Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Chapter Finished

Today I turn a page in the story of my life. 
It rarely feels this deliberate; finishing one chapter
And beginning a fresh one. 
This is one of those times.

Chicago is now where I’m from,
Not where I live.
Looking forward to a new life in Arizona,
Saving good memories of these years.

Thanks for everything, Lady by the Lake.
All the joy and the beauty;
You gave us such a great beginning.
We’ll always love you.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cheers to England!

We boarded the Queen Mary 2 in Southampton on Tuesday.  From this massive ship, we watched the shores of England recede from our view.  The day before, we bid farewell to our wonderful friends, Chris and Terry Gradidge.  They were the masterminds behind our itinerary, acted as our tour guides, and were our daily travel companions.  We are so grateful for everything they did, for all the memories collected and shared as a result of this trip, and for their friendship.

In ten days we stayed in six towns and villages, and explored many more in between.  Of course, we had to experience a little of London; but other places were on paths less traveled… Those will perhaps be our favorite to recall.

From our hotel in Windsor, we walked across the Thames to Eton (where Princes William and Henry went to school).  The flag was flying at Windsor Castle, so we knew we were sharing the town with Queen Elizabeth.  Preparations for celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June are underway everywhere.

In Woodstock we stayed at the MacDonald Bear Hotel and walked to the grounds of Blenheim Castle, home of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough.  Chris ably chauffeured us through winding roads surrounded by hedgerows and filled with fields blooming yellow with rape, to other small villages in the Cotswolds.

The Old Court Hotel in Symonds Yat West (near Ross-On-Wye) provided dewy morning walks along the Wye.  We discovered an old chapel and the crypts of John Graves Simcoe and his wife Elizabeth, who used to make their home in what is now the Old Court Hotel.  Wales was a quick drive away.  It was interesting to see public signs there in both English and Welsh (a language that seems to need more vowels).

Perhaps my favorite stop was Polperro, a small, picturesque fishing village on the coast.  We could easily walk into town for a Cornish pasty and a pint along the river Pol.  Walks along the ocean yielded incredible views.  My attempt to get a review of the soup of the day from the barkeep at the Blue Peter was an amusing exchange that I will always remember.  (After a few minutes of creative description, he admitted that he hadn’t tried it and fetched me a taste.)

England’s New Forest is a national treasure.  Its wildlife gazes peacefully among the small villages and in its fields, protected by law.  We saw ponies, sheep, donkeys, pigs, and horses everywhere.  What an amazing, fairytale environment!

Our journey ended in Southampton, a busy city and shipping center.  The White Star Tavern’s rooms were modern and comfortable, and Cunard’s port was just a short taxi ride away.

Our England experience will be with me forever.  My withdrawal from pub food is made easier this week, as the Queen Mary has a pub on board.  I’ll miss whitebait (tiny fried fish that you dip in mayonnaise and eat whole) and beef or game pies.  I can devise my own version of a ploughman’s lunch for home, and learn to make chicken liver pate.  For both, I need to find somewhere to buy the ever-present English condiment – Branston’s.

Cheers to England, and the Gradidges.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Storybook Village

I’ve been in Polperro, on England’s Cornish Coast, for about a day and a half.  It has all the ingredients (beauty, history, and charm) that would make a great children’s storybook.  

