A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: janicem

Happy Birthday to Me!!

sunny 7 °C

Well. I guess there's no denying it any more. I am in my 40s. It's official. How the HELL did that happen? (When I say "hell" with my new English accent, it sounds more like "hehwwll," so do the mental gymnastics yourself for full audio effect).

The day started with a bang when J presented me with yet another birthday present!! It seems he thought that the Jersey Boys tix weren't quite enough (yes, I'm spoiled).

So what was it, pray tell? Well, only this fab-boo coat that I have been eyeing ever since I got here almost six weeks ago. I swear to DOG that I was going back to Marks & Spencers the next day to buy it after much hemming and hawwing, but as it turns out, I didn't have to, as my sweetie surprised me with it first thing Tuesday morning! Awwwwwwwwwww.

So, after that rousing start, I decided to keep the ball rolling with a trip to the gym. Well, wasn't that a lot more eventful than I had anticipated! Seems that my membership card, when swiped through the front entry gate, alerted the gym receptionist that it was my birthday. Although I turned down the birthday-special personal training session (no time!), that didn't stop all the floor trainers (all five of them!) from coming over to sing "Happy Birthday" to me--while I was dying on the elliptical trainer! Egads. Embarrassed much?

Where can one go after that?

Well ... to lunch, that's where! And to top it all off, it was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon to boot!

But not before a few quick pics to commemorate the day, including the New Snazzy Coat:

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The gang was all there (well, almost all there): my dates were J, his mom N, his sister T, and one of his four nieces, E.

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We went to this local pub & grill called The Harvester, where much fun was had and much fattening food was consumed. It was a natchos, burgers, and dessert kind of day:

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And, surprise, surprise, they actually managed to sneak a cake by me--all the while I was trying to pick out a dessert! BURN!

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Despite the gargantuan cake, N, being N, ordered the one dessert we had our eye on anyway, and we shared it (by "share," of course I mean we fought over it like a bunch of vultures going to the electric chair):

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As if I hadn't been spoiled enough, there were presents! flowers! balloons! Luckily, there was helium in one, so I was able to actually move toward the parking lot, despite being unable to move my lower body which was by then full of natchos, burgers, fries, and about 5000 calories worth of chocolate grand marnier cake!

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We got home, and I was still floored by how sweet J and his family are. I can't believe everyone went to such an effort--on a work day, no less!

Awwwwwwwwwww:

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Here's the really crazy part: MORE THEATRE! We had about an hour to catch our breath (and find better-fitting pants), and it was off once more on the Piccadilly Line (yes, I know all the stations in order now) and Piccadilly Circus, where the Queen's Theatre and Les Miserables awaited.

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This time, it wasn't just me and J, but me, J, and N! Now, it's true that I have seen Les Mis about a half-dozen times already, but it really never gets old, and each time is a new discovery. Before the curtain went up, we had a chance to get a drink and explore yet another beautiful, old theatre:

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As usual, I was enamourred with the many old theatre posters:

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As expected, the play was great, with many excellent performances. It was the first time seeing Les Mis for both J and N, and a great time was had by all. To think that this was our third trip to the theatre in such a short time (when I had only hoped to go once!) really blew my mind.

And, hey, I wouldn't be me if I didn't sneak another illegal shot of the curtain call!

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It was such a great day that I didn't even mind that I almost got into a fight with some punk on the tube who thought he'd use N as a coat hanger for his knapsack!

It was one fantastic birthday. Thank you, J, for what was just one of many wonderful days. You really made it special, as you always do. xoxoxoxox

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Posted by janicem 16:13 Archived in England Tagged events Comments (0)

The Obligatory Trip to Oxford Street and Harrod's

semi-overcast 6 °C

I'm not sure what else there is to say about miles and miles of shopping and entertainment in London's West End that hasn't already been said. I mean ... it's ... for only the wordliest of world-class shoppers with plenty of stamina, endurance, and insanity!

Of course, the mecca for all dedicated West End shoppers (Dal? You listening?) is Oxford Street, which is something akin to Vancouver's Robson Street (only much longer) or Chicago's Magnificent Mile (only much less eclectic).

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The shopping isn't so much high-end, boutique-style brand names, but rather more street-level, mall-type stores. Annoyingly, stores appear all along Oxford in duplicate, triplicate, even quad?-plicate? (I admit it: I'm definitely NOT the most worldly of the world-class shoppers!)

The architecture, as always, is the most interesting thing to observe:

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Oh, and of course, one mustn't pass by the Marks & Spencer's Food Hall! Please! PRIORITIES, people!!

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You never really know what you'll find on the side/off-shoot streets that move you away from Oxford Street. It could be a pretty little respite like Soho Square:

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Or Hanover Square:

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Or a waffle stand:

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Or a store called "Faith" right outside Adam & Eve Court (it would have to be a court, right?):

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As we moved our way down the street, we came across the cutest little out-of-the-way alley called St. Christopher Place. It's nestled away from Oxford Street and Oxford Circus and is home to a series of old homes and apartments that have been converted into some very exclusive boutiques. I wonder how many people know that they used to hold public hangings here once upon a time??

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As you exit out the back end, you simultaneously enter a kind of Restaurant Row, with everything from Moroccan to Italian to French to Sri Lankan to Russian:

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One place I didn't get to see last summer is Selfridge's, a kind of Harrod's-like department store. It turned out to be ... ok. Although, I liked the looks of the little sporty number parked right in front:

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Inside, stores range from street-level teen wear to exclusive designer labels:

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Naturally, we had to check out THEIR Food Hall, which is just as good as Harrod's, albeit smaller:

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Oh, and this TOTALLY GROSS DISPLAY of post-modern insanity: actual bugs being sold as some whimsical, nostalgic remembrance of days gone by:

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I don't know what's worse: the bug "delicacies" or this ... £69,000 cell phone!

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That was it. We'd had it! Off we went.

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A quick cut across Marble Arch and through Hyde Park would bring us to Harrod's ... only slightly better on the Crass and Flashy Tourist Scale. I mean, you really can't beat a golden King Tut escalator AND a bronze Mohammed Al Fayed statue!

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Oh, and at the famous (infamous?) Speaker's Corner, we ran into an over-zealous religious mob. Unfortunately, I didn't have time for a conversion, as I had knick-knacks and chocolate to buy.

