Sunday, March 18, 2007

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

This morning we’re going for breakfast, and then will finish packing and head to the airport. Given our experience getting here, we want to get there plenty early. We leave Heathrow at 2:25 PM and after a 1 ½ layover in Chicago, will fly into Fargo at roughly 10 pm tonight. Then we get to wake up McKenna, fall into bed probably around midnight, and get up for work tomorrow.

Great Art (Saturday)

Today we bought one-day travel cards so we could still take the tube around the city. We hopped on (this time I brought a book even though I knew I’d have to carry it around all day). We went to the Tate Modern first. The building used to be a power station, so it has an imposing brick façade; once inside, one immediately gravitates to a new exhibit by Holler—it’s a series of metal and glass (or is it plastic?) winding tubes; yes, they are slides! There are 4 or 5 different tubes that snake around one another and start from varying levels. There was already a que for tickets, and since we can slide in America, we didn’t bother. We did, however, watch a few people slide—particularly two older gentleman who went down the smallest slide. Very amusing. We walked through all the free exhibits—all the major museums here are free except for special exhibits. What a delightful concept.

We saw works by Chagall, Lichtenstein, Warhol (including the famous Marilyn Monroe piece), Klimt, Matisse, Picasso (Girl in a Chemise), and Rodin’s statue The Kiss. My favorite of these modern pieces was a series of mirrored sliding doors (exhibit was called, sure enough, Sliding Doors). As we walked towards one door, it sweeps open and we were confronted with a small mirrored room and facing yet another sliding door, so we walked forward. Behind that was another mirrored room and so on…I think there were 5 doors and rooms. I’m not a big fan of a lot of modern art, but this one was interesting. One display was a disturbing set of sculptures combining man and machine. Hammers hovering menacingly over brains and so on. I can’t say I get into the urinal installations as art either. Worse, perhaps, is the snuff-looking can that is labeled (in similar words): “Artist’s poo.” I’ll stick to the classics.

We then looked at taking the Tate to Tate boat to the next destination, but having no cash, and recently purchasing new tube tickets, made that an unlikely choice. As we walked around, we stumbled across the Globe Theater and Shakespeare exhibit. Having now spent more than we care to remember, I didn’t feel 9 pounds each was a good idea. So we took a couple pictures, visited the gift shop, and moved on.

We then took the tube to the consistently busy Victoria station (a central hub for trains, coaches, and tubes); today it was busier than ever due to a fire of some sort that delayed several lines. We then took a tube to Pimlico station (we haven’t seen even ½ of the stations in London, but it’s fun to see as many as possible). We then strolled a few blocks to the Tate Britain—another art gallery. This was one of my planned destinations, as room 14 in the gallery contains numerous Pre-Raphaelite works (Victorian era art by a small group of painters). I was thrilled to see work by Ford Maddox Brown, Waterhouse, Rossetti, Mallais, and Leighton (him of the aforementioned tomb at St. Pauls). The particular works I remember seeing were The Awakening Conscience, Cordelia, Proserpine, and Ophelia.

My favorites, though, were Mariana. It is a scene of a woman stretching in front of a table where she has been working. In front of her is a stained glass window. I was studying Mariana and the sun coming in from the ceiling above me made the blue in her dress very striking. Just as I was leaning in to look at a small clump of paint that made the window seem very textured—almost 3D, the clouds outside the gallery blocked the sun. It was striking how the painting reflected that loss of light as well. The stained glass had darkened, the picture’s shadows deepened, and while the blue of the dress was still vibrant, it lost some of its luminescence.

We then walked through the contemporary and modern displays and then headed to the gift shop. We then caught a cab to the hotel. I took a quick nap; Paul went to the sports bar to watch Rugby and struck up a conversation with an Irishman who explained the game to him. We then decided it was time to find something to eat, so we wondered to two different pubs (forgot the name of the first, but stumbled upon The Rob Roy second), but neither served food on weekends. So we hiked back to the Old English Gentlemen. We decided to split a meal, and when Paul ordered, he told the proprietor that we were going to have the Jumbo battered cod and chips because I didn’t like bangers and mash. The fellow told Paul, “Get rid of her.” So when he was clearing tables around us and asked how the food was, I couldn’t resist a quick, “Much better than bangers and mash” and he laughed. Spent the evening packing our bags and sorting out our receipts (what do we have to claim, can we get refunded the VAT tax—seemed to have read that somewhere), and throwing away clothes we don’t want to bring back (more room for the souvenirs (though there really aren’t that many).

Friday, March 16, 2007

Alas! The end draws near (Friday)

Today was more of a leisurely day. We still woke up early (what can we say—McKenna has us well-trained. Speaking of McKenna—I haven’t written much about her, but Paul and I talk about her all the time. We see a lot of babies and try to guess if they are older or younger than her and so on. We trust, however, that she is having the time of her life with both sets of grandparent).

