Saturday, August 9, 2014

Kenz Graduates; Brian & Jessica Visit; Visitor season draws to a close

Song of the Day: In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, The Allman Brothers Band

London Stuff: We saw the installation beginning when Mom'n'Tom visited (and again with Brian and Jessica): 888,246 ceramic poppies around the Tower of London, commemorating the British and Colonial military fatalities of WWI (this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Great War).

First off, SHE DONE DID IT! Kenz graduated on 14 July, 2014, amid overwhelming fanfare at the Royal Festival Hall on London's Southbank - quite a fitting scene for her ceremony. 

We had both wished there could be more friends and family in attendance, but it seemed appropriate that it was just the two of us. It had been us from the beginning; it was us at the end. I did, however, ingratiate myself with the folks sitting next to me and had an agreement: you cheer for my wife and I'll cheer for your daughter. We filled that auditorium with so much noise that Kenz had to ask who was cheering afterward.

Your girl had that permagrin alll day.

I had a nosebleed seat.

It's official!

You're a wizard, Harry. 
As per usual, the two of us celebrated with a meal. Kenz considered going out with some of her friends that evening, but both of us were quite tuckered out. We'd arrived from the Lake District the night before and would be hosting guests in another day's time. We thought it best to simply rest on the couch and oogle Kenz's diploma instead. She pinched herself well into the night, trying to make sure she wasn't dreaming. I was the proudest husband on this entire island.

Congratulations, graduate! 

There wasn't much time to let it sink in, though, because we'd soon be hosting our last set of guests. 


Brian and Jessica arrived on Wednesday morning after having stayed awake (out of excitement) for the entire overnight flight from Knoxville, TN. Brian and I became friends in the 6th grade; there's a group of about six or seven of us that came together at around twelve years old and have never lost touch. Despite being somewhat spread out over the country (or ocean), we've all found time to get together at least once every other year or so. Most all of us are now in a new chapter of life, which means the crew has gotten bigger: wives and kids are now included. He and Jessica are the "old hat" couple of the group, having been together since early college and the first to marry. 

Kenz had some welcoming goodies set out on their bed. 

Brian tested out how much he'd have to bend down to get into the hobbit bathroom.

Catching up.

Showing them history videos of London.

More catching up.

Despite having not slept for over twenty hours, Brian and Jessica were ready to hit the streets and get their guided tour on. We opted for the Fleet Street route, which took us by the RAF Church, Dr. Johnson's house, The Cheshire Cheese, and a few other spots before heading over to Carnaby Street for some coffee.

At St. Clement Danes
I must've been too invested in walking and talking - I failed to take pictures between our first stop and our travel to Carnaby. It's fine - we've got enough pictures as it is.

By the time we got to the coffee shop, the three of us had covered about five miles by foot. I hadn't been paying close attention to whether or not they were "with it," but got a pretty clear picture by the time we sat down. Poor Jessica had hit a wall and Brian wasn't too far behind.

The problem with hosting enthusiastic guests is that they don't want to miss a thing - even if it means they're practically falling asleep while standing up. We decided to head back to the house for a quick power nap, but Jessica couldn't wait that long. I watched her literally falling asleep with her eyes open while we were on the bus. It was like watching a puppy fight to stay awake.

She eventually succumbed, under the heat of the sun and a sweaty bus, and napped on Brian's shoulder. 
Naps and walks in the park were how we spent the final hours of the day, topped off with a family dinner around the table.

Brian is a food wizard - anyone that knows him can tell you that - so the first item on the ticket for Thursday was an extended visit to Borough Market. Owen wound up joining us for some lunch before we called it quits on the day, retiring to Burgess Park for sun, books, and naps.  

You gotta start the day right with a good breakfast. 

Brian persevered with sampling various food items despite the fact that I overloaded him on the breakfast front. Following the two of them around the market was analogous to watching a kid in a candy store. It was great fun.

lil taste o duck.

Inspecting fruit and veg.

Mushroom pate 

Brian met Kenz's cheese lady. The three of them visited for about twenty minutes as Jessica and I chuckled.

