Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What's shakin'?

Howdy, folks!  As expected, it's been some crazy times since we left England :)  On our last evening in London, we decided to finally go eat at the Hard Rock Cafe.

The London Hard Rock is the very first Hard Rock.  Technically we ate in front of it since we had a table under that awning to the left, but Lee says it's CLOSE ENOUGH  ; )  We both ate waaaaayyyyyy too much (including dessert!) so after that we spent about an hour sitting in Hyde Park lamenting the fact that we ate waaaayyyy too much food.  Then we did this.

Paddle boats on the lake!  That was fun.  Gorgeous weather for our last day in London, we had a good time.  Except for the overeating part...probably could have done without that.  So anyway, Lee and I had told both our families that we were coming to Texas on July 5, but we were LYING.  My mom's birthday was on the second, so we got in that afternoon to surprise her.

We had a super tight connection at Houston, so this is us being really really relieved that we made it on the second plane because we seriously thought we wouldn't.  And to the 3 dozen or so people who kindly let us cut in the line to go through security so we could make that connection, a thousand times thank you!  Because then this.

We didn't get any good pics from right when my parents saw us come in the door at the Mexican Inn, but here's my selfie with Mom.  She kept looking at me and just laughing all through dinner.  Dad said he'd had a fleeting thought that Lee and I might show up to Mom's birthday dinner, but then he thought nah, how would they know we're at Mexican Inn?  Because the A-Team was in on it the whole time, that's how ; )  Never did it occur to Dad that all four of us would be liars!

On the 4th of July, we went to the A-Team's new house for a little get-together, so there's my parental units and their adopted grandson Logan.  And also the awesome '50s-diner-ish black and white floor.  The blue room behind Mom is the laundry room, and the A-Team plans to paint bubbles on the wall in there, which I think will be pretty cool.

And then on July 5, this happened:

New car new car newcarnewcarnewcar!  Dad, Lee, me, and my new 2013 Ford Escape, Penny Lane.  We had to drive down to Houston to get her but she's awesome : )  Now we just need a car for Lee, because so far he's driven Penny more than I have.

Got to meet up with my high school buddy Chris for dinner at Tony's!  Misty couldn't make it that night due to having to bomb her house for fleas unexpectedly, but then...

Chris and I drove over to Dallas to meet up with Misty a couple days later.  I don't think I've laughed that much in a long time : )  Love those two!

So Adam and Adrienne both went out of town right before Lee and I were leaving, so for one night only we had five dogs at my parents' house.  There's Sadie and Vader in the back, and then the A-Team's dogs Dingo and Cleo next to Dad's dog Ginger in the front (G just *would not* look at the camera).  I kinda want to steal Dingo, he's hilarious. I'm soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo happy to be reunited with Sadie and Vader!  I missed their little furry faces for two months.  Ok, so it was nice to have a break from vacuuming, but it's worth all the vacuuming in the world to be back together with them now.

Dad wanted to go out to a hibachi restaurant for his birthday, so here he is with all three of his daughters : )

On the 19th, Lee and I drove to Alabama with his parents (who kindly towed a trailer for us) and the first things I unpacked in our new house were these guys:

Meet Consuela and Carlos.  Are they not totally AWESOME?!  (If you don't think they're awesome, you're probably on the wrong blog.)  My mom painted these at her great-aunt's ceramics studio a few years before I was born, and for having moved all over the place and then been relegated to the garage for who knows how long, they're in pretty good shape.  Carlos has a couple of small chips, but Consuela looks pretty good.  I noticed them sitting on a shelf in the garage, covered in dust, and I kinda pointed them out to Dad, and he asked if I liked them, and I said yes, and he asked if I wanted to take them, and Lee tried to give me eye mail and I said yes anyway : )  I do lots of things that Lee thinks is weird, but he just doesn't get why I love Carlos and Consuela.  I'm not sure either, though I do remember them from my childhood, but I just think they're awesome.  I did promise him that once we get all our stuff, I can put Carlos and Consuela in my craft room where he doesn't have to look at them.

So now all we need is to get all our stuff here from storage and from England!  It'll be nice to sleep on a real bed rather than an air mattress with a slow leak in it, bleargh.  And we've eaten at Panera twice in the last two days, because reasons.  Sadly the Sonic here doesn't have chicken strip wraps (what the heck?!) but maybe we can start a petition or something...

