Dutch Treats

Row of canal houses in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

It has become a tradition that I take my biggest vacation of the year around Veterans day in the United States (early-mid November). It’s an opportunity to enjoy chilly fall weather, without much risk of a freak snowstorm stranding me somewhere. The timing also means fewer tourists generally, and fewer school-age tourists specifically.

This year I chose the Netherlands as my destination. The start of my journey was not promising. A United Airlines drama nearly eighty-sixed the whole adventure.

At San Francisco International Airport I was informed that my frequent flyer ticket to Amsterdam was missing the Frankfurt-to-Amsterdam leg in the computer system. Two United agents who spoke terrible English discussed my plight in Chinese, while I stood by helplessly. Despite having an email confirmation on my iPhone showing an SFO-Frankfurt-Amsterdam reservation, the agents told me there was nothing they could do beyond checking my bag only as far as Frankfurt. I’d have to work out the rest by calling the MileagePlus 800 number.

Whaaaat? Do I look like a complete idiot, novice traveler to you??? Checking my bag just to Frankfurt, where I had a two-hour layover at best, while my hotel bookings were all in Amsterdam, would have been the DUMBEST MOVE EVER. The agents were quite insistent about checking my bag, but eventually conceded that the ticketing counter might be able to help me.

As far as I’m concerned, the United check in staff at the SFO international terminal are woefully inadequate and lacking in basic English language proficiency… except for one Gabriele Bugler — a no-nonsense lady (German, I think) who waited on hold with MileagePus for at least 30 minutes, while triaging several problems brought to her by other flummoxed United agents. She sorted it all out, no obsequious apologies but no excuse-making either.

Hey, United Airlines: Gabriele Bugler deserves an enormous raise. Give her one. Oh, and if you are going to push people toward your online reservation system, you might want to fix some pretty serious, glaring bugs.

Never mind, I’m now safely in Amsterdam which is so full of English speakers and beautiful architecture, I have deja vu moments of thinking I’m either in London, or French Canada.

My first stop yesterday, following a harrowing and very pricey taxi ride to my hotel, was the Anne Frank House  The line was 45 minutes long, but visitors are provided free Wi-Fi to help pass the time. Where in America can you get Wi-Fi while waiting in line outdoors?

No surprise, the museum was respectful, tasteful and moving. I reread Anne’s diary (the unsanitized version) before coming here, but despite her detailed description of the group’s living conditions I could not picture their accommodations. The size and the darkness of the rooms took my breath away.

I often joke about the tiny dimensions of my first Manhattan apartment; Anne’s mother, father and sister Margot shared a smaller space for more than two years without any respite. No office or school to escape to. No gym. No walks around the block. The room that Anne shared with her nemesis Fritz Pfeiffer was the size of my current closet in San Francisco.

The walls of Anne’s room still display a few photos she pasted from movie magazines, as well as a childhood photo of Queen Elizabeth. I’m sure the Queen knows this. I wonder if she’s ever seen it?  I imagine it would break her heart. It broke mine.

If you ever have a chance to visit the Anne Frank House, be sure to tour the entire museum — including the top floor, where documents around the deportation of the Frank family are on display. (Nazis kept meticulous records, it turns out.) Exerpts from Anne’s diary are there, too.

I waited in line for the museum behind a very nice couple from Sacramento. The wife made me laugh, though. When I told her this is my first trip to Amsterdam, she gravely informed me that smoking marijuana is legal here, and that there is a flourishing Red Light District.

REALLY? Hey, maybe I DO look like a total idiot, novice traveler. I mean, who on earth goes to Amsterdam knowing SO LITTLE about the city, that they are unaware of coffee houses and legalized prostitution?

As it turns out, the Red Light District is just behind my hotel. I didn’t realize this when I made my reservation, but tonight in search of a specific restaurant, I walked out the back door and saw lots of red neon lights. I’m kind of embarrassed by how long it took me to make the connection: red lights = red light district. I saw a few lingerie-clad women in window displays, but otherwise… the neighborhood was remarkably quiet. Maybe I needed to walk farther to see the real action. Or perhaps this is what happens on the Sabbath, in the birthplace of Calvinism?

imageEarlier today I visited the Rijks and Van Gogh museums. I also ate a Belgian waffle drizzled with chocolate that nearly brought me to tears, and frites slathered in joppisauce that were pretty darn amazing. Now nodding off to the hypnotic sounds of the BBC news.

