Wednesday, May 27, 2009

2009 Open British Professional Latin Championship

Tonight is the hottest night in the ballroom. And I don't just mean "hot" because it's the Latin, I mean hot because the entire place is packed to the gills. The Pro Latin event at Blackpool draws the biggest crowd of the week.

I went down and watched the first round and took a bunch of pictures, trying to get shots of every couple from the USA I could find plus anyone else who caught my eye. There was a Japanese couple, Shota Sesoko & Shizuka Hara, who I really liked. They caught my eye in the first round and I was delighted to see them in for a few more rounds. They weren't the highest finishing Japanese couple, but they got as far as the 48. They were the first Japanese couple that I've ever really liked in Latin. It was their Jive that pulled me in -- energetic but not over the top, presented with a lot of happiness that seemed to come from a sense of genuine enjoyment rather than theatrical hamming it up.

It was fun trying to take pictures, I have a whole bunch to process but will stick a couple of the best here when they're ready.

Anyway, to me most everyone is good, and I'm not Latin-trained, so I can't distinguish "stand outs" except for when it comes to things like costumes and personality. And besides, by the time you get to the final (or even the semi) they are all so amazingly good! You will hear things like "Leunis is by far the best girl in Latin today" or "Melia is the best on the floor," or "I really didn't like his new partner" but really I can't truly see or say why one is "better" or "worse" than the other. I can see that they are different, but not what makes one better or even what would make one stand out more than the other. I just watched the final with delight, taking in the costumes, the energy, the performances, and enjoying the whole thing.

As expected, Michal Maltowski & Joanna Leunis from Poland won, but Ricardo Cocci & Yulia Zorguychenko from the US beat them in the Jive. That was certainly a thrilling moment.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

2009 Blackpool Under-21 Ballroom and Amateur Latin

I really hope no one is expecting a real report on these events. I don't like to write too much about actual dancing because people's feelings get hurt so easily, and there get to be snappish arguments that go something like "well you would never even make the first cut at Blackpool so who are you to say anything?!" So the bottom line is there was dancing, a lot of it, and even the not so great dancing was pretty good. The numbers and level of competitors at Blackpool is high, I'm guessing many hobbyist competitors in the US have no idea how big things can be. For instance, the Amateur Latin had 360 couples listed in the program. Competitors had to dance two qualifying rounds, one earlier in the week, and one the morning of the actual competition. Well over 200 couples were cut just to weed the field down to "the first round proper." And once they got started, they still had a total of six rounds to dance if they got all the way through to the final. That second qualifier was at 11:30am, and the final for the whole thing was danced at 11:30pm. It is a long grueling marathon, and some otherwise fine dancers just don't have the physical, emotional, and mental stamina to go that long. And some otherwise fine dancers just don't have what it takes to get noticed and promoted in the early rounds. It's a tremendous event, really.

Tonight the rounds for the Amateur Latin were interspersed with the Under-21 Ballroom. This was much smaller, only 175 couples/six rounds of competition. This event always makes me smile. The Under-21s have so much energy and raw talent, and the floor is a swirl of sweet and lovely dresses. In the early rounds, though, you can really see who is a "young" Under-21 and still dancing like a Junior (regardless of actual age), and who is making that transition to "adult" dancing and really stepping it up. My favorite couple in the final (quite possibly because of her awesome raspberry sorbet and neon mango dress), Jack Beale & Karolina Szmit (England), have only been dancing together for a very few months and already can produce this great a result! I hope that, unlike many young couples, they stay together for a while and I can see how they've developed next year.

I had watched the first round proper of the Amateur Latin in the afternoon, and was completely impressed by Alexi Silde & Anna Fristova (Russia). I liked the way their performance energy was directed strongly toward each other, toward actually dancing with each other while acknowledging that the crowd was there and watching, rather than each playing up to the audience alone. Their basic movement is very very smooth, I saw them dance a long series of cha cha locks across the floor and they looked like they were gliding on wheels. Several people told me that they were "supposed" to win, but this is Blackpool and all kinds of odd things can and do happen. During the final, Alexi went over and hugged Stefano Di Fillippo. I had no idea why, until the very end of the event.

