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Teachable Moments – Page 2
Dec 292012
 

We ducked out of the British Museum and dashed across the street to Starbucks to use the free WiFi to plan our next move.  As we were waiting for Hubby’s phone to log on, another friend from home appeared.  Since we were craving paintings, he recommended we head over to Trafalgar Square to visit the National Gallery.  We thought that sounded like a great idea.

jarndyce.jpgOn our way to our next destination, we stumbled across Jarndyce Antiquarian Bookseller.  Named after the court case from Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and housed in the building where Randolph Caldecott lived, I couldn’t resist posing for a picture, even if it was raining.

When we arrived at the National Gallery, we immediately marked the rooms on the map that we wanted to focus on.  We had resigned ourselves to being unable to see it all.  I chose the rooms that had artists I had heard of.  The Impressionists were first: Monet, Manet and Renoir.  It was amazing to see the different sizes of the canvases: in books, all art is the same size.  My two favorites in this room were Monet’s Water Lillies and Renoir’s Umbrellas.  All the paintings at the British Museum are available to view online.  I love how free Britain is with its art.  Not only that, but they have a free monthly podcast that takes you behind the scenes of the exhibits.

In the room called “Beyond Impressionism”, I enjoyed Pissaro and Seurat.  Seurat did some “sketches” that were 8 x 11 inch oil on wood pieces to prepare for a very large piece called Bathers at Asnieres.  From there we moved on to Gaugin, Cezanne, Degas, Picasso, and Van Gogh.  I especially enjoyed the geometric paintings of Cezanne and a portrait Picasso did of a well known eccentric which looks like Robin Williams.  Van Gogh’s A Wheatfield, with Cypresses and Sunflowers were so fascinating to see in person.  There is so much depth to his work and you can feel the emotion in the ridges of paint.

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Having seen the Impressionists that I was most excited about, we moved on (or rather back) to the 16th and 17th century masters: JordaensRubensVan DyckLeonardoVermeer, and Rembrandt.  I had never heard of Jordaens before.  His portrait of the Holy Family with St. John the Baptist really grabbed me because of Mary’s face: she looks so young.  jordaens-holy-family-with-john-the-baptist.jpg

The Rubens paintings were full of fat and naked people like I remembered, but the paintings by Van Dyck, his student, were absolutely huge portraits of royalty and other important people.  It seems he would paint the subjects in a very flattering light – forget realism.  It turns out I don’t like Rembrandt that much.

My soul was renewed by the beauty of all that we saw.  I was intrigued by the way I was drawn in to some paintings and could walk right by others without a second thought.  I found I really prefer paintings over artifacts and like my paintings to convey deep feelings.  Not bad for an afternoon at a FREE museum.

 Posted by at 10:27
Dec 282012
 

After a day of marathon sight seeing, we slept in a bit on Saturday.  Since it was the weekend and we were slower to get moving, the lifts were busier and the breakfast lines were longer. We lingered over breakfast with friends, savoring their stories, and then set off for the British Museum.

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Just a few blocks from our hotel, the British Museum is completely free and stuffed with artifacts andtreasures from all over the world.

king-george-iiis-room.jpgWe made the mistake of not planning our visit.  Instead we just headed into the first exhibit we saw.  This turned out to be a room filled with random treasures from all over the world that was collected by King George III.

The best part of this room was the hands-on table where you could handle various artifacts under the supervision of a docent who explained the history and significance of the items.  One of the tables was staffed by a docent and two preteens who wore buttons printed with “I’m taking over.”  They had undergone training to learn about the items and were allowed to spend a day at the Museum being the ‘experts’.  It was a pretty cool program. We got to handle a panel from a relic box that was made to hold a bone from a dead saint.  Beautiful piece of art – kinda creepy purpose.hands-on.jpglooking-at-cabinet.jpg

After being completely overwhelmed by that room, we looked at the map and choose our next move carefully.  