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So, on we went, and many a toffee, biscuit, and scone were scoffed.

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It was another day that was supposed to rain cats and dogs, but alas, we made it home scot free. Or is that "Scot" free? I never did know.

Posted by janicem 12:26 Archived in England Tagged shopping Comments (0)

Abbey Road: "Here Comes the Sun" -- NOT!

semi-overcast 6 °C

The sunny days have been few and far between over the last 5-6 weeks, so we have to, as they say, "make hay while the sun shines," even if it's just for 5 minutes! With that in mind, we decided to head off on this supposedly "clear" day (it was supposed to pour, and yet the sun was trying to poke out) to Abbey Road ... via Regent's Park.

Regent's Park (actually its proper name is "THE Regent's Park") has the dubious distinction of being just a nick outside of any Central London map, so getting there is a matter of hoping that "that street" or "this path" continues on even after it runs off the page! It's situated just north of the Marylebone-Mayfair district, nestled between Prince Albert Road and Albany Street.

Getting there meant our first trip to the Baker Street tube station and Baker Street--home to none other than Mr. Sherlock Holmes ... oh, and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, where I will never understand the endless lineups of tourists. I mean ... really?

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No more than a couple of blocks later, we were at the entrance of Regent's Park:

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The official website has this to say about Regent's Park:

"The Regent's Park is the largest grass area for sports in Central London and offers a wide variety of activities, as well as an Open Air Theatre, the London Zoo and many cafes and restaurants. Henry VIII appropriated The Regent's Park for use as a hunting ground, which he considered to be an invigorating ride from Whitehall Palace. At that time, the only boundaries were a ditch and a rampart. Were he here today, Henry would hardly recognise the stylish gardens and sports fields that now stand in its place."

Truly, even in winter, it is quite beautiful and inviting. Again, from the website: "The Park consists of formal gardens, shrubberies, sports pitches, rough grassland, a large lake with several reed beds and islands, a small, enclosed wood and a canal with embankments."

We entered at the York Gate, which is the perfect starting point for circumnavigating the park's centre lake through Clarence Bridge, Hanover Bridge, and finally, Longbridge. Along the way, there are SO MANY birds--in fact, there is a formal bird sanctuary in the central lake section of the park--as well as tons of pathways, ponds, trees, and benches.

We thoroughly enjoyed our walk:

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One thing that's impossible to miss is the ridiculous number of birds' nests! My god, everywhere you turn, it's one massive nest after another, and if you look closely, you can see a few heads and beaks poking out:

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Eventually, we made our way to Queen Mary's Gardens, home to about 400 different species of rose! Alas, being winter, we didn't get to see them in full bloom, but you can use your imagination. You know you're in a queen's garden any time you have to pass through some gold gates, eh?

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Through the many rose trellises, you can see the Post Office Tower off in the distance (technically, the BT Telecom Tower, but many still refer to it by its old name):

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On our way out of the park, we ran into a most curious little park restaurant. The Honest Sausage. Ahem. I'll have a "Park Porker," please.

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Oh, and some giraffes. Seriously, just when you need to get somewhere? GIRAFFES!!

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Oh, and a pretty canal.

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It was around this time that we began to remark at how lucky we'd been all day to have the weather hold out so well. The forecast hadn't been positive, but in fact, the rain had held off, and we even got some sunshine here and there.

And then. On our way out of the park, cognizant of the time and our desire to reach Abbey Road before dark, we got that ... feeling. You know that one. *sniff* *sniff* Rain is on the way. What would it be first? Too dark, or too wet? We started to really hoof it.

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And soon, there it was.

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Now ... imagine this, if you will. Last summer, Abbey Road was near the top of my list of Things To Do And To See, and yet, I left London without even getting near it! Needless to say, it was at the top of my list this time. I know, I know ... Silly Little Tourist Girl. Indulge me. So, we finally get there. Sure, there's tons of tourists around. Sure, some of them are starting to take their shoes off as if they are Paul McCartney. Sure, there's about 1000 cars and no actual traffic light, so that sinking feeling that you may not be able to actually take a picture starts to creep in. But, you don't care. It's the Beatles, man. Abbey Road! Abbey House! Abbey Road Studios! The zebra crossing! A pelican crossing, no less! (For you Philistines, a "pelican crossing" is a zebra crossing with the two long, yellow-lighted poles on either side ... pppphhhhhhfffffffffttttt.) And then. Rain. Oh, and just for added shits and giggles, the battery in my camera ran out.

So, you know what that means. Run back and forth across the road like a crazy banshee, hoping to get at least ONE decent shot. Don't ask me what I'm doing in these shots. I don't know what the hell I was doing or thinking. Poor J. He was sweating harder than a hooker in church on Easter Sunday trying to get SOMETHING resembling ANYTHING.

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My personal favourite is this one, where I finally get to be ALL ALONE in the crossing, with NO ONE ELSE--no people, no cars, no bicycles, no pets, no bare-footed Beatles Stalking Freaks--and yet I picked that moment (apparently) to audition for the next London stage production of Singing in the Rain.

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What was that? About 12 shots? Um, yeah. I needed just one of him to make him look like a super-STAH!!

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Whatever.

I'm not bitter.

Much.

Hey, maybe I wasn't able to achieve this:

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But at least it wasn't THIS:

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I consoled myself over the rain and my camera with a few shots of Abbey House and Abbey Road Studios. It was absolutely PISSING at this point. I probably have to get a new camera now!

For those who are interested, here's a great BBC link regarding Abbey Road's 40th anniversary (video embedded!).

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Luckily, St. John's Wood tube station is just around the corner (why didn't we just start there earlier in the day?), where of course, it's important to make available to the public only the finest of souvenirs wedged into the tube station ticket booth:

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Needless to say, we were spent. I won't lie. There was some bickering. Some words. Whatever. Oh, sure. "All You Need is Love" my fat ass. Sigh. I'm exhausted just recalling this day! But, hey, we got there, and it was all thanks to J and his Magellen-like navigational skills. YES, I KNOW YOU'RE GOOD AT READING MAPS, OK?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Before I sign off on this one, let me say once more how much I love the theatre posters that adorn every tube station escalator. They make the journey--even when it's only 1 minute long from street level to train platform--so much more interesting:

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Posted by janicem 11:16 Archived in England Tagged foot Comments (0)

Fox Trot: A Walk to South Harrow

semi-overcast 6 °C

One of the things I was determined to accomplish this trip: to see more of the towns/villages surrounding Sudbury Hill. So far, so good, with jaunts to Horsenden Hill, Uxbridge and Rayner's Lane. That's in addition to Harrow-on-the-Hill and Harrow town centre, a 45-minute walk we take a couple times a week.