So anyway, Stefano's partner is the truly awesome and lovely Anna Melnikova. As much as I admire Anna Fristova, Melnikova was the best woman on the floor and also exciting to watch. Stefano didn't do much for me, though. He's a muscular broad-shouldered looking guy (compared to the rest of the Latin dancers, at least) and he has to take care not to look hulking. He did dance great in the semi-final, but in the final he got really emotional and spent the whole time hamming it up for his friends in the audience, sometimes it seemed to me that he lost track of Anna. She handled it great, though, and just kept on dancing fabulously.

And now for the result and some explanations. It turns out that Silde & Fristova didn't win, and in fact ended up in third place due to a Rule 10 tie with the second place couple from Croatia. Di Fillippo & Melnikova won, and right afterwards the MC, Marcus Hilton, announced that this was Di Fillippo & Melnikova's last competition together. So that explains the hugging in the final. It was good for them to go out on a high note together. Melnikova already has a new partner, according to what is going around the Empress Ballroom she will be dancing with none other than Slavik Kryklyvyy.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted...

Sometimes you just need a vacation from your vacation. So, it being a gorgeous sunny day, I piled into the car with the friends I'm staying with, and we took a drive south from Blackpool.

Blackpool's seaside is a pit, kind of like Atlantic City in the 1980's (maybe even still today, who knows, I haven't been there in like 20 years). Venturing south along the Irish Sea, though, through the towns of St. Anne's and Lytham, is a treat. There are very high sand dunes along the coast at St. Anne's, and Lytham features lots of really nice brick Victorian buildings, and cute shops on the main street. We walked around for a while and had lunch at an outdoor cafe'. I got a little sunburned.

Later that evening I caught the final four rounds of the Senior Latin and the Professional Rising Star Standard. My favorite Senior Latin couple from last year, from Spain, did not dance. I was sorry not to see them again because the lady in that couple was so strong and sexy and soft and mature and classy -- all the things I like to see in a lady dancer. The quality level of the couples improves every year; the friend I was sitting with turned to me at one point and said "it's so nice to see adults dancing Latin."

The big event of the day was the Professional Rising Star Standard. I noticed right away that former Blackpool and World Amateur Standard Champion Edita Daniute was back with a new partner. Judging from his name, Angelo Madonia, he's probably from Italy. They danced very well, and won the event. There was an Australian couple in the final, Matthew Rooke & Anna Longmore, who I also quite liked. The lady had a white dress with large wide silver metallic strips on it -- a sort of "mirror ball" dress. I loved it, but I can't say it was universally admired.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lazy Sunny Sunday

Nothing to report today. I didn't have tickets for the Amateur Rising Star events and wasn't highly motivated to attend, so I puttered around and went for a long walk along the seafront promenade. It was so clear I could see mountains in the north. I also did some fabric shopping -- or rather looking -- but am still trying to decide what I want to purchase.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

2009 Blackpool Professional Team Match

I love the Team Match at Blackpool. It really kicks things off, it gets the crowd going and features some amazing dancing.

This year there the four teams and their "introductions" were:

Their captain was Oliver Wessel-Therhorn, and so they did a pun on his name with their theme of "Ollywood." Each couple was meant to represent a different famous dance team. Standard dancers Stanislaw Massold & Christine Deck were Gene Kelly & Debbie Reynolds in "Singing in the Rain," and danced out with umbrellas. Sascha Karabey & Natascha Karabey were Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers. I missed who Evgenij Vosnyk & Oksana Nikiforva were representing, but they were in western cowboy style outfits. Perhaps they were Roy Rodgers & Dale Evans? Last, but by no means least, Franco Formica & Oxana Lebedew were Rudolf Nureyev & Margot Fonteyn. Franco was shirtless, in white ballet tights, and had a white feather in his hair that made me think of Nureyev in Le Corsaire.

