A Long Weekend in London

Dropping Jane at Regent's University London.With our daughter heading to school in London, my wife and I decided we should be there to drop her off at school, just like we have since she started preschool 17 years ago. The only problem? My wife is a preschool teacher and taking too much time away from her classroom at the beginning of the school year is not a recipe for a successful year. But, is a long weekend enough? Yes!

Our weekend started at 2.00am on Friday morning with final preparations before our shuttle driver arrived at 4.00am for the two-plus hour drive to JFK. In planning this trip, we went back and forth with a morning flight versus the typical overnight flight. We opted for the morning flight even though it would make it a long travel day, we’d have some sleep in a bed in London, ready to start the day exploring the city. We landed just before midnight, cleared immigration, and hopped the train into central London. Our ten-minute cab ride from Victoria Station to our hotel turned out to be a history lesson from our driver, Jim. A history lesson on US Presidents! We checked into our hotel, the Thistle Hotel Trafalgar Square, very quickly, as there are no queues, sorry, lines, in the wee hours of the morning.

After a full continental breakfast at the hotel, we were out the door. The top priority was a new SIM card for my daughter’s phone. With some helpful advice from one of her friends who studied in London last year, we purchased the card from Three. We chose Three over Vodafone, because the data plan on Three works throughout Me and Eliz at Big BenEurope, while Vodafone’s only works in the UK. Since my daughter is planning to travel during her time at school, it just made more sense. Within minutes, she was up and running with her new data plan and we were off to Covent Garden. The area was bustling this Saturday morning with shoppers, street performers, and folks enjoying a hot cuppa at the various cafes. One of the street performers that we watched was a man in a space-age suit that appeared to be floating above the ground. He seemed to enjoy poking fun at people who didn’t stop to watch him rather than interacting with those that did. Our next stop was one on my list, Ladurée. The luxury bakery was founded in 19th century Paris and now has scores of shops around the world. They are famous for their macarons. After enjoying a couple of these little treats, we were off for more school necessities. None of which had to do with learning or schoolwork, but was all about beauty and fashion.

Now that all of the important stuff was out of the way, we were free to see the sights. We started at one of my favorite places in London: Trafalgar Square. Since the last time I was here, another monument has been added. It is Really Good. Seriously, that is what it is called. It looks like an 18 foot tall Facebook “Like” button. And I do like it. There is always plenty of things going on in the square, from pavement artists drawing in chalk on the north side, to various musicians playing instruments and singing, to little ones chasing the pigeons, it is a great place to people watch and enjoy the day. We wandered down to the Thames and crossed it to get to the London Eye, and then back across to Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster Abby. We continued on our walk to the Victoria Memorial and Buckingham Palace. Then, it was back down The Mall to the National Gallery. After a short rest at our hotel, our day concluded with dinner at a popular Soho restaurant. We covered over nine miles on foot and were able to soak up the atmosphere of the city.

Sunday was the day my wife was waiting for, a trip to the Tower of London. She loves the monarchy and the history. It was amazing to walk through the castle grounds just as monarchs and traitors had centuries before, climb the narrow spiral stairs with the stone so worn they haven’t been level for generations, or stand on tall castle walls just as soldiers had in the past. We only spent a couple of hours there, but easily could have spent the day. After a light lunch, it was time to take our daughter to school. We spent a couple of hours touring the campus in Regent’s Park and exploring the area along Marylebone Road past Madame Tussauds to Baker Street. We said our goodbyes and headed back down to Leicester Square for dinner.

Monday was our last day in London, but our flight wasn’t scheduled until 5.05pm, giving us plenty of time in the morning to make a few stops we had put off or to revisit a certain luxury bakery for some treats to bring home with us. All in all, we spent 65 hours on the ground in London and we were busy for most of them. Would we have liked to have another few days, of course, but isn’t that usually the case? I would love to go to the British Museum and Tate Modern, but we’ll do that when we visit our daughter later in the term.

