A Travellerspoint blog

Still London

Getting near the end

sunny 18 °C
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Dear Friends,

The kids and I started the day yesterday by running errands. Not terribly exciting, but a reminder of how long it can take to get a couple of things done in an enormous city. The transport system is efficient and easy to use, but the city is still incredibly big!

First, we went to hunt down some theater tickets. We landed tickets to our first choice, Wicked. John was still skeptical (it sounded dark and scary), but we wanted to see something we hadn't seen before (John wanted to see The Lion King again). More on Wicked later. Then, we went to pick up the package that contained Joe's Kindle, which he had left in the car that brought us to London. And, finally, just in time for a picnic lunch we found my most favorite London food store: Waitrose. We picked up a few items to fill out our lunch, plus a few packages of my favorite chocolate covered digestive biscuits. Yum! The Waitrose store brand are really the best.

Margaret, John and I had a little picnic in Green Park, where we were harassed by pigeons. We were quite hungry by that time, so we didn't care.

Then, it was time to meet up with Joseph at the theater (Joe had stayed at the flat to finish his column, which he is still writing for the KJ) for a matinee showing of Wicked.

Wicked was great, fabulous. We all loved it. Even John, although he spent most of the show completely confused about what was going on. But, by the end, he was exclaiming, "It all makes perfect sense! It was like a puzzle and now it all makes perfect sense!"

After the show, we ended up at Covent Garden to wander about and check out some of the street entertainment. A very lively strings group was performing and that was fun to see.

And, then, it was into the pit of despair, as we 1) tried to decide on a place to eat that all of us could agree on (how in the world did we end up with children who don't like Indian food???????), and 2) once we decided on a type of food, to find a restaurant. By this time, it was around 7:00 and many of the restaurants in the area had queues forming. Alas. But, then we were struck by the great idea to return to Notting Hill. So, we did that and went to eat at Pizza Express. Not all that exciting, but we ate at Pizza Express a number of times during the fall of 2004.

Today is our last full day in London and we will try to do as much as we can to squeeze all of the things we haven't done yet. We are hoping for a good day, as tomorrow may not be so good. We have tickets on Eurostar and, as you may know, there was a fire last week. Eurostar is running at about half of what it usually does. Trying to get information from them has been comical. Their advice is to "avoid travel." But, if travel cannot be avoided, then "just show up and we'll do the best we can." What???!!!!! After investigating the alternative (taking the train to Dover, the ferry to Calais, and then the train from Calais to Mechelen, Belgium), we have decided just to deal with Eurostar. We hope that doesn't mean sleeping at a train station!

Well, we are off for the day. We will plan on up-dating again tomorrow morning before heading for the Continent.


p.s. We'll post more photos soon!

Posted by jrreisert 22:59 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Even More London

Thoughts from the kids, mostly

semi-overcast 16 °C
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Dear Friends,

We went to Kew Gardens yesterday, the Royal Botanic Gardens located a little out of London. We had not visited Kew during our last visit to London. It is an enormous place, with amazing trees and plants and displays. We had a great day. It was also our earliest day so far. We returned to the flat just before 7:00; it wasn't even quite dark.

Here is a picture of the kids at Kew:


And here is a photo (taken by John) of Joseph as he looked, just as he learned that John had left his camera bag at the last greenhouse we had just visited (yes, it was recovered):


Today, we will try to see a show (unfortunately, Spamalot doesn't offer a Wednesday matinee) and then plan our day.

Hope all is well.


Margaret: The National Gallery is really (and I mean really) big, about 20x the size of the Colby art museum. The National Gallery has the very famous "Sunflowers" by Vincent Van Gogh. I had a very good time there and hope we go there again. When we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, we saw jewelry and Tudor stuff. Fun fact! Did you know that the V & A has 2 HUGE chandeliers that cost millions of pounds?

The Tube-- the Tube is the main transport for London. Buses also transport well, but most people take the underground. We usually get on at Notting Hill Gate, on the Central Line, or Ladbroke Grove, on the Hammersmith and City Line. I like the Tube, but I prefer buses.

John: In the Harry Potter walk (Sunday), the guide was a magician. All volunteers got tricks and I was one of the volunteers. He taught us how to make a wand appear in your hand and I've always wanted that trick.