Paul went to Starbucks for a jolt of caffeine and I cracked the last of my 3 20-ounce bottles of Dew. Yesterday, a guy at a small shop told Paul that shops in India had Mt. Dew so it would probably be coming to London soon. Heehee. I won’t hold my breath. You can get Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, and from time to time, Dr. Pepper. There is not NEARLY the variety of sodas here. Other little tidbits I’ve observed: the dollar is nearly ½ the value of a pound, so we are spending twice as much, in theory. However, on top of the crappy exchange rate, we also are vacationing in a very expensive city; everything costs twice as much anyway! For example, a whopper here is nearly 3 pounds (6 dollars—and no, that is NOT a full-meal deal. That is JUST a sandwich. No drink. No fries. Very little spare change). Paul also had to pay 20p (pence) to use the loo at Waterloo station.

At Waterloo station (major train and subway station), we bought tickets to Hampton Court, which lies outside London proper. The tickets were called “Cheap Day Return” tickets which cost only 5 pounds per traveler. Apparently Friday is a good day to travel! The journey planner at the official british transportation website quoted me at 11 pounds per person! So we caught the 11:36 train to Hampton Court. The ride was roughly ½ of an hour and it was nice to see houses (in London, all residences are flats).

The website for this palace indicated 3 hours was needed to see the major sites. We were there for 4. We admired the King’s State Apartments, the Tudor Kitchens, The Georgian rooms, and the Queen’s suites. Hampton Court is most famous as King Henry VIII’s residence. We also took in the maze (lots of fun) and just a bit of the gardens (not really my thing). Wolsey’s rooms, in particular, were interesting—they were small, but intimate. The wood paneling had an intricate design—somewhat scroll-like—that I admired. I would love to have wood paneling and moldings all over my next home. The tapestries, too, in the great hall of Henry’s staterooms were awesome. Paul and I laughed over the King’s state bedroom and the “small bedchamber” where he preferred to sleep—it was still big—20 feet wide and 30 feet long Paul estimates. There were also two throne rooms—one for state occasions and intimidating the ambassadors and the next for more intimate meetings with friends and courtiers.

As we exited the main tour, we saw a cordoned off staircase. I hate that (this reminds me of finding out about the cave systems in South Dakota; only a tiny portion of the caves have been fully explored and miles may yet be undiscovered. In the Grand Canyon Caverns, we were told that smoke filling one cave entrance escaped miles and miles away, but no-one has the funding to explore the cave. They know it's there, but they don't bother to explore it. I guess I must admit that this must be a manifestation of the American attitude and Manifest Destiny (the urge to expand territory). I get frustrated when I see closed doors or entrances! I want to know where they go. What are they hiding from me? What treasures lurk in those halls? I was nearly driven mad by all the unopened doorways and blocked passages in the Palace. I made the observation to Paul that I was nosy and wanted to ask a warder what was up the stairs, but we went on our way. As we toured another display, however, we made our way up stairs in another section of the palace. We found out that the top floors, previously servants quarters possibly, had been “let” or rented out to people free of charge! This was called “Grace and Favor” apartments. Without reading a lot of the display, I got the gist of it: the apartments were created by Wren (of St. Paul’s fame—see above) and tenants could live there free of charge. Of course, they did all sorts of things up there over the years in terms of decorating and modifying, so the exhibit said the rooms were not conserved by any design, era, or other common interest, but were largely left as they were when the last tenant moved out in the mid-90s. If I had known I could live at Hampton Court, I think I would have dropped out of high school, stole an airline ticket and camped out until a room became available. The display showed layers of paint and wallpaper from various rooms and apparently there is some effort being made to restore some of the rooms (restore to what state/era, I am unsure).

I was disappointed not to encounter the famous ghost of Catherine Howard who is said to haunt a particular gallery (now called….the haunted gallery, of course). I tried to see her. I really did but alas, ‘twas not meant to be.

Instead of taking the first train out of Hampton Court area, we walked a couple streets. It definitely felt more “village” like, which was a nice change from the busy city center. We spotted a pub called “The Prince of Wales.” A sign above each of the two doors into the pub read “Where a warm welcome is always waiting.” It sounded like an invitation to me, so we went in. It was traditional in décor—hunter green walls, low and dark-timbered ceilings, wood wainscoting, and locals watching a major Cricket match on the all-too modern plasma TVs. I had an Angus burger and Paul had his Bangers and Mash.

Took the tube back to the hotel, and now here we are again, blogging, resting, soaking our blistered feet, and trying to retain all the memories of yet another busy day (so much for leisure). No major plans for tomorrow…our tube passes expire tonight, though we can buy day passes yet. I think we'll cover some exhibitions at the two Tate museums (a Tate boat will connect us from one to the other for a little less than 2 pounds).