Owen arrives!

Kenz lauds a baker's doughnut.

Tasting mustards.


Duck sandwich and sangria for Brian as the rest of us queue up for coffees.

We retired to the steps of Southwark Cathedral to chow down on our various lunches.

Kenz and I left the tourists to stroll along the Thames as we returned to the house with bags of groceries (for Kenz's mushroom risotto). We eventually found them again, enjoying a pint at a riverside pub.

They fit right in!

Debating whether or not to plan for a professionally guided walk.

Still reeling from a bit of jet lag, Brian and Jessica were amenable to suggestion that the four of us return to enjoy Walworth's hidden gem: Burgess Park. The four of us grabbed our books and blankets, but didn't last long with our eyes open.

The night ended like most others during their stay: the four of us gathered around the coffee table in various iterations, in front of screens, chatting and laughing.

The first full day had seen us accomplishing Brian's number one priority. The second full day started with Jessica's number one: Abbey Road Studios. A huge Beatles fan, Jessica wanted to get a photo on the same zebra crossing that appeared on the cover of Abbey Road come Hell or high water. Owen joined us yet again and the five of us spent a considerable amount of time people watching, commenting, critiquing, and enjoying the spectacle that is this particular crosswalk. 

Headed out for the day.

Again, kid in a candy store. 



After watching group after group hold up traffic, nearly get mowed down by passing cars, yet hardly ever get a great picture, we all agreed that none of us would ever drive through this part of town. You see, the law is that cars must stop for folks on the crosswalk but most tourists don't really know that the cars actually stop. Half the folks would stand at the edge of the road, afraid to step out onto the crossing, for fear that they'd be hit while the driver of the car grew frustrated because s/he isn't allowed to approach the crosswalk while a pedestrian is intending to walk. The other half would walk out onto the crossing, have their photographer stand in the middle of the street (not on the crosswalk), and spend way too long holding up traffic. Folks would cross countless times trying to get that perfect shot (ourselves included, but we were the best, naturally), yet each time, something (or someone) would ruin it. You'd see three groups try and cross at the same time, ruining each others' pictures. Why? Because no one was British, thus no one really knew how to queue. Brian took control when it was our turn, hollering out "aight, we got next!" It was neat to visit somewhere in the city that we hadn't been to yet, despite the fact that we're not long for this country.

Strolling along Regent's Canal

Lunch at a pub with glorious air conditioning. 

Kenz was happy to have someone share a cheese plate with her. 

Friday was Owen's birthday. He was gracious enough to spend it with us, but had to depart after lunch in order to get home and shower before what he thought was dinner with Celia. Yet, Celia had planned a wonderful surprise birthday party for him at the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden. We had some time to kill, so we retired to Hyde Park and played road trip games while maxing and relaxing in the shade.
Playing "Ghost", a spelling game much like "Horse"
Before long, it was time to go be a part of the surprise. The Curve Garden is an open air bar that really actually does resemble a garden - it's just one big back yard that has tables and chairs nestled between various flowers, trees, and veggie crops. And there's a cat that likes to walk around and receive pets from the patrons.

Celia had booked the "arts & crafts" room for us (and decorated it), which gave us some cover for the actual surprise. It's always good to see something like this come together - Owen was genuinely surprised.

Lots of friends were in attendance, including his folks, and everyone enjoyed beer, pizza, and each other's company for a few hours. It was good timing for the two of them as well - O&C have both resigned from their jobs and will be taking an extended trip through the Americas in the fall. They'll land in NYC on September 16th and leave out of Ecuador in February, so this was partly a going away party for them as well. We can't wait for them to be our first Providence guests in September. 

That weightlifting competition I'd been training for finally took place on Saturday morning. The long and short of it: I had to lose a bunch of weight to make a new weight class on the day (as well as two of my friends) - once we weighed in, we went out to eat the biggest breakfast we'd had in months. 

My training partner, Matt, and coach, Sauro. 

