Thursday, April 29, 2010

4/29 Friends arrive!

We're so happy to have friends arrive.  Ginger and Bill got here around 10AM and we had a big english breakfast with english bacon (a lot different then ours and I like it so much better), eggs, mushrooms and toast and honey.  Then it was time for a long walk along the Thames to give them some exercise and ended up at a historic pub called The Dove, registered by Guiness World Records as the smallest pub in the country.  However, after you go through the bar area which only has 4 stools and is tiny, you go into other rooms and out on to a deck overlooking the Thames.  With the walk back, we had covered 3.5 miles and they were ready for a nap!  John left after we got home to explore one of the "Magnificent Seven" cemeteries (you can actually google that!).  I had a leisurely afternoon reading a wonderful book Searching for Tilley while Bill and Ginger slept.  Then out to dinner and now we are watching the political debate (the election is next week and they only campaign for four weeks! Can you imagine?) and they sound just like the politicians back home with the same ideas and problems.

Tomorrow we leave for Oxford to see the May Day celebration on Saturday.  Our first scheduled event is at 5AM Saturday morning to see a 300 year old tradition of a boys choir singing on top of a church!  Then a Maypole somewhere I hope.  We are staying at a bed and breakfast that Bill found so I can't tell you much about it and I have no idea if I will have internet connection to continue to communicate with you.  So, cheerio for now!

4/28 Greenwich and the Queen's House

It's a long trip to Greenwich from Hammersmith.  You get on the tube and go all the way to Tower Hill.  Then you walk to another tube station and get on the tube that takes you to the Docklands Rail.  That is above ground over the Thames and several canals.  John said Disney would be proud - most of these trains are driven remotely.  Once you get to the Greenwich station, then you walk about a mile through town and up a steep hill to the Royal Observatory and that is where the meridian time line is.  We had a great tour and the tour guide should be on stage he was that good.

Then we walked down to the Queen's House.  It is on the site where Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were born but it was in a different building.  This one was new - finished in 1675!  Beautiful building and great art exhibit going on.  You weren't allowed to take pictures but John snuck one in of the Tulip Staircase which is entirely self supporting.  Here's the illicit picture:  Isn't that beautiful?  Oh, by the way, the queen doesn't live there, in fact no one does now.

The other very interesting thing about this building is that when it was built in the 1600's, it was built over a road!  One side of it on one side of the road and the other on the other side and connected in the middle by the upper stories.  Here is a picture of how it looks today.  It apparently was a very important road!!

Anyway, we had been walking forever.  So we again found another pub, had a draft and sat for about 30 minutes and walked forever more to the Greenwich station, took the two tubes, walked to the grocery store and walked the .8 miles home with our groceries.  The stores are packed with commuters at that time getting their evening meals, I think it's because the refrigerators are so small here, you really can't keep more than a few days groceries in it at a time, so everyone shops on the way home. 

Here's one other picture  - and we literally have hundreds (look on more that I really wanted to put on for you.  John and I had taken a two story bus in the City to go home and we were sitting in the front seats on the top level when we realized all we could see coming and going was red busses.  Between some of these there really were cars!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

4/27 Victoria and Albert museum for me

John and I went our separate ways yesterday.  I found that the #74 bus very close to us goes right by the V&A so I decided to go off on my own.  I knew John wasn't going to enjoy following me around looking at old clothes and furniture, etc.  So he went off to the Imperial War Museum and the HMS Belfast - guy stuff.

I spent about 6 hours in the museum.  The building itself is stunning.  Huge domes, lots of mosaics where I had a scone and clotted cream (couldn't resist). 

They were having a special exhibition of Grace Kelly's clothes and you had to pay £6 for that.  Other than special shows like this, the rest of the museum is completely free.  I don't know what it costs to keep it open but it costs £14,000 a day to keep Dover Castle open!  Anyway I enjoyed the exhibit immensely.  Of course, the clothes were beautifully constructed and most of them had pictures next to them of Ms. Kelly wearing them.  Next to this exhibit was one called "Fashions" and had clothes from the 1700s to the present time.

I also love watching the people and one of the most fascinating group I noticed was a group of about a dozen female students dressed in burkas with nothing but their eyes showing.  What astounded me was that they were doing schoolwork with a question and answer sheet about the exhibit so they were discussing fashions and being led by a young woman about maybe 23 in western clothing.  I said to John that they looked like a flock of magpies.  I'm sure that's not nice but it really was the first time I have ever seen that many burkas all in one place and it was an immediate reaction especially since they were all talking at once!  Anyway, it was just so ironic. 

There was something very amusing in the underwear department - yes, they even showed bras and matching panties for the present day - and there was a bustle and beneath it a sign that said that bustles could be made custom and for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, one was made that had a music box in it that played "God Save the Queen" when the wearer sat down! 

I spent the rest of the day in the European 1500 - 1900 section that included clothing, furnishings, glassware, china and silver and gold utensils.  Also watched a couple of short movies on country houses that are in the Biltmore Castle size.  Nice little weekend getaways!  

