Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Our Last Weekend in London

Hello Readers,
We had another Better Halves Club lunch last week.  We met at The White Hart (link), a pub which serves wood oven pizzas similar to The Bull's Head which is one of our favourite restaurants here.  I ordered the White Hart Special pizza which had some meat, veg and hot peppers and was very good.  There were five full and two half members there.  A few people had other engagements so they missed lunch and we had two new members show up.  One of the two newbs is only here for a shorter-than-short term assignment so her and her two cute little half members were a one time occurrence.  Hopefully the other newb can start attending full time.

For the math geeks we had Pi Day in America last week.  March 14th (written 3-14-2013) is commonly called Pi Day because pi is 3.14 in math.  I bring it up because England never has a Pi Day because they write their dates opposite of America.  March 14th is written 14-3-2013 so they weren't aware of the special day.  Kalle educated her teacher on the special day and I educated a few parents as well.  Everyone was thoroughly not impressed.

The week starts off with more snow.  Much different winter than last year which was very mild.  We've had snow on the ground five times this winter and the temperatures are still hovering near the overnight moisture turns into snow/light frost threshold.
 
This past weekend was our last family trip to London. I originally planned on meeting Brandon for the weekend but his work plans changed so we bought a few more train tickets, picked a hotel room, and jaunted on down to London to wrap up the remaining sights on our list.  I say remaining sights because London was one of the places I figured we'd be able to check out in depth but it never happened.  Every long break we went international or UK sightseeing and just never spent as much time in London as I thought we would.  So instead of seeing a lot of London we spent a couple of weekends there and took a couple of day trips.  Kind of strange to think of it, we are only a two hour train ride from one of the largest tourist cities in the world and never found the time to "properly" explore it.  Although we have to admit London is not one of our favourite cities.  It is growing on me a bit but even still, nice place with some very nice sights but not spectacular in our opinions.  I also have decided never to go to London with Lori again.  Three trips, rained three times.  One trip without (my weekend with Brandon) and the weather was absolutely beautiful.  
 
Saturday - Happy St. Urho's Day!  And no purple beer again this year.  There's always next year, right?  That's what the Detroit Lions fans say at least.  ZING!!
 
Our itinerary for the weekend was Tower of London/Crown Jewels, Sea Life Aquarium and British Museum at a relaxed pace.  After taking a Saturday morning train in and dropping off our luggage we dodged the rain drops on our way to the Tower of London (Tower history link).  I went with Brandon last year but the rest of the fam hasn't been there (London with Brandon link) yet so I thought they should see it before we go back.  Plus I really liked it and thought they would as well but was wrong (once again).  Their opinion on the Crown Jewels - "they were nice", on the Tower of London - "it's okay".  Both were impressive in my opinion but I guess the family is done with castles.  As for the Crown Jewels rooms - really family?  I guess they are used to walking through rooms full of gold swords/plates/cups/bowls/platters/other assorted dishes and glittering jewelled crowns/orbs/swords/wands/etc. so the rooms didn't impress them.  The twenty gallon gilded punch bowl and gilded sea shell shaped ladle was a unanimous winner though. 
 
The site dates back 2,000 years to Roman times while the existing castle dates to 1066 and William the Conqueror.  Many kings and queens lived here while other royalty didn't fare so well here.  Queen Anne Boleyn (beheaded) and the Princes of the Tower (disappeared) both died here.  But the royals didn't discriminate against the common man, Guy Fawkes was tortured here as well.  Such a colourful (usually red) history at the royal places.
 
The Tower of London and Tower Bridge behind the wet family.
  
A Royal Bedchamber.

Tower Bridge from the wall walk.  Lori was walking along the wall looking at the bridge when she managed to put her toe in the only broken tile divot along the path.  Down she went.  She then refused to look at the bridge for the rest of our stay at the Tower since it was obviously the bridge's fault she tripped.

Backgammon trivia.

Prisoner graffiti.  This is in the Salt Tower.
 
Model of the castle from late 1300's.

Angry baboons.  Animals (elephant, lions, tigers, etc.) were kept at the Tower.  This was after walking through the Crown Jewels rooms.  On this trip we skipped the Fusiliers Museum and one of the tower exhibits and still managed to spend almost three hours here.

Colourful cannon.

Remnants of the 2nd/3rd C Roman wall.  William the Conqueror selected this spot for his castle because of the existing Roman fortifications.

Harquebusier armour of King James II with pistols.  We are in the White Tower now.

For below.

Read above.

