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March 11, 2009

Day Three: Church and the Dulwich Picture Gallery

Bria and I thoroughly enjoyed having a day to sleep in, as we didn’t leave for church until 10:15am, and breakfast was about 9:15. It was wonderful to get all that sleep after our long day of walking in Bath! Benjamin obliged by sleeping in himself, which is a rarity for him. Hurrah! The day started out sunny, though still quite chilly and windy. We enjoyed going to church at the Metropolitan Tabernacle (the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s church) with our host family, then came home for a delicious, thoroughly English lunch. Afterwards, an immense thunderstorm blew in, bringing driving sleet and amazing thunder and lightning. What a turn the weather can take! During the storm, I took a brief nap until Benjamin woke up fussy. After feeding him and getting him settled back down to sleep, I decided to brave the outdoors and walk to the Dulwich Picture Gallery, down the Common and across beautiful Dulwich Park (which is what you see in this photograph). Our hostess walked with me through some fitful rain, showing me the right path to take through the extensive park.

The Picture Gallery was the first public art gallery established in England. The history of the gallery is a fascinating one, as is the origin of its collection (you can read about it here). It contains some very famous works of art by artists like Thomas Gainsborough, all beautifully displayed. The interior is flooded with natural light from the domed skylights of the roof above, and the rich red coloring of the main walls makes it feel like you’re walking through a jewelry box. It’s just luscious. I was surprised to see one of my favorite works of art on display–Rembrandt’s “Girl in a Window”–as I’d thought it was in a larger museum collection elsewhere (“Girl with a Broom” is in the National Gallery of Art in D.C., for example). So it was a treat to see it here. The painting just leaps off the wall and overshadows everything around it due to Rembrandt’s deft use of color. It really was a “gasp” moment to see it framed in a doorway as I walked past! My photos can’t do it justice, but I had to take some:

The gallery contains many wonderful portraits from the 17th and 18th centuries, rich with detail. I especially enjoyed all the amazing details of the ladies’ gowns. Below is a portrait with an interesting story. Titled “Mrs. Elizabeth Moody and her Two Sons,” the portrait originally only included Mrs. Moody. She died when her sons were much closer to infancy, and they were painted in later (one in her arms, and one holding her hand). She never lived to see them at the age they are depicted on canvas, sadly.

Across the doorway from this portrait is one of the Linley sisters from the 1780s:

Seeing these up close is amazing, as the details of fabric and trimming are just eye-popping. Every wall contains amazing portraits. I loved the one below of a 17th-century gent in his gilded armor:

The detail level is unbelievable. 1550-1870 was the height of English portraiture when it comes to realism. I like the impressionists, but you lose the photo-realistic detailing that all of us who love historical costuming prize. In these portraits, it is possible to see the exact pattern of the lace on a cuff or the embroidery on a lady’s gown. It’s breathtaking. Here’s another wonderful portrait of a lady from the 1770s (very high up on the wall):

To the left you see a tiny portrait of Queen Victoria at four years old. This portrait was extremely popular after Victoria became queen and prints of it found their way to many parlor walls across the kingdom. It really is darling and looks very much like the older Victoria. What is interesting is that a copy of this portrait is used in the film, “The Young Victoria,” which just opened in England. However, the portrait used in the film is about three feet by fo
ur feet, and this original (not including the frame) is about nine inches by twelve inches! It’s quite tiny. I remember the first time I saw some of Vermeer’s portraits in the National Gallery, shocked at how tiny they were. Things look a lot bigger in coffee table art books than they often are in real life! For such a tiny portrait, this one is nevertheless filled with amazing details. I believe the princess is wearing an ermine tippet crossed in front, with cuffs to match. So cute!

Below is one more beautiful piece that I enjoyed. It is actually just a small section of a much larger canvas that was, unfortunately, destroyed at some point. The detail of two women’s heads is lovely–the front lady’s hairstyle is wonderful:

After enjoying an hour and a half in the gallery, I walked outside into glorious sunshine and snapped this photo of the grounds that surround Dulwich Picture Gallery:

I rounded the corner and headed back through Dulwich Park toward the house. Below is a picture of an adorable Tudor-style cottage within the park grounds. It has been boarded up and is not inhabited. My hostess tells me they wish the park would fix them up for tenants rather than letting them just sit to deteriorate. I couldn’t agree more. Anyone for a darling English cottage in an extensive park?

Next time I’ll tell you about our day in Kensington!

March 9, 2009

Day Two: Bath!

Saturday started out overcast and gloomy — rather foreboding for a trip out west to Bath, which is typically colder than London this time of year. Bria, Benjamin, and I hopped the train from West Dulwich to Victoria and from there to Bath by way of Salisbury. We quickly found out we were in the wrong train car, as only the last three would be going all the way to Bath Spa Station! You really have to stay on your toes to successfully navigate the English transportation system. You can be on the right train in the wrong car and end up (for example) in Weymouth far to the South if you don’t watch out. With buses, you can be on the right number but on the wrong side of the road, going in the wrong direction. It’s dizzying at times to keep up. We moved back to car #7 with all the other folks en route to Bath. In the picture you see Bria showing Benjamin the view out the train window. As you can see, the sun did come out! The clouds burned off outside of London, so I had high hopes it would be more pleasant in Bath than in London. The ride from London to Salisbury isn’t exactly beautiful (you see a lot of building backs and grafitti), but the ride from Salisbury to Bath is really lovely. We were, unfortunately, too far away to see Salisbury Cathedral, but we could glimpse the steeple from our seats.

The beautiful hills and fields near Salisbury.

With all the stops, the journey out took 2.5 hours, but it seemed to go by very quickly. We arrived in Bath at 11:45, and I hailed a taxi to drive us up to the Jane Austen Centre for lunch in the tea room there. The sun was still out, but the wind had picked up, and it was very chilly. I didn’t want to attempt an uphill walk to Gay Street in the wind with the stroller, and taxis are much less expensive in Bath than in London, thankfully. We arrived at the Centre just before noon and went straight up to the charming tea room on the third floor. Bria ordered a Bath Special (including a sweet Sally Lunn bun), and I ordered the Lady’s Afternoon Tea, which featured cucumber and cheese sandwiches, a scone with clotted cream and strawberry preserves, and a pot of Darjeeling tea. It was all absolutely delicious, and the service was friendly. Below is a picture of our table with all the treats!