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Saturday through Monday - Chartwell, Marathon & British Museum

The day we left Broadstairs, Saturday, we first had breakfast on the seaside at one of the huts that is a food kiosk.  Regular english breakfast with sausage, bacon, eggs, toast and baked beans!!  No tomatoes or mushrooms, though the view was about as English you can get - the Channel and the Cliffs!

Walked around Broadstairs for awhile and then had chocolate gelatto at Morelli's at 11 AM.  Couldn't resist!

Packed up, cleaned the flat and took off for London with the intention of going to Chartwell, the Churchill's family home for over 20 years, on the way.  We found it down a country road about halfway to London and it is lovely.  The view from the terrace was as far as you could see and all countryside.  Breathtaking, really.  The house is furnished the way Mrs. Churchill wanted it to be with several bedrooms set aside for all of Churchill's awards and gifts, including his order of the Charter!  And surprisingly close to London.  Took us only an hour from there and that was on country and town roads, no highways.  After the war, Churchill was afraid that he wasn't going to be able to afford to keep it so a group of his friends purchased it for him and sold it to the National Trust with the understanding that Churchill and his wife could live there until they died.  This end of the house with the trellis on it dates back to Tudor times, the 1500s. 

On Sunday, I decided to stay at the flat and write, do some straightening up and go for a walk.  John wanted to go into the City to watch the London marathon and I had no desire to be in the crowds.  He had a great time and so did I!

Yesterday, Monday the 26th, we went into London to go to the British Museum.  You know, after about 3 hours, both of us were on overload and decided to leave.  John had gone to see the "money" exhibit, I had gone to see "Europe" 1100 to 1800 AD.  I was fascinated with the artifacts that local citizens find on their land with a metal detector or under large mounds.  Good grief, one women had an entire Viking ship buried under one of the mounds on her land with all kinds of gold stuff and one man found a "hoard", a small metal bowl stuffed full of gold roman artifacts valued now at 3 million and if there is a buyer, he gets to keep it!  Worth the cost of a metal detector, huh?  This picture is of the big entrance hall.  It looks like once upon a time it was all open to the sky and they built a glass roof over all the parts.

After the museum, we went to Harrods and headed directly for the famous Food Court - a museum of it's own sort.  We decided we would each buy something - John got a roast beef and stilton sandwich for his dinner and I got a small chocolate mousse for dessert.  Yum.  His was very good, mine was better!  We thought about taking the cake pictured here but decided against it.  It wasn't the price tag of almost 5000 pounds that made us hesitate, but carrying it home on the bus would have been a challenge!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

4/22 Canterbury and its Saint

On one of our first trips to England about 20 years ago, we visited Canterbury Cathedral.  It was a dark rainy day and it was a very depressing place especially the spot where Thomas Becket was murdered by four of Henry II's knights.  There was no one at that spot but me and I was feeling very strange.  I had to leave!  It was  so disturbing to me that I just couldn't stay.  Maybe Thomas' spirit was there haunting me, I don't know!  So I was anxious to go back and see if I still had the same reaction.  Maybe it was just the weather!  Today was sunny, the stained glass windows were glittering with the most incredible colors, the cathedral was full of people and the spot was not so spooky after all but it still was very moving.  There were a lot of students there and the looks on their faces were priceless as they listened to the guide artfully and skillfully pull them into the scene so they would understand what happened.  I came back later when no one was there and got a picture of the site.  The sculpture with its shadows represents the swords of the four knights pointing to the spot where Becket was murdered.  Well, enough of that.

The cathedral is absolutely awe-inspiring.  Some of the windows are medieval glass and some of the most valuable glass and windows in the world.

And you must always remember to look up when in a cathedral.  This next picture was taken by John as he laid down on the steps right under the point in the cathedral where the nave crossed the transept.   I think it's incredible.  Mind you, these are the ribs from the columns as they spread open when they reached the pinnacle of the spire.  You could stare at this for minutes at a time and still not take it in.

Another picture that John took that shows the awesomeness of this church is shown here.  What really boggles the mind is that the cathedrals were being built almost a thousand years ago. How did they do it?
The novel that explains this so well and the one that got me and John to start travelling to England is Sarum.  It's the story of the building of Salisbury Cathedral.  Another one is Pillars of the Earth.  If you like English history and historical novels, you will love these two.

After leaving the cathedral, we explored the streets of Canterbury surrounding it.  Higgledy piggledy roof lines, lovely old buildings, a charming area of this vibrant city.

One last stop on the way back to the flat was the Spitfire and Hurricane Museum.  These two planes were fighter planes who fought against the Germans during WWII and were extremely instrumental in the winning of the war.  We have been interested in the war because John's uncle, Frances Robin Graham, was a B17 bomber pilot who was killed over the North Sea during the blitz over Berlin.   Seeing how small these planes are and how vulnerable they must have been, you are struck by the brazen courage of these young men and what they were willing to give up for their country - their lives.

Wednesday, 4/21, caught in the tides!

It was supposed to be a quiet day of exploring Broadstairs and not driving much. And it started out as such. Then after lunch we decided to walk to the next town over and see if we could find Patrick and Julia at their boat. This was the couple we met our first day in town at the pub and we had enjoyed them and their dog Scupper so much that we said we would drop by during the week to see the boat.