So, it seemed only right that we headed off to South Harrow, which isn't quite as far as Harrow proper. Like Sudbury Hill, it's also essentially a tube stop and a few blocks of shops.

Down J's street and around the corner, and you find yourself approaching Orley Farm Road, a somewhat exclusive, mucky-muck enclave of swanky Tudor homes and cottages.

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No sooner had we passed the first closed gate--affectionately referred to as the "toll gates" (yes, even Sudbury Hill has a gated community, with there is no actual "toll" paid ... although, I'm sure at one time there was), and this dude wandered across our path! Of course, being England, this immediately called to mind Oscar Wilde's famous quote about "the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable" (in reference to England's disgusting elitist practice of hunting and killing innocent foxes). Anyhoooooooo ...

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Once I came out from under the nearest bush and caught my breath, I managed to enjoy the rest of our stroll into town, where my obsession with houses and lawns once more took over (don't mock me!):

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I cannot tell you how often you pass an old house with new bricks piled up outside. The concept of "tearing down" a house to build a new one is fairly foreign here, unlike Vancouver where such practices are commonplace:

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We soon approached South Harrow, and upon entering the town, we were met with a cute pub that my dad's cousin's wife, J, had mentioned when we visited them in Chesham back in mid-February:

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The town is small but quaint, with the obligatory tube station, as well as fruit stands, chip shops, and other ... um ... enticements:

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Another thing you commonly run into here: hidden, back-alley markets, full of unknown treasures:

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A short while later and we were headed back to Sudbury Hill via Orley Farm Road once more--more homes, more cottages, more manicured lawns, and a short detour by the Orley Farm School playing fields:

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It's these kind of quiet, uneventful days that fill our time between major outings, and although they are considerably less glitzy (and a lot easier on the camera trigger finger), they provide an insight into London rarely glimpsed when one is always on the go. I really treasure these many let's-see-where-the-day-takes-us interludes.

Posted by janicem 15:13 Archived in England Tagged foot Comments (0)

"Oh What a Night!": ANOTHER Night at the Theatre!

semi-overcast 6 °C

After An Inspector Calls, I was more than satisfied. Little did I know that J had cooked up ANOTHER theatre night! This time it wasn't Valentine's Day, but an early birthday present, and not Wyndham's Theatre, but the Prince Edward Theatre and Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons!

Once more, I was totally stoked! Some quick pics on the way out the door, and we were off once more for Leicester Square--a mere 17 tube stops away. *Groan* But, hey! It's the theatre!!

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The theatre itself is quite big, much larger than Wyndham's, right off Shaftesbury on Old Compton Road.

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Inside, the orchestra, mezzanine, dress circle, royal circle, and upper balconies seem to go on forever:

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After a bit of pre-show exploration, we took our seats:

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The first half of the musical was fantastic, and we were quickly immersed in the story of Frankie Valli and his meteoric rise from the back alleys of New Jersey to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. All of the performers were mind-blowingly good, as they ran through what seemed like the entire Four Seasons repertoire: "Beggin'," "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," "Rag Doll," "Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye)," "Sherry,", "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," "Let's Hang On," and of course, "Oh What a Night."

Intermission: Always a good excuse to check out the ... ahem ... bar:

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Back for the second half, we were again completely engrossed, and it was easy to see why Jersey Boys won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical 2009. I've always liked Frankie Valli and his unique sound, and his story of fame, fortune, and 100 million records is quite spectacular.

By the time the show was over, everyone was on their feet, singing and dancing along. I managed to steal a few quick (illegal) shots!

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On our way out, we took our sweet time, and I managed to check out a bit more of the theatre:

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Outside, I had to have my picture taken with the four lads! (I think I missed one ... sorry, dude.)

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We just had time for a quick stroll around our little corner of the West End, before setting off once more for home.

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Oh, what a night, indeed! Thank you so much, J. I cannot thank you enough, sweetie. The only thing better than indulging my theatre obsession is enjoying it with you xoxoxoxoxo

Posted by janicem 12:11 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

All Aboard: Covent Garden and the London Transport Museum

semi-overcast 6 °C

Those of you familiar with London know that the Soho and Bloomsbury areas are chock-a-block full of all kinds of things to do and see. We'd already toured around Bloomsbury when we went to the British Museum (we still need to retrace our steps and take in the Darwin Centre that we never got to!), and various trips to Leicester Square, the Strand, and the theatre district have familiarized us with Soho and the West End.

Heading south (of Bloomsbury) toward the Thames and east (of Soho and Leicester Square), you stumble upon Covent Garden--originally home to the now-gone vegetable garden of the convent attached to Westminster Abbey and the accompanying fruit and vegetable market. Covent Garden remains popular,with its arched galleries dating back to 1832, the various iron and glass market halls, and the area surrounding the squares and plazas where you can lose yourself in all kinds of stores, boutiques, craft stalls, cafes, restaurants, and street entertainment.

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Jubilee Hall is the place to be if you want souvenirs, clothing, ornaments, trinkets, knick-knacks, and anything weird and/or original, from furries to footballs:

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Of course, there's always The Old Standbys (oldies, yes, but always goodies):

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And every so often, something unexpected:

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After the Sensory Overload that is the Jubilee Market, it was time for a tea and crumpet break:

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Then, it was off to explore the many terraces, courtyards, shops and restaurants:

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You never know when someone might break out into song:

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Next, it was on to Apple Market, an open-air craft market, with artisans and craftspeople of all walks set out amongst rows and rows of stalls. I couldn't resist, gave in to temptation, and bought some photography:

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After we'd fully investigated every nook of Covent Garden, we ventured out from the market, down to Drury Lane and environs to suss out the Drury Lane Theatre and Royal Opera House:

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What I really love about London is how you never can tell when or where you'll run into some amazing "back alley" where lord knows what you'll see (it's hilarious what is and is not considered an "alley" here):

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I rest my case. I mean ... WTF is this??