Here's a picture of our guide outside the Ministry of Magic entrance (the kid in the blue hood at the bottom of the frame is John):


I also went on the London Eye. Someone threw up two capsules away from us. Yuck!

We went on a tour of the Tower of London on Monday. It was fun. I was always at the front and the tour guide was always scaring me by suddenly yelling at me. He told us about 2 boys, a 9-year-old and a 12-year-old [Edward V and Richard, Duke of York — ed.]. The 12-year-old was king and they went missing never to be seen again. So, their uncle [Richard III — ed.] became king and he must have killed the boys, but no one knows for sure. Since I am nine, the tour guide kept looking at me and warning me to behave myself. He told us about some other things too.

Here is a picture of my favorite sign so far — it goes to a bathroom in a playground in a park [Regent's Park — ed.]


Posted by jrreisert 23:41 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

More London

Not sure what day it is

semi-overcast 18 °C
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Hello Friends,

Internet was down in the flat over the weekend, so we didn't have a chance to write an up-date and now we are woefully behind!!

Here's an overview of what we've been up to since our last post:

Friday — Bloomsbury Square nostalgia tour (that's where the offices and classrooms of the Colby in London program were located); back to the British Museum (where we saw the special Hadrian exhibit); tea at the British Museum; and, the Victoria and Albert Museum (focusing on Tudor exhibits and the new jewelry exhibit). We had dinner at the flat.

Saturday — Portobello market (we didn't even get into the antiques part; we picked up provisions for a picnic at the part of the market near our flat); Swiss Cottage/Fellows Road nostalgia walk (we walked by the place where we lived in London in the fall of 2004); Primrose Hill (also part of the nostalgia walk; we had our picnic there too); Regents Park (it was a glorious day; we especially enjoyed the rose gardens); British Library (where we saw Magna Carta, some very old editions of Shakespeare and some much older Bibles, and some Beatles stuff); Westminster/Parliament (outside); a "flight" on the London Eye at sunset; and, then, finally a trip through the grocery store in Notting Hill Gate for groceries. We had dinner at the flat (some surprisingly good pre-made fried chicken from Marks & Spencer), keeping our eyes open long enough only because we were starving. It was a MONSTER sight-seeing day!

Here are John and Margaret waiting for Big Ben to ring:


And here's the sunset view from the Eye:


Sunday — We attended worship at the American Church in London with our friends Nick and Vivian Basden and their children, Gabriel and Noah (Nick was a Resident Tutor at Mather House when Joe and I were; he lives here in London and is on the board at the American Church). After church, we went to the church picnic in Regents Park. Look for us in the church photo:


We had a wonderful time at the picnic — everyone was very welcoming — and it was another beautiful day in London, plus the kids got a chance to play around with other kids. We also had great food as Vivian had brought an amazing spread of delicious picnic food to share with us).

Here we are with the Basden family:


Then we were off to the National Gallery, where the kids drew sketches of some Van Gogh paintings, and then at 5:00, a Harry Potter walk which met at the Embankment tube stop. Finally, back to the flat for dinner. Pasta for the kids again and pre-packaged Indian from Tesco for us. Yum.

Our very full days of sight-seeing are really helping save some money! We are usually so exhausted by dinner-time that's it is impossible to think about going out. It's simpler to eat something easy at the flat and jump right into our jammies!

Today — We began the day with some lessons. Home-schooling has again proven difficult. We've come to the conclusion that people who teach young children are either saints or fools — perhaps both?? But we got through at least a little material (spelling, sentence and poem-writing, and fractions for John; a science report and some textbook math for Margaret).

Then, we went off to Mailboxes, Etc. to send our fancy clothes back to the US. We ran a few other boring errands as well. In the afternoon, we went to the Tower of London and stayed there until it closed at 5:30. We took one of those tours with a Yeoman Warder, aka "Beefeater." Our tour guide was very entertaining. As he was telling us about the young 12-year-old king (Edward V) who, along with his 9-year-old brother (Richard, Duke of York), was murdered so that his uncle could ascend the throne, he focused on John, finally asking John how old HE was. When John said that he was 9 himself, the guide told him that he should be very careful and behave himself, lest he suffer the fate of that young brother of the young king who was murdered by his uncle.

Here we are, at the Tower of London, with the White Tower in the background:


We are continuing to have a great time. The weather has been good, even great at times, which has helped motivate us to keep up this blistering pace. We'll share some more of the kids' thoughts soon.

