Tuesday, March 16, 2010

London Days 5 and 6

Wednesday morning was very cold but sunny.  Since the kids planned to sleep late, Kathy and I headed out on our own, figuring we’d go to see Buckingham Palace.  When we got to the Green Park tube stop, though, we saw a bus for the “Big Bus” sightseeing tour and decided to hop on it instead of going from place to place on our own.  We headed up to the open topped upper level of the double decker bus and, after a stop or two, made it to the very front.  Though the blowing wind made me wrap my scarf around my head, the sun balanced it out a little bit and the great views of everything we were passing made the cold worthwhile.  We spent the next several hours going to Westminster Abbey and Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, the Marble Arch, 10 Downing Street, and a whole series of other typical London attractions. 
            When we got back in the early afternoon, the kids had gone out shopping for new clothes to wear to the club they were planning to attend that evening.  We headed back out to find some lunch, heading not toward  Brompton Road or South Kensington as we usually did but toward Sloane Street instead.  The weather had gotten very, very cold and it had begun to rain again, so we ducked into a nearby tea house to eat then headed back to the flat. 
            That evening, once Dan and Becca were back, we headed down Brompton Road, past Harrods and Harvey Nichols, to eat dinner at Wagamama’s.   the noodle restaurant chain that’s popular throughout the UK and elsewhere in the world, but isn’t in the US anywhere but in Boston.  Becca was in noodle heaven, I think, starting with dumplings and a large bowl of miso noodle soup.  Dan, Kathy and I also enjoyed our meals.  After dinner we walked back to Eggerton Gardens.  Becca and Dan got ready to go to clubbing at Gay Late.  Kathy settled down to finish Killer Angels and I used the evening to grade assignments my students had submitted while I was away.

            On Thursday morning it was pouring out and the temperature had dropped.  We were all tired (and I was touristed out) so we decided to take it easy for the day.  Late in the morning Kathy and I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum which was only a few blocks away.  I’d seen on their website that they had five of Leonardo daVinci’s notebooks and wanted to see them.  Just before we went in, we passed a statue of John Henry Cardinal Newman, whose Apologia had been a favorite of mine in my junior year of college.

 When we got in the museum, it was packed. (It was a vacation week in Britain, so parents had brought their children to the museum to get them out of the house but also out of the rain.)  At the information desk we asked where the notebooks were but no one knew.  We were sent from one section of the museum to another looking for them.  Finally, as we were both complaining loudly after being sent to the sixth gallery that ended up with no daVinci notebook a docent in the room came over and explained that the notebooks weren’t all out on display at the moment—that there was only one available and only one page of it could be seen.  She walked us over to the gallery room where it was currently on display.  I was extremely disappointed.  We decided to head next to the gallery rooms with the oldest pieces in the museum’s collection. (The V&A doesn’t have anything from the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, etc. that I so love to visit when I’m at the Met.)  It turned out to be closed (as were many of the galleries), so we went to see the oldest Celtic artifacts, many of which were copies of old Celtic crosses with the markings that I’d researched when we were in Wales a few summers before.  By now it was lunch time so we tried to get to the cafeteria, but it ended up being swamped by people.  We walked back to the entrance through the part of the Asia gallery that was open and saw the exhibit that I thought was the best in the museum—an arrangement of Buddha and bodhisattva statues reflecting the changes and styles of the various periods in which they’d been created—before heading back out into the rain.

            That evening, after doing the laundry and packing for the next day’s flight home, the four of us went back to Covant Gardens and took a stroll through Chinatown before going to see “Avenue Q.”  The show itself was enjoyable and we had very good seats, though it felt a little strange sitting in a London theater to see a play that had been on Broadway for so many years and had a setting in New York. 
            The next morning the driver who had met us the first day arrived promptly at 5:45 to take Kathy, Becca and me to the airport.  Dan slept a bit later before leaving the apartment about 10 am to head off by the Bullet train to meet a friend of his studying in Brussels at the Lille, France train station. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

London Day 4

            When we first arrived in London and looked at the weather forecast, we discovered that rain (and snow showers) were predicted for every day of the week except Tuesday.  Using that as the main criteria, we decided that Tuesday would be the day when we would leave London to go to see the Cotswolds.  We’d priced doing a tour, but the driver who brought us to the flat from the airport had convinced us to hire a driver instead, pointing out (correctly) that it would be cheaper than paying for the bus tour for four people. He’d recommended a woman who was a regular tour guide from London to the Cotswolds, who he said would also take us to Oxford along the way.  She’d have background on all the things we were seeing (much like the driver we’d hired for several days in Portugal) and would be able to tailor our tour in a way that the bus tour wouldn’t. When Kathy talked with her, she wasn’t available because she was babysitting her grandchildren who were on spring break.  She suggested we hire her boss instead.  We did, lining him up to arrive at 9:30 on Tuesday morning.