What a mess of a day! (Thursday)

Was much too tired to blog Thursday night, so as I write this Friday night, I don’t know what details I’ll remember. I only have my written vacation journal notes to go from at this point, but here goes:

We started by taking the wrong tube as we tried to get back on the “Original Bus Tour” of London (our tickets were good until 1 pm) so we thought we’d save our feet instead of running about numerous tube stations. Anyway, we wanted to alight the bus and make our way to St. Paul’s Cathedral. However, we got aboard the wrong one—there is a red, yellow, and blue tour. So we ended up seeing a lot of stuff again. To make it worse, we couldn’t just hop off as the traffic was so horrible, and it took a long time to get to the next stop. From there, we took a tube to St. Paul’s cathedral. By this time, we had already wasted much time. St. Paul’s was well worth the trouble, however. It cost about 9 pounds to get in (EACH), and I soon found out it was one penance after another. While I admired the grandeur of the ground floor of the cathedral, I wanted to get a little closer to heaven via the famous whispering gallery. On our way to the stairs, though, we admired many monuments, memorials, and other commerative regalia, most of which was aimed towards military personnel. The most memorable, though, was the tomb of Lord Leighton, a famous Pre-Raphaelite painter.

Once at the stairs, we encountered a sign that indicated the next penance was to be taken in the form of 259 winding stone stairs we had to climb to the Whispering Gallery. It was a work out! It’s not like they’re cushy steps either—we’re treading hard stone everywhere we go! At the top of the winding stairs was a long narrow corridor only wide enough for one person—this is a one way route. Along this passage way, there were spots where you could see in to what I would call the attic, for lack of better terms. We could see the top side of the domes for the ceilings of the church. It was all timbered and old and slightly creepy. It made me think of the hunchback of Notre Dame, but wrong church, wrong country. We finally emerged into the whispering gallery. This round balcony is lined with saints (the first I saw upon entering, interestingly enough, was St. Jerome). Supposedly, if one person whispers by the wall, a person directly across the room (about 100 feet away), will hear you! Paul and I tried it, but in conjunction with the way our day was going, it didn’t seem to work well.

We then wanted to go up to the Stone Gallery; this was another 116 stairs—we were now 328 stairs up from the main floor. This stairwell was narrower but not windy all the way. There were some more narrow passage ways before we emerged at a door going outside—not what I had expected, but cool! I felt a little wobbly looking down onto the roof of the main cathedral. I couldn’t even look up to see what loomed above. A few pictures of the skyline later, we reentered a narrow door to ascend the last 271 steps to the Golden Gallery. This stair case was metal and spiral. While I was reminded of the fire tower at Itasca, this was far more imposing! The Golden Gallery is the uppermost walkway on central spire above the famous dome. It was truly “awesome” in the sense that one is filled with awe at the sensation of being far above the city. This was HIGH!!! My knees were weak, I will admit, and not just from the physical exertion. Then we climbed down the whole lot, and worked our way to the Crypt below the main floor. yes, it was at least DOWN stairs, but that only meant we would have to climb out again, I thought. I was not wrong.

First, though we stopped by the Christopher Wren burial site. He was the architect of this cathedral and many other famous London sites after the Great Fire. He is buried near the middle of the church, in front of the altar. The marble slab over his resting place, reads "lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice" (reader if you seek his monument, look around). The cathedral is, indeed, a monument.

In the crypt, we saw the tombs for Horatio Nelson, Winston Churchill, and the Duke of Wellington. Each had huge monuments (rather plain, though, compared to the effigy-laden tombs at Westminster). Other more interesting, in my opinion, were the markers for the William Blake (his famous poem begins “To see the world in a grain of sand/ And a heaven in a wildflower.” This was etched in the stone, and I remember this from Dr. Gurney’s courses in Romantic Poets). Also, Florence Nightengale (neat, but not awesome), and a statue of Samuel Johnson, which made me think if this statue is life-sized, then Sam J was a mighty stout bloke.

After St. Paul’s cathedral, we went to a place called Paul for food. Silly us, though. We got a sandwich and other stuff. We thought the lady helping us had put the sandwich in the bag, but she hadn’t. We were in a rush to catch the bus tour again and thus didn’t realize it was missing until we got on the bus to eat (we were starving…apparently climbing 500 stairs can stimulate the appetite). Finally, we caved. We ducked sheepishly into a McDonald’s so we could get something familiar and quick before resuming our tour.

