Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"Easter" Weekend in Southern Utah

My little brother Chad and his wife Maddie, who are both in med school in West Virginia, came out to visit for the weekend.  I jumped at the chance to get down to the beautiful sunshine of a southern Utah spring weekend.  Everything is just brighter and bluer in the spring in southern Utah.

It was quite the full house when we got to my parents' house Friday night.  Chad, Maddie and their dog Scout of course were already there, Craig, Marcie, and Max had come up from Kingman to hang out, and my brother Nick is running the Boston Marathon on Monday so his kids Sadie and Drew and their dog Mazie were staying at my parents.  Add my parents, Jason, Brad, and me to the mix and that was 14 adults, kids, toddlers, and 2 dogs at one house.  It was a party!

Saturday morning we decided to go to Red Cliffs pretty early.    The reason we wanted to go early is because one of the most depressing things about southern Utah these days.... or really any cool hike or natural beauty that is Instagram worthy.... is everyone now knows about it.  Red Cliffs can get miserably crowded in the springtime.

But luck really went our way this weekend.  Whether it was because it was 2 weeks after Easter so most spring breaks were over or because the weather didn't seem ideal (it was only 55 degrees when we started hiking)  We pretty much had Red Cliffs to ourselves!  (Which is completely unheard of these days, especially on a Saturday, especially when it was sunny outside!)  And there is something about the St. George sun that made even 55 degrees seem superduper warm!

Drew (age 7) was our tour guide that led the way telling us all about the hike that he has done more times than he can count.  Brad and Max did shockingly well on the hike (Max probably did better than Brad running almost the entire way)  Brad was too excited about touching the sand every couple feet and picking up rocks.  But really he did well too!

I knew it was going to be almost impossible to keep Brad out of the water so by the time we got to the second pool we just stripped off his clothes and let him go at it.  The water was bitter cold but Brad had a blast running in and out of the water, throwing rocks and watching them splash, and even chasing around a little tree frog.

After Red Cliffs we went straight to The Habit for lunch.  We went back to my parents' condo in St. George and Brad was begging for a nap!  While Brad napped Jason went rock climbing in Snow Canyon with a friend and I joined Chad, Craig, Marcie, Drew, Sadie, and Max at the pool.  Once again as luck would have it, we had the pool all to ourselves!  It was a great day.

When Brad woke up from his nap rather than taking him back to the pool, I let him play in the backyard with the water hose and he was happy as could be!

Sunday included making a full Easter feast and of course angel food cake with strawberries and whipped cream and our family favorite, jello cheesecake.  (I think I should do a whole post on the recipe because it is a cheesecake like no other I've ever experienced.)

We went to church at a married student ward where my dad was the high council speaker.  What a lucky stake my dad has!  Usually high council Sunday is definitely not something to look forward to, but my dad is such a great speaker!

After church Max and Brad were able to do their own little Easter Egg hunt (the bigger grand kids got to do one later)  Brad and Max's eggs were filled with stickers and other toys.

Then us Parsons did what we do best..... eat and talk.

It was a wonderful weekend.

Monday, April 9, 2018

On to the Main Event - London

After a rough night of lots and lots of noise and Erica jumping up out of bed and running for the door when she thought that someone was trying to get into our room..... needless to say we were ready to get out of there!  We decided to book a hotel on the opposite side of town...... So we were out of there as fast as we could!  But first some pictures.... here's the view of London from the apartment.

Yes, I know it doesn't look THAT scary.......... but it 's light outside now.... and things always look a bit better in the light.  Here is us on the way out.  Good riddance.

We started by walking down the street to the French bakery I had looked up that was supposedly the best bakery in all of London.  We both had a chocolate croissant which made our walk back to King’s Cross Station a bit more sweet.  And yes.... it was probably the best croissiant of my life.