After this luncheon break, Bria and I browsed the Centre’s gift shop, which is (of course!) crammed to the ceiling with all things Jane Austen. We oohed and ahhhed and made some purchases for friends back home. The Centre actually carries my Regency patterns in its online store, so I introduced myself and told them I looked forward to being a part of the costumed promenade in the fall.

After putting Benjamin back into the stroller, we walked down the hill, around Queen Square, and up Crescent Gardens, which contains practically a whole row of B&Bs in Bath. I’d already made an appointment to meet with one of the staff at Brooks Guest House, which is where my group will be staying during the Bath Extension in September. The B&B easily deserves its four-star rating, having been recently refurbished from top to bottom. The rooms retain their traditional charm but include very modern amenities. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour I was given by Michael from reception, who was obviously a bit “house proud” about the place!

We headed back around the corner to Queen’s Square toward the city center. By now, the sun had disappeared behind the clouds, and the wind had picked up a bit, so it was chilly. Oh, well…. I had to stop to photograph this beautiful blue door. Those who know me know my passion for the blue front doors of England. And, yes, I know they have greens and reds and golds, too, but I just really am keen on the blue ones! By the time we got down to the Pump Room, there was a huge crowd there. Lots of market stalls were crammed into the walking areas, and street performers called out to people to stop and watch their antics. Right through the collonade into the Abbey yard stood a bronze statue of an elderly man in a trench coat. As Bria and I watched, he turned and reached out to someone passing by. A living statue! This was so much fun that I stopped and shot a video. If I ever figure out how to post it, I will, because he was so incredibly good at what he did. He stood stock still until someone dropped coins in his bucket, and then he’d beckon to the person, shake his hand, and slowly go back to his original position. Our host family later told me these actors cover themselves in a very thick latex kind of paint that becomes basically a full-body mask. They can’t wear it for long, as it blocks up the pores. Sounds like something very unpleasant to get out of, but it was so much fun to watch! The most fun, though, came when a teenaged girl walked up who didn’t know this was a man rather than a real statue. She walked right up to him, presumably looking for an identifying plaque or card, and he reached out to pull her hair. She shrieked and jumped a foot! Bria and I got a good laugh out of that, and I only wish I’d caught it on film!

We decided to tour the Abbey first, as I’d not been in last time I was in Bath. It was so cold outside that we were more than ready to get into the warmth, so we headed into the breathtaking cathedral. There must be more stained glass in Bath Abbey than I’ve seen in one place before. It is positively everywhere and amazing to look at — just the sheer scale of work is enormous.

Looking down from the back of the cathedral.

The enormous Abbey pipe organ.

The elaborate baptismal font.

Bria and I spent a lot of time looking in nooks and crannies, and I was very surprised to find a memorial marker for a Cromwellian soldier and his wife (in an Anglican church, of all places!) This gentleman commissioned the memorial for his beloved wife and had himself carved into it so that he is looking into her eyes, and she is gazing up into his. The detailing of the clothing is amazing (true of a lot of effigies). Check out the detailing of his armor below.

These two infants are on either side of the adult effigies, but the plaque doesn’t name them, so I’m not sure if they are meant to represent the couple’s children or are just decorative.After browsing through the Abbey shop, we crossed the churchyard to look into the National Trust store and pick up a few more gifts. Then we crossed over again to the Pump Room and Roman Baths for a tour. Very few people were there, so we had an easy time getting in. Turns out we hit the ticket line just right, as we saw the entire room jammed with tourists as we were leaving! The Roman Baths are interesting, though I confess it’s hard to get worked up about a pagan temple where people used to go throw curses into the water or leave gifts for the goddess in the hopes of receiving favors in return. ;-) The smell of sulfur is pretty strong, and the water is a very unpalatable brackish green. Bria bent down to test the temperature, surprised at how warm it really was.

Looking down into the main bath from above.

Actresses portraying Roman ladies visiting the baths.

I was surprised at just how exensive the baths were. There are over a dozen sub-rooms, making up a rather amazing complex of steam rooms with heated floors, dressing rooms, storage rooms, and more. There are several smaller pools, including a “cold plunge” pool. Much of the original temple to Minerva has been excavated, including floor mosaics and parts of the pediment from the front of the temple (with a gorgon’s head in the center). Many of the curses that people wrote on pewter and tossed into the water have been recovered and are on display. Some are fairly funny — like (roughly) “To the man who stole my second-best robe, may his hand wither and fall off.”

We worked our way through the displays and back up to the main entrance, where we retrieved the stroller. We walked through the beautiful Pump Room so Bria could see it. We paused by the fountain where tourists can “taste the waters,” but, after seeing where the water came from, Bria was not at all tempted to partake. ;-) I’d already had my taste in 2006, so I passed it by without a regret, either! Out in the hallway, we found some beautiful sculptures that I’d never noticed before. They were made of Carrera marble and depicted mothers with their children. I especially loved the one below of a mother praying with her child.

The amazing dome inside the entrance to the Roman Baths.

After leaving the Pump Room, I was determined to locate Bath Old Books. My husband remembered it being behind and to the left of the Abbey, but I remembered it being up near the Royal Crescent. So I compromised by starting out to the left of the cathedral and working my way up a side street full of shops. I popped into a charming children’s shop to pick up a few more gifts, then asked the proprietor if she knew where the old book store was. She told me it was further up and toward the Crescent. Ah ha! So we continued up the street until I saw a store with gorgeous scarves in the window and remembered my promise to pick up a scarf in Bath for my wonderful cover artist, Anna Lankford. After having my purchase wrapped, we kept going upward and onward through crushing crowds of shoppers. We ended up at the Circus, and continued toward the Royal Crescent. As we passed a side street, I spotted a familiar yellow storefront and surprised Bria by calling out, “That’s IT!” I knew the book store would be up at the end of the street on the corner if it was still in existence. Sure enough, we’d found it, about two blocks away from the Royal Crescent.

Peering through the shop window.

