Monday, January 1, 2018

The Great Adventure 2017 Part Twelve - Last Stop, London!

We arrived in London by train from Oxford on Thursday morning, Oct. 12.  After deciding that we didn't want to figure out the Tube while dealing with our luggage, we took a taxi to our hotel.  We did buy our travel cards at the station so we were all set for tackling the underground later that night.  This was our smallest room yet but worked for what we used it for.

Our hotel was in the Kensington neighborhood and chosen to be convenient to the things we wanted to do in London.  We unpacked and headed out for a walk in Kensington Gardens.  It's beautiful and huge.  We noticed the Albert Memorial and walked by Kensington Palace and the statue of Queen Victoria.  If we hadn't had our fill of palaces already, we would be in the right place to see more.

We kept walking and ended up at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which neither of us had seen before.  It's an immense art museum with endless collections.  A couple of things I liked were the room of tapestries (this one is so huge its incredible) and the costumes.  Looking at the tapestries and imagining the fine work done by scores of people to get the colors and the patterns woven in exactly was mind boggling.

There were costumes from all sorts of productions from the Lion King to ballets.  This is the tutu worn by Margot Fonteyn in Swan Lake in 1964.

I liked this costume worn by Elton John during his 1974-75 tour of the US. I might have seen him in it!

I was very excited because we had tickets to see The Book of Mormon that night.  I had been exposed to the soundtrack while staying with my daughter a few years ago but never had succeeded in getting tickets (or being in town when it was playing in Seattle.)  I decided to check in London and got very nice seats for no more money than we would have spent at home and was theatre in London!

We ventured onto the underground that evening and somehow figured out how to get to the right place and back again.  The production was at the Prince of Wales Theatre, where it has been running since 2013.  This show is raunchy, written by the South Park guys, but hilarious and the catchy music will keep you humming.

The next day was busy, too.  Looking back on this, I don't wonder why it took me more than a week to recover after we got home!  We took the tube to Westminster and got a glimpse of the London Eye and the Parliament building.

We hadn't planned ahead for a tour and they were all reserved, so we went across to the Cabinet War Rooms, which was a tour Pat was really looking forward to.  If you see the movie, The Darkest Hour, you will see how the War Rooms were used.  Churchill "led the war" from these underground rooms, even though he generally disliked being there and didn't spend any more time than necessary underground, usually sleeping at home.  The exhibit is fascinating as you walk through the maze of corridors and look into the rooms that housed all aspects of the business of running a country at war.    I didn't photograph much of these but here is the map room where the strategy was done.

A uniformed guard was stationed at the entrance.  In those days, he was real 😊

After this part of the tour, you entered exhibits that explored all aspects of Churchill's long life and accomplishments.  It was truly fascinating.

This is the original door from No. 10 Downing St.

After this interesting morning, we decided to take a further field trip to Greenwich.  We took the underground as far as we could and then switched to an above ground train.  I have to say that the system was pretty easy to use, even for us west coast folks whose cities never anticipated the need for mass transit... The trains got us pretty close and after a short walk we came to the Royal Observatory, home of Greenwich Mean Time, and the Royal Naval Museum.

After a walk up a pretty big hill, it was exciting to see the official marker for the Prime Meridian, 0 longitude and 0 latitude.  It's marked on the side of the building, then you can follow the line down the building and across the ground.

There is also a display documenting standard times and measurements.  The Shepard Gate Clock always shows Greenwich Mean Time and was installed here in 1852.

The view back to the city is breathtaking.

The Royal Naval Museum was getting ready to close but we took a quick tour through some parts we were interested in.  This ship in a bottle was pretty cool!

While making our way back towards the train, we decided we were pretty tired and hungry, so stopped for a pub dinner.  My first Shepard's Pie this trip...even though it looked a little fancy, it was good!

Okay, last two days.  Walking some more...I've been trying to figure out why I gained some weight after we got back and decided that, even though we ate our way through the trip, we also walked for hours every day.  Continuing the eating and ditching the walking was the problem, so I'm attempting to remedy that currently.  

We took the train back downtown and visited Selfridge's.  It was fun to see but it really is just a big department store and expensive to boot, so we didn't buy much there.