We then took a tube to the British Museum. There was simply too much to look at, but we did enjoy the Egyptian mummy displays. In the Greece and Rome rooms, I kept wondering which was the Urn from the famous Keat’s poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” As many of my students puzzle about what the heck he meant by “leaf-fringed laurels” and the reference to deities, I thought I could find a similar Urn to take a picture of for a reference (yes, you can take pictures….it doesn’t seem right, but you can).

Finally, our feet just wore out. We took the tube back to the Marble Arch (near a corner of Hyde Park which is down the road from the hotel), and then popped into Tyburns for Nachos (Tyburns is the name of the pub mentioned on day 1 when I had fish and chips, by the way. Paul now refers to it as “our pub.”)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Weary Travelers (Wednesday)

The morning began quickly as we wanted to be at the Tower of London early this morning. We depart each morning from the Edgware Underground (“Tube”) Station and sure enough, as soon as we alighted, some foreign man was asking Paul about how to get to a certain station (no English). We took the tube to Tower Hill—very full trains again. I thought I must remember to take a paper with me tomorrow so I can better blend in with the locals. Everyone is reading papers or books while riding. If they are not reading, they can usually be seen with ipod or mp3 players (well, all you can really see is the wire up to their ear). There is absolutely no conversation amongst strangers, much less aimless tourists. One can’t help but think of what sorts of things would happen if these people would talk to one another; you know, trade ideas, life experiences, reach out to others. Instead, everyone is lulled into muteness by the swaying of the train car. Also, everyone is dressed smartly as they are probably off to the office (suckers…). If one could stand to the side by the stairs to a tube station (without being run-over), one would observe a sea of black slacks, mighty uncomfortable black heels (how do they run about these tube stations without getting massive blisters?), black trench and pea-coats, and black briefcases. The black is only broken up by splashes of color on scarves (everyone wears one it seems). Oh, yes: each tube station has it’s own “theme” almost. Some are ultra modern with steele and glass; some are still very Victorian in their décor/structure. Sloane station, which we pass often, is very green. A few on the way into London were quite scary.

Anyway, once we arrived at the Tower, we took a little time to eat breakfast (more pesky Americans there…noisy, rude, and disorganized). I can honestly say the Tower was overwhelming. There’s so many different parts of the whole fortress—the white tower, various surrounding towers (Beauchamp, Salt, Cradle just to name a few), the Queen’s Jewel’s were on display in another building—VERY impressive! Even Paul said he probably liked that display the best. My favorite crown was Victoria’s little diamond one…I’ll see if I can find pictures online to post here later.

The white tower, was surprisingly disappointing. Too much modernizing with lights, radiators, etc. The displays focused on the Tower’s function as an armory and gunpowder storage facility. Very little focus on it as a palace. We both agree the outside views were far more interesting than almost anything inside the buildings. Nontheless, it was well worth it. It took 3 hours to tour the whole place! My feet are killing me. Thank goodness we went early, though, as the schoolkids were running amuck by noon and the places was nearly swarming by 1!

Once finished at the tower, we decided my feet couldn’t handle any more (I believe Paul’s hurt too but he didn’t admit to it). So we paid for a hop-on/hop-off bus tour of London. It was a blast—a bit chilly though. We passed tons of landmarks (passengers get headphones to hear about what they are seeing along the way)—some we’d already seen and some we haven’t. As we were close to the hotel, we jumped off, took the tube to the hotel, grabbed warmer clothes and a new camera battery pack, rode the tube back to the bus stop and hopped back on. We saw Picadilly Circus, So-ho, the West End, Oxford Circus, Knightsbridge, some quaint pubs I’d like to revisit (such as the one on the corner of Buckingham Gate and Victoria and one called Hanged, Drawn and Quartered). We started getting hungry, so we jumped off by St. Pauls’ Cathedral (still want to tour that) to eat at a pub called “Ye Olde London.” I definitely recommend their fish and chips and I can’t wait to go back (the downstairs has a book lined motif…very library like and fun). We then realized the bus tour probably stopped running (it was about 6:30) and sure enough, it had. So we took the tube back to the hotel. In one tube station, we saw an ad for a move called Hot Fuzz which stars the two actors (and is produced by the same folks) who were in Shaun of the Dead, a British comedy take on the Dawn of the Dead type movies. We may take tomorrow off from history and the hustle and bustle of the city and take in that film instead; it looks hilarious.

Hope to take in still:

St. Pauls’ Cathedral
Parts of the British Museum
Want to go to Hyde Park to get picture of Byron statue.
Hampton Court
Decided to give up Kensington Palace as of now…
Perhaps Tate Modern if Paul insists

Tuesday Night

Tonight, Paul and I went to The English Gentleman’s pub on Edgware Road (down a few blocks from the hotel). I ordered the steak and ale pie and Paul had a cheeseburger and fries. All in all, we just relaxed in the room most of the night (sorting our receipts, souvenirs and so on).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A few more Tuesday photos

They haven't yanked our access yet so I'm going to post some pictures of pomp and circumstance.

