Sunday, 10 February 2013

London Calling

Howdy y'all,
Before I cover our day trip to London I'll update you on my Carol Seppanen Book Updates.  I've read two more Dashiell Hammett books.  The Dain Curse, 179 pages, and The Maltese Falcon, 198 pages.  Both books were okay but not great or even as good as Raymond Chandler's books.  The Continental Op in The Dain Curse was the same as the first book - not good and not bad, just a detective.  Sam Spade didn't really impress me, just more of the 1930's style wise cracking PI with all of the tough as nails attitude needed to deal with the manipulative dames and snarling coppers.  Not that I am knocking Hammett, his books helped start the detective novel genre and he is rightly credited for his massive contribution but they just didn't impress me like Chandler's books impressed me.  One more book to read then I am done with this Hammett quartet novel book.  Your Auntie "B" Word of the Week is Levantine, as in the man's features were Levantine.

Happy 11th Birthday Kalle!  We had Cornish pasties for dinner then continued the Cornish theme with the vanilla ice cream.  For cake she picked out a Madeira Cake with buttercream frosting and jam between the layers and white frosting on top.  The other cake was a Belgian White Chocolate & Strawberry Cake which had a white chocolate topping with buttercream frosting and jam in between the layers as well.  The cakes were okay except the yellow cake itself was a little dry and crumbly on both cakes but Kalle liked them both so its all good.
On Saturday we made another day trip to London. This time we went in the Freys (you can read their blog here) and to meet my mate Brandon who is on a short term work assignment in London. We have made a few trips in to London already but with our time winding down we really need to wrap up the London sights.  London is a place that I thought we would be able to check out in detail when we first moved over since it is only an hour and a half train ride away but it just hasn't worked out that way with our travel schedule for some reason.  We'll hit the top tier attractions but not much else which is to bad for us but there's not much we can do about it at this point.  Hopefully we can schedule a weekend in London before we head back for good.
First up was our 8 AM train into London which went off without a hitch.  We arrived at St. Pancras and split with the Freys as they have extensively toured London and are on their second and third tier attractions by now.  We made plans to meet at the theatre later on then went to pick up day passes for the kids to ride the Underground.  Our first hitch came a few minutes later when we couldn't pass through the King's Cross turnstiles because when I topped up our Oyster Cards online (London transportation cards) I selected the St. Pancras Station to activate our purchase.  Oops.  So after speaking to a Tube worker who explained my mistake we backtracked through the King's Cross Station to the St. Pancras station to the St. Pancras turnstiles then made our way to the Tube.  Newb Tube traveller mistake by me, I knew the two stations were connected but didn't realise that the stations weren't interchangeable for the Oyster Card Top-Up.  Twenty minutes in delay later we are on the Tube travelling to our first stop of the day.  

From Westminster Abbey - a few iconic London sights.  Big Ben, Parliament, a Double Decker bus and the London Eye.  And don't forget the rain.  Not a heavy rain, just the clouds gently weeping.  They probably feel sorry for the people who have to eat the food over here - jk Brits. 
Our first stop was Westminster Abbey (check our their website here).  The Abbey is world famous so we had to check it out while we were here.  From the official website it has a metric tonne of history - final resting place of seventeen monarchs, founded in 906 AD, present building built in 1245 by Henry III, and coronation church for the English Kings/Queens since 1066.  The list of people buried or commemorated here is quite impressive - Robert Adam (our first London trip), Jane Austen (Bath trip), Lewis Carroll (Rugby stop), Geoffrey Chaucer (Canterbury trip), Sir Winston Churchill (every trip that has a wartime museum), Oliver Cromwell (previous London trip), Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Sir Francis Drake (Plymouth stop), T.S. Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, David Livingstone, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Christopher Marlowe (Canterbury trip), Sir Isaac Newton (his house and famous apple tree are close to us but we haven't visited it yet), Laurence Olivier, Sir Robert Peel (Ironbridge trip), Sir George Gilbert Scott (Edinburgh stop), Sir Walter Scott (first Scotland trip), William Shakespeare (Stratford-Upon-Avon trip), Thomas Telford (North Wales trip), Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Lincoln trip), James Watt (Scotland trip), Frank Whittle (Coventry trip), and Oscar Wilde to list a few names that jumped out at me.  And this doesn't include any of the Royals buried here - Edward the Confessor, Henry III, (Bloody) Mary I, Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, and Richard II to name a few.  And those are just a fraction of the well known people's graves and/or monuments which is just a fraction of the total graves and monuments here.  This place was stuffed hoarder style with monuments/plaques on the walls and graves/tombs in/on the floor.  Add enough people inside to make walking the abbey a bumper car derby and the claustrophobic feeling with a side of visual overload is complete.  It didn't even feel like a holy place which really turned me off to it.  Even worse was we only had about thirty minutes to look around inside thanks to my King's Cross - St. Pancras goof and our desire to see the 11:30 AM changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.  Top it off with their No Photography policy inside and my dissatisfaction is complete.  Granted the time constraint pushed us through at a faster pace than we would have liked but after touring it I can definitely see why this place make a lot of Top 10 Overrated London Attractions Lists.  But we did it so check it off my London bucket list.  (If you want to see some internet interior pictures check out this link.)      