Full English breakfast and some Krispy Kreme doughnuts! 
I had to weigh in at 9am, but didn't actually lift until the afternoon, so Kenz took Brian and Jessica out to Portobello Road market for the first half of the day. The three of them arrived just in time to see me win a silver medal despite not quite lifting as well as I would've liked. I was quite nervous knowing they were in the crowd, but it was neat to have some "hometown" support. To celebrate, we went for food down near Covent Garden before hitting up a summer blockbuster movie in Leicester Square.

I stayed in my sweaty clothes for the rest of the day.

Summertime in the city means tons of tourists happily watching some street performers. 


We decided to walk most of the way home. 

"I'm the king of the world!" - Jessica


Kenz had a birthday party and errands on Sunday, so I took Brian and Jessica out to Brick Lane and Spitalfields for the day. We had dinner plans that evening which included my friend, Dom, who Brian has met via email - I administer a monthly music club that they're both a part of - so they were excited to press the flesh. 

We started with a detour to a kitchen supply store that Brian had been eyeing for a few days.

Japanese okonomiyaki at Brick Lane

Brian and Jessica were loving the street art.

Dom lives in Bermondsey, which has recently taken a turn for the better - especially when it comes to good restaurants. He had booked us a table at a neat little Italian restaurant that makes all its pasta fresh each day - and Italian is Brian and Jessica's favorite (they lived in Italy for about a year just after they got married). We ordered a bunch of food and treated the table as a lazy Susan, tasting each other's appetizers and entrees. It's cool when you get the opportunity to introduce your own friends to each other - after the first five minutes it's as if they've known each other for years.

Dom enjoys talking about his neighborhood in much the same way I do, so the three of us went for a (rain-filled) stroll up Bermondsey street as he talked about the history of this part of London (the boats used to stop at this part of the Thames, unload their goods, and use the warehouses here to sell off their (mostly food) products, thus Bermondsey became known as "London's Kitchen"). We were headed up to a little coffee shop/deli for dessert that Dom and I had found a few months prior.

We started with some cheese plate action.

Kenz arrived and we transitioned into the coffee and dessert portion of the evening. 

The owner stopped by with his dog; Kenz forgot about us. 
We left Dom at about 9pm because Kenz and I had a super secret Sunday surprise planned for Brian and Jessica. After having done the closed room clue game with Mom and Tom, we knew it would be something Brian and Jessica would like to do. So, we booked the only open time for the four of us - 10pm on a Sunday night. Kenz had given them somewhat misleading clues, leaving Brian quite nervous about what, exactly, we'd be doing.

Super Secret Sunday Surprise!
It didn't help that we had to walk down a dark, abandoned alley in order to get there. The whole thing was creepy even for me and I knew what we were about to be doing!

Kenz loves being on the "knowing" side of a surprise.

Getting briefed on our game.
Just like Hint Hunt, we couldn't take pictures inside our room at Clue Quest, but unlike Hint Hunt, we managed to get out of the room within our allotted hour!

They take your picture if you get out of the room.

Kenz and I did the creepy prom pose. 


The plan for Monday was to do some of the more traditional Central London sightseeing. We were up and at 'em before Kenz had managed to imbibe her usual quota of Diet Coke. 

Our first stop was Parliament Square with the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Cathedral, and some antics in the square itself.
You can't visit without getting a picture of one of these. 

Afterward, we strolled up Whitehall toward Horseguards Parade, through St. James's Park to Buckingham Palace, St. James's Palace, the old wine shop, and cigar shop.

First time we'd seen guards outside St. James's Palace.

Wine shopping!

Cigar shopping!
We took a moment to visit a book store before Kenz had to bail to run some late afternoon errands. Brian, Jessica, and I continued on to Piccadilly Circus, the National Portrait Gallery, and the National Gallery.

Wedding photos at Piccadilly.

National Portrait Gallery

Trafalgar Square

Just a lil Van Gogh on a Monday afternoon.

We got back in time for Brian to help Kenz with the mushroom risotto as Jessica and I hung on the couch. 


