Monday, June 28, 2010

Great Britain Trip - July 2010

Hello fellow travelers,

Welcome to my travel blog!  I want to thank my Aunt Beth for suggesting a blog for my return trip to England this summer.  I hope you enjoy reading it.  It has been a thrill for me.  Last summer I enjoyed my long awaited trip to London even more because I had all of you to share it with.  I looked forward to writing about the amazing things I had seen and experienced during that day's adventure.  Who would have thought I would actually see the Queen and hunky Prince William, or that I would run across a naked bike race! 

Let me tell you a few things about this blog.

First, if all goes as advertised, you should receive an e-mail notification each time I post something.  If that doesn't work, I'll send an e-mail with a link to the site.  If you want to bookmark it, the address of the site is: . 

I've entered the emails I sent last summer.  It gave me a chance to correct the spelling, (major embarrassment for an English teach!) and to add pictures.  By the way most of the pictures are clickable.  If you click on them, you will get a much bigger picture on your screen.  You might want to be careful when you click on the naked bike race picture!  Some of the early pictures won't expand.  I don't know what I did wrong, and I can figure out how to correct the problem,  Oh well.

I won't be able to post pictures when I write the blog.  If I had bought that I-phone or understood the technology a little better, I might have been able to do that.  Oh well.  I'll have to add pictures later.

This year I'm going back to London.  I plan to spend five or six days doing more of the things I couldn't fit in last year, like find a good fish and chips shop and taking a tour of the Houses of Parliament.  I'm excited about that one!  The rest of the time I will be taking day trips out of London to Canterbury Cathedral, Oxford, and Stratford-Upon-Avon to see where my ol' boyfriend was born and died.  I also plan on going down to the Devon coast to see Agatha Christie's house.  Oh, I'm getting excited just thinking about it!  So, come on!  Let's go!


Sunday, June 27, 2010

June 23, 2009 Sigh! Sigh!! SIGH!!!

My bed and breakfast, The Jesmond.

It's my last morning in London.  Sigh!  I already know that I'm going to need Kleenex on the plane.  It has been a great two weeks. 

Here's what I've learned from my adventures.

1.  Traveling alone is great!!!
2.  If you really, really want to do something, you should just put on your Nikes and just do it.
3.  Teenagers are annoying in every country!
4.  Rush hour is bad everywhere, but especially in London.
5.  The British have a much small sense of personal space than we do.  I've stood closer to strangers on
     the tube than I have to my own family!
6.  People really are nice and friendly if you expect them to be.  They find Texans exotic.  Te Hee!
7.  You can figure your way out of a tricky situation if you calm down, stay sweet, and ask questions.
8.  I love England, but I'm glad I was born an American.
9.  Now I understand why the rich sent their young abroad on The Grand Tour.  Travel is a good teacher.
10.  Soap operas are addictive in every country! 
11.  Last but not least, planes are smelly tubes of death!

Can you tell I'm not looking forward to getting back on that plane?  But, I am looking forward to seeing all of y'all!


Polite instructions.   Notice the illustration of the "Please Clean Up After Your Dog."

Wow!  Queen Elizabeth gets her own entrance to Parliament.

This sign is outside the Horse Guards Parade Grounds about a block down from Number 10 Downing Street.  Must have vicious horses!


These doggie dropping boxes were all over Hyde Park.

Oh, that British sense of humor!

June 22, 2009 My Last Hurrah!

Honestly, everywhere you turn, there's The London Eye!

Well, it's my last day, so I tried to fit in all the touristy things I haven't done yet.  This morning I took the tube over to Piccadilly Circus.  I got a picture of that famous building that is covered with lights.  Actually the Circus is smaller than it looks.  The other buildings around it are much more impressive.  I still feel amazed at how close all these well known places are to each other.  Piccadilly Circus is just about four blocks over from Trafalgar Square.  In between the two places are, oh, I don't know, 50 or 60 statues and famous buildings!  Sometimes they are not even that famous, just jaw-dropping.  I had been admiring this beautiful building right on the Thames.  It looked like an old palace, just dripping with Gothic do dads and spires.  Finally, I asked someone what that building was.  He told me it was a hotel and only about 75 years old!  But, it was gorgeous.