This year the couples did a "Style Swap" -- the Latin couples came out dressed for Standard, and vice-versa. Arunas Bizokas & Katusha Demidova danced cha cha, Victor Fung & Anna Mikhed did jive, and Riccardo Cocchi & Yulia Zagoruychenko an over-the-top tango. And finally, Eugene Katsevman & Maria Manusova danced quickstep.

The Italian women were all dressed up very chic in black, and were fine ladies out walking their dogs. Each of their partners was in a full-on furry dog costume, walking on a leash on all fours! Mirko Gozzoli was a St. Bernard, and he spent a good deal of time marking his territory. There was also a bulldog, a poodle, and a chihuahua who walked on his hind legs. At one point all the dogs got loose and hilarity ensued, including the St. Bernard running upstairs to the balcony and barking like crazy.

Great Britain
The British team's theme was "circus," and the team's parade included captain Robert Grover dressed as a Ringmaster, break dancers, clowns, a rhythmic gymnast, and a guy doing stunts on a small bicycle. Each lady on the team did a short dance with an animal -- jiving chimpanzee, tangoing lion, and a gorilla (not sure what dance, think it was paso). At the end of each dance, the animal's costume head was removed to reveal an important British coach. For example, the foxtrotting elephant was revealed by Hazel Newberry to be no other than Sammy Stopford.

After all the merriment, the teams changed into their proper dance clothing and the match itself commenced. The final scores were:

USA - 297.4
Italy - 293.5
Germany - 292.9
Great Britain - 290.0

This is the second year in a row that the USA has won the team match.

Friday, May 22, 2009

And We're Off!

Today is the first day of the marathon of dance incredibleness that is the Blackpool Dance Festival. Competition actually started yesterday, with the qualifying rounds for the Amateur Rising Star events, so today is the first day I actually went to watch. A bunch of people I know were dancing in the Senior (Over-35) Standard, so I went down to watch from the first round. Interspersed with the Senior Standard was the Professional Rising Star Latin, so I got to see a few rounds of that, too.

A pair of teachers from Dance Spectrum, the studio where I take lessons, were competing at Blackpool for the first time in the Latin event. I usually see Danielle Gozzi & Cecilia Giovacchini working with their students, so it was a real treat for me to see them competing in a big event. Cecilia's dress was stunning -- and she bought it off the rack the day before at the competition itself! I thought they danced really well, giving a really genuine performance, and was pleased to see them dance three rounds to get to the top 96.

Also appearing in the Latin, and getting through to the semi-final, was Kimberley Mitchell. She used to dance in the United States with Bill Sparks, and came out to the US again a couple of years ago for a one-off with Clive Uter. Her new partner's name is Christian Polanc. Kimberley looked great, I really liked her dress and her style was very fit and classy. I enjoyed seeing her dance again.

The Standard started with 226 couples, and seven US couples made the cut to the second round. Five got through to the "round of 48", one to the quarter-final, and a US couple even made the final! I was impressed with everyone's dancing, particularly with Evelyn Lafferty and Jody Frease. Both of these ladies have developed their stretch and poise and looked very composed and smooth yet strong.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Backpool Hoy!

Today Mom flew back to New Hampshire from Edinburgh, and I took a train down to Blackpool. It took about three hours, and I passed through some of the most lovely bucolic countryside scenery I have ever seen. There were green hills with yellow flowers, young lambs gamboling in the grass, contented cows chewing their cud, and picturesque ruins.

I arrived at my home for the next week and a half, the wonderfully comfortable Coast Apartments, and was warmly greeted by host Steve Livesay. Steve and his wife Karen renovated this old set of flats, putting in brand modern appliances -- including a clothes washer/dryer! I immediately started the first of three loads of laundry :) The first year I came to Blackpool I stayed in a place where we had to bring our own towels, and had to put money in a meter to get electricity. None of that at here, thank goodness.

