Stephen's London travel journal

5/22/2017

My schedule before I left

August 2015
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
          8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

All the concerts I went to in London (details)

Stephen's London sites

Afterthoughts

After-afterthoughts



My schedule before I left

Saturday 8/8	5:05 PM
Leave Miami–British Airways 0206
Sunday 8/9	6:40 AM
Arrive Heathrow
Staying at: Best Western the Cromwell
110-112 Cromwell Road, 01 44 207 2441720
Sunday, August 9, 3:30 PM
BBC Proms
Eric Whitacre conducting the BBC Singers, BBC Symphonic Choir & the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Martin James Bartlett, piano; Leonard Elschenbroich, cello
Monday, August 10, 7:30 PM
BBC Proms
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Kirill Karabits conducting; Nicola Benedetti, violin
Tuesday 8/11	7:30 PM
Globe–As you like it
Thursday 8/13	7:30 PM
Globe–Much ado about nothing
Friday, August 14, 7:00 PM
BBC Proms
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The abduction from the seraglio
Saturday 8/15	7:30 PM
St Martin in the Fields
Baroque extravaganza candlelight concert
Sunday 8/16	3:30 PM
BBC Proms	
Sherlock Holmes, a musical mind
Monday 8/18	7:00 PM
Silent night tour, Dennis Severs House
Tuesday, August 18, 7:30 PM
BBC Proms
West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim conducting
Guy Braunstein, violin; Kian Soltani, cello
Wednesday, August 19, 7:30 PM
BBC Proms
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Charles Dutoit conducting; Elisabeth Leonskaja, violin
Thursday 8/20, all day
Premier Tour–Stonehenge, Bath, Stratford, Cotswolds
Sunday, August 23, 7:30 PM
BBC Proms
Thierry Escaich, solo organ
Wednesday, August 26, 7:30 PM
BBC Proms
SWR Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden & Freiburg, Francois-Xavier Roth conducting; Sophie Cherrier, flute
Sunday 8/30
Leave Heathrow, BA 1526	9:45 AM
Arrive Miami	2:20 PM
Tuesday 9/1
Back to work as usual

Saturday, August 8 & Sunday, August 9

A note about tenses–don't be surprised if they get mixed up a bit, since I wrote most of this on a daily basis while in London but am now typing it up here at home. Most of the time, I'll just leave the tenses as I wrote them.

My direct flight out of Miami was about 5:30 PM, so I had arranged a private shuttle pickup for about 2 PM. I've taken shared airport shuttles to and back from Miami before, and each time it took at least 45 minutes longer than a direct, door to door ride, so I thought the convenience was worth the extra cost.

My flight to London/Heathrow from Miami was with British Airways, and the terminal we flew out of seemed to be one of the older ones, with not a lot of food options and not a lot of seats at any of the gates.

I had decided to fly first class, since I can afford it, primarily due to a concern about otherwise not having adequate leg room over such a long flight–due to my knee problems, I have to often flex them to keep them from hurting too much. Flying first class also meant I could use the first class lounge at the airport, which I'd never done before. Since I'd never been to one before, I didn't know that free food and drinks are provided, so I had something to eat at one of the few food places in the terminal. It took me a while to find the first class lounge, though, because the signage wasn't very clear. It turned out that the lounge was at the opposite end of the terminal from my flight's gate, up on the 5th floor with a very nice view of the airport. There were lots of very comfortable seats there, and I was surprised to see the free food and drinks.

I realized I really like the perks that go with flying first class, including early boarding, extra comfort, fewer screaming or crying kids, much better leg room, and better and more frequent food and drinks. This first class cabin had two aisles so every seat was on an aisle, with its own overhead luggage compartment, so you didn't have to climb over anyone to get to your seat or have anyone climbing over you to get in or out of theirs.

The flight was pretty smooth with minor turbulence here and there. Even though I hadn't slept too well Friday night and woke up earlier Saturday morning than I needed to, as usual I couldn't fall asleep on the plane. I was a bit too tired to read or play games on my Kindle Fire much, so I read a bit, and watched a movie, but most of the time I just rested with my glasses pff. Occasionally I'd play around with making the seat recline, sometimes all the way to full bed position, but since I sleep on my left side with my arm extended, I was never that comfortable so mostly I just stayed sitting upright.

I wasn't too impressed with my private shuttle from Heathrow to the hotel, the Best Western on Cromwell Road. I had to call the service a couple of times because the driver was late and I of course wasn't sure where he was supposed to meet me. And when we got to the hotel the driver just let me out and dropped my luggage off on the sidewalk instead of helping me take it up the stairs into the hotel.

I'm staying, as I mentioned, at the Best Western on Cromwell Road. I chose it primarily for two reasons–it's about a 15 minute walk from the Royal Albert Hall, where I have tickets for 8 of the BBC Proms concerts, and they have a treadmill which will help me make sure I get my daily walking for exercise in no matter what the weather is or my plans for the day.

As usual, before I'd left home I'd often taken a look at where the hotel is, its neighborhood, and what else is nearby on Google Maps. The location of the Best Western Cromwell turns out to be even more convenient than I had thought. The Science Museum, Natural History Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum are less than a 20 minute walk away. I already mentioned it's close to the Royal Albert Hall. The Gloucester Road tube station is right around the corner, with a small mall with a Boots pharmacy, a Waitrose grocery store, and a couple of restaurants as well. There's a larger Sainsbury grocery store about 10 minutes the other direction. The South Kensington tube station is also about 10 minutes away, which connects with other lines the Gloucester Road station does not. There are also lots of restaurants in the area, and a pub around the corner, next to the Starbucks. Around the corner, on the main street I'll probably use most often to get to the Royal Albert Hall is a branch of Barclay's bank with an ATM–my bank partners with them so there's no transaction fee.

I got to the hotel about 9:30 Saturday morning. My room wasn't ready, of course, and possibly wouldn't be until as late as 2 PM. I had a ticket for a Proms concert at 3:30 PM, so I hoped I'd at least be able to take a shower and change clothes before going to it. I checked in early anyway, and paid for my stay in advance, using the British currency I'd ordered from my bank at home months before. (It turned out that when I'd ordered what I thought would be enough currency to pay my hotel bill and to have enough left over so I wouldn't have to go to the ATM until later I'd actually looked at the amount in US currency instead, so I had a lot more British currency on hand than I'd anticipated. In fact, I wound up not needing to use the ATM until a couple of days before I headed home.)

I sat around the very nice lobby for a bit (they have a liquor license, so I'll be able to get a pint there without having to go outside if the weather is bad), then asked if I could get a key to use the treadmill in the exercise room. Even if I didn't feel very well, well rested, and energetic, I could always hang on to the hand railings on the treadmill and get my walking done (much as I sometimes do at home). The exercise room isn't very large, but they do have a good treadmill, an exercise bike, an elliptical trainer (which was out of order the entire time I was there), a resistance training machine, lots of floor space and mats for yoga & stretching, some dumbbells, and an exercise ball. As I was standing there on the treadmill getting ready to use it, I realized that I had no idea what my usual pace of 2.7 miles per hour converts to in kilometrers per hour, so I looked it up on my iPhone (4.3).

I was able to get a room about noon, which was wonderful. The woman on duty at the reception desk found one that had already been cleaned. I'd chosen one of the hotel's standard double rooms, which although a bit small–a bit smaller than my guest bedroom at home--has basically everything I needed–a comfortable double bed with end tables on each side, and a very nice desk that is large enough to put some groceries and my laptop on and still have enough room to work. Most importantly there is an en suite bathroom with a shower, which also is a bit small but has adequate water pressure.

The Best Western Cromwell also has more expensive double rooms with a balcony or patio over the garden out back, and even more expensive double rooms that have a couch, which I knew I wouldn't use much at all. I like to read lying down on the bed, or at the desk, both of which allow me to comfortably hold the book or my Kindle Fire close enough that I can take my glasses off and still see them.

The room comes with tea & coffee making equipment but no alarm clock, so that's something I want to take care of as soon as possible. Yes, I have a small battery operated alarm clock and my iPhone, which has a clock/alarm function, but I really like having one that plugs in and has a display that's constantly lit so I can see it when I wake up in the dark.

One of the few things I forgot when I was getting ready Saturday morning was to take a watch out of either of my cars–I keep them there for when I go somewhere like the Ren Faire where there are no clocks around. I hate having to take my iPhone out of my pocket every time I want to know what time it is. That's another thing I want to find ASAP.

I stretched out for a bit, did enough unpacking to find some clean clothes, and took a shower before heading over to my 3:30 Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The most direct route from the hotel is to turn left on Gloucester Road and follow it all the way up to Kensington Gardens, then turn right for a couple of blocks to the RAH. While walking along Gloucester Road, besides what looked like a lovely church right on the corner (St Stephen's), the Barclay's bank with the ATM, and lots of nice looking restaurants and a pub, I found a small shop that was open and sold small electronics including a small, inexpensive plug-in alarm clock with a permanently lit display.

Tonight's concert was wonderful, and featured the American composer and conductor Eric Whitacre, who now lives in London, with the BBC Symphony & Choir. I've been a big fan of his ever since I first heard about his amazing Virtual Choir project, which resulted in some stunning videos which can be found on YouTube. My library has only one of his CDs, which I like a great deal, so I was really looking forward to this concert.

I hadn't bought a copy of the programme for the concert, since they cost 4 Lbs each and I really didn't want to buy something I'd use only once and didn't want to take home with me. That turned out not to be a problem, because Eric talked to the audience and introduced each piece.

The music was all by American composers–there was some Copland, Gershwin's "Rhapsody in blue", and several pieces of Eric's. The last piece was his, and was inspired by pictures from the Hubble Deep Field experiment. It was for the orchestra and choir, with the choir split up off the stage, lining the four stairwells in the theater. At one point, Eric gave the signal for everyone in the audience with a smart phone to turn on an app he'd created, which played one of seven different accompaniments he'd created. The whole concert was wonderful, and the last piece especially so.

I wasn't hungry yet, so I walked back to the hotel to finish unpacking instead of stopping to eat anywhere along the way. About 7 PM I headed out to pick up a couple of things at the Boots and decide where to have dinner. I ate at a very nice place across the street from the hotel, part of the Gloucester Road arcade–Garfunkel's. (This would turn out to be my go to restaurant whenever I was in the area–a good, very reasonable menu, not expensive, good quality food, a very nice place, with very friendly staff, most of whom seemed to be from somewhere in Eastern Europe but all very nice and capable). I had my first Pimm's cup, sausages & mashed potatoes, and a creme brulee for dessert.

I set up my laptop, logged all my devices into the hotel's wifi, and went to bed about 11 PM.


Monday, August 10

Slideshow

I slept pretty well last night, and until about 8 this morning. I had the full English breakfast buffet in the breakfast room downstairs here in the hotel, which isn't something I think I'll do everyday. I didn't include the breakfast plan in my reservation, so it costs me 12.5 Lbs each time, and I know I can probably have breakfast for less than that price across the street at Garfunkel's.

