London Gets Ready for the Queen’s Jubilee

Regent Street Decorated for the Jubilee

Queen Elizabeth is celebrating her 60th year as the monarch of the United Kingdom this year. London is gearing up for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration to be held this coming weekend. It’s hard to justify the archaic institution of a monarchy in today’s world, but it appears it is more the allure of Queen Elizabeth herself than of the concept of monarchy that makes her loyal subjects such enthusiastic supporters. Thus, I am surrounded by royalists and I cannot blame them for their behaviors tor even I am getting caught up in the excitement. God Save the Queen!

Harrod’s

There is going to be a party and we are all invited. You can’t help but feel the buzz in the city of London. Everyone is getting in on the preparations.

Oxford Street

The Union Jack flags are flying over streets and adorning hotel and store facades. Shops are decorating their windows with crowns, flags, and plastic Welsh Corgis.

Selfridge’s Store Window
Notice Corgi Driving

There’s that Corgi Again!

Penhaligon’s Perfumers

Food and drink manufacturers have joined in the sponsorship of the Jubilee by relabeling their products with the Union Jack flag. It’s an amazing display of support for Queen Elizabeth.

The souvenirs are awesome. Everything you can imagine is being sold with Jubilee emblem, crowns, the Union Jack flag, and pictures of Queen Elizabeth.

Souvenir Stall
Notice in the upper middle section the flag with the Queen’s face

There are cookie tins and tea tins. There are oven mitts, tea cozies, and tea towels.

“Steadfast and True”

Every pottery and china company has issued its version of the official Jubilee mug and plate. There is even a cookie jar in the shape of the Queen’s crown. There are special cookies, chocolates, and champagnes.

All You Need to Set the Table

By far my absolute, must have, favorite souvenir is the 6-inch statue of the Queen that runs on a solar power panel in her handbag and waves her hand. This is the next  YouTube video to go viral.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szP8mqebQ1c

To read more about Queen Elizabeth and the Jubilee go to:

http://www.thediamondjubilee.org/

To read more about the London celebrations go to:

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Nl1/Newsroom/Features/DG_WP200687

The Big British Bang Celebration

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The Royal Hospital Chelsea Museum and Souvenir Shop

The Royal Hospital Chelsea is not exactly a medical hospital but a retirement and nursing home for homeless, retired, and/or widowed, pensioners (veterans), known as the Royal Chelsea Pensioners. The Chelsea Pensioners wear bright red long coats as part of their uniform. The Royal Hospital Chelsea houses approximately 310 pensioners. The first female pensioner was finally admitted in 2009.

King Charles II decreed the founding of The Royal Hospital Chelsea in 1682 to provide soldiers with a fitting home. The word “hospital” was used back then to refer to a place that provided hospitality. The facilities designed by Sir Christopher Wren, are located on a majestic piece of land in today’s Royale Borough of Kensington and Chelsea next to the Thames River. The Royal Hospital Chelsea is where the famous annual Chelsea Flower Show is held.

After seeing a friend’s cute bag purchased at the Royal Hospital Chelsea gift shop, I ventured there with another friend to explore their souvenirs.

The Museum & Souvenir Shop

They have a very nice selection of gifts with all of their proceeds benefiting The Royal Hospital Chelsea. You can also shop on-line.

Royal Pensioner Souvenir Bag

More Gifts

For more information visit:

http://www.chelsea-pensioners.co.uk/home

Eating Around the World in London

With both children away on week-long school trips, I decided to take a break from the kitchen, and set forth with my husband on an international cuisine adventure through the neighborhoods of London.

