Goodbye, London

London Eye
The London Eye as seen from Golden Jubilee walking bridge.

Unless you take an overnight flight, traveling home from Europe generally consumes a whole day. We took a little stroll around the Kensington area of our hotel, had a late breakfast, and then packed. We decided to use up more of our Oyster Cards by taking the Underground all the way to Heathrow, rather than take a shuttle or express train. That took more than an hour, but it wasn’t too difficult (even lugging luggage) and it saved us a few quid. The flight was on time and as pleasant as a six hour flight can be, we got through customs in Boston quickly, and our wait for the bus to Portland was short. Even so, it was a long day.

It’s always sad to end a journey, but it’s also good to be home. We spent a week immersed in the history, geography, and culture of Scotland and London and we loved every minute of it. I still have many more photos to post on the Scotland and London pages and a few things to add to the Stuff That Amused Us page, so check back if you’re interested.

I’m sure this won’t be our last trip to the UK. As King George III sings in Hamilton, “You’ll be back…”

 

 

 

And Now for the Finale

Queen Victoria Statue in front of Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace is another of those attractions that we thought might be too touristy for us, but we decided to check it out today, and we’re glad we did. The museum part of the palace (not the part where the royals live) is open to the public and features two exhibits in honor of Queen Victoria and celebrating the 200th anniversary of her birth.

Depiction of a Royal Production of I Puritani

The museum is very well organized and not overwhelming. Many of the exhibits in the rooms where Victoria spent her childhood are just delightful, especially the moving diorama showing a royal production of I Puritani. The exhibit describing her life as queen was informative, helping fill in some of the gaps in the PBS series. We also enjoyed the King’s State Apartments with exhibits about King George II and Queen Caroline and the Diana: Designing for a Princess exhibit.

We left the Palace and took a bus (yes, one of those double decker buses, and we sat in the top level) to Piccadilly for a lunchtime concert at St. James’s Church. We found on our last trip to London that there are several lunchtime concert series and we chose a performance we thought would be interesting. The program was Grand Duo, an arrangement by Friedrich Hermann after Beethoven’s Septet Op. 20.  It was a duet for piano and viola, one of the few works meant for a virtuoso viola player. The church was designed by Christopher Wren, and admiring it while listening to fine music is a nice way to spend an hour at lunchtime.

The Set for Hamilton

Our evening was one I had looked forward to for a long time. We have wanted to see Hamilton ever since it opened in New York, but tickets are extremely expensive and hard to get. There’s a lottery for cheap tickets, and we’ve been entering it daily, but we never win. When we decided to take this trip, we thought we might as well see it on the other side of the pond. I’ve listened to the cast recording several times and I’ve seen many clips of scenes on YouTube, so I was very familiar with the show, but seeing it performed live is breathtaking (and no, they didn’t all perform with English accents). Every aspect of the show, from music and lyrics to set, staging, and choreography is brilliant. We’ll probably continue to try to get cheap tickets in New York to see it again.

This performance was our London finale, because tomorrow we head home.

Relics, a Princess, and Six Queens

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The British Museum

This is our third visit to London but, for some reason, we never went to the British Museum. We decided to rectify that today. Our hotel is in Kensington, so to get anywhere we need public transportation. One of the smartest things we did for this trip was to order Oyster Cards in advance so traveling on the Underground is pretty easy.

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Head of Horse from Parthenon Statue

The British Museum is huge and we only had a few hours, so we had to have a plan for what we wanted to see. Our first stop was the Rosetta Stone. It’s quite a popular attraction, but I managed to avoid all the selfie sticks around me to get a decent picture. We then moved on to the friezes and sculptures that were either rescued or stolen from the Greeks, depending on how you look at it. The museum kindly provides a little flier that explains their position and why it’s better to keep these relics in Britain rather than return them to their rightful owners. You decide. We continued on to see some of the objects in the museum’s top ten list. I’ll be posting some pictures on the London photos page.

At the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain

The sun was shining so we thought we might get some fresh air. We took the Underground back to Kensington and took a stroll through Kensington Gardens to see the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. The fountain is more like an oval stream with grass all around, but it’s a lovely, peaceful place for sitting quietly. Visitors are encouraged to get their feet wet, but we opted to just stroll around it and then sit for a few minutes. We continued our walk along the Serpentine to the Italian Gardens and then back to our hotel.