My good friends Turtle & Ava had just arrived, and were staying in the flat upstairs. Turtle and I walked down to the Winter Gardens to collect our tickets, check out the lay of the land, and do a little shopping. There were qualifying heats for the Amateur Rising Star events today, but I really needed a day off to regroup before diving in to the Dance Festival. Sure, all I'll be doing all week is watch, but there's a LOT of dancing to see and it's very easy for me to go into complete overload to the point where I don't really see or appreciate what is in front of me. So, time for a good meal, a whisky and soda, and a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


For our final day in Edinburgh, Mom and I visited a cluster of museums near where we were staying. The first was the Museum of Edinburgh, and featured an impressive collection of silver. Across the street was a museum that focused on the lives of ordinary working-class people through the centuries. Called "The People's Story," it showed what their families and living conditions were like, what they did for leisure, and what kind of jobs they had. It was fascinating to know that as late as 1968 there were families of 10 living in a single room. At that time the city had public washing facilities where people could do their laundry, these facilities had these large racks that you could hang your clothes on and then push into a super heated cabinet that would dry out the clothes in about 20 minutes.

From there we visited the crazy modern Scottish Parliament. We were able to go inside the assembly room, and noticed that the back walls are decorated with silhouettes of whisky bottles! Another really interesting feature of the building are the stepped window bays that stick out from each member's office. Each bay has an upholstered bench, and windows that open, and was designed to be a place for private peaceful contemplation for the members.

We wanted to tour the Palace of the Holyroodhouse, but it was closed for a government function. We were able to tour the Queen's Gallery in the gatehouse, though, and took in an exhibition of informal paintings of various Kings and Queens of England. My favorite one was by Landseer, of a young Queen Victoria going out riding with some of her ministers. She was very young when she came to the throne, and I think many people these days forget how glamorous she was.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Of Castles and Witches

Today's big event was touring Edinburgh Castle, located on a cold and windy hill that has held a fortress of some sort or other since, oh, about 600. The first royal castle there was built around 1130. I went to the bathroom in a tower that had been built in 1356. Well, actually, it had been mostly destroyed in 1573 but then rebuilt. No matter how you figure it, this place is old! (The visitors' bathrooms, though, are thoroughly modern and well-heated, which was a plus because it was a blustery day with off-and-on rain interspersed with outbreaks of sunshine -- in short, typical Scottish springtime weather.) The castle also houses the Honours of Scotland (the Scottish Crown along with a sword and sceptre) and the Stone of Destiny (also known as the Stone of Scone). The Stone of Destiny is basically a plain oblong rock that supposedly came from the Holy Land, via Ireland where it was blessed by St. Patrick, to Scotland where it was used in coronation ceremonies. That is, until the English hauled it off to London in 1296 where it sat in Westminster Abbey for 700 years, despite them saying in 1328 that they would give it back. It finally came back to Edinburgh in 1996, but only as a "permanent loan" from the Queen. The timeline of British history is astounding, but then I live in a state where anything over 150 years old is ancient. In Edinburgh, anything over 150 years is still pretty new.

We came down off the cold castle heights and stopped for lunch at a beautiful place with a bit of an ugly past. The restaurant is called The Witchery by the Castle, and is named for being a yard where hundreds of witches were burned in the 1500's. The restaurant building itself was built for a merchant, and features a lovely dining room with a charming painted ceiling. Mom dined on fresh pea soup and a zucchini/ricotta tart, while I had haggis and roasted salmon. Yes, I ate haggis, and I hadn't even been drinking whisky at the time. I definitely enjoyed it, it has an oily sausage taste and was the consistency of porridge. Which makes sense because oats is a prime component. I'd definitely eat it again -- at least at this restaurant.

