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Several of you, dear correspondents, have prescribed for us an upscale Afternoon Tea in London - a treat to experience at least once during our England sabbatical. So we set out to book at the renowned Fortnum and Mason department store. According to their website: "Since 1707, Fortnum & Mason has been home to extraordinary hampers, delicious food, joy-giving gifts and unforgettable experiences."

This was hard to resist! But ultimately we found ourselves too faint-hearted to pay the per-person price tag (£80 = $98) for this albeit posh afternoon refreshment. Instead, we contented ourselves with a somewhat lower-priced Tea at the nearby Fleming's Mayfair. And we're so glad we did! The food, coffee, and tea were all excellent, the service wonderful, and the setting was intimate, serene, and very charming with its murals depicting scenes of India. It was a truly wonderful respite from another rainy day of London sightseeing.

Thus fortified, onward to Fortnum's we went - and OH MY I had no idea! I'm not an enthusiastic shopper, but I'd love to look in every corner of this amazing store. Since the day was getting late, we only had time to browse the impressive selections in the gourmet food hall on the ground floor. I wanted to buy sooooooo many items! We restrained ourselves, but I can tell you that our little sample box of chocolates are most delicious 😋.

Earlier in the day we had taken the train from Bicester to London; spent an hour at the Covent Garden Apple store fruitlessly trying to bring my MacBook back to life; joined a sparse crowd of tourists to see the Tower of London; and walked across Tower Bridge.

The Tower of London in the center of the city is one of the nation's oldest castles. Lots of bad things happened there in centuries past, while today it houses the crown jewels which we saw up close. (No photography of the crown jewels is allowed - below is a stock image.) I wonder when the Royal Family will replace that cruelly-produced ermine lining on all their crowns?

I want to thank Robin, the photographer for most of these photos. During this London visit, my iPhone (i.e. my camera) stayed at the Apple store getting its battery replaced. I thought I might as well take advantage of our trip to London - there aren't any Apple stores near Oxford!

A day of London sightseeing takes us 11-12 hours with commuting time; but we've enjoyed each of our visits so much! As I've been writing this, Robin and I finally reached a decision on where to spend our Thanksgiving break. We'd discussed various options from Botswana to Greece. But lucky us, we've decided to spend six whole days in...London! Thanks for reading.

🫖 🇬🇧💂‍♀️

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Greetings Dear Readers: I am very grateful to have visited Rome, where Robin and I enjoyed four days last week. But, have you ever read the Boston Globe's blind date feature, "Dinner with Cupid?" It seems the contestants often conclude: "I did not feel any chemistry." I felt the same way about Rome: it was a pleasant visit, but will there be a second date? Probably not.

Rome has the nickname City of Fountains and has over 2,000 within its boundaries. We enjoyed them in our walks around the central city, including the most famous Trevi Fountain both by day and at night. Rome also impressed me with: the many ancient ruins and their modern-day preservation and access; the character of an ancient city with no modern skyscrapers; a superb AirBnB; the ease for an English speaker to enjoy the city; the place with 150 flavors of delicious gelato! (More on this one below.)

I was disappointed in:

-- how difficult it was to walk around the city - the narrow, cobbled streets often lack sidewalks, and the auto/motorcycle traffic is constant and fast!

-- the repetitive, limited and "just OK" restaurant cuisine;

-- getting physically pushed around.

Re: the pushing: this was a repeated occurrence for me. One morning, I was standing at a bakery counter preparing to order breakfast when a man came up behind me, placed both his hands on my shoulders and shoved me aside so he could get in front of me! At least the proprietors refused to help him. But I got pushed with hands or body shoving on the street multiple times. Clearly I move too slowly for the Romans ☹️.

It's no surprise that Rome is very crowded with tourists, but that was an expected part of the visit. On the plus side, most everyone we encountered in the tourist industry spoke English, and helped us out in the friendliest of manners while appreciating Robin's Italian and accepting my lack thereof. We did a lot of walking to see the sights.

You want to hear about food next, right? Sorry to say that after reading and hearing so many rave reviews of Italy's cuisine, this was a letdown. Don't get me wrong - our meals were all fine and I'm not complaining about a lack of decent food. But it didn't live up to the HYPE! Exception: gelato on every corner and several delicious samples - see below.

We had an E-bike adventure on our 4th day, when we booked a tour to see the Via Appia (aka the ancient "Appian Way" from Rome to Capua) and the remains of centuries-old Aqueducts. Our guide was excellent (and so was the one at the Colosseum - we're definitely discovering the joys of a guided tour.) The engineering in ancient Rome was astounding and I loved seeing a surviving aqueduct, which transported water to the City for the people and all those fountains!

Robin and I always enjoy the chance to ride Electric bikes, which afford the opportunity to pedal, but allow us to go further with an electric "boost" as needed. However the Appian Way was mostly uneven cobblestones, Rome has that crazy traffic, I fell after missing a sharp turn, and Robin's bike got a flat tire! We think next time, we'll look for a more bike-friendly place to pursue this mode of sight-seeing.

And now regarding that gelato! As major ice-cream fans we were excited to try several samples in Italy. Some were better than others, but both Robin and I were repeat customers of frutti di bosco - mixed berry. When I stumbled upon the place with 150 flavors, Gelato Della Palma, I had to go in. I really enjoyed my amazing Mora (blackberry) and dark chocolate combo! I leave you with this little video. Ciao and Grazie mille for reading!

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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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