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The British Museum is home to the Rosetta Stone.  As a linguistics major, the Rosetta Stone was a priority.  We made a beeline to see the huge piece of rock which was inscribed with a decree by Ptolomy V from about 200 BC in three different languages.  When it was discovered in 1799, it was the first text to provide a translation key for Egyptian hieroglyphics.  Up until this point, no one was sure if hieroglyphic symbols were sound units or meaning units. The term ‘Rosetta Stone’ has come to mean the crucial key to unlocking information.  As we approached the Rosetta Stone, we bumped into a few of our friends.  It’s a bit surreal to see people out of context.piriosjeffromy.jpg

After the Rosetta Stone, we headed to the Elgin Marbles.  They are pieces of the Parthenon and other buildings from the Acropolis of Athens.  elgin-marbles.jpg

The Earl of Elgin was the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century and received ‘permission’ to remove about half of the Parthenon.  

temple.jpgThey were purchased by the British government and placed on display in the British Museum. Eventually, they constructed a customized gallery to display the pieces.  The debate continues about whether they should remain in London or be returned to Greece.  It is quite amazing how many huge pieces were brought over.  As we walked out of one room, I overheard a teenager ask her parents “How did they move an entire temple?”  It’s a good question.

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We identified “Mummies” as our next destination and wandered through rooms and rooms of ancient dead people.  jon-mummies.jpg

Then we moved on to more Greek, Roman andAssyrian artifacts.  rock-sun.jpg

Some of the pieces spoke to me more than others. These busts of ancient philosophers reminded us of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.

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At that point, I was yearning to see a painting or drawing.  I’d had enough of artifacts.  

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We checked the map and found that there was only one room of the British Museum with two dimensional art: a collection of Spanish drawings. They looked alot like illustrations from old newspapers.

We were surprised to find a ‘cartoon’ by Michaelangelo tucked into a corner of one room.  

michaelangelo-cartoon.jpgSomeone who lived close could spend a lifetime exploring the treasures of the British Museum for absolutely free.  Pretty amazing!

Having reached the end of our rope, we checked the map again for things we would regret missing.  There were two rooms dedicated to the history of clocks. 

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I know, this doesn’t sound like a ‘must see’, but a friend of mine is married to a clock guy and I thought he might appreciate some pictures of cool clocks.  It was amazing to see how clocks have evolved over time and how creative clockmakers have been.

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After the clocks, we surrendered to our mental overload and headed across the street to Starbucks to plan our next move.

 Posted by at 23:04
Dec 282012
 

When we emerged from the underground labyrinth of the Churchill War Rooms, it was pitch dark.  We headed towards 10 Downing Street which is nearly unrecognizable behind iron gates and security barriers.  Finding ourselves on the backside of the Horseguards building, we picked our way across the yard and backwards through the central archway which is the official entrance to St. James Palace.  The city is beautiful at night and very safe to walk around in, so we headed towards the river and spent some time wandering along the Thames including exploring the Golden Jubilee Bridge and taking more pictures of St. Paul’s.st-pauls-from-bridge-night.jpg

The London Eye at Night.  The whole area is lit with shades of blue and purple.

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There are quite a few monuments and statues along the Thames including Cleopatra’s Needle, one of three obelisks removed from Egypt in the 1800’s.  The others are in Paris and New York after a storm busted up the original shipment. cleopatra-needle-plaque.jpg

 

 

The plaque attributes the acquisition of the needle to “the patriotic zeal” of Erasmus Wilson.

 

A view of The Savoy from the Golden Jubilee Bridge.

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Crazy nuts that we are, we decided to just walk back to the hotel so we could explore a bit more.  More like Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Chinatown,  and Bloomsbury. 

The National Gallery at Trafalgar Square at Night. trafalgar-square-night.jpg

 

st-martin-in-the-fields.jpgSt. Martin in the Fields church.


 

 

Best known to us as the church where the soundtrack to Amadeus was recorded. The current building dates back to the 1500’s and the church is now known locally as “The Church of the Open Door” and reaches out to the homeless in the area.

 

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Chinatown.