Posted by jrreisert 12:59 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

London — Day Two

Walking, walking, and more walking

overcast 18 °C
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Day Two in London was a day of walking. We began the day with a lesson or two, but even that was a little too much for John and myself. We had to take morning naps.

Mid-morning, we braved the light rain and headed off to Tottenham Court Road for a walking tour (a two hour walking tour). It was John's choice: a walking tour called "The Magical Mystery Tour." Yes, the Beatles (for those who are unaware, John is a Beatles fan). More information about that below.

Then, we went back to the flat to organize the return of Joe's Kindle (an electronic book), which was accidentally left in the car that delivered us to London. Once that was done and we had had some lunch, we ventured back out. We walked back to the Notting Hill Gate tube stop. It's a longer walk (about 20 minutes), but it's on the Central Line (the closer tube stop, Ladbroke Grove, is on the Hammersmith and City Line, which seems slow and inefficient).

We took the kids to the British Museum. By this time, everyone was tired, but we looked around some impressive Assyrian stuff, plus Greek and Egyptian stuff. We also took a partial tour of early Christian relics. Our first stop, which is the first stop for most tourists, was the Rosetta Stone.


We stayed at the British Museum until about 7:00 and then took the bus back to the flat. We sat in the front seats on the top level of a double-decker bus (the #7 from Tottenham Court Road to Portobello Road) and enjoyed the sights.

Today, we will begin with lessons and then we'll go off to a museum or two. The forecast calls for, guess what?, rain this afternoon, so we'll stick to indoor activities. Perhaps not quite so much walking.


John: I went to the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour!! It is a walking tour of London to show you where the Beatles recorded some of their songs, where Beatlemania started (the Palladium Theater; we saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang there), and where their last concert was. We started at Tottenham Court Road, then to Soho Square to see Paul McCartney's London office. We saw where John Lennon met Yoko Ono and the "Gentleman's Toilet" where John appeared in a skit on television.

During the tour we walked by a fancy supermarket, the only store in London where you can get Skippy peanut butter and fluff!

The last stop on the tour was Abbey Road studios and the famous cross walk, right near the studios. We, along with lots and lots of other tourists, got our picture taken walking on the crosswalk.


The London Flat as Metaphor
On one level, everything in London seems familiar: there are cars, buses, museums, restaurants; they speak English and watch a lot of the same movies we do; and so on. But it is also all just a bit different. The British accents and vocabulary are different from ours and sometimes hard to understand. Familiar as we were with the tube after spending five months here in 2004, we found it hard to figure out which passes to buy. The food looks familiar, but it's all slightly different.

Our efforts to live in this little flat perfectly illustrate the paradox of seeming familiarity combined with utter strangeness. Everything in the flat looks familiar and recognizable. There are electrical outlets, radiators, sinks, appliances, beds, etc. But everything is different, and some of it has been quite a challenge to figure out. The beds seem not to have top sheets: there are bottom, fitted sheets, and the comforters have washable covers, but there are no separate flat sheets below the comforter as there would be in the US. I would have assumed this was due to the (relative) inexpensiveness of this flat, with its all-Ikea furnishings, but that's how the beds on the QM2 were done as well.

When we arrived, the hot water didn't work. As it happens, the hot water heater is on the wall in the kitchen, in its own more or less attractive white container. A red light was flashing, which clearly meant that something was wrong but it was unclear exactly what. It appears that this unit heats water only on-demand, but periodically goes on the fritz for no particularly apparent reason. (Fellows Road was like this also). Some previous renter had scrawled directions in pencil for resetting the unit, and so far that worked.

Next was the challenge of turning on the tv, for which we were at least given directions.

Then came the big tests: could we wash our clothes in the washer/dryer with mysterious controls marked with obscure hieroglyphics rather than words, and could we heat our frozen pizzas in the oven?

The washer, at least, came with two sets of directions. In the apartment renters' manual, we were given a simple set of directions and warned sternly against overloading the unit when it its drying mode. Unlike our dryer at home, which is vented and fans hot air through the clothes as they spin, this unit seems to heat the clothes and desultorily flop them about only intermittently, as the mood strikes it. We were glad to find the handy drying rack tucked away beside one of the wardrobes, so that we can get our clothes dry. The second time we used the washer/dryer, the drying cycle came on spontaneously -- which worried us, since the directions had warned us against letting a whole load of laundry go into the drying cycle. Luckily, the dire prediction in the manual -- that we would need to hire an engineer to open the over-loaded unit, at a cost of £90 -- did not come to pass.