Along the coast where the towns hug the White Cliffs, there are promenades in some of the towns which are very wide walkways above the sea and built into the cliffs. In Broadstairs, it's called the Prom. We decided to walk below the Prom directly on the waterfront to Ramsgate where Pat and Julie live, only a 2 mile walk away. The tide seemed to be out and it was sort of a "let's do it" decision while we were walking so we didn't check the tide chart available in the flat. We were enjoying talking to people as we strolled along and spotted a couple of women up on the prom in front of their "hut". A hut is a small shed, about 6x6 feet standing about 8'tall at the roof's peak inside. People own or rent these and most of them are taken down in the winter and rebuilt in April. People use them for storage of beach chairs, etc. and some are decorated to look really cute when they are open.

These two ladies had one of the "cute" ones and we talked for awhile about it. We asked them about the best place to get fish and chips (Eddie Gilbert's in Ramsgate) and they said we shouldn't miss the ice cream parlor, Morelli's, in Broadstairs. Then we mentioned to them that we were on our way to Ramsgate and they said we had better hurry - we had about 4 minutes to get there. Well, the prom does not go all the way to Ramsgate but there are stairs from the beach up to the Ramsgate prom and we could see them. They really didn't look that far away. Not until we rounded a corner of the cliffs and saw that there was another bay that the cliffs had hidden! Well, we started walking faster and faster and what seemed like all of a sudden we were knee deep in water! We weren't far from the stairs, maybe 50 feet, so we weren't too alarmed but we were getting very wet! I was knee deep being the shorter of the two and John was mid-calf and he could hold his pants up. Mine were more fitted and didn't want to go up!! A couple of times my foot went into a deeper spot and I was laughing so hard by this time it's a wonder that I didn't lose my balance and land face first in the water.

By the time we got to the top of the stairs - about 20 stairs to the top - and had walked about 5 minutes, I realized that the long nylon Cuddle Duds pants I was wearing under my jeans for warmth (it was about 50 out and windy) were beginning to wick and the wetness in my jeans was moving upward. Soon I would look like I ought to be embarassed!

Well, we found Patrick, who used to be a Bobby (policeman) in London, working on the boat they live on and he offered to dry my clothes for me but I declined! I'd have to hide somewhere and I really preferred touring the boat. He made a pot of coffee and we sat in the "lounge" (that's what Brits call the living room) while he told us about the boat and what he wants to do - outfit it to be a working boat for photographers, birdwatchers, that kind of day tripping. They really are doing beautiful work. Julie says it's her husband's dream and her nightmare! She works full-time and helps out on the boat when she can. She welds and also dons a wetsuit and goes under the boat to clean it. The harbor water looks pretty bad to me so I admire her for her fortitude. I think I would tell John he'd have to do that if it were his dream boat!

We had a nice visit and agreed to meet Friday night at the pub in Broadstairs.   We took the bus home!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dover Castle - defense point in the past and present

Tuesday,  April 20, 2010

The goal today is to visit Dover Castle.  Since it’s only about 45 minutes away, we aren’t too anxious to get started early.  We find that we are creating a routine of waking up around 7, making the coffee and enjoying it while watching the news.  What with the volcanic ash and all flights grounded for 5 days now plus the election news, it’s quite interesting.  I think I’ve seen one picture of our President on the news since we’ve been here.  The English have more important things on their minds than our problems!  Interestingly enough, their problems sound remarkably like ours!  The economy, lack of jobs, immigration, bullying in schools, school testing, etc.  – same stuff, just a different accent!

Anyway, then we get going on our day around 10, stop for lunch at a pub around 2 or 3:00, tour some more, head home and collapse.   We seem to average about 5 miles a day in walking.  Have a light dinner of cheese and crackers or a sandwich, watch the telly (their programs are as bad as ours!) or read, plan the next day and off to bed.  That’s probably TMI and I can’t imagine why you would be interested in this, but there it is!

So we’re off to Dover Castle and got there around 10:30 or so.  There is so much to see and so much to comprehend.  The amazing thing is that most of the existing castle is almost 1000 years old and that this high point on the cliffs has been a defensive position since before the Romans arrived around AD36 or something like that.  From that point right up to the present day, especially during WWII when secret tunnels were dug into the chalk cliffs, England has used this spot to protect itself at it’s most vulnerable point.  The retreat from Dunkirk that saved 338,000 English soldiers, I think in 1940, to fight again was coordinated from here as well as many of the air and sea combats.  Churchill often came.  There was a full hospital and underground housing as well.  We were led through the tunnels by a very knowledgeable guide and it was enthralling.  Genuine papers and orders were left hanging on the walls;  the telephones were still there.  In some areas, it was as if the war had ended, everyone celebrated and never went back in.
As for the 1000 year old part of the castle, the great hall and keep were decorated to replicate the colors and furnishings as they would have been during Henry II’s day.  I had always read that the interiors of castles and cathedrals would have been very colorful but you see none of that, of course, because it has all worn away.  So it was quite a pleasant surprise to see this reproduction to get an idea of what it would have looked like.  There were also “holograms” of Henry in different parts of the castle talking to his stewards or to us as if we were his contemporaries.