After breakfast, I asked the person on duty at the reception desk where I might be able to buy an inexpensive watch, and she suggested I try the Sainsbury's down the street. I had already been planning on going there to pick up some snacks & stuff. I had of course checked out Sainsbury's online several times before leaving home, and was impressed and amused by the different kinds of snacks and cookies they sold. I wanted to pick up a small bottle of their rum, some juices, try a jar of their pickled eggs, and get some Slimfast. It might be handy to have those and the eggs around for when I skipped breakfast.

On the way to the Sainsbury's I passed several small restaurants and a tiny laundromat not far from the hotel. I think I'll pay the cost to use the laundry service at the hotel, though. It's certainly a lot more expensive than I'd pay to do it myself but it would save me a lot of time, and I wouldn't have to hang around the cramped laundromat with the other patrons and their families for what could be two to three hours.

I also noticed a lot of conservatively dressed Muslim women out and about in this area.

I've always been kind of fond of drugstore-brand aftershaves; not the name brand ones they sell but those marketed under the store's own name. When I was in Scotland I'd picked up a bottle of Boots' Freshwood aftershave, which I liked quite a bit. Since that was over four years ago, I was running low, so when someone I know at work was going to be back in England for a visit I asked him to get a couple of bottles for me but he bought the aftershave balm instead of the liquid and it is so viscous it barely will come out of the bottle. I'd also left all of my own aftershaves at home, so I stopped by Boots on the way back to my hotel room. I got a bottle of the Freshwood and their own Bay Rum aftershave as well.

The London Pass doesn't include a bus tour but does cover a discount on one of them, the Original Tour. They have three main sightseeing loops, one of which–the Blue (Museum) route–stops right around the corner from the hotel across the street from the Gloucester Road tube station. I had noticed that the touristy shop on the corner sold tickets for the Original Tour as well as lots of others (I was amused that I could buy a ticket there for a day trip to Paris and back, but decided not to get one since I'd spent three weeks in Paris over Christmas and New Year's, and there was so much I wanted to see in London anyway), so I bought a ticket there.

I rode the Blue route all the way around and then on to Picadilly Circus, where I could transfer to either of the other sightseeing routes. I had lunch at a place called TigerTiger first, and had a very nice fish sandwich.

I rode the Red sightseeing loop all the way around but by the time I got back to Picadilly Circus it was almost 5 PM. I'd accidentally left the ticket for tonight's Proms concert in my hotel room and decided I'd better take a cab back there instead of riding around on the Blue loop again or taking the Tube. When I got back to my hotel room, I grabbed my ticket, had a SlimFast, and headed on over to the Royal Albert Hall for tonight's performance.

Tonight my seat was way up in the hall in row U, almost as far up as seats go. At almost every Proms concert there can be hundreds of people who buy standing room only tickets; most of these are down on the floor level in front of the stage, but I always saw some people all the way up on the walkway around the top of the auditorium above all the seating.

It was a lovely concert, featuring the Bouremouth Symphony Orchestra with the very lovely and talented Scottish-born violinist Nicola Benedetti, whom I'm rather fond of. Not only is she quite beautiful and talented, she always comes across as very charming in all the interviews I've seen and heard of her.

There were a couple of things that made tonight's concert a bit less enjoyable than last night's was, though. The main problem is that there was even less leg room where I was tonight than there'd been where I was last night. Once again I hadn't paid the money for the program for the night's concert, and none of the pieces were introduced (yes, I know that's standard for most classical concerts). I certainly wasn't the only person without a program, though–I could see lots of people around me who didn't have one either.

I hadn't had a chance to do my daily walking for exercise yet. I'd asked at the reception desk when was the latest I could use the treadmill in the exercise room, and had been told 11 PM. The concert ended not much before 10 PM, and I still hadn't had dinner yet either. Luckily a small Italian place which was on my walk back to the hotel was still open when I went past so I stopped and had a very nice mushroom risotto and a sort of custardy thing for dessert and they both were delicious.

I still wanted to do my walking for exercise. I thought I had remembered that the reception desk in the lobby downstairs is staffed 24 hours, so I decided to make sure before I left for the concert and it is. It's lovely tonight, so I just walked back to the hotel and kept going past the Sainsbury's far enough before turning around so that the total time I walked from leaving the Royal Albert Hall until I went inside my hotel was at least 45 minutes.

It's now about 2:30 PM. I've been writing up my notes from the trip so far (including Saturday & yesterday). I think I'm tired and sleepy enough to get a good night's rest.


Tuesday, August 11

Slideshow

I slept reasonably well last night, waking up about 8 this morning.

After I did my exercise walking on the treadmill downstairs, I went back across the street to Garfunkel's for breakfast, since their menu had looked pretty good. I had a very nice eggs benedict and got one of their breakfast club cards–buy three, get the next one free. Before going back to my hotel room I checked out the outlet of the Waitrose grocery in the Gloucester Road Arcade–quite a nice, impressive grocery store, without things like the dentist down at the Sainsbury's.

My plans for today were basically to just take the cruise to Greenwich and back which is included in the London Pass (City Cruises)–not to even spend time in Greenwich, but to just get out on the Thames and see what I could of London from a boat–before my play at the Globe that evening, so I wasn't in much of a hurry to get moving.

After breakfast I hung out in my room until about 1, looking up where I might want to go in the next couple of days. I went across to the Gloucester Road tube station and took the train on over to the Westminster station, which is right next to Westminster Pier which is where I needed to catch the boat. I should have had a Slimfast before I left but thought I'd be able to get something to eat at the station but the exit from the station to the Pier takes you directly to the dock, and there's no place to get anything to eat there, just ticket booths. I should have gone back inside to look for something to eat, but instead I just got my free ticket and headed on down to wait in line. The place was packed this morning, and I had to wait until a second boat came before I could get on.

Apparently on some of the boats you can get a wider variety of snack items, but this particular boat only had candy, muffins, and ice cream. I should have had a muffin, which would have been more filling, but instead had two not quite frozen ice creams.

The weather today was mostly mediocre, with the occasional very light sprinkle.

I enjoyed the cruise down to Greenwich quite a bit, especially after I got a seat next to the bulkhead on the open part of the upper deck. The batteries in my camera had died, and apparently the supposedly new batteries I'd brought along as backup were also dead as well, so I didn't get to take any pictures today. That didn't bother me too much, since it was grey & cloudy and I plan on being out on the Thames at least once more. I still have two more London Passes (since they're only good for 5 days & I'm there for three weeks) so I can take the same cruise again, that time leaving early enough to spend time in Greenwich. I'd also like to take the other routes, down to Kew Gardens, and maybe all the way out to Hampton Court Palace.

I didn't get off in Greenwich, but just stayed on board up top until we got back to Westminster Pier about 5:30 PM. I'd written out directions how to take the Tube from Westminster Station down near the Globe but decided to walk down the river instead and find somewhere to eat along the way. I ate at a Wagamama across the Thames not far down from Westminister and had quite a nice dinner there. It was quite busy, and reminded me a great deal of being in Paris over the holidays.

On the way down to the Globe I also kept an eye out for other places to have dinner when I come back for my second play.

I had a wonderful time at the Globe, loved the theater and the play, and felt like I was back home at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival down in Ashland, where I'd been at least once a year for a very long time before I moved to Florida in 2001. I'd also seen "As you like it" and "Much ado" there several times. Because the Globe's an exact replica of the original Shakespearean theater, at least as close as you can get, the seats aren't quite as comfortable as those in Ashland's Elizabethan theater.

I found I'd goofed a bit on reading the seating chart here as well. It's not a huge theater, and I was actually rather close to the stage, pretty much over stage right with a pillar blocking a bit of my view of the stage and occasionally some of the action there.

I love "As you like it", and have seen it, "Much ado", "12th night", and "Midsummer night's dream" more often than all the rest of Shakespeare's plays combined–and thanks to many years of going to Ashland, I've seen all of the plays at least once, including some of the more obscure and not as often produced ones. "As you like it", "Much ado" and "12th night" also have my three favorite female characters in all Shakespeare's plays–Rosalind, Beatrix, and Viola.

The cast was excellent, and so was the music. The director went with a plain, pretty bare bones staging, relying on the words to set the scene.

It was drizzling after the play, so I decided not to walk the half an hour or so back to the Tube station where I could get back to Gloucester Road but to take a taxi instead. It might have been quicker to just have walked and taken the Tube, because there surprisingly didn't seem to be any cabs anywhere near the theatre. I just kind of followed people until we got to a much busier main road. It still took a lot less time catching a cab tonight than it had in Paris on New Year's, but it started to feel much the same. The driver gave me a card with the URL for their app (it turned out later that the app couldn't deal with US phone numbers).

I got back to my hotel about 11:30, and have been writing up these notes since then, and it's now about 1 AM. Although I'm quite tired I'm still not sleepy yet, so I'll have something to drink and watch something on my Kindle Fire until I think I'm ready for bed.


Wednesday, August 12

Slideshow

I went to my first museum here in London today. There are actually several museums within a half an hour's walk from my hotel, three of which are up the street–and they're three of the largest in London. In order of closeness from my hotel, they are the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum around the corner, and the Victoria & Albert Museum right up the streeet.

For several years now, I've been listening to Copperplate, a monthly podcast of Irish music put out and hosted by Alan O'Leary, an Irish musician and record distributor who lives in London. Alan features music by Irish musicians and bands whose CDs he sells online and through his mail order record store. Since I include Alan's podcast in my lists of tunes and bands/musicians played in podcasts of Celtic & Irish music, Alan and I have often been in contact via Facebook over the years I've been listening to, and keeping track of what he plays on, his show.

Since I knew Alan lives somewhere here in London, and I've really enjoyed listening to his show for years, I've really been hoping I could buy him a pint somewhere here before I leave, and maybe buy a few CDs of Irish music he'd recommend. Before I'd left home, Alan had mentioned via Facebook that he and his wife would be taking a trip to Ireland and would be gone for most of my stay but he'll probably be back a day or two before I leave. We'd exchanged cell phone numbers via Facebook but for some reason our phones couldn't connect, so Monday night I suggested via Facebook messaging that Alan should just try to call me in my hotel room.

When I got home last night way to late too call him back, I found a note that Alan had tried to call me earlier that day. So this morning I tried again to call the number he had left but the call didn't go through from my cell phone, or when I tried to call direct from my room, or when I had the person at the reception desk try for me as well. I sent Alan a message on Facebook about 10 letting him know I was in my room and asked him to call, and he did about 10:30. Alan thought the failure of our cell phones to connect might have had something to do with the different phone prefixes there in London.

Alan is indeed going to Ireland, leaving today, but will be back on the 28th, so we're going to try and get together on the 29th, the day before I leave London for home. It will be a delight to actually finally meet someone to whose voice and show I've been listening for years. I also had earlier asked Alan to recommend about half a dozen CDs by London-based musicians he stocks, and he'll being those with him when we meet.

Before Alan and I talked, I had one of my SlimFasts for breakfast about 10. I knew I could comfortably wait until 1 or 2 PM to have lunch.