Next, I took the tube back to Covent Garden.  It was early and many shops weren't open, which was good for me.  I did get a picture of that church where Eliza Doolittle sells her violets and meets Professor Higgins.  I also got a picture of the most unusual and cutest trash can I've ever seen.

From Covent Garden I went to Somerset House.  It is the last remaining house on the banks of the Thames River.  In old Shakey's day, private houses and palaces lined the north side of the Thames.  Each house had a garden that went right down to the river, kind of like a lake house.  The upper classes used the river to get around instead of using London's very dirty, very crowded, very smelly streets.  Today this enormous "house" holds The Courtauld Museum, three restaurants, the Royal Navy offices, and the Inland Revenue!  And, it's still not filled up!  The courtyard had a beautiful water feature complete with Greek gods and water nymphs.  I came to Somerset House because I had seen it in a movie, and I wanted to see it for myself.  I also wanted see the Courtauld collection.  The had several paintings in The Barnes impressionist exhibition that toured at the Kimball a few years ago.  Their collection was small but good.  They had ten Cezanne's that I had never seen!  He is my favorite!   

Once I had a quotient of art for the morning, I went to the very "up-market" Jermyn Street.  I walked down this posh shopping street looking at all the "be-spoke" men's stores.  We unsophisticated Americans would call these clothes hand-tailored.  I felt rather intimidated!  I can't even imagine how much a man's suit would cost....  After giving myself a little pep talk, I gathered my courage and went into Fortnum and Mason's.  Imagine a British Neiman Marcus, but just for food!  All my life I've read about getting a picnic basket from Fortnum's and Mason's.  Let me tell you, those baskets cost quiet a few pretty pennies!  The afternoon tea cost 34 pounds; that's about 58 pounds!!!  I decided to skip tea and find some place cheerful and cheap.  

I just started to roam and stroll through these amazing streets.  Following my nose and my curious eyes, I found St. James Square.  The square was packed with with expensive suits talking on their exclusive cell phones in every language in Europe.  I sat in the grass, ate my lunch, and watched the show.  It turns out that the square is very close to St. James Palace which is one of the Queen's houses.  In fact, it's the official residence of Princes William and Harry!  But, I don't think they spend much time there.  It was very old and rather austere.  Not ugly, just serious looking.  They have their own Changing of the Guard, but tourists are not invited!                                                                                

After that nice break, I got back on the tube and went to the Wallace Museum on Oxford Street.  Once again, I almost skipped this museum, but decided that I didn't want to regret missing it after I got home.  Well, it was well worth it!  The museum was a private residence of a WEALTHY couple who lived on Manchester Square and collected art, furniture, and ceramics.  When they died, they left the house and all it's contents to the state on the condition that it be used as a museum.  There were quite a few so-so paintings, but there were also some stunning Rembrandts, Velasquez, Van Dykes, and Steens.  They also had "The Laughing Cavalier!"  Then, downstairs they had a HUGE collection of armor!!!  It was incredible!  They must have had 50 or more complete sets of armor from different time periods.  There were countless swords, knives, bucklers, and shields.  They also had several sets of horse armor, too.  I never even thought about horses needing armor!  Scott the kids would have loved it.  I was so excited that I ran straight into the gift shop and asked the lady behind the counter if she had any books or pamphlets about the armor.  All they had was one very heavy book that probably would have put me over the luggage weight limit by itself.  I said to the lady and her young assistant, "Oh what a shame!  We just don't get much armor in Texas."  For some reason they found that very funny and gave me a real honest to goodness laugh, not just a polite chuckle.

This town in amazing!!!  I am going to be soooo sad to leave tomorrow.  But, my feet hurt!  I'm sick of all my dirty clothes!  I need a manicure and a pedicure!  And, I miss y'all!!!



The church where Eliza took cover from the rain and met Henry Higgins.  It's also the church where her dad sang, "I'm Getting Married In The Morning."

The courtyard of Somerset House.  They were doing a photo shoot for a magazine while I was there.