After dinner at a pub (We like pubs!) we headed to our evening event to learn a little more British history. Actually it was a little history in rock concert form. We saw Six, a musical about the six wives of Henry VIII, and we were definitely the oldest members of the audience. I was a little skeptical about this, but I loved it. It’s clever and funny with a very energetic and talented cast and band (all female). I got the feeling that a lot of the young ladies in the audience had seen this show a few times because they knew every word, and could probably name the wives in order by remembering the lyrics, “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” At the end of the show, there’s an encore, Megasix which they encourage the audience to record on their phones. I couldn’t get my phone out fast enough, but here is video someone else posted. If you look carefully in the lower left corner of the video, you can see Paul and me in the second row of the audience.

Everything is Beautiful at the Ballet

Curtain calls at the Royal Ballet
Scottish Breakfast

Today we said farewell to Scotland, but before leaving Edinburgh we thought we should experience a full Scottish breakfast. In the past few years I’ve tried to follow a low-sugar, low-carb diet, but I try not to be too obsessive about it. I make exceptions for special occasions (like birthdays and vacations), so I didn’t feel guilty about this. And I’ve decided haggis isn’t as awful as I was lead to believe.

Wind Turbines

After breakfast, we packed and boarded the train for London. Actually, the train only took us to Preston where we had to switch trains, but it was a relatively painless procedure. Out the window we saw many more sheep, some cows and horses, and a lot of wind turbines. I spent a lot of the time on the train reading the The Scotsman and trying to figure out Brexit. The Scots, of course, voted to stay with the EU in the first place, so this paper’s reporting may be a bit biased against Mr. Johnson.

The Royal Opera House

Our evening entertainment in London was the Royal Ballet. We’ve been to Covent Garden in past visits to London, but this was our first opportunity to attend a performance in the Royal Opera House. We had great seats and a gentleman sitting near us pointed out the royal box where the Queen would sit if she ever came to the opera or the ballet. He then described how he once met the Queen and said she’s more friendly than people think. The three dances were Concerto (Shostakovich), Enigma Variations (Elgar), and Raymonda Act III (Glazunov with choreography by Rudolf Nureyev). It was a lovely evening and we thoroughly enjoyed it because (quoting from A Chorus Line), “Everything is beautiful at the ballet.”

Lochs, Glens, and Bens

On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond

Today was our day to get out of the city and see some of the Scottish countryside. We thought about renting a car, but the idea of driving on the other side of the road terrifies me, especially with all the roundabouts, so we opted for a 10-hour bus tour. Our guide was a very knowledgeable and personable Scot named Graham who explained that Scottish geography is all about the lochs (lakes), the glens (valleys) and the bens (mountains) and we would be seeing many of each.

The Great Hall at Stirling Castle

We started with a drive to Stirling Castle and a history lesson from Graham along the way. I’m not up on my British/Scottish history, but he helped us sort out the various Jameses and explained why a lot of Braveheart was fiction. At the castle we were given an hour and a half of free time to wander. We chose to take a guided tour to help us make sense of it all, and that was a good choice. Again, a knowledgeable guide makes all the difference, especially when your background knowledge is sketchy. Our tour guide, Charles, helped us understand the significance of Stirling Castle and why its location made it an impregnable fortress. We didn’t have time to see everything, but it was enough to make us want to come back for more some day.

Loch Lomand

Back on the bus, we took a scenic drive around the Stirling area and up into the highlands a bit. We saw several lochs and castles and a lot of sheep. One of the castles we passed was Doune Castle where Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Outlanders were filmed. We stopped for lunch, then made our way to the beautiful Loch Lomond, largest loch in Scotland. Of course, on the way there, Graham played the song The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond, thus creating our ear worm for the day. At the loch we could choose to wander through the shops and pubs or hike along the bonnie banks on the walking path. We chose the latter and it was a beautiful walk. It had rained while we were at lunch and we were afraid we might get caught in a another shower, but we were lucky. It didn’t rain, although the path was a bit muddy in places.

The Glengoyne Distillery

Our last stop was the Glengoyne Distillery for a whiskey tour. When we arrived, our guide, Anna, gave us a dram of 12-year-old Glengoyne whiskey to sample while we watched a video about the history of the place. Then we got a tour while Anna explained the process. We learned that their whiskey is called single malt because all the ingredients are sourced in one place and it’s distinctive among Scotch whiskeys because they do not use peat. It’s also interesting that the whiskey is distilled in the Scottish highlands and aged in the lowlands because the distillery sits on the road that divides the two with the warehouses on the lowland side. I’ve never been fond of Scotch, but I did like this one, although not enough to buy a bottle in the gift shop that we can get cheaper in the States.