            Tuesday morning, it was rainy and cold.  The driver arrived promptly and, although Becca and Dan were both tired, they got into the car as we headed west.  The Cotswolds are about 2 hours outside of London, but Oxford is on the way so we were heading there first.  I wanted to see the collleges connected with C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and Gerard Manley Hopkins (and Aldous Huxley, who I
 remembered had attended the same college, though I couldn’t remember which one). I knew that there were tours focusing on Lewis and his time in Oxford so I asked our tour guide which college Lewis had been a professor at–all I could remember is that the name ofboth Tolkien and Lewis’ colleges began with an M but I wasn’t sure Lewis’ was Magdalen or Merton– I figured if he knew that easily then he might know Hopkins’ college as well, but that otherwise it would be a long shot. He had no idea. Instead he insisted that we go to see Christ Church College because of its connection with the Harry Potter films.  (I'm sure several of my classmates from Drew would have been happy to go through the college because John Wesley was educated there but that didn't excite me at all.)  The driver dropped us on the corner and told us he’d meet us back in an hour—so much for his showing us things in the building. Both Dan and Becca were hungry so they insisted at getting something in the nearby deli. (There went my idea of eating at the Eagle and Child Pub in which Lewis and the Inkblots had held their periodic meetings.)  We went through Christ Church dining room—on which the Hogwarts dining room was modeled and which contains the window with the characters from Alice in Wonderland on it—and then through its chapel.  Then we went to look for our guide.  When we found him he said he’d learned that both Tolkien and Lewis had taught at University College and that it was just up the block.  I knew this wasn’t right—I remembered that Lewis had gone to school there but hadn’t gone back to teach in the same college—but we walked in that direction while the driver went to get the car. I muttered to Kathy that this wasn’t right—that the driver was not only no Joachim (our driver in Portugal who not only seemed to know about everything we were seeing but knew how to make it interesting to Becca as well as us) but was giving us incorrect information-- and decided it made no more sense to ask the driver any questions about anything.  You can only see University College from the sidewalk—no visitors are allowed inside—so we walked by it and I noticed that Magdalen College was across the street.  We headed over there on the theory that it would be the college at which either Lewis or Tolkien taught.  Then we caught up with the driver, got back in the car and headed toward the Cotswolds.

            When we talked of going to England, Kathy was most interested in seeing the Cotswolds, an area that she hadn’t gotten to visit when she’d been to London before.  I’d always heard that it was one of the most beautiful places in the world, so I was also looking forward to it. Since we’d driven out of the rain and left it completely behind when we left Oxford, it seemed like a great time to make the trip.  The driver took us through Moreton-on-Marsh, a town that looked interesting (though we only saw the main road).  Next he drove south through Stow-on-the-Wold.   We entered Bourton-on-the-Water and parked in a lot marked “Birdland.” Becca refused to get out of the car since she was tired.  Dan headed off to find a place with wi fi so that he could check with a client.  Kathy and I walked along the River Windrush (which seemed like a stream more than a river, though of course I’m used to the Hudson). The town was cute enough, though it seemed very, very touristy.  Some snowdrops were beginning to poke their heads up and I could imagine how beautiful the tulips and other flowers in the area would be in a month or so, but for a feel of a small British town with beautiful flowers and quaint shops that hasn’t yet been ruined by tourism, I’d prefer Hawarden (in Wales) or –though it’s by the ocean rather than a river—Abadaron.  Bourton felt like everything was geared towards being touristy to me.  After walking around we headed over to a tea house to have cream teas.  We went and found Dan (who had located an internet cafe at the back of a funeral home) and headed back to the car, where the driver told us he would next take us to Stratford-on-Avon to see Shakespeare’s home and grave.

            Along the way to Stratford, the driver got lost and took us about 25 minutes out of our way so that by the time we got to Stratford, it was past after four.  Since he seemed to have no idea where to go once we got there, Kathy and I got out and asked people where to head.  Someone pointed the way to the church that houses Shakespeare’s tomb and we went over to it.  Unfortunately by the time we got there, it had just closed.  We drove around Stratford a bit—a town that, at least from the brief time we spend it in, looked like it might be enjoyable to spend a day or two there—and then headed back to London and the rain that picked up just before we got to the city’s borders.