London to Glasgow By Rail for a Night at the Opera

Theatre Royal Glasgow

One of the best reasons to travel is to actually see all those places you’ve only read about. I read a lot of novels set in the UK and Ireland and I watch a lot of shows from the BBC, so I’m happy that I get to see a little bit of Scotland on this trip.

We landed in London yesterday but only spent one night there before hopping on a train to Glasgow this morning. We had been warned that trains to Scotland are often late so we weren’t surprised that the Virgin Train left London 20 minutes behind schedule. Then there was a freight train up the line somewhere that was mysteriously disabled causing a backup that delayed us another forty minutes or so. Other than that, the train was actually quite pleasant. The seats were comfortable and the view out the window was interesting. I think I saw more sheep today than in all my previous 69 years of life.

Glasgow Street Mural

When we finally arrived, we quickly checked into our hotel and then set off on a short walk to see what we could see. Our plan was to go to Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis where we were told we could get the best views of the city. Along the way, we were distracted by some of the amazing street murals on the buildings we passed, so by the time we reached the cathedral, we were too tired and it was too late for us to climb the hill to the Necropolis. Maybe tomorrow.

After dinner we made our way to Theatre Royal, home of Scottish Opera, for a performance of Tosca. It’s a lovely hall and a lovely opera. We have seen Tosca many times and sometimes I think we’ve been spoiled by the Met Live in HD performances where the sets and costumes are spectacular and every aria is breathtaking. Tonight we saw a very respectable show without the glitz and glamor and top-name stars, but an enjoyable evening all the same. Each time we see Tosca we hope for a happier ending, but tonight was like all the others. She jumped.

Tomorrow we spend our second day in Glasgow and I’m hoping to take more pictures. The internet in our hotel is unreliable, but I’ll try to post some in the photos section.

Here We Go Again

Terminal E at Logan Airport

Fall seems to be a good time for us to travel, so we’re off again. We’re flying back to London, but then venturing on (by train) to Glasgow and Edinburgh for a few days before returning to London. We left home well before the crack of dawn this morning to catch the bus to Boston where we’re now waiting for our Virgin Atlantic flight to Heathrow. Neither of us has been to Scotland, so we’re really looking forward to this. In Glasgow we’ll hear the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Scottish Opera. In Edinburgh we’ll see castles and do a whiskey tour and whatever else catches our fancy. Then it will be back to London for two shows and a ballet.

You can follow our adventures here, on this blog, or catch my posts on Facebook. I’ll try to post daily and include lots of pictures.

See you on the Interwebs!

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.