Monday, December 12, 2016

V & A, Harrods, Tower Bridge

Email for June 12:

This morning we had breakfast at the hotel again and then headed to the Hyde Park Chapel. As the V&A Museum is literally next door, we started there. We walked through the museum until about 12:45 and then we popped over to sacrament meeting at 1. The Hyde Park chapel has added a little visitor’s center display about the history of the Church in England. After a lovely sacrament meeting (YSA with an American Bishop), we headed back to the V&A. We walked through the entire museum. When we’d finished, we walked down the street to Harrods.

I think if you’re going to walk into a store on Sunday, Harrods is clearly the one. We may have actually been taken somewhat seriously in our dress and tie. The food galleries are my favorite. We walked through those, the perfumerie and a few other rooms and then hopped back on the tube. We headed straight to the National Portrait Gallery and looked at everything there. Then we walked up to Leicester Square… the whole Theatreland area is my favorite.

We then took the tube to the Tower of London where we’re staying at the Travelodge tonight. After our previous three hotels, we feel like we’re staying in a hostel. But, it’s only one quick night so we’re close to the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower tonight and then we’re off to Watford tomorrow for the Harry Potter Studio tour in the morning. It’s been raining on and off all day but we’ve been mostly inside so it’s been alright.

We got dinner at a Tesco around the corner and we ate it in our room watching British telly. At 9pm, we walked down the road to the Tower of London. At 9:30, our Yeoman Warder met up with us at the gate and let us in. He told us stories and led us around until 9:50. At that point, the official ceremony of the keys started. They have to do the whole thing in such precise time that everything has been said and everyone is in the right place when the clock tower chimes ten and then the guard is released to their barracks. 50 people or more live inside the tower. Most of them live in quarters on the building just inside the gates, but a few people live in some of the more inner towers including Lord so and so (don’t remember his name) who is the Constable of the Tower. We saw the lights on. Once we left the tower, we saw the TV shining in a different window. Our warder was awesome, as they all are and it was a great thing to do. Then we walked around to Tower Bridge to walk under it and see it all lit up from the area around the tower. And now we’re eating Galaxy Ripple bars and Hob Nobs and watching yet another tribute to the Queen’s 90th birthday.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Queen's Birthday Parade, Harry Potter Premiere

Email for June 11:

Today was simply glorious! We got up early, ate a yummy free breakfast at our hotel, and walked a block away to the Mall (the street between the arch and Buckingham palace, which of course rhymes with pal or shall) for Trooping the Colour. We got there around 8:15am and we got a place right up front. We ended up next to these two adorable old ladies that took a coach in from Birmingham and a lovely gentleman from Edinburgh named Peter.

The celebrations started around 10am. The amazing bands came down the mall (The Irish troops played bagpipes). There was a band and a regiment for each of the five home guards. There were also guards who lined the street. It was interesting watching the guards along the street. They stood rigidly the way we're used to seeing palace guards stand. But every so often we would see one march over to another and they would stand face to face, then one would grab on to another's hat. The ladies were explaining that the sergeants would do that to relieve their troops--they would grab the hat to take the weight off their heads for a minute. We even saw the sergeants put something into the guards' mouths sometimes, and we saw them joking around and smiling, while still standing rigidly and at attention. The police also lined the street, but they were much more relaxed than the guards.

We then saw saw the Royal Family go past in horse-drawn carriages. Camilla, Harry and Kate were in the first one, followed by two other carriages with other royals we didn't recognize. Then came the horsegaurds (hundreds of them!) followed by the Queen's carriage with her and Prince Philip (whose birthday was yesterday and he turned 95!). We were so close to both of them! Right behind them were Charles, Princess Ann, and William - all in full military garb (hard to see William and Charles' faces because of the big shaggy hats called Busbies or Bearskin).

Then, once all the troops and royals had passed, we had to wait another hour (they go to horseguards, near Whitehall, where the stands are and the Queen inspects them). Around 12:15, they all over back down the Mall toward the palace. At this point, the ladies had gone and we were just there with Peter. Once everyone passed again (we got great pictures!), we headed toward the palace with Peter. As we walked down the mall, we heard the 41 gun salute in Green Park to our right.

At 1pm, all the Royals came out on the balcony for the flyovers. Peter, who has a big interest in military, told us all about the Spittfire and some other ones. There were a dozen or more planes that flew over in different groups, including several vintage planes from both world wars. Then the final flyover was a group of fighter planes in formation with red white and blue jet streams that flew right over the palace. It was awesome. The whole day could not have been planned better. We saw the crowd that was in the stands. It's probably good we didn't get tickets as they were all decked out in hats, top hats, tails, and canes and umbrellas! Everything was timed exactly, super pomp and breathtaking. As Peter said: "That's one thing our country can still do really well." It's true. It was insanely marvelous.

When all was said and done, it was around 2pm. We walked back to the hotel and watched first the news and then a special on the monarchy and Buckingham Palace. Tomorrow there is a giant picnic down the mall for the birthday celebrations. The whole road will be inaccessible and representatives of the 600 charities the Queen supports will be invited. Marks and Spencer put together a very posh picnic basket for each attendee.