Another Poseidon Water Feature!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

June 21, 2009 My Jane Austen Moment

                                                            The Geffrye Museum

I am such a nerd!  Here I am crying in public, again.  I almost didn't go to the British Library this morning.  I thought, "You've been to a million libraries.  How interesting could it be?"  I should have known better because I've had to eat my words so many times here!  I must admit, though, the outside of the library was not impressive.  It was just your basic 1980's municipal building.  It could have been in any city in the U.S.  But since I was already there, I kept walking.  I went into room called, "Treasures Of The British Library," and right there next to the door were John Milton's hand written Book of Common Prayer, Lewis Carol's original Alice in Wonderland, with his own illustrations, Jane Austen's manuscript for Persuasion (my favorite of her books,) a Sylvia Plath poem, and the original Jane Eyre, in Bronte's handwriting!!!   Shakespeare had his own case, of course!  They had one page of a play written in his own hand.  Shakespeare had no idea anyone would ever want to read his plays after they were performed, so he was notoriously cavalier with his work.  Hardly any of his original script or poems exist today.

On the next wall were original pieces of music starting with early plane song written with square notes and continuing up to the present with handwritten scores by Handel, Schubert, Purcell, and Elgar.  Beside these treasures was a case of illuminated Bibles, gospels, and books of days.  How could the colors be so bright 700, 800, 900 years after they were created?  The Library also had the Lindisfre Gospels.  Absolutely beautiful!  They also exhibited the Wycliffe Bible which is the first Bible ever written in English, though you wouldn't recognize it as English since it was written in 13 something or other.  I saw one of the few remaining Gutenberg Bibles, and last but not least, The Magna Carta, the document all democratic countries were founded on.  This is a literature Mecca!  And to think, I almost didn't come.

After the Library, I decided to go to the Geffrye Museum.  It's a museum of decorative arts where each room is decorated the way a normal, middle class family would have arranged their living room.  The rooms started in the year 1600 and came up to the 1990's.  One of the nice things about this museum was that it was off the tourist track.  However, one of the not so nice things about this museum was that it was off of the tourist track.  Shoreditch was definitely grittier than tourist friendly, central London.  AND, more pungent!  But, the museum was a breath of fresh air!  Ha ha.  It's a restored almshouse built by a rich philanthropist.  I learned that an almshouse was a retirement home for nice, lower middle class old people.  The gardens were truly lovely.  They also started with Tudor gardening style and progressed up to current gardening fashions. 

Best of all, I finally had tea with scones and clotted cream!  I really like English puddings.  They do cakes and sweets very well.

At about 4 o'clock, I found myself sitting in the delightful tea room.  It was about 70 degrees.  The windows were open.  The butterflies and huge bumblebees were buzzing around.  And, I was eating a cucumber sandwich and drinking a proper tea.  It was a moment out of a Jane Austen novel, except,
I was writing on my I-POD instead of with a quill pen.

By the way, I was marveling over the size of these daisies.  I took several pictures but realized there was nothing else in the picture to show the perspective.  So, I asked this man if I could take a picture of him and his daughter.  I said, "My mother will never believe how big these daisies are.  We can't grow them this big in Texas."  Just as quick as a wink, he answered, "I thought everything was bigger in Texas," and I snapped the picture.  It was a perfect moment! 

I finished up the day by going to the British Museum for a second time.  It's really too big to see in one day.  Today I got pictures of the Elgin Marbles!  I can understand why countries like Greece are upset with England and would want to take their treasures back, but thank goodness the British were such rabid collectors!  It's scary to think how many amazing things would have bee lost or destroyed if British adventurers hadn't come along and scooped them up.  I did notice, however, that they didn't have anything from our country.  If those adventurers had scooped up a few American treasures, a few lawyers might have to get involved.

Well, tomorrow is my last day, she says as forlorn tears fall from her eyes....  I'm going to try to fit in as much as I can stand, well, as much as my feet can stand!


These are the Elgin Marbles.  It was an entire temple that Lord Elgin had moved and reconstructed in the British Museum.  This is only the right half of the room!  There is just as much behind me.

     This is a close up of some of the bas relief on the sides of the temple. Quite detailed!

I don't remember who this is suppose to be, but I took the picture because I think he looks a little like
Hugh Grant.