I let Bria take a look first, and then I followed. I had a delightful chat with the shop owner (the wife of a husband-wife team who says the shop is just what overflowed from their home, which is every bit as crammed with books as the shop!). I found two treasures to take home and asked the owner if she had heard about the new regulations in America that could outlaw used children’s books. She was appalled and said, “Do they think children eat books? Surely they have parents to prevent them doing that anyway!” I heartily agreed, and we talked about what a terrible loss it would be to ban children from reading antique books.

I finally tore myself away from the shop, and, since we were so close to the Royal Crescent, I encouraged Bria to take just a few more uphill steps so we could stop in at Number One Royal Crescent (the most famous house and the most prestigious in Bath). It was open to vis
itors, so we stepped in and gave ourselves a tour. The rooms are sumptuously decorated (particularly the drawing room). The ladies’ bedroom was fascinating with all its accessories, including a long head scratcher, as ladies often left their towering Georgian updos in place for a month at a time with no washing (ugh!).

By the time we left the house, it was getting darker and was even colder, so we headed back downhill toward the train station, which was about a mile and a quarter away. I’d thought we might grab another taxi, but I never saw one, so we just kept trudging, thankful it was all downhill.

It was a long, cold walk to the station, but we did make it and managed to be there with ten minutes to spare. We boarded our train and got back to Dulwich in time for a late supper. We then collapsed into bed, anticipating a wonderful day of rest on Sunday. Next time I’ll blog about our delightful Sabbath with our host family!

March 7, 2009

Day One in London!

I’m finally feeling myself today — enough to stay up late and post some photos! We arrived at Gatwick ten minutes early Friday morning due to a tailwind, then breezed through customs in a matter of minutes, as there was hardly anyone in line. This threw my timetable for a loop, as I’d fully expected it to take us an hour or more to make it through the passport line and out through customs. We sat down on the Gatwick Express to Victoria station at one minute ’til eight and zoomed into London thirty minutes later. The sun shone very bright, but it was deceptive, as the temperature wasn’t far above freezing that morning. Bria and I were so glad we had carried our coats instead of packing them! Benjamin looked snug in his little snow suit. I snapped this photo out the train window while zipping across the Thames (you can just barely see the Globe Theatre to the right across the water).

Once at Victoria Station, I pulled out my UK cell phone to call our host family to let them know we were about to board the train for West Dulwich. To my dismay, I discovered that the phone was out of minutes. So I walked toward the Vodafone store in Victoria Station to top off and found the store was closed! I then went in search of a public telephone, but the only one there had been vandalized and wouldn’t accept change. So much for calling ahead. We got our tickets and boarded the train. Remembering what had happened to Miss Melissa in 2006, I warned Bria that train stops are very, very fast. You have to be at the door and jump off onto the platform as quickly as you can. With four pieces of luggage, a baby, and a carseat, that was going to be tricky. So I warned her that, if we got separated and she ended up on the platform alone, she needed to stay put. This turned out to be a highly prophetic warning, as this is precisely what happened when we reached our station. First, the door didn’t open automatically, and when we finally figured out that you have to push the “open” button, we didn’t have many seconds left. Bria got out with three suitcases, and the door slammed shut on me with Benjamin in the carseat and a suitcase in my other hand! I mouthed, “Stay HERE!” through the window as the train lurched forward. Another woman with a baby also got stuck, and she told me the next station was just two minutes away. So we got off there, then walked to the opposite platform to go back toward West Dulwich on the next train.

I say “walked,” but it was more like “hauled ourselves,” as she and I both had babies (hers in a stroller) and luggage, and the only way to the other side was up two flights of stairs, across a footbridge, and down the opposite two flights of stairs. When I arrived on the other side, a teleprompter announced the next train would be there in six minutes. I spotted a pay phone and dashed over to call our host family. Foiled again — this phone had also been vandalized! The train arrived in five more minutes, and I boarded it for the two-minute journey back to West Dulwich, where I found Bria waiting on the platform as instructed. Victory!

Now we had the joy of discovering that the train station in West Dulwich did not have a phone. I remembered that our host family lived close to the Dulwich Picture Gallery, so, seeing a sign for it, we steeled ourselves, buttoned up our coats, and started walking. About half a mile later, we reached the gallery. I left Bria inside the courtyard, parked on a bench with all the luggage and Benjamin, while I went inside to inquire after a telephone. The two German ladies in the cafe’ told me I’d have to walk three minutes into the village for a phone, so, instead, I asked if they knew how far I was from the address of the house we needed to reach. They gave me a blank look and said I should try asking in the museum shop. So off I went. The very kind lady behind the counter said, “Please use our phone, as that is a very local call!” So I got hold of our hostess, who said she’d come pick us up. Relief!

It was now about 10 in the morning, and Benjamin was so exhausted he’d gone to sleep in his carseat (a rarity for a little one who loves his bed!). I decided to call and cancel the 12:30 meeting I had scheduled with the hotel manager near Piccaddilly and just rest instead. So we unloaded our luggage and sat down for a refreshing cup of tea and conversation with our hostess. We had a very relaxing morning, but Bria was beginning to droop, so she went off for a nap right after lunch. Benjamin was also down and very out, so I thought I’d just run off and do my errands while they slept. Our hostess dropped me at the underground station, where I found a Vodafone store and topped off my phone–hurrah! I got to Green Park, just off Piccadilly, around 2:30 pm. It was a short, pleasant walk to the Flemings Mayfair hotel from the station, down a very quiet side street. When I told the lady at the desk who I was, she said I would still be able to meet with the manager after all, so I took a seat in the beautiful library sitting room, which you can see below.

Karen showed me over the hotel, which has absolutely beautiful rooms and a lovely tea room and full restaurant downstairs. The hotel was originally a Georgian townhouse built in 1730 and is supposedly the second-oldest hotel in London. It is incredibly quiet for central London and is a regular rabbit warren of halls and stairs and nooks and crannies. You could easily get lost, so the staff frequently help people to find their way back to their rooms! It’s really a lovely spot, and I know we’ll enjoy staying there with the tour group this fall!