Day #1

  • Type of Cuisine: Lebanese
  • Restaurant: Maroush I
  • Neighborhood: W2 2JE (Paddington)

Since arriving in London nine months ago, my husband had been wanting to try one of the many Lebanese restaurants along Edgware Road. And since I have a claim to Lebanese descendants, (a great great grandfather who made his way to Colombia), it was befitting to make our trek to Maroush, a Lebanese restaurant recommended by friends. After researching on-line and discovering that Maroush is a 30-year-old, very successful, family owned business with 14 different restaurants and eateries to pick from, we chose Maroush I, located at 21 Edgware Road. We shared two delicious appetizers, one was a warm chick pea dish with yogurt, lemon, garlic, and pieces of bread mixed in; the other was a baked pastry filled with spinach, pine nuts and flavored with sumac (a middle eastern seasoning). Then for the main course we had the Mixed Grill consisting of charcoal-grilled skewers of seasoned minced lamb and cubes of marinated lamb and chicken served with garlic sauce, cooked so beautifully they melted in our mouths. After our wonderful and filling meal we were just expecting to get our bill when the waitress surprised us with a complimentary plate of Lebanese Baklawa, a mouth-watering selection of miniature traditional phyllo dough pastries filled with honey, nuts, and butter. We plan to return to bring our children and have them experience Lebanese cuisine. We also plan to go later in the evening since Maroush has live music and belly dancing every night beginning at 9:30. For more information go to:

http://www.maroush.com/

Day #2

  • Type of Cuisine: Latin American
  • Restaurant: Las Iguanas
  • Neighborhood:  SE1 8XX (Southbank, London Borough of Lambeth)

For our second day we decided to honor the Latin American heritage in the family by going to a Latin American restaurant, Las Iguanas. Las Iguanas is a chain of restaurants with locations throughout all of England and four in London. We visited the restaurant located in South Bank across from the Southbank Centre near the London Eye.

Las Iguanas Across from Southbank Centre and near the London Eye

Las Iguanas with its lively atmosphere was hopping with young people enjoying after work drinks and dinners. It offered a blend of Mexican, Caribbean, and South American food. We started out with refreshing Caipirinhas; the Brazilian drink made with cachaca (sugarcane rum), sugar, and muddled lime. We accompanied our drinks with tasty Mexican poppadoms, a cross between Indian poppadoms and Mexican tostadas seasoned with chili powder and paprika. For the main course we shared a Cuban sandwich and a chorizo salad. Their version of a Cuban sandwich resembled more of a pulled pork sandwich and was bland and boring. The chorizo salad with spinach and sweet potatoes was more interesting and tasty. We concluded we did not have to return to Las Iguanas for the food. We were also surprised by the lack of Spanish-speaking waiters/waitresses. Although they do have a children’s menu, we felt the atmosphere was more for adults than for families. It is definitely a fun place for drinks. For more information visit:

http://www.iguanas.co.uk/

Day #3

  • Type of Cuisine: Korean
  • Restaurant: Koba
  • Neighborhood: W1T 1NA (Fitzrovia)

It was time to try something Asian, so we decided to go to a Korean BBQ restaurant. Korean barbeque consists of grilling your food at your table. Koba is a small and cozy restaurant in the Fitzrovia part of London not far from Oxford Circus and Soho Square.

Koba Restaurant

This restaurant gets very good reviews and our experience there certainly matched the reviews. It is wise to make a reservation ahead of time either directly through them or through Top Table, http://www.toptable.co.uk/london-restaurants?m=72. The tables in the restaurant all have built-in gas grills. First we enjoyed appetizers that came fully cooked from the kitchen. We had pajeon, a Korean pancake that looks more like Spanish Tortilla. We also tried a very tasty fried chicken appetizer. For the main course we ordered a mix of marinated beef and chicken that was brought raw to the table, which we then grilled on our grill station. Alternatively, you can have the chef cook the food in the kitchen but half the fun is cooking it yourself. We ordered lettuce leaves and other vegetables to assemble lettuce wraps with the cooked meat. We really enjoyed the youthful and casual atmosphere, and hope to return with our children to Koba and have them experience Korean barbeque first hand. For more information look up:

http://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/venue/2%3A27138/koba

Finding the Best Hamburger in London

Although, I have not performed an exhaustive search for the Best Hamburger in London I would like to share with you what my research has yielded to date. I am excluding fast food restaurants in my project, something that I’m sure will disappoint my children. As some of you know, the hamburger did not originate in the states but rather in Hamburg, Germany, and then was brought to America. We Americans like to think of it as one of our culinary creations. As an American expat in a foreign land, it’s sometimes very comforting to find foods that remind you of home, like a good juicy hamburger.