The streets are crooked, narrow, and lined with stones.  Buildings are centuries old, but whitewashed clean, and have colorful window frames.  Shopkeepers sell Cornish pasties and fudge made with clotted cream.  Friendly pubs dot each corner.
Polperro is a fishing village.  You can enjoy fresh mussels, cockles, scallops, crabs, and winkles sold by street purveyors, or in dishes served in inns.  In past centuries, if you weren’t a fisherman, you were probably a smuggler.  Both vocations were filled by locals, and the local museum documents the lives of many a Polperran who made their living side-by-side; legally and illegally.  The women stayed home and knitted thick sweaters for their wayfaring men, or processed pilchards (sardines).  The collection of historic photographs and letters on display is impressive.
Even some of the alcohol in the pubs seems fit for a children’s story.  A favorite in this region is Scrumpy, an unfiltered strong apple cider.  Me – I prefer the pear cider. It seems the variety of locally-brewed ales is endless.  Pubs themselves are friendly gathering places, where the barkeeps know their clients and will gratefully accept the offer of a pint for themselves.
The surrounding landscape is stunning, with the River Pol rushing to the Atlantic Ocean through the center of town.  Slate cliffs surround us.  Peak Rock guards the entry to the harbor.  Footpaths wind around the cliffs by the ocean and provide for bracing morning rambles by the sea.  English wildflowers are tangled around the paths and send their fragrances into the ocean air.
A woman we met in the Blue Peter Inn night before last asked us not to spread the word about their idyllic little village, because they don’t want to have it overrun by tourists.  I didn’t take offense.
I may never get a chance to return to Polperro, but I will remember it as a storybook village.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The English Pub

There once was a Yank named Laurel
With her waistband began to quarrel
She wondered the reason
Yet t’was travel season
And her fondness for pub food was royal.

We are discovering the wonders of the true English Pub.  We’ve been to imitations in the U.S. – but they are not the same animal at all.

The Royal Standard of England,
in Buckinghamshire
In our brief experience to date (5 days and as many pubs), my perception is that the best of pubs have been around a long, long, time.  They have tried and tested the popular dishes and beverages, and only the best remain on their menus.  Some menus are short and others long, but there are staples that seem to be constant.  We have tried some of them, including fish and chips, mussels, game pie, and ploughman’s lunches.  The ploughman’s lunch, with its selection of two or three cheeses, bread, butter, pickled vegetables, and perhaps an onion jam, is my new favorite lunch.  Oh my, the Stilton here!

Order your pub lunch and a beverage at the bar, and find a table in a cozy corner, near a fireplace to ward off the damp and chill.  Your meal will be delivered to you, while you chat up your chums.  Take your time.  Have a pint or two.  I recommend the pear cider.  While away the afternoon.

Well, I’m off for an English breakfast, with some toast, poached eggs, cheese, and beans.  It’s time to begin planning today’s foray into the countryside and to target our next pub lunch.

"Tasting" a pear cider and a local ale.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Full Circle

We have just completed preparation of our Chicago condo for rental.  It has been a busy few months, including our move to Prescott and, most recently, a week of hard labor to freshen up the condo.  We have repaired, patched, painted, touched-up, cleaned and scrubbed just about every inch of the place.  It has a new identity, where “Calypso Orange” paint has been replaced with a more neutral and elegant “Abalone”.  Our new tenants, a nice young couple, are very excited to move in next month.

Yesterday I rested by one of the front windows, which was open to a mild, breezy afternoon.  To my delight, the scent of lilacs from the yard wafted in.  I was instantly transported to June 1, 2008, when we spent our first night as full time residents in our condo.  The lilacs were blooming then too, and I was full of happiness about our new life, starting retirement in Chicago.  Somehow it is very satisfying to make this transition to Prescott in the spring, knowing that the lilacs are there to bring joy to the next people to enjoy our condo home.

We have reservations for Smith & Wollensky tonight, which is located on the north side of the Chicago River.  They have expansive city skyline views that include the iconic sign of the Chicago Theater on State Street.  This is where we ate a celebratory meal when we first moved to Chicago.  Eating there our last night in Chicago seems to bring this chapter of our lives to a full and proper closure.  After all, nothing says Chicago like enjoying a prime steak with the city spread out at your feet.  

Our little urban hideaway will soon be home to someone else.  I am happy for them.  I am happy for us to be moving on to our Arizona dream.  Our time on Bittersweet Place (perfect street name, huh?) was wonderful and we will always remember it fondly.  And we still own the place, so who knows?

I love you madly, Chicago.  Always will.