Next, I called Hillary at the Museum of London (costume curator) to let her know I’d be slightly late for our 3:30 meeting — I’d be there closer to 3:45. It was getting windy and quite
a bit chillier since the morning, so I chickened out of walking all the way to the Piccadilly underground and instead asked a cab driver what it would cost to get me to the museum. This was a bit of foolishness, as cabs are the most expensive way to go in London. But he quoted me a very fair price, so I hopped in. I arrived at the museum with a couple of minutes to spare and made my way up to the cafe’. Hillary arrived moments later, and we immediately hit it off. She bubbles over with enthusiasm for the museum’s extensive historical costume collection (it’s in the top three of all costume collections in the UK). I could tell immediately that she was a kindred spirit, and she is very excited about catering the study tables for fall to the interests of our group. We’ll be able to choose the kinds of things we want to see and then examine them in detail. FUN! After talking with Hillary, I took a quick walk through the museum galleries, which feature London’s history from ancient times up through the Tudor period, including a fascinating exhibit on the Great Fire of 1666. I wished I’d had more time to stop and look, but I wanted to hurry back to be there when Benjamin woke up. I hoofed it up the hill to St. Paul’s, snapping the shot below on my way around the great cathedral:

I knew I needed to get to Blackfriar’s Station, but I didn’t have a map printout with me, so I went by memory as best as I could. I knew I was going the right way when I came out on Queen Victoria Street. I hurried, as the wind had really picked up. I was so glad I hadn’t brought Benjamin out in it; he would have been miserable. I reached the bottom of the hill and saw Blackfriar’s across the road with no crosswalk — and then remembered the tunnel. Found the entrance and went beneath the road to get into the station. The ride back to West Dulwich was very quick, and I had no trouble getting off before the doors clanged shut. ;-) I grabbed the bus and managed to make it to the right street but got off at the wrong stop. It wasn’t far to walk back to the house, though, and everyone was just sitting down to a lovely high tea supper. Bria and Benjamin were both wide awake. We ate and talked, and then I felt my eyelids dropping, so I called it a night at 7pm and crashed into bed. Thankfully, Benjamin was still tired and also went to bed!

After a good night’s sleep, we got up this morning to head to Bath — and I’ll post about that tomorrow if all goes well! Here’s a teaser picture for you — Miss Bria and Miss Jane Austen:

February 26, 2009

Going back to England!

For years I’ve had requests from my pattern customers to lead a historical costuming tour to England. As a busy homeschooling mom, I just didn’t see that on the near horizon. But last year, my husband brought it up and said there’d probably never be a better time to go — one silver lining in the black cloud of a failing economy is the falling of travel costs and a better exchange rate for the American dollar. We also now have lots of older children who help run the household and need little help with their schooling, so my husband urged me to consider going in the fall of 2009.

I started researching the options and was surprised to find what an amazing, cost-effective travel package I could work out. My husband enthusiastically cheered me on, urging me to post on my message forum to see if there was enough interest to get together a good-sized group. Lo and behold, three days after posting, I had a completely full tour list and a waiting list to boot!

So this fall, I’ll be leading a group of 24 enthusiastic participants for a week in London. Half the participants will be staying on for a three-day extension to Bath for the opening of the Jane Austen Festival. My oldest son will be accompanying me as my assistant (and a very excited first-time visitor to Great Britain!).

To help cement all the items on the itinerary and make sure everything runs smoothly, I’m popping across the pond on March 5th with my baby, Benjamin, and our sweet 15-year-old neighbor, who will serve as my helper. We’ll be in London four days to meet with curators, hotel managers, and such. On the Saturday, we’ll take the train over to Bath to meet with folks there. It will be a whirlwind journey there and back, but I’ll be posting pictures here as often as I have WiFi access so my fall tour participants can see what’s coming in five months’ time!

Stay tuned for lots of fun images!

February 26, 2009

Rochester: Part II

After the wonderful tour of the castle (and a quick stop in the gift shop for treats for my children!), we headed back down the hill toward the Cathedral. Through a side door, you enter the ruins of the old abbey, seen in the photo at left. There is a beautiful garden through the lower archway, complete with splendid English roses. Somehow we didn’t manage photos of those, but we were in a hurry for tea and a little rest, so we continued across the broad, green lawn into the cozy little tea room.

The tea room is an unpretentious, easygoing place built into a house that has served the church for over 200 years. They offer the usual scones and clotted cream with preserves and had a variety of teas available. We sat down to enjoy our little repast and chat about what we wanted to do next.

Yes, they do serve tea on plastic trays in England… ;-)

We knew we wanted to see the two big used bookshops in Rochester before heading back to London, but we weren’t sure where to start. The main street isn’t very long, so we wandered back down it until we stumbled across the first place, a little hole in the wall absolutely crammed to the ceiling with books. The proprietor let us browse, and we found many bargains (100-year-old Dickens’ editions for a pound!). Purchases in hand, we moved on down the street to an OxFam shop–akin to an American Goodwill. There were a few books, but nothing really tempted us there. We were beginning to wonder if we’d find the big store our hostess had told us about when we bumped into it at the end of the street. We entered two stories of antique book bliss! I found several volumes of 19th-century adventure stories for my son and regretfully walked away from expensive, leather-bound editions of favorite classics. It was dreamy just to browse!

But time marched on, and we knew we had to catch the bus back to our train to make it to London before it was too late. We bade a fond farewell to lovely Rochester and enjoyed a drowsy journey back to London, looking over our literary treasures and storing up memories.

Next morning we attended church with my friends in Dulwich, then joined them for lunch in their home and a restful afternoon of visiting and (of course!) tea:

Sitting with our wonderful hostess, Sarah J.

Lindsay and Sarah sip and rest.

Enjoying a marvelous afternoon.

Here are Sarah and Lindsay with our friends Carol and Dawn. The lovely young lady between Sarah and Lindsay was staying with our host family as a helper after the birth of their baby. A native of Australia, she was a delight to get to know!

All in all, we had a wonderful time. We headed back to Southwark for a late afternoon meal with Suzi, then began packing up for the trip home next day. Before turning in that night, though, we had a wild hair to go see Piccadilly Circus at night. I admit the idea was mostly fueled by fun images from yesteryear when the circus was akin to Times Square with all its lights and shops. So Carol, Dawn, Sarah, Lindsay, and I hopped a night bus and took off. Piccadilly didn’t quite live up to that vintage mental image, but we still had fun, doing some last-minute shopping for family and friends at the tourist traps all around us.