250 more pictures! (Tuesday)

I have to keep is short today, as I am trying to get this posted before our internet hours run out today. Today we went to Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guards. Or so we thought. The sign there yesterday said that the ceremony would take place Tuesday at 11 am, so we arrived around 10 to take our place but as we approached, we saw the barricades up similar to the ones at Westminster Abbey yesterday. Sure enough, when I asked a policeman what was happening that morning, he said the Queen was meeting the President of Ghana. As we stood near the palace, overhead conversations indicated that the Queen would have a formal processional down Pall Mall and around the round-about in front of where we were standing. 2 hours later, she did a quick drive by after much pomp and ceremony by her various guards. There were policeman and women on horses, the motorcycle cops that go before and after her car, the guards in the bearskin caps, a marching band, the flashy guards with the pointy hats, and so on. Several dignitaries rode ahead on the Queen’s carriages, but we think she was properly situated in a car that followed. While interesting to see the pageantry, it was probably not worth 2 hours of standing. Did meet some nice ladies from both Toronto and one from Michigan, who shared her gum with us.

The theme of the day is “tour guide.” (this is really a continuation from yesterday, I guess since some kids on the tube asked where the train we were on was headed). It was more pronounced today, I guess. It started in the morning, someone asked me for directions to something (can’t remember what), and lo and behold: I knew the answer! So I shared by wealth of knowledge. Then, as we were waiting for the Queen, someone else asked what was going on, so we told them. One the tube ride back to the hotel just now, a woman approached me in the tube station and asked where the tube was for Sloan Street. Paul and I were on the tube that just passed it, so I told her where to go and that it was the very next station. Finally, as we walked from the tube station to the hotel, a lady and another woman I presumed to be her mother, asked us if we lived in the area. Paul said no, but asked if we could help her find something as we were quickly getting used to the area around the hotel. She asked if we knew where St. Mary’s church was. We didn’t, but we looked at our handy dandy a-z London map for more info!

But I digress. After watching the Queen’s entrance to the Palace, we took off for Westminster Abbey (a quick jaunt down the road). Once there, we paid for our tickets and wandered through the abbey, cloisters, and Pyx Chamber. I was riled when one young man put his foot under the roped off area in the Chapter House. It was medieval tile and in very rough shape. Like it needed his Nike tread marks on it! UGH. Dang tourists. The Abbey is overwhelming in its architecture, history, and size. I saw poet’s corner, Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scot’s tombs. Also: Edward II and III, various Henry tombs and the coronation chair. My favorite is Elizabeth’s. I also like the tomb of the unknown soldier—he was fighting in France, I believe, and his body was brought back to London. He was buried in Westminster “among the most illustrious in the land” because he of how he “served his God and House.”

After the Abbey, we took the tube to Brompton Road to see Harrods, London’s mega department store, owned by the Egyptian billionaire someone-Fayad. (Dodi Fayad’s father---this is the man Princess Di was dating when they both died in Paris). It was interesting, but I wouldn’t go there again unless I had to. Paul had a blast in the audio-sound area of the store and bought a couple CDs. I bought tea for my officemates. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

After Harrod’s we made our way back to the hotel and I better wrap up in order to get this posted in time.

Tomorrow's plan:Hop on-off bus tour. Will hopefully hit the Tower of London ("off with her head!") and St. Paul's cathedral. Will "see" a lot of other places this way--places we didn't necessarily want to visit (pay to go in) but would like to admire from afar nontheless. Night-night.

Monday, March 12, 2007

God Save the Queen! (Monday)

Today we woke up around 7 :30/8 am and knew we had to get to Buckingham palace by 11 in case it was the day for changing of the guards. We took the tube to ? station and found out that EVERYONE was on their way to work! The first tube stop was PACKED! People were piled in, sitting and standing. Some standing by the door had to duck their heads as the doors closed (they’re curved upwards). We changed stations a few times and walked quite a bit. We then walked by St. James Palace (back side I think). Paul enjoyed watching the guard march. We then walked to Buckingham Palace via Pall Mall (a thoroughfare lined with historic estates such as Clarence House Terrace and such). We took pictures of the Queen Victoria statue/fountain and tons of Buckingham Palace and its architecture. There were plenty of tourists, too, but not packed. We walked around statue a bit. Oh, and the guard changes TOMORROW (drat).