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We did eventually reach the Royal Opera House, again, another impressive structure:

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In case you were thinking that a day at Covent Garden is enough to exhaust anyone, well, that wouldn't include Experienced Sightseers named J & J, now would it?

So, it was off to the London Transport Museum, which is a whole 5 feet from Covent Gardens. We spared no effort to seek out the most hidden of the city's jewels.

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The LTM preserves a rather impressive history of London's public transportation system. Now, before your eyes roll back in your head and you nod off, let me assure you that it is actually a very informative, interesting, and fun place to visit! I wasn't expecting all that much (frankly, this one was an impassioned negotiation--I lost--for all of J's outstanding, planning, itinerizing, navigating, and general putting-up over the last five weeks), and hey, I must admit I resented coughing up £10 when almost all London Museums are free. However, after a major refurbishment completed in 2008, the LTM has easily earned its reputation as "one of the capital's best-loved attractions." It's open, airy, bright, highly interactive, and well laid out, with something for sightseers of all ages.

You enter on the top floor and are immediately set back in time to an age of horses, buggies, carriages, and river boats:

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Soon, you are learning about trams, trains, and tubes, as London moves into the next century and beyond:

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This wall quotation made me think of my grandpa, who was himself a train fireman and, later, driver. He would have really loved the LTM, no doubt:

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As you move to the end of the top floor, you look down from the vaulted glass ceilings on to the lower floors, where the major engines, trams, trains, tubes, buses, and cars are kept:

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The displays are very visitor-friendly, as one is free to climb aboard, roam around, and explore:

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Quick snooze interlude:

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Then more playing in traffic:

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I even got to drive a REAL BUS!

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Sadly, I brought my Canadian Middle Finger with me it seems:

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J was decidedly more polite (what a surprise! NOT.):

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One of the best parts of the museum was the transition from the urban to the suburgan, as London's development and sprawl gives way to various new routes, tube lines, and communities (including J's, Sudbury Hill):

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George Orwell had a few thoughts on the matter:

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It was fun to watch the development and progression of the various tube lines and cars, from rickety wood to sleek steel, from rail lines to underground tunnels:

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On the way out, you are met with a giant interactive tube map showing the changing lines year by year:

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Aaaaaaaaaand ... today:

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Who knows what the future will bring?

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I know that the end of this day brought us to the LTM cafe and some much-needed chips!!

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And, once more, homeward bound, we availed ourselves of the London Underground, although as much more educated travellers!

Posted by janicem 10:13 Archived in England Tagged foot Comments (0)

Definitely NOT Singing in the Rain!

A (soggy) Sunday afternoon at Wembley Market

overcast 5 °C

If you wait for a sunny day around here, you may never leave the house. If you wait for just a "drizzly" day, you could wait even longer. So, off we went on this weird, wet Sunday afternoon to Wembley Market, supposedly the "largest Sunday market in England" for over 30 years. Of course, being the weird, wet Sunday it was, we were not expecting record crowds. But, off we went:

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As you might have guessed, Wembley Market sits at the base of ... Wembley Stadium.

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The market is essentially a Knock Off Palace, with everything from Nike, Adidas, and Tiffany, to Ugg, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel. There's things for £1 or £100, and everything in between. There's jeans, shoes, and purses on one side, and hootchie-mama dresses and stilettoes on the other. In between, there's a lot of reggae to be heard, and hustling to be avoided.

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Yes, there's even ... tools!

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Along the way, there's a food stand for every ethnic craving, with a particular emphasis on Indian, Middle Eastern, and Carribean:

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Alas, nothing much was purchased. My dream of the perfect Knock Off Burberry purse or scarf will have to wait. So, instead, I took this picture in the rain and hoped I wouldn't be shot, stabbed, pick-pocketed, or all of the above:

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We had come and gone in probably an hour (maybe less). Not quite the afternoon outing we were expecting. So, minor detour: Rayner's Lane, which is a couple of tube stops away from Sudbury Hill and, coincidentally, where my dad's cousin's wife, J, grew up (you blog readers may remember that we visited with them last week). Small world.

Of course, my side trip into Rayner's Lane wasn't without an agenda: chips.

Sadly, there isn't a chip shop to be had in Rayner's Lane. Can you imagine? A town AND tube stop without a chip shop? What the farkin' fark, man???

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Yup, that's pretty much Rayner's Lane. Oh, did you miss it? Well, here it is again:

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Plan thwarted, we were off for home and Sudbury Hill, but thanks to J's quick thinking, the Quest for Chips was not a total bust, as we made due with one down the road in Greenford, a short 10-minute jaunt from home (it's great when the next TOWN is only 10 minutes away, eh??).

Mission Accomplished:

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Posted by janicem 15:40 Archived in England Tagged foot Comments (0)

It's All Gone South!

A relaxing day along the Thames's South Bank

semi-overcast 4 °C

Perhaps one of the best gifts I have ever received is this: Knopf's Mapguide of London. My good friend, G, gave it to me last summer, along with one for Paris, and they have both proven absolutely indispensible, especially the London guide. I cannot tell you how many times J and I have needed it, used, it, referred to it, and downright depended on it. I actually left it in London after my visit last summer because J himself--a native Londoner!--found it so useful.

During one of our many ventures through its detailed pages, we realized that, while we'd explored Westminster quite thoroughly last August, we had neglected to really take in the South Bank--that is, moving in the opposite direction, away from Big Ben, Westminster Bridge, and Parliament. The Piccadilly Line runs almost smackdab into Westminter Station (just one quick hop at Green Park Station on the Jubilee Line, and you're there!). So, off we went.

Problem: The Jubilee Line was closed--ON A SATURDAY !--starting at Green Park (oh, but of course). Oi. So, we decided to hoof it. I'm so glad we did because said stroll necessitated cutting through Buckingham Palace, which was a real pleasure. Yes, that's right. Only in London would one be forced to "cut through" Buckingham Palace, as though it were some back alley shortcut.

First, we navigated our way through Green Park, which surprisingly lived up to its moniker, given the still chilly time of year.

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Soon, the Palace was in view, and as we drew nearer, the relentless-even-in-winter crowds grew thicker.