On the drive back to Edinburgh we watched the sun set out the bus window and listened to this to replace the Bonnie Bonnie Banks ear worm. On our return to Edinburgh we walked to a pub for dinner as we hummed I Will Walk 500 Miles.

 

 

To Edinburgh and the Royal Mile

View from the Edinburgh Castle with the Firth of Forth in the background

Before I write anything else, I have to take back everything negative I said about Virgin Trains and how they run late.  Not only did they apologize several times during our trip from London to Glasgow, but today we received notice that our fare for the trip has been refunded because of the delayed arrival. If only airlines worked that way.

The Scottish Parliament

This morning we took another train (not Virgin) to Edinburgh. We arrived around 10:00 am, too early to check in to our room, so we checked our bags at the hotel and walked around town. By “around town” I really mean one street in Edinburgh’s Old Town known as the Royal Mile. We started at one end where we skipped the Palace of Holyroodhouse (home of Mary Queen of Scots) and opted to tour the Scottish Parliament Building instead. This relatively new building is strange but interesting. The architect included many symbolic features that I would not have understood if we didn’t have a guidebook. For instance, the many high windows in the debating chamber are designed to let in the “light of democracy.”

Edinburgh Castle

As we made our way up High Street towards Edinburgh Castle, we passed many shops and restaurants catering to the tourists. We stopped in a cafe for tea and a scone and then made our way to the castle in time for the One O’clock gun. Every day at 1:00 PM they shoot off a World War II cannon to mark the time. Apparently they do it at 1:00 (rather than noon) to save ammunition. (I wouldn’t want to hear 12 blasts of that gun.) The castle is huge and crowded with tourists, but a nice place to spend a few hours. The views of the city and the Firth of Forth (I love saying that) beyond are spectacular. My favorite part was the Scottish National War Memorial where they honor the Scottish soldiers lost in WW I and WW II.

After our tour of the castle, we were able to check in to our hotel and rest a bit before doing some shopping and having dinner at a pub. Our beverage was mulled wine with a shot of Amaretto, the perfect way to end the day.

Touring Glasgow by Foot and Subway (With a Stop for a Concert)

On the banks of the River Clyde
The Glasgow Cathedral seen from the Necropolis

My Fitbit says I walked 22,148 steps today and I’m feeling every one of them. We started out this morning at the crack of dawn which in Glasgow at this time of year is around 8:00. We headed to the Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis, a huge cemetery on the hill behind it. Everyone told us it was the best place to get a view of the city and they were right. It may be the coolest cemetery I’ve ever visited and it was worth the walk. (I’ll be uploading pictures to the Scotland section under the Photos tab soon.)

From there we headed to the Glasgow Green and the People’s Palace, an eclectic little history museum with the huge terra cotta Doulton Fountain in front. We hoped to visit the Winter Gardens greenhouse but we found it’s been closed for repairs so we continued on for a long, scenic walk along the River Clyde.

John Whitener, tuba player with RSNO

We made our way back to the hotel for a little rest before heading to the Royal Scottish National Orchestra center for an afternoon concert. We were looking forward to this concert because the RSNO’s tuba player, John Whitener, is from Maine and once took lessons from Paul. As we entered the lobby, we were delighted to see a life-size poster of John with his tuba. The program was short, La Bagarre by Martinů and Dvořák‘s Symphony No. 5. I wasn’t familiar with either work. I thought the Martinů piece was strange but I really liked the Dvořák. Afterward we met John and went to a coffee shop to chat. As the only non-tuba player at the table, I couldn’t contribute much to the very technical conversation that ensued, but it was fun catching up with him and hearing about his life since I last saw him, more than 20 years ago.

River walk in the Glasgow Botanic Gardens

We had some daylight left and it wasn’t raining yet, so we then headed to the subway for a trip to the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. The Glasgow subway is one of least confusing I’ve ever seen. It’s just one line, running in a circle. You can take the outer train running clockwise or the inner train running anti clockwise (as they say in the UK) but it doesn’t really matter because eventually you will get to where you want to go. At the Botanic Gardens we found that the Kibble Palace, a large greenhouse, was already closed (winter hours) so we watched workers setting up lights for their Halloween program, GlasGLOW. We then took a long, beautiful walk in the twilight along their river trail, and then took the subway back to the center of town for dinner at a pub (beer and pies).

We thought about looking for some evening entertainment, but those 22,000 steps took a lot out of us, so we went back to the hotel for some needed rest.