After our very late lunch we went next door to the Scotch Whisky Experience. This is a combination museum, tasting bar, and Disney's Haunted-Mansion style ride. It sounds really silly and tacky but it ended up being interesting and fun. We opted for the "Gold Tour" which allowed us to taste five different whiskies. I tried a Lowland single-malt on the tour, which turned out to be the same Glenkinchie that I had enjoyed a couple of nights before. Then, in the tasting bar, we sampled:
  • Auchentoshan Select - This is a Lowland single-malt that to me smelled like manure. Adding a drop of water only made it worse, and to me it pretty much tasted like how it smelled. This surprised me because I have enjoyed other Lowland malts on this trip.
  • Glen Deveron 10yo - A Highland single-malt that I quite liked. The tasting notes say "malty with toffee notes" on the nose and "rich maltiness with hints of sherry" for the taste.
  • Tomintoul 10yo - A Speyside single-malt that was Mom's favorite. We both thought the color was beautifully bright gold, and noticed that the nose was consistent whether it was straight or had a bit of water added. Mom remarked that it would "stand up well to ice."
  • Ledaig Light Finish - An Island single-malt that neither of us liked at all at first. To us it smelled like a combination of a blacksmith shop and gasoline. Interestingly enough, once we hit it with a spash of water and actually drank it, we found that it had a nice smoky taste that was not harsh at all. I decided that if I had to keep a "manly" smokey whisky around the house, this would be the one.
Whisky tasting completed, we then did a bit of shopping. Is there any better time to shop than after a few drams of whisky? Scotland is a haven for cashmere knitwear, and the prices I was seeing, even in the middle of downtown tourist Edinburgh, were definitely better than at home -- although this sort of knitwear doesn't come cheap anywhere. I picked up a pair of gloves at Kinross that matched the lining of my raincoat, along with a locally-hand-woven merino-and-silk scarf. Then I stopped in just down the street at Highland Cashmere where I picked up a sort of poppy-colored cardigan and a moss green pullover.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Britannia Rules the Waves

Today we headed via city bus down to the Ocean Terminal in Leith, where the Royal Yacht Britannia is preserved as a historical site. This was Queen Elizabeth II's ship of State, as it were, and we had a great time looking into the Royal apartments, the State dining room, and so on. From there we went to the Georgian House, which is an 18th-century town house set up to show how a "gentleman" (a non-working landowner who derives his income from rents collected from the people who live and work on his property) and his family would live in town.

After strolling past a monument to Sir Walter Scott, we stopped at Marks & Spencer to stock up on whisky and snax. The whisky we picked up is bottled specifically for Marks & Spencer, which makes it a kind of Trader Joe's-type buy. It's a 12-year-old single malt fro the Deanston distillery in Doune (Perthshire).

The weather today was changeable, ranging from downright rainy to mistily dreary to delightfully sunny with a fresh wind.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Traditional Sunday Roast

Today is Sunday, and Mom wanted to go to church, so we made a point of going to Services at St. Giles (Presbyterian) Cathedral. This church has been in use since at least 1559, and parts of it date from 1495. Right now it's being renovated, but I have a feeling that's been a constant over the centuries as much of the church has been altered since the 16th century. What most impressed me were the modern halogen chandeliers, which float like UFOs in the vaulted ceilings.

As part of my personal effort to help change people's perceptions of British food, we headed to yet another New British Cuisine brassiere, Hadrian's at the Balmoral Hotel. We were also there as part of Mom's personal effort to find the ultimate roast beef. She reports that hers was cooked perfectly and quite tasty, but it should have been sliced thicker. My lamb steak in red currant sauce was interesting and enjoyable, and was accompanied by tiny delicious sauteed green beans.

Aside from needing to walk off lunch, I figured that climbing Arthur's Seat is one of the traditional that one cannot miss doing in Edinburgh. It had been (partly-somewhat-mostly) sunny all morning, and I figured now would be a good time because the ground would be in its least-damp-between-the-rains condition. I tramped up the steep paths, every so often stopping to take in the views of the Firth of Forth, Edinburgh Castle, and the surrounding city and countryside. Arthur's Seat is but part of the very large and very bucolic Holyrood Park, behind the high crags hides a lovely valley with two little lochs and what looks like a bit of ruined castle. It's wild and windy and I could almost imagine myself out on the moors in the countryside.

