day longer I think I would have had to leave her in Turkey! The upside is that she rallied within 24 hours and was back splashing and running around. The downside? I was next in line. Another trip to the pharmacy and a few decongestants later, we were all back poolside!
So we enjoyed our week at a Turkish resort, with rude Russians and illness aside.
Stay tuned for my next blog - it will be about my newest cause - it's a phenomena that will threaten the world's beaches if it creeps beyond European borders - Speedos must be banned!
The sun sets over the beach.

Outdoor reception area of the hotel.

Hannah is a goof!

Boy - Mira is growing up!

2 goofs!

Daddy and his girls.

The hotel had some awesome water slides.


The girls loved the turtles that roamed the grounds.

The hotel fish restaurant right on the pier - what a lovely location!





Daddy is checking email... again!


...another beautiful sunset.

Family dinner by the sea.


Hannah and her Turkish hat!

Sisters at sunset.