 



Lots of restaurants everywhere. I liked this window and made Hubby take the picture below.ducks-in-window.jpg

After sufficient wandering, we found our way back to an Indian restaurant that friends had recommended and finished our marathon day with some wicked curry and naan.

give-way.jpg Then we gave up.

 Posted by at 13:50
Dec 272012
 

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Under the Clive Steps beneath the Treasury buildings in Whitehall are the “Churchill War Rooms”, the underground complex where Prime Minister Winston Churchill centered his administration during World War II from 1940 to the 1945 surrender of Japan.  It was sealed up until the 1980’s when it came to the attention of a Member of Parliment who insisted that the rooms be opened to the public.  

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A gas mask with communications modifications so that the government could continue to function even in the direst of circumstances.

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The original rooms are now part of a museum with the original furnishings arranged as they were during the war.  The map room even has the map with the original pin holes showing the troop movements throughout the war.  The remainder of rooms have been turned into an exhibit about Churchill’s life from birth to death. 

 

After a long day soaking in all the sights, we bailed on the museum before we saw even half of it.  It deserved much more time and attention than we had to give.  Sometimes you just have to move on.with-the-guard.jpg

 Posted by at 11:47
Dec 192012
 

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Emerging from the Tube when it stops at Westminster station, you are confronted with a series of 6 different exit choices, we chose one and headed for the surface to be greeted by this:

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Take a few more steps and you see this:

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And just a bit further on, there’s this:

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Not only was it a gorgeous day, but Hubby took amazing pictures of phenomenal sights!

We got to hear Big Ben chime, watch the Eye go round (we’ll ride it on the next trip), and marvel at the Coades Lion.

 

What’s the Coades Lion, you say?

The Coades Lion is a beautiful stoneware piece that stands on Westminster Bridge.  It has an amazing history and a bit of cool science behind it.  The Lion is made of Coades Stone which was formulated during the 1700’s.  It is an especially durable type of ceramic which must be fired for a long time at a very high temperature.  The Coades formula was used by English painter and sculptor William Frederick Waddington in 1837.  Waddington made two lions, painted them red and placed them on a parapet above the Lion Brewery which once stood on the shore of the Thames near the factory where the stone was produced.  The lions survived the blitz only to be ousted when the brewery was torn down in 1950 to build the Royal Festive Hall.  King George VI saved the lion by royal decree and had it moved to a spot on Westminster Bridge for the Festival of Great Britain.  After the festival, it was moved around a bit and came to rest in 1966 at it’s current location.

Now for the science.  Coade stone itself is an artificial ceramic material, invented by Eleanor Coade, made from a mixture which is called “fortified” clay.  Miss Coade’s mixture was sold for decades across Britain and into North America and Russia until Coade’s Arficial Stone Manufactory went out of business in and production ended in the early 1840’s.  A mixture of flint, quartz, glass, raw clay and a ground-up, pre-fired clay called ‘grog, Coade Stone is apparently the most waterproof and durable stone ever made.  The formula was believed lost until the 1970’s when the British Museum Research Laboratory worked out the composition of the stone.  In 1987, the first modern piece of Coade Stone was produced. Woo Hoo!

 Posted by at 17:21
Dec 192012
 

1666.  

Pudding Lane.

Christopher Wren.  

For those of us in the U.S., that probably doesn’t mean much, but you can’t stay in London long before someone mentions The Great Fire. The fire, which began in a bake shop at 1 a.m., burned for 4 days and destroyed 80% of the city.   The Monument near Pudding Lane and Fish Hill Street was built just a decade after the fire by Sir Christopher Wren at the request of the king to commemorate the fire and celebrate the rebuilding of the city.smallmonument-sign.jpg

Because the Monument is 202 feet high (the exact distance between it and the site where the fire began), the views of the city are marvelous from the viewing platform (160 feet up) – or so I am told.  It’s 311 steps to the viewing platform and I just have to say that it didn’t seem worth it to me.  My feet were already sore and blistered and my lower half was quavering from fatigue.  (We had developed a habit of skipping the Tube in favor of walking if it was only one or two stops to our destination.)smallmonument-stairs.jpg

The atmosphere around the base of the Monument brought to mind the phrase “down by the docks.”  We were just a few blocks off the Thames and there was construction everywhere around us, disturbing and hopeful at the same time.  I perched myself on a wooden bench with the pigeons and lunching construction workers while Hubby climbed the spiral staircase with his camera.  