I have no plans for this evening, no Proms concert or play at the Globe, so I felt like I had more free time than I've had so far. I decided I'd go to my first museum here in the neighborhood, starting with the Victoria and Albert since it's the furthest of the three from the hotel (like across the street and up a bit further), and then take the rest of the afternoon to do some shopping.

I really enjoyed the V & A, which is considered to be one of the best museums in the world featuring art & design–the fiddly bits, as Slartibartfast from The hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy might say.

As usual, I know I didn't see everything, and that's OK. The museum is free, and is in the neighborhood where I'm staying if I want to go back. One of my guide books (the London DK Eye Witness Guide, the only one I actually bought in print because the combination of small print and large number of illustrations of varying sizes make the Kindle version a bit too hard to read; the 2015 edition of their Paris guide is also the only one I bought in print, because I liked it when I saw the copy I'd ordered for Chelsea's high school graduation present last year. Their Ireland book is also the only one I plan on buying in print to prepare for my trip next year. Back to our regularly scheduled programming) describes the V & A as having seven miles of exhibits over seven floors, so I know I didn't see everything but I did see quite a bit and really enjoyed wandering around. I even paid to see the current special exhibition–on shoes. I have to admit I was quite amused to see all the women glued to the display cases and closely examining all the different pairs. My reaction was, as usual, a lot more pragmatic and practical, often consisting of "that looks very uncomfortable" or "How the hell can anyone actually walk wearing that?" or a combination of the two.

By the time I left the V & A, it was time for lunch. I also wanted to drop my book pack and camera off back at my hotel before I caught the Tube to do some shopping, so I went back to my hotel, stopping at Garfunkel's across the street. Like the fast Asian restaurants in the part of the Marais where Michael & I stayed while in Paris for the holidays, I can tell Garfunkel's is going to be my go to local restaurant for much the same reasons–close proximity to where I'm staying, it's a pleasant place, the staff all seems quite nice, the food has been pretty good, and it's not expensive. Today I had a very nice steak & ale pie with mashed potatoes.

Long before I'd left home to come here to London, I decided that there are three kinds of things I wanted to buy while here–CDs from musicians and bands either based here, or whom I hear here; hats and caps; and a couple of walking sticks. Although I can get along quite well without a cane or walking stick, I do like to use them when I do my exercise walking, and they do help quite a bit when I have to go up hills or inclines or stairs, and help me keep balanced whenever I walk over uneven terrain. My brother Tim sent me my first walking stick, a real shilelagh made of Irish blackthorn, the next Christmas after I started doing my exercise walking four years ago. I have three sticks I bought at the Renaissance Faire back home, but two of them turn out to be a lot less comfortable to use than I like, so they're basically decorative (one is a much more rustic stick, which isn't as straight as I like and is actually a bit disconcerting to use; the other one has a ball handle, which surprisingly makes my hands hurt when I use it). When I went back home shortly after Mom died, I came home with two more canes–Mom's collapsible, folding metal one, and Chris's wooden one, which Mom had since Chris died.

I of course checked out hat and walking stick shops here in London long before I left home. Yes, I know I keep saying that, but I really do my research in advance before my foreign trips. I had decided that two of the hat places I'd found were basically out of my price range, but two others also had some that were good quality but less expensive. The other two more expensive stores are listed in the shopping section of my London web page, but the two I wanted to go to are Christy's and Laird's. James Smith & Sons is basically the only place in London specializing in walking sticks (and umbrellas, which I don't use) and although some of them are quite expensive, there are some in what I think is a more reasonable price range–and they ship, so I won't have to try and carry more than Chris's stick back on the plane home (Mom's fits in my suitcase).

I looked on Google Maps yesterday and determined that James Smith & Sons and an outlet of Christy's hats are relatively close to each other, with James Smith & Sons being a little further up the Piccadilly Tube line and about a 20 minute walk away from Christy's. This morning I wrote down what I thought were detailed directions–at which station to get off for James Smith & Co, how to get there from the Tube station, and then how to get from there to Christy's. Since I'd then have a box with a hat or two, I'd take a cab back to the hotel.

When I got off the Tube at the Covent Garden station and tried to find my way to James Smith & Sons, thanks to the maps app on my iPhone I eventually got to the only address I'd written down, after wandering through and around Covent Garden and Piccadilly Circus where a policeman was able to look at the directions on my iPhone and tell me the street I was looking for was only a couple of blocks away and which street to go down to get there.

All my wandering around wasn't wasted, since I was also able to pick up two other things I wanted to find. Time Out is supposed to be the best guide to what's going on that week in London, and is available for free from news agents, but I hadn't been able to find one in the area around the hotel. I also went past a large and very nice branch of Waterstones, one of the largest bookstore chains in the UK, where I got a copy of Harry Potter & the philosopher's stone, the only one in the series where I have the American edition instead of the original British one.

When I eventually got to the address I'd written down, it turned out I'd actually made my way to the Christy's hat outlet, the second place I'd wanted to visit. It was the smaller of their two London locations, and although they didn't have a couple of the hats I wanted to look at, they did have two in my price range I really liked, a snazzy, broad brimmed fedora and a bowler (yes, I bought a bowler while in London). That outlet of Christy's is down a small covered alley/arcade, right across from Bates, one of the more expensive hat places I'd checked out online. I didn't go in, just looked in through the windows and door.

I still wanted to go to James Smith & Sons, but didn't want to carry my shopping bag with my two new hats while trying to walk or take the Tube there, so I decided to take a cab. The driver at first didn't recognize where I wanted to go by name, but of course remembered where it was when I said it was the fancy umbrella store. On the way there, the driver asked me where I was going after that. When I said I planned on catching a cab back to my hotel, he said he'd wait for me if I wanted. I of course said "Yes, please".

I rather enjoyed James Smith & Sons. Like Christy's and Laird's, they have items over a wide price range, from very expensive to others much more reasonably priced but still very nice. Their assortment of umbrellas and walking sticks and staffs is quite interesting. I bought two, one about 50 pounds and one about 30. I was very tempted to buy a lovely, very nice and fancy stick made from Irish blackthorn to go with the shilelagh Tim gave me, but decided the 85 pounds was too much.

I had a very pleasant chat with the cabbie on the way from Christy's to James Smith & Sons, and then back to my hotel. I got back around 4, with plenty of time to drop off my hats (the walking sticks are going to be shipped home), and use the treadmill for my exercise walking before dinner. The exercise room and the breakfast room are in the basement, below the ground floor. When I first went downstairs to use the exercise room, I went down the stairs from the lobby and found them to be a bit too worn for me to be comfortable using them. The elevator goes down to that level. The first time I used it to go down to the exercise room, I followed the signs, which it turns out take you around the breakfast room instead of through it directly to the exercise room.

I had spent some time back here in my room before going back down to use the treadmill, and for some reason I'd taken my iPhone out of my pocket. When I got down to the exercise room, I discovered that although I'd remembered the earbuds, I'd left my iPhone upstairs so I went back to get it after I couldn't figure out how to use the TV display built into the treadmill.

There are quite a few nice looking restaurants here in the immediate vicinity of the hotel, most of them reasonable in price, but to my surprise there are only two pubs in the neighborhood–one right across the street from the Gloucester Road Tube station, and the Gloucester Arms, which is around the corner up the road I've been taking to get to the Royal Albert Hall. I decided I'd have dinner at the Gloucester Arms tonight, and see if it would be a good place to meet with Alan when he gets back from Ireland.

They have a very nice pub menu. I had the fish and chips with mushy peas, and a beer of some kind called Hobgoblin. The fish and peas and beer were all very good, but the chips were only OK. I thought it might not be the best place to meet Alan, since it was quite busy and a bit too noisy for a quiet conversation. When I first went to sit down at a vacant table, it turned out to be reserved, so getting a table might not be a problem but being able to comfortably hear each otehr might be. On the way back to my hotel I noticed that a place that sells gelato was still open, so I stopped for a couple of scoops.

I thought I'd have the opportunity to get to sleep a bit earlier than I have been doing, but it's now after midnight. I've been writing up my notes for today since I got back, and still want to do a bit of research to decide where I want to go tomorrow. I plan on spending the day in the vicinity of the Globe theatre, where I have a ticket to my second and last Shakespeare play there. And of course I am as usual quite tired but not sleepy so it looks like I'll still be up for a bit but I hope not for too long.


Thursday, August 13

Slideshow

Last night while I was writing up my notes from yesterday, an app on my iPhone reminded me that the Perseid meteor showers were at peak that night, which reminded me of the story about the time at Black Butte when Dad scared Tim badly when Tim for some reason was up and in the kitchen in the dark very late at night when Dad came back inside after having gone out on the patio to watch the meteors and no one knew he was out there–Dad hadn't wanted to wake anyone up. I sent a text message to Tim about it, who replied even though he said he was in a meeting. I texted back I might call sometime tomorrow to say "Happy birthday!" but Tim messaged back that he and my nephew Nick will be out of cell phone range then because they're going to do some back country hiking, so I wished Tim a happy birthday then.

Today was a day of forgetting and leaving things behind but getting them back again anyway.

Because I planned on spending the day down near the Globe Theatre and not coming back until after the play, I did my exercise walking on the treadmill downstairs after having breakfast here in the hotel.

When I got to the Piccadilly Tube station on my way to Southwark, where the Globe is, I realized I'd left my theatre ticket behind back in my room. I took a cab back to the hotel to save time instead of retracing my trip so far by Tube.

It was now almost noon and had started raining and the rain was forecast to continue for a couple of hours with a good chance of more rain and possibly thunderstorms this evening. My stomach was bothering me a bit, so I decided to just hang out in my room for a couple of hours to give it a chance to settle before heading back out. I'd just go to fewer things in the area near the Globe and would go back another time.

I took the Tube over to the London Bridge station, which is right next to the Borough Market where I plan on going back to this weekend or the next. I decided that today I'd just visit Southwark Cathedral, which is also near the Tube station, then go see the Golden Hinde and find somewhere to have a pint or dinner or both before the play.

I liked the Cathedral a great deal and felt it was quite appropriate I went there before going to a Shakespeare play at the Globe since it was supposedly Shakespeare's parish church. I did then go on over to the Golden Hinde II, which is a replica as close as possible to the ship Sir Francis Drake used when he circled the globe, which the replica has also done at least once. It's an amazingly small ship for such an epic voyage and the doorways and cabins have low ceilings and clearance. I didn't go down the hatches to the lower decks.

I decided to have a pint at the Anchor Tavern right by the ship. Samuel Johnson and his crew wrote the first draft of his English dictionary in an upstairs room there. While I was having a very tasty pint of cider at an outside table, some people asked if they could share my table. One of them was a woman originally from there in London who now lived in New York City; she was there with her daughter, and they were visiting an old friend who had recently opened a gift shop nearby. Both their husbands were spending the weekend at the Cropredy folk festival, which I've heard of because I listen to the Folkcast podcast. The festival's been going on since 1976 and is sponsored and organized by members of the fantastic folk group Fairport Convention. The woman who now lives in New York had also been down to South Florida a few times, although she was more familiar with Miami than the Ft Lauderdale area.