The Great North Door side.
Close up of Great North Door.

View of one of the towers from the Cloisters.

The towers of the Abbey.
After double timing it to the Palace we arrived to see a lot of the crowd and a little of the guards.  More crowds, gotta love London.  And the rain is heavy enough for the girls to break out the umbrella but light enough that the boys are only kinda wet.

The Palace Guards marching past the Victoria Memorial to relieve the on duty guards.

Buckingham Palace from our vantage point.  We found a curb to give the shorties a little boost which meant we could only see the tops of the guards hats inside the gates. 

The Horse Guard riding past the memorial.

A gate close up.

Final shot as we head to Trafalgar Square.

Look kids, the clock tower that holds Big Ben.

Admiralty Arch just before Trafalgar Square with Captain James Cook eternally standing by.

Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square (Wiki link).

The National Gallery (link), a painting lovers paradise. 
We had planned on meeting Brandon at the main entrance at noon to join up for the rest of the day but hit a slight bump since he thought the main entrance was on the opposite side of the gallery.  Smooth one Slick.  So we had lunch waiting for him and eventually found each other.  We selected this as a meeting place for two reasons - location (a five minute walk to the theatre) and cost (free).  I knew we wouldn't be able to see much of it since it was so big but did manage to browse a few rooms.  Another No Photography place (really London? really?) so no photos but we did see a da Vinci as well as some excellent paintings by Durer, Bellini, Memling, Botticelli, Uccello, and Francesca in the 13th to 15th Century Rooms.  In the 16th Century Rooms we saw pieces by Holbein, Titian, Veronese, and Michelangelo.  We had to skip the 17th to early 20th Century Rooms so we missed artists like Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Rubens, Degas, Monet and Van Gogh but this place is a day by itself for painting lovers so just enjoyed the time we did spend in it. 

View of Trafalgar Square from The National Gallery.  The weather did a bait and switch on Brandon as his weekend here last summer was brilliantly sunny and warm while it has been cold and wet this winter.  Suck-errrrr.
Next up was our matinee show, the Phantom of the Opera (link).  Lori and Kalle saw Les Miserables last year with Becky and Teresa (another RR ex-pat family) and loved it so we all (okay, maybe not Karl) wanted to see a/another London show.  I didn't know anything about this production other than name recognition but was looking forward to it based upon Lori and Kalle's first experience plus our pleasantly surprising Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat Nottingham show.  However... the stage scenery and special effects were excellent, the performers singing and acting was pretty good, but I thought the story pace was slow (snail pace in the first act) and the songs didn't wake me up.  It was more of a melancholy love story that started really slow and eventually picked up in the second act but the damage was already done.  An interesting performance by the end but I can't recommend it to people going to see their first major city play.  Lori was a little bummed at it as well and wants to take the kids and I to see The Lion King on our next London trip as the reviews for that are very good. 

Her Majesty's Theatre, the home for the London Phantom for the last 27 years.

Our seats in the Royal Circle section.  Pretty good seats, right in the middle of the action and not to high or to low in relation to the stage.  Kind of a cosy theatre but not in a bad way.
After the show was time for introductions then dinner at an excellent Spanish Tapas restaurant named Andalucia (link) which Steve bird dogged for us (great pick Steve).  We had about four hours until our train home so we took our time and enjoyed the food and conversation for the rest of the night.  No pictures this time Dana, Spanish tapas and paella taste really good but aren't conducive to pictures as the small tapas dishes are passed quickly.  A great conversation meal but not a good picture meal.  The night ended with a slow train ride home and we ended up arriving a half hour later than scheduled due to mechanical problems with one of the cars.  We all had a blast in the West End although it was a long day.  Hopefully we can squeeze in one more trip to the East End so Lori and the kids can see the Crown Jewels. 

Kevin Coleman Pic - San Miguel was a very tasty way to wash down our delish tapas and paella.

And since this is a new month it's time for a new Facial Hair of the Month.  Our 16th President was born ten score and four years ago this month so what better way to celebrate his birthday then give him his own month?  Here you go Abraham Lincoln, enjoy your tribute.

Rain loving Brandon and Abraham Lincoln enjoying some good food and better company.
Our next two weekends will be spent on holiday so I'll see y'all in March.
Thanks for listening,

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