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We don't need an excuse to visit London, but "London Cocktail Week" seemed like a MUST. Here was an opportunity to sample drinks from some of London's nicest cocktail bars at reduced prices. Our niece Mia and her boyfriend Jay joined us for the festivities last Wednesday. Sure it was raining as we made our way from place to place in the area of Covent Garden (one of many areas with hundreds of bars we could have chosen.) We didn't mind the rain too much, but I'm sorry to say Robin and I are OLD and we ran out of steam after only four bars and one good Mexican dinner!

But London is very much into fancy cocktail culture, and we have lots of good info now on other places to try. I love London so much, and we will be back!

As for Cocktail week, we all concurred that two of our places were big hits, one was OK, and the other was a FAIL. See that tall green drink with the pink topping in the second row of photos? SO WEIRD. We don't even KNOW what the pink stuff was (a marshmallow maybe?) and the whole thing was flavorless.

But here was the big winner, the tall pink drink in the first photo from a bar called Rooftop:

THE ROOFTOP O'CLOCK Broken Clock vodka, lychee, raspberries, pomegranate, ginger and lime juice.


We also want to return with future visitors to Mr. Fogg's Society of Exploration, a visually-fantastical place with an unusual special. Artichoke liqueur anyone? This is the drink in the second photo:

THE FIRST LOOK Dewars 8yo Caribbean Smooth Scotch whisky, Cynar artichoke liqueur, pineapple & coconut syrup and fresh lime juice.

This week we head to Rome. I'm excited as it will be my first visit to Italy. Robin has been working very hard to polish up his Italian.... Ciao for now!

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What a privilege it was last week to spend a few days on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. We made the 11-hour car trip with our dogs and yes, I got in some driving practice! But Robin had to handle the narrow, precipitous roads on Skye itself.

Skye is a remote place with a rainy, cool climate. I thought: you'd have to be a hardy soul to live here. As elsewhere in Scotland, we found the residents very friendly. I've never had a less-than-delicious meal or drink in this wonderful country either. But Skye's main attraction is constant, overwhelming scenery. It's just beautiful everywhere you go, with a combination of the mountains, sea, and moors.

The above photos are from an area in northern Skye known as the Quiraing. These jagged geologic formations are spectacular and a bit otherworldly. During our walks on Skye, we experienced sun, clouds, wind, rain, and driving hail -- none of which seemed to last more than 5 minutes at a time! But the changing weather does make for wonderful variations in the light and color of what you're beholding.

In the photos below, we're on the southwest corner of Skye looking at the Black Cuillin (COOL-in), a jagged mountain range. This time with the dogs, we hiked up a bit. As in the Quiraing, I would have liked to have gone further; but time, weather, and fitness levels were limiting factors. Still, you don't have to walk very far in Skye to get breathtaking views. Altitude aside, I definitely did feel "high" on Skye.

Click the right or left arrows on the photos below (or scroll) to see a few more with captions.

Finally, I share with you that I love big old castles. Over the years I've seen many mystical photographs of a Scottish one called Eilean Donan, which I've always wanted to visit. I finally got to see it in person on our way to Skye. It was not disappointing.

I'm not sure if our travels will ever take us back to Skye. There are other Scottish Islands we hope to visit, including the Outer Hebrides and the Shetlands. But I am so grateful I got to experience this unique place.

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Updated: Apr 7

Dearest Readers, I know many of you are bridge players and you're wondering about our experiences playing bridge in the UK so far.

Well, I can tell you it's pretty much the same as back home! We always have a great time if there's a bridge game involved. I've now played three times at the Oxford Duplicate Bridge Club; and then on Sunday Robin and I drove into London for a special bridge event: a commemorative Swiss Pairs game + "a sumptuous Afternoon Tea" at the Wimbledon Bridge Club. We found the players at the Wimbledon Club friendly, welcoming, and of varying bridge abilities.

On the way home, Robin educated me on the difference between "High Tea" and "Afternoon Tea." It's the latter that is fancier, and many visitors consider it a special experience while in the UK. "Afternoon Tea" at the Ritz in London costs £72 (~$88)!

I mistakenly believed "High Tea" meant something even more posh, but no - that's a term to indicate a plainer and more hearty meal, what Americans might call supper. Historically, the upper class took Afternoon Tea to tide them over until a late dinner, while the working class would have High Tea as their evening meal, eaten much earlier.

But even a bargain Afternoon Tea is a treat, and the Bridge Club apparently has a chef on staff much beloved by the players. We could see why! We played 36 deals and at the halfway point, each table received a delicious platter of finger sandwiches (egg, cheese, salmon, or chicken - no crusts); currant scones hot from the oven, served with strawberry jam and clotted cream; and a slice of cake. Of course there were many teas to choose from but as a non-tea drinker, I was happy to savor the food.

We haven't enjoyed the Oxford club quite as much. I found a great partner, an American college student here for junior year abroad. But the games have been rushed, with the Director hovering and exhorting people to play faster. In one round of the game I played with Robin, we had just finished Board 3 out of 5, and there was some confusion over how many tricks had been won by Declarer. The four of us were having a cordial discussion to reach agreement on the correct score, when the Director rushed over and harshly told us to stop talking and start playing the next hand. Now really! This Director had never seen Robin or me before - what if we had been novices? We would have left with tears in our eyes never to return. And it's so unnecessary! We ended up finishing our round with 6 or 7 minutes to spare.

There's a delicate balance in competitive bridge between serving the interests of the competition (keeping to the time limits, following the rules); vs. keeping it fun and friendly enough to appeal to players of all levels. A sensitive and sophisticated Director can do both at once. I have more to say on this matter, but will save it for another time.

Meanwhile, there is a bright light at the Oxford Bridge Club named Charlie Bucknell. Twice now he has invited me and my partner to join him and his friends for lunch at the pub and a review of the deals after the Friday morning game. Charlie is a professional player and teacher, and his "audience" enjoyed hearing his wise advice about the difficult hands. Robin and I also enjoyed a special wine-tasting and bridge game organized by Charlie last week. With any luck, I'm going to recruit him to co-teach a class with me online this winter - stay tuned! Meanwhile, we will continue to visit various bridge clubs and tournaments when we're not too busy sight-seeing. Nothing can deter us from the best game in the world!

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