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I sat craning my neck to catch site of Hubby at the top.  How long does it take to climb 311 steps?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A gaggle of school girls arrived about 10 minutes after Hubby started his climb.  They reminded me of the children’s picture book Madeleine: two dozen preteen girls dressed in blue uniforms listening attentively to their lovely, animated tour guide and shooting their eager hands up at every question.  madeline-madeline-27937214-500-315.jpg

They didn’t climb, but moved away towards their next destination.  A short time after that, a somewhat rag tag group of 8-year olds arrived with their handlers who corralled them at the base, handed each pair of kids a digital camera and scooted them up the stairs.  I was struck by the contrast between the two groups: one that talked about the Monument and the other that experienced the height and the views.  I think I can guess which kids will remember their trip more vividly. Teachable Moment captured.

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Hubby soon descended intact, eager to show me some of his gorgeous shots. We scanned through them quickly and then wobbled off to the Tube station to rest on our way to our next destination.

 Posted by at 14:18
Dec 182012
 

On our morning at the Tower of London, I was fascinated by many aspects of the history of the buildings, the royals, and how they both changed over time.  Among the most interesting (and disturbing) stories were those involving all the animals that lived at the Tower.  Of course the most famous and enduring are the Ravens. ravens.jpg 

According to legend, if the six ravens ever leave the tower, the kingdom will fail.  Charles II was the first to insist that the ravens be protected and maintained in the fortress and there is still a Raven Master in the Yeoman Warders today caring for the SEVEN resident ravens (six and a spare). Even though they have one wing trimmed, they have been know to ‘fly the coop’ – one was recently spotted outside a pub on the East End.  Another, Raven George, was sacked for eating tv antennas.

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All sorts of different animals were given to the ruling monarchs over the years.  The first record of animals at the Tower were lions in the early 1200’s.  By the 1600’s, the lions were made to fight other animals for the enjoyment of the visitors.  The first grizzly bear ever seen in England was a gift from the Hudson Bay Company to George III in 1816.  Among my favorites were the ‘white’ bear which was a gift of the King of Norway to Henry III in the 1250’s and was kept chained to the tower wall, but allowed to swim in the Thames to catch fish to eat.  2polar-bear.jpg

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Henry III must have been an animal lover because just a few years later, the King of France sent a male African Elephant.  They really didn’t know how much room an elephant required so they built a 20 by 40 ft room.  Fail.

Other animals were fed unusual diets, either because no one knew any better or the animals seemed to enjoy it: Ostriches ate nails and Zebras drank ale. Various visitors were mauled and even killed by these animals because they were treated as ‘pets’ rather than as the wild animals that they were. In the 1830’s, all the remaining animals were sent to the nearby London Zoo in Regent’s Park, putting an end to the Royal Menagerie.

 Posted by at 20:49
Dec 172012
 

23-11-12

*In my journal, this day starts with the words “Happy Birthday E!”  My middle child turned 15 while we were in London and I was feeling a slight twinge of guilt, but trusted that his sibling, grandparents and cousins would take care of him.

Through our travel agent, we were able to get some London Passes at a reduced rate.  The London Pass allows you free access into as many of the attractions on their list as you can in 24 hours.  In order to make the most of the passes, we started early on that Friday after Thanksgiving.  The top of our list was the Tower of London.  The Tower is still a functioning royal palace as well as an amazing historic castle.  It turned out to be one of the major highlights of our trip.

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The original stone tower (The White Tower) was started on the banks of the Thames River in the 1070’s by William the Conqueror to be used as a fortress-stronghold.  The Tower was protected by two existing Roman walls, the Thames and some strategically dug ditches.  Beginning with Richard the Lionheart around 1189, work was begun on the other structures that still exist today.