Blackfoot Plains Indian headdress.  This section of the Tower displayed gifts from other countries. 
 
Late 15th C sallet from a weapons cache belonging to The Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem that was discovered in Rhodes.   
 
There was an interesting coin exhibit here.  Coins previously were made when smooth blanks were placed between a stationary lower die (shown above with the spike in the back of them to anchor into the anvil) and the handheld upper die (shown above with the flat backs) then struck.  The English mint was located here for many years and was extremely well guarded. 

Giant examples of coins from Charles I and George II.

I didn't realise that some of the existing coin backs were part of a larger shield pattern. 
 
So when we settled down for the night I went through our coins and found the following shield backed coins.  England has an awful lot of front and back coin combinations for some reason.

Examples of cannons warped or blown apart.  They also had many cannons and mortars on display.

The torture room.  The Manacles looked nasty but not the worst.

The Scavenger's Daughter looked the worst.  Folded in thirds then squeezed tighter and tighter.

Tower and wall picture.  I think that is the Salt Tower.

The Traitor's Gate and Tower Bridge in the distance.  The gate opens onto the Thames.

One of the Bloody Tower residents was Thomas Overbury who also met a suspicious end.  We walked through the Bloody Tower and learned about Walter Raleigh's stay and the Princes of the Tower.  Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days' Queen, was killed here as well.

The Tower Ravens watching us leave for our next destination.
 
Tammy Foster Pic - Typical London river traffic and weather on our way to the London Sea Life Aquarium.  That is the Waterloo Bridge. 

Yeah, the sun is coming out!  And we are in line about to enter the aquarium!  Stupid London.  The Thames, Westminster Bridge, Parliament, Bin Ben and Westminster Abbey are all in the picture.

Lori wanted to see Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum but we didn't see it.  Even with the London 2 FOR 1 Offer (buy one ticket, get a second ticket free with conditions) the entrance cost is criminal.  And only Lori wanted to see it so Indiana Jones here will have to satisfy her curiosity.  Another victory for democracy!
 
The London Sea Life Aquarium (website link) was our next stop.  I finally caved in to the whiners (all three) and added an animal stop to our itinerary.  Every few months we have to look at some animals in order to keep down the peasant revolt.  Overall I thought this place was overpriced and lacking in fish varieties (but definitely not lacking in price) but the whiners all liked it better than the Tower of London so I'm glad we stopped.  (Still not sure how you can like watching stupid, literally, animals swimming in circles more than a 1,000 year old castle but I guess they are all castled out now.) 

The best part of the place was in the first two minutes when you walked over a huge aquarium section.  It's all downhill from here folks.

Brittlestars.

Rays camouflaged in the sand. 

Jellyfish against different coloured backgrounds.  I just missed the deep blue background which was better than the green.

Sharks.  I think this was the tank where Dori (sp?) from Nemo was swimming around.  Finding Nemo is one of the very few kids movies I missed watching when our kids were small so I didn't know what Karl was talking about when he said Dori and pointed at a blue fish.

These guys blended in nicely with the rocks.

Glass Catfish, so named for their transparent bodies.

Piranha school.  I hoping they would toss in a dead chicken or something to liven them up but they all just floated there staring straight ahead like they were listening to Mr. Monotone give the day's lecture. 

Basking in the artificial sunlight.  No real sunlight in London you know.

A bunch of lazy penguins.

Yeah, the sun is still out! And disappears quickly!  The Westminster Bridge is more prominent in this one so I'll give you half credit for this pic Tammy Foster. 

The London Eye.  I considered riding this but the poor weather would have made long range sight seeing pretty poor.  Plus the ever present line deterred us. 

Jeff Seppanen Pic - Back in the hotel room for the night I stumbled upon the hometown Derby County Football Club Rams on Sky Sports.  Go Rams!

The victorious Rams after beating Leicester.  Note how the jersey advertising is prominently displayed across the chest while the team logo is off to the side on the shoulder.  Typical of the European football uniforms.
 
Sunday - Happy St. Patrick's Day!  And no green beer this year either.  Disappointment after disappointment, I'm really starting to feel like a Detroit Lions fan now.
 
We opted to ride to the train station and store our luggage for the day as opposed to storing it at the hotel and picking it up later which was fine until they told us the storage rate.  Eight pound fifty pence per piece.  Ouch.  It wasn't even a keyed locker, it was just a bunch of three tired open storage racks manned by a couple of workers.  But we did it anyway for the sake of convenience. 


