June 28, 2007
On this date in 1946, my mom and dad got married! My dad has been gone many years, but we still think about him and miss him.
This morning Susan and I went first to the Italian Gardens, which seem to be at the northern end of the dividing line between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, where there are small ponds and a pretty little stone building and where a couple of swans hang out. This is quite near the hotel. Then we angled on down through Hyde Park, sort of following the curve of the waterway--I guess it's kind of a fake river--across the park and down to Knightsbridge Road on the southside. Then we turned toward the Wellington Monument, which is in a small park which is basically surrounded by a traffic circle. This is where the New Zealand monument and other monuments related to the military are located also. By the time we reached the front of Buckingham Palace, it was about 11, and the Changing of the Guard is scheduled for 11:30, so we stayed there to watch the first part of it.
If I understand correctly what happens there, we saw the entrance of the new guard for the day (or shift, or whatever), but didn't hang around for the exit of the previous guard which apparently takes place about 30 minutes later after some kind of rigamarole inside the gates which we were really too far away to see. There were a lot of tourists there. There is also motor traffic coming through right in front of the Palace and around the Queen Victoria Memorial which also seems to function as the center of a traffic circle. So they stop traffic for a few minutes while one portion of the Guard comes in; then traffic flows again; then they stop some more traffic for another section of the Guard to come in; then some guys come through on horses; and then they all get inside the gates, I think, and then after whatever it is that happens in there, the guys getting relieved come out and march away.
Here's a photo of some of the new guys coming in. We're seeing them from behind, because they have already passed us by--we were across the traffic circle from the Palace--and are about to go into the gates of the Palace:
This is a batch of guys on horseback. I think they're called the Horse Guard. They don't have the fuzzy hats, but instead are wearing more helmety-looking things, with tassels on them. They came up The Mall (which is a road), as did at least one of the marching groups, and came around on the left side of the Queen Victoria Memorial and toward the front of the Palace. So they have also already passed us in this photo, and that's why you have the horses' rear ends to see! (Some of the policemen around the Palace and circle acted like horses' rear ends. . .)
The Queen's flag was flying over the Palace which means that she was in residence there today. Susan got a photo of that, but I didn't. This is my "arty" photo of the day--a close-up of some of the lamps at one of the Palace gates, with dark storm clouds behind.
After we left the Changing, we went down toward Westminster Abbey and had lunch in the Methodist building there. It's some kind of conference center and has "Wesley's Cafeteria" in the basement. Susan got a mixed salad meal there: I got tea and some fries to go along with my can of tuna. And--this is important--if you come to the cafe and have something to eat or drink, you can also use the restroom for free! The public restrooms across the street--between the Methodist building and the Abbey--cost 50 pence (about a dollar) to use.
Susan was pretty wowed by the Abbey too, and I was pleased to visit it again. Such a beautiful beautiful building. After our visit there, we went into the gift shop for a little browsing (Susan found some Lewis coat of arms magnets for her brothers and dad) and I stumbled across a little pamphlet-style book that lists the people who are buried or have memorial plaques in the Abbey. I found that Thomas Hardy's ashes are buried there, but his heart was removed from his body before he was cremated, and his heart is buried in Dorset. He is next to Dickens.
We roamed on down by the Houses of Parliament and Rodin's Burghers of Calais, the monument celebrating the abolition of slavery, and down to the Tate Britain. Susan discovered that she rather likes the portraits of John Singer Sargent, and I got to look at Edward Burne-Jones's paintings again, as well as a bunch of the Turner paintings.
We had a picnic-y kind of supper at the Marble Arch park, with a duck looking on most of the time. Finally we gave him a little chunk of apple, which he spurned, but he was quite happy to have a few bits of my croissant. I didn't mind feeding him--though he probably needs to be more self-sufficient--but I don't believe in feeding pigeons (which is, anyway, against the law in London!)
We found a Starbuck's with functioning wifi, so I could catch up on yesterday's email and get a Travel Log posting done. It was a big Starbuck's, with a very large basement full of tables and chairs. And very noisy. I didn't stay online as long as I might--I didn't check for comments at Travel Log--or even look to see if today's posting looked all right, because I was by then "flagging", as I usually say. Besides the fact that we had had a very long day, London has gotten to me. Whether it's how wet and chilly it's been, or if it's just the enormous amount of plant life, I've begun a sinus meltdown. Sigh. And believe me--you can look in half a dozen stores in the London megalopolis before you find a simple roll of cherry drops to soothe a sore throat! I didn't want menthol or eucalyptus or anything to upset my stomach--just cherry-flavored sugar! Apparently Life-Savers don't exist in England. Finally I found Bassett's Cherry Drops in a little shop called "Food & News". Pleased me mightily.
Signing off with a sore throat and looking toward a probably restless night. . . .
June 29, 2007
At some point during the night, my sinus meltdown shifted into phase three. The raw throat mostly quits at that point, and instead I get a kind of hoarseness and tickly throat which is much less painful. I always like moving from phase two to phase three.
Here's a complaint, which may also be a warning suggestion. Both yesterday and today Susan and I bought "one-day passes", good for as many bus rides as you want, because a single bus ride is 2 pounds, and the one-day pass is "only" 3 pounds 50 pence. In our case, it hasn't been a bargain either day. Each day we only got one real ride out of the pass, our first of the day. Today's situation was especially annoying: we waited while several buses of various numbers passed by until we finally got one we could use, and then we got a driver who apparently didn't know where he was going. Twice he stopped at bus stops, got off the bus, and--as far as we could tell--either asked another bus employee what to do or just looked at the bus map to see what he was supposed to do. When he got back on the bus the first time, one of the other passengers was telling him how to get back to where he needed to be to get us on track again. After about 20 minutes, we had gone maybe a quarter-mile. So we got off the bus and tried to catch another one. Didn't work out, and we ended up walking back to the hotel. Really annoying.
