Monday, July 29, 2013

England {day 8}

Not a lot to show for this day because we spent the morning packing and tidying the flat and then took the train back to France. But we snuck in a couple last fun things.

First, breakfast at a restaurant near our flat. Thomas got to have his favorite full English breakfast one more time.

And THEN, just before heading to St. Pancras to catch our train, we stopped by King's Cross Station (conveniently just across the street) so I could get my picture taken at Platform 9 3/4. 
waiting for my turn
There are plenty of Harry Potter tours in London and Oxford too, but they are tours of locations where the movies were filmed. Since I prefer to pretend the movies don't exist, none of those even remotely interested me. This, however, is a legitimate Harry Potter site.

There were people there from some shop in the station where they try to sell you the picture they take of you. This is only worth mentioning because they give everyone their choice of Hogwarts scarves to wear for their picture. It was a tough choice between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw.

The guys with the scarves also toss your scarf up in the air so you can look like you're in motion going through the barrier, ha ha.

Once I got my picture, it was sadly time to say good bye to England. We took the train back through the Chunnel, back to Paris, and then caught another to Gien. It was so sad to leave, but at the same time so exciting to have Mr. James waiting for us at the train station. He was SO cute and excited to have Mommy and Daddy back. Never having left him before, I had also never gotten to have a reunion with him, and that was extremely sweet.

It was nearly the perfect week, the perfect introduction to London and England. There are many things I'd still like to do and see and plenty of things I'd love to do again. I can't wait until the next time I get a chance to travel there.

England {day 7}

Our last full day in England started out with a wonderful visit to St. Paul's Cathedral.
that's me way down on the bottom
I LOVED St. Paul's. My favorite church we saw in London, hands down. We couldn't take pictures inside, but if you haven't been there, just trust me that it is breathtakingly beautiful. Really just stunning. The vibrant color of the ceiling mosaics and the vastness of the dome particularly impressed me. Unlike Westminster, where you cannot walk without stepping on graves, St. Paul's has a separate crypt in the lower level. I so wish we could have taken pictures there because the two biggest tombs are the Duke of Wellington's and Horatio Nelson's, and a picture of Thomas with either of them would have been priceless. After our visit to the crypt, we climbed the dome. Thomas is extremely afraid of heights and I told him he did not have to go with me, but he decided to do it anyway. There are three levels to which you can climb, and we did all of them. St. Paul's website shows just how high we went. The first level, The Whispering Gallery, is inside so we have no pictures of that, but the other two levels were outside. The second level, The Stone Gallery, has tall enough and thick enough barriers that Thomas was fine there.
beautiful views of London
The Golden Gallery, the very highest level, had no such barriers, just a much smaller fence and an extremely narrow walkway around the dome. Thomas was terrified out of his wits (I was a little scared too, but compared to Thomas, it is barely worth mentioning).
Poor Thomas. I told him he didn't have to come.
and a view from the very top.
 I wish we could have taken a guided tour of St. Paul's, but we got there at the wrong time for that. Otherwise it was an entirely successful visit. Our next plans, however, were decidedly unsuccessful. I spent a ton of time at home before we left planning each day of our trip, everywhere we wanted to go and everything we wanted to see so nothing would be left out. Up until this point, we had followed it almost exactly. After St. Paul's we were supposed to go on an Oscar Wilde walking tour, but we lingered at the cathedral too long and didn't make it in time. So that was too bad, but not a huge deal. The next item on our agenda was a tour of Parliament, so we went straight there instead, only to discover that they had already sold all the tickets for the day. When researching for the trip, I had seen no information anywhere that suggested they only had a limited number of tickets. I was SUPER bummed, especially because they only give tours on Saturdays so there was no way we could try and go the next day before our train left or anything.
Thomas outside Parliament just before getting our bad news
So that is definitely on the list of things to do next time. Instead, we ended up going to Abbey Road to take a picture of me crossing the street.
Recently I had a conversation with someone who had never heard of Abbey Road, so just in case anyone else is similarly ignorant, Abbey Road is the name of a Beatles album, and on the cover there is a very famous picture of them crossing the street there. This picture, in fact:
And here I am, crossing the very same street:
There's no stop sign or stoplight or anything here, so it took quite a while to get a break in traffic AND a picture with no one else crossing the street.
me in front of Abbey Road Studios
Then we went to the British Museum. Thomas definitely could have spent an entire week just in this museum.
the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos exhibit
Thomas and the Rosetta Stone
the Lewis Chessmen
That evening, we had dinner with Kevin, the one other PhD student in the world who is also studying the County of Tripoli. Thomas met him through some academic website. Kevin goes to Oxford but was out of town the day we were there so he met up with us in London instead. We had some yummy Chinese food while they talked and I offered nothing whatsoever to the conversation. He seemed very nice, and it was great that they finally got to meet.

We spent the rest of the night relaxing in our flat and resting our extremely tired feet. We ate snacks and watched TV and enjoyed being together just the two of us for one last night.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

England {day 6}

This was probably our favorite day in England...and consequently this post is far too long, with far too many pictures. Sorry in advance.

We took a guided day trip to Stonehenge, Glastonbury, and Avebury (another "henge," or stone ring). There are tons of guided tours you can take from London that go to Stonehenge and a couple other places (usually a combination of Bath, Windsor Castle, the Cotswolds, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, etc) and most of them are cheaper than the one we went on, but this was the only one I found that went to Glastonbury, somewhere both Thomas and I were very interested and excited to go to. Back in junior high, we went to JBA (basically a summer camp for nerds) and took a class on King Arthur together, and that was really when we started becoming friends. So visiting the King Arthur sites together was extra special because of that, and I am also SO glad we chose this tour because it was just fantastic. We had a smaller group than most tours (15 people) and consequently were able to get out of London a little more quickly and beat the crowds at Stonehenge. Best of all was our amazing guide, Tony, an extremely friendly and funny Irishman who kept us informed and entertained throughout the entire day. 

