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September 14, 2009

Sunday's Refreshment

mettabWe had a very leisurely Sunday, enjoying a late-ish breakfast before 18 of us attended the 11 o’clock service at the Metropolitan Tabernacle (home to the famous 19th-century “prince of preachers,” Charles Spurgeon). We were able to meet our dear friends who live in Dulwich and meet others we’d hoped to say “hello” to while in London, which was lovely. We had a light lunch, then I took a nap before we met up with several other ladies to go to the Royal Academy of Arts, which had a special exhibit of Pre-Raphaelite artist William Waterhouse’s paintings on display only through Sunday. Unfortunately, we arrived to find a two-hour line to wait for tickets!  We debated the merits of having one person stand in line to wait for tickets but finally decided we just wouldn’t have time enough to tour the exhibit.

The windows are painted F&M's signature robin's egg blue, which is also used for their boxes and bags and exclusive items.

The windows are painted F&M's signature robin's egg blue, which is also used for their boxes and bags and exclusive items.

We thought about heading back uphill towards the National Portrait Gallery, but the call of Fortnum & Mason just across the street lured us in for tea time and delighted browsing. If you’ve never heard of the famous F&M, then you are really missing one of London’s high points. This is the most elegant, refined department store around, complete with richly detailed wood paneling, crystal chandeliers, mirrored elevators, and seven theme restaurants. Not to be missed!

This is the confectionary hall, which is wall-to-wall sweets, teas, and coffees!

This is the confectionary hall, which is wall-to-wall sweets, teas, and coffees!

We made our way upstairs to The Parlor, which serves ice cream, coffee, and afternoon tea. Here is a selection of tempting photographs to show you what various members of our group enjoyed!

Two scones, clotted cream, strawberry preserves, and Darjeeling - yummy!

Two scones, clotted cream, strawberry preserves, and Darjeeling - yummy!

Three scoops of sorbet in a cut-glass bowl with a biscuit on top!

Three scoops of sorbet in a cut-glass bowl with a biscuit on top!

Mochacinno with whipped cream and toffee sauce with a miniature ice cream cone on the side. Decadence!

Mochacinno with whipped cream and toffee sauce with a miniature ice cream cone on the side. Decadence!

Enjoying good conversation at our table...

Enjoying good conversation at our table...

And someone captures our photographer for the memory book...

And someone captures our photographer for the memory book...

toepartyAfter a wonderfully refreshing time of conversation and good teatime food, we all browsed through the bookstore on the third floor (picking up more than a few wonderful books and stationery items!). Then we headed up to Piccadilly Circus to catch our tube back to the hotel. After a light supper, a bunch of us gals capped off the evening with a pedicure party–too much fun! Here you see Courtney giving me glamorous, glittery toenails (I call them my “Ruby Slipper” toenails!). We talked about what costumes we plan to wear Wednesday for our day in Greenwich, and several ladies shows theirs off. It was a great ending to a super day. Next time I’ll tell you about our Monday with Suzi at the V&A!

September 13, 2009

At last — a REAL post!

I finally have all the photos formatted so I can share our days with you! Here are some shots from Friday’s kick-off to the tour so you can see how we started out. First off, this is Nigel, our wonderful tour guide, who met us at Heathrow and took us on a two-hour narrated coach ride all over London, telling stories around every corner and pointing down practically every alleyway:

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After 28 years on the London police force, he should know this town like the back of his hand! He’s also a great history buff and thoroughly loves England. It was a fantastic time. We stepped off the bus at several spots for photo ops, including the Albert Memorial in Kensington Park, Buckingham Palace, and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Gaping at the Albert Memorial from across the street (for a photo of the memorial itself, see my blog posts from March.)

Gaping at the Albert Memorial from across the street (for a photo of the memorial itself, see my blog posts from March.)

Nigel gives us all the details on Buckingham Palace (the queen wasn't home today!).

Nigel gives us all the details on Buckingham Palace (the queen wasn't home today!).

We had the most fantastic weather for photos....

We had the most fantastic weather for photos....

And here we are at St. Paul's, enjoying its beautiful front ("Feed the Birds," anyone?)

And here we are at St. Paul's, enjoying its beautiful front ("Feed the Birds," anyone?)

Our group started out chipper and talkative, but jet lag started to hit hard toward the end, and we were ready to check into our hotel, the Millennium Gloucester in South Kensington. We deliberately left Friday afternoon free so that our ladies could unpack, settle in, or hit some sightseeing spots of their choice. A bunch went to the Tower of London together. My husband and son went to St. Paul’s to hear the boys’ choir while I stayed back to unpack and take care of the rest of our check-in process (including getting Internet hookup–so important!).  We grabbed some yummy Portuguese food for supper from a place around the corner from our hotel, then crashed for the night.

