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

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.

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.”

A Farewell to London

Plane wing and clouds
The view out the window on our flight back from London.

After an hourlong bus ride to Heathrow, a seven hour flight to Boston, and then a three hour bus ride back to Brunswick, we thought our adventure had come to an end. Imagine our surprise when the bus finally pulled into the parking lot by the AAA building where our journey began, and we couldn’t find our car! Apparently the management of the mall where our local AAA office is located did not see the AAA card on our dashboard and had our car (and two others from our group) towed. This was especially distressing because it was late. and we knew we had only a couple hours to nap before we had to jump in the car (our other car) and drive eight hours to get to a gathering of family and friends to celebrate the life of my brother who passed away recently.  Fortunately, one of our tour leaders was able to work it all out with the police and AAA, and our new friends, Lisa and Dwayne whom we met on the tour, gave us a ride home. All is well, and we’ll pick up our car when we return to Brunswick Monday.

It’s likely we will always think of this trip as an excellent adventure bookended by two  misfortunes, one with our luggage and one with our car. But, these were minor annoyances that in no way diminish the wonderful memories we will have of this trip. I have many more photos from London that I’ll post on the London page under the Photo tab of this blog, and I’ll also post some pictures in the Stuff That Amused Us section. I’m going to suspend this blog again until we embark on another journey. Thanks for traveling with us virtually. Until the next time…

History and Fantasy

Cabinet Room
The Cabinet Room in the Churchill War Rooms

Today was our last day in London, and the Churchill War Rooms is a museum on our list of must-see sights in the city. We went there in the morning, thinking we would spend an hour or two. We actually stayed for four and a half hours. Walking through this underground bunker is an immersion in history. It’s really two museums in one, the rooms that served as a command center for Churchill and the British forces during World War II, and the Churchill museum that tells his life story. We took the audio tour that narrated the exhibits and that included recorded comments from people who actually worked in the war rooms. We learned about the cramped conditions in which people worked long shifts and how they often formed close friendships that continued long after the war. It was fascinating and filled in some gaps in my knowledge of the British role in the war and of Churchill the man. I knew that Churchill was a writer, but I didn’t know he was also an accomplished artist, and I thought his paintings were incredible.

Pelicans in St. James Park

We had planned to spend the afternoon at the British Museum or the National Portrait Gallery, but we spent so long in the Churchill War Rooms that we were mentally exhausted. We decided instead to stroll through St. James Park. to Buckingham Palace. St. James park is an excellent place for observing waterfowl and very aggressive squirrels who are used to being fed by tourists. We took some pictures at Buckingham Palace and then walked back through the park along the other side of the lake and headed toward Trafalgar Square. We stopped at a pub for a pint of cider and an early dinner before heading back to the hotel.

Curtain for Wicked at the Victoria Palace Theater

The evening’s entertainment tonight was Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. This is a musical that most members of our group had seen, but Paul and I had not. We were in New York not long after the show first opened and we could have seen it then, but we didn’t know much about it and opted to see Thoroughly Modern Millie instead. We didn’t have another opportunity to see it until long after Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel had left, so it wasn’t very high on our priority list. We’ve watched a bootleg recording of it with the original cast on YouTube, and we’re very familiar with the music, so we knew what to expect. It was a good show to end our tour with because no one hates Wicked, even when some of the actors are less than stellar. In long-running shows you often see understudies and that was the case last night. All three female leads were off, but we saw an excellent Elphaba and an okay Glinda and Madame Morrible. I have heard Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel perform songs from this show many times, so maybe it’s unfair for me to compare. In all, it’s a clever and engaging show and that makes up for some mediocre performances.

Tonight we pack for our departure tomorrow. I’ll post some final thoughts about our London Adventure tomorrow. I’ll also upload more pictures.

An Eye, a Clipper, a Globe, and some Meat Loaf

Thames River
View of the Thames from the London Eye

When we visited London in the late ‘90s, the skyline looked much different. Many of the new buildings hadn’t been built yet and the London Eye, that big wheel of pods over the Thames, did not exist. Today was another good-weather day, so we decided to join all the other tourists for a bird’s eye view of London. We had heard that it was faster and cheaper to purchase tickets online, so that’s what we did. There was a bit of a wait in the queue, but we finally boarded one of the pods for the half-hour ride. Although many websites listing “sights you can miss in London” include the Eye, we thought it was great fun and worth the admission and the wait.

We had tickets for an afternoon play and some time to kill, so we decided to take a quick look at the Tate Modern. We still have plenty of credit on our Oyster Card, but we didn’t want to take the Tube, so we headed for the MBNA Thames Clipper. This is a ferry that goes up and down the Thames, and on a nice day it’s a quite pleasant way to get where you need to go. It’s like a cheap cruise.

That Tate Modern, like many other museums and galleries in London, is free so we don’t feel bad if we only see a part of it. As with most modern art galleries, we saw several pieces we liked and some we didn’t. Much of the crowd there consisted of school groups and I think they were doing what we were doing – killing an hour or so before the play at the Globe.