As I got up to leave, I realized I didn't have Chris's cane and must have left it somewhere. In a bit of a panic, I asked the people behind the bar to check and see if anyone had turned it in–I thought I might have left it hanging on the end of the bar when I bought my pint. When I was outside looking for it, one of the guys behind the bar came out and asked if I wanted the good news or the bad news first–the good news was that I hadn't left Chris's cane in the pub, but the bad news was that I didn't have it with me when I came in.

Now in panic mode–I really didn't want to lose the cane, since it was Chris's before he died, and then Mom's before she died–I went back to the ticket office for the Golden Hinde to see if anyone had turned it in, in case I had left it aboard. The shop where I bought the ticket was closed, but the small sweet shop next door was open and the guy who sold me the ticket was there. No one had turned my cane in, so he told me the combination for the lock on the gate to the ship so I could go back in and look for it.

As I was about to go back aboard, I saw that the cane was right where I had apparently left it–after I'd left the ship, I hung the cane on the fence that runs around it while I sat down to check my iPhone to see how far the Globe was from where I was and also where the nearest Tube station was from the Globe and how to get back to my hotel from there. Unbeliever that I am, I almost felt as if someone had been listening when I sort of prayed while visiting the Cathedral earlier.

I stopped back in the pub and back at the sweet shop to let the nice folks there know I'd found my cane, then walked along the Thames towards the Globe, checking out where I might want to stop for dinner. There are lots of nice restaurants along the way, but I decided to have dinner at the Swan, the one that is part of the Globe Theatre complex. I at first mistakenly sat in the bar area downstairs but didn't like their menu as much as the one I'd seen outside, which turned out to be for the restaurant upstairs. Upstairs they have a different three course prix fixee menu nightly, which although not cheap isn't too expensive for the quality of the food and the setting. Everything was very good, including the bread, and I'm not really a big bread fan.

Tonight's play was "As you like it", which I think has the most emotionally powerful courtship scenes I've ever read or watched, where Beatrix and Benedict, two very rational, intelligent, skeptical people discover that's not incompatible with loving and being loved, and later when Beatrix asks Benedict to kill Claudio for dishonoring Hero. The relationship of Dorothy Sayers' characters Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane–my favorite detecting couple–has always reminded me of Beatrix and Benedict.

My seat tonight was a bit further up and a little closer to the center from where I was sitting last time, only about 15 or 25 feet away. Less of the action this time was blocked by the pillars. I enjoyed the performance very much, liked Benedict quite a bit, and as usual rather fell in love with Beatrix. (Not long ago, I'd read a notice about a forthcoming novel called Beatrice and Benedick by Marina Fiorato–who's written a lot of historical novels set in Italy--which tells these two characters' story before the play begins; just now, while checking the spelling of the author's name on Amazon, I saw that I apparently could have bought a copy while in London, although it's not due out in the US until December).

It did rain or drizzle a bit a couple of times during the performance, but there was no thunderstorm as had been forecast earlier.

The seat where I was sitting didn't have much leg room at all, so by the end of the performance my knees were bothering me quite a bit. I also by then had a bit of a sinus headache, so I decided not to take the Tube back to my hotel, which would have meant climbing up the stairs to the Millenium Bridge, walking to the nearest Tube station, then down and up the stairs there, at the station where I needed to transfer, and again at Gloucester Road, but to find a cab instead. Tonight there were a couple of cabs quite near the theatre, but they were snagged before I could get one. I was able to catch one on a major road a few blocks away.

I got home about 11:30 or 11:45, did a bit of planning where I want to go tomorrow, and have been writing my notes up since then. It's now about 1:20, and I'm ready for bed if not to sleep, so goodnight.


Friday, August 14–my brother Tim's birthday

Slideshow

I didn't lose anything or leave anything behind today, but once again I realized I sometimes don't do too well reading seating charts. More on that later.

I woke up when my alarm clock went off at 8 this morning, got out of bed, turned it off, went back to bed, and actually went back to sleep for about an hour more.

After I showered and shaved (quite long ago, I decided to take a lesson from Tim and give myself permission to not shave every day if I don't have to go to work or anywhere formal, and although I have seen some people dressed more formally at the Proms concerts, they're usually Mom and Dad's age or younger couples on a date–also remember this is what passes for summer here. As I repeatedly thought while in Ireland in July nine years ago, and in Scotland in July four years ago, God bless women who think it's warmer than I do and dress accordingly), I had one of my SlimFasts for breakfast and headed out for the day about 10:30.

The concert tonight was at 7 PM, so I decided I'd explore more of the local area, including the Science Museum. I'm going to leave the Natural History Museum until I can get there earlier in the morning.

I had several places in the area I wanted to visit today that I didn't get to but hope to later–they are: the former London headquarters of the Michelin company which is now a restaurant/shop/office building while retaining much of the original decoration and architecture (today was the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of Bibendum, the Michelin Man, by coincidence); the Polish Institute, just so I can tell my supervisor at work, Krystyna, I went there, because she's from Poland; a nearby Russian Orthodox church (I've probably already mentioned I "collect" churches for their often lovely and interesting architecture as well as their historical connections); and the Royal Geographical Society.

On the map of the local area on Google Maps I'd noticed a couple of small, block-sized places labeled "gardens" along the next street over parallel to Cromwell Road which I decided to check out on my way over to my first stop for the day, the Brompton Oratory (yes, another church), on my way to the Science Museum around the corner from there. It turns out that these gardens are basically small locked, private parks reserved for the exclusive use of the residents and tenants of the buildings surrounding them.

The Brompton Oratory is just up the street from the Victoria & Albert Museum from my hotel, just up the street from the intersection with Exhibition Road which leads to the Royal Albert Hall and Kensington Park. On my way over to Exhibition Road, I passed a very lovely church which was open and went in. This church is the Queen's Gate branch of the four branch Holy Trinity Brompton (I didn't make that notation while I was there, but looking at the map and the church's website just now while typing this up, I'm pretty sure which branch it was), was built in 1865, and during weekdays is used as a homeless drop-in center providing meals and comfort. The shelter volunteers on duty that day said it was OK for me to take pictures of the interior of the building but not of the people there; I told them "of course" and that the library where I work has exactly the same policy. I wanted to make a donation, so the volunteers introduced me to Tom, who was the actual church employee on duty that day who could lock the cash away until he could pass it along to the shelter's office staff. Tom's the one who told me when the church was built and a bit of its history.

The church is very near to the South Kensington Tube station, which is where I was supposed to make a transfer a couple of days ago when I was heading on over to Southwark but realized I'd forgotten my ticket for the play at the Globe back in my hotel room and took the cab back instead to save time. A younger guy was there in the lovely little plaza by the station doing some busking, playing classical guitar. He was pretty good, so I bought his CD for 3 Lbs and gave him a couple more as well.

The Brompton Oratory is one of the largest and loveliest Roman Catholic churches in London. As I was going inside, I noticed a sign on the door saying begging was not allowed there and thieves were known to operate in the area. There also was a homeless person sleeping in the doorway next to the one where I went in.

The church has a no photography policy which I respected, although it seemed to me that the church was missing an opportunity to raise some money by making it a no flash photography policy and charging a fee to take pictures, as the Southwark Cathedral and many of the churches I visited in Scotland and Paris do. I'd have gladly made a 5 or 10 Lb donation to take pictures there, because it's stunningly lovely both architecturally and artistically. What I really liked was the extensive use of a wide variety of different marbles, really lovely stuff everywhere.

When I got to the Science Museum, there really wasn't much of a line to get in, but it was quite busy once I got in. The place is hugely popular with families and groups with children, very understandably so since there are lots of very cool exhibits all over the place, many of them hands on and interactive. I most enjoyed the technology and communications and space areas, and the room with 140 models of various machines there in the museum.

When I described my trip to Scotland four years ago, especially the Science museum in Glasgow, I mentioned that I've always seemed to have a thing for attractive women working in planetariums and museums. When I was looking at the room with the various 360 degree virtual reality simulators, I had to stop and chat with the lovely young woman on duty at the time. When I told her I couldn't go on things like that because I already have balance problems and someone would have to help me out of them she said she didn't like them either.

When I came out of the Science Museum it had started drizzling again, so I decided I'd save wandering around in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park until later, but would try and find some places near the Royal Albert Hall to have lunch and later dinner before the concert. I continued on Exhibition Road from the Science Museum over to the Royal Albert Hall. I didn't see many places to eat along the way, but when I got to the RAH a sign said the café there was open so I went in and had a salmon quiche, sweet potato soup (which was in a bowl that kept it too hot for me for a surprisingly long time, it was such a good insulator) and a lovely tart with berries for lunch.

While wandering around town, especially to and from the Royal Albert Hall, I often passed buildings with signs identifying them as part of Imperial College London. When going out of the Royal Albert Hall on the side away from Kensington Gardens, I'd noticed that the Royal College of Music–which has a musical instrument museum I want to visit–is also right next to some more buildings of the ICL. Today while leaving the RAH I also noticed the very lovely building of the Royal College of Organists right next door, which I hadn't noticed before because I hadn't actually been on that side of the building.

The Royal College of Music was open, so I went in and visited their museum. When I asked the people at the front reception desk if there were any programs coming up while I'd be there in London, I was told that there wouldn't be any until sometime after the new school year started again in September. Oddly enough when I mentioned that I'd visited both the musical instrument museums at the University of Edinburgh when I had been there I learned that the museum's former director had just left to take up a position there.

The RCM's instrument museum is a bit small, but I guess isn't that much smaller than either of the two at the U of E. It's a very nicely laid out little museum, with lovely and interesting instruments, many of them works of art.

It was about 3:30 when I left there, so I decided to head on back to my hotel room to change from the Disney sweatshirt Mom had bought on our trip to Epcot a few years ago into one of the rain jackets I'd bought for the trip, and to swap my new bowler for the crushable GoreTex rain cap I'd bought in Seattle when I'd gone back for Folklife Memorial Day weekend last year, which I could shove into my pack while at the RAH.

I've passed many interesting, reasonably priced restaurants here in the immediate area but about 5 PM decided to just go back to the Garfunkel's across the street because I could have a lighter meal there before the concert if I wanted, since I'd only had lunch a bit over three hours before. I had the scampi and chips, which were very good, with much the best fries I'd had here so far.

When I got to my seat at the RAH this evening, I discovered that once again I'd sort of misread the seating chart. I wasn't as high up this time, or quite as far back, but I was pretty much right over the stage right side of the orchestra. That actually turned out to be a pretty good place to be, since I had a great view for watching the conductor, orchestra, vocalists and other performers.

Tonight was a staged performance of Mozart's "Abduction from the seraglio". Once again I hadn't bought the souvenir program, so during the intermission I used my iPhone to find a synopsis of the plot so I understood what had already occurred and what was coming up.

It was the complete opera, with costumes and a few props but no scenery. The orchestra was towards the back of the stage, with the conductor facing them, and the cast and vocalists between him and the front of the stage (poor guy–the conductor pretty much had to just stand there without moving during the dialogues when he wasn't conducting). Because the vocalists had their backs to the conductor most of the time and so couldn't see him there was a monitor out in the standing room area so they could.