Our group sits enthralled as Kitty gives us the history of the original Globe and this amazing reproduction.

Our group sits enthralled as Kitty gives us the history of the original Globe and this amazing reproduction.

Saturday morning we enjoyed a delicious full English breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant before gathering to head to Shakespeare’s Globe for our group tour. With this many Jane Austen fans in one place, you can imagine the kick we got out of having a guide named “Kitty.” ;-) She was an absolutely lovely lady who obviously has a passion for Shakespeare and for the theater itself. She led us through all the levels of the Globe so we could see the stage from all angles, explaining who would have sat where and why and showing us the incredible artistry that went into recreating the entire theater authentically. Workmen built the timbered structure entirely by hand, using tools from the time period (some of which had to be made especially for the Globe project). All of the beams are fastened together with wooden pegs, and the walls are of lathe and plaster.

A view of the stage from the yard.

A view of the stage from the yard.

The stage from the topmost level, right under the thatched roof.

The stage from the topmost level, right under the thatched roof.

After a 40-minute tour through the theater, we stepped into the Globe Exhibition museum, which includes artifacts from the time period, plus a glorious gallery of costume!

One of several gents' outfits on display...

One of several gents' outfits on display...

A mannequin in shift, corset, and Spanish farthingale.

A mannequin in shift, corset, and Spanish farthingale.

Here is what’s most amazing about the productions staged at the Globe: For period plays, all of the costumes are made entirely by hand, using only materials that would have been available in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. All of the lace is hand-made, and all trimmings are created from originals in museum collections around Britain. So being able to view these outfits up close with no glass to interfere was nothing short of heavenly! Lindsay took all these gorgeous pictures so you can see the level of detail. It’s astonishing that so much work goes into outfits that will be worn on the stage and seen from a distance. Seeing them up close is a revelation.

Another fabulous gent's costume...

Another fabulous gent's costume...

The hand-starched lace on the ruff was amazing, and the fabric was reproduced from an orginal garment in a London museum.

The hand-starched lace on the ruff was amazing, and the fabric was reproduced from an orginal garment in a London museum.

Two costumes were behind glass because of the intricacy of their workmanship. This photo shows a gentleman’s costume that was created by a donor for the Globe Exhibition:

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This gown defies belief — from the custom-woven fabrics to the hand-made lace ruff, it is just mind-bogglingly intricate:

Notice the size of the wheel farthingale beneath the skirt. It's all about status....

Notice the size of the wheel farthingale beneath the skirt. It's all about status....

And here's the back view...

And here's the back view...

saturday-globe-28After we finished the exhibition tour, Kitty let us know there would be a costume demonstration at 12:30 and 1:30, dressing a volunteer from the crowd in “Ophelia’s” costume from the most recent production of “Hamlet.” Part of us opted to go to lunch and catch the 1:30, but those who had other plans for the afternoon went to the 12:30. Here’s Courtney dressed in Ophelia’s shift, taking her turn as model. We didn’t get any other pictures from the first demonstration, but you’ll get to see Lindsay go through it in my next post!

saturday-imperial-war-museum-11My small group moved on to the Imperial War Museum after the Globe. This wasn’t just a stop for my son (who absolutely loved it!) but for me, as I wanted to see the Children’s War exhibit, which covered the history of London during the bombings in WWII and had heart-breaking stories of evacuee children who did not see their parents for anywhere from two to five years. The photos below show mannequins wearing clothing donated by these (now grown up) children, many of whom saved their identity tags, the toys they took in their pockets when they left home, and letters they wrote home to their parents:

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The horrors to which these children were exposed were unimaginable.

The horrors to which these children were exposed were unimaginable.

102_1193The most fascinating part of this exhibit is a two-storey “home front” house with fully-furnished and decorated rooms. Here is a series of photos I shot while walking through the house. You can see period furniture and wallpapers. The windows are not mullioned windows but are taped in that pattern — they had to tape the windows for safety during bomb raids. Rather than utilitarian “Xs”, they created the look of leaded glass!

The family room, with a dress in progress on the mannequin.

The family room, with a dress in progress on the mannequin.

The tiny kitchen...

The tiny kitchen...

102_1198There were a lot of posters and advertisements encouraging women to recycle and mend clothing, reuse as many items as possible, and use up every scrap of food. There is a similar exhibit in the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, but I enjoyed this one more, as the rooms are not behind plexiglass, and you can really see things in detail. The gift shop had a wide array of vintage reprints from this time period, as you can see from this shot I took of one shelf — lots of books on fashion, hairstyle, makeup, food, and more.

Halfway through the museum, I took a tea break to put my feet up, enjoying this lovely Victoria Sponge with clotted cream and strawberry preserves, plus a pot of Earl Grey tea. Yum!

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saturday-ye-olde-cheshire-cheese-2We decided to hit the famous Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Shop for supper, but the directions I got from the Internet took us into a quiet residential side street in Chelsea — nowhere close to where we needed to be! We finally broke down and hailed a cab, which took us to the opposite side of town off Fleet Street (closer to the theater district). Lesson learned — don’t trust website directions implicitly; double-check them! But it was well worth the drive, as this is London’s oldest pub, rebuilt in 1667 after the Great Fire. The restaurant upstairs was filled to capacity, so we ducked our heads to get down the narrow staircase and ordered directly from the bar. Let me tell you that this is one of the best-kept secrets in Great Britain. If you want to save 50% off your supper bill, order directly from the bar. You can get take-away food or eat it at a small pub table. The atmosphere was delightful, as you can see in the shot below. We enjoyed cottage pie, steak pie, and fresh salad greens with home-made vinaigrette. Everything was delicious and very inexpensive, especially for London.

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We walked ourselves back to the St. Paul’s Underground, where Lindsay snapped these beautiful photos:

Yes, that deep indigo really is the color of the sky we saw last night!

Yes, that deep indigo really is the color of the sky we saw last night!

This is Temple Bar, the old western entrance gate to London which was later moved over by St. Paul's. It has a very spooky appearance at night!

This is Temple Bar, the old western entrance gate to London which was later moved over by St. Paul's. It has a very spooky appearance at night!

After settling back into our room, we had a knock at the door and found several ladies out in the hall ready for a gab fest. With group members going in all different directions yesterday, it was really fun to hear where they’d been and what they’d found. Several ladies hit the Portobello Antiques Market and snagged great bargins. Others brought back gorgeous pashmina shawls at a stunning bargain-basement price. It was delightful to see all the treasures. We were joined by still more ladies over the next couple of hours and sat up until far too late talking, swapping sewing stories, and laughing. This is the most wonderful, congenial group you can imagine — just like a party of sisters. We all wish you were here!

More tomorrow…!

September 12, 2009

Time slipped away from me…

Well, I had every intention of blogging all about yesterday and today this evening, but it’s 1 a.m. London time, and I’ve just had the most delightful gab-fest in my room with half a dozen other gals, so I’ll have to blog tomorrow night. ;)

I downloaded wonderful Friday photos from Lindsay’s camera, but they’re in the wrong format, so I can’t even give you a sneak peek. So sorry to keep you in suspense! We have had a complete blast, and I look forward to sharing in detail ASAP. In the meantime, here’s a fun shot to tide you over — this one from our tour of Shakespeare’s Globe, where Lindsay got pulled for the costume demonstration, dressing in “Ophelia’s” 100% authentic outfit from the shift out:

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Wish you were here! I promise longer “postcards” very soon! :)

Warmly,

Jennie

September 11, 2009

We're here!

the-globeThe weather is glorious, South Kensington is lovely, and we’re all determined to stay up and beat jet lag! ;-) I’ll post pictures later when I’ve found all my cords to download the camera. It’s been a fun morning, and the afternoon promises to be a delight as well. Tomorrow we go to Shakespeare’s Globe! I look forward to sharing all the fun details as we leap into our itinerary. :)

September 9, 2009

Preparing for take-off!

Well, we fly out of New York tomorrow night, so we’re in the last mad dash of packing and preparing here in Alabama. I look forward to sharing this trip with everyone who is following from Facebook and Twitter and my site’s newsletter. Thanks for your kind comments and for tagging along virtually!

Warmly,

Jennie

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July 23, 2009

Counting down to the big fall tour!

england-trip-day-1-london-109I can’t believe we are just seven weeks out from the big historical costuming tour! My husband and I will be leading a group of 23 ladies through a one-week tour of London’s best spots for studying the fashions of history — including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of London, Kensington Palace, the Greenwich Fan Museum, and Shakespeare’s Globe. We’ve also left time in the schedule for visiting the National Portrait Gallery and other wonderful spots all around London Town. It’s going to be fantastic!

I’ll be “live blogging” during our tour, September 10-17, and then again during our weekend extension to Bath for the opening of the Jane Austen Festival. Stay tuned for lots of wonderful photos by our group photographer, Lindsay Keen of Deep South Images.

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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!

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 bethink…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!

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