Friday, June 25, 2010

June 20, 2009 Hampton Court

Hampton Court!  Look at the Mistletoe in that huge tree.  It's nothing like our Mistletoe!

This morning I took the Northern Line to Waterloo Station.  It's a large station for tubes, rail roads, and buses.  I had to go to Waterloo to catch a train for Hampton Court which is about 30 minutes southwest of London.  It turns out that this is also the station where you catch a train to go to Ascot!  I spotted the first crazy hat and thought, "Huh?!?  Who would wear that in public?"  Then I noticed another one and then a clump of women in bizarre hats and then I heard the announcement for the trains to Ascot.  It looks really silly to see women wearing cocktail dresses, cashmere pashminas, and Alice In Wonderland hats at nine o'clock in the morning!  Ah well, it was free entertainment while I waited for my train.

The train finally arrived and I got on and sat in an almost empty car.  Alas!  No private cars.  No individual car doors opening directly to the platform.  No steam billowing around the iron wheels. 
Just yellow plastic seats.  What a let down!  The area around Waterloo looked like all neighborhoods around public transportation, not that great.  But, just beyond the station were middle class neighborhoods of Victorian row houses with long,, narrow back gardens like we've seen on all those shows on PBS.  They were perfectly identical and attached to each other.  I can understand why people say, "You know.  Her, in number 10."  You can't exactly say, "You know, the lady that lives in that big red house with the pink crepe myrtles."  They look too much alike.

As we got closer to Hampton Court, the houses got bigger and nicer.  They went from row houses, to semi-detached (duplexes,) to detached houses.  You could say they got less "Onslow and Our Rose" and more Hyacinth Bucket!

Hampton Court was just what you would think one of Henry the Eighth's castles would look like.  It's another house that poor Cardinal Wolsey "gave" to Henry.  Wolsey built it for himself to reflect his power as the highest religious power in England.  Apparently he saw himself as equal to the king.  The big mistake he made was to invite Henry and Katherine of Aragon to his palace for the weekend.  Henry was very impressed!  So much so that he began to get very jealous!  He didn't have a country house this nice, and what was Wolsey thinking -- equal to a king!  So after a few years of Henry's increasing jealousy, Wolsey decided that he'd rather keep his head than his house.  Henry immediately got the original architect to double the size of the palace so that all his courtiers could stay in the palace with him.  After Henry, William and Mary came along and remodeled some of his work and added their own wing.  It's beautiful, but not as interesting as the Tudor sections. 

The most amazing part of the house was the Tudor kitchens.  It was a whole series of rooms, one for baking, one for beers and ales, one for fish, and one for meat pies.  They were staffed by people in costume who were actually cooking using Tudor recipes, utensils, and techniques.  They weren't actors; they were historians who have a touch of the dramatic.  Good grief!  You should have seen the size of the fire and the fireplace in the roasting room!  No one could stand closer that ten feet to the fire, it was that big and that hot.  Somehow, the historian  managed to stand inside the fireplace and talk to us!   I always wondered if people could really heat a room with a fireplace.  You can!

Upstairs they were having a special exhibit of paintings of Henry and his family.  Once again, I got to see painting that I thought I would never see outside of a book.  They had the famous, full length picture of Henry in that very aggressive stance wearing an enormous suit.  They also had the family portrait that Katherine Parr talked Henry into having done.  Henry had his two daughters declared illegitimate after his son was born.  Not exactly a morale builder for the family.  But Katherine Parr, his last wife, worked diligently to repair Henry's relationship with his daughters, especially with Elizabeth. The painting shows Henry and his son, Edward, in the middle, and off on the sides are Elizabeth and Mary.  The strangest part of this already awkward painting was that they also painted in Edward's mother, even though she died three wives ago! Katherine Parr must have been a saint.  "Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced , beheaded, survived." 

I do believe that the best part of Hampton Court was the gorgeous, oh so English gardens.  They were gigantic, and yet so peaceful.  There must have been a thousand people waiting in the gardens for the actor playing Henry to arrive by boat on the Thames, but the gardens still felt uncrowded.  I particularly liked the Tudor gardens.  These English!  They really know how to do gardens and large public spaces.