There were often lots of people on stage, but there are only six main singers, two women and four men, one of whom has what is known as one of the deepest bass roles in opera. Just when I was thinking there was no singing by a chorus, that's how Mozart ends the opera.

All the music, and the performances by the orchestra and all the vocalists were excellent. I had to giggle a bit when the bass, who played the only sort of villain in the piece, came out for his curtain call and the gent who was sitting next to me turned to the person he was with and very quitely said "Boo".


Saturday, August 15

Slideshow

I accidentally went to a concert today.

I slept pretty well last night, if not for very long, waking up about 6 this morning and already feeling quite wide awake and not able to go back to sleep, and I actually felt a lot better than I usually do when I haven't had enough sleep.

I had breakfast here in the hotel, then did my exercise walking for the day on the treadmill downstairs as well. Yesterday I had done all of my walking while wandering around from one place to another and walking around inside them. I was at my leisure today, without having any concerts or plays to go to.

Today I wanted to go check out the Borough Market down in Southwark, right by the Cathedral and near the Golden Hinde, not far from the Globe Theatre, so it's in an area I've been to several times already. It was quite busy on both legs of the Tube trip from Gloucester Road to the London Bridge station, which is right next to the Cathedral and the Market.

I don't have a refrigerator here in my hotel room, so I don't have a way of keeping any perishable items or even fruit fresh for very long so I didn't plan on actually buying much of anything at the Market. It's quite an interesting place, with lots of great looking food stalls and small restaurants of all kinds all over the place. While I was wandering around I didn't see any places to sit or even any tables to stand at while eating, unlike what I found at the Portland Saturday Market whenever I'd go there, so I decided to just wait and eat somewhere I could sit down and enjoy my meal.

Although I didn't buy any food there at the Market, I did find a small wine shop that also sold several varieties of mead from Devon, so I bought one which I just opened and am enjoying quite a bit as I'm writing this.

While I was doing my research for this trip, one of the places I'd decided I really wanted to visit here in London was the George Inn down in Southwark, not far from the Market. The George is what remains of the last coaching inn in London, and would have been one of the pubs Shakespeare knew from working in the theatres just down the road. One of the books about London I'd read was a biography of the George by Pete Brown called Shakespeare's pub in the US or Shakespeare's local here in the UK. It's a very interesting history of the city focusing on the local area and the pub itself.

Since the George isn't far from the Market, and I still hadn't had lunch yet, I decided to just head on over to the George and eat there instead of just stopping in for a pint. I knew what street the George is on, but wasn't sure which exit to leave the Market from to get to the street I wanted so I went out the exit I knew was right by the Cathedral, figuring I could find my way from there.

This is where accidentally going to a concert comes in. As I was passing the Cathedral on the way to the main street I'd come in on, a woman was outside handing out fliers for a concert that was going to be happening in the Cathedral in a few minutes. What really caught my attention was when she distinctly said "harps"–I'm usually quite interested in any concert featuring music for one harp, let alone more than one. At first I wasn't going to go in, since it was now about noon and I was starting to get hungry, but I decided I could wait to have lunch afterwards without dying from hunger, or more importantly still not suffering any symptoms of low blood sugar.

The concert turned out to be by kids from a summer music program in Richmond VA who were now finishing the program by playing concerts on a tour of England. The harpists were with the American Youth Harp Ensemble and the other six players were with the associated chamber music program. I looked the program up before I started writing this part of my notes and although the web page says there are only ten harpists in the program, I'm pretty sure I counted more than that. They did a program of music for chamber ensemble–piano, two cellos, and three violins) and harp ensemble. The music was all quite lovely, and very well played–not quite at a professional level yet, but extremely well done for a youth ensemble.

Afterwards I did find my way to the street I wanted and on to the George, which turned out to be towards the Thames instead of in the direction I first went. I didn't get too far off course, just until I could find a couple of buildings which actually indicated their street addresses so I could figure out which direction I should be going.

It was quite busy at the George, especially outside on such a lovely day, which was the nicest weather I've seen yet since I've been here. As I got to the George, a morris troupe seemed to be packing up after having performed there, which I'm sorry I missed. I had a very good steak and ale pie, made using the George's own ale, and a pint of that as well.

When I was at the umbrella and cane place, James Smith & Sons, earlier I had been quite tempted by a very nice but more expensive blackthorn walking stick which I'd decided not to buy at the time but had since decided the blackthorn stick wasn't extremely expensive but would be worth the extra money after all, so I wanted to go back there today. I also wanted to go to the Covent Garden branch of the same hat store I'd been to earlier to get a cap the other, smaller store didn't have in stock, and to a second, completely different hat store. Both stores seemed to be relatively close to each other near Covent Garden.

As usual, I'd written out detailed directions how to get from the Borough Market over to James Smith & Co, walk from there to the first hat shop (Christy's), and then how to walk from there to the second one (Laird's). With the directions I'd written down, and using the maps and directions app on my iPhone I did manage to get from place to place on foot without too much trouble. (The voice in my head was GPS and Google Maps on my iPhone.)

I was helped at James Smith & Co by Jason, the same clerk who had helped me the first time I had been there. I did get the blackthorn cane, which has a handle of a different, differently patterned wood and a shaft of blackthorn with a lovely natural grain pattern (so now I have two shilelaghs, both of which are walking sticks). Although my new one is more expensive that either of the two sticks I bought earlier, it's quite a bit less by far than some of the other canes or umbrellas they sell. I arranged for the new stick to be shipped home as well.

When I got to the Covent Garden branch of Christy's they did indeed have the no logo blue ball cap I'd been looking for at the other branch. I was helped by a very nice guy perhaps a couple of years older than I am and a lovely younger woman. The ball cap is quite packable, so I stuck it in my book pack and headed on over to the Laird's. When I got there I was again helped by another lovely young woman. They did have both the cap and hat I wanted, and she helped me choose which color of the hat I should get, dark brown or dark grey. She thought I looked better in the dark brown, so of course that's the one I got.

Both stores are near if not in the Seven Dials/Neal's Yard area of Covent Garden, which was having a one-day summer festival today with live entertainment, so it was quite busy and lively around there.

By now I had a shopping bag with my new hat and didn't really want to carry it all the way to the Tube station and on two possibly quite crowded rides to get back to my hotel, so again I decided to take a cab instead. There was quite busy, heavy traffic several times on the way, and I was quite impressed with my driver's ability to read the traffic flow and slip in gaps in the lanes ahead.

I got back here about 5 and stretched out for a bit. I seem to have actually fallen rather deeply asleep for an hour or so.

I went out about 7 to find somewhere new to have dinner, and settled on what looked like a very nice Indian restaurant around the corner I'd passed on the way to the Royal Albert Hall several times. Before leaving home, I'd heard or read somewhere that according to recent polls the dish is considered to be the current #1 favorite British dish is chicken tika masala, which has been familiar to the current younger generation for all their lives. It's what they grew up with, so it's British. So that's what I had for dinner, and it, the restaurant, and all the staff I met there were very good and quite pleasant.

It's now only about 11 PM, which is pleasantly early for me these days. I have two Proms concerts tomorrow, one at 3 PM and one at 7:30, so I plan on pretty much just exploring the local area some more.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is pretty nice. I plan on having breakfast here in the hotel in before doing my exercise walking on the treadmill again. I then want to go find the Michelin building I mentioned earlier before heading on over to Harrod's, pretty much just to check out the famous food court. Then I think I'll just wander around Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park and check out the Serpentine Gallery before going to my afternoon concert.


Sunday, August 16

Today turned out to be kind of an off day in a couple of ways, and I learned I had managed to mix up my own schedule a bit–but first let me digress a bit.

This is turning out to be quite a nice area of London to be based in. Besides the Museum of Natural History, the Science Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Royal Albert Hall, and the Gloucester Road mall & Tube station, there are several hotels in the immediate vicinity, most of them of modest size but also including the Holiday Inn tower across the road a couple of blocks down. Although there are only two pubs in the immediate area, there are several restaurants of different kinds–an Asian fusion place almost next door, Garfunkel's and an Italian place across the street, the Indian restaurant around the corner I went to last night, and several others a bit further up the street, not counting the McDonald's and Starbucks by the Tube station. The Barclay's bank with the ATM is just around the corner. There's a small Tesco express and a Boots pharmacy around the corner by the Tube station, a Waitrose (sort of like a small Super Target back home) across the street, and the Sainsbury's not far down the street (think of a Super Target with extra services like a cleaner's and a dentist).

There are a couple of other interesting buildings in the immediate area as well, such as the Baden-Powell House and the Ismali Centre. The first is a conference center and small hotel owned by the Boy Scouts and is of course named after the Scouts' founder. The Ismali Centre is the main center for London's if not England's Ismali Shiite Muslims.

Now back to today.

I had a bit of my semi-regular occasional mild stomach problems most of the day. I had breakfast at Garfunkel's again and wanted to pick up some things at the Waitrose in the Gloucester Road mall but they're closed on Sunday. When I came back to my room to use the bathroom, I checked online to see if the Sainsbury's down the street was open, and they were so I went.

I still wasn't feeling very well when I got back to my room so I decided to just hang out here for a bit. That is when I checked what I'd written down for my schedule, compared it with the tickets I had, and realized that I didn't have zero concerts yesterday and two today but one last night and one this afternoon. Last night's concert was one I had really been looking forward to, the candle lit Baroque extravaganza at St Martin in the Fields, which I'll now have to visit some other time instead.

I just hung out here until a bit after 2:30 when it was time to walk on over to the Royal Albert Hall for this afternoon's program at 3:30. I skipped lunch but had one of my SlimFasts before I left.

Today's program was in some ways the most interesting and entertaining of the ones I've been to so far–"Sherlock Holmes–a musical mind".

It featured the BBC Concert Orchestra, several musical guests, and two narrators, one a guy I didn't know and Mark Gatiss, who besides being co-creator of "Sherlock" with Benedict Cumberbatch also plays Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's older and even smarter brother. The performance featured music either referred to by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the stories and novels or what might have been heard by Holmes and Watson as well as music from many TV and movie treatments of the Holmes material.

Here's another bit of a digression but more on topic this time. I've read all of the Sherlock Holmes books at least three or four times over the years. At home I have a huge complete volume of all the Holmes books Mom and Dad gave me many years ago. An edition of all the Holmes books formated for the Amazon Kindle was one of the first things I bought for mine.

The fascination with Holmes isn't limited to the past–there are currently two very different TV shows based on Holmes, the BBC's own "Sherlock" and CBS's "Elementary".

Benedict Cumberbatch couldn't make this afternoon's performance since he's currently appearing as Hamlet somewhere else in London (and no, I couldn't get a ticket when I tried). The theatre there is having lots of trouble with idiots who won't put their damn smart phones away during performances but keep taking pictures of him. A review I read today mentioned that Martin Freeman, who plays Watson in "Sherlock", was somewhere in the audience.