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Despite taking about 400 pictures just like this one last August, I thought, oh what the heck ... just for old time's sake:

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Of the course, the Palace is just as majestic when walking away from it:

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The surrounding gardens are starting to come in nicely, with some hints of fall and winter still poking out here and there amidst the coming of spring:

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Despite the very cold wind, it was a beautiful day:

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After enough lollygagging (who are those people who appear to come straight from the airport right to Buckingham Palace, tagged luggage still in hand?), we were off toward Westminster, first via Whitehall:

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Soon, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Parliament were in view:

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It was a Saturday, and the sun was shining, so we knew were in for a real tourist trap as we headed in the direction of Westminster Bridge and the London Eye. J was particularly "thrilled" with the throngs of people, backpacks, and cameras:

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We decided to forego the London Eye (again). We couldn't decide what was worse: the £18 price tag or the hours-long lineups. Alas, we agreed to appreciate it from afar:

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Instead, we hung with this dude for a while:

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Crossing over Westminster Bridge, the building known as County Hall was soon before us. It houses the FA Premier League Hall of Fame, London Film Museum, London Aquarium, and Dali Universe.

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Looking back from the County Hall, in the direction of Westminster Bridge, you can take in Big Ben, Parliament, and the sunshine from another angle:

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Perhaps the picture of the day. I'd like to say it was planned, but hey ...

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Once you walk past the County Hall building, you walk right underneath the London Eye, alongside Jubilee Gardens, and soon head right toward Hungerford Bridge. Along the way, there's plenty of street entertainers, musicians, and artists to distract:

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Heading under the bridge, you enter the Queen's Walk, a seawall that runs along the South Bank. The first stop past the bridge is the South Bank Centre, a series of musical halls (Royal Festival Hall, Hayward Gallery, and Queen Elizabeth Hall), where various artists perform and showcase their talents.

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Looking out from this point, you get some great views of the Hungerford Bridge, the Embankment Station (this one is still up for debate--J says he never said it was Waterloo Station, and now he's claiming Charing Cross Road Station!), and working waterways of the Thames.

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Underneath the bridge is home to a skateboarders paradise:

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Soon, we were approaching the Waterloo Bridge, home (under the bridge) to the South Bank Book Market. Right past the bridge is the National Theatre, where Sir Laurence Olivier stands guard both outside and inside.

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Carrying on, with St. Paul's guiding the way off in the distance, we were met eventually by Gabriel's Wharf, a quaint little inlet set inside the South Bank, with its cute little shops, boutiques, and playgrounds:

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It was back to the Queen's Walk and our final leg toward Blackfriars Bridge. The Blackfriars Station beside the bridge is one of the original stations built on the Circle Line, which I believe was the first line of the London Underground, built back in the 1700s. The bridge has obviously been rebuilt/reinforced in various stages over the years, but running underneath it, in a walk-through tunnel, you can view the various wall drawings and paintings that detail the bridge's history.

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As you cross over on foot, you get a great view not only of the Thames (serendipitously laid out against the setting sun), but also Victoria Embankment--the bank across from the South Bank we'd been walking all day.

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Unfortunately, it looks like the Blackfriars Station is now closed (not sure if that's permanent ... would be a shame if it were), so we had no choice in what was becoming an increasingly bitter wind but to walk along the Victoria Embankment toward the Temple Station and the District Line that would eventually connect us back to the Piccadilly Line.

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Right before you reach the station, you stroll past the Temple District, Temple Gardens, and Temple Church. The district was owned by the Knights Templar from 1185-1312, and is billed as "a small enclave within the city." Inside is the famous Middle Temple Hall, where Shakespeare's Twelfth Night premiered in 1600.

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Eventually, we were on our way!

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Whew! We were cold but enlightened!

Posted by janicem 12:31 Archived in England Tagged foot Comments (0)

Benvenuta! Grazie! Ciao Bella!

A Fun Family Italian Night

semi-overcast 5 °C

J's family is so sweet, and each and every one of them has been nothing but welcoming both times I've been here. J's sister, T, lives nearby with her husband R and their FIVE kids(!)--without a doubt, the nicest kids I've ever met. Unfortunately, their daughter, K, is away at university, so she was the only absentee. Their home is lovely and includes a great upper loft master suite that I now covet!

Last Friday, T generously organized a family dinner, at which I was (apparently) the guest of honour!

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She really outdid herself and greeted us with our own personalized place cards and menus!

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Everything was superb. Upon arriving, we were tempted with a little bubbly.

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For dinner, we started with some fresh soup and handmade mozzarella in phillo. Our main course was a fantastic baked penne arrabiatta with grilled chicken. T is so sweet: based only on a fleeting comment I'd once made about loving my penne with chorizo sausage, she made me an extra special one with just that! It was scrumptious, and I almost licked the plate! Dessert was not only a delicious baked Italian panettone and melted chocolate butter cake, but also a tiamisu! All throughout, much red wine was consumed, but hey, I wasn't counting!

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After I rolled away from the table, we had a lot of fun on the Wii, especially with the WiiFit, where J's mom, N, gave it a whirl. After a few glasses of wine, it wasn't hard to talk me into making a fool of myself too!

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After a few rousing rounds of Who Wants to be a Millionaire (what IS Edward VIII's real name, anyway?), we were off back home, where I remained full for the next two days. *Urp*

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Oh? The real star of the evening? Their dog, Tiny. Without a doubt, the cutest and friendliest Jack Russell Terrier EVER.

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Posted by janicem 09:43 Archived in England Tagged food Comments (0)

Next Stop: Shepherd's Bush!

*Snicker* (OK, I'm 12)

semi-overcast 6 °C

I kept hearing about this supposedly massive shopping mall that just opened up in Shepherd's Bush--Westfield it's called. Now, most of you know that I am not your typical woman who loves to shop for the sake of shopping, but even I was curious. So, off we went. This time, it was via Greenford (once more past the lovely Grand Union Canal) to Shepherd's Bush (no, I never get tired of saying "Shepherd's Bush" heeeee).

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The mall is pretty big, I must say, and overall, well organized. as you approach the main entrance area, it's a mass of restaurants and terraces.

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When you first enter, you are in what Westfield labels "The Village." At first, I worried that I'd landed in some weird M. Night Shyamalan film, but alas, no, it was just the swanky part of the mall, full of all the top designers.

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Oh, and of course, no swanky mall should be without its own ... champagne bar!

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Throughout the mall, there are these funky sitting/rest areas, each with its own design and style of leather chairs, couches, and ottomans:

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Much shopping was done, many racks were combed ... very little was purchased.