We picked up lunch and went over to Hyde Park.  It was kind of cold and there really wasn't anywhere to sit, but we managed.  We found our way to Princess Diana's Memorial fountain, which is a big installation and very beautiful.  The water spills down in a lovely design and it's meant to be played in.

Beautiful views across the water:

That night we found a pub close to our hotel and I had my first ale.  I like beer, but it has bothered my stomach in recent years so, while I was eager to try a traditional drink, I hesitated until almost the last night.  It was good.  Football (soccer) was on in the background!

The next day was a trip to the National History Museum.  Throughout the trip, museums were some of the places that we found most interesting and enjoyable.  This one had real dinosaur bones, so it was extra good.

This is the most intact Stegasaurus fossil ever found.


Our Sunday night was spent with family - my cousin's son and his wife and kids moved to London a couple of years ago and we arranged to visit them.  We were proud of the way we figured out how to get to their neighborhood - it took two trains and an Uber - but we made it!  It was great to see them, we walked to their local pub for a traditional Sunday roast dinner.  A real treat.

And that's that.  The next morning, we took an Uber to Victoria Station, the Gatwick Express to the airport, and then the plane home.  It tires me out just to write all this now.  And we lived for a month out of two small suitcases and two backpacks.  Something I never thought I could do but it worked out fine.  The only extra stuff we had on the way back was a bag of gifts.

The view of the Seattle waterfront was a welcome sight.  This was a fabulous trip but there's no place like home!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Great Adventure 2017 Part Eleven

Okay, we are heading into our last week and I should finish the narrative in no time!  We left off as we were riding the train to Oxford, which was where we picked up our next car.  Our B&B was in Stow-on-the-Wold, which should have been a fairly quick and easy drive.  Unfortunately, our GPS again conspired against us and by the time we figured out we were indeed going in the wrong direction, we had made our drive into a considerably longer one than it needed to be.  I hesitate to say that we wasted time, since seeing any place in England was interesting, but we did have to do some backtracking to get where we needed to be.

We spent two nights in a very quaint building that was built in 1640.  The narrow circular staircase and slant to the floors bore out this fact.

Imagine carrying two suitcases up these stairs!

We had heard good things about the Cotswolds and were looking forward to seeing some part of the area.  Our first impression was that they are indeed popular with tourists, since even in October we were hard pressed to find a parking spot on the street. The buildings in this area are made from Cotswold stone, which is lighter in color than what we had seen in other parts of the country.  As we drove around, we also saw lots of tree-lined roads, cobblestone walkways, and houses with thatched roofs.

The names of the towns are so charming - Moreton-in-Marsh, Chipping Camden, Cheltenham, Farmington, and of course the Upper and Lower Slaughters.  We walked between these last two towns and, as Rick Steves told us in one of his travel videos, gates around here have to be left unlocked for walkers to pass through.  We saw the famous water wheel and also the "kissing gate" that is inscribed in honor of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

We had two enjoyable days here just mostly looking around.

We drove back to Oxford to return the car and to spend a few days exploring this historic setting.  Our B&B was the most modern yet, with a real king-sized bed and actual room to walk around it.  We were on a main road, which was handy for taking the bus to any destination we wanted to visit.

We took a walking tour of Oxford University on our first full day and were overwhelmed with information.  A highlight was a visit to the Bodleian Library, where treasures on view included one of the original copies of the Magna Carta (damaged by mice in storage),

some of Shakespeare's original writing,

and a page from the original score of Handel's Messiah.

Being able to see these items was amazing.  We also attended a lecture addressing food trends in Victorian times; so fun to attend an actual lecture at Oxford!

The buildings have incredible history; so much was thrown at us that we couldn't much remember what was what!

We walked along the Thames for a bit after another short bus ride.  We could imagine punting along in the river, and witnessing crew races here.

Our next day was taken up with a visit to Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill.  Blenheim is the residence of the Duke of Marlborough and is the only non-royal country house in England to hold the title of palace.  It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Shortly after we arrived at the palace, the power went out, due to an outage in the nearby town of Woodstock.  It didn't affect our visit too much, except for closing an area of the residence that had interactive exhibits and closing down some cash registers in the cafe.  We joined an interesting walking tour of the inside of the building and learned that, although Churchill was born here, he never actually lived here, among other things.  It is a huge and magnificent building on extensive grounds.

The next day found us back at the train station (look at all the bikes commuters leave here!) on our way to our final stop in London.