Me at the Victoria MemorialHere are a few recommendations to consider. The morning flight over did make for a long travel day, but we were fresh when we woke up the first morning in London, not groggy from only getting off and on sleep on an overnight flight. There is the added expense of an additional night at the hotel, but we truly believe it is worth it. The later flight home was also nice, too. We flew Norwegian, by the way. Another tip: If you have a disability, ask about discounted admission fees. My daughter made fun of my wife, because she had to pay full admission to Tower of London while she got a student discount and I got a disability discount. When we arrived to pick up our tickets we had purchased online, the customer service rep said she was confused as to why we purchased three tickets. She explained that I was able to bring an aide to assist me (and given the unevenness of the floors and steps, I did need that help.) She then refunded the purchase price of my wife’s ticket, giving her the last laugh on our daughter. I also received a discounted fare for the train to the airport. Lastly, our hotel was outstanding. The Thistle Hotel Trafalgar Square is in a great location and within close walking distance to Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, West End theatres, and, obviously, Trafalgar Square. It also had the greatest shower ever.

 

 

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Why Do I Bother?

Had a 9.00am appointment yesterday (Friday, 9 July) with my glaucoma doctor at Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia.  We usually schedule appointments that early for the cornea and retina doc’s in Bala, since Jane’s school is on the way and we can drop her off, so I guess we were in that frame of mind when we made the appointment (because Jane has been on summer break for a month…)  I’m not sure why I even needed this appointment since I was just there in May.

We left the house at 8.15am and traffic was surprisingly light.  Even the road work on the Girard Point Bridge didn’t slow us down.  Things were going great until we were about 25 yards from the parking garage at Wills Eye.  A minivan was at the entrance and the driver seemed like she didn’t want to go in.  Once she noticed us, she proceeded slowly.  She got her parking ticket out of the machine and continued very slowly up into the garage.  We always like to park on the top floor, which is the seventh, because it is the only floor that you don’t have to go to the ground floor, get off the elevator, and then get on a different elevator.  On seven, you walk right into the hospital and grab an elevator to either nine (low vision,) ten (cornea,) or eleven (glaucoma.)

Anyway, after a couple of floors, this lady has a parade of cars behind her.  She sees an open spot and tries to park.  She pulls in at the wrong angle and sees she will hit the car on her left.  Backs up, but doesn’t change her turn at all.  Tries to pull in exactly the same way, then backs up again because she sees she still doesn’t have clearance on her left.  Horns start honking.  People start yelling.  She then just stops.  Seriously.  I ask, “Who’s driving that car, Stevie Wonder?”  She is in the middle of the driveway, blocking us and everyone behind us.  More honking.  More yelling.  Eliz did neither.  She pulls away from the space to give us and everyone else room to get past her.  At this point, I’m regretting coming to this appointment.  We get to seven and head inside.

We sign-in on the eleventh floor and have a seat.  Eliz starts to read out the letters for the word scramble in the newspaper.  My mind is not in shape for figuring these out (I was up until 2.30am researching colognes, perfumes, and other hair and skin care products that can be drop shipped to our customers — watch for them soon on ForYourSalon.com.)  After a couple of minutes we get called to the desk to confirm my info and to pay the copay.  As the receptionist is running our credit card (we always pay by credit card at doctors’ appointments because we’ve been burned in the past by having to prove we paid,) she is distracted from another receptionist talking on her mobile phone.  She realizes as she’s handing Eliz the slip to sign that she charged us $25, not the correct amount of $20.  “Oh, I’m sorry, I’ve charged you $25.  You don’t mind if we just put the extra $5 on your account, do you?  It really is a pain to void it,” she says.  Eliz says okay and signs the slip.  We head back to the waiting area.  I’m more annoyed now.  I’m not sure if it was just the receptionist I was annoyed with or me for not saying anything about it.  Eliz and I discuss what just happened and then Eliz starts back on the sudoku.  I close my eyes and wait to be called back.