Other authors have also continued to keep Holmes and others of Doyle's characters very much alive. Some authors have shifted the focus away from Holmes & Watson to Mrs Hudson, their landlady, or to Mycroft or Professor Moriarty, or have teamed Sherlock up with other sleuths including Laurie King's series with his student turned wife Mary Russell. Carole Nelson Douglas wrote a series featuring Irene Adler from "A scandal in Bohemia", the only woman and one of the few people ever to get the better of Holmes. Michael Robertson writes a contemporary mystery series about two brothers running a law practice out of 221B Baker Street and having to deal with letters written to Holmes there.

After I got back to my hotel, I felt well enough to do my 45 minutes of exercise walking on the treadmill in the exercise room in the basement–where, I have to say, it gets a lot more comfortable once I figured out where the controls for the AC are,.

I went back to Garfunkel's for dinner this evening because: 1) I like the place; 2) I like the menu; 3) I like the prices; 4) I like the staff I've met there, many of whom are lovely young women who seem to have Eastern European accents; 5) although the Italian place next door to Garfunkel's and the pan-Asian place next door to the hotel were open this evening, nothing on their menus really interested me when I looked at them, although I do plan on eating at least once at each of them later; 6) Scoff & Banter, the British place up the street seemed to be closed this evening.

I had a very lovely fish pie (kind of like a shepherd's pie, but with seafood in a cream sauce covered with mashed potatoes, a Pimm's cup, an elderflower pressee which I rather like, and a sundae for dessert. I then came back across the street to drop some stuff off in my room and get something to read before going back downstairs to have a pint in the small bar/lounge there (I was the only one there).

I came back up to my room after that and have been writing my notes up since then. It's now about 12:15, and time to close up for the night.


Monday, August 17

Slideshow

I had some definite plans for what I wanted to do to start and finish today off, and a bunch of possibilities in between.

I had breakfast here in the hotel and did my exercise walking on the treadmill again before heading out for the day.

I started out by wandering over to check out the former London Michelin headquarters, the Bibendum Building, which isn't far from my hotel. It really is as whimsical, charming and delightful as all the mentions in the different travel books I read said it is. The front part of the ground floor is what looks like a very nice restaurant; you pass through that to a shop, or go through another door which leads to the reception area and elevators for the upstairs floors.

I had plans to end my day over at the Dennis Sever's House over in Spitalfields for the evening silent candlelight tour, for which I'd bought a ticket online before leaving home. My tour was for 7 PM, so last night I looked at my lists of where else I wanted to go in that area and used Google Maps to figure out how to get there and from one place to another–pretty successfully, it turned out.

The nearest Tube stop from the Michelin building is South Kensington, which it turns out has at least two entrances/exits several blocks apart, including the one over nearer to the museums and the Royal Albert Hall, which explains my confusion about where I had been earlier. From South Kensington, I got on the right train but heading in the wrong direction from where I wanted to go, so I got off at the next station and got on the train heading the right way.

My first stop over in Smithfield/Spitalfields was the Barbican Centre, which I didn't think was anywhere near as ugly as I've heard and read it criticized. I kind of liked it.

From the Barbican, I wanted to go see the church of St Bartholomew the Great, which is famous for its very long-running annual fair and its association with the still operational St Bartholomew's Hospital, which is better known as St Bart's and is regarded as one of the best hospitals in the world. From the hospital I wanted to go see the Church of St Sepulchre. I did, but I wound up not seeing things in that order.

I didn't really feel that much interest in actually seeing a lot of St Bart's Hospital, but just took pictures of some of the more interesting signs and buildings I passed by, such as the Henry VIII Gate.

I actually found St Sepulcher's Church before I found St Bartholomew's Church, having gone a bit astray from my own directions. I had thought Sepulchre was a rather an odd name for a saint, and it turned out to actually refer not to a person but to a place–it was named after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, with which it is a sister church, sort of in the same way some cities have sister cities.

From St Sepulchre it was pretty easy to find St Bart's Church using Maps on my iPhone. I liked it and St Sepulchre quite a bit; they're both lovely old churches. St Bart's is one of the oldest in London (1123) and is possibly the only church in the world founded by someone whose former career had been court jester.

From St Bart's I wanted to go to Postman's Park and then on to the Museum of London. I found the museum first, where I went after I had an OK lunch at the local Pret a Manger. I really liked the Museum of London a great deal, with its beautifully and very nicely laid out collection of lots of amazing items. The layout is a bit confusing, even if you're looking at a floor plan. I knew I had seen part of the old Roman wall out of a window somewhere in the museum, but couldn't figure out how to get there. As I was leaving, I asked one of the employees near the entrance where the wall was, and he actually took me back outside and alongside the museum to the stairs down to ground level where the Roman wall is.

Postman's Park is very near the Museum of London, almost right next to it, but is so poorly marked that I must have walked past it in different directions at least twice while looking for it. It's a small but lovely and charming hidden spot, with a very interesting history and origin.

My original plan had been to head on over to the Bunhill Fields Cemetery, and then from there to the Wesley Chapel on the way over to the Dennis Severs' House, but by now it was about 4:30. I decided to play it safe and leave Bunhill Fields and the Chapel for a later day when I'd have more time to wander around the Cemetery.

I killed a bit of time by having a pint at a pub near the Museum of London I'd noticed on the way there. I knew the Dennis Severs' House is supposedly about a 25 minute walk from the Museum but I hadn't written down those directions, and the battery on my iPhone was dying so I couldn't use the Maps app on it, and decided to play it safe and take a cab over instead.

It was about 5:45 when I got to the House. I walked around the neighborhood for a bit, then had a light dinner at the local pub called the Water Poet, which is named after one of the more colorful characters in London's history I'd read about. This was one of the least fancy places I went the whole time I was in London, a little old and a bit rundown but still quite pleasant–definitely a neighborhood place. I ordered a couple of items from the appetizer menu, a very good sausage roll and an OK pork pie. Since I'd had a pint not long before, I had a large sparkling water with lemon instead.

I really liked the Dennis Severs' House, and loved the evening silent candlelit tour. The place is as oddly brilliant as all the descriptions I'd read said it was. During the day you can, of course, see all the objects Severs collected and so carefully arranged much more clearly, but at night when the rooms are lit only by scattered candles it's quite wonderful. Severs was an American artist who saved the building and set up each room and floor to tell the story of several generations of a Hugenot weaving family who lived there. He really created the feeling that the people who lived there had only just stepped out moments before you walk in, but not in a creepy way.

I had two favorite rooms; one with a lovely collection of Chinoiserie including several beautiful statues of Kuan Yin/Canon; the other room was at the top of the house, representing when the family that lived there had fallen in reduced circumstances but in the corner was a small study with a small library. I loved that touch–no matter how crappy things get, having stuff to read and an at least semi-comfortable place to do so always helps.

I found the Liverpool Street Tube station quite easily from the DSH, but again at first got on the wrong train–I forgot that sometimes different lines share the same platform. I got off at the next station and got on the right train back to Gloucester Road and my hotel.

I knew I didn't want to have a large meal, so I instead went to the Starbuck's across the street from the station because I knew I could get a drink and a snack there. I had one of their yogurts, which I'll probably never have again, because this one had mango which was nice but also had quinoa for some added protein which I found kind of odd. I kept the spoon afterwards, so now I have one here in my room.

I was a bit tired when I got back here to my room, and stretched out for a bit after eating my snack but I don't think I fell asleep. I then checked my email and Facebook for a bit before calling Michael & Renee for a chat since he had said he wasn't working tonight. I've been writing my notes up since then, and it's now about 1 AM.


Tuesday, August 18

Slideshow

I just went to places locally today. I had planned on going to the Natural History Museum, which is best visited as soon after opening as is possible due to the popularity with families, but it didn't quite work out that way.

I slept well last night but not long, falling asleep about 2 AM and waking up before 7. I dropped off my laundry at the front desk, and then since I was down on the ground floor already I went across the street to have breakfast at Garfunkel's again instead of having the breakfast buffet here in the hotel. I did my exercise walking on the treadmill back here in the hotel afterwards, and when I went back up to my room to get my stuff before heading out for the day I found it had already been cleaned. It seemed too good of an opportunity to pass up, since I knew I wouldn't be disturbed by housekeeping if I took a bit of a nap, so I did.

Before I left around 1:30 PM, I used the computer to look at the map of the area again on Google Maps. I'd seen this small wildlife area nearby on the map, next to a memorial to the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, and thought I'd try to find those first. When I got there, it turned out that they both are on the grounds of the Natural History Museum, so I'll save them for that visit.

I was getting pretty hungry by this time, and kept walking along Cromwell Road towards Harrod's, figuring I'd eat somewhere at the small restaurants in the Food Court there if they weren't too terribly expensive, if I didn't find somewhere else nice on the way. I wound up eating at a very nice French patisserie instead, and had a croque madame and a strawberry tart. I also went past a nice, older pub I hadn't noticed before and stopped for a pint.

I'd planned on heading up to Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park while looking for a couple of places along the way. I wanted to find a Russian Orthodox church somewhere in the area, which apparently isn't too far from the Polish Institute I wanted to find and send a picture of from my iPhone to my coworker, Krystyna, who's from Poland. I eventually did find the church but it didn't look like it was open, and the whole front was covered by scaffolding so I just took a couple of pictures from the outside.

I somehow didn't find the Polish Institute where I thought it had been on the map–I knew I was quite close but by now I really needed to find an open public restroom very soon, so I headed into Hyde Park where I fortunately found one quite quickly. It was quite grey and cloudy today, so I decided to save wandering around the parks until better weather and instead just headed up the paths to the Albert Memorial and the Royal Albert Hall.

I sat on a bench in a pleasant and restful small flower garden near the Memorial until 5:30 or so, hoping that would give me enough time to find somewhere to eat before my 7:30 concert. I discovered, unfortunately, that it's almost impossible to eat in any of the Royal Albert Hall's restaurants before a concert without a reservation. What really annoyed me is that after I'd tried one of the restaurants on the 3rd floor, one of the staff called another restaurant, spoke with a manager there, was told that they did have free tables, and she took me down to that restaurant after telling the manager we were on our way but when I got down there and spoke to the person at the desk there were no tables.

My seat for tonight's concert was the worst I've had so far–I'd chosen a seat which turned out to be as far up as you can go from the floor level above stage right so I could only see a bit of the orchestra on the left. The only good thing about the seat was that it was on the right side of a stairwell, so I had a bit more leg room even if my left foot hung out over the stair while my right was on the same level as the seat.

I don't remember if I've described the layout of the seats in the Royal Albert Hall before, but here it is again anyway. The acoustics throughout the hall are wonderful, so there is not a bad seat in that sense, but the view from the seats are a different matter, very few areas having a direct, straight on view of the stage. The hall is in the shape of an oval, with seating divided into eight sections with the lowest level having 10-12 rows, then the first and second balconies having 5 or 6 rows each, with the sections above those having 7 further rows. Two of the sections are stage right and stage left, directly above and behind the stage. The only two areas that have a view of the stage that's even close to straight on are directly across the hall on the far end of the oval with sometimes hundreds of people standing on the floor between the stage and the seats.