More soon from the land of the gouda wheel…

UPDATE: My hotel was NOT in the Red Light District, after all. I had mistakenly thought that all of Amsterdam’s prostitution takes place in that neighborhood, but it does not. The day after I wrote this post, I stumbled into the real Red Light District, and said a little prayer of gratitude that I wasn’t staying there. Peaceful, it is not.

Stacks of gouda cheese wheels

Seattle: Right As Rain

IMG_1140_edited-1Last week I made a quick trip to Seattle, one of my favorite US cities. Since then, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been asked, “How was the weather?”  Seattle weather gets a bad rap. It can be soggy, but it seldom rains buckets for days on end. In my experience, the daily “norm” is periods of sunshine interspersed with fast-moving showers. Nonplussed Seattle-ites don’t even bother opening their umbrellas most of the time. They remind me of the Scottish in this way – maybe it’s why I am such a fan of the Emerald City.

That said, it’s very humid most of the time so any day can become a very bad hair day.

On my trip, I visited the Seattle Art Museum (SAM, to you). I hung out at Olympic Sculpture Park and Woodland Park Zoo, and caught a Seattle Mariners/Cleveland Indians game at Safeco Field – my first time in a domed baseball stadium.  It drizzled a few times during the game, but the roof stayed open.

Locals who attend Mariners games are so NICE. (Listen up, Oakland A’s fans.)  Actually, everyone in Seattle is polite and über-affable, perhaps due to their proximity to Canada.  And Safeco Field has some interesting amenities I’m more accustomed to seeing at a county fair.  Well played!

Rob Ford: Built For the Road Ahead?

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford
RENE JOHNSTON / TORONTO STAR

I recently spent a few days in Canada, home to some of the nicest, most polite people — and one of the best national anthems — on earth. I’m obligated by patriotism to name The Star Spangled Banner as my favorite national song, but while Americans sing along softly to our anthem at sporting events and solemn ceremonies, we can’t match the enthusiasm and boisterousness of a bunch of Canucks fans belting out “O Canada” at a hockey game. Theirs is an anthem best served loud.

So it is fair to say that Canadians have a lot of national pride, which is being put to the test by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. While I was in Vancouver (2,600 miles away), efforts by the Toronto City Council to revoke most of his mayoral powers – and Ford’s response to this – dominated news coverage. Over and over again, Canadian reporters and citizens said, in effect, “The world is laughing at us.”

I can’t speak for the whole world, but I promise you Toronto… If America is laughing, we are laughing WITH you, not at you. Yes, thanks to social media and reality TV our attention spans can be fairly short, but no one here has forgotten three-time D.C. Mayor Marion Barry (crack cocaine possession), New York Governor Eliot Spitzer (prostitution), South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (“hiking the Appalachian Trail”), Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (racketeering, fraud and terrible hair), or U.S. Representative Mark Foley (explicit emails to a young male staffer). The cringe-worthy examples go on and on. Toronto, we feel your pain.

While I see parallels with Barry and Blagojevich here – unabashed confidence in constituents’ support, and claims of being unfairly targeted by political opponents — others draw comparisons between Mayor Ford and Anthony Weiner. The big difference is that Weiner’s behavior reflected poorly on his character and judgement, but it wasn’t illegal. Just about everything Mayor Ford has been accused of (and admitted to) can get a person fired in any other arena – and in some cases can land him or her in prison.

As fascinating as the Rob Ford train wreck is to watch, I was pretty surprised to see that he and his brother were interviewed by Matt Lauer on the TODAY show this morning. (I watch CBS This Morning, never TODAY, but saw a clip of the Fords’ interview online.)

TODAY is American TV. Toronto is in Canada. Rob Ford’s constituents are Canadian, and have morning shows of their own that are covering this story aplenty. Exactly who was Matt Lauer trying to serve with the interview, and why was it one of TODAY’s top stories? I find Mayor Ford repulsive, but he would have scored points with me if he’d declined Lauer’s request for a sit-down, because Americans don’t vote in Toronto.

I wonder whether Weiner, Blago and Spitzer – political figures in two of America’s largest northern cities – ever held as much fascination for Canadians as Mayor Ford holds for Americans. Did any of them appear on Canadian morning television? Were they the lead story on Canada’s national news, night after night? I doubt it, with the possible exception of Weiner. He raised (or did he lower?) the bar for eye-rolling political scandal. It was pure comedy gold.