When we got to King's Cross and realized we went in and hurry.... we figured we needed to check out Platform 9 and 3/4s.  But of course we had no idea where it was.  So finally I just walked up to a worker and said, "Excuse me could you help me find Platform 9 3/4s?"  (I've always wanted to ask that.)  I half expected him to be super duper annoyed.... I am sure they get asked all the time.  But luckily this guy was new and he said, "Actually I am new here but I have heard it is quite difficult to find and there isn't a sign." (Playing the part of a muggle)  But he then went and asked another worker and they directed us to Platform 9 3/4s.  Of course there was a line..... a Disneyland like line or "queue"...... I felt guilty about making Erica stand in it.  It was ridiculous.... standing in a line just to get a picture....just for instagram.... what is our world becoming?  But luckily the line didn't take that long.  Literally less than 10 minutes and these pictures had us laughing for hours.  Totally worth it.  

First the nice picture:

Then the theatrical performance:

We rode the tube down to the city center.  We got out of the tube near our hotel and immediately things felt a whole lot better!  The streets were clean.  The air was fresh.  But one of my favorite parts of London was what I saw next.  Men and women were running on both sides of the road.  Of course I loved that.... but it got even better, most runners had their backpacks on their backs!  At first I wondered what in the world was in their backpacks but I figured it out.  They were all running to or from work!  So awesome!!!  I am assuming they live relatively close to work and it’s probably faster and obviously cheaper to run so they do.  I am not talking one or two people.  I probably saw close to 50 runners along the street that our hotel was on running.  It was amazing.

Where do we even begin with our hotel?  Well it was right across the street from the Thames (Tems).  It had a gorgeous view of Westminster, Big Ben (or the remnants of Big Ben) and the London Eye. 

 But it was when we walked into the hotel we couldn’t help but giggle.... absolute giggle like little school girls.  There were door greeters in tuxes with tails.  

Fresh flowers all throughout the lobby.  And of course free continental breakfast!  (That we later learned wasn’t free so we skipped it). But our time in London had just drastically improved.  

And we hadn’t even gotten to our room yet!  IT was glorious!  Everything we could have ever hoped for and more!  

 (Including a remote that controlled the temperature, lights, and even the blinds!). It was great!

We “freshened” up (since we obviously didn’t dare shower that morning) and we headed out on the town.  We did part of a Rick Steves walk.  We walked passed Westminster, up to Trafalgar Square, around Piccadilly Circus, to the main place I wanted to go that day, The National Gallery.  We stopped for a treat along the way... first we went into McDonalds thinking they'd have fancy treats like the McDonald's in France or Italy or even Czech... but no just a normal McDonalds.
So we went next door to a very fancy place to get treats.
We shared a fruit tart and ate it next to the National Gallery.

I can now officially say I have been to every major art museum in the world.  Well unless we need to count the Hermitage in St. Petersburg...... which we probably do.... which will probably never happen with how relations with Russia are looking. 
Anyway The National Gallery was all I had dreamed it would be.  It was even hilariously perfect that I didn’t know Raphael had painted this painting of Pope Julius II which is perfect because the start of my lesson on Monday in History is this painting of Pope Julius II.  And then I also took a selfie of one of Michelangelo's earliest paintings.

 After the National Gallery we had lunch near the gallery at the most American hipster build your own pizza place you can imagine called, “Mod” and then we walked around Chinatown and over to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

We had to stop for a Diet Coke break at McDonalds along the way.... because my legs were killing me!  I had worn my rain boots the day before on our adventures to Stonehenge.  Although they were super comfortable my shins were sore the next day.  So 10 miles of walking was really getting to me!  Diet Cokes and free wifi can make everything better!  And a view of St. Paul's that looks like this!

We were shocked by the cost to enter St. Paul’s Cathedral so we opted out.  I understand.... a cathedral has to make money somehow but $30 to walk around?  No thank you. :)  

We walked over Millennium Bridge to get to Borough Market.

If we had planned it better we should have waited to eat at Borough Market!  It was so fun to see all the amazing food choices that it had to offer but we weren't hungry!!!  

Exhausted at this point of walking over 12 miles on little sleep we decided to go back to our hotel and rest up for dinner. I took a lovely bath in our bathroom, Erica caught up on her online teaching, and we called home to make sure both of our husbands knew we hadn’t died.