Once again the different pieces were unannounced so the only way you could know what was being played was to buy the souvenir program, which I had no intention of doing since I didn't plan on keeping it past tonight's performance. Tonight's ensemble was the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which is a youth ensemble with members of Middle Eastern background and was founded by its conductor, the Argentine-Israeli Daniel Barenboin and a Palestinian-American. The music was pretty good, whatever it was, but the first piece sounded a bit more like general tuning up. It did improve from there, though.

It was a bit chilly when I left the Royal Albert Hall, and I probably should have stopped to put on my sweatshirt or at least roll down the sleeves of my shirt which I'd rolled up earlier because as usual it was rather warm inside the Hall but the cool actually felt very nice and refreshing. I had a late dinner at the Garfunkel's for the usual reasons, added to which is they're open until 11:30 PM. I had a very nice pasta carbonara, the usual Pimm's cup and elderflower presse and ice cream for dessert.

When I stopped at the front desk to pick up my laundry I was told that it had already been delivered upstairs while I was out, which was quite nice. It cost a ridiculous amount to have it done for me, but 1) I had nine days of laundry done and, more importantly, 2) it saved me from having to sit around a small laundromat for two to three hours with who knows whom and their families, so I'd say it was a bit expensive but well worth it.


Wednesday, August 19

Slideshow

The first thing I did this morning was to check online to see if I could make a pre-concert reservation at one of the restaurants in the Royal Albert Hall for this evening, and managed to do so.

I had two sets of plans for today, depending on when I woke up and how I felt. If I woke up early enough and felt rested enough, I was going to take the Tube into the City of London–the two tours in the City done by the official City guides I'm most interested in do run on other days, but on Wednesdays they both take place, the tour of some of Sir Christopher Wren's churches in the morning and one called City Highlights in the afternoon.

I didn't get moving enough to make it into the City for the morning tour, so I decided I'd try the National History Museum instead, hoping I'd make it there early enough to miss some of the crowds of families with kids, and then head on over to the Royal Albert Hall in time for my pre-concert dinner reservation at 6 this evening. I got down to the Natural History Museum before 11 AM. Since as usual I had one of my walking sticks with me, one of the nice museum employees on duty outside told me I could go straight in, but since the main line was actually moving along surprisingly quickly I decided I'd go through it. This allowed me some time to take pictures of the wonderful front exterior of the building.

The place was packed once I got inside, and seemed to have a lot more families including ones with small children than I'd seen at the Victoria & Albert and even more than I'd seen at the Science Museum. I still enjoyed the museum quite a bit, although I didn't pay to see any of the special exhibits. Not surprisingly, I often had to maneuver around families and groups blocking the aisles and doorways, and as usual didn't take the time to read a lot of the informative signage. I just wandered around, enjoying the setup and displays.

I did make it to the two places I'd wanted to which had turned out to be on the Museum's grounds, the small but lovely little wildlife garden and the memorial to the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

By the time I had lunch in one of the museum's restaurants (a very good ham & cheese quiche, which came with two salads, both of which had beans) it was after 2 PM. By the time I'd stopped for lunch, I'd been walking around for about three and a half hours. I knew I hadn't seen everything there was to see as usual, but also as usual I had seen a lot, had enjoyed what I'd seen, and was kind of tired of trying to get around families and groups.

After I left the museum, I kept going on down the road to Harrod's, where I wanted to at least check out the famous Food Courts. I certainly wasn't planning on shopping there, figuring most of the stuff in the Food Courts, let alone the rest of the store, would probably be out of my price comfort zone–as an aside, a couple of days ago as I was passing through the lobby of the hotel, I heard the person working at the front desk tell a guest that they could probably find a lot of the same merchandise sold at Harrod's at other stores for a lot less. I also wasn't interested in finding the famous shrine to Princess Diana and Dodi, set up by Dodi's father, the previous owner of Harrod's and maintained by the current ownership.

The Food Courts really are as impressive as I'd always heard they were, with lots of mini-stores/food counters selling an incredible array of different types of food and drinks–meats, cheeses, pastries, teas, etc. Each mini-store has at least a couple of small restaurant booths selling dishes prepared with the food sold there. After you choose your particular steak, for instance, you can have it cooked to your liking at the mini-restaurant next door to the meat stall. I'd just had lunch, and of course have nowhere in my hotel room to keep anything cold, and not a lot of stuff to put food except on the desk which I use for writing my notes and using my laptop, so I just wandered around taking pictures.

On the walk back to the hotel, I saw and went in a small, stand-alone Marks & Spencer food shop, which I also thought was quite well done. This time I did buy something, a couple of different flavors of what they call "crisps" here–chips to us.

By the time I got back here to my hotel room it was about 4 PM. I decided not to try to get my 45 minutes of exercise walking in on the treadmill before heading on over to the Royal Albert Hall for dinner and tonight's concert, but to just settle for total walkage, ie total time spent walking around during the day, instead.

This morning I'd managed to make a reservation at Coda, one of the smaller, fancier restaurants at the RAH. Dinner was very good–a bowl of very tasty pea soup, a very nicely prepared bass, and an orange and pistachio souffle for dessert. It wasn't a lot of food, and wasn't cheap, but not outrageously expensive either, and like at a lot of other places you're paying for the atmosphere, milieu and ambiance as much as you are for the food. Was it worth it? Yes, because it was a very tasty meal, in a very lovely setting literally only a couple of minutes away from my seat. Will I have dinner at another of the RAH's restaurants again? Maybe for my last Proms concert.

My seat for tonight was the best so far. This time I was still in the topmost balcony, but only in the 3rd of the 7 rows, and in one of the two 1/8th sections that mostly face the stage. There also seemed to be a little more leg room in that section as well. I had the 3rd seat from the aisle; the first seat was empty, and the girl sitting in the seat next to me disappeared at the intermission, so then I was able to move over to the aisle seat for even more leg room as well. I realize I'm not the best person to sit next to or behind since if I don't have enough leg room I tend to fidget as I frequently feel a need to somehow flex my knees as much as I can to avoid a fair amount of pain.

I'm rather embarrassed to admit that after doing all this complaining that the only way you could find out exactly what was on the program for the evening was to buy the souvenir program for each separate concert, it hadn't occurred to me until today to check and see if there was an app for the whole BBC Proms season–and indeed there is, and it costs less than the price of a single souvenir program and gives details for each and every performance and is searchable by specific dates. So, from tonight on, I'll include the notes for each concert and will probably go back and add notes for the earlier concerts when I type my notes up back home.

Tonight's performance was quite enjoyable. The ensemble was the Royal Philharmonic. The first piece was Debussy's "Petite suite", which was very nice. Next, Elisabeth Leonskaya joined the orchestra to play a Mozart piano concerto (#22 in E flat major), after which she was persuaded to play an encore which wasn't flashy but instead was sweet and pleasant. After the break the orchestra played Shostakovitch's "Symphony #15 in A major" which I enjoyed a great deal, and not just because it features and uses a lot more brass and percussion, a celeste, and a couple of glockenspiel or xylophones.


Thursday, August 20

Slideshow

Today I went on Premier Tour's "England in a day" trip, starting here in London, going to Stratford-upon-Avon, then to Bath, and finishing up at Stonehenge where we arrived after the official closing before returning here to London.

I had confirmed that I would be picked up at about 7:30 from the hotel right next door but there seemed to be a bit of confusion when I saw one of their buses go past in one direction and apparently the same bus go past in the other direction several minutes later. I called the tour company, and said I was waiting at the hotel where I was told I'd be picked up, and thought I'd seen one of their buses go by twice without stopping. A few minutes later, one of their buses did come by and stop. I don't know if it was the same bus I saw go by earlier, but the driver did have my name on his list.

It turned out that the bus wasn't the same one that actually went on the tour, or any of the tours. Instead we were taken to the Victoria coach station to transfer to the appropriate bus there. This got very confusing and hectic because the station is huge and very busy. We were told that our bus would be leaving from door #14, and it seemed like several other buses were also leaving from the same door as well.

Our driver, Gary, was in his 30s, I think, and seemed to be a nice guy in the limited interaction we had with him. Our guide, David, did an excellent job. His frequent request that people actually pay attention to him made a lot of sense when he told us that at 73 he still teaches higher-level math & English to working class boys. Throughout the day, David did an excellent job providing informative and entertaining commentary both on the road and at our stops, although you could tell from some of his comments that he probably is a progressive liberal vegetarian.

Apparently the trip usually begins at Stonehenge and finishes up at Stratford, but David & Gary thought it would be better to do it the other way around, and had arranged for us to be admitted to Stonehenge after the official closing, as I mentioned earlier, when most of the other tourists had left. That seemed to work very well, since when we got there about 5 PM there were only a very few other tour buses there.

I really loved the trips to and between our stops, which went through very beautiful countryside that often reminded me of Oregon–without the mountains. David did an excellent job pointing out and telling us about the various places of interest we passed on the way, including the best places to take pictures. Although it seemed most of the other people I could see were taking pictures in transit, I've never had good luck taking pictures through car or bus windows especially when there's a reflection so I didn't even bother trying.

When we got to Stratford, David had arranged for each of us all to have a very nice scone and a glass of orange juice at the Shakespeare Birthplace visitor's centre, with a brief recitation by one of the actors who works there.

David then took us through the original Shakespeare family home. It was very nice to see but I didn't take many pictures inside because the rooms were small and the whole busload of us was crammed into each room as we went along. I did take several pictures of the lovely but non-period appropriate garden out back. The batteries in the camera then died, and the replacement batteries I'd brought with me were back on the bus. We only had about 30 to 45 minutes on our own there in Stratford, but I had to use some of that time to find some new batteries if I wanted to take any more pictures of the town itself, which I did, but I still had time to find the First Folio.

I really enjoyed the scenery between Stratford and Bath, which is lovely rolling green country. David told us that we were quite lucky, since until recently there had been a bit of a drought in England for the last 18 years.

At Bath, David gave us a bit of an introduction to the town, took us in to see the Roman baths, and told us where he thought the best place to eat nearby was, a small shop selling several varieties of authentic Cornish pasties. I took pictures of the immediate area around the cathedral, the baths and the pump room before following David's advice and finding the pastie shop to get one for myself. As we were coming into town, I had noticed what looked like a lovely little park over by the river, so I paid the 1.5 Lb entry fee to pay it a visit. It really is a lovely, very pleasant little park and gardens, right beside a pretty stretch of the River Avon. I spent the remaining half an hour we had left in town wandering around the garden taking pictures before sitting on a bench to eat my traditional meat & potato pastie, which by that time had cooled enough for me to comfortably eat it. I think there might have been a wedding party wandering around the garden having their pictures taken.

There are two small parks in Bath up on the street level above the river level garden where I ate lunch. When I got back up to the street level, at first I wasn't sure which was the park where we'd been let off and would meet our bus but then I remembered it had some decorative ironwork over the entrance and only one of them did, and when I got there I recognized one of the other people from the bus.

Visiting Stonehenge was quite wonderful, although I did think the new, very expensive visitor's centre really looks a lot more like a bus station from the outside. From there you take a small shuttle bus a few minutes up the road to Stonehenge itself.

Once there, David told us he's one of the few outside guides who are allowed to take their groups around by themselves. It really doesn't take very long to see Stonehenge, since you can only walk around the periphery, which takes about half an hour at the most. David took us to where he thought some of the best views were.