Then we took Palace Road alongside St. James Park. Saw where the Guard Museum was (didn’t go in). We then walked towards Big Ben and Parliament buildings. We then crossed the road to tour Westminster Abbey. Or so we thought. We were first compelled to take a detour around a little Norman looking tower (jewel tour) and realized it was a little gift shop and could also be toured for 5 pounds. We paid and got to go up spiral stone staircase to two levels: first level (2 rooms) was about parliament and such. The second floor was a different display (we can’t remember right now—history overload. The pictures will remind us).

Anyway, after this little tour, we walked to the entrance of Westminster. The one entrance is St. Margaret’s church and a white tent and the presence of bobbies (police) told me something was going on. Sure enough, at the abbey gift shop (remember being there, Rachel?) I asked if the abbey was opened for tours and the young chap at the counter said no. When I asked if it was always closed Mondays or if there was a special event, he answered that it was Commonwealth Day. So no tour of the abbey *yet*. As we shopped, some guy asked if the queen could be coming there and the lad told him that she would at 3:05 attend a service at the abbey. Huzzah! We thought we’d tour the area then come back to the abbey around 2 or so to see if we could see the queen.

Next, we walked down a road by the war cabinet rooms. The Red Lion pub popped up around a corner and since I’ve seen picture of it, I thought we’d stop in. Think again! It was jam packed with bankers, what looked like members of parliament and other yuppie Londoners. PACKED!!! We went next door and I had shepherds pie and Paul had a big slab of pork. Our next stop: Trafalgar Square.

At Trafalgar square, we were not immediately assaulted by pigeons as I expected. We observed the fountain and statuary, and then walked up the steps toward the National Portrait Gallery. Once there, an older Pakistani man struck up a conversation about the pigeons, which now all converge on a small plaza above the Trafalgar plaza. He asked where we were from and as soon as we said Minnesota, he exclaimed “Largest mall!” then he asked Paul if he worked at the mall. LOL. Small talk aside, we then watched a lady sing opera, walked through the pigeons, and decided to peek in the National Gallery. It’s free after all. It was OK, but overwhelming. As it didn’t have Pre-Raphaelite art, we kept it to a very quick tour.

We then walked (by this time I had HUGE blisters on both feet) to the London Eye. That was fun! It was a 30 minute flight and yes, you really get a great 360 degree view of London. It’s amazing. We then made our way back to see the Queen. We walked back to the abbey and found a good spot to settle in. As we waited, a fellow American asked Paul “what’s going on here?” Paul looked at me like he didn’t speak “American” (by now he’s quite adapted to London life), so I explained, “Supposedly the queen will show up here.” The guy asked if the abbey was open for tours, so I gave him the rest of the news. When he asked what Commonwealth day was about, I had to confess my ignorance. Some chummy fellow next to us, though, explained that this is the one day when all the dignitaries from the commonwealth countries (like Australia) came together. Ah! About 20 minutes later, the queen’s motorcycle brigade pulled up to stop traffic, and the car zoomed by (not right in front of us, but we saw it clearly). Then she got out of the car and went in the church. I am not lying though when I say Paul saw the Queen—he got a picture of her backside as she entered. (if I have time to post any pictures from today, it will be this one!) The Queen is in the dress (of course).

In short, we did not get to see the changing of the guard. We did not get to tour Westminster Abbey. We did not get to eat at the Red Lion. But we saw the Queen's backside. It was all worth it! We will go back there tomorrow to make up the rest!

We then headed back to the hotel after a quick stop at Marks and Spencers for supper food. Now here I sit blogging in anticipation of getting Internet access so we can post this and call home to talk to McKenna.

I will post tomorrow before we lose our access; however, posts after that may be limited . We may go to the café downstairs and pay $6 for one hour every couple of days (so that may give me enough time to write and post). ‘Til then…we’re off for more adventures in London! We’re loving it!

London Sunday am to pm

Finally, at 10:15 am on Sunday (almost one full day later than anticipated), we landed at Heathrow airport. We found the train ticket booth and found out that instead of taking a LONG tube ride or an expensive Heathrow Express ride, we could take a new service called Heathrow connect; it got to Paddington station in 25 minutes (vs 15 for the Express), but was only 6 pounds (not 25).

At the Hilton, we checked in and were shown to our room; ITTY BITTY. Of course. Paul was shocked. I was reminded of the crappy rooms Rachel and I stayed in (this was classier, though, than many of those). The bathroom here is smaller than mine at home, if you can believe that!

After that shock, we decided we were feeling claustrophobic, so we walked down the road to see what kind of area we were in. I would say, based on the number of Arabic restaurants and signage that we are in a very diverse neighborhood. We ended up by the corner of Hyde Park and speaker’s corner, where there was a peace demonstration we avoided. We then found a pub and after sitting down, I realized how tired I was. But I had the ability to still remember that we wouldn’t be served, so I told Paul he had to go up to the bar to order our food. I had fish and chips and Paul sausage, beans, and chips (fries). I literally was on the verge of falling asleep sitting up, so we trudged back to the Hilton and I CRASHED! I had, at this point, been without sleep for over 24 hours. Paul was experiencing some major culture shock (with the money, ordering food, tube, etc.). I do not think he expected it to be this big or busy.