Globe Theater
Stage of the Globe Theater

We missed the Globe Theater on our previous trip to London because it was undergoing renovations, and I was eager to experience a play in Shakespeare’s theater. The play today was The Winter’s Tale and I enjoyed it immensely. The Globe is an open air theater so we were grateful for the good weather until we realized our seats were right where the afternoon sun was the brightest. Even with sunglasses it was difficult to see the stage until an usher came around and handed out visors to everyone in our section. The planes flying overhead were also an annoyance, but the actors were quite good at pausing or increasing volume to overcome the noise from outside. (I imagine in Shakespeare’s day there were other kinds of noises drifting in from outside as well.) It’s always a joy to see Shakespeare performed by good actors. I don’t know this play as well as some others, but I had no trouble following it, and it was never boring. It was fun to see how the actors played to the groundlings (members of the audience who stood in front of the stage) and interacted with the hecklers.

We decided not to return to the hotel to catch the group bus to our evening show. Instead, we took the tube to the theater and then found a pub nearby for dinner. Tonight’s show was Bat Out of Hell featuring the music of Meat Loaf. Many members of our group are seniors like us, so knowing it would be loud, we were given earplugs. In retrospect, I wonder if I would have enjoyed this show more without them, because much of the time I was just bored with it. The music was good (and familiar – it’s Meat Loaf!), the dancing was energetic, but the plot was nonsensical. The story was a remaking of Peter Pan, but in our after-show discussion it was clear that many in our group didn’t get that. The show included a lot of cool stage effects including pyrotechnics, but in the end I felt I would have liked it better if it had just been billed as a rock concert and not musical theater. Maybe the worst thing was that I couldn’t get “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” out of my head, but I guess you should leave a musical humming the tunes.

Tomorrow is our last day in London. We’ll have a free day for sightseeing, and in the evening it’s Wicked.

On a Picture Perfect Day You Take Pictures

The Tower Bridge
The Tower Bridge

If you’ve been to London you know that bright, sunny, blue-sky days are few and far between. Today was one of them and a great day for taking pictures. We had booked a daylong tour with many others from our group, and it was a perfect day for taking pictures. I will share a few here and upload others to the London photos page.

Our tour started on one of those red double decker buses, but we shared the bus with another group who boarded before us and they took all the top seats. We had to settle for the lower deck, so picture taking from the bus wasn’t easy, but we enjoyed listening to our tour guide give us a little history lesson about London architecture.

Raven at the Tower of London
Raven at the Tower of London

The first stop on the tour was the Tower of London. Paul and I had been there before (20 years ago) but what I remembered most were the Crown Jewels and the ravens. We had plenty of time to explore on our own (this time without the company of a 12-year-old) so it was a pleasant morning. We arrived just as the gates were opening, so it wasn’t crowded until jseveral large school groups arrived just before we left.

Our next stop was Borough Market. It was lunchtime so the market was very crowded. We had eaten a large breakfast, and knowing we were having afternoon tea, we decided to forgo the food and explore the area instead. We walked past the Golden Hinde ship to the river, and past the Globe Theater to the Millennium Bridge. The center of this walking bridge is the perfect place to take pictures. Many other tourists were taking advantage of the lovely weather, so it was very crowded and selfie sticks were everywhere, but it was fun.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey

Back on the bus, we headed for Westminster Abbey, another place we visited 20 years ago, but it was good to see it again. I read a lot of British novels and I watch Masterpiece Theater, so visiting these iconic London settings is always fun. Our tour guide talked about royal weddings and funerals, but her best story was about the Westminster Abbey verger who, feeling relieved that nothing went wrong at Prince William’s wedding and thinking all the cameras were off, started doing cartwheels down the aisle. Of course, one camera was still recording and someone posted the footage on social media.

Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea at Westminster Abbey

Our Westminster Abbey tour ended with afternoon tea. Although I’ve modified my diet in the past couple years to avoid sugar and carbs, I try not to be too obsessive about it, so I considered this a special occasion worthy of an exception to my eating rules. I tried everything including scones, little tea sandwiches, and various tarts and cakes. I ingested more sugar in an hour than I’ve had in the last two years.

We walked back to the hotel and got ready for the evening show, one I’ve been looking forward to since we booked this trip. I first saw Company on Broadway when I was in college and I’ve seen several other performances since. It’s one of my favorite musicals, but it’s very much a 70’s show. This production was an updated version that changed the male lead to a female which necessitated many other changes in casting, book, and lyrics. I had read about this, so I knew I was going to see something different, but I wasn’t sure whether this would make the show seem fresh and new or would just kill it.

Gielgud Theater
Marquee at the Gielgud Theater

From the opening, I knew it was going to work. The sets were clever but simple, the orchestrations were updated (in a good way) and the gender changes made sense. It gave me a whole new way of thinking about the themes of marriage and commitment. Rosalie Craig was strong in the role of Bobbie until the song Being Alive in the second act. I thought she didn’t really sell it, but that may get better over time. In all, I enjoyed the show, especially seeing Patti LuPone play the part of Joanne and hearing her sing The Ladies Who Lunch with all her exaggerated consonants.