At the end of the day, I went through the Tudor maze.  I've never worked my way through a real garden maze before.  It was harder than it looked.  For a moment there, I started to wonder what I would do if I couldn't find my way out!  Then, just when I started to panic, I found the center of the maze and people started to help each other find the way out.  Just like life!  No wonder we use mazes as metaphors.


                   This is a herbaceous border!  I always wondered what that was, exactly.

                                       The William and Mary wing of Hampton Court.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June 19, 2009 Little Pieces of Gorgeousness

The Royal Courts of Justice

This morning I decided to follow one of the walks suggested in Rick Steves' travel guide.  I started in front of The Savoy Hotel on The Strand and walked down four or five blocks to St. Paul's Cathedral. 

The first sight I passed was the gorgeous, Gothic Royal Courts of Justice where all these importantly busy, proper English barristers and solicitors were scurrying around in their 2000 pound hand tailored suits.  The building was so beautiful that I didn't even realize it has a fancy court house.  It looked more like a college campus.

Next, I stumbled on the original Twining's Tea store!  It's in the oldest part of The City.  It's also the part of the town that was burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666.  Most of the shops and houses were lost, but when they rebuilt the town, they used the same medieval street plan they already had.  The shops were long and impossibly narrow, sort of like stacked rows of shotgun houses.  There were all these little hidden court yards and winding back streets that aren't really on any map.  It was in one of those little court yards that I found the Temple Church.  It is the oldest church in London and was founded by the Knights Templar.  Dan Brown writes about this church in Angels and Demons.  I would have missed it if I hadn't been looking very carefully.  Unfortunately, it wasn't open yet!  I may can go back this afternoon.

About four shops over from Temple Church there was a plaque that said that this particular building was where Samuel Pepys lived.  I remember that in college we were assigned to read Pepys famous diary.  I was dreading it because I don't usually like reading nonfiction, and nonfiction written in Shakespeare's convoluted English just seemed like cruel and unusual torture.  Boy, was I wrong!  Pepys was funny!  He made London a real town, not just a historical artifact.  He also showed me that people, even Shakespeare, didn't run around talking in Shakespeare to each other.  They really talked pretty much the way we do today; well, they did use a few "thees" and "thous" for the people they didn't like too much.

Finally, I arrived at St. Paul's Cathedral.  It was, of course, beautiful!!!  As I write this, I am sitting right next to William Blake's tomb.  Wow!  Do you know, during his lifetime, people just decided he was crazy.  Blake thought so far outside the box that no one seemed to know what to think of him.  But, he was functional and had money, so they just kind of left him alone, which was the best thing for everyone.  It wasn't until long after he died that a new generation began to see his genius and understand his mysticism.  What's that saying about a prophet never being appreciated in his home town?

What I wonder is how the people of London live with all this beauty?  Everywhere you turn there is another little piece of gorgeousness!  I'll be walking along thinking about how my feet hurt or how I would like some barbecue or wondering how the man next door can snore so loudly and not wake himself up, when suddenly I turn a corner and there is an incredible old church or yet another fantastic monument or something famous like London Bridge that I sang songs about as a kid.  Londoners seem to live so casually with things that make my jaw drop.  It makes me wonder what I'm taking for granted at home that someone with fresh eyes would find amazing.  It would probably be our violent thunderstorms or our tornadoes or our massive grocery stores!

Anyway, St. Paul's is where Charles and Lady Diana were married.  It much more appropriate for wedding than Westminster, "don't cha fink, darlin'?"  Behind the nave was a beautiful chapel built to honor the American soldiers who died during WWII.  It was very touching.  There are memorials all over town to Americans and American soldiers.  I think the British were glad that we joined the war.

I climbed up into the dome at St. Paul's.  It's not quite as high as that mountain Jonathan and I climbed at Beaver's Bend, but it was close!  The cathedral seems even more beautiful from the top, if that's possible.  There's a whispering gallery up there.  Every 20 feet or so, there is a little hole in the dome.  If you speak into it, someone on the other side of the huge dome can put their ear to another hole and hear what you whisper.  There are kids and adults all running around the dome giggling and playing with the whispering holes.