  The third part of the castle defenses that we could explore are the medieval tunnels.  Wonder if this is where Churchill got the idea!  These were a bit spooky but very interesting to see. 

Well, we've been working here in the pub for a couple of hours and John is ready to leave so I am going to post this as is.  Let me just say that John kept saying about Dover Castle - "I just can't believe that there was this much to see here and the condition everything is in."  It was really fascinating.  

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Today is our 36th anniversary! Hard to believe that 36 years ago we were getting married in Miami, FL.

Today we decided to go down the coast to Deal and Dover and along the way as we were driving down the road we saw the sign for a Roman fort and decided that would be something fun to investigate. The fort is Richborough and it was founded about AD 43 and is one of the first Roman settlements in England.

We drove up and were amazed at the size of the walls and the size of the fort and how much there is left of it. However, we felt that this was not the focus we had today so we toured it VERY briefly and bought the booklet which is extremely informative. We also bought a small box of ginger cookies dipped in dark chocolate! Yum and thank goodness. Those cookies ended up being pretty much all the food we ate all day!

We got back on the road and moved on to Dover with the intent of visiting the castle, the war rooms of WWII and the tunnels developed during the same war. However, we first turned out to a National Trust site called the White Cliffs and we got our first view of the White Cliffs of Dover! Jaw dropping they are, believe me.   This picture was taken by John (as have all the pictures in this blog to date; he's good, isn't he?) as we were beginning our hike from the visitor center at The White Cliffs to the South Foreland Lighthouse.

We started hiking out on the trail to the lighthouse when we realized that we had a birds-eye view of the Dover Port. It was very obvious that the ban on flying right now because of the volcanic ash from Iceland was affecting the number of tour buses in line to get on the barges. Probably filled with people who are stranded, some trying to get away from England, others trying to get home to England. It was fascinating to stand on the cliffs looking down on to the port and watch the buses and 18 wheelers slowly driving in and through the lanes that separated them by vehicle style into other lanes to board the barges. We must have stood there for 15 minutes just watching the dance going on below.

The National Trust representative had told us that we would have a shorter hike to the lighthouse by going down a country road to St. Margaret’s Cliffs and start from there.   Since we had spent so much time watching the port and it was nearing 3:00, we decided to do that.  The village terminated on the English Channel just under some of the cliffs.  At the very bottom of the road, we were right on the waterfront - the English Channel!  To the right of the car park was a pub called The Coastguard which bragged of being “the closest pub to France” and to the left there were 4 private homes two of which had been occupied by Noel Coward and Ian Fleming. Definitely a place where they could find privacy.  The kitchen was closed so there was no chance of getting anything to eat so lunch was a pint and a bag of crisps (that's chips to us!)

We hiked up the hill and up another hill and up another hill to the top of the hills over the cliffs and got to the lighthouse. There we had a wonderful guide who was able to tell us how the lighthouse worked. You have to realize that this lighthouse was about 250 years old and the methods of operations were quite primitive in comparison to what we do now with satellites, etc. This lighthouse’s oil was sperm whale oil. The operators were a family who for 4 generations operated this lighthouse. As the technology changed, so did their duties and now this lighthouse is not in operation at all any more because of navigation satellites. Not being a lover of heights, I was quite proud of myself for walking out on the top level of the lighthouse.  I stayed REAL close to the wall.  This is a view John took from the top.  You can see the white cliffs way off in the distance.

Hiked back to the car and headed back to the flat. We were pooped from our 4 mile hike uphill and down and we’ll do Dover Castle tomorrow!  Watched The Full Monty for our evening entertainment.  If you haven't seen that and want a great laugh, enjoy!  It's about 6 men out of work in Britain when the steel mills all shut down and went out of business and how they decide they can make money dancing like the Chippendales after watching how many women paid 10 pounds to see them - only they decide that the only way their the community will take them seriously and pay to come is if they give them the full monty!  You figure out what that means!

By the way, since we don't have internet connection at the Broadstairs flat, we had to find a place to do our email and post this blog, so we are doing it from a pub that has Wi-Fi.  What a shame, huh?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Notting Hill and Portobello

Today is Wednesday, April 21st and we came to Broadstairs, Kent on Sunday, April 18th.  We didn't realize that we wouldn't have internet connections at the flat so I haven't been able to post this Saturday installment until now.  I'm going to try to catch up.  The edition below is from Saturday, the 17th, and right now we are sitting in a pub in Broadstairs that has a Wi-Fi hook up and I am posting what I wrote on Word.  After I hit the "Post Now" command, we are going to go get Fish and Chips somewhere and try to do more later.  Who knows when I will catch up but I hope you just enjoy the stories without worrying about the date!

