Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Vay and Dennis Wedding

We woke up very early Saturday morning to get to Vay's parents house in Luton to partake in one of the Chinese traditions surrounding a wedding.
We were asked to be "brother" and "sister" for Vay and Dennis, along many other friends and family to engage in an age old tradition of the bridegroom and his brothers trying to buy their way into the bride's home.
Over the years, bribing has evolved into the girls making the guys do various tasks for money, all of which are embarrassing to various degrees, until they deem enough tasks were successfully completed when the guys are then welcome in the house.

This is followed by a tea ceremony and as I understand it, this is the opportunity to give thanks and respect to their elders/family.

Around midday we drove back to London to the ceremony venue which couldn't have been more majestic! Housed in the Greenwich Maritime buildings the place was regal yet simple, stunning and just really classy. Well done to Vay and Dennis for choosing that place. Photos and canapes followed the ceremony which came to an end around 5pm to allow time to drive to the restaurant.

Now, for those who of you who haven't done a Chinese wedding before, believe you me, it is worth getting yourself a Chinese friend just to get into one of these. I have been to my share during my time in London, but they never cease to amaze me.
With typically 12 courses lasting over 5 or so hours, this isn't for the weak hearted. Joe and I particularly fared well because we were at the table with all the Chinese Wedding virgins- CWVs- (well, 3/4 of the table) which meant more food for us as they contemplated the dishes and struggled with the chopsticks. Now, now, you may think us selfish but you will be pleased to know that I championed the cause and served the food whilst both Joe and I explained the dishes to them. But, in the end, the gods were on our side and we just got more food! result!

A great day! We really loved being a part of it - so a big thank you out to Vay and Dennis for including us. Note to Luu family - for future reference, ALWAYS sit us with the CWVs, ok?

Paris one last time

Returning from Normandy, I was determined to take full advantage of Paris one last time! So, I pulled mom out for a day of walking which ended with over-priced drinks in the shadow of the Arch di Triomphe so we could "experience Paris the rich way".
Funny enough, on a different walk with Joe starting from the Louvre, we managed to finish at the Arch de Triomphe as well. Only this time, no drinks!

We managed to wipe dad out one night, so only the three of us went out high-society style one night which ended up being a fantastic evening.

We collectively must have gained 20 pounds over the four weeks of eating, laughing, exploring, etc... A great time had by all and hopefully the first of many European adventures for mom and dad to enjoy in their retirement.

Off to Normandy!

After several days in Paris, we travelled south to Angers to stay with Myriam and Yannick, some friends we met in London who recently moved back to France to be near family. Our loss, their gain!
On the way, we popped into Chambord to show mom and dad a proper chateaux - and we were all blown away.
With one more hour of driving to go, we landed in Angers mid afternoon. It was great catching up with M & Y and the French hospitality came out in full force with a 6 course meal lasting around 6 hours as we sat on their back porch overlooking the rolling countryside. What a night!

After we said our goodbyes the next morning, we drove West toward Monte Saint Michelle - a stunning, tiny island just off the Normandy coast, topped with an old monastary jutting out like a massive castle from sea level. The weather didn't cooperate much, but we did enjoy looking around. Lots of steps to conquer which left me as the prime photographer rushing up and around the monastary whilst the others sat and enjoyed the views.

Late afternoon we drove to our b&b and as it neared, the scenery just got better and better. Lush green rolling hills set between lovely stone villages, all severely impacted by the war.

Our b&b and Mercedes which I was thoroughly enjoying the WHOLE journey!

We headed straight to Ponte du Huc the next morning, one of the landing sites for the Americans who had to scale jagged rocky cliffs whilst under direct attack from the Germans above, as their element of surprise had been compromised by delays in the operation. The yanks managed to secure the area with heavy losses, and at first sight of the area riddled with massive craters, you can get a sense of the horror of war. Craters from exploded bombs cover the ground everywhere, alongside the decaying concrete German bunkers of which most were directly hit.