One last thing.  For lunch I stopped at a chain restaurant called Pret A Manager.  It carries nicer than average sandwiches, salads, soups, and some yummy "puddings."  Because I have had my fill of sandwiches, I was thrilled when I spied a chicken, jalapeno wrap.  I thought, "Hooray! A little taste of home."  Well there were peppers in the wrap -- broiled RED PEPPERS!  If there was a jalapeno anywhere in that wrap, I sure didn't see it or taste it!   The British don't know what hot is, not in food, not in weather!


The London Eye from Westminster Bridge

The Temple Church

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 18, 2009 The V&A, M&S, and P.C.

Well, I think I found my artistic home, The Victoria and Albert Museum.  Just today, I've already seen paintings by Blake, Rousseau, and several other Pre-Raphaelite artists.  They have a huge display of stained glass windows from all over the world.  The museum is huge, but well staged so that you don't feel overwhelmed by the size of the building.  Is sort of reminds me of The Kimball because of the use of the space and the feeling of peace in most of the museum.  The V&A has a section just for British furniture, textiles, ceramics, wallpapers, and lace.  Wallpaper and lace seem like strange things to put in a museum, but British decorative arts like these have had a big influence on the way we decorate our homes. They also had two humongeous tapestry rooms.  It was amazing to see these wall sized, ancient tapestries.

The best thing about this museum is that it has SPACE!!!  You can actually back up and get a look at things.  Space is something that is in short supply in London!  But, it is something we take for granted at home.  You should see how crowded the tubes are from 4 till around 7!  If it were this crowded in DFW, people would be screaming bloody murder.  But when I think about it, a Londoner would probably think the same thing if they saw 183 and Grapevine during our rush hour!

After the museum, I made a big mistake.  I decided to go to Bond Street to look around at Selfridge'sSelfridge's is a grand, old store that's been open for at least 150 years.  Some people think that it is better than Harrod's, and I was afraid Harrod's wouldn't let me in because of my tourist clothes.  Well, let me tell you, you would never know Britain is having a financial crisis.  Selfridge's was having a 50% off sale.  That store was PACKED with about 3 million people!  The United Nations could have had a meeting right then and there.  People from every country you could name, and many we've never heard of were there, literally pulling clothes out of each others hands in their shopping frenzy!  It was a pickpocket's dream.  I just kept wondering how much merchandise was being shoplifted.  They had numerous guards all over the place, and there were big burly, bouncer type guys at all of the entrances.  But there were just not enough security guards for all the people.  Needless to say, I left quickly!

Across the street was Marks and Spencer's food court.  It's not like a mall food court, however.  It's more like a British Central Market.  They had a fish counter and a fancy cheese counter and a meat pie counter and several pastry counters.  They even had a counter just for different kinds of Turkish Delight and baklavas.  Everything looked so tempting.  Apparently one of the trendy things right now is American style brownies.  Mother, we could make a killing with our brownie recipe!  After wandering around for a while with huge eyes full of longing, I asked a nice lady to suggest a very English dessert, or pudding, for me.  She led
me right over to a Sticky Toffee Pudding.  She was right; it was "lovely!"

By the way, I saw Prince Charles again,  yesterday.  I was walking past Trafalgar Square trying to find the Charring Cross tube station, when a bunch of motorcycle bobbies drove up and blocked off the intersections.  Keep in mind, this was about 6 o'clock in the evening during rush hour!  Everyone figured that something important was up, so people stopped rushing and started gawking.  Sure enough, a Bentley drove right up The Mall from Buck. Palace, crossed through Trafalgar Square, and turned onto Northumberland Avenue.  There in the back seat were Charles and Camilla, the other woman.  As soon as they passed, it was if Samantha from Bewitched unfroze everyone and they started rushing around again.  I continued on down Northumberland but had to step out of the traffic onto a side street to look at the map.  Down the quiet side street, I saw Charles and a bunch of very alert Secret Service-type guys.  I didn't walk down the street towards them!  I didn't want to be thrown to the ground and hogtied!

Well, I wish I could send you all some yummy, sticky toffee pudding.  It's brilliant!