We both thought we weren’t hungry for dinner so we should look up the best gelato in London.  We had already had delicious gelato in Bath but when in Rome...... or Europe... you can never have too much gelato.  I found on TripAdvisor that the number restaurant in ALL of London was a Gelato shop.  I was a bit skeptical especially because it only had like 34 reviews... but it did have 5 stars.  No one had said anything but the most wonderful things about this place so I figured we needed it check it out. 

We were even more skeptical when we walked into Prime Gelato because it was in an obscure spot and it was completely empty.  Just one 28 year old kid wearing a fancy chef’s shirt and a whole lot of gelato.  I was even more skeptical when he only had the usual flavors.  Chocolate, pistachio, vanilla, hazelnut, coconut, strawberry, lemon, and cherry.  Every quality gelato shop I visited in Italy always had more unique flavors.  But when I heard his accent I knew we were going to have a bit more luck than just your average touristy gelato.  He was from Genova.  (Yes, the same port town that Columbus was from). He was shocked to hear I had been there.  Even more shocked to hear I had been there to go rock climbing.  He told us his history of attending chef’s school then apprenticeship in gelato.  The whole nine yards.  But words are words.  Talk is great. It wasn’t until I tasted that gelato that I was sold.  Of course I tasted the hazelnut first.  Everyone knows you can tell a good gelato by the quality of the hazelnut.  (If the shop doesn’t offer hazelnut and only serves Nutella or hazelnut/chocolate mixed you know it’s a bad quality store because it’s way cheaper than offering pure hazelnut.). Anyway one bite of that hazelnut and I knew we had just struck pure gold.  Arguably the best gelato in the history of gelato.  I know I know, sounds like quite the exaggeration.  And I admit it could be that my pallet has been tainted by American ice cream for 2 years now and I don’t remember good gelato.  But I truly don’t think so.  This stuff was seriously that good.  Flavors I tasted: pistachio, coconut, strawberry, cherry, lemon, salted caramel, and guava.  I asked why he didn’t offer more exotic flavors.  He told me that Londoners and tourist prefer these boring regular flavors.  He asked some of my most memorable flavors.  I told him of lavender, lemon basil, and Sicilian Citrus.  Oh and milk flavor.  I loved milk flavor mixed with a fruit based gelato.  He told me, what I already knew, that the reason that his flavors are so delicious is the quality of his ingredients.  He even uses the same hazelnut farm that Nutella does for his nuts.
Anyway, needless to say this 28 year old gelato maker and I bonded over a love of gelato.  Sadly the location was 2 miles away from our hotel or I promise you I would have returned more than just once.  Both time I had the same two flavors because they were so good, hazelnut and lemon.  (Weird combo I know, but both times I was starving for real food so I couldn’t settle with something heavier than just half hazelnut)

The second time we returned he even made us a special waffle with orange zest.  Not as good as the gelato, but it was fun all the same.

Anyway back to that first night in London.  After we ate gelato I realized I was starving.  So as we were walking back to the Tube I was a Shake Shack.  So we shared a hamburger and fries to end the evening.  

One thing I absolutely love about traveling to Europe, well besides the food, is the fact that I truly am a normal person!  it was 8:30 at night and I was eating dinner!!!!!  It was so fun walking around London at night when all the lights were on.  But even more wonderful was getting back to our lovely hotel and snuggling up in our memory foam bed with a down comforter and hitting a button to turn off the lights.

We had big plans when we woke up.  I was supposed to go running before we went to the Tower of London at 9 am.  Shockingly I slept in until 8:11!!!!!!  It was amazing!  So instead we hurried and got ready and took a taxi to the Tower.   Here we are in our only taxi ride and some of the views from the ride.

Yes, Big Ben was completely under scaffolding.  I knew that was the case but had completely forgot until we saw it.  At least from this angle you could tell it is a clock! :)
 I had read on Rick Steves to go to the Tower first thing in the morning because the tourists typically don't come to the Tower of London first thing in the morning.   And when you get to the castle (how come I really had no idea it was a castle?) to go straight to the Crown Jewels. Erica might have started to doubt me and our rush to get to the Tower by 9 because when we got there we waited in no lines what so ever.  We walked right in.  We walked straight to the building with the Crown Jewels and marveled at the insanity of it all.  520 karats of diamond????????? WHO NEEDS that?????  Those royals.  The jewels were the highlight of the Tower for me.  We did a bit more together then Erica and I split up.  Erica loves to see more history than I typically do because the wheels in her head are always turning about possible books.  