It was also cold, and I took a wrong turning on the path down, ending up on a mountain-goat-friendly descent that wore me out. Once back on level ground I strolled past the ultra-modern Scottish Parliament, arriving back in the hotel room to collapse on the sofa in happy exhaustion.

Mom revived me with some shortbread and a banana, and promises of a whisky and soda downstairs, so we made our way to the bar and enjoyed more Isle of Jura and some Glenkinchie (single malt from near Edinburgh), accompanied by fish cakes and a hot carrot-coriander soup.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Whisky Express

Mom has developed a strong fondness for Pret A Manger, so we had lunch there and then did some more power shopping in the Covent Garden area. We hit my favorite British ladies' clothing chain, Monsoon, where I picked up a lovely silk tunic blouse, and then went to Marks & Spencer where I tried on hats and purchased (what else but) "knickers." Supposedly everyone buys their underwear (knickers) at M&S, and I like what they sell, so of course I had to pick up a pack on this trip.

We caught a cab to King's Cross Station, famous for many reasons (an IRA bombing in the 1970's, a Pet Shop Boy's song), most recently for being the location of the London terminus of the Hogwart's Express in the Harry Potter Stories. I went to look for Platform 9 3/4's and found it -- just as a baggage trolley was disappearing through the barrier!

Our train left London at 2pm for the 4 1/2 hour trip up to Edinburgh. It was very clean and comfortable, except for the toilet which was nearly as bad as the one on the train between Beijing and Xi'an in China. Facilities aside, the ride was smooth and quiet, and attendants came through after every stop to offer us tea and coffee (complimentary) and snacks (for sale). We were seated with a guy on his way up to Dundee, and he helped us do the crossword puzzle in the Independent.

The train had free wireless internet for the duration of our trip. It worked great but oddly enough when I'd go to to the Google home page, the default language it came up in was Swedish.

Arrival in Edinburgh was spot on time, and a short cab ride brought us to our hotel. When I booked us into the MacDonald Holyrood Hotel, I picked it because it was a highly recommended mid-price hotel and because I got a good price on it from Expedia. When we got into our room we nearly fell over. It is massively huge, large by even US business-class hotel standards. The room (#300) is about 2 1/2 times larger than what we had in London, and has a million-pound view of Arthur's Seat, the remains of an ancient extinct volcano that broods over Edinburgh. We went down to the hotel lobby for some dinner and to taste some local whisky, enjoying some local smoked salmon with a plate of British cheeses. Mom sampled the Highland Park (a single malt from Orkney), while I enjoyed the light and almost floral Isle of Jura (another single malt from off the west coast of Scotland).

The hotel is a T-Mobile Hot Spot. It works great but oddly enough when I go to the Google home page, the default language it comes up in is German.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The British Empire's Attic

I've heard it said that the Smithsonian is "America's Attic." Well, if that's so then the Victoria & Albert Museum (the "V&A") is definitely the British Empire's attic. Mom and I took the tube over there to poke around, she wanted to peruse the very large silver collection, and I wanted to see a special exhibition about hats. Somewhere between the hats and the silver we got lost and ended up on a floor filled with William Morris and other Arts & Crafts artisan's objects domestiques. There were decorative tiles, stained glass panels, carpets, textiles, furnishings...that whole style of design really appeals to me in the way that it combines various ethnic and natural motifs into useful objects that are anything but utilitarian.

From there we stopped at Barclay's Bank on Picadilly Circus, which I only mention because a man there told Mom that it used to be a Burger King.

