Friday, July 18, 2008

More ENGLAND 2008!

Haven't had any time to blog since we only have one computer and very little time. Will post photos when I get home. Here are some thoughts on what we've done:
Monday, 7/7: Westminster Abbey was amazing, as usual. Been there twice before, but it always touches my heart. Shakespeare's Henry V is one of my favorites, and I am in awe standing before Henry's actual burial place. From there we went to the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, where one can learn about one of the most interesting political figures of our time. The more I learn about WWII, the more I respect those who fought it, both on the field and on the homefront. The war rooms are pretty cool - all underground rooms where the war was planned, and lots of people lived and carried out day-to-day operations. We planned on going from there to the British Museum, but decided instead to go back to our B&B, change into nice clothes, and head back over to Westminster Abbey to hear an Evensong service. Boy, were we glad we did! This is an actual church service held in the Abbey after closing time. Visitors are welcome, but only allowed if they are partcipating in the service. It is mostly sung and the choir was AMAZING. We sat there listening to the angelic music, and I marvelled that I was sitting only a few feet from the altar where every coronation since 1066 has taken place. Then BOOM! Thunder clapped and the abbey echoed the roar. It was so dramatic - to be in that glorious place, hearing that music, the thunder crashing, and being in the "company" of all those people who shaped history. I looked over at the rest of our little group and noticed that I wasn't the only one with leaky eyes! The Abbey Evensong service was one of our many highlights of the trip. I hope I never forget that feeling.
Rainy and yucky, but an incredible day!
Tuesday, 7/8: Since we all are HUGE Austen and Pride & Prejudice film fans (the Keira Knightly version), we had to make a pilgrimage to Chatsworth House (we just called it "Pemberley"!). The grounds were absolutely gorgeous, and Kelli kept inquiring how she could live there. I tried to explain that it was kinda impossible, but she was determined. Then I showed her a sign about how one could "Become a Friend of Chatsworth House" and she was so excited! Until I told her that all that meant was she had the privilege of donating money...
We roamed, and roamed, and roamed, and couldn't get enough. The girls (Kelli, Sydney, and Laura) struck poses all over, and asked aloud, "Where are you, Mr. Darcy???!!!" We hiked up and around the big rock garden and the enormous fountain, and after touring the inside of the house we all agreed that we liked the outside best. The inside was pretty incredible, though! We saw all the places from the movie and it was just sublime. Ashley even had the theme music from the movie on her ipod and listened to it while we strolled the grounds! She looked pretty much like she was in heaven. Then we returned to our B&B and watched the movie until we had to sleep. The only day so far that the weather has been good! The planets were aligned for us to enjoy Pemberley!!
Wed. 7/9: Rainy and creepy to be at the Tower! Really gray and yucky. This is summer? But for me the Tower is always alive with dead people. I am in the middle of The Lady in the Tower a book about unfortunate social climber Anne Boleyn, so the Tower had special meaning for me this time. Poor Anne was beheaded on the Tower green, and, like all others who lost their heads there, her head was put on a pike at the edge of the river Thames for the birds to devour. The fleshless skulls then fell into the river. Her headless body was buried (eventually) in the tower chapel. Again I felt that strange feeling of being in a place where history was made, and only a few yards from someone who changed history. OK, so there's probably not much left of her in this dank environment, but you know what I mean! And, of course, others are there but Anne is foremost in my mind since I am reading about her.
The Globe theater was pretty interesting. We went to the Exhibition where many artifacts are on display - original Elizabethan costumes and fabric catching my particular attention. How are they still existing? Why are they not just powder???? We also had a guided walking tour to the actual site of the original Rose theatre. It is underneath an existing office building and is nothing more than a huge puddle with submerged lights outlining the arrangement of the stage and seating areas of the theatre. The story is that during the initial construction of the office building (in the late 1980's, I think) they discovered somehow that it was right on the original site of the Rose Theatre. Well, the acting community got all outraged and wanted the area preserved. The developers wanted their office building. So a compromised was reached: they would build the building with a raised foundation, and allow small tours to come in and view the underground area. One of the other things I learned from this tour is what "bear baiting" was and how it was a very popular attraction in Elizabethan times. They would put a bear in a ring and send out dogs to attack it. People would wager on the outcome. Sorta like cock fighting only with BEARS! Nice, huh?
Only a few of us Dickens fans went to the Dickens house (Me, Carrie, Lisa, Joleen, Sydney) but it was lovely. He's one of my favorites, warts and all, and I enjoyed seeing where he lived and learning more about him.