Now, with a blanket of green covering the horror of war, on the fine sunny morning we visited, if you looked up, it would seem to be the most breathtaking coastal cliff. However, once your eyes returned to the surface, memories and thoughts of the struggle and the pain couldn't be ignored.

What an incredibly moving place to visit, I highly recommend going.

Soon after we arrived at Utah beach. Mom, dad and Joe went into the museum whilst I stayed in the car partly because when we rolled in, we rolled over shattered window glass inciting in me a fear of our car also being a victim of crime if we all went inside. Furthermore, the lovely French B&B owner was a bit flighty and upon our arrival the night before at 9pm, she greeted us with grave news that she has accidentally double booked her rooms and that all four of us would need to shar a room for one night. In principle, no biggie. However, in practice with mom and dad both snoring the night away, it left little in the sleep department. So, I caught up with my z's while they explored. Hence no photos of the memorial. Afterwards though, we rolled into town. ate some crepes and walked around.

The town had chosen to commemorate their liberation by ereting placards throughout the square each with a local's personal recollection of a moment during that time. As we walked past the beautiful stone buildings, you coud still see the bullet holes in the walls. The placards pointed to various gun battles which took place on the patch of road we were standing on. This obviously had quite an impact on all of us.

In hindsight, we left for Omaha beach too late in the day. When we arrived, we hadn't appreciated just how incredible the museum and memorials were and found ourselves rushing to see it all. Dad was particularly moved by what he saw all day long - and he tended to walk around on his own taking it all in. In fact, we all kind of did that as it was a lot to take in.

Unbeknownst to us, the heavens had opened while we were in the underground museum, and as it was sunny the entire day we were sodden wet waiting for Joe and the car keys so we could get in for shelter!

In the heaviest rain I have seen since I moved to England, we navigated our way through the winding roads and found what we all voted to be the best restaurant we ate at. With the rain pounding outside, we sat in a covered veranda and ate away the blues.

The next day we headed back to Paris, detouring to Versailles. We all left that place with a bit of shock and awe. Shock at the blatant austerity and pompousness of the place, which when put into the context of what was happening in France at the height of this palace's life, made us all a bit put off. Awe at the ostentatiousness (is that a word?) of the decor and at the same time seeing the beauty despite it.

As we headed back to Paris for a few more days, more memories were recorded. Read the next post for more.

Lovely Paris!

Mom and Dad finally make it to France! We went for a city country mix to get the best of both worlds.
Starting with a few days in Paris, we walked and walked and walked....taking in the Notre Dame, lots of pastries and cafe au laits, the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre and much more. Sadly, the biggest moment not recorded was the visit to China Town to a French Vietnamese restaurant! Thank God for Joe's Vietnamese language skills to get past the French to order exactly what we wanted! HA!


Notre Dame

The Louvre

Eiffel Tower

Yep, you guessed it, that was just the first few days. If you can handle it, wait for the next blog entry!

Mom and Dad Visit!

For four weeks, Gene and Kathi Lock wreaked havoc In England and invaded France. A jam packed holiday with hardly any time to rest, we had them going from London to Wiltshire, Oxford, Birmingham, Stratford Upon Avon, Paris and Normandy.
Visiting family and friends, attending a wedding, sipping coffee on the streets of Paris, paying our respects at the landing beaches of Normandy - we did it all.

So, I'll go chronologically with the memoirs....

Avebury and Marlborough




Kew Gardens

More to come.....the invasion of France!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Wedding of the year!!!

Well, the parentals along with Joe and I managed to get to Birmingham in one piece and upon arrival, I got to see one of my two bestest buddies - the blushing bride to be, and was overjoyed with finally getting to hug her!
The Belfry, our hotel, is stunning. Known for golfing, it is highly regarded in such circles. Sadly, Rahul along with all the men in his wedding party, AND Joe, will be damaging much of that reputation tomorrow morning as they hit the course and attempt 18 holes with minimum ball losses all within a four hour period. Hmmn, this should be interesting.
I sit here writing with a happy buzz from the indulgant food and wine served at Simpsons restaurant Rahul and Sarita treated a group of us to tonight. A fab night had by all and the amazing kindness and friendliness exhibited by all the couples there made it such a wonderful evening.
Off to bed in readiness for what I imagine will be quite an intense day tomorrow!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The annual Luong BBQ