At least on the morning run, the bus took us right where we needed to go--the British Museum--and we had a good time there. A few years ago, they redid the courtyard of the museum, enclosing it, putting in gift shops, coffee shop and restaurant, and big curving staircases. Here's a shot, looking up at the transparent roof. Look carefully and you can spot some birds sitting on the roof:
Somehow on my first visit I missed the Rosetta Stone, although I must have walked right past it. Probably it was surrounded by a crowd, my eye was caught by other Egyptian artifacts more easily spotted, and I didn't even notice what I had done. The Rosetta Stone is the big piece of rock from about 200 BC which allowed scholars to begin to decode Egyptian hieroglyphics. It's an inscription from one of the Ptolemies (the Greek "pharaohs" of Egypt in the centuries after the death of Alexander the Great: the last was Cleopatra), which is given in three forms--Egyptian hieroglyphs, Egyptian demotic (another form of Egyptian writing) and ancient Greek. It was found in 1799 by the French forces which had invaded Egypt the previous year. Since scholars could easily read the Greek, they started working from the Greek to get to the Egyptian. A French guy named Champollion finally cracked it in 1822 or so.
Today as Susan and I wandered through the Egyptian sculpture and statuary, we seemed to have started a short-lived trend by taking a picture of one or the other of us, with arm outstretched beside this monumental arm/fist of Amenhotep III:
This arm and hand are kept next to a monumental head of Amenhotep, though I don't know if they actually belonged to the same statue once upon a time. Amenhotep III was an immensely wealthy pharaoh whose predecessors had engaged in a lot of military campaigns and created the "Egyptian empire". After his father died young, Amenhotep became pharaoh as a boy and reigned for almost 40 years, during which time he mostly built things and spent money. He was also probably either the father or grandfather of Tutankhamen, "King Tut". Scholars still disagree about that issue.
The boy in the background right of this photo may give you some idea of the size of this Egyptian falcon--though the boy is back a distance. The falcon was normally associated with the god Horus, who was the son of Ra the sun-god. The reigning pharaoh was also considered to be Horus.
Not far from the Egyptian collection is the Assyrian collection. Those of you who read the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible historical books will remember the Assyrians for all the problems they caused the kingdoms of Judah and Israel in the centuries after kings David and Solomon. And you English majors might think of Lord Byron's poem about Sennacherib coming down like a wolf on the fold. Their palaces were full of wall relief carvings like this one:
While the relief carvings from the Parthenon may be the most noted Greek sculptures in the Museum, today I offer you this bronze head, once thought to be Homer, but now assumed to be the dramatist Sophocles, who wrote the dramas about Oedipus the King.
After leaving the Museum, we wandered along Great Russell Street for a bit. Susan went into a souvenir shop to look for some gifts and I visited a bookseller specializing in nineteenth century authors. I didn't buy anything (I am after all scheduled to visit the "book town" Hay-on-Wye, week after next), but saw some nice items: a really nice copy of cantos XII-XIV of Lord Byron's Don Juan as well as copies of some of his other books which had lost their covers.
A little further down the street we had lunch at a little diner which had "jacket potatoes" (baked potatoes), sandwiches and Italian ice cream. I had a jacket potato with butter; Susan had a ham-and-cheese sandwich. And then it was on to the National Gallery to see Leonardo, Velázquez, Caravaggio, Turner and other artists. Then, on our way back to Oxford Street (and our failed bus ride to the hotel), I went into the foreign language bookstore to buy a novel by a South American author while Susan browsed a "vintage clothing" store next door.
Later we had the excitement of going to a laundromat to wash clothes before changing hotels tomorrow to get ready for the bus tour. As in Malta, laundry is expensive, as much as 3 pounds 60 pence (more than $7) to wash one double-load of clothes; 2 to 3 pounds to run a dryer for thirty minutes! How do the locals afford to wash their clothes? I don't get it. And by the time all this was over, I didn't have the energy to try to get to Starbuck's and post yesterday's log or answer your email.
But I did have the energy to shower up. Have I mentioned this bathroom? The double room is substantially larger than the single room--maybe three times as big, maybe a little more--but the bathroom is essentially the same, although less conveniently arranged. Imagine a room which is, at the entrance, barely wider than the doorway itself. As you step in, the sink is on your right. Its back set back just a few inches from the door-frame; its front sticks out into into your line of passage as you enter. Just past the sink, directly in front of you is the toilet. Here the bathroom widens out: the shower stall is to the right of the toilet, in a recess past the sink. But the shower stall is also on a platform about 10-12 inches higher than the rest of the floor. To get into it, you have to turn right, just past the sink, and step up between the sink and the toilet, both of which are just a few inches to either side of you. Getting out is a little trickier, of course, because you are wet as you step down to the main floor. There is no room to speak of to dry off, without bumping into the wall or the sink, just as it's virtually impossible to take a shower without repeatedly banging into the (plexi?)glass sides of the shower stall, which is absolutely no more than 3 feet to a side, and maybe a few inches less. Believe it or not, it's less convenient to use than the bathroom in my Casita travel trailer was--and that travel trailer was under one hundred square feet large!
If you don't hear from me (email or Travel Log) for the next week, it's because I'm on a bus tour of England, Wales and Ireland and can't get Internet access!