Anyway, Rob Ford and his brother appeared on TODAY, where the Mayor issued (as readers of this blog already know) my least favorite mea culpa:  He never said he was perfect, so why can’t everyone just move on?

“We’ve all made mistakes. I’m not perfect. Maybe you are, maybe other people are, (but) I’ve made mistakes. I admitted to my mistakes.”

Apparently, exoneration is all in the admitting.

He also argued that going on a weekend bender – which he explained only happens some weekends, not every weekend – and potentially being incapacitated when faced with a city emergency, could happen to anyone at any time.

Um, technically it probably could…but it doesn’t.

To his American audience, Mayor Ford positioned his issue as merely a weight problem, not a binge drinking, crack smoking, drunk driving, or sexual harassment problem. He boasted that he’s now training daily – a mental image that almost makes ME want to go on a bender — and in six months he’ll be a changed man because, “actions speak louder than words”.

Seriously? Rob Ford had better hope not.

The good news: a few nice pics from beautiful Vancouver.

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Reign or Shine

View of Seattle and Puget Sound from the Space Needle
View of Seattle and Puget Sound from the Space Needle

I was traveling the better part of this week, visiting one of my favorite cities: Seattle. Despite weather forecasts to the contrary, it didn’t really rain on me once. Slight drizzle on the day I arrived, that was it.

On my last full day in town, rain had been predicted, but instead it was unseasonably warm and muggy with intermittent sunshine. I was amazed at the gratitude of Seattle residents for this unexpected gift. Most San Franciscans would describe a day like that as “meh, so-so”, but the folks I encountered in Seattle were elated. I got caught up in spirit. It was a beautiful day.

Changing leaves in the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle.The fall foliage was fantastic — on its own, completely worth the price of admission.

I love Seattle for its reasonable size; you can hit a number of great neighborhoods on foot (provided you are wearing comfy shoes), and Ballard (my personal favorite) is just a short express bus ride away.

There are several cinemas in the heart of downtown, and I took advantage of them while I was there. (I know, I shouldn’t have to travel all the way to Seattle to see a movie, but at home it’s something I often SAY I want to do yet don’t get around to.)

My sole misstep was laying down good money to see Diana. I was looking for something a little mindless and frivolous. Be careful what you wish for…

Image of Naomi Watts as Princess DianaThere are so many things wrong with the film, I could go on and on, but that would harsh my lingering vacation buzz. However, I feel it’s my duty to share a few thoughts, to caution others against parting with $12 to see a bad, bad movie. I would have walked out, except my feet were still aching from a day spent playing tourist.

Diana follows the formula of the Academy Award winning film The Queen, zeroing in on a brief period in a public figure’s otherwise full life. That’s where the similarities end, though. Diana is less examination than fairy tale: lonely princess falls for a commoner, and temporarily escapes her claustrophobic life in a fishbowl — but the romance is doomed. It may sound similar to the classic Audrey Hepburn/Gregory Peck film, Roman Holiday, except it’s set in London. And it’s no holiday.

The casting of Naomi Watts was… interesting. She is blonde with blue eyes, but that’s where the physical similarities to the late Princess of Wales end. Watts is petite, whereas Princess Diana stood over 6 feet in heels, so it was hard to suspend my disbelief as other characters towered over her in the film.

Watts was also given a regrettable last-millennium hairstyle. OK, Princess Diana had some big hair back in the day, but this was more like a bad wig. What was up with that?

I like Naomi Watts in most of her films (except Mulholland Drive, perhaps my least favorite movie of all time), but in this case she seems to be imitating rather than embodying the Princess. Occasionally she’d nail a mannerism and I’d sort of catch my breath — but it wasn’t enough to draw me in, because the plot was so trite.

By all accounts, Princess Diana was a complicated, demanding, and sometimes emotionally volatile woman. I’ve read that part of the appeal of Hasnat Khan was the banality of his life. During their romance, she was reportedly delighted by how many interesting people she met queuing up (in disguise) for everyday things. Was her longing for normalcy and anonymity real, or just a distraction from her many personal problems? Would the novelty have lasted had she survived? (Her behavior in the last month of her life — lounging on a yacht and alerting the press to her whereabouts to maximize exposure — suggests not.) Anyway, the film doesn’t explore this at all.

So, my recommendation is visit Seattle (yes, yes, yes) but give Diana a miss. Rain or shine, there must be better ways to spend $12. May I suggest a trip to the famous Top Pot Doughnuts for a pumpkin flavored old fashioned? Twelve dollars will get you a lot of doughnuts.