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Oh, except for this:

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Along the way, there were more than a few interesting window displays:

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And who can resist the Marks & Spencer food hall?

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Or a frozen yogurt place called SNOG???

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But really, THIS was clearly the purchase of the day. Every self-respecting Londoner needs some of these:

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One of the main reasons we selected Westfield in the first place is the new VUE cinema which has opened up there. It's MASSIVE and even has special VIP seating, lounges, bars, you name it ... hey, anything for a buck, eh? Or, should I say "quid"?

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Before the movie (Up in the Air, which I shall review in a later blog post), we dined at Pizza Express, whose mall placement and fast-food'ish sounding name really do it no service. It was actually quite an amazing little meal of the best garlic bread you've ever tasted, nummy handmade pizzas, sparkling wine, and dessert!

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It was a race ...

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J tried his best to keep up:

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But, really, was it ever a contest?

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J was still eating, and I was on to my Diet Coke!

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After the movie, we had time for another quick stroll around (it's really not that huge, and Metropolis could easily give it a run for its money), only to disccover the bloody Central Line had broken down! Argh! London! So, it was a quick change of plans, and we were off to the OTHER Shepherd's Bush (lord help me, there's two *snicker*) to the Hammersmith & City line, which also connects up with the Piccadilly Line at Hammersmith. Whew.

I did buy a lovely new sweater, as well as a blouse-y tank top, and J was sweet enough to buy me a top I've had my eye on at M&S ever since I got here. Awwwwwwwwwwww.

Posted by janicem 07:27 Archived in England Tagged shopping Comments (1)

Next Stop: Chesham!

Or, "Wait, what year was he born again?"

semi-overcast 5 °C

One of the things I really wanted to do last summer but ran out of time for was a visit with family. Most friends and family know well that my dad's family is from England (mom's from Scotland), and if you read last summer's blog, you know that I spent a day looking for Grandma's house, which just happens to be (practically) down the road from here (Sudbury Hill)--just a few tube stops away in Acton.

Well, on that side of the family is my dad's cousin, D, who lives with his wife, J, in Chesham, which is in Buckinghamshire (dad's mom came from a family of four girls, Grandma being #3). Aside: What a small world! J grew up at Rayner's Lane, just two tube stops from Sudbury Hill! She has vivid memories of Sudbury Hill, and it turns out that she worked at or visited so many of the places that my J's family has worked and/or lived at! The two Js (D&J and my J) had a lot of fun comparing notes on every neighbourhood, street, field, and ballpark!

Those of you familiar with the London Underground map (read: Mensa Maze) will quickly recognize Chesham as, yes, the very very last stop, in the very upper-left-hand corner! However. Ahem. Getting there is not quite so cut and dried, despite its apparent proximity to Sudbury Hill (seriously, it looks like a quick jaunt!). That said, we were there in about an hour or so, maybe an hour and 15 minutes, so all told, not too bad.

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It did necessitate a, ahem, few train switches, boarding first at Sudbury Hill, then to Rayner's Lane, then to Harrow-on-the-Hill, then to Chalton & Latimer, and FINALLY to Chesham. Good lord. Chesham is so far "in the sticks" as D&J say, that there is only a single line running from Chalton & Latimer to Chesham, with one train going back and forth all day, every 30 minutes or so. What I will say is that, despite being the lone last station on the line, Chesham Station is the cutest and most quaint one yet! Most of the original building is still there, and a lot of the old signage has been preserved.

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D&J were kind enough to pick us up at the station, and it was just a short drive to their lovely home. I walked in, and immediately, I recognized a few of my Grandma's paintings. I wish I were more like Grandma, who just up and started painting in her retirement years!

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And this beast was hanging sheepishly in the corner--some of my mother's very best 1970s handiwork:

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Lunch was lovely, as J outdid herself with soup, salad, sandwiches, and other nibblies. That didn't stop us from diving into the dessert!

The rest of the afternoon was spent catching up on family history. Recently, my J and I have been investigating both sides of my family through www.ancestry.ca and www.ancestry.co.uk. Of course, by "J and I," I mean ... J. Heh. He found out so much about both my mom's and dad's families, so it was fun to share what we knew about my dad's side with D&J, especially J, who has herself done a ton of research over the years, including visiting various proper English archives and collections. She is incredibly organized and immediately put us to shame with her many printouts, family trees, documents, letters, certificates, etc. She was able to fill in many blanks and holes for me, and lo and behold, I was able to fill in one or two for her! In fact, my J had some passenger lists that D&J didn't have! Ha! In all seriousness, I think I will have to hire D&J to do my research for me if I want to carry it forward.

We must have covered about six generations on my dad's side, and after a few hours, I must admit, I had lost total track of what I thought I already knew! Stupid me forgot to bring a notebook, as I should have been taking copious notes. Perhaps another visit to Chesham is in order?

Before we ventured off home to Sudbury Hill, we had a look around the house, garden, street area, etc. and took a few pics:

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Then it was off again to the sweetest station ever:

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Many thanks to D&J for inviting us and picking us up. We had a lovely afternoon and hope to visit again!

Posted by janicem 06:41 Archived in England Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Valentine's Day Part Deux: A Day at the British Museum

Or, "I want my Mummy!!"

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February 14th was off to a great start: I'd already enjoyed my theatre tix, but I still woke up to tea, breakfast, and tulips!

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Despite the fact that it was Sunday, and despite the fact that every child in London had just started a half-term break, we decided to venture out to the British Museum. May as well jump in with both feet, I say! So, it was off to Holborn Station, one of the few stations on the Piccadilly Line I hadn't been to!

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The area in and around Holborn--Bloomsbury district--is quite beautiful:

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As you approach the Museum, you slowly begin to realize its enormity. Seriously, the thing is a city block squared, I'm certain of it.

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The front steps are beautiful, leading up to several massive columns:

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Perhaps the most stunning part of the building is its center Great Court. The pictures really do not do it justice. Forgive me the barrage of photos here, but I really had to capture it from as many angles as possible. Inside that amazing centre? A gigantic reading room that we didn't even get to see.

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As you can see, it's quite stunning inside. The Museum spans over three full levels, with all kinds of split levels in between. We quickly began to realize that covering the whole thing in one day was going to be quite the challenge:

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We decided to start at the beginning--Room #1 and the Enlightenment. This is itself a gargantuan (am I running out of adjectives yet?) room that starts with a rotating display room and then transitions into what can only be described as the world's largest collection of curio cabinets, each containing undoubtedly priceless artifacts, historical documents, and works of art. It was becoming painfully obvious that sincerely appreciating each and every item is next to impossible. Oh? That Olduvai handaxe? That's only 1.6 MILLION years old!