Saturday, the 17th,  we decided we were going to Notting Hill to the Portobello Road market. However, the tube system had other ideas.  A lot of repairs are being done on the tube on weekends and when we got to where we had to change lines the one we wanted wasn’t in service so we decided to take another and to make a long story short we began to feel like Tom Dooley who rode the Boston train and couldn’t get off!  Eventually, we had to walk to a bus stop and wait quite a while.  The Albert and Victoria Museum was within sight and I told John “Five more minutes and I’m going to the V&A”.  John was really okay with that since we do tend to part ways if one of us doesn’t like where the other one is going however the bus arrived momentarily and off we went.  Because the tubes weren’t working and the planes were grounded due to volcanic ash (none of which we had seen yet), the buses were packed.  However we eventually got to Notting Hill Gate, our stop, and got off.  We turned right when we should have turned left and walked a street of markets with the junkiest stuff you could imagine.   We were so disappointed.  We remembered our visit so many years ago going through antique stores and old jewelry stores where we bought one of my prize possessions – an opera mirror that I wear on a silver chain.  Now all we saw was really cheap stuff.  However, there were many kiosks along the road of ethnic cooking and we ended up having lamb grilled on skewers with salad.  Mmmm, it was delicious with chili sauce and garlic sauce.  Moroccan, we believe, according to the man’s card. 

Then we continued down the other side of the street where we eventually crossed over the street where we had gotten off the bus.  Voila!  This was the part of Portobello we were in years ago and all the old stores were still there!  We were so relieved, not because we wanted to buy something but I guess because yesterday we were disappointed with Leadenhall being modernized and we were afraid the same thing had happened to Portobello.   What had happened to Portobello, though, for better or worse, was again the fascinating mix of people.  There were enclaves of people sitting at tables outside small restaurants specializing in the foods of probably their homelands.  Little cups of coffee, bowls of noodles, bowls of rice with meats and vegetables, small sweet cakes.     

Many of the groups appeared to be of mid-eastern origin and therefore Muslim.  I think this is getting to be a concern to a lot of the English people and I would think that if that were the case in Charlotte, we would begin to be concerned, too.  I mean, the day before we left when we were in the Arboretum I saw for the first time in my country a woman in a burka – in the Arboretum!!!  Here you see many and maybe you might accuse me of profiling, but with the bombings here in the tube stations and hotels, I can understand the politics going on right now about their immigration laws.  However, with the EU I think there are fewer border restrictions than ever.  That and the fact that the British Empire encompassed so many countries in the past whose citizens they are now allowing in because they are part of the Commonwealth or were is making things here rather touchy.  Enough.  On to the rest of our day.  We were now far from our bus stop and there are few tube stations in this are so we walked and we walked and we walked until we finally got to a stop.  At this point I was willing to take ANY bus as long as I could sit down.  

 We did take the next one and missed our stop ( since we really weren’t sure what it was supposed to be anyway) and ended up at Victoria Station, the end of the line!  From there we did get on the tube on the part of our line to Hammersmith that landed us at our familiar home base.  A stop at The Swan for a pint took away the sting on my feet and our walk home from there was pleasant.  It had warmed up somewhat and I was wearing my windbreaker tied around my waist.  Good thing it has long arms!  A stop for milk and a newspaper and we were soon home.  Another quiet evening of watching the telly, writing the blog and a glass of wine.  Bedtime at nine, early for us lately, and plans in our heads for our trip to the seaside at Broadstairs tomorrow for a change of pace.  Ellen and Philip have loaned us their seaside flat there as well and we were anxious to see it.  Yes,  yes, we know – a flat in London and a flat by the sea in exchange for our house in Charlotte?  But they get two dogs!!  Seems like a fair exchange to us.  

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tower Hill and St. Katharine's Docks

A very late start to touring today but we didn't get home until 7PM so late or early, 6 hours of walking and touring no matter what time you get started is plenty!

Our destination today (Friday) is St.Katharine's Docks and our tube stop was Tower Hill.  The picture here is one of the first things we saw and it is a bit of the roman wall built around Londinium around 200 AD.  Of course, Londinium eventually became London and every once in awhile when digging is being done down into London roads and soil, they will come across artifacts that are always historically significant.  This bit is close to the Tower of London.

We were walking away from that area to go to St. Katharine's Docks, an area that used to be the main part of the Port of London and is now a VERY upscale residential and retail  area.  Since we started so late, my first destination was lunch and I wanted to find The Dickens Inn.  It's not really an inn, it doesn't have anything much to do with Dickens, in fact it was originally a warehouse in the port.  However, it was refurbished as this very atmospheric pub and the food wasn't bad either.  It's in the background of this picturel

Outside, since it was Friday, this area has a market of food kiosks, mostly ethnic and we probably should have tried some of that food rather than pub food but it was kind of chilly out so we chose to eat in.  We did, however, go outside for dessert, something we don't often do, but there was one kiosk that had all different kinds of chocolate cakes that were hard to resist.  Mine was Bailey's and coconut and John chose coffee and almonds, both of which were delicious.

From there we went over to the lock that separates the Thames from the dock area where all these luxury boats  live.  Having been through locks on our England canal boat adventures, it was very interesting to see this very large lock in operation.  The boats coming through were beautiful sailboats and what I would call party boats, perhaps for hire for corporate events, etc.  The locks are only available for use at high tide, about a 4 hour time span; low tide comes down so far that the lock is like a mud flat.  There is about a 25 foot drop or rise in the tides off the river so the lock is quite essential to get the boats in and out of the dock areas.  The sailboats were beautiful, the masts about as high as the buildings surrounding the area.  Each boat was manned by about 5 people and had at least three sails so they must be spectacular  under sail.