     This is the inner courtyard at The Victoria and Albert Museum.  They had a very nice, rather
     expensive, lunch counter set up so the patrons could eat outside. 

    This street in Kensington reminded me of "As Time Goes By."  I could just see Lionel and Jean Hardcastle stepping out of their house and hailing a black cab.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

June 17, 2009 "...but I believe that I am a glow worm."

Today I decided to start with The Cabinet War Room and The Churchill Museum.  I got there early before the crowds.  By the way, London is not an early morning town.  It seems like nothing opens or really get started until 10 A.M.  Until then, everything, except the traffic, seems sleepy and slow moving.  I can't quite get use to it.

Anyway...the Churchill Museum was very interesting.  You walk through the actual bunker where Churchill and his staff lived and worked for a large part of the war.  His wife also lived in the bunker with them.  Somehow, I thought she would be holed up on their estate, Chartwell, in southern England.  Perhaps she would have been too much of a target, or maybe it was because that part of England was so heavily bombed by the Germans. 

The Cabinet War Rooms are right there in the thick of things on Whitehall, under the Foreign Office, around the corner from Number 10, and a block from The Ministry of Defense.  One of the funniest things I saw in the exhibit was a quote from Churchill.  He famously said, "We are all worms, but I believe that I am a glow worm."  Now that's some healthy self-esteem!

Next, I wandered around the Victoria Embankment, trying to decide what to do next.  I stopped and asked a young man which bridge I should cross to get to the London Eye.  I thought he was a construction worker because they were doing something very loud in the street, and he was wearing one of those bright, day glow orange vests.  It turned out that he was an archaeologist!  The area they were digging up use to be the original Whitehall Palace owned by Cardinal Wolsey.  They always keep an archaeologist around for the frequent times they find some hidden historical gem.  They just recently found Wolsey's wine cellar.  Turns out that Wolsey "gave" Whitehall to Henry the Eighth in an attempt to stay in his favor.  It didn't work!  That Henry, he was quite a rascal!
Next, I crossed Westminster Bridge by Big Ben and Parliament.  It's an elegant bridge and a great spot for pictures.  Next, I rode the London Eye.  That was great after I got into the car, amazing views of the city.  But on the ground, it felt a little like Six Flags on a summer day.  Lots of people.  Lots of fair food.  And, lots of crying kids.  I didn't stick around to soak up the atmosphere!

After The Eye, I zipped over to the National Portrait Gallery.  I'm so glad I didn't skip this museum!  It houses all the portraits of famous people in British history.  There was even a famous portrait of George Washington.  Because it is the 500th anniversary of Henry the Eight's reign, the museum had a special exhibit of portraits of him.  I also saw that famous portrait of the Bronte sisters painted by their brother, Bramwell.  It's the only picture we have of Anne and Emily Bronte!  They died so young and before anyone really knew how amazing they were.  We have a few of Charlotte because she lived a little bit longer.  The museum had many portraits of writers, portraits I've see on dust jackets and "About the Author" sections of Penguin Classics.  It thrilled me to see the real paintings with my own eyes.  I'm such a nerd!!!

Around half five, (5:30) I went across the street to St. Martins in the Fields.  What a beautiful, little church!  It is to Westminster Abbey what Mozart is to Bach; light, uplifting, but just as complex.  Since it was supper time and I didn't want to compete with the brutal rush hour traffic, I decided to eat in the Crypt.  I know!  It's strange to think of eating on top of dead people, but I believe it was the best meal I've had in London!  I'm sooooo sick of sandwiches. 

Still not ready to come home!

Sherrie                                                                                        St. Martin's in the Field

A view of The Houses of Parliament from The London Eye.

The London Eye from Westminster Bridge

One of the carriages on The Eye.  They hold between 25 and 30 people.

From inside one of the carriages looking up through the supports.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

June 16, 2009 Tears, More Tears, and Even More Tears!

Westminster Abbey

You know that I've been getting teary-eyed almost daily since coming to London. Well today, I flat out cried, not once, but twice!