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It was really hard to know where to go next, but hey, North America and Mexico seemed like a good start:

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At this point, about an hour in, we were already exhausted! So, we took a quick break in one of the Museum cafes (Hello! Ridiculous lineup!), regrouped, and reconfigured our Plan of Attack!

Change of plans: On to Ancient Egypt! Again, please excuse the unending stream of photos here. These are for my dad mostly! Oh, and yes, that IS the Rosetta Stone.

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Soon, we were moving through absolutely stunning displays from the Middle East, including Assyria and the Islamic World, then on to Ancient Greece and Rome, including the Minoans and Mycenaeans, Athens, Lycia, Alexander the Great, various sculptures, and the amazing Nereid Monument:

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Before we knew it, we were in the Parthenon Galleries, which includes both original building structures and reconstructions, as well as sculptures, marbles, friezes, and the controversial Elgin Marbles (the wall friezes that run the length of the gallery--England is still accused of stealing them, and their rightful owners want them back!):

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It wasn't until we were home that we realized that, although we thought we'd thus completed the entire Ground Floor, in fact, we had entirely missed that floor's Asian section, which includes China, South Asia and Southeast Asia, India, a huge Chinese jade collection, Chinese ceramics, and Korea! Sorry, Asia. We hardly knew ye.

So, it was onward and upwards--literally--as we trudged up the Great Court stairs to the Upper Floor. More Ancient Egypt! This time, it was Egyptian life and death, Egyptian death and afterlife (MUMMY!), Early Egypt, Egypt and Nubia, and Ethiopia and Coptic Egypt. [One of the annoying things about this museum's layout is that like displays are dispersed in odd arrangements across and between floors, instead of being collected all together.] Some of these guys look like they could use a good stretch and a cup of coffee!

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By now, our minds were reeling, but we still had much to cover, including MORE Ancient Greece and Rome, including Greek and Roman life, the Roman Empire, the Etruscan world, Ancient Cyprus, and the Greeks in Italy. From there, it was on to Europe, subdivided by years (300-1100, 1050-1500, 1400-1800, 1800-1900, 1900-present), as well as Roman Britain, Britain and Europe 800 BC-AD 43, and Europe and the Middle East. Speaking of the Middle East, there was MORE of that too, including Ancient Iran, Ancient South Arabia, Ancient Turkey, Mesopotamia, and Ancient Levant. Oh, and let's not forget the "Theme" rooms: Clocks and Watches and Money! Again, sorry for the unending photo album here, but it's easier simply to group them together at this point:

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As you can see, we somehow ended up back in Ancient Egypt, and hey, I'm too lazy to move those pictures above, so you will just have to deal with the Freaky Folded Up Guy's Tomb here! Seriously, that guy needs a good chiropractor!

Last, but certainly not least, was Africa, which is a relatively small display occupying most of the gallery space on the Lower Floor:

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Finally, it was back outside, where it was almost still daylight! Back out into the Bloomsbury district, and what always proves to be a three-hour decision making process: IF and WHERE to eat?

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The impending rain storm sped up the process, and we decided on that most romantic of Valentine's hide-a-ways: Nando's! I don't care what anyone says--nothing says True Love and Romance as much as your sweetie bringing you endless Coke Zero from the All-You-Can-Drink Soda Fountain! You think I'm kidding?

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After the Peri Peri chicken, I was simply too spent to take more pictures. Homeward bound it was--one long tube journey from Holborn back to Sudbury Hill. I'm pretty sure I scowled at a few children.

Posted by janicem 01:53 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

An Early Valentine's: A Night at the Thee-AH-ta!

semi-overcast 4 °C

Well, didn't I get spoiled this Valentine's Day!! This is the first VD that J and I have been able to share in the same city (that's Valentine's Day!! not ... yanno). J surprised me with an early pressie: tickets to see An Inspector Calls, Stephen Daldry's re-launch of his already-revived 1990s hit play (apparently the most awarded play in history, all told). The play was written in 1944-1945 and first staged in London's West End in 1946. It's primarily set in London c. 1912, pre-World War I London. I say "primarily" because there's a secondary parallel 'setting' of sorts which appears to be the 'present day,' i.e., 1946 post-World War II London. The play concerns the wealthy Birling family whose celebratory dinner for their newly engaged daughter is interrupted by an unexpected (and, soon, regrettable) visit from Police Inspector Goole who has come around to inquire about a young woman found dead in the infirmary.

I was so excited! So, off we went to Leicester Square and Wyndham's Theatre! Leicester Square is quite the bustling neighbourhood--a full-on theatre district with wall-to-wall theatres, restaurants, pubs, cafes, and shops.

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Wyndham's Theatre itself is simply beautiful, inside and out. We had to pick up our tickets at the Box Office, so I used that as an excuse to quickly wander about and snap a few photos (only I would find a way to take pics in a cordoned-off area!):

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On every theatre wall, there's tons of historical posters, paintings, portraits, etc., some showcasing the theatre's earliest performances in 1899:

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Before we actually took our seats, we decided to take a quick stroll around outside the theatre and perhaps warm ourselves with some tea and apple pie, both of which we found in short order right around the corner at Cafe Rimini!

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Note to self: One great thing about the theatre district? You can always find same-day tickets at half (or less!) the price. There's no excuse for not going now!

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Our seats in the Royal Circle (yes, Royal Circle) were grand, with a full view of the stage (a really unique 'bombed-out' plank-board design that trails into a phone booth), lower "stalls" (i.e., lower orchestra seats), and all the exclusive side box seats:

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Sadly, I am old it seems, so on with the glasses!

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Once the play was over, under the pretext of 'forgetting my gloves,' I managed to sneak back and in and steal a quick peek at the stage (of course, this necessitated a few more photos!):

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Alas, it was back to the Tube once more, as we ventured home:

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It was a great (early) Valentine's Day. J knows how much I love live theatre, so he could not have given me a better present. It was made better only by our going together! I'm so glad that he liked the play too. We both give it a big thumbs up! Excellent staging, lighting, set design, and acting. A real English classic.