Well, it is 2.30am and the official clean-up is over!
It was a successful affair, it seemed like everyone enjoyed themselves. We managed to work our way through at least 5 animal's worth of meat which, in Vietnamese terms, is a big success.
Many rightfully noticed Joe's uncanny likeness to King of the Hill, while others were taken by Danny's incredible abs which would knock Taylor Lautner out of any competition. Don't worry Danny, I know you forgot your Jacob cup - I'm saving it for you!
The little ones danced the night away and the older folk drank it away.
All in all, good times for everyone!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Erik visits!

Long lost cousin Erik comes back for a reunion after his first London debut in 2004, 05 or was it 06?
We decided to show him more of England this time around and had a few laughs along the way!

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Even before the London Marathon ended, we knew Joe's chances of running the Edinburgh Marathon a month later were very slim.  We also knew that even if he wasn't gonna run, we were still going to head up there come hell or high water.  We had some crazy friends we wanted to support regardless and WE needed a holiday!

And boy, Edinburgh did not dissapoint.  The Old City was stunning with its winding cobblestone roads, dark and mysterious closes and gothic architecture. 

The New City was equally intriguing and with the amazing weather bestowed on our week there, we couldn't have asked for more.

National Trust did not dissappoint with free access to some fantastic period properties and some fab NT volunteers who seemed to have bottomless knowledge of Edinburgh's history.We went to the castle of course:

We also managed to go on a bus tour to the Highlands which was really fun, even if we were the oldest members of the group!  The bonus stop was the castle used in Monty Python!

One day we spent 12 hours on the road travelling from east to west trying to take in as much of the Highlands as possible.  Man, words cannot express how breathtaking the scenery was!
We visited Kilchurn castle, a ruin, but very well preserved and in such a lovely setting at the tip of Loch Awe.

My favourite castle was Inverary castle, a real life Disney Castle whose actual 30-something year old couple inhabitants are what dreams are made of.  What a surreal reality that must be for them.

We also found a great little garden tucked away in the village we were staying in.  It was lovely!

To top off a fab week, we got to cheer on some of our friends on the hottest recorded day in May for Scotland as they pounded through the heat to finish the Edinburgh marathon.  Considering that I was feeling heat exhaustion just standing there watching, Joe and I were amazed how great they looked at the end, bar the amazing sun burns they were sporting!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Salthrop House

Here is the beautiful Edwardian House we have been telling you about - isn't it lovely.  It just glows with the sun beaming onto it! 

Set on 70 acres of farmland and woods, it is so tranquil and lovely.  Horses, cows and two crazy dogs inhabit the grounds making for a fun adventure each time you set out to expore the land.

Just a 10 minute walk away are some great blue bell woods - not the best we've seen, but with it's high elevation the views are breathtaking!


With a description like this:

"At the heart of this tranquil rural estate is Mottisfont Abbey, set in glorious grounds alongside the fast-flowing River Test. There are many layers of history for the visitor to explore, including the Gothic remains of the original 13th-century Augustinian priory. In the mid 20th century the final private owner, society hostess and patron of the arts Maud Russell, used the Abbey as a base for her racy and intriguing life. The River Test is one of the finest chalk steams in the world and the walled gardens house the National Collection of old-fashioned roses"

who could resist going to check this place out?! 

Well, we ended up finding a back entrance into the estate by mistake and proceeded to ramble for 1.5 hours without getting near the estate house or gardens....what we did find instead were some fabulous blue bell woods and a great stranger who tried to set us on track but whose efforts were lost on us!

We plan to go back soon to actually see the buildings, river and roses.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

London Marathon is over!!!!!

After four months of training; 5am wake-ups getting to the gym; those horrific long run weekends; and living, breathing and talking about everything having to do with running, my London Marathon experience came and went without too many hitches.