Next morning the girls and I said our good-byes and headed to Heathrow, and I posed for a last-minute picture with Dawn, Carol and Suzi:

The only other funny incident I must record is that Lindsay decided to wear flip-flops to the airport and ended up losing one between the tube and the station platform — it does say, “Mind the Gap” everywhere you look, and Lindsay’s flip-flop went straight down, never to be seen again. She spent the rest of the ride going through her suitcase for another pair of shoes! It really does pay to wear a good, comfy, sturdy pair of shoes for all journeys through London’s transport system. ;-)

At any rate, we did make it to our gate at Heathrow (after one wrong tube choice and long check-in lines) and flew back safe and sound to the US. And all of us look forward to future adventures in Great Britain!

February 12, 2009

Rochester at LAST!

Well, I can’t even comment on how overdue this is. It’s just way past the embarrassing stage at this point! Here, at last, are photos of what we did on our Saturday in England in 2007! At left is what remains of the original Roman wall in the earliest part of Rochester. It’s really amazing to see something this old.

We were out so late the night before after the performance at the Globe Theater that we nixed the idea of going to Dover and slept in. Our hostess told us that Rochester was a beautiful, charming place to visit, especially if we liked old castle ruins, vintage book shops, and a little Charles Dickens thrown in for good measure! So we ate a leisurely breakfast, then boarded the train for Rochester.

I hadn’t thought to check the railway updates that morning on the ‘net, or I would have seen that part of the line was down. We got about six miles from Rochester and then had to take a bus the rest of the way. That was fine — all we cared about was getting there! The ride there was beautiful almost the entire way. Some of east London isn’t very pretty to look at, but the fields and hills beyond were wonderful. The sky was a postcard blue — just brilliant. We knew something good was in store for our day!

The day was gloriously sunny and mild, and we walked up the hill from the bus station with great anticipation. Rochester is laid out with the main street running up the hill toward the beautiful Cathedral and the ca. 1067 castle (built by William the Conquerer) just beyond. We walked up the main street toward the castle, Lindsay taking pictures as we went. We spied a couple of the antique book shops our hostess had mentioned and mentally filed those away for later. Then we walked past a house that we’d marked down as a “gotta see it” on our list. This house was built in 1590 and features in two of Charles Dickens’s books: The Pickwick Papers and Edwin Drood:

Here’s the plaque from the house:

And here’s the house from another angle — it just screams “English!”

We continued on up the hill, stopping in at the cathedral on our left. This is a magnificent structure–breathtaking from every side. The interior contains some very old carvings and mosaics, and the front door is one massive piece of beauty. Here I am, standing in front of the door:

Here’s the view down the nave as you walk in:

And here are the famous stained-glass windows (which are some of the oldest stained glass windows in Britain, if I remember correctly):

We heard from a docent inside the cathedral that afternoon tea was served in the adjoining tea room past the ruins of the original abbey, so we decided to come back for that after exploring the castle up the hill. Onwards and upwards!

Here Sarah and I stand before the castle.

Looking down from the fourth “story” of the castle interior. You can just see the indentation
around the walls where the floors used to be. This was a huge castle with room for many people. My, it would have been cold in the winter, though! Robert the Bruce’s wife was actually kept prisoner here for a time.

Here I am, peeking through one of the arched openings across the huge interior.

It’s a little dizzying to look down!
There are several crumbling, winding staircases in this castle. In America, they’d be roped off with all kinds of cautionary signs and legal disclaimers. In England, you are free to walk up them at your own risk. Who could resist? Here’s Miss Sarah, coming down one of the windest, slipperiest passages:

Whew! And here I am at the very top of the castle, walking around the railing:

Here’s a view from farther away so you can see how high up we were:

And here’s the wonderful view of the river from the castle:

This is Rochester Cathedral seen from the castle:

Lindsay got a neat shot of Sarah silhouetted in a stairwell on our way back down from the top:

And Sarah managed to snap a fun shot of Lindsay, too:

I’ll come back later to share part two of what we did in Rochester — tea at the cathedral and book shopping in the adorable town!

And, since I forgot my camera Saturday, all photo credit goes to Deep South Images. Thanks, ladies!

March 3, 2008

Long time, no post!

I’ve managed to let months slip by without posting the final days of our 2007 trip. I promise to bug Lindsay for the Saturday pictures so I can finish up! It is fun to look back and remember the trip highlights. My dear husband will be stopping through London on his way back from Africa later this month, and he plans to hit some of the same sights we enjoyed, including the British Museum! Fun!

October 1, 2007

Friday in London!

Well, we’ve now been back home for a week, and I think I’m mostly recovered from jet lag! Coming back is always much harder on me than going over. But now Lindsay has had time to sort through her pictures and share them, so I’m ready to post again!

We got up early Friday, determined to squeeze in our Dickens Walk before heading to Westminster to meet my friend Sarah and Erinn (a young Australian who is staying with Sarah’s family at present). We boarded a bus for Chancery Lane, thrilled just at the thought of being on the stomping grounds of Bleak House and other Dickens novels! After jumping off the bus, I realized I’d forgotten my camera back at the house. SIGH. Thankfully, Lindsay had hers and snapped lots of pictures! We passed the front of Staple Inn and proceeded through a small arched gate into its quiet courtyard, mentioned in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This spot looks almost exactly as it did in Dickens’s day, and a sign still hangs there that hasn’t been moved for nearly two centuries: “The Porter Has Orders to Prevent Old Clothes Men and Others From Calling ‘Articles For Sale.’ Also Rude Children Playing and No Horses Allowed Within This Inn.”

Passing through the archway at the far end of the yard, we came into a delightful little garden and paused to look at an inscription over a doorway to our left: “PJT 1747.” In The Mystery of Edwin Drood, this door leads into the home of the kindly lawyer, Hiram Grewgious. Dickens wrote that Mr. Grewgious never “troubled his head” about what the inscription stood for, “unless to bethinkā€¦that haply it might mean Perhaps John Thomas, or Perhaps Joe Tyler.” LOL! We wound our way around the garden, Lindsay pausing to get this lovely photo of the fountain in the center and “Hiram’s” house beyond. After coming back out onto the street next to Staple Inn, we picked back up in our walking tour directions and headed for the haunts of Bleak House.