Posted by janicem 12:03 Archived in England Tagged events Comments (0)

Next Stop: Uxbridge!

semi-overcast 4 °C

One of the great conveniences of Harrow generally (and Sudbury Hill specifically) is the proximity to the London Underground, aka the Tube. The Piccadilly Line (blue line) runs literally along the base of J's back yard, and the closest station is just at the end of his street. It's about 40 minutes on the train from Sudbury Hill to, say, South Kensington (museum district) and another 10 or so minutes to, say, Leicester Square (theatre district).

Interestingly, we never go the other way. We're always heading in to London. So, we decided to take a trip to Uxbridge, the terminus station on the other end of the Piccadilly Line. It's only about 8 or 9 stops from Sudbury Hill, so a lot closer than central London.

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Funnily enough, we were forced to change at Rayner's Lane, only 2 stops from where we started. The tube lines are a funny thing: not every train goes to the terminus station. For Vancouverites, it would be akin to the Skytrain going to Scott Road, but not as far as King George Road. Odd. So, we had to get off at Rayner's Lane (even odder: my dad's cousin grew up right there and went to the same school at Elton John in nearby Pinner!), and switch to the next train on the Metropolitan Line (don't ask), which would take us all the way to Uxbridge:

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The Uxbridge Station itself is quite an old one, and there are still hints of its glory years , including some antique clocks and lots of brass placques:

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Uxbridge proper is a fairly small place, not much bigger than Sudbury Hill, with a couple of modern malls, lots of old-fashioned outdoor promenades, and some historic streets and buildings:

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One great thing about London in the winter? The built-in excuse for a hot chocolate. Heh. We stopped this time at Costa, a Starbucks-like chain, which is actually much much better. The hot chocolate is to die for, and hey, they didn't mind that we brought in our own bakery from down the street (love my Valentine's Day cookie!).

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Yet another great thing about London in general? You never know when you'll run into a 500-year old building in the middle of a mall! For example, St. Margaret's church, wedged between two more modern buildings:

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Outside the church stands the original town pump:

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Looking down from the church, you enter the old historic Windsor Street:

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Perhaps the coolest building? The Queen's Head pub, which has been in place, in some form or another, for almost 500 years now and commemorates Anne Boleyn's ... um ... unfortunate separation from her skull:

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At the end of the street, set inside a small park, is a WWI memorial that memorializes all the men and women of Uxbridge who served and died. We wandered over there to check it out, and lo and behold, Henry Earl of Darby (!) had at one time donated the land--in 1576! What a co-in-ki-dink (most of you should get the Darby connection!):

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Alas, we had come, seen, and conquered Uxbridge, quite the quaint little hamlet. It's fun to investigate these small, tucked-away places. It's a nice break from All Things Tourism you find in central London.

Posted by janicem 17:36 Archived in England Tagged foot Comments (0)

Naturally!

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After our big (read: freezing) day spent in and around Notting Hill/Portobello Road/Kensington/Hyde Park/Royal Albert Hall, we decided to head indoors to the Natural History Museum. One of the many great things about England is that most of the major museums are taxpayer-funded and, thus, carry free admission. It seems foolish not to take advantage of this Socialist Enterprise at its best. So, the NHM was our first of what will likely be many museum stops over the next few weeks.

The museum itself is a majestic-looking building that one might mistake for a restored/renovated castle. Alas, it's actually a fairly newish building (hey, in England, c. 1880 is new!) that has been constructed to look old.

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The entrance is equally impressive and, once inside, you are presented with the Grand Central Gallery from which all other galleries flow. The centrepiece is a Diplodocus fossil which is pretty much impossible to capture in one frame (at least from the floor--overhead shots to come):

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As you might have surmised, the museum concerns itself with all things "natural," and is divided into zones.

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Blue Zone covers Dinosaurs, Whales, Fishes, Amphibians, Reptiles, all the Marine Invertebrates, and Mammals, including, of course, Human Biology. Green Zone covers Creepy Crawlies, Birds, Primates, Ecology, Environment, Trees, Minerals, and Evolution. Red Zone covers Earth Science, including Volcanoes, Earthquakes, and the Earth's Treasury. The Orange Zone--which we didn't have time to explore--is home to the Darwin Centre, a large laboratory and collections enclave.

We started out, of course, in the Blue Zone, and the dinosaurs. Needless to say, this is where every single child in the museum is located at any one time. Oi.

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Then it was off to Human Biology, Mammals, Fishes, Amphibians, Reptiles, etc.

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I did insist on spending an inordinate amount of time at this display on hormones. For J's benefit. Ahem.

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Panda!!! [Sorry, inside joke.]

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We managed only a quick peek in the window of the under-renovation Whale hall, where the huge blue whale skeleton lives (do whales have "skeletons"? I guess someone wasn't paying attention!).

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I tried to but couldn't avoid the Creepy Crawlies section, as J had to have his insect love needs met. Ugh.

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Later, when I asked J his absolute most favourite part of the whole museum? The ants. Yes, ants. I have to admit, it was pretty cool watching them move itty bitty pieces of apple across a stick bridge from source to house. I wonder how they decide who's foreman and who's journeymen.

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Then, it was all for the Birds:

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Some Ecology and Environmental stuff for the tree huggers:

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Then up the freaky looking escalator into the giant Earth dome, where the Red Zone fun begins. The coolest part? Getting to relive a massive Tokyo earthquake. The real one was supposedly 9.5 or something on the scale, but they can only let us feel about half of that. I guess they weren't so keen on bringing down the entire building, huh?

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Once we'd done the three major zones, we decided to get a proper on-high view of the Grand Central Gallery. Up the steps we went!

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I wouldn't want to be the lumberjack who had to deal with this bitch. It would take at least two Canadians and more than a case of Molson to fell this one:

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For some reason, this photo, which was not purposely set-up (honestly, I snapped it without even realizing what was around), really tickles my funny bone. "Hierarchies," indeed. Darwin would chuckle, I'm sure.

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Speaking of Darwin, here's the old man, not quite so in-the-flesh:

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After we'd had enough, including two pit-stops in the museum cafe, where they served the most decadent lemon and almond loaf known to man (we actually went back at closing to get some to take away--and they don't do "take aways"), we were off in to the beckoning twilight.

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Next stop? Sudbury Hill:

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Posted by janicem 16:26 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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