Our evening started with a well-exected dinner of tasteful new British cuisine (Mom had steamed mussels, I had a red onion-stilton tart), we walked around the corner to the Prince of Wales Theater to see "Mamma Mia!" In general I had been feeling kind of dubious about the whole stage-musical-made-into-a-movie thing, but I had enjoyed the movie version despite Pierce Brosnan's atrocious singing on "S.O.S." The movie was so entertaining overall that I decided I wanted to see the stage play, but missed it when it was running in Las Vegas. I'm so glad I finally got to see it, because the live musical was so much more intimate and had a more personal and energetic vibe than the movie. Comparing the two, I feel that some of the production numbers of the movie that rambled all over the island took a bit away from the actual interactions between the character, despite the beauty of the locations where they were filmed. Mom summed it all up the best, saying "It was the best stage play I have ever seen. You could not point to one actor and say well he was better than so-and-so. You could not point to one singer and say she was better than so-and-so. Every single dance sequence was fabulous, it was wonderful!" I also really appreciated the technical aspects of the show, and found that the high-tech sets did not overwhelm or detract from the show, as I find they sometimes do (for comparison, I thought some aspects of "Phantom of the Opera" were just too much of a muchness).

After the show we headed back to the room to pack, as we were checking out the next day and heading to Edinburgh by train.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

London Callling

I ran from Harrison Street to the 16th Street BART Station this morning, dragging two rolling suitcases, so I could make my train to my plane so I could get to London. Fortunately that was the most exciting aspect of my journey. The plane arrived early and I was able to use the rather nice Star Alliance arrival shower facilities at Heathrow Terminal 1 before schlepping over to Terminal 4 to meet Mom. I must note here that Terminal 1 is still kind of a pit, despite the trumpeted consolidation of Star Alliance airlines there last year. I had thought that meant that Terminal 1 would also be renovated, but apparently not on the Arrivals level.

Mom's flight was about 45 minutes late, but eventually she emerged from Customs & Immigration and we hopped on the Underground to head for Central London. Our hotel was the Radisson Edwardian Leicester Square (located just off Leicester Square), not to be confused with the Radisson Edwardian Hampshire (located directly on Leicester Square). Our room wasn't ready when we arrived so I took Mom to my favorite quick food stop, Pret A Manger, for healthy sandwiches. After stopping at Tkts for some discount tickets to Hairspray, we checked in to our tiny but very comfortable and modern-looking room.

We took a nap, but unfortunately Mom was suddenly feeling quite ill, so I headed off to the theater alone. Along the way I did a bit of power shopping, picking up all kinds of face creams and lotions at Neal's Yard Remedies. I love Neal's Yard because everything is all-natural with no parabens or other odd chemicals, and much of each product is organic too. I then passed a store dedicated to socks, called Tabio. Apparently this is a Tokyo-based chain that pretty much only exists in London and Japan. I went a little crazy and bought 10 pairs of socks, but I'm completely delighted because several pairs were the kind of "toe" socks that I very much like to wear. Tabio had them in normal colors, not just bizarre stripey combinations.

The musical itself was wonderful. I thought the original John Waters movie with Rickie Lake totally rocked, and enjoyed but was also a bit let down by the later musical version with John Travolta. The live musical itself, though, is super enjoyable and I much preferred it to the movie musical. (The original movie is still the best in my opinion.)

When I got back to the room after the show, I found that Mom was feeling immensely better, so we planned our next day and then hit the sack.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


I've mentioned before that I'm doing this little personal project where I go to every country or state that ends in -LAND in English. My rules are that it has to be the name of the place that we use in English, it has to be a state or country level political entity, and that names ending in "Island" do not count. That results in the following list:
  • England
  • Finland
  • Greenland
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Maryland
  • The Netherlands
  • Newfoundland
  • New Zealand
  • Northern Ireland
  • Poland
  • Queensland
  • Scotland
  • Swaziland
  • Switzerland
  • Thailand
I've made good progess on this list, and next week I will be going to ScotLAND with my mother.

Mom and I take a trip together every year. We usually go on a cruise, but I was feeling cruised out. She kind of wanted to go to London, so we decided that since I was going to the UK in late May anyway, we'd tack on a trip to London and Edinburgh before I went to Blackpool to watch the British Open Ballroom Dancing Championships.

Once we get to Scotland (Edinburgh), I'll just have Greenland, Iceland, Newfoundland, Northern Ireland, Poland, and Swaziland left on the list.