You’re welcome.

Fish Stories

Carmel beach at dusk
Carmel beach at Dusk

I am closing out a rejuvenating three-day weekend — organized by me, for me – to celebrate the transition from my old job to my new one. I slipped down to tranquil Carmel on California’s central coast.  Carmel is only a three-hour drive from San Francisco, if traffic isn’t terrible (which it wasn’t), but it feels a world away.

My first order of business on Friday was to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’d only been there once, years ago, shortly after I moved to the Bay Area. The Jellies Experience is still a major highlight, as is the Ocean’s Edge Wing, featuring live California giant kelp. There are lines of benches in front of the enormous 333,000-gallon tank, where visitors can sit back and be hypnotized by the kelp and fish gently swaying back-and-forth. It reminded me of a laundromat, where I can plop down in front of the machines and zone out for an hour as my clothes spin round-and-round — except I’ve never seen a washing machine that is 28 feet high.

I love the feeling of leaving a place of interest, having learned a few things. Here’s what I picked up at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, in no particular order:

  • An octopus can distinguish between its human handlers using its tentacles. Don’t ask me how the handlers know this, since I suspect the octopus keeps pretty mum about it.
  • Mature sand dollars position themselves on their sides, perpendicular to the sea floor, and burrow into the sand to stay upright against the ocean current. This isn’t effective for younger sand dollars, though, because they are too lightweight – so they ingest grains of sand to make themselves heavier. I had never thought of sand dollars as particularly intelligent creatures, but that seems pretty clever to me.
  • Otters are the cutest mammals ever. (Sorry panda people, but that’s a fact.) When an otter pup is orphaned, and taken in by the Aquarium, each caregiver must wear something akin to a welding helmet, so that the otter doesn’t come to recognize and bond with him/her. That’s all fine and good, but how could a human not fall head-over-heels for those baby otters? Can anything be done to make the otters less adorable and enchanting?  (Answer: No.)

The stated mission of the Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the oceans, and that theme runs through every exhibit. Everywhere you look, there are samples of plastic refuse that has been mistaken for food by fish and birds. Patrons are gently encouraged to use less plastic — do you really need to drink soda through a disposable plastic straw? – and recycle those items we can’t forgo.

lunchbox

I guess these admonitions made an impression on me, as has my friend Katie Morford’s cookbook, “Best Lunch Box Ever”, which features recipes for creative, delicious, healthy packed lunches that I can’t wait to try out. How lucky I was then, to discover a store called Eco Carmel where I went a little crazy on Saturday. I bought a new thermal lunch bag, reusable containers made of 100% BPA free, recycled plastic and stainless steel, and reusable bags for sandwiches and snacks. (Carmel Middle School alone uses 90,000 plastic baggies per year.)

Now, if I can just haul myself out of bed tomorrow morning, in time to pack my lunch…

I didn’t bring my fancy digital SLR with me to Carmel. It’s heavy – plus I preferred to just be in the moment, and not get caught up in capturing perfect photos.  Also, a few weeks ago I took a two-day smart phone photography class, and wanted to flex my newfound iPhone photo-taking skills, and test out a few new apps.

All in all, I think I did pretty well. I didn’t even have to push any little kids out of the way to capture these shots at the Aquarium.

Egg Yolk Jelly at Monterey Aquarium
Egg Yolk Jelly

 

Bright red anemone at Monterey Bay Aquarium
Anemone

 

Moon Jelly at Monterey Bay Aquarium
Moon Jelly

 

Sea Mettle Jelly at Monterey Aquarium shot with the Slow Motion app
Sea Mettle Jelly shot with the Slow Motion app

 

Mettle Jellies at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
More Mettle Jellies

 

Fair Weather

The Great Geauga County Fair, September 2013.  Ohio's oldest continuous county fair.Today was my first full day back in the Buckeye State, where I grew up.  It was very hot, and humid.  I had forgotten that late summer days could feel like this.

Plaque for the Great Geauga Count Fair, oldest continuous county fair in Ohio.My parents and I went to the Great Geauga County Fair.  First held in 1823, it is Ohio’s oldest continuous county fair – uninterrupted during the Civil War, Spanish American War, two World Wars and the Great Depression – and is one of the oldest existing agricultural fairs in the nation.