 

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A recent addition to the Tower is the ice skating rink that was built in the area that was once the moat.  They filled the moat with earth in 1855 because it was causing illness and the stench of stagnant water was making it a very unpleasant, although historically accurate, experience.

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Early birds that we are, we arrived in time to see the royal guard accompanied by a Yeoman Warder march out and unlock the main gate to the Tower.   The Yeoman Warder are the ceremonial guards who are chosen by the Queen based on their outstanding military service to live and work at the Tower, leading tours, passing on the history, caring for the Ravens, and protecting the Crown Jewels.yeomans-houses.jpg

The Yeoman Warders’ Houses in the walls surrounding the Tower of London.

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After exploring the various buildings and areas of the Tower on our own for a bit, we joined one of the Yeoman Warder tours lead by a Beefeater named Andy.  (No one knows exactly why they’re called Beefeaters, but it may be because they were allowed as much meat as they wanted from the royal table so they had strength to defend the Tower.)

 

 

 

 

 

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Andy led us through the grounds of the Tower telling the brief history of each building and explaining how it functions today. The tour itself ended inside the Tower of London Chapel, St. Peter ad Vincula (“Peter in chains”) where Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey are buried.  They were all prisoners in the Tower and each executed on Tower Green just outside the Chapel windows.  While we sat in that Chapel, I was again struck by where I was – the actual location of so many famous happenings that shaped England and the world.

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jubilee-diamond.jpg After the tour, we made our way through the Waterloo Barracks where the Crown Jewels are currently housed.  As with every other museum, gallery, and historical landmark we visited, the security seemed light.   Hubby took a picture of the 35 carat Queen’s Jubilee Diamond before being warned by the ONE security guard that photos weren’t allowed.

We wandered quickly through the Bloody Tower where the bodies of 12 year old Prince Edward V and his younger brother Richard were found after their murder in 1483.

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One room in the Bloody Tower housed Sir Walter Raleigh on and off for a total of 13 years. They have recreated his study so you can see where he spent his days – pretty posh for a prisoner accused of plotting again James I and failing to find the city of El Dorado.walter-raleighs-study.jpg


henry-viii-armor.jpgThe White Tower (the oldest structure) is now home to military themed displays: horses, weapons, and armor. The picture is of King Henry VIII’s armor. Either he was well endowed or paranoid. Although I suppose he could have just been a braggart.

 

The Beauchamp Tower was used to house many of the most important religious and political prisoners including some amazing graffiti artists.  The walls of some rooms are filled with carvings from prisoners both known and unknown.beauchamp-tower.jpgup-the-staircase.jpgthomas-abell.jpg

 

Can tell what this guy’s name was? (right)

 

 

 

 

We did finally reluctantly tear ourselves away from the Tower, mostly because we were starving.  We ate some passable take-away fish and chips and headed for our next destination.  Before we left, Hubby took a picture of the Tower Bridge (built in the late 1800’s).

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 Posted by at 21:15
Dec 132012
 

Once the service at St. Paul’s was over and we had Skyped with our kids to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving, we were a bit at loose ends.  Of course I had a list of things that I wanted to do while we were in London but, honestly, we were totally mentally exhausted.  Since we were also on a pretty tight budget, we were looking for something free or cheap to occupy our Thanksgiving night.

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Opting for “Free”, we headed up Oxford Street to The Photographer’s Gallery to browse their free exhibit featuring the portrait photography of an Irish photographer named Tom Wood.  The exhibit was called “Men & Women” and was a simple room divided in half.  The photos featuring men ran along two walls in an ‘L’ shape while the ones featuring women ran along the two opposite walls.   We savored the photos and chose our personal favorites, 3 from the men and 3 from the women.  I had to expand the rules to allow 3 black and white and 3 color from each category since I couldn’t narrow it down.  One of my overall favs is called  “Three Wise Women” and features three elderly ladies shuffling through the dirt lot of a ‘car boot sale’ in Liverpool.  They each carry an item as they navigate the ruts and trash.  My other favorites are not as popular: Rag & Bone Owner” (image #6) featuring a middle-aged blond bombshell driving a forklift full of trash around her warehouse and  “Charlie and Alan” (image #1) another black and white of an old man and a young boy.