The next challenge was the oven, which was also marked by mysterious graphics, but for which no directions were given.

Here, below, are the controls that confronted us:


The knob on the right sets the temperatures (in centigrade, naturally) but the middle one mystified us. Luckily, all the owners' manuals to all the appliances were stuffed in a bottom kitchen drawer, and some digging turned up the manual for the oven. Elaborate explanations about the right settings for cooking all different cuts of meat were given, and one or two spoke of how to prepare delicate pastries, but in the end we still just had to make a guess about what to do with our pizzas. After doing all that, the darned thing still didn't work — as it happens, all the appliances in the kitchen are on their own individual switches (in addition to the circuit breakers in a box on the wall). After the power came on, we had to program the timer, then guess a setting, then cook our pizzas. By the time the pizzas were ready, we were mighty hungry and ready to eat!

Posted by jrreisert 00:08 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

We are in London!

overcast 17 °C
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Hello all,
We arrived in London yesterday. Of course, it was raining. Our driver, Kent, was great and got us to the hotel where we were to pick up the keys to the flat. And, then we were off to the flat itself. We are staying in the Notting Hill neighborhood of London, a section of London with which we are not very familiar. For those who know London, the closest Tube stop is Ladbroke Grove. We are very near the famous Portobello Road (that's where the closest Tesco is, where we picked up a few groceries yesterday; alas, we have not yet found a Waitrose to buy my favorite chocolate covered biscuits!).

Margaret and I are having the hardest time getting our "land legs" back. The world still seems to be moving to us. Since John and Joseph report that the earth is not actually moving, we are left to assume that our sea legs are still intact and not that the city itself has suddenly developed a slight rocking motion.

Margaret is extremely unhappy that that our voyage has come to an end. She would like to live "the posh, posh traveling life" for much longer. The flat that we have rented is fine, but it's not glamorous. It's up a couple of flights of stairs; no lift! It has two bedrooms, which is nice, but the beds seem tiny. But, it has a washing machine and, most importantly these days, internet access! Last night, we had a glorious dinner of spaghetti and green beans. Not anything like those dinners in Britannia.

We managed to get a little exploring in yesterday. We took the Tube to Trafalgar Square, after walking the length of Portobello Road to the Notting Hill Gate tube stop. We had afternoon tea at the cafe crypt at St.-Martin-in-the-Fields church, one of our favorite places to have tea. The tables are set up on top of the markers that cover the basement of the church. Then, we went over to the National Gallery to check out some art. We found John's favorite painting from four years ago-- an allegorical painting of Cupid and Venus by Bronzino. He seemed less impressed this time. Instead, he preferred Bermejo's St. Michael slaying the devil. He liked the representation of the devil, as the artist used a couple of different animals.

The National Gallery has this nifty room with computers that allow children and families to explore various themes, techniques and/or artists and then to print out a personalized tour. By the time we sorted through some material yesterday, however, the kids were really done for the day. We'll take our personalized tours later in our trip.

We decided to take the bus home to get a better sense of where we were. John, in typical John-style, fell asleep.

Most of the last night was dominated by doing laundry. We are almost caught up, thank goodness!

We shall have some lessons this morning and then we will figure out what kind of adventures we will have today. It is cloudy now, and one forecast calls for light rain later. Another forecast calls for heavy rain. Given the British habit of understatement, we really have no idea what to expect!


Here's John's contribution:

Today I'm writing about the last day of the Queen Mary and the first day of England. Last night, I went to the Dance, and I danced 3 times (with Mom). My parents recognized 5 or 6 songs. I recognized "YMCA" and "Dancing Queen." The last day, we had breakfast in a fancy restaurant [Britannnia — ed.].

In England, we stay in an apartment building on level three but it looks like level 2 on the outside.

I only recognized one place so far, and it is an underground cafe and it has dead bodies in it [the Cafe in the Crypt at St. Martin's — ed.] and I've been on a double-decker bus and a tube.

Margaret and I sleep in the same room with the two twin beds (same with my parents) and a tiny TV room and a tiny bathroom.

Posted by jrreisert 23:04 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

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