Below you see the Court of Chancery, which is near Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It was here that Dickens placed the interminable suit of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, droning on for years and consuming the inheritance of all involved.

Proceeding past this formidable edifice, we came into a lovely greensward called “Miss Flite’s Garden” in Bleak House. The darling gardener’s “shed” is still there (behind it are the columns of yet another imposing building in Lincoln’s Inn):

After scoping out the nearby church (also mentioned in Bleak House), we tried to find our way out of Lincoln’s Inn to the square beyond. It took some doing, since our directions were a bit muddled, but we finally emerged in a very quiet, somber park surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. This part of London is almost smotheringly silent! It was amazing after the bustle of the other streets we’d been through. Following our walking guide, we made our way down a side street to find a house that Dickens had once dwelt in, Number 15, to be exact (hmm… no photo from Lindsay–I’ll have to see if I can turn one up!). After checking the time, I realized we’d have to scoot to make it to Westminster in time to meet Sarah and Erinn for our tour, so we turned around to search for a bus stop. Easier said than done! All the twisty little streets we’d come down looked bewilderingly alike on the way back! We finally managed to find a stop and headed to Westminster, arriving only ten minutes late to find a smiling Sarah with baby Anna in her carriage and Erinn standing by.

Photos aren’t allowed inside Westminster, so I don’t have any to share, but we spent a good hour and a half poking around corners and reading epitaphs. The girls were enthralled with the thousand years of history at their feet, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing again the monuments to Henry V, Queen Elizabeth I, and so many other historical notables. My friend Sarah and I talked about the Church of England, and she noted that Westminster is really more a national monument or museum than a church. Though services are held there, more people come to gape at monuments than actually come for worship. After emerging into the sunlight, we took a quick detour through the gift shop, then headed over to St. James’s Park for a lovely picnic on the grass (complete with cheeky geese and pigeons!). Sarah had brought a wonderful repast of ham, cheese, baguettes, plums, and yummy cake. Hit the spot after our morning’s walk! We sat and visited for an hour before Sarah and her crew had to head home, and the girls and I hopped a bus for the British Museum!

There’s no bones about it: The British Museum is VAST. Just looking at the map is daunting, as you see floor after floor and gallery after gallery crammed with goodies! Tired from our morning’s perambulations, we headed to the cafe’ to get some tea and peruse the museum guide. We had only this one afternoon, so we “picked our poison” and decided to see the Big Highlights: The Rosetta Stone, ancient sculpture (Egyptian, Babylonian, Greco-Roman), the mummies, the British gallery (Roman times to present), and the Hebrew room. Unfortunately, the latter was closed the day we were there, so we contented ourselves with the “early gallery” that contains most of the finds the museum held when it first opened in the 1770s. Navigating all the stories and half-stories is quite confusing, and it is very easy to get turned around in the museum, but we managed to find the Rosetta Stone and admired it with a crushing crowd of fellow gawkers:
Behind this display were gargantuan Babylonian and Egyptian sculptures that cannot be done justice in photographs. All those pictures of smiling stone pharaohs in books cannot prepare you for the breathtakingly immense size of the things in person. One disembodied granite arm stretched out over fifteen feet, and one detached head smiled down from its lofty perch. But my favorite sculptures were the little ones, including the funny fellow seen here. This is Amenhotep, his legs drawn up under his tunic and his elbows folded over his knees. I chuckled when I saw this pose, because my children all do this nightly when they curl up on the couch in their jammies for bedtime reading! I guess this is a habit with an ancient heritage! We continued upstairs from this gallery, entering the mummy exhibit, which contains a staggering number of mummified remains, including cats, birds, and crocodiles! I made sure Lindsay took pictures of lots of mummies for my sons, who had begged me to see them. Many of the late mummies (first century A.D.) had elaborate shrouds painted with their portraits on top. Others were placed in ornate coffins within coffins, each painted more splendidly than the last.

We made our way down the long hall and into the British gallery, enjoying the many finds from Roman-occupied Britain, including this sculpture of a lady’s head from the first century:

I immediately thought of St. Paul’s admonition in I Timothy 2 that women dress themselves “with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing.” Those first-century women had some outlandish hairstyles! There were other, similar statues in the museum, all with elaborate (uncomfortable-looking) hairstyles wound with pearls and other ornaments. Whoa! Can’t you just see someone coming into church with a hairstyle like this and sitting in front of some poor short person, completely blocking the view? Well, it amused us to think about it, anyway! We continued down the gallery, taking in amazing finds from the peat bogs (many perfectly preserved), including piles of gold coins, Roman silver basins, women’s jewelry, and even the famous “peat bog man”–a grisly reminder of Britain’s pagan past. This unfortunate man was the apparent victim of a Druidic rite, forced to drink mistletoe brew before having his throat slashed. Ugh. Christianity changed many things for the Britons and the Picts!

We rounded up our tour of the museum and headed out the front gate to catch a bus towards Bankside, Southwark. I’d gotten tickets to see “The Merchant of Venice” at Shakespeare’s Globe, and we wanted plenty of time to arrive and catch a bite to eat before standing in line. Unfortunately, the outgoing bus line at the Museum had closed for repairs, so we had to walk through Soho in search of another bus. No go. We went blocks and blocks without seeing a stop! Finally, we found one near Trafalgar Square, and my poor swollen ankles thanked me for sitting down at last! After crossing the Thames and hopping off the bus, we walked down the embankment toward the Globe, passing the Tate Modern and several other tourist meccas on the way. We congratulated ourselves on reaching the Globe well before we needed to enter and glanced around for a place to grab a bite to eat. That’s when panic gripped me. I realized with a sinking heart that I had forgotten our tickets back at Suzi’s house in our rush to leave early in the morning! Argh! Nothing to do but hop a bus and try to make it there and back before 7:30 (it was now 6:20). I called Suzi to ask her where we’d find the closest bus stop, but it was still a good 15-minute hike. We started off, grimly determined not to miss our play–even if we had to miss supper.