From the docks we strolled past the Tower and up past the side of the Tower.  It is absolutely huge.  I've been in it twice and we have tickets for one night in June to observe the locking of the Tower.  This is a 700 year old daily ritual of passing the keys from one guard, a Beefeater, to another to lock the gates.  You have to request the tickets months in advance and I was thrilled when we arrived to see the self addressed envelope I included in my ticket request waiting for us here.  The tickets are free but are in such demand.  The ceremony starts at 9:30 and apparently you have to be very prompt to observe it.  My clients and friends, Karen and Barry and sons who were transferred to London for two years, urged us to take it in and since I had heard about it for years and realized this was probably my only chance, we did.  When it happens, I will share it with you. 

From there we took a bus to Leadenhall Market.  This is a historic marketplace under an ornate roof with really beautiful architecture and painted in green, maroon and cream.  The market dates back to the 14th century and this building was built in 1881.  When John and I visited it about 20 years ago, it was a true market with stalls of fish and meat and cheeses and fruits, men in striped aprons and long sleeved white shirts.  It was a big disappointment to find that almost all of that is gone and the stalls are now upscale shops of clothing, jewelery, etc.  We came across one butcher, one cheese shop and a wine shop.

Being Friday night, the local pubs were packed with many customers drinking outside the pubs.  It's hard to tell with this picture of the quaint pub, The Ship, not too far from Leadenhall, because it is so small, but the alleyway curved all around it was packed with patrons dressed in their pin striped suits, enjoying what probably is their first beers of the weekend.
 We left and headed back to Hammersmith via the tube.

Another quiet evening at home with the newspaper, the blog and some wine.  We have started talking about driving to Broadstairs where Ellen and Philip have a seaside flat we can use.  I believe we will go on Sunday with the exhilarating feeling that life now offers us the opportunity to just schedule events as we would like them to happen.  With that in mind, we don't know when we'll come back!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Walkin' our feet off!

We're walking our feet off, but , well, we have to, considering all the stops we are making in pubs!  Now don't get me wrong, we are visiting other sites as well but they won't add any calories like the pubs do!

Yesterday, Thursday 4/15, we got a late start leaving about noon.  We had gotten a book the day before about walks in London since I had left our old copy at home and the walk we decided on was the one that would take us through Lincoln's Inn Fields which is the largest public square in London surrounded by schools and homes that are definitely in the upper income range.  The Royal College of Surgeons is one and many of the other buildings are connected to the field of law.  Here's a website you might look at:

Anyway, the first place we went to is Sir John Soane's house.  He was a brilliant architect, son of a bricklayer, and designed many prominent buildings in London.  However, his legacy is the collection he left in his home on Lincoln's Inn Field as a free museum to the public.  I had visited it almost 18 years ago when I was Ellen's guest for a month and it was one of the memories most vivid to me.  I wanted John to see it.  This man collected things like you wouldn't believe.  Lots of Egyptian antiquities, books, statues, etc.  The house is so full of his collection that you can barely walk around and they can only allow 50 people in the house at a time.  Here's a wwebsite to the museum:  It is so overwhelming - I mean there was a 3,550 year old sarcophogas in there, for goodness sake, along with about a 5000 volume library and the complete The Rake's Progress (8 pieces) and The Election (4 pieces) by Hogarth.  Those alone are mind-boggling.

Anyway, enough of John Soane, from there we walked across the Field and sought out The Old Curiosity Shop immortalized by Charles Dickens.  I had seen it years ago and wanted John to see it.  We walked right past it, though, it's so small and had to be directed back to it.  It hasn't changed from the outside and actually the inside hasn't changed much (there are areas where you can hardly stand up) but it's now a shoe shop!  Expensive shoes, yes, but really!!  Ah, well, times do move on.

From there we went walking through The Temple Church - a round building - about eight hundred years old, maybe more -with a magnificent organ that was being played by a black man while an older man, I think the church's organist, watched and as we sat there listening I couldn't help but wonder - who is he?  From where did he come, is he from England, Africa, Jamaica?   What challenges did he have to overcome to become an organist in a famous ancient medieval church?  I was awestruck by him. 

 We never did find out but it was just part of what I have been thinking while I've been here in London - the variety of people is astounding.  So many different races and colors and languages - and the blending of all of them into this one society.  You see mixed groups, mixed couples, outfits that leave you staring, haircuts that are jaw dropping.  We saw a young woman yesterday - I'm not even sure I'm capable of describing her hair - her scalp was shaved except for the top and that was like dreadlocks but short, sticking out from her head and fluorescent red!  I mean, there are a lot of odd haircuts, outfits, etc. here that nobody looks twice at but this one had people turning around as she walked by!  Then we saw another one today - a really pretty girl - and one half of her head was a very attractive blond color, long and the other half was dark black with a red patch in the middle which hung down into her eyes.  Whoa - it was almost attractive!  Maybe I'm changing!