Below are the places I have sampled in order of preference.

#1 Byron

http://www.byronhamburgers.com/

Byron is a fun restaurant chain that offers what they like to call “proper” hamburgers. The owner spent 4 years in the states and upon returning in 2007 realized that there were no true hamburger restaurants in London where you could get an authentic diner burger. With 22 locations, you are sure to find one near you. Their menu is not cluttered with a huge variety of food. They stick to a simple menu, a choice of four hamburgers, a grilled chicken breast and a vegetarian sandwich. They also offer standard side dishes like fries (which they actually call them fries and not chips) and onion rings. What made this an outstanding burger for me was the quality of the beef and the fact that the chef cooked it exactly to my liking, medium rare. I recommend this restaurant for families with children of all ages. Byron offers a children’s menu as well.

#2 Sticky Fingers

http://www.stickyfingers.co.uk/

Sticky Fingers is the BBQ restaurant that former Rolling Stones bass player, Bill Wyman, opened in 1989 in Kensington. The restaurant boasts original Rolling Stones memorabilia, a lively environment and delicious BBQ food. I have been here with friends as well as with family. My children have enjoyed their ribs and burgers. Again, they do a great job with their burgers. The quality of the meat is very good and the chef also cooks it to your liking. I recommend this restaurant for families of children of all ages and Sticky Fingers also offer a children’s menu.

#3 The Waterway

http://www.thewaterway.co.uk/

The Waterway is a restaurant in Maida Vale by the canals. Aside from its indoor dining it offers great terrace eating with beautiful canal views. The menu has an interesting selection of foods like traditional coq au vin, risotto, lamb, fish, and The Waterway Burger. The first time I ate at the Waterway I went with a friend who was visiting from the states. She ordered the coq au vin and I ordered the hamburger. My husband who had already eaten at The Waterway had recommended the burger. I was not disappointed that first time. It was an exquisite burger. However, I recently went back and I was not as impressed with my burger this second time.  I found the meat a bit chewy and the taste not as impressive as the first time. Although, the Waterway offers a children’s menu, I felt the environment during the evening is mostly for adults or older children.

#4 The Clifton

http://cliftonstjohnswood.com/

I would like to include one of our St. John’s Wood neighborhood pubs in this review. First of all, we marvel at the fact that we have a neighborhood pub that we can walk to for lunch or dinner. The Clifton’s food has been consistently good. They offer traditional pub fare like fish and chips and sausages all of which get high ratings from our family, as well as steaks, and vegetarian options. They offer a yummy 8 oz. burger with chutney and chips. For families with young children they also offer a children’s menu.  And the piece de resistance is that dogs are welcomed there. The Clifton prefers smaller dogs or very well behaved large dogs.

#5 The Prince Edward Pub

http://www.princeedwardpub.co.uk/

The reason my husband and I went on a specific quest for a good burger to The Price Edward is because the book London’s Best Pubs by Haydon and Hampson, boasted that The Prince Edward was the only pub in London to offer a Kobe burger. The write up mentioned that the beef came from the UK’s only herd of traditional Japanese Wagyu cattle. We certainly found the pub to have a delightful atmosphere and enjoyed our beer, however we were highly disappointed with the quality of their burgers. They were no different than most of the average burgers you get in most pubs. Furthermore, the meat was not fresh, the burger felt like it had been a frozen patty, which had been defrosted in the microwave and then cooked unevenly. I recently looked up their menu online and discovered that they no longer offer a Kobe meat burger, just a regular burger.

If you have enjoyed a good burger in London I would love to hear from you.

Prague For the Weekend

Although my husband and I had already been to Prague several times and our children had been twice, we decided it was time to re-introduce them to this charming city since the last time they had visited they had been in diapers and strollers. Memories came back of very bumpy stroller rides through the cobblestone streets of Prague surrounded by beautiful pastel colored buildings.