We then went back to the main visitors centre to meet Gary and our bus. I don't usually buy souvenirs, only books I'll probably read more than once or music I'll probably listen to more than once as well, but I did buy a bottle of scrumpy, the hard cider they brew in the region (and I had a glass while writing these notes, and it is a very good hard cider).

We were very lucky with the weather today. For a while at Bath it was almost Florida warm, and I took my sweatshirt off. When we got to Stonehenge it was a bit grey and overcast but the late afternoon light made it quite special. It didn't start drizzling until we were back on the bus heading back to London and it was still drizzling when I went out to dinner after we got back.

David and Gary only dropped people off at about 6 or 8 locations in London, including at the Kensington Crowne Point, right next to my hotel where I'd been picked up that morning, which was excellent for me. David would tell each group they dropped off how best to get to where they needed to go.

I dropped my pack off here in my room before heading downstairs to do my daily exercise walking on the treadmill. For the first time, someone else was using it when I got there, but when I asked the young woman using it how much longer she was going to be she just got off, although I would have waited–perhaps she didn't speak much English.

When I finished my usual 45 minutes on the treadmill, it was a bit after 9. I hoped one of the other restaurants in the area would still be open, and knew that I could of course go to Garfunkel's which is always open late. Scoff & Banter, the British place just up the street, was still open but barely–I apparently was the last person they served before closing. I had their version of a steak and ale pie, which was very good, and a dessert called raspberry Eton mess which was even better. All the other patrons had left before I got my dessert, but the staff just carried on setting things up for breakfast the next morning.

When I got back here to my room, I stretched out for a bit to watch a streaming program on my Kindle Fire–the wifi here in the hotel seems to work very well–before writing out my notes from today.


Friday, August 21

Slideshow

It's not going to take me as long as usual to write up my notes for today, not because I didn't do anything but because there's not much I can say about what I did–but I did take lots of pictures.

I got off to a slightly later start this morning but decided that since the weather was supposed to be nice I wanted to get out on the water as much as possible, and the Westminster Passenger Service route to Kew Gardens and back was an excellent excuse to do so. I was at the Westminster dock in time to catch the 11 AM sailing for the Gardens. The trips last about 90 minutes either way.

The tide was quite low this morning, which made for lots of interesting pictures of shallow-draft boats sitting on the Thames bottom. It was a beautiful day for a river cruise.

All along the way, there is an incredible amount of new and very recent construction of what is and will be incredibly expensive housing. I got the same feeling I often get when I take the Water Taxi or other cruises on the New River and Intracoastal Waterway back home in Ft Lauderdale–it must be very nice to be able afford to live in those kinds of places.

There were also a lot of rowers out and about in single and two-person sculls, especially near the various club boat houses along the route.

The captain on the trip to Kew provided commentary about the interesting buildings and places we passed as well.

One entrance to Kew Gardens is about a half a mile walk upriver from Kew Pier, which is where the Westminster boat lets you off. I knew I wouldn't have too much time before I'd have to leave the Gardens to catch the last boat to Westminster at 4:30, knew I'd probably get a bit lost wandering around the Gardens (although they do an excellent job there with frequent maps and directional signage), and should probably have lunch somewhere there before too long. Riding around on the Kew Explorer sightseeing tram would give me a good view of lots of the area, probably more than I could see just wandering around in the limited time I had, so I rode around for one full loop and got off at the Orangery restaurant. I had a very nice fish dish for lunch, which I ate outside. Out on the lawn at the restaurant, there were three performers doing what kind of looked like an old fashioned vaudeville routine with audience participation. After lunch I had about 45 minutes to wander around the grounds before I had to head to the exit nearest the Kew Pier to catch my boat back to town, which I really enjoyed.

While walking along the tow path between the Pier and the Gardens, and walking around the Gardens, I wasn't sure I'd be up to doing my usual 45 minutes of exercise walking on the treadmill when I got back to my hotel. Not only were my knees bothering me a bit more than usual, but this morning I'd stubbed some of my bare toes on the either the desk chair or the bed–there's not a lot of room between them–and my foot was really beginning to hurt as well.

While we were waiting for our boat, we could hear a helicopter hovering somewhere in the area, but couldn't see it because the Pier is in a small wooded area with limited visibility upwards. We could also hear lots of police and emergency sirens coming from somewhere upriver, and I saw lifesaving and police boats hurrying past us upriver.

About 4:30, when the boat was supposed to be arriving, the girl in the very small ticket booth came out to tell us that the captain had called to tell her the boat would be late, since they wouldn't allow him through the lock upriver at Richmond in time–apparently they had let a much smaller boat with only two people on it go through the other way before they'd let his boat through.

I had planned on sitting on the side along the opposite bank from where I'd been seated on the trip down, but at first forgot. Since the boat was pretty full, I decided to not bother trying to move but just stayed where I was. It was still a lovely day to be out on the river, and I enjoyed the trip a lot and took more pictures.

It was well after 6 PM when we got back to Westminster Pier. The trip down had taken less time since we had been going the same way as the tide was flowing. The Tube trip was quite full but some nice person gave me their seat, because as usual I had one of my canes.

When I got back to the Gloucester Road Tube station and my hotel, my foot and knees felt much better, so I didn't even go up to my room first but went on down to the basement and did my 45 minute exercise walk on the treadmill.

At the end of our tour yesterday, when Gary was getting ready to let those of us off who were leaving at the Crowne Plaza next door, David had recommended Ask, the small Italian restaurant across the street at the Gloucester Road Arcade–right next to Garfunkel's. I hadn't eaten there yet, but had planned on doing so since I liked what I saw on the menu outside when I'd checked it out, so after using the treadmill I went upstairs to my room to drop my stuff off before going back downstairs and across the street to the restaurant.

When I had looked at their menu outside, I had noticed they offer a seafood risotto. When I was at my table inside, I saw on a small card there that they also have their own version of a Pimm's cup, so of course I ordered one. I also saw they had whitebait, which is basically whatever small fish is running locally at that time of year, and apparently is usually served whole and deep-fried. I ordered the whitebait and the risotto and a bottle of the elderflower pressee I like and wish I could get at home (maybe at Whole Foods, which I haven't checked yet since I don't usually shop there). For dessert I had a dish with a small scoop of each of three of their own sorbets. I can't remember what flavors they were, but they and the entire dinner were lovely.

Today was pretty much about being out on the Thames as much as possible, and Kew Gardens was the excuse. I'd love to visit the Gardens again, and take more time to explore them, maybe combined with a trip to Hampton Court Palace which is further along the river. One possibility would be to take the Tube and a bus to get to Kew Gardens a lot earlier in the day, then take the boat from Kew Pier on to Hampton Court which apparently is the best way to get to Hampton anyway since that's how it was originally designed to be best seen, then take a later train and the Tube back to Gloucester Road.

It's now about 12:30 AM. I'm going to take a bit of a break and stretch out to give my knees a rest before trying to figure out what I want to do tomorrow and the rest of my time here in London.


Saturday, August 22

Slideshow

After I finished writing my notes from yesterday last night, I couldn't make myself stay up any longer to figure out what I want to do during the rest of my time here in London. As soon as I stretched out for a bit of a rest, I realized that I was sleepy and probably could easily fall asleep, so I did.

When I woke up about 8 or 8:30 this morning, my primary goal was to go through my lists of what I still want to see and go online to find out their opening days and hours throughout the week to make planning easier.

I discovered I could pay a little more online and get a fast track ticket for the London Eye that allows you to just show up any time during the week, collect your ticket, and get on the Eye without having to wait in the longer ticket and admissions lines so I bought one.

I also wanted to see if I could make a dinner reservation at one of the Royal Albert Hall's other restaurants before my last Proms concert next week, and was able to do so.

But it was when I was checking to see what the visiting hours are at St Martin in the Fields that I got really excited. I saw that there was a concert tonight and tickets were still available so I bought one online. Before I had left home I had done the same for an earlier concert but had got the date confused and missed it.

Then while looking at Google Maps I realized that two other places I really wanted to visit, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, are right near St Martin's in the Fields and were open today.

I decided I'd also pass by a couple of the other theatres in London which are also sort of in the same area, the Royal Haymarket Theatre and the Queen's Theatre, just to take some pictures of their outsides.

I plotted out how to get from Gloucester Road to each place in turn.

I had my last Slimfast for breakfast while doing my research this morning, so after I did my exercise walking on the treadmill downstairs I went across the street to the Waitrose to get some more before leaving for the day.

It was a lovely day today, almost warm even by South Florida standards.

I got off the Tube at the Leicester Square station, and found my way to the Royal Haymarket Theatre easily, but the route from there to the Queen's Theatre would have taken me through some construction so I gave that a pass. Instead I wandered back to Leicester Square where I took some pictures before heading over to Piccadilly Circus to do the same.

It wasn't until I got to the corner where the National Gallery and St Martin in the Fields are located that I really realized they're right at Trafalgar Square, which somehow I hadn't quite noticed while looking at Google Maps. I guess I'd been paying too much attention to plotting my routes from one place to another.

The Square was quite busy on such a lovely day, with lots of buskers and street performers and people pretending to be statues.

I was getting pretty hungry by this time, so I had lunch at one of the pubs nearest the National Gallery, I forget which one. I had a pretty good lamb pie even though I thought it had a bit too much puff pastry, and a hard cider.

I really enjoyed the National Gallery even though as usual I sort of breezed through it, just enjoying the art without it meaning very much to me. I especially didn't spend much time looking at the earlier, more religious art which doesn't have much personal meaning for me either.

After leaving the Gallery, I stopped across the street to St Martin in the Fields which was open for visiting, so I went in. It's a very lovely, modern church even with the kind of odd at first window over the altar, which I haven't been able to find any information about. The church's website says it was built in 1726 but it sure looks a lot more contemporary than that.

The box office where I stopped to pick up my ticket for tonight's concert is on the lower level, which is also where the much older crypt is and houses the famous Café in the Crypt. I thought it was a very nice place as well and decided to have dinner there before the concert.

The National Portrait Gallery was also a lot of fun, even though there seemed to be several different tour groups going through it while I was there. I often had to wait or wander around for a bit until the group or someone listening to the audio tour moved out from in front of a picture I wanted to see. It was quite enjoyable seeing in person portraits I'd seen before in books and documentaries.

I didn't spend a lot of time checking the labels to see who the artist or the subject was, unless the portrait was of someone I thought looked familiar or I thought I recognized the style of an artist. Basically when I look at a portrait there are only two things I think–if it's a man, would I like to have a beer with him? If it's of a woman, would I want to go out with her? I often thought I recognized the subject of a portrait, and was pleased and surprised when I was right.

When I left the National Portrait Gallery it was still only about 4 PM, so I had a couple of hours to kill before having dinner before my 7:30 PM concert. I went to the other pub nearest the RPG, which was quite busy with lots of families with kids, for a pint. I eventually found a small table and made a very good glass of lager last until 5.

I headed back to Trafalgar Square hoping I could find a bench or some place to sit. On my way there I heard some really good music, which turned