Oh yeah.  We got Internet at the new house yesterday and haven't gotten a whole lot accomplished since then, but that's because we're catching up all at once on all that Internet time-wasting we *would* have been doing normally for the last week or two.  Teehee.

Cheers, peeps!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Baltic Cruise: St. Petersburg, Part 4 (Church of the Spilled Blood again)

So we've been in Texas for almost two weeks now, and I don't think it's sunk in yet that we're coming back to *live* in America and not just visiting : )  I have a feeling that a whooooole lot of working out is in my future because we've been eating out a lot...and tonight I'm having Mexican food with two of my favorite people from high school!

But for now, are ya ready for some more Russian pictures?  We're back in the Church of the Spilled Blood for some amazingly beautiful mosaics.

I can't imagine how long it took to make these, and they're all over the inside of this church.

Even the floors are beautiful!

There's a close-up of the I-don't-know-what-the-technical-name-for-this-is.

Another gorgeous mosaic, look at those colors on the clothing.  And Russians really like gold.

I think we would have had to spend several hours here to soak in all the beautiful mosaics, but alas, we didn't have that much time.

And there's a mosaic of the Imperial eagle on the outside of the church.  Don't ask me why it only has one head.

'Round the back side of the church.

Sooo...this one makes me think of ice cream.  Anyone else?  Just me?  Ok.

No idea what this little building is, but it's across the street from the church.  We thought it looked pretty fun.

Proof that we were there!  And that Lee has nailed the art of the selfie.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Baltic Cruise: St. Petersburg, Part 3 (Church of the Spilled Blood)

Howdy, folks!  Lee and I arrived in Texas on Wednesday afternoon and managed to surprise all four parental units--we rang the doorbell at Lee's parents' house to surprise them, then loaded them up in the car to crash my mom's birthday dinner.  Mom was *totally* surprised to see us (Dad was, like, 95% surprised) and all through dinner she just kept looking at me and laughing.  I'm hoping it wasn't because I had something on my face.

So we surprised Mom for her birfday, then we went back to the house and got to see our doglets for the first time in two months which was awesome and hairy.  And then we went to bed, but I woke up at 4:30 with Sadie's tail beating me on the knee while she stared at me, so I suppose that means she missed me.  Then we went car shopping for two days (hate car shopping) and now I have a car, yay!  I'll have to upload pictures later, but for today let's get a move-on with the Russia pictures.  Because we still have *lots* of Russia pictures to get through and I want to do it before I forget everything we saw.  So for today's post, I give you pictures from the Church of the Spilled Blood:

You can also see an official website on the church here; it was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated.  In fact, one side of it overlaps the canal underneath because they wanted to include the exact spot where Alexander II was driving when the assassins threw grenades at him.

I was wanting to see some onion domes, and there they are!

I wish we had more architecture like this in the States; everything all looks the same here and this building is a work of art.

Heh, this close-up of the dome reminds me of the old-school Nintendo games : )

Proof that Lee was there!

There's one of the double-headed eagles decorating the outside, though really these ones have three heads so that no matter what angle they're viewed from, you can see two heads.

And I was there too : )  Looks like someone else takes crooked pictures besides me!  Oh, we finally updated our Nikon software on the computer that we use for editing photos, and the new software has a thing where if you take a picture crooked you can tilt it until it looks straight.  Best. Thing. Ever.

This is just above the entrance door...and finally some pictures of the inside.

That is ALL mosaic.  Floor to ceiling.  It was absolutely incredible in person, that's the only way I can describe it.  As soon as we walked into the church, both Lee and I said "Wow".

I think I have another post after this one with some close-up pictures of a few of the mosaics, so stay tuned for that.  Right now though, I've got a shopping date with my mom!  Relax Lee, I don't want to *buy* anything, I just wanna circle some counters and look at stuff ; )

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cheerio, England

So, wow.  It's July now, and that means that we're leaving Jolly Ol' England later this week and I can't pretend it's not happening anymore.  I can't hardly believe it, even though we're out of our house and living in a hotel and our dogs have been in Texas for two months already.  Maybe I'm in denial, because I'll really miss living here (and our friends, obviously).

Back in May, just before we left for Scotland, I was driving to the grocery store and noticed this church and purple field in front of it.  No idea what the flowers are, but they were gorgeous, so after a couple days of "d'oh!" moments I remembered to grab the good camera and stopped off the side of the road to take pictures.  (Note to Mom:  yes, it was a 60-mile-an-hour road, but I wasn't *on* the road, I pulled into a little clear area that was big enough to turn the car around in.  Totally safe.)