Cobblestone streets of Prague

Prague is part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic is divided into 3 historical regions, Bohemia, Moravia, and Czech Silesia. Prague is in the Bohemian region. You can do Prague over a 2-day or 3-day weekend if you live in Europe. Prague is less than a two-hour plane ride from London. Otherwise, if you are flying from the states you can include Prague as part of a longer eastern European itinerary.

The Prague Castle in the distance and the St. Vitus Cathedral

What first came to my mind many years ago when I’d think of Prague was Nazi Invasion, Czechoslovakia, the USSR, communism, and the Tom Cruise movie Mission Impossible. Fast forward to 1989 when we witnessed the fall of communism across Eastern Europe. This opened up a whole new world for tourists to enjoy. Prague, Praha in Czech, is a city of architectural beauty, castles, the Vltava river, bridges, crystal, pilsner beer, marionettes, amber, red garnet, and classical music.

The 13th Century Charles Bridge
Courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

Marionettes of all Kinds

Czech Crystal Beads

Prague is a city where the Old Town dates back to 900 A.D. and the New Town dates back to 1300 A.D. It was home to Alphonse Mucha (1860 – 1939), the famous Art Nouveau artist, to Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924), the distinguished german-language author,  and to Antonín Leopold Dvořák (1841 – 1904), renown composer of late Romantic music.

Alphonse Mucha Artwork

The Rudolfinum Concert Hall
Home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra since 1946
On 4 January 1896 Antonín Dvořák himself conducted the Czech Philharmonic in the hall in its first ever concert.
The Astronomical Clock installed in 1410

Souvenirs of the Astronomical Clock

City Hall at Old Town Square

Prague is also a youthful city embracing modern art and architecture as well. There are plenty of activities for all age groups. For younger children there are many parks,  a funicular, the Mirror Maze, the Prague zoo, the Toy Museum, boat trips, and puppet shows.

The Dancing House
Also called Fred and Ginger
Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry in co-operation with Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunić

Yellow Penguins over the Vltava River in Kampa area of Prague.
They light up at night.

We entertained our teens with visits to castles, cathedrals, and famous bridges. They were happy to walk all day as long as they were fed good meals and snacks.

Angelato Cafe for Delicious Gelato

Snacks for Mom and Dad Too

We generally headed back to our hotel room in the afternoon to relax before going out to dinner. And for others, entertainment includes museums, concerts, pubs, and nightclubs.

Building in Old Town

Municipal House in Prague

We stayed in the Hotel Praha Augustine which we absolutely loved. It was also running an excellent family deal, pay for one room and get a second adjoining room free.

Crystal Vegetable Chandelier at Hotel Praha Augustine
Courtesy of Clara Petrucelli

Fun Russian Wooden Dolls
My daughter’s favorite: Justin Bieber Middle Row Left Hand Side
Courtesy of Clara Petrucelli

We were very successful with Italian restaurants like Ristorante Carmelita and Pepenero. We also had a great lunch at Nostress. Another excellent restaurant choice was Artisan Restaurant. We pre-arranged our airport transfers with http://www.prague-airport-transfers.co.uk. We were cautioned against using taxis. The city is very walkable but if you wish to take public transportation it has a metro system, trams, and buses.

Crystal Hearts from Prague

Moser Crystal
The Crystal of Kings and Queens
Founded in 1857

How to Snorkel Without Getting Your Hair Wet

First, let me begin by saying that when you have a daughter who enjoys photography, the chances of you being photographed in a non-flattering way are extremely high. As they say, we all have to laugh at ourselves once in while, so when our family saw this picture we all laughed out loud. And so I share the following picture taken during our holiday in the Maldives, as I snorkeled without getting my hair wet in complete oblivion to my daughter sneaking a photo-op. What was I doing? What was I thinking?