The gift shop of The Photographer’s Gallery was full of art and photography books, any of which could have occupied me for hours, but instead we bought a postcard featuring a black and white photo of the Sex Pistols messing around at a diner in Luxemborg in 1977.  (Postcards are a great way to collect your favorite art and photos for cheap!)

Since we weren’t hungry yet, we decided to do a little wandering and explore Soho.  

down-carnaby.jpgWe stumbled onto Carnaby Street which had been the center of Mod fashion in the 60’s as well as the stomping grounds for bands such as Small Faces, The Who, and The Rolling Stones.

They were holding a 20% sale at every store in the lane and various stores had brought in live bands to entertain the crowds.

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Since we had no desire to shop for clothes and no room in our suitcases anyway, we stuck to soaking up the atmosphere. We strolled past the Shakespeare’s Head Pub and underneath giant record displays celebrating The Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary and advertising their 2012 compilation album “GRRR!”rolling-stones-records.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just off of Carnaby Street, there is a giant mural celebrating local artists called “The Spirit of Soho.”  It’s quite amazing to see what a rich history the area has: Handel, Mozart, Casanova, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Dylan Thomas, and Karl Marx are each featured along with 49 other local luminaries.spirit-of-soho-mural.jpg

After walking for a few hours, we were ready for dinner so we scooted off to Oodle Noodle (before they closed this time).  Hubby ordered duck in the spirit of adventure and we warmed ourselves with Green Tea before we called it a night.

 Posted by at 17:57
Dec 132012
 

With my feet throbbing in protest, I followed the group past the courtyard of St. Paul’s which used to be used as a marketplace for booksellers and publishers including John Newbery (considered the Father of Children’s Literature and namesake of the Newbery Medal). We walked over a few blocks, past Milk Street and Bread Street (those clever Brits), to St. Mary-Le-Bow Church to have Thanksgiving lunch in the cafe now housed in the crypt. le-bow-steps.jpg

It may sound like an odd choice for Thanksgiving – no turkey, no stuffing, no pumpkin pie, no football – but it was outstanding on many levels.  in-the-crypt-line-small.jpg

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The twelve bells of St. Mary-Le-Bow are called Bow’s Bells and it is said that to be born within the sound of Bow’s Bells makes you a true Cockney. Having once played the Artful Dodger in Oliver, I felt right at home.

It was also the sound of Bow’s Bells that the BBC World Service broadcast into Occupied Europe during WWII.

The crypt itself dates back to 1090 while the current church building was designed by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666 and completed in the 1670’s.  The steeple had to be rebuilt after it was destroyed by a bomb during the Blitz and it took 20 years to get the bells ringing again.  

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The courtyard of St. Mary-Le-Bow contains a statue of Captain John Smith, founder of Jamestown and leader of the Virginia Colony who worshipped here when he wasn’t off in the new world.

As we settled into the crypt, it was great to sit back and reflect on the morning.  Hubby had a hamburger and I had the most delicious Beef, Mushroom and Guinness Pie.  We split a Treacle Tart for dessert.  Treacle Tart is Harry Potter’s favorite dessert and is much like a pecan pie without the pecans.

Since my feet were screaming bloody murder by this point, I limped back to the Tube and headed straight for my tennies back at the hotel. We had told our children that we would Skype them that day, so we headed over to Starbucks to make use of the free WiFi (the hotel charged).  Our connection was not strong enough to support video so we stuck to audio to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving and find out what they’d been up to. They seemed to be surviving so we kept it short. Once we hung up, all our have-to’s were done for the day. Next came the want-to’s.  What to do?  What to do?

 Posted by at 08:21