We left the hotel around 4:30 for dinner. We ate at a salad place called Tossed on the way to the theatre and then walked around Theatreland for awhile before getting in the queue to get into Harry Potter. The queue wrapped around the entire block more than an hour before curtain! It was crazy. The girl wearing a Marauder's Map dress wins my favorite outfit.

Harry Potter Part 1 review: I will follow J. K Rowling's request to #KeepTheSecrets, but here are the things I feel I can say: The play opens at the train station with the same scene where the book ends. And the moment they all run through the barricade, everyone on stage spun once and were immediately in their Hogwarts robes. And the play continued to amaze. The staging of the magic was fantastic. The Crowd was hot and gasped, clapped, and cackled appropriately. Everyone is amazing, though I'm not a huge fan on the guy who plays Draco. He seems too confident, large, and gruff for the little whiny character we're used to. Harry is just as brash as always and so is his son. The story is really about Scorpius Malfoy and Albus Potter. Lupin's son is never mentioned, which I found surprising. The magic was great, as mentioned, but the actual wizarding duals ended up a bit hokey, which was actually really surprising because none of the other effects seemed hokey at all. I also cannot imagine only getting tickets to Part 1. It obviously ended on a big cliff hanger and there wasn't even a curtain call. The lights just went up. And even though you sort of knew where the story was headed and you were totally interested in it getting there, when it did, it was kind of disappointing... so I'm excited to see Part 2. The play is staged on a giant rotating stage which helped with the amazing choreography of scenes. It really was magical.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Westminster, Tate, Trafalgar

Email for June 10:

We got ourselves up and ready to be at Marks & Spencer when it opened at 9 to pick up some yummy warm ham and cheese croissants and fresh orange juice. We hopped the tube and were at Westminster Abbey by the time it opened at 9:30. I think Rick Steves told everyone to get there at opening, but it was actually probably not a great choice because we had to wait in a big long line for 15 or 20 minutes. We took the audio tour of the Abbey. Tom's favorite part was the lady chapel because it was lighter and more ornate than the rest of the abbey. I love the Poet's Corner, as always. Also, we saw Britain's oldest door! :)


After the Abbey, we walked down to the Tate Britain. Today we found a painting for my dad (attached). I call it "The Retired Dentist."

We did the loop and we think we saw everything. The most interesting display was called "historical dances in an antique setting." Three dancers are employed full time to dance around this old façade in the atrium as people walked by and through. It was fascinating. The installation sign had about 12 dancers listed, but it's amazing that 3 of them are dancing any time the Tate Britain is open.

We took the tube back to the Churchill hotel and checked out (at 2pm because we're awesome platinum members). We walked a block over and ate lunch at Wagamama's. Mmmm. So good. As good as I remember. We need one of those in Anchorage. I think they're currently only in Boston. We had squid for an appetizer, I got the Wagamama ramen and Tom got the ginger chicken with the biggest noodles we'd ever seen.

Back on the tube with our backpacks to Trafalgar Square. We checked in, got free drink vouchers, free breakfast, and found another yummy anniversary treat on our room (always tell hotels you're celebrating, it turns out!).

We're right in Trafalgar Square. Great hotel location. So we walked next door to the National Gallery again. Our favorite this time was Canaletto... really detailed Italian paintings. They got me excited for all of you to go to Italy!

Tonight's play was "the Play that Goes Wrong." Review: It was a super fun and funny, physical, farcical murder mystery. We had a riotous good time. The physical abilities of those actors was unreal! And we got to walk through Theatreland after the show on the way back. I love this area of town. And they've completely redone Covent Garden! I hardly recognized it!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Churchill War Rooms, Cafe in the Crypt, London Eye

Email for June 9:

It is Thursday, isn't it? Boy we're confused. After waking up to housekeeping at 10:30am, we pulled ourselves together, grabbed an apple from our dessert spread last night, and headed back to Westminster. We spent the afternoon at the Churchill War Rooms. They had added a whole Churchill museum since I had been there last. It took a few hours to get through it all, but it was all very well done.

We walked from there to the mall and then over to Trafalgar Square. We wandered into the National Gallery and got lost (both literally and figuratively) in 17th Century Italy (we also found a great image of tax-collectors... take note, Ted or you could end up like them!).

Around 4pm, we were actually kind of hungry (having only eaten an apple), so we went next door to St. Martin's in the Field Café in the Crypt. It was great. We had warm soup, rolls, Tom-sandwich Me-Danish, and then split hot apple crisp with custard and chocolate tart. We sat next to a lovely man who was 75 and has lived in London all his life. All the café workers knew him. He told us it was his birthday last week and he came in and they treated him to breakfast.

After the Crypt, we walked back over to Westminster and hopped on the London Eye and took loads of pictures.

From there we wandered around, hopped a bus back to Trafalgar Square, and then walked up to the Cambridge Theatre to see Matilda.

Review of Matilda: I think the show took a bit to warm up. 80% of our audience was made up of children from schools. This musical was clearly one that was made for children. The music is fun and clever, but not super memorable. The set was also clever. Ms. Trunchbull was a man dressed as a large woman (a great choice for a play made for children to take the scariness out of the character... and that character was quite scary). The book is simple. The musical did a great job of adding magical themes and meaningful add-ons to the story. I'm glad the audience was mostly children. It was a fabulous, sweet, and magical musical and the girls would have loved it.

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