Our walk took us down to the Thames and as we strolled along the river toward Parliament we noticed Somerset House, "a spectacular new-classical building in the heart of London, sitting between the Strand and the River Thames.  During summer months a grove' of 55 fountains dance in the courtyard..." to quote from a brochure.  One of the displays was the River Sounding done by a sound artist Bill Fontana.  Never heard of him, never heard of a sound artist but it was interesting.  It was sounds from the River Thames and to hear the underwater sounds, shore sounds, etc. you had to walk through the lower tunnels of the Somerset House, areas where the general public never walked and also to see projected images (which we think were live) from the riverside and the bridges.  So there you were walking in these tunnels listening to these underwater sounds.  It was pretty cool.  In fact, we spotted a few of the places that we saw in the projected images the next day (today) as we walked to the Tower.

Well, by this time we had walked over 4 miles and it was time to start home.  To do that, you have to figure out where your tube station is which could be another mile.  It's  a.7 mile walk from the Hammersmith tube station we come to to home so yesterday all together we walked 5.9 miles!  My feet were talking to me and it wasn't nice!

Oh, and I forgot - the pub we ate at in the City was Ye Old Cock Tavern.  For real.  I won't tell you what I said to John.  You figure it out.

Time for bed.  It's 11:30 and hopefully tomorrow, I'll write about today - another good one but only 4.5 miles!

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Day of Rest

Today - our first full day in London - we rested!  We settled in.  We hung out in our PJs until 10 AM!  I think we were tired.  Had a late breakfast, walked to the mall to buy books, went to The Swan for a pint on the way home.  I like all this walking.  Feel like I'm walking off all the beer!  Went to the grocery store to stock up and came home and had lunch at 3:30.  I could get used to this retirement stuff.  John went out for another walk (he walked 5.3 miles today so his pedometer says) and I took a two hour nap.  Tonight we are going to watch a new BBC comedy series which starts in a few minutes and decide what we are going to do tomorrow.  Not too exciting, I know, but very, very nice....

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Touring the Britannia

It's Tuesday evening and we are back in London. I want to share with you our Monday in Edinburgh. It was our day to tour the Britannia, the royal yacht that was mothballed in 1997. Every monarch in England has built at least one castle or house except Elizabeth II and she built this yacht in the 50's. It was reported to be the only place she felt she could truly relax from her royal duties and even then the notorious red box filled with things she had to tend to every day was flown to her no matter where she was in the world on this yacht. Effectively she worked at least two hours a day while on "vacation".

The tour was well worth the 9 pounds apiece (senior rate!). We spent almost 4 hours touring the yacht. It was furnished as they left it when it was decommissioned in 1994. The only changes that were very obvious were the glass walls which replaced the real walls so you could into the private bedrooms, etc. The picture above is the Queen's bedroom which John took through the glass wall. It's obvious that was changed! I was surprised at the simplicity of the furnishings she and Prince Phillip chose for the yacht. It was very casual in most areas. The drawing room where she entertained important guests was very English, very elegant and yet casual at the same time. Here is a picture of that area:

It is quite lovely. Notice the fireplace. The queen wanted to have a real fire there but when she found out that that would require a crew person to be in the room at all times - during formal events and family events - to man the fire she decided that electric was better. Many heads of state were entertained here and housed on the yacht - Reagan, Clinton, Mandela, etc. It was just wonderful being there and imagining all that went on there. I'm going to try to see if I can also get a picture of the formal dining area in as well.

I did it! This room was very interesting because on the walls of each alcove there were gifts to the queen from different guests, everything from a small head from Easter Island to a turtle sculpture from the Galapagos. The room can seat up to 56 guests and it is done as elegantly as any state dinner at Buckingham. Every place setting is measured with precision so everything is exact.

Well, I've done something wrong with this blog. Every time I hit the space button the picture moves down along with what I am typing and I have no idea how to get it to stop! So I am going to post this blog and start all over rather than trying to figure it out. This also explains why this picture of the dining room is about five lines below the copy about it! It just keeps moving down as I type!

Two days in Edinburgh

Sorry, we lost this post for a day - found it when we got back to London today. We're new at this! So here it is:

Yesterday morning - Saturday - our last at Woodside Croft turned out to be another beautiful one. We were up at six to go check for new lambs and found - none! Helped Beth feed and water the cows, put down new bedding and feed the sheep. The whole process takes Beth about 45 minutes and she does all this before going off to her full time job as a teacher. She is an amazing woman! I got to pet the baby lamb again, probably because Beth let me feed Mom but she (the mom, not Beth!) protested by butting my arm when I attempted to get a little bit closer.

Off to the train station at 9:30. Our train was waiting and took off at 10:30 right on time. It was a beautiful 3 hour ride and we saw quite a bit of the lower Highlands. Arrived in Edinburgh and found our way out of the Waverly train station over to David Street to pick up our bus to our B&B, the Fraoch House. Fraoch means heather in Gaelic. It's a lovely attached home on a street of many B&B's, supposedly a 15 minute walk to the center of town. Since the bus takes about 20 minutes with many stops, I sort of doubt that. We took a double decker bus tour of the city to orient ourselves, walked back down to Holyrood Palace where Mary Queen of Scots lived to check the times it is open on Sunday and then took a bus back to Rose Street to find a pub. Stopped in at The Kenilworth and had a pint and dinner. I had salmon which was very good and John had - well, golly, it was only yesterday and neither one of us can remember!