But first, a selfie in London Tower with London Bridges in the background. It was finally sunny enough to need sunglasses!!

Anyway, like I said, Erica stayed and explored more of the towers while I went to do what I looked forward to most in all my travels...

A Run. 

The glorious thing about London is it is cold all the time so I had no problem running at noon.  

I thought it would be fun.  I knew it would be fun.  I always love running around big cities while traveling.  

But I really did have no idea how much fun I would have on this run!!!!  It was amazing!  It wasn’t too hot, it wasn’t too cold.  There were so many great trails to go on.  It was AMAZING.

 I get it.... UK wants to feel unique and different and have people drive on the wrong side of the road, but if at every single major intersection they have to paint on the street which direction to look.... it's clearly a problem.  This drove me absolutely nuts the entire trip, especially on my runs.  Every time I crossed a road I felt like I was giving myself whiplash because I had to look left and right and left again and right again because I had no idea which way the cars would be coming from! 

I started by going on the same path that Erica and I had traveled on the day before but then I ventured off to run down the mall.

There were daffodils everywhere!  Millions of them.  Of course..... absolutely of course.... the tulips were up, about to burst any day now... probably happened today as we are flying home.  Anyway, I stopped by to see the queen at Buckingham Palace.

I ran to the left of the Palace hoping to be able to see the Queen’s Gardens.  Clearly the queen didn’t want me to pay her a visit....

So I headed towards Hyde Park.  Once again it was pretty but if we were one week later I think the tulips would have been glorious.  So I ran through the park and over to Kensington Gardens.  Then I ran down through Chelsea.

My mom had told me about Harrods, THE place to shop.  So I walked in.  I wasn’t surprised by all the hand bags and perfumes.  I was surprised that the salesmen were actually trying to sell me stuff like I would buy something!

Then I ran through the streets of Chelsea looking at all the expensive cars until I made it back to the river and I ran back to the hotel.

10 miles later.  

yes, 10 miles that seems like a BREEZE.   It was possibly the best part of the whole trip.  So much fun!!!! Here's a map of the areas I went on my run.  (I wondered around a bit more but you get the idea)

After cleaning up I met Erica who had just gone on a tour of Westminster Abbey.  I waited in Churchhill square while she finished her tour.  I know I am super weird.... but I was shocked to see the statue of Gandhi.  And honestly I don't know how I feel about UK having his statue.  But that's a rant for another day.  Oh how I love that man. 
We walked up to St. Paul’s Cathedral in time to attended the Evensong.  (For free). it was a pretty impressive cathedral but of course nothing compared to St. Peter’s.  

We stopped along the way in a park to stretch out.  It really is shocking how much walking we have done on this trip!  And man does it make you sore!!!!!

Which brings me to my next question....... HOW IN THE WORLD does London have palm trees?????  I am so confused.  And more important why can't I have a palm tree???

 After that we ate a quick bite at Prat a Manger (the McDonalds of London) if you ask me. There is one on every corner.  it was delicious.  I got a croissiant with ham and cheese, Erica got a sandwich but he most delicious part was Erica finally found a Victoria Sandwich.  It was absolutely delicious!!!!  Not too sweet not too much frosting.  It was perfect.  Heavenly.  We were both so sad we found it on our last night!

 After we walked back to gelato and then hurried over to Hyde Park to walk through as the sun was setting. I had to go to Speaker's Corner because all too often I like to get up on my soap box.  Sadly there weren't any soap boxes!!!!

We stopped by Harrods on our way back to our hotel.  I was shocked by the food section of Harrods that I hadn’t seen before! So crazy!

And then we nestled up in our cozy bed for one more night in London.

Thursday morning we woke up at 5:30 to walk to the Tube to take it to King’s Cross to hop on a train to take us to Gatwick to fly to Denver.... and then me on to home.

London..... you were a jolly good time.