"Beef:  It's what's for dinner."  Sign posted outside a livestock barn at the Great Geauga County Fair, Ohio's oldest continuous county fair.  September 2013.
Sign posted outside a livestock barn

Students who participate in 4-H and whose livestock compete in the Fair are always excused from school on the Friday before, and pretty much stay on site for the entire Labor Day weekend.  Aside from feeding the animals and cleaning out their stalls, they sleep in barns on top of hay bales, shower on site, and eat concession food for four days straight. Then they sell their animals, and proudly post the price-per-pound above their stalls.

I am not sure I could sell a cow I’d raised from a calf – they have those big brown eyes, and long eyelashes — knowing it would end up at the butcher shop.  Then again I didn’t grow up on a farm.  Those 4-H kids are incredibly dedicated.

After spending four hours with cows, I’m sticking with salad for dinner.

When I was young, my family always attended the Fair on Sunday after church, when we were guaranteed to bump into friends.  I haven’t been back to the fairgrounds in nearly 20 years, but even today we encountered several folks we knew.

The day was cut a little short by sudden, heavy rain, but I still managed to squeeze in deep-fried local Swiss cheese on a stick, roasted corn on the cob, and a funnel cake – more carbs than I probably consumed all summer.

Despite the precipitous sugar crash I experienced when we got home (nap!), I have no regrets!

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True Confessions of a Judgemental Traveler

Sleeping woman wearing a travel neck pillowThere was an extended period in my life when I traveled often by plane. Transcontinental flights, too. So I am someone who appreciates the need for comfort when taking to the friendly skies. I keep it casual, but I have my standards.

No linen or silk. No skirts or pantyhose, or complicated hairstyles that get mussed by burlap upholstery or an ice-cold airstream pointed squarely at the top of one’s head. When I fly overseas for personal travel, I may wear yoga pants… but never sweats. And if I take off my shoes, I’ll absolutely be wearing a clean pair of socks. Under no circumstances will I be seen sporting flip-flops on an airplane.

I get regular pedicures, that’s not the reason. I guess I’m just trying to pay it forward; if I don’t make my seatmates look at my feet, maybe I won’t be forced to look at theirs? (Ever spent hours cozied up to a barefooted stranger with toenail fungus? If yes, you’ll agree that sock-wearing is a good policy.)

Buster Posey at bat
Buster Posey

Because these days my trips (especially business ones) tend to be domestic, and rarely more than six hours each direction, I don’t see the need to dress down too much. Even if I didn’t run the risk of bumping into colleagues on every flight I take, you never know right? I could meet my Mr. Right on that plane. Or even better, my Mr. Buffet or Mr. Spielberg or Mr. Clinton. Or maybe even Mr. Buster Posey!

Last week I traveled from San Francisco to Charlotte, North Carolina. As I meandered around the airport after being scanned and swabbed for explosives, I took a long, hard look at my fellow passengers and was frankly horrified. Since when does a five-hour flight warrant wearing flannel pajama bottoms, an old t-shirt and flip-flops?

I don’t get it. I spend eight hours each workday with my lower half tucked beneath a desk or conference room table, and I do it wearing business casual. Why is loungewear required for a measly five-hour flight?

Excuse me, sir. Are you flying to Charlotte, or on your way to clean out your garage?

The funniest part: Many of my fellow passengers that day chose to accessorize their sleepwear/travel ensembles with inflatable neck pillows. Meaning, they didn’t carry the pillows under their arms or in their hands, or stuff them into their carry on bags. They wore them around their necks as they strolled around the concourse.

This must signal either profound laziness, or extreme exhaustion resulting in a complete disregard for street cred. It was like being surrounded by narcoleptics, who could nod off at any time.

Maybe United Airlines could institute a new rule – all inflatable sleeping accoutrements must be safely stowed under the seat in front of you, until the plane has reached cruising altitude.

Passengers, help United help you!

Anyone else noticed this phenomenon?

On the Seventh Day, I Rested

Today is Sunday — day seven of my caffeine boycott, and the first since I went cold turkey that I didn’t suffer from an annoying headache at any point.  I closed out this first week of my real food cleanse, with a sort of spiritual detox at the Steep Ravine campground in Mount Tamalpais State Park.

Steep Ravine is a stunning place, with a rich history aptly described by fellow blogger Donald Fortescue.  The first time I reserved a Steep Ravine cabin, I think it cost $35 per night.  Over time the price has increased to $100, but a weekend there is still worth every penny.

The cabins are comfortable, but have no electricity or indoor plumbing. Built in the 1940s, they are not well insulated but each features a wood burning stove.