On the way to the bus stop after dinner, we decided to stop in Sainsbury's, a British grocery chain, for a bottle of Baileys for a little tipple in our room. Each liquor bottle sold here has a large security plastic top on it that is removed at the "till" so you can't leave without paying. It is removed by twisting it and then inserting a special key into the top. Unbeknownst to us, the cashier had also twisted the bottle top and loosened it. We waited about 20 minutes for the bus, rode it back to the B&B not caring that the bottle was sideways in the plastic bag. When we got up to the room, John laid it on the bed. When he picked it up a few moments later, Baileys came pouring out of the bag onto the silk bedspread! John picked up the bag and quickly carried it over to the waste basket, leaving a trail of Baileys across the floor. What a mess! We used about 4 washcloths and two towels blotting it up. Seems like we just can't get into a city without a grand entrance of fiascos of some sort! To beat all, when we finally went to pour ourselves a sip, we realized over half the bottle was gone! We told Gareth, the owner, this morning at breakfast who basically laughed it off. Well, what else could he do? I'm going back to Sainsbury tomorrow with my soaked and practically unreadable receipt and see if we can get a replacement bottle to leave for him.

Slept 10 hours and woke up at 8:15 this morning. For early birds, we are getting used to this sleeping in stuff. Took off for the bus around 9:45 headed for St. Giles Church (pronounced jiles). This is the main church of Scotland, the church of John Knox, and I was quite excited to find when we got there for the 11:30 service that the speaker was a woman! He would have been appalled! A woman in his pulpit! He ranted and raved in his day against women, especially of course Mary and Elizabeth I. It was a special service commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Science Festival which is supported by the city and this church. There was a special and very impressive procession of all kinds of dignitaries, including the Lord Mayor. It was quite fun and we had great seats. The speaker was Joyce MacMillan, a journalist for The Scotsman, a newspaper, and her topic was how religion should support the research into the unknown, the scientific, not thwart it. We had a great view of the choir director, the speaker and the lay readers. The church is arranged rather oddly, is fairly small for a cathedral and has the most magnificent stained glass windows. I am attaching a link to a video someone took of it but you might get dizzy watching it! There is a most incredible organ which you can also Google.

After church , we strolled down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace. The last time we were in Edinburgh, it was a rainy day (today was beautiful!), we only had half a day and Holyrood was closed for repairs, so I was really anxious to see it. I've read so much about Mary Queen of Scots who lived there and the dastardly deeds accomplished there that I couldn't wait to get in!

John, meanwhile, preferred climbing up to the top of the volcanic rise behind the city called the Salisbury Craggs, a huge cliff that just rises straight up out of the ground like a huge popover biscuit! Edinburgh Castle on the other end of town is built on top of another one. The geology in this city is astounding. Since my right foot has been irritating me and feels like something was dropped on top of it (who knows where that came from!), we parted ways to do what each of us prefers. We do that a lot when we travel and it's the reason we ordered each a phone when we were in England when we were here in December to learn all about E&P's house. They certainly came in handy today as we tried to find each other after our separate tours.

Anyway, the palace was really interesting and since you could meander at leisure I spent a great deal of time checking out the construction of the draperies and fabrics. (Surprise! Surprise!) You couldn't take any pictures so I'll have to carry all those colors in my head. One room had protective fabric bags tied around the bottom halves of the drapes near a doorway. They were a cranberry flocked velvet and I asked the guide about the bags. She said the traffic was so heavy during the summer and because the drapes were right next to the doorway, they were constantly damaged by the crush of people. Justified our decision to once again visit in the spring instead of the summer. I had the palace almost completely to myself. I was especially thrilled to be standing in Mary's private quarters and on the spot where David Rizzio's body was found hacked to death. He was her Italian personal secretary and her husband, Lord Durnley, had him murdered out of jealousy right in front of the very pregnant Mary. Lovely times.

After our tours, we took the bus to Ocean Terminal to check out the Britannia. It was too late to board her but we will be doing that tomorrow. She is Queen Elizabeth's personal yacht that has been mothballed but is open for tours. Apparently, nothing has been changed and it will be interesting to check out. We had a wonderful dinner of seafood at a restaurant called Fishers on the dock front, took the bus "home" and we are now in our beds watching the final round of the Masters. The time difference of 5 hours makes that possible.

We are mourning the loss of a woman we admired and loved dearly. Dorothy Anne Hrabanek lived 88 years, I believe it was, and she died last week leaving behind probably hundreds others like ourselves who will miss her. You always knew when the phone rang and you heard this light voice with a very distinct southern accent - "Taaaaandy, Joooooohn, Aah'm just calling to seeee how you're doing." We'll miss that and I'm so grateful that we found the time the Wednesday before we left to bring her the Price's fried chicken she loved that I had promised her. It was a very special visit and I really thought she would still be around when we returned. God definitely has increased his ranks of very special angels.

Next morning - It takes a long time to load pictures and post them and it's now Monday morning and we're ready to roll so I'm going to post this now and add more pictures tonight. John took some great ones of the stained glass windows and the views from the Cragg.