I think I might want to punch up the color in the pictures a little bit with photo-editing software.  I was hoping that when I did manage to remember to bring my camera with me when going past this field that it would be a clear day with beautiful blue skies, but maybe Photoshop can fake that : D

I'll miss the history of this place...all the centuries-old churches and castles and even houses.  We had that one 400-year-old house in our village that was a village bank at one point, which was pretty cool.  I never went inside this particular church, but you see this same type of church building all over the place around here.

I think I'll also miss living in a small rural community.  Ok sure, some days when they're doing fertilizer on the farms the whole village smelled like poo, but I liked driving past the fields and pastures almost every day.  I'm even willing to put up with the occasional tractor slowing down traffic.  And things are always so GREEN here, with flowers blooming all the time.  Snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, wisteria, lavender, roses, poppies, whatever this is...there's always something pretty to look at.  I also liked how the Brits love pets; so often when I was out walking Sadie and Vader, people would make a beeline for us to say hi to the doglets.  One of the ladies who delivers mail in our village habitually keeps dog treats in her pockets, my dogs looooved her.

I'll miss silly little things too, like how the floor squeaked in the master bathroom (I liked to kinda dance around on it just to make it squeak sometimes) or how it was impossible to be stealthy in our house--if I was downstairs, it would sound like elephants on parade every time Lee or one of the dogs even just walked from one room to another upstairs.  I'm not a huge fan of only having about 6 hours of sunlight a day in the winter, but in the summer, having it light out until well past 9:00 is kinda cool.  But mostly I'll miss the friends we made here, even though quite a few of them have already moved away.  It took a long time for me to make friends here but that makes me all the more grateful for them.

So, I guess that's it.  We'll be in Texas soon, and then on to our next adventure in Alabama.  Cheerio, England.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Baltic Cruise: St. Petersburg, Part 2 (Hermitage Again)

Ok, I know I just posted pictures yesterday but if I don't get a move on with these Baltic cruise pictures then it will be Christmas before I get to Wales and Scotland pictures, so we're back at the Hermitage.  Besides, yesterday's post was a little short.

As promised, here's a close-up of the fabulous gold peacock clock.  They don't run it every day, even though it is still in good working order and it's a couple hundred years old (they don't want to wear it out I guess), but they had a video showing how it moves.  Lucky for me YouTube has a video of the clock in action:

Pretty amazing, huh?

Another picture of the unbelievably gorgeous interiors of the Hermitage.

And a mosaic on the floor.  Lee and I think it would be really cool to have a mosaic floor, I wonder if we could DIY such a thing for ourselves?

Another bit of ornately decorated ceiling.

We did also see artwork in the Hermitage; this is one of the museum's two pieces by Leonardo da Vinci, the Benois Madonna.

I vaguely remember our tour guide saying that this hallway was modeled after one in southern Europe...maybe the Vatican? but the original was open to the outdoors.  That's not practical in St. Petersburg since it's snowbound for so much of the year, so it had huge windows on the left instead of open doorways.

This Madonna is by Raphael, and I think maybe it was the only Raphael in the Hermitage Collection.  Alas, memory grows fuzzy already.

Yet another cool ceiling.

This is an unfinished sculpture by Michelangelo, so if you're keeping track the only Ninja Turtle not represented was Donatello.  Actually I think we missed seeing any of Donatello's work in Italy too.

Hermitage selfie!  That was at the main staircase just past the entrance.  Though this place is seriously huge, it probably has several main staircases.  As I said before, we only saw a tiny fraction of the collection; this is one of those places like the British Museum or the Louvre where you could move in for a solid month and not see everything.  Our tour guide basically pointed out the artists that everyone has probably heard of (like the Ninja Turtles) and then pointed out all his favorite paintings where something is amiss--there was one of a small group of people looking at a waterfall, but a young man in the group has his legs and feet facing a different direction than his upper body.  In another one, a guy is wearing one glove and the other one is sitting on a piece of furniture behind him, but they're two right gloves.  So ya know, that was kind of entertaining.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Baltic Cruise: St. Petersburg, Part 1 (Hermitage)

We are officially moved out of our house and living in a hotel until we fly back to the States at the end of next week.  Almost there, Mom!