This has nothing to do with our trip, but we got picked up for the tour right outside Harrods. We never went shopping there, but wow that is one big store.
First stop of the day was Stonehenge. Sad we couldn't go all the way up to it but it was still very cool to actually be there. One of the things I loved best about it is how it is still way out in the country and the only things close by are pig farms. Nothing has built up around it. It was wonderful to see a part of England in such contrast to the busy-ness of London, and it allowed us to get a real feel for Wiltshire, which is a very important place imbibed with a lot of meaning in E. M. Forster's novel The Longest Journey. We really enjoyed it.

WHY did everyone who took our picture for us think we wanted Stonehenge directly behind us and consequently covered up? So unfortunate. Oh well!
the Heelstone

Our next stop was Glastonbury Tor, possibly the Isle of Avalon from Arthurian legend. Long ago this area was covered in water so the Tor actually did rise up like an island. It is said that Arthur was brought here when wounded during his final battle.
 We got super lucky on the day of our tour because we were given the option of climbing to the top of the Tor if we so desired. Normally they stop just at the bottom and then continue on to the Chalice Well gardens but the weather was so nice that our guide changed the plan a little bit. It meant we had only half as much time at Chalice Well, but we jumped at the chance.
Thomas and what is left of St. Michael's Church at the very top
we had an amazing view from the top
coming back down the other side
We met back up with the regular tour at the Chalice Well gardens. Legend has it that this well is where Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail. The waters here have a high concentration of iron, which gives that red hue to the stones it runs over. Some believed that the red color came from the blood of Christ when the Holy Grail was buried here, and the water is also said to have healing properties. The gardens are beautifully kept and the atmosphere is very peaceful.

Thomas rubbed the water on his head just in case they really have healing properties and could cure his balding.
We also tasted the water. Didn't taste too great.
Chalice Well
Then we went to Glastonbury Abbey. Oh my word, I loved this place. It may seem ridiculous considering the beautiful cathedrals we visited, but this was my favorite church that we saw in England. The Abbey fell into ruin after Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. Personally I prefer it this way. I found something inexplicably beautiful and moving about the juxtaposition of the ruined cathedral and the green grass, blue sky, and flowers growing up its sides. We could have spent all day there.
Thomas and the Glastonbury Thorn - Legend has it that when Joseph of Arimathea visited Glastonbury, he struck his staff into the ground and it grew into a tree. This isn't the original because it was burned during the English Civil War.

Glastonbury Abbey is most famous for being the grave site of King Arthur and Guinevere. In the 12th century, monks found in the graveyard what they claimed were Arthur and Guinevere's tombs, and the remains were moved into a tomb in the Abbey itself. Sadly they were lost after the dissolution of the monasteries, so only the site is left.
Thomas at the original grave site
and me at the grave site
Here we are by the site of King Arthur's tomb

For lunch we had Cornish pasties (which is apparently pronounced with a short a. I've been saying "pumpkin pasties" wrong for over half my life). I got chicken and veg and Thomas got two, steak and ale and lamb and mint. The cheapest meal of our trip, and they were so good and so filling. yum yum yum

The last site we visited on our tour was Avebury, another stone ring. It is less well known than Stonehenge and doesn't look quite as impressive at first glance because the stones are not as well shaped. However, it is MUCH larger, and we were actually able to go up to the stones and touch them.
Another really fun aspect of Avebury was that our guide showed us how to dowse for energy in the stones and ley lines in the earth around them. Frankly I really have no idea what that's all about, but whatever it is, it really worked. Our dowsing rods totally moved when they hit certain spots in the stones or when we walked over particular areas.
Thomas dowsing for ley lines. Our guide Tony is to the right, in the white shirt.
for some reason the fact that the dowsing actually worked really freaked Thomas out
Thomas sitting in the "Devil's Chair"
This stone had the most powerful energy. You couldn't keep the dowsing rod next to it. 
one more thing I loved about this site was getting to see and feel the chalk in Wiltshire's soil--this was another important symbol in The Longest Journey
on the van heading back to London
We got back to London just in time to go on a Jack the Ripper walking tour. There are many Jack the Ripper tours, but we made sure to go on the one guided by Donald Rumbelow, a historian and expert on Jack the Ripper. I actually studied quite a bit about Jack the Ripper in grad school, so most of the information wasn't new to me, but it was really cool to see the actual places where everything I'd read about took place.
Thomas was constantly scribbling in his little notebooks on every tour we went on. It was commented on by multiple tour guides. They didn't know quite what to make of it.
Something I loved about this tour was that it took us outside the parts of London that tourists usually see. It began just across from the Tower of London but after a short walk we were in an area with almost exclusively 19th century or older buildings.
those two shorter buildings are the oldest in the area
the Ten Bells, a pub frequented by the Ripper victims and probably Jack the Ripper himself
After that tour, we had a late dinner at a Pakistani restaurant called Tayyabs.
Being in London, we knew we had to get Indian food at least once (Pakistani food seems to be basically the exact same thing). I read reviews of this place online that said it had great food but horrible service, and as long as you were expecting the Soup Nazi, you'd be fine. So that's what we went in expecting, but it turned out to be entirely unnecessary. It wasn't the best service we've ever had, but it was certainly adequate, especially given how busy and crowded the restaurant was. And the food was AMAZING. I don't even know how to describe how much we loved it. The lighting was terrible so these pictures aren't great either, but so. much. deliciousness.
appetizers: lamb chops and tandoori chicken
main dishes: chicken tikka masala and meat biriyani
and of course naan
It was all around a FANTASTIC day.