We arrived at Suzi’s in time to grab the tickets and some protein bars, freshen up a bit, then head right back out to catch another bus. Unfortunately, no buses go straight to the Globe. The closest we could get was the St. Paul’s side of the Thames, which meant a walk down a few blocks, then across the Millennium Bridge to Bankside and the Globe. By now, my poor feet were declaring themselves dead and unable to move any further. I was ready to break down and hail a cabbie, but the only one we could find who took debit cards was on his supper break! So we pressed on, down to the bridge and across the Thames. We arrived, breathless, at the Globe at 7:33 pm! The guard at the back gate hurried us into the Groundlings area (great cheap tickets at 5 pounds each!), and we were thrilled to see we’d only missed a few lines of the play! The Globe is every bit as amazing as it looks in pictures–a faithful recreation of the theatre Shake
speare designed. And we truly found that the standing area makes the best “seat” in the house, since you are on eye-level with the stage and up close to all the players. Several characters actually elbowed their way through the groundlings to make entrances at key moments. It was pure fun! We thoroughly enjoyed every moment and, tired as our legs were, we were sorry when it ended. We recognized several actors from BBC and A&E dramas, including the man who played “Shylock” and one who played the priest. It was fun to spot familiar faces!

At 10:30, we made our way back up to London Bridge to catch a bus home. After walking without sighting a stop that had the right bus number for Camberwell Road, Lindsay spotted a bus with “Elephant & Castle” emblazoned on it. Instead of wisely checking the bus map to make sure this bus number did, indeed, take us where we wanted to go, we all ran to catch the bus. Ahem. Another lesson learned, this time late at night. Just because a bus has your destination written on it does not mean it is going there! Elephant & Castle is a borough–not just a rail/bus station! We went all over the place and freaked out when the driver skimmed past our stop and kept going. We entertained the rash hope that he would loop back around to the station and stop, but the bus ended up in Clapham Junction, stranding us far from Suzi’s. I sheepishly called Suzi to let her know our predicament, and she told us where to find a rail station that would bring us back to Waterloo, from whence we could take the tube to Elephant & Castle and the bus to her place. Suffice it to say, we arrived home two HOURS after we’d left the Globe, footsore and slightly grumpy. Bed never looked so good! I made the executive decision for all of us to sleep in on Saturday rather than rising at the crack of dawn to head to Dover. And next time I’ll tell you what we ended up doing with our Saturday!

In the meantime, here are some more fun shots from our first full day in London:

Here I am, windblown atop St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Lindsay snapped this shot as I stood against the railing. What a dizzying climb!

Standing with Miss Sarah in front of Wellington’s Arch at Hyde Park Corner.

Miss Sarah and Miss Lindsay in front of Buckingham Palace.

September 22, 2007

Day Two (written on Day Four!)

We have lived in a whirlwind of activity since Wednesday. We’ve walked until we didn’t think our feet could hold up any more. We’ve hopped wrong buses and ended up in parts of town we didn’t plan to see (but enjoyed the additional sightseeing anyway!). We’ve taken more pictures than we can count. It is now well past midnight on Saturday, and we’ve spent hours talking and sharing favorite books and pictures and patterns.I am quite ready for bed, but I wanted to post at least a synopsis of Thursday with pictures!

We got up early Thursday morning and headed out the door by about 7:55am, taking the bus to Tower Hill. I’d read that it is best to go right when the Tower opens to beat the lines. That was fabulous advice! We arrived about 15 minutes early, and I took this picture of Lindsay and Sarah waiting in front of the Tower for the ticket booth to open. The was overcast, making things just a bit on the cool side, but not unpleasantly so.

We spent two hours exploring the Tower complex (it’s really several towers within a castle wall) with no crowds. We made a beeline to the Crown Jewels right off–but no photos allowed…sorry! Then we headed to the White Tower, which contains the armory. I’ll have to post lots more pictures later. For now, here is one of the armor made for two young princes. Boys as young as seven learned to carry themselves and wield weapons in armor! The armory is crammed from top to bottom with weapons and armor (including horse armor), effigies of kings created for a great exhibition in the 1600s, and beautiful displays of gilded decorations from royal ships. I shot lots of photos for my boys!

After seeing the “Bloody Tower” and walking around the large green square (where several people were beheaded–ugh), we made our way to St. Paul’s Cathedral. No photographs were allowed inside, but I took many of the outside. Here is one that shows the immense towers on either side of the front entrance:
We’d heard we could climb up to the “Whispering Gallery” in the dome of the cathedral (156 steps!), so we decided to brave it. After navigating flights and flights of narrow, winding stairs, we made it, breathless and ready to sit down on the bench that runs around the wall of the dome! The view is quite beautiful from this gallery, and you get a close-up look at the paintings of the life of St. Paul within the dome. Once this high, we decided we simply had to climb up to the next level, which would take us to a walkway basically on top of the large dome (around the outside). After panting and puffing (and stopping for several breaks on landings!), we emerged into the windy air and marveled at the amazing 360-degree view. At right is a shot I took (hold your breath–I did!) At this point, I was more than ready to climb right back down, but it seemed a shame to have come this far and not complete the final 119 steps up to the “Golden Dome”–the very tip-top of St. Paul’s. So, it was onward and upward, our legs groaning in protest! After a very windy (and utterly amazing) view, we started our descent. Word to the wise: Wearing a full skirt to go down a drafty staircase is not the best idea–I had to fight my skirt to keep my feet in view!

At long last, after navigating a total of 840 steps (420 up then down), we made our way to the crypt, then back out into the daylight. I cannot do St. Paul’s justice in words. I wish I could give you pictures of the magnificent interior. It really does take your breath away. Sir Christopher Wren certainly knew how to stun and awe through architecture!

Now thoroughly hungry from our climb, we decided it was time to head to The George Inn over the Thames in Southwark (SUTH-ark). We wanted to see this, because it was one of Charles Dickens’s favorite haunts and figures as a coaching inn in The Pickwick Papers. We made our way down Queen Victoria Street and over the Millennium Bridge to Bankside. From there, I did my best as intrepid leader to follow the map we had to the George. Another word to the wise: London directions are never accurate, whether given by a person or a computer! We went this way, then that, trying to figure out what street we’d crossed and going down several blind alleys before we finally located Borough High Street. Obeying the map, we turned right and walked what must have been 1/3 mile before despairing of ever finding the inn! We finally turned around and headed in the other direction. One block past the street we’d turned from was The George–it was a left turn rather than a right! By now, it had taken us nearly 1.5 hours to walk to get our lunch, we were footsore and starved. Thankfully, the George does serve lunch! Here are Lindsay and Sarah enjoying a delicious luncheon:

Did I mention we were t-i-r-e-d?