A few hours later, we started moving again and figured we’d use our travel cards on the tube since we had already lost a day. FUN! Jump on, jump off. Not too hard to figure out what’s where. What’s harder is to find your destination once you get out of the tube station (left or right?) We ended up lost! We were looking for the Tower of London area. We ended up by the revitalized docklands (nice houses and lofts). We walked A LOT! Then we found the Tower of London and Tower Bridge (absolutely gorgeous…and mind boggling! We didn’t tour the tower yet, so I won’t say much about it here. Besides, I could have looked at it all day and still not find the words to describe it). We then took the tube back to hotel as it was dark and we were tired again. We had supper at the hotel (20 pounds for a calzone and spicy fries). We then went to the room and crashed.

The Saga continues! (Sunday morning in Dublin)

The line for Aer lingus was HUGE! It was filled with the Illinois State University band and what seemed like a couple hundred people on a CIE tour (an educational based tour company). As we stood in line for ticketing, we noticed a sign that said “for connecting passengers” so we by-passed the line, thinking we fit the bill. There, Paul asked about our tickets, and the lady helping him said we only had ½ the ticket we needed (in other words, we could get to Dublin, but not to London). She then took the tram and stairs to go talk to United herself. She came back about 20 minutes later. We did a LOT of people watching. I was playing a game trying to figure out where people were from and/or going. Nevertheless, finally, the lady came back and then we had to wait in the line (which was, by that time, thankfully much shorter).

Then it was on to the next line. The line to the security check area was massive! We were all funneled into two main lines for awhile, but as we got closer to the actual metal detector and such, we were literally “sorted” into 4 different lines by TSA agents. This was the most surreal moment of the trip so far. I think I got a small glimpse of what it felt like to live through the holocaust and prison camps. I got the giggles watching Paul; he had to take off his belt, put it in a tray along with his coat, his shoes, but he also had our carry-on bag with the laptop (laptop in a tray of course), and his passport wallet and tickets. I had my wool coat, my slip on/off shoes (what a smart traveler I am!) and my tickets/passport. We felt so rushed through the detectors and when we got to the other side, it was just a weird frenzy. Paul was grabbing crap left and right; even with just slipping on my shoes and grabbing my coat from the tray, I had to rush…everyone was coming through it seemed, and piling up on top of one another. We both observed that we felt either like cattle coming out of a shoot. Or we knew what it was like to be a pinball. WEIRD!

So then we sat and sat in a terminal next to the one we would depart from (the other being full of the ISU band members).

When we got on the plane, we were happy to see that our luck had changed; we were seated at the front row of economy so we had a direct line of site to the movie screen. I had the window seat; Paul had his aisle seat. Hurray! The take off was one of the roughest I’ve experienced. The plane was swaying left to right quite a bit before we settled down). We were served either beef or chicken for dinner, and then we settled in for a six hour flight to Dublin. I watched about half of the first movie (Night at the Museum) before trying to sleep. I did not get ONE wink of sleep, though. Once there, we had to go through customs and immigration (so I do not have a second English stamp, darn it).

Huzzah! (Saturday)

Cheerio from London!

I’ll squish two days worth of material here, as there is no FREE internet service here. In fact, it costs 15 pounds sterling for 24 hours of access (that’s about $48). We’re going to get it tonight so we can “skype” McKenna (internet call with video—something Paul set up before we left so we could see Maymay).

So here is what happened since my last post:

Paul and I stayed in the Holiday Inn Select in Chicago. We woke at 7am (so about 6 hours of sleep) and went for breakfast at a diner down the road from the hotel. We then went back to the hotel and Paul fell back asleep, but I couldn’t, no matter what I tried.

Finally, even though our plane didn’t depart until 6 pm, we left the hotel at 2 pm and thank goodness! At the United ticket counter (where the guy from United told us to go to get paper tickets for Aer Lingus), the guy helping us didn’t know how to do paper ticketing, so his manager helped. She was amiable and yet was all business. She got on the phone, sorted out some things, and finally, after about a ½ hour, we got our tickets. Or so we thought (this is the theme of our trip). Anyway, we had to go over a tram and up the stairs (re-read to the tune of “over the river and through the woods) to the Aer Lingus line we go! I'll post the rest AS IF I was posting day-to-day.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

2nd, 3rd, and 4th Glitches

So our first flight was delayed an hour and a half. We thought we'd be in trouble in Chicago, as our connecting flight left at 9:15, but hope springs eternal. We were hoping International flights departing O'hare might also be delayed, and it was. More info on that below.