After some time, we get called and head to a room.  The tech takes us to a room we’ve never been in and begins to ask how things are going.  I tell her the same old story.  She then asks about my meds.  I begin to tell her about the eye drops I’m on, while she is reading the meds that were written in my chart from the last appointment.  She interrupts me before I get one med out of my mouth.  She says, “Are you still on Predforte?”   I answer no and again begin to tell her what I’m on.  She interrupts again asks about another steroid, similar to Predforte (but not the one I’m on.)  Again, I say no and say I’m on Durezol, but pronounce it Durzol.  She then says, “Do you mean…” and says something with about something that begins with a “D,” but is about six syllables longer than Dur ez ol.  Eliz and I say no.  This goes on for another couple of minutes and we move on to the next eye drop.  Since it is the newest one, I had ripped the top of the box off and brought it with since I couldn’t see to read the name.  I then have to explain to her several times how it is applied (though it is an eye drop, the cornea doc told me to put it on my finger — it is very thick — and, with my eye closed, rub it along the seam where my lids meet.)  She wasn’t getting it…  The last eye drop was an easy one.  She writes it down and has a look at my eyes.

She asks me to cover my left eye while she shines a light into my right.  She asks if I can see it, which I can.  She moves the light back a foot or two and asks again.  This time I can’t see it.  Okay, now onto the left eye and the eye chart.  I was happy that it was a different chart, one I haven’t memorized.  “Do you see that,” she asks while showing the big E.  I tell her yes, it is the E.  The next line was a C and a D, which I also am able to read.  I can’t really see the next line, so she hands me the pinholes.  Still no luck.  She says okay and takes the pinholes from me and writes somethings in my chart.  While she’s doing this, I continue to try to see the 20/100 line.  One of the letters in the middle looks like an H or an N.  I ask if that is true and she says, “Yes, it’s an H.  I’ll give you a plus one.”  Hooray.  We then have to go back to the waiting room until there is a room the doctor can see us in.  I’m happy to get away from that know-it-all tech.

After a short wait, we head to a different exam room.  The tech this time is William, who is 43057895743759385473% better than the first tech, puts some drops in my eyes and Dr. Pro walks in.  He greets us and asks me a few questions.  The first couple of answers where fairly short, like, “yeah, it is about the same as the last time I was here.”  He then asks me another question, but after I say about five words, he begins talking to William.  I stop talking.  He says go on.  I start again and he starts talking to William again.  He says continue, but after a few words, his mobile goes off and he checks it to see that it is a doctor that he needs info from (Eliz later told me that he had an emergency surgery scheduled at 10.30am, so it probably had to do with that.)  He hands the phone to William to get the info and asks me to put my head in the machine so he can have a look.  Let’s face it, I really didn’t have anything good to say, and even if I did, I don’t think he was really interested.  He has a look and then takes the IOP of each eye (13 in the right, 8 in the left.)  William has finished on the phone and Dr. Pro starts giving him the info of what he saw in my eyes (besides the blank stare back.)

Dr. Pro then tells me things on the glaucoma side look good.  He says he believes the vision issues I’m having aren’t glaucoma related and it is best for Dr. Ayres (cornea) and Dr. Garg (retina) to figure out was the issue is.  News flash, no one seems to know why my vision came around for those ten days in April after the surgery and then went bye-bye.  Not me, my doctors, or even that voodoo woman named Phyllis.  We shake hands and head to a different reception desk to checkout.

We get to the desk and the receptionist is finishing up with a woman.  When she is done, she says to us, “I’ll be right with you, I’ve just have to send a fax to a doctor.”  Her tone made me believe she meant: You’re done, you’re not as important as a doctor, so just wait a few minutes.  After about five minutes, she starts to help us, but notices the lady before us is still there.  The receptionist asks her if she had a question.  The lady says she was just waiting for an appointment card for her next visit.  The receptionist apologized for not giving her one and writes one out for her.  Now it is our turn.  She reads the form Eliz handed her and says, “You’ll have to call back on Monday.  The doctor wants you to have a Fields test and I can’t schedule that now.”  So, we wasted our time standing there waiting.

Let’s recap:  We wasted nearly three hours (an hour and a half at Wills, plus travel time to and from) on this appointment and wasted over $43 (the $20 copay, the $5 credit we’ll supposedly get for next time, and over $18 for parking — that is with validation, otherwise it would have been $22.)  I told Jake the night before it was going to be a waste of time.  I only wish I could use these Nostradamus powers to select the correct Powerball numbers.