Our first stop after dropping off our luggage was 221b Baker Street, the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes.  I read all of the Sherlock Holmes books as a youngster so I wanted to see it while we were this close.  So we saw the outside and moved on. 
 
Our next stop was the British Museum (link), a massive museum with a top five world museum reputation.  We were there about four hours and skipped some rooms and skimmed over others.  This isn't as big as the Louvre but is still tiring.  (On a side note we've realized that we will probably be done touring museums after this adventure ends.  We've been to the British Museum, Louvre and Rijksmuseum already and plan on visiting the Uffizi Gallery and Vatican Museums in Italy soon.  That is five of the top museums in the world we've visited, what else is left to see after visiting those?  That also applies to castles; we've seen Neuschwanstein Castle, Tower of London and Palace of Versailles.  What an adventure we have been on this last year and a half.  And don't forget the churches - Temppeliaukio Church in Helsinki, York Minster, Notre Dame in Paris, and Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  Plus we will be seeing St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona soon and if our plans work out we will be seeing Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland as well.  Heck, we've even been on three of the world's scariest bridges according Yahoo Travel: Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in Northern Ireland, Mackinac Bridge in Michigan, and Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland.  Assist to Steve Frey for sending me the Yahoo Travel list a while ago - thanks Steve.)  The museum has a lot of variety and interesting exhibits but as I touched upon above the museums are starting to blend together now.  Don't get me wrong, the reputation is earned and deserved but it wasn't a "wow" stop for us.  If we had done it at the beginning of our adventure I think it would have been a "wow" stop but I guess we are turning into travel snobs.  Enough snobbery for now so onto the pictures.
 
The British Museum Facade.

The museum's most famous display is the Rosetta Stone.  Karl was really interested in this and read every word on the info boards.

The famous Rosetta Stone.

Stone close up.

Seated Sakhmet (link), an Egyptian goddess.

Lori getting the fist from a colossus fist.

Tomb slab of Neferseshempepy, about 2150 BC.

I liked the Assyrian human-headed winged lions, about 865-860 BC.

Assyrian eagle-headed protective spirit, about 865-860 BC.

Assyrian attack on an enemy town panel, about 865-860 BC.

My buddy George's ancestor, a 1st C Greek warrior stabbing a serpent.

The Nereid Monument, read below.

See above.

Perikles, a Greek citizen and soldier.  This is a 2nd C Roman copy of a 440-430 BC Greek original.

I though this print was fascinating.  See a close up below and read about it two pictures below.

Print close up.

Read about the above print.
 
I found this to be interesting as well, read below.

For the plates above and vases below.

Read about these above.

Teresa Robinett Pic - A horse head from a Greek temple pediment.

Reliefs "borrowed" from the Parthenon in Athens.  One of the prevailing themes when visiting British museums is the vast majority of works "borrowed" from other countries.  One one hand it is nice that these pieces are preserved and on display for people to see in other parts of the world but the other side, keeping the works at home and building museums there to display the items, would be nice as well.  I don't know the state of the Parthenon but I think it would be awesome to see it as close to restored as possible.

Model of the Acropolis, read about it below.

For the model above, hopefully we will get to see it in person this summer.

Floor mosaic I liked.

Lots and lots to look at here.  You can see the different room displays for yourself.

Etruscan cinerary (there's your Word of the Week Auntie "B") urns from 200-100 BC.  In doing my Italy trip research I've been learning about the Etruscans, you can learn about the Etruscans here.

See below, I thought this was neat.

Read about the Portland Vase above.

Marble sculpture of Mithras and friends slaying a bull from 2nd C AD, Roman.

There were a few rooms on currency, here's Fidel stirring the crowd.

Yap stone ring money from early 1900's.  You can go here to read about the Western Pacific Ocean island and their stone money.  I'm guessing this ring is worth a lot.  The sign said the largest (3 metres or 10 feet) stone ring money can not be moved.

Thalia, the Muse of Comedy, 2nd C AD Roman.  She is one of the Greek nine muses.

Inside the museum, this is part of the central staircase and only a small fraction of the museums itself.

For Shirley from our BHC.  Here is St. Agnes after she is condemned to be burned alive but the flames part and refuse to burn her so she is killed by a spear thrust to the throat (or beheaded by a sword in some versions).

The Lewis Chessmen, read about them below.

See above.  I wonder when the red to black colour change happened.

Shishi figures (mythical lion-dogs) from Stoke-on-Trent, 1902.

Fascinating, read below.

For above.  I thought 8,000 years ago was impressive until...
 