Well, that is if you don't include the numerous injuries suffered amongst my group of friends and fellow training partners.  Swollen bones, dodgy knees, calf muscle tear and lower back issues are some ailments, to name a few, which were suffered during the race and continue to effect us all!  My running guru (you know who you are) said recovery should be one day for every mile ran in the marathon - so we have a month of chillin' ahead of us.  In Joe's case, a month of crutches followed by a longer period of rest.  Yep, the poor guy had to hobble a good 10 miles with a bad ankle, thus exasperating the problem which has led to an MRI scan to which we don't have the results just yet.  I managed an injury free race but the body started cracking the Thursday after - a day I walked a bit more than the usual in heels.  Now I have a bum leg and back which a hope a few sessions of physio are going to fix.

Enough of the pain though, because the pleasure of the marathon is just as intense! 

It is difficult to describe just how crazy London gets on marathon day.  It is as if everyone stops what they are doing and comes to support the runners.  The scream your name, handout candy and fruit (Joe managed a 1/2 pint!) and just keep you moving.  I'd say it is one day in the year that you are definitely proud to be a Londoner - what a feeling!  Once into central London, they are lined up 5-7 rows deep just yelling and cheering.  It really is something quite remarkable.

With 37,000 odd people running, you see it all - everyone has their own reason for taking up this incredible challenge and their stories are inspiring.  While running, I got choked up everytime I saw a runner get noticed by his/her friends and family - the screams of support and the happiness on the runner's face was just so great to witness.  I, myself, was motivated by the prospect of meeting up with my amazing cheering section just after mile 13, and boy they did NOT dissappoint!  I also had a smaller crew at mile 23 which was great to see at such a painful part of the race. 

Looking back now, it seems as though it didn't happen.  There is definitely a void in my life - a good 2-3 hours of 5 days a week are now free which feels odd to me.  I didn't think this was possible, but there is such a thing a post-marathon blues and I have been feeling it. During the race, I tried to soak up as much of the atmosphere as possible so I could remember it clearly in my mind.  But, to be honest, my mental focus in just trying to run through the pain and get over the finish line meant that much of the excitement of the event was in the peripheral of my eyes and mind.  So much so that when I think back on the race, much of it seems like a blur.  So, I just pinch and remind myself once in a while that I did do it and that's when a big beaming smile lights up my face!

Here is a slideshow of pixs taken by our great support team and a few from me too.  Enjoy!

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Silverstone Half Marathon

Well, all I can say is THANK GOD I didn't run this particular race - it did not look fun.  In fact, at this point in our marathon training, I was nursing a "stress reaction" (a wussy version of a stress fracture) in my foot, so I was dedicated cheerer.
Funny to see the photos of how cheery-faced the runners were that day, as if they didn't really comprehend that this was just the beginning of marathon training hell....

With heavy winds and an incredibly winding/overlapping route, all 4 of them managed to complete it intact.
I won't elaborate on Joe forgetting his shoes at the gym and having to run in very old trainers.....the photos say it all!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Joe's Charity Gig

Joe had managed to raise above and beyond the amount required by his charity for the London Marathon so he thought he could do more for another one...
He volunteered his new employee, Samir, to organise a charity gig to raise funds for Get Connected, a charity which helps teens with getting the resources they need to for any help they may need.  Samir got crackin' right away and completely blew us all away with his fantastic planning and organising.
He managed to secure four bands for free, a venue at a drastically reduced price and contacted the charity for various prizes to give away in a big prize draw.
Needless to say, his efforts paid off when, by the end of the big night, we managed to raise £1300!!!!

Many thanks to Samir for all his hard work!  And thanks to everyone who came out to support the night. 
On a personal note, I think this is the biggest, most comprehensive group shot we've had of all of us -EVER!!!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Are we mad????

We are both doing the London Marathon this year!!!

I am running for Shelter, a housing and homelessness charity, and Joe is running for Sense, a charity helping deafblinded people.
Joe has known for a few weeks now of his fate on 25 April but I just signed up today!!!
More news later because franlky I am too shaken to write any more!