There is plenty to do at Steep Ravine… or nothing to do, if that’s your thing. There are beaches and tide pools for exploring, and cliffs for scrambling. There are even some hippy-heavy hot springs when there’s a negative tide.  You can avail yourself of them if you’re an early riser, and comfortable with the human form, if you know what I mean.  (If not, you may prefer to sleep in.)

This trip, I chose to just… be.  In fact, I think this was my first visit to Steep Ravine when I didn’t even listen to the radio or pop in a CD.  I just tuned in to the wind, and the waves crashing into the cliffs below my cabin, read a lot (Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin), napped and enjoyed the view.

The temperature was in the low 60’s during the day but the wind was fierce. There was a surf advisory in effect, which meant I avoided the beach and took photos instead.

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Changing Places

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View from Kensington Palace.

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It had been a long time since I’d been to London. A LONG time.  Some things haven’t changed.  If you close your eyes and throw a rock in any London shopping district, you’ll hit a Russell & Bromley shoe store — just like in the good old days.  (Think Gap stores in the U.S.)  Russell & Bromley has lovely shoes… and the boots. Oh my, the boots!

Hobbs and Jigsaw are still in business too, enticing vain and materialistic females like myself with their beautiful shoes and clothes at ridiculous prices, thanks to crummy exchange rates.

London taxi drivers are still courteous and friendly, and so well-educated they need never ask their passengers for directions.  (San Francisco taxi drivers, I’m talking to YOU.)  My driver from King’s Cross station not only remembered the residential street of my little Kensington hotel… he also knew the street number off the top of his head.

Walk down any London street, and seven of ten passers-by will be either American, or speaking a language other than English.  London remains one of the most culturally diverse cities on earth, so if you dream of luxuriating in the sounds of Dr. Doolittle or Mary Poppins…. You should probably just rent a DVD instead.

Everywhere you look, there’s history.  That’s always been my favorite part.  That, and the taramosalata – a Greek dip made of salted and cured cod roe, lemon juice, olive oil and vinegar.  It’s nearly impossible to find in America — even Greek restaurants in the U.S. seldom offer it — but it’s everywhere in Great Britain.

Some things probably haven’t changed, but I’ve just become more aware of them as I’ve matured.  For example, it occurred to me on this trip – now that I have a bum, 40-something knee that is practically devoid of cartilage – that London restaurants all house their restrooms downstairs.  That is, down a steep, winding staircase with tiny steps.  At the end of a long day of pounding the pavement, a visit to the loo feels a lot like a forced march.

I do not understand the origins of the term “skip to the loo” but I’ll tell you this; It isn’t British.

Still, there have been changes since my last visit.  At pubs these days, you are unlikely to get traditional English peas as a side dish.  Instead, your fish and chips or burger will be accompanied by puree of peas.  Sometimes (i.e. at the Britannia pub, Kensington) the puree is yummy thanks to garlic and spices mixed in.  But in other cases, when it’s straight puree, it’s decidedly Gerber-esque.

The only change that truly disappointed me in London was the infiltration of American chain stores.  On just a few blocks of Kensington High Street I encountered a Gap, an Urban Outfitters,  a TJ Max, an American Apparel, three Starbucks and a Pizza Hut.  There was even a Whole Foods, with prominent signage urging patrons to order their Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce early.  Huh?  Like I said, there are loads of  American ex-pats in London.

On the King’s Road off Sloane Square there’s both an Anthropologie and (gulp) a Banana Republic.  A little piece of my soul died when I saw that.

At its core, much of St. Andrews remains unchanged; The University is 600 years old, and the small town is full of medieval ruins so modernization isn’t a priority.  There’s still just one cinema, but alas there is now also an H&M, a Subway and a Starbucks.  Today’s St. Andrews pub grub includes truffle fries and gnocchi.  Gnocchi!

Progress is not all bad, however.  At the renowned Thai restaurant Nahm-jim — new since my last visit, and deemed the best Thai restaurant in Great Britain by angry chef Gordon Ramsey – I had something called “haggis bombs”, fried wontons filled with that special Scottish meat concoction.  They were delicious!

St. Andrews has always been a tourist destination, because it’s the Home of Golf.  But its transformation to a shopping and foodie paradise is more recent.  I blame Wills & Kate.

I agonized about bringing my monster, back-breaking camera on this trip.  What if I lost it, or dropped it?  Luckily, I didn’t and I didn’t… and I have the pictures to prove it.