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The Blind Leading the Blind

Last week, we invited my parents over for dinner.  Eliz was making ribs on the grill, which both of them like, and there was more than plenty for all of us.  (Jake ended up having a few, but Jane was okay to pass on them.)  Two full racks and we still didn’t eat them all (though in eight months ago I probably would have finished them off.)

My parents hadn’t been here in a long time, since we usually go to them (and my mother doesn’t like doing the drive) and my dad has been interested in seeing our house again.  He is becoming more forgetful over the past months, which even he recognizes.  I have been complaining (hey, it’s what I do best) lately about the state of our house and he wanted to see it first hand, so we picked them up and brought them over.

Since we’ve moved Salon Supplies + Interiors and ForYourSalon.com out of the now condemned rental space in Folcroft and work it primarily from our home office, our home has been overwhelmed with computers, beauty supplies, and even some salon equipment (hydraulic styling chairs make a unique second row of seating to watch movies or sporting events on the big screen.)  Anyway, as we receive orders from manufacturers and vendors, we bring them home, sort them, and add them to our inventory.  If I walked into our kitchen at this moment, I’d be shocked if there wasn’t at least a couple of beauty related items in there, if not a case or three.  (I had to look…  Only one item in the kitchen — a bowl bracket for a Belvedere 3100 shampoo bowl which we are shipping via UPS Ground to Hawaii.  I’m not sure how that works, but that’s another story.)  Within arms length of me at this moment, there is a sample of Fabulous Hair Argan Oil Plus (which we may start selling) and Ship-Shape Liquid Professional Surface Cleaner (which has to be added to our inventory on ForYourSalon.com.)

My parents entered through our garage (which up until yesterday, we hadn’t parked in since late March) and noticed some of our inventory which doesn’t need climate control temps, but sells well enough to not have to run to Springfield (where we have some leased space) and bring it back to ship it.  They also saw boxes of business documents from the past three or four years.  Through in a few of our personal items like bikes, snow shovels, gardening tools, toys — well, you get the idea.  Did I mention it is a three car garage?  Of course, most of what my dad focused on was inventory.  He was surprised.  We walked through the laundry room into the kitchen and kids greeted us.  The kids and my parents talked for a couple of minutes, then I continued to walk around the house with my dad.  We’ve been here 17 years and we are well overdue for some new paint, new rugs, and a redo for the hardwood floors, which, even with his diminished eye sight, my dad noticed.

We walked out the front door and he had a look around the front and side yards, which our lawn guy had just taken care of the past week, so it looked nice.  All along the way, I was near my dad making sure he didn’t trip over a root of a tree or into a flower bed.  It seemed funny, because it is just like what Eliz or the kids do for me when we are out and about.  The difference being that I’ve already stumbled on the root or into the flower bed or hit my head on a low branch and know where not to walk…  As we headed back in the front door, I point out the small step onto the landing by the front door and then the step into the house.

Back inside, my dad wants a look upstairs.  We go up the front stairs since there is two small landings (the backstairs is one long run and I wouldn’t have been comfortable heading up that way.)  He looked in Jake’s room, then Jane’s, then our “guest” room.  It really isn’t for guests, but has an elliptical machine, exercise bike, and four drying racks where we dry most of our clothes.  He recognizes the bureau in there from our house in Wallingford.  When we get to our bedroom, my dad also recognizes the wall units in the sitting area, also from our house in Wallingford.  As we head back down the stairs, I want to stay close to my dad, but not too close where I might bump him or kick him (I have trouble judging distances and am constantly reaching further than I have to for door knobs, light switches, etc. and jamming my fingers.)  We make it down safely, then eat dinner.

After dinner, he wants a look in the basement.  There aren’t any handrails down those steps since we removed them to get some shelving down there.  I walk in front of my dad and go down backwards so I can tell him where the landings are.  I show him the inventory that we have there on one side of the basement, but not the 17 years of “stuff” on the other side.  Eliz has the inventory side pretty organized at this point and my dad is amazed how it looks like a little warehouse.

We head back up the stairs, my dad, then me.  Again, I’m close in case he stumbles.  My dad is 92 and a fall for him could be catastrophic.  I start thinking that me leading him around and trying to tell him about obstacles was like the blind leading the blind.  Literally.

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