Anywha, I am reminded again why I shouldn't blog late at night, I forgot to share some more funny stories that Heli told us on our walking tour of Tallinn!  So in downtown Tallinn, there's this really big fancy hotel and back when Estonia was under Soviet control, the KGB set up shop on the 23rd floor.  Of course, they couldn't have guests on that floor, so they came up with a story as to why people weren't allowed to stay on that floor...the view was SO beautiful from the 23rd floor that if you looked at it, you'd go totally CRAZY.  Yeeeeaaahhh that doesn't sound suspicious!  But the hotel was still the place where most foreign visitors were put up in Tallinn, and one time there was this singer from Finland or something staying there.  She discovered that there was no toilet paper in her bathroom, and knowing that the KGB was listening in (and not wanting to go back down to the front desk), she stood in the middle of her room and said out loud, "Wow, I wish I had some toilet paper in the bathroom!"  Two minutes later, there's a knock at the door and a hotel employee is standing there with a new roll of toilet paper, and he tells the singer that if she needs anything else just holler : )  When Soviet rule collapsed and the Baltic republics declared independence, the KGB cleared out of the hotel in a hurry and left most of their spy equipment on the 23rd floor, so nowadays you can go up there and see it for yourself.  Alas, we didn't have time to do that.

Heli also told us that when she has cruise passengers take the tour, sometimes they're surprised at how modern Tallinn is since you hear all these stories about how far behind the times the Soviet Union was when it comes to luxuries the West takes for granted.  One lady told Heli that she was surprised that Estonia had electricity...I mean really?!  (Heli did say that within about 10 minutes of any conversation with an Estonian, they will mention that it was a group of Estonians who invented Skype; it's their claim to fame.)  We also heard a story about a guy from Tallinn who, during the Soviet era, went to Finland or Sweden for some kind of work conference or something and came back saying that those people were MAGIC because they could pull money out of the walls!  Like, literally!  Well, I imagine that to someone who's never seen an ATM, that would be kinda like magic.

But let's move on now, shall we?  Our next stop after Tallinn was St. Petersburg, which was the port I was most excited about and really the main reason why we went on the Baltic cruise.  When I was maybe about 14, there was an exhibition that came through Dallas of jewelry and other items which belonged to Catherine the Great, and my mom took me to it.  I think that might have been what sparked my interest in Russian history, and now I can say I've been to St. Petersburg and seen things like some of Catherine's art collection at the Hermitage!  Rather than doing a tour through the cruise ship (overpriced, don't really get to do that much stuff) we signed up for a two-day tour with a company called Alla Tours.  Our tour guide was mediocre at best but that didn't keep me from enjoying the sites.  And as I mentioned, our first stop on the first day of the tour was the Hermitage.

There I am in front of part of the Winter Palace, which is where the entrance to the Hermitage is.  This is another one of those mega-museums like the Louvre, so of course in two hours we only saw a tiny fraction of the museum's collection.  Wikipedia (source of all knowledge on the interwebs) informs me that the facade of the palace has been painted yellow and later dull red; personally I like the green.

This is a funky-looking lighthouse, one of a pair visible across the Neva River from the Hermitage; Lee took this pic while we were waiting for our tour guide to get our tickets.

And now we start with some pictures of the interior of the Hermitage.  Of course it was originally a palace where Catherine kept her art collection, so a lot of the interior design is as much a work of art as the artwork on display.

Makes the ceilings in your house look downright plain, doesn't it?

This was a long, thin gallery of military portraits of important military dudes after some important battle that I don't remember.  A very few of the pictures are just plain green with no portrait, and that's because a few of the guys died or else were horribly scarred after the battle and didn't care to have their portraits painted.

I think this was a ballroom?  I probably shouldn't be trying to blog about this stuff without consulting my little trip notebook, though I'm not sure how helpful even that would be.  Usually I write about the day's activities in the evenings when we travel, but we saw SO MUCH in St. Petersburg that it would be impossible to remember the particulars of everything we saw and took pictures of.

However, I do know that this is the double-headed eagle, symbol of the Russian royal house.  The eagle was a symbol of the Roman Empire (legions carried a golden eagle standard into battle) and later, of course, the empire was split into the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire.  Russia saw itself as a successor state to the Byzantine Empire and adopted the double-headed eagle, which represents the tsar's authority over both church and state.  The West is a bit unusual with its insistence of the separation of church and state, compared with other civilizations where they are not separated and often controlled by the same people.

Inside that case on the left is a giant golden clock, which I'll show you in more detail next time : )

And one last photo of the sumptuous interior of the Hermitage.  More museum pics next time, but for now, cheers peeps!