After eating and resting, we were ready to take the bus back to St. Paul’s to start our planned “Dickens Walk,” visiting many points of interest from Dickens’s books and life. We asked a chap running a newsstand to tell us the best bus for St. Paul’s, and he gave us the number and pointed out the stop, reminding us to change at Liverpool Street for St. Paul’s. (Have I mentioned that directions in London are basically meaningless?) You guessed it: after riding for nearly 45 minutes, we ended up in Lewisham (far east London), nowhere near St. Paul’s. The bus drive
r stopped and turned off the engine, then called up to us (we were on the second level), “This is the end! The bus doesn’t go anymore!” We walked down the steps to ask him where we went wrong, and he said this number bus never goes near Liverpool Street. The newsstand man was quite wrong. We now needed to go back to New Cross and get the St. Paul’s bus. But the kind driver saw our faces and said, “It is very far to walk to the right stop. Wait while I am on my little break, then I will drive you to New Cross, since it is on my route.” Hallelujah! We sat for about five minutes until he was ready to go again, then headed back from whence we’d come.

By now, it was about 3:30 and sprinkling. The Dickens Walk didn’t seem like such a good idea, so we debated what to do next. We decided to go to Westminster Abbey instead and move the walk to Friday. So we hopped out at New Cross and found the right bus (checking the route ourselves this time, thank you very much!). As we headed toward Westminster, the sky cracked open, and all the low clouds of the morning poured down sheets of rain. By the time we reached our stop, it had slackened a bit, but London was quite soaked! We quickly walked over the square to Westminster, only to find it had closed at 3:45. Oh, well… Back to the drawing board. I remembered how to get from Westminster to Trafalgar Square, so I suggested we just walk that way, find some tea, then sit down and plan. By now the sun had broken through the clouds, and bright blue skies revealed themselves. It was glorious! We found a small cafe’, got some tea (hot chocolate for Sarah), then sat and scalded our tongues (boy, do they mean HOT tea over here!). Lifting an item from Friday’s must-see list, we decided to take the bus to Hyde Park Corner to see the Wellington Arch and walk back past Green Park, Buckingham Palace, and St. James’s Park. The weather had turned quite nice, and we thoroughly enjoyed our walk, though by now my left knee was very stiff (from our climb to the top of St. Paul’s). I limped along well enough, and we took some shots of Buckingham Palace and a darling cottage within St. James’s wildlife preserve:

Finally, we crossed in front of the Horse Guards headquarters and rounded the corner back into Trafalgar Square. From there, we caught a bus back to Suzi’s for a delicious supper of home-made stew and steamed broccoli. We sat up for a bit to share about our day, then crashed into bed, thoroughly footsore. Next time I’ll tell you about our visit to the British Museum and our rollicking good time in Shakespeare’s Globe!

September 20, 2007

Two days in England!

Well, we made it. Our flight over was delayed two hours, which put us at Heathrow past the time to catch our train up to the Cotswolds. We managed to breeze through Customs (no line) and haul everything to the train station to catch the Express to Paddington. Once there, we found that the next train up to Moreton-in-Marsh would leave in 45 minutes. We decided to call Barry (the Keens’ cousin) to see if he was still planning to meet us at the station in the Cotswolds. No answer. What to do? Well, we did what any intrepid American tourists would do: We hopped the next train, not knowing what we’d find at the other end but determined not to give up our trip to the Cotswolds! After 1 1/2 hours, we stepped onto the platform and were thrilled to see Barry’s smiling face. He had already met three trains to see if we were there, bless him. He promptly packed us into his car and drove us the 8 miles to Chipping-Campden for our whirlwind tour!

We walked the village, meeting up with Monica (a cousin-in-law), who had stayed behind in case we might show up. Barry and Monica are such a delight to be with. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as we explored nooks and crannies, and we had a special treat when we visited St. James’s Church–a group of “bell ring changers” had showed up to ring the eight bells. If I remember correctly, they were ringing a Treble Bob Major, which involves mathematical changes of the eight notes to produce a very celebratory set of rings (if you’ve read Dorothy Sayers’ mystery, The Nine Tailors, then you know all about these famous ringers!). They rang the bells for three hours without slackening. It sounded like a wedding was taking place! I got the bells on video, and I’ll try to post that later when I figure out how to format it! At right is a picture of Lindsay and Sarah with their English relations!

And below is a photo of Lindsay and Sarah inside the town sheep market. Barry is looking up at the roof!

St. James’s Church is where several Keen ancestors were baptized and buried. Many other persons of note are buried there beneath elaborate effigies. We enjoyed viewing some altar hangings that had been embroidered in the 1300-1400s. They had faded considerably (no photography allowed), but the handwork was still beautiful to behold. We chatted with the rector on duty and his wife, both of whom knew much about the church and those buried there. After leaving the church, we visited the antiques shop that is in the site of the old “Live and Let Live Pub” (famous in Keen ancestry!). We purchased some gifts and thoroughly enjoyed poking about in all the corners. Finally, Barry treated us to a delicious dinner at the Eight Bells pub. The girls and I had bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes in rich onion gravy–oh, it was so good!).

Finally, Barry drove us back to Moreton-in-Marsh to catch an evening train into London. After waiting for a few minutes at the station, we heard the bell change ringers start up in the nearby chapel! They had followed us. Delightful! Finally, our train for Paddington showed up (late). We had to change trains at Oxford, then pulled into Paddington around 10:30pm. I’d already called Suzi (our hostess) to let her know we were running late, and she was able to tell us which bus to catch to reach her house. After missing our stop, we jumped out at the next one to find my friends Carol and Dawn waiting to escort us to Suzi’s. Hurrah! We crashed into bed around midnight (at least I did–the girls were up a bit longer!).

Later I’ll tell you what we did in London today! We’ve walked and walked and seen so many things. Here’s one teaser:

This is the “Golden Dome” of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The girls and I climbed 420 steps up to the very top for a 360-degree view of London! Oh, my, are we worn out! And it was 420 steps back down, you’ll remember! Whew!! But well worth it…even if just to say you’ve done it! More later!

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