Lori saw this.  Read below.

For above.  An 11,000+ year old food processor wins.

Early Bronze Age jugs from 2700 - 2500 BC.

Neat clay cylinder document.
 
Read below.  I thought the 3,000 year old curses was funny.

See above.

The Standard of Ur from about 2500 BC.  It is a hollow box that was carried on poles and was found in a large royal grave with several tomb chambers.

Looks like a child in the jam packed mummy rooms.  What is it about the macabre that fascinates people (me included)?

Mummy of young bull from after 30 BC, Roman.  Bull mummies were more common in Egypt per the info board.

Wall paintings.

Wooden hoe found near the Nile.

Even Kalle thought this was cool.  (KJ is our info board reader while KK typically skips them.)

Easter Island statue from about 1400.  Lori wants to visit here also.  It's a World Heritage Site so I'm in.

Sarawak figurines used to banish disease caused by "offended spirits attacking the soul". 

See below.  I'd try really hard in this game if the losing team was sacrificed by decapitation.

Read about the belt mold above.  I also liked the temper tantrum throwing mohawk baby on the right.

Aztec Fire Serpent, Xiuhcoatl, 1300-1521 AD.

Creepy turquoise mosaic mask of Tezcatlipoca, Mixtec-Aztec 1400-1521 AD.  The human skull under the mask is a nice touch.

We walked into these rooms and Karl said "manor house" with tired disinterest. 

After the museum and a Starbucks coffee we headed up to hopping Camden Town which was alive with pounding music and throngs of people jamming the sidewalks.  It was raining steady now but it didn't seem to deter the crowds.  I can't imagine how much of a party this place is during a sunny summer day.

This sign made me smile.  I guess only the men work here?

Nothing says "living in the projects" like tall bland apartment houses mixed with barren trees, shorter brick apartment houses and pavement as far as the eye can see.  Throw in some drying laundry on the balcony and the look is complete.  I'm sure there was a run down children's park behind the buildings.
 
We are almost done for the day and start walking back to the train station to grab a late lunch and pick up our luggage when I spied the British Library on a street map.  I remember the Freys stopping there to look at the Magna Carta (I couldn't remember exactly what was there but thought it was the Magna Carta) when I read his London trip blog so we stretch goaled our way to the library.  (One of the reasons I like reading other secondees blogs is the ideas I get from them so thanks Steve.)  I didn't realize how close it was to the St. Pancras station.  Literally you walk out the station door, cross the street, turn left and walk one block to the library.  Great way to spend an hour while waiting at the station, plus its free.  By now the Whiner Gang's feet are done so they browsed for a bit then guarded the benches.  KJ said he read everything but I have a feeling he wouldn't pass a comprehension quiz on the works based upon the speed at which he finished it.  I just took my time until Whiny was done done done.  Then we left.
 
The impressive treasures room.  This was my favourite stop of the weekend. 
 
No pictures allowed which was a bummer.  The treasure in the room included a 1215 Magna Carta and a 1297 Magna Carta, an early Gutenberg Bible, one of the three remaining original Tyndale Bibles, many sacred texts from Asia and India, the first book written in English from the 600's AD (that's what they claim at least but I was a little sceptical of how they know that), a da Vinci notebook on a winding staircase design, a Michelangelo notebook, a Durer sketchbook (remember his giant print in the British Museum?), various animal prints from the 1600 - 1700's, early reproductions of Shakespeare works, a Marlowe original book (remember him from Canterbury?), Beethoven's tuning fork, and original sheet music from Beethoven, Mozart, Handel's Messiah, and Ravel's Bolaro.  And more items I either didn't recognise or remember.  I didn't even get to the map section of the room.  But at least we finally saw a couple of the Magna Carta copies.  Success!   

Dana Johnson Pic - Lunch was at YO! Sushi, a sushi carousel conveyor type restaurant.  Kalle introduced the motion, I seconded it, and it was approved two votes to one.  Lori abstained from voting while close minded Karl voted no.   

Kevin Coleman Pic - Sushi tastes better with "Super Dry".

Dana Johnson Pic - A couple of my selections which tasted pretty good.  Kalle and I have converted Karl to the sushi dark side Christy Stine!  Lori is still with the rebel forces however.
 
On a final note we finally have cheap gas/petrol again!  With the price dropping a couple of pence at one of our local stations and the pound getting a little weaker lately gas/petrol is only US $7.83 per US gallon now.  Fill 'er up!
 
Thanks for listening,
Jay

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