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Smoking ban, rain, sun and travel planning

England went smoke-free on July 1st. Smoking in all public establishments is now expressly prohibited. The word pub is actually a contraction of public house, so these quintessential Anglo-Saxon establishments are certainly included in the ban. The rooms previously perpetually filled with thick smoke are suddenly clear and breathable. In restaurants, there is no longer a question of “smoking or non-smoking”…

I can’t stand smoke, so when a co-worker remarked a few days ago how improved the pub-going experience had become for him, I could only heartily agree. But what amazes me is that – unlike in New York, where a similar law went into effect, what, 7-8 years ago? – in England, I do not see any covert attempts to disregard the ban. When I remarked on that in a conversation, noting that for many months after the start of the ban in NY one could find restaurants that would allow unrestricted smoking, a colleague responded: “In this country, it is expected that people would report it”.

Can’t say that I disapprove of upholding the law in any possible way, but the word expected somehow evoked unpleasant associations of socialist era.

You know, like the old anecdote with a longest beard. Three guys in a prison cell. “What are you in for?” the first one is asked. “Well, I only told an obscene anecdote about Brezhnev”. “How about you?” the second is asked. “Well, I only listened to an obscene anecdote about Brezhnev and didn’t report it”. “And you?” “Well, I was at a party when somebody told an obscene anecdote about Brezhnev. I wanted to report it, but decided to wait until the morning…”

(as I always contended, Russian humor does not translate into English) πŸ™„

Peculiar British weather keeps throwing curveballs. The week was pleasant enough but this morning we were greeted with ominously grey skies. As the day progressed, the skies were getting darker and darker, until not long before noon a ferocious downpour started. The TVs around the office helpfully informed all willing to listen that some areas in England would absorb a two-months quota of rain in the next 24 hours…

The deluge continued for less an hour… and when I was coming home in the late afternoon, the skies were a bit cloudy but bright and the sun was happily shining through… You truly never know what to expect.

Natasha and Becky have kicked off the weekend with a trip to the city to see Wicked. The rest of the programme includes repeatedly postponed trip to Kew Gardens (if weather permits) and a long-overdue get-together with Popivker family.

But in the meantime, we are in a full-blown planning mode. On two fronts simultaneously, no less.

First of all, we are planning our activities for the upcoming trip home. Since I will only be there for ten days and I would like to see as many friends and family members as possible in that time, we literally cannot let a day pass without a visit someplace. So, one day, we are going to a picnic with the extended family, and the next day, we are going rafting with a company of friends; one day, we are visiting aunts and uncles in Brooklyn, and the next, we are carousing with old pals in Queens.

One friend is hastily organizing an emergency birthday party… Well, not emergency emergency, but we happened to specify the date when we wanted to meet them on her exact birthday, which is mid-week this year. Obviously, the only thing that they originally planned for the occasion was for closest relatives to drop in for a cake and such. Now, our friends had to disabuse said relatives of any such notion, invite a bunch of other friends, and we are all having a celebration. Cool! (I hope that they are looking at it in a positive light as well πŸ˜› ).

My visit will culminate with the grand jubilee celebration for both of my parents, after which I will depart back to England to recuperate from intensive holidays. Natasha and the girls will stay on for additional three weeks.

That’s in August, classified as short-term planning.

There is also long-term kind going on.

We suddenly realized that with the conclusion of our spring travel itinerary, we do not have anything planned for the next year. And given that our trips happen during school holidays – when everybody travels – we undoubtedly needed to get on with scheduling our future excursions. At least, the big ones.

Schools, of course, did not neglect to make it hard for us. If throughout the just-finished school year, Becky and Kimmy were lucky to have their vacations synchronized, it is not so next spring. In fact, from March 21st through April 20th of 2008, at least one of them is out of school – but very few of those days overlap, not including weekends. So, we’ll have to be creative. I.e., take one of them out of school during the term.

Have I ever mentioned that if you take your kid out of school for a couple of weeks a year, you are subject to criminal charges and heavy monetary penalties in England?

Yep, my feelings exactly!

Anyway, the projected destinations for the year to come include Swiss Alps, Wales, Loire Valley, some kind of Barcelona/Madrid/Lisbon combo, Holland in April to see the tulips, Costa del Sol… Surely at least one trip to Paris and a week in Rostov are also on the cards. And for the next summer, Natasha is dreaming up a lengthy villa-based stay in Italy and Spain.

Canary Islands, where we wanted to go for the Christmas week, is incredibly expensive during that time. It could be that we will look for a Caribbean/Mexican holiday instead.

And, of course, small hops. Bath, Mont St-Michel, Reims, Lille, Antwerp, Ghent – there is still tons of destinations ahead.

Just thinking about it gives me goose bumps.