Snorkeling without getting your hair wet goes hand in hand with the famous swimming without getting your hair wet technique. Go back in time to the New York City beaches of the 1960’s. It was then that as a child I met my first role models of swimming without getting your hair wet. These glamorous gals all with their beehive hairdos, which absolutely could not be submerged, cigarettes in hand, would stand in a foot of ocean water talking with their girlfriends.

I too have mastered the art of swimming without getting my hair wet from years of experience. As my children know, the pool water has to be 85 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for me to plunge in completely. I promise you that the water temperature in the picture was at least this and that I did officially and very professionally snorkel during our week visit in the Maldives. However, on this particular afternoon, after having spent most of the day in the water, I was by then dried off, and the intention was just to walk in the water behind our villa. The temptation was too high to see something that triggered my curiosity in the water. And so my friends, I share this Kodak moment.

Somehow I don’t look as glamorous as those 1960’s gals I remembered. Perhaps it’s the hairdo!

Spring Break in the Maldives

…I am walking towards my villa which sits over the water. I am surrounded by turquoise and blue colored waters with white sandy bottoms. In some areas the sand banks appear glittery white like sugar sprinkles. Off the back of my villa I descend down the steps and I find myself in two feet of water with colorful fish swimming around my legs. The blue hues of the sky blend into those of the water. The warm weather permeates my being. I don’t want to wake up from this dream…”

Before we moved to London we had no idea what the Maldives were. We had heard of Mauritius and Seychelles but the Maldives? After getting a very positive recommendation from a friend we decided to visit.

Interesting Facts

Male, Maldives

Sea plane view of some of the atolls.

The Republic of the Maldives is an island nation located in the Indian ocean southwest of India and Sri Lanka. It is a 10 hour flight from London to the capital of Male. It is made up of 1,192 coral islands forming a double chain of atolls. Atolls are coral reef islands surrounding lagoons.

Only 185 of these islands are inhabited. The Maldives has the lowest average altitude on the planet, of about 1.5 meters (3-4 ft). Scientists fear that Global Warming will lead to the disappearance of the country by 2050. The government of the Maldives has started buying land in Australia with the eventual plan of a massive migration when needed.

Getting There and Where to Stay

There are approximately 100 resorts. Most resorts occupy their own island. With a variety of resort options there is something for everyone. Once you arrive in Male you take either a car, boat or seaplane transfer to your resort.

Boarding the Sea Plane

In our case, we boarded a sea plane and flew 30 minutes to the Lux Resort on the island Dhidhoofinolhu in the South Ari Atoll. We worked closely with a travel agent and did a lot of research on-line before making our choice of lodging.

We stayed in one of only three family villas over the water in the resort and selected the all-inclusive package. Beach bungalows, B&B, and half-board were also available.

The Front of the Family Villa

The family villa consisted of 2 interconnecting villas over the water, one with an American size king bed and the other with 2 single beds. In addition, each room had its own bathroom and an additional day bed/sofa. Our deck had a table and lounge chairs, an outdoor shower, and steps descending into the water.

The Back Deck

I highly recommend the all-inclusive package. Menu choices for food and drink were very good and it’s probably the best way to go since you are a captured audience on the island. The resort offered 2 buffet restaurants open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, 3 a la carte dinner restaurants, and 3 snack/ bar restaurants open all day long. There was also a a very popular ice-cream stand. At first we thought we would be bored staying in the confines of the island for a whole week. But instead we found ourselves very busy swimming, snorkeling, diving, riding bicycles, jet-skiing, kayaking, working out, and visiting the spa. The resort provided snorkeling equipment free of charge and operated complimentary daily boat trips to the coral reefs in the vicinity. Available also free of charge were kayaks and paddle boats. They also operated a PADI Dive center. In addition to the pristine white beaches the resort had two infinity swimming pools and children’s and teen’s clubs. And the piece de resistance was complimentary Wi-Fi in the rooms and premises for those of us who need to be connected.

A View from the Front of Our Villa

You always know you’ve had a wonderful vacation when you are sad to leave and you start planning the return trip. This vacation was enjoyed by all of our family members and received the Official Teen-Approval of my children.

Sunset Over the Indian Ocean