We decided to walk up the Walworth Road to Kaspa's for extravagant and unnecessary desserts; it was awesome.

Kenz photobomb.

aaaand a sugar coma return to the house. 


We had big plans for the afternoon but a relaxed morning meant that Brian and I headed down to Persepolis in Peckham as the girls enjoyed a morning of coffee and hair straightening. Brian had seen a vegetarian cookbook (Veggiestan) on our shelves and asked Kenz where it came from - once she told him, he knew he wanted to get down there before they left. 

The owner (and author of Veggiestan) is quite the character - when the store isn't busy, she writes little notes for customers and posts them to various walls and corners of her store.

Brian explored on his own for a while...

...and then toured the store with Sally, enjoying her recommendations.

We returned to find Kenz and Jessica enjoying the sun in Burgess Park.
Number three on the Brian and Jessica priority list was to head just barely outside London to the Harry Potter Studio Tour. Our friends, Casey and Robert, took the tour while they visited, but we didn't have the time to go with them while they were here. Kenz is as big a fan as Brian and Jessica, but I wasn't so sure the day would fill me with the same butterflies as it would them. Alas, we headed out with high energy and high expectations.

We arrived early enough to take a quick run through the gift shop (they all wanted to scope out things they'd want to buy at the end of the day).

Despite the fact that I haven't read the books (and only seen the movies once), I quite enjoyed the tour. I usually watch the "making of" documentaries on the DVD extras, no matter the movie, and this was like one big version of that. We spent about five hours on what is traditionally a three hour tour.

The great hall


Ducks were loving it.

The creature room was my favorite. 

Diagon Alley

Kenz hopped in as I was trying to do a panorama.

I have to say that coming around the corner to see this humongous model of Hogwarts caused me to involuntarily utter an audible ooooohhhh. It was pretty neat - I felt like a 10 year-old.

Goods in hand, waiting for the return trip home. 
We got in too late to cook ourselves dinner, so we stopped at the neighborhood kebab spot and discussed our favorite parts of the day over a Thanksgiving-sized meal.

I yanked the two of them out of the house early on Wednesday morning in order to get to the Tower of London before the hordes of tourists. We had plans to see a play that evening, so if we were going to do anything other than the Tower, it was imperative that we got there before everyone else. 

We had a funny Yeoman tour guide. 

Crown Jewels

Finding where the young boy princes were buried.

Armory museum

We met Kenz at Wahaca down in The Cut, enjoyed some lunch, strolled along the south bank of the river, people and performer watching, and then spent the last of our bumper car tokens (that Kenz and I have been holding on to for about a year and a half now).

That evening, we cashed in the hottest ticket in town: Richard III, starring Martin Freeman. The show was great, we all love Martin Freeman, and it was much funnier than anyone expected. All in all, it was a pitch-perfect production for the two of them to see while here. 

Thursday was the last full day in town for the two of them. Kenz and Jessica went to Kensington Palace (via a walk through the entirety of Hyde Park) as Brian and I met up with some folks at Borough Market. 
Morning coffee

Brian bought a bag and made friends with the merchant, Liam. 

Owen, Dom, and Johnnie met up with us for some coffee and lunch.

Solving the world's problems.
I had a commitment that night, which meant that Kenz, Brian, and Jessica were on their own. What did they do? They lucked into some tickets to a preview of what will be the next hottest ticket in London: A Streetcar Named Desire starring Gillian Anderson, Ben Foster, and Vanessa Kirby. The three of them refused to discuss the play with me (I have a ticket to go this Monday night), and I found out why after the reviews came out: everyone loves it. Tickets are now selling online for 300 pounds (we got ours for 10).

Coming in at three and a half hours, though, meant that we were in for another late dinner; everyone chose to return to the kebab spot.


Luckily, Brian and Jessica had chosen a civilized departure time, which meant the four of us got some time in the morning for coffee and breakfast. We'll see them again in Knoxville right before we move to Providence. Even knowing that, it was hard to say goodbye. We were grateful for their visit - a fitting end to Visitor Season. 

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!