Before I continue on the flight fiasco, I must document my fellow passengers. As we all know, when we fly, we encounter myriad examples of humanity. Our flight was no exception. The fellow behind us was telling risque jokes. He was a very learned fellow: he told his seat-mate (poor schmuck) all about the geography of the Red River Valley and how "10,000 years ago, all this was under water. Lake Agassiz. blah blah blah. Oh, that's probably Alexandria outside your window. This is real lakes country here. blah blah blah." This segued into a story about his boat and then his divorce. He had stories about various gals he had dated. When he launched into one story about a flight attendant he dated, his seatmate asked, "While you were in flight?" Smart fellow. It seemed a fitting question, as this loudmouth kept calling the flight attendant by name ("Thanks, Chelsea. Where did you go to flight school, Chelsea?"). I told Paul that on his next flight, he'd have a whole new story to tell about the flight attendant named Chelsea he dated.

When we got into O'hare (down steep plane steps onto wet tarmac. How fun), we looked for the nearest departure info screens. We were right about our flight being delayed. Our flight to London closed all boarding at 10:05 pm instead of 9:14. Unfortunately, we got into O'hare at 10:06 or something.

We ran to the customer service counter for United Airlines, but they CLOSED IT! There was a small line of other disgruntled passengers, but one poor fella had to explain to everyone else who walked up to the counter that they closed at 10 pm and only the lucky buggers on the OTHER side of the rope would be assisted that night. We called 1800United1 and after a very long wait, were told that all daytime departing flights were booked solid. Our options were:

Fly SwissAir into Zurich leaving at 7:35 pm and arriving Heathrow at 1 pm Sunday (mind you, our original itinerary put us into London at 11 am SATURDAY).


Aer Lingus departing 6 pm, flying into DUBLIN at 7:20 am and arriving into London at 10:15 am Sunday.

The fellow also told me that we could reclaim our baggage and recheck them in the morning. The UA people on the ground had other ideas. They don't reclaim after 9 pm. I couldn't help snipping, "It seems United doesn't do anything after 9 pm." (see info above on customer service counter if the sarcasm is lost on you, dear reader).

By then, it was midnight on a wet, chilly night in Chicago. We found a visitor info kiosk, booked a hotel (Holiday Inn Select), and found a cab. The cab driver, of course, looked 15 years old and didn't know where the hotel was located. After waiting until $1.25 was already added to our fare because we were sitting in his parked car, he found the address and we were off.

Paul and I at the hotel:

At the hotel, we encountered no real problem. Actually, Paul had a blast chatting with some Ukrainian fellow who was stocking the frozen paninis and other sundries in the open-all-night-gift-shop. His accent was great; If you've seen the movie The Saint and have heard the character Tretiac (spelling?) speak, you know what kind of accent (russian?)

$100 unexpectedly spent. Oh and breakfast and $20 to cover some basic overnight stuff since ours is sitting at the airport.

It's a no brainer, I guess. The silver lining is this: I get to fly into Dublin (something I thought I'd have to wait another 10 years to do). The bad news: what do you see of the real Dublin from an airport? It's another day wasted. I have the same clothes I wore since 8 am FRIDAY. and so on.

My overall thoughts: United airlines in united in their plot to ruin my vacation, but I won't let them, darn it.

We'll go hang out at the airport this afternoon, but right now I'm going to get some much needed sleep.

PS Here's the view from the hotel (Sears tower in distance).

Friday, March 9, 2007

First glitch

Paul and I arrived dutifully at the Hector International Airport. We are about 2 1/2 hours early. The girl checking us in must have been new because it took a 1/2 hour for her to figure out how to check us in and scan our passports.

The real trouble is this, folks: Paul and I are seated next to each other on the puddle jumper that takes us to O'hare. However, on our 8 hour flight TO London, we are not only not sitting next to one another, we are about 8 flippin' rows away from each other! Can you believe it? How does this happen? We weren't asked to select seats when we purchased the tickets; the Priceline site said seats were assigned at check-in. Now we find out we can't share the laptop (bye-bye movies), the mp3 player (so long music), nor the pillow (sleep? What sleep?)

Hopefully we get this sorted out at O'hare or can sucker someone into moving (them, not me, as I have the window seat and look forward to seeing London zoom towards me as we descend).

Mom--sorry I didn't get a hold of you before we left! Have fun with McKenna next week! ;-)

Thursday, March 8, 2007

My countdown clock tells me that in 24 hours and 15 minutes, I will be in London!

Sunday, March 4, 2007


I'm setting up this blog to post pictures and updates from our London trip. We leave Friday March 9th and each day I hope to add our daily pictures (or links to them if I have to host them on a separate site).