Tomorrow we see two more shows – a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theater and another musical in the evening. This week is flying by and it’s been exhausting but I’m loving every minute of it.


They Can’t All Be Gems

Covent Garden Flower Cart

We started our fourth day in London with a walk to Covent Garden, home of the Royal Opera House . When I think of Covent Garden, I think of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and Drury Lane, home of the muffin man. We strolled through the markets, looked in the shops, and then made our way to the Royal Opera House. We saw people queuing up in the lobby and learned they were going to a rehearsal of the Royal Ballet. We tried to get tickets but were informed it was for members only. Instead we walked around the building, enjoying the views and the historical displays. It’s a beautiful venue and I hope one day we have the opportunity to see a performance there.

Covent Garden
Street Performers at Covent Garden

We went back out on to the piazza to check out the street performers. At Covent Garden, street acts have to audition for a permit and are given a scheduled time when they can perform. We heard a quartet in the courtyard and then watched a weirdly compelling act by a contortionist. I wish we had more time to explore this area, but we decided to head back to Trafalgar Square and St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a church known for its music and charitable work. Today they had a free lunch concert featuring St. Martin’s Voices Fellows, seven young singers who are participating in the fellowship program of the St. Martin Voices vocal ensemble. They performed choral works and solos by Handel, Purcell, and Mozart and it was a very pleasant hour.

St. Martin-in-the-Fields

Since we were at Trafalgar Square and had a little time to kill, we went back to the National Gallery to see the Courtauld Impressionists  exhibit that we missed yesterday. It’s a small exhibit but worth seeing if you love impressionist painting as we do.

After an early dinner at a pub, we returned to the hotel to change and board a bus to take us to the evening’s show, Strictly Ballroom at the Piccadilly Theater. I really wanted to like this show, but I didn’t. It had a great band, good dancers, spectacular costumes, and lots of energy, but no heart. It was fluff piece that was funny at times but not at all moving. In our discussion afterward, many people said the movie was better (I haven’t seen it), and there was some talk about how theaters have to put on shows that reflect modern musical taste and will draw large audiences (like Mamma Mia) to stay in business.  I’m not sure I believe that.

Strictly Ballroom Marquee

Tomorrow we have a daylong tour including afternoon tea at Westminster Abbey and then Company in the evening. Company is one of my favorite shows and I’ve been looking forward to this new production. I hope it does not disappoint.

In the Land of Harry Potter

Palace Theater
Entrance to Palace Theater

Today was a beautiful, sunny day that would have been perfect for strolling through the many London parks, but we had tickets for a six-hour theater experience that I’m happy we didn’t miss. This was the one day when there were no tour events so we were totally on our own. Our friends at MSMT suggested we see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theater, so we booked the tickets several weeks ago.

Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery

The show is in two parts, a matinee and an evening performance. We picked up our tickets early and had about an hour and half to kill before the theater opened, so we strolled through Trafalgar Square and visited the National Gallery. We didn’t have enough time to see everything, so we zipped through and will probably return later this week to see their impressionist exhibit.

We returned to the theater and waited in a long line for everyone to get through security. The Palace Theater is amazing and probably the perfect venue for this show. We were seated next to a little girl who dressed like Hermione, complete with robe and briefcase. She was celebrating her 10th birthday and told us that she had read all the books and the play script, but she promised not reveal the ending to us. The story picks up where the last book left off, with Harry married to Ginny and sending their two boys off to Hogwarts, while their daughter moans about not being old enough. The plot centers on the middle child Albus who is always in the shadow of his father and older brother and feels like a misfit at Hogwarts.

Palace Theater
Looking up into the balconies of the very ornate Palace Theater. The photo doesn’t do it justice; you have to see it.

The show was an amazing combination of magic, music, and incredible costumes and staging, including dementors who fly out over the audience at the end of Part One. Each part was three hours long, but the time flew by.  There was a 2-1/2 hour break between the afternoon and evening performances, so we joined some of the other members of our tour for dinner at the Cambridge, a pub nearby where I had an excellent lentil cottage pie.

Palace Theater Stage
The stage set for the opening scene

Part of the fun of this show was watching the reactions from the children in the audience, including the girl next to us. Having already read the play, she knew what would happen, but she was so delighted to be seeing it. I think most of the audience had read the books and seen the movies, but this was a total immersion into the world of Harry Potter.

As a teacher, I often feel grateful for J. K. Rowling and her contribution to children’s literature. I’ve known many students (my son included) who disliked or struggled with reading but managed to read the Harry Potter books. Kids who disdained other fiction were willing to put in the time and effort to enjoy these books. It proves that kids have a greater appreciation for good writing than we give them credit for.

Tomorrow we have nothing planned except a show in the evening. It will be a good day for exploring.