This morning I stepped into Westminster Abbey, looked up at the beautiful ceilings, the ancient stone walls, and the majestic vaults and tracings, and just started crying. I couldn't help it, and I couldn't stop it. A verger came over to ask me if I was okay. After assuring him that I wasn't crying over the secret guilt of murder or something equally awful, I asked him if people often cry when they come to The Abbey. He said it happens all the time, and they love to see it happen. I felt overwhelmed by the beauty, the incredible feeling of history, and the absolute spirituality of this place. I had to sit down in front of the High Alter for ten minutes or so just to collect myself and stop crying. Later, I found out that the spot where I sat down is the spot where the last 38 monarchs have been crowned and where Diana and the Queen Mother laid in state and had their funerals. It is also the place where Anne of Cleeves was interred. She was the rejected fourth wife of Henry the Eighth; the wife he divorced and then had declared a sister. She's right there, on the side of the alter. It's a good thing I didn't know that at the time. I might have become hysterical!
After I calmed down a little, I paid to go on a tour with a verger. The lady at the counter warned me, "It costs 3 pounds, Madame." That's about 5 dollars. It was worth every tuppence of it! We got to go into Edward the Confessor's private chapel. Did you know that he was declared a saint?!? I didn't. We also got to go all around Queen Elizabeth's tomb or sarcophagus. She was buried in the same tomb as her half sister, Queen Mary, or Bloody Mary. I asked the verger if Elizabeth knew she would be buried with Mary. He said that it was her successor, James the First, who made that decision. James was Elizabeth's second cousin and the son of her arch rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, who Elizabeth had beheaded. Hum..., I wonder how impartial that decision was? "Let's see. Where should I bury the woman who executed my mother...?"

But, Mary did love her sister, Elizabeth. After she became the queen, Mary's advisers urged her to kill Elizabeth because Elizabeth was Protestant and popular while Mary was Catholic and not loved by the people. They called her Bloody Mary for a reason, after all! But, Mary couldn't bring herself to kill her baby sister. Just think how different our history would be today, if Mary hadn't loved Elizabeth!

Just as I was getting caught up in the history, we turned the corner and walked into Poet's Corner. Well, the water works started all over again! There I was looking at memorials to my boyfriend, ol' Shakey and Dickens, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, and Lord Byron. Everywhere I looked there was a tribute to someone I've studied and tortured kids with. And just when I got my tears under control, I spied this small plaque just to the left of Shakespeare for Jane Austen! More tears! My soul sister! She would be thrilled to be so close to Bill. Imagine the witty, sarcastic conversations they would have!

After so much emotion, I went out into the gardens, which were of course, lovely. Right smack in the middle of London, there is this spacious garden; a little picture of rural England. Well, grand, idealized, rural England. I saw a gardener working on a bed, and I just had to talk to her. We ended up sharing gardening triumphs and tragedies for about 15 minutes. It turns out that the trees I thought were sycamores are actually Plane trees. I've heard about London's Plane trees all my life, but I never realized they are related to sycamores. They look just like our trees but much bigger and healthier.

One of the last things I saw was a memorial to Charles and John Wesley. That surprised me, considering the adversarial relationship between the Wesleys and the Church of England. The verger said, "Well, they're a part of the history." But he didn't seem to want to discuss the matter. Later, I went across the street to the Methodist Center Building. I had a private tour from a very nice man from Yorkshire. He showed me a marble statue of John Wesley and said that it was made to go with his memorial at Westminster. But Wesley gave the church so much trouble, alive and dead, that the Abbey decided it would cause more trouble that it was worth to put his statue up! Wesley would probably be proud of all that fuss.

Finally, I decided to go back to the Abbey for Evensong. As you can imagine, it was beautiful and magnificent; a sea of calm in a frenetic city.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?



The way the light and shadows interact with these windows in the cloistors is amazing.

Just imagine how many thousands of monks and priests walked these cloisters.

This is the most recent addition to the Abbey.  The reliefs are of 10 modern saints including Dietrich Bonhoffer and Martin Luther King.

The grounds of Westminister Abbey are truly immense, even today in the middle of crowded London.  It must have been quite an impressive sight to pilgrims 500 or 700 years ago as they approached The Abbey rising up out of the distance on the flat banks of the Thames.