In the evening, it was SPAMALOT! Great fun, and educational too!!!!
(Funny how much the area around the Shaftesbury Theatre resembles the area around our very own Pantages. Without the sausage sellers, of course...)
And speaking of sausage - what are they thinking with the sausages here? Mealy, tasteless, and HUGE! And the English breakfast is so wacky. But the B&B we stayed at in London (The Arran House) was great because it was buffet-style. They just put out all that nasty stuff, and we could choose our destinies. The eggs are OK and there's tea, cereal, fruit, tea, juice, tea, tea, tea, and best of all TOAST!!! We have never eaten so much toast in all our lives! I don't know what it is about this trip (could be that everything else is crap), but we are toast FIENDS! I never eat toast for breakfast, but I swear, I have about three pieces every morning! And I've discovered black currant jam - mighty fine. The Arran was great for breakfast because of the flexibility of choice. The bathroom was another thing. I never seen, or anticipated possible, a bathroom so miniscule. I had to go out to turn around. It was a closet converted to a bathroom. You even had to step up into it. Good thing Dave wasn't there, because my knees almost touched the door when "sitting" - at six feet one, he wouldn't have been able to close the door at all. My cat's box is bigger than this bathroom was. And did I mention that it was SMALL????
Thursday, July 10: Jane Austen's house in Chawton was so special. Learned so much about her -fascinating person. And to be where she lived the last 8 years of her life - to see the view from her rooms, her garden, etc. was very moving. We then went to Winchester Cathedral to see her grave. A beautiful place, and her grave had fresh flowers on it, which we all thought appropriate for such a special lady. Then went on to Bath.
We stayed at the Henry in Bath, and it was exquisite! Our hosts, Steve & Liz, were so gracious and helpful and the rooms were fabulous! Clean, stylish, comfy, and a REAL bathroom! Bath was a lovely and interesting city. I remarked that Bath is the Calabasas of England! Very swanky and kinda snobbish (sorry all you Calabasas-ites!) Oh, and expensive! Jane Austen felt that way, too. Don't think she used the actual word "Calabasas", though. But the ancient Roman baths were very interesting, and I thought how strange it is to have these Roman ruins in the middle of a stylish town like Bath. Austen lived here, too, and we visited the Jane Austen Centre. Sadly, her family really couldn't afford Bath and it was not a happy time for Jane. We visited the "Circus" - a semi-circle of fancy attached homes referenced in some of her books and I thought it looked like a facade or movie set. Just didn't look real to me!
Breakfast at the Henry was great - the sausages were from a local butcher and were more like what we are used to. And the TOAST - sixteen thumbs up! it was a wonderful grainy, nutty bread with actual FLAVOR!
Well, it's almost midnight and we are currently in Windsor. I'll try to write more tomorrow and get all caught up. I'm doing this more for myself than the blog, actually. So I'll remember what we did, how I felt, etc. I'm on Ashley's computer so I don't have access to my regular journal.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Haven't had a chance to blog since we got here, but am going to get a short one out before the day's activities.
We've been having an incredible time - the time of our lives, really! Not much jet lag, so that's a blessing. But we are exhausted at the end of each day, because we are cramming so much in!
Sunday after arriving and meeting up with our group, we were able to pop over to Harrods (WAY crowded, since they are having one of their only 2 sales per year) and gawk. What an amazing place - but really, once you've seen a mall in the valley, you've seen 'em all! Then we tubed over to Buckingham Palace where Carrie and I chatted casually with a guard with a big gun! Hey - we needed restaurant recommendations! He told us that he wouldn't be much help, since couldn't afford to eat around here. Then he told us about a place ("Bumbles" no less) that once we got there was closed. So we ended up at a burger place that was kinda weird but we knew the food was bad in England, so we just sucked it up! Sydney and I took a bite of our burgers and kinda looked at each other like, "Does this taste right?" Then Kelli said something like, "We knew about this going into it..." and that has been one of the catch-phrases of the trip. Like yesterday when Carrie was asked if she would like sweet pickle on her sandwich and ended up with a plain cucumber slice. "We knew going into this!!" And on that note, I am going downstairs to eat another traditional English breakfast of mealy sausage, bacon that is really ham, pretty good eggs (if you like them runny), and mushrooms. I REFUSE to eat the beans, though. One has standards, even on vacation.
Today: THE TOWER! globe Theatre, Dickens Museum and if time, St. Paul's Cathedral (where I know we will all break into "Early each day, on the steps of St. Paul's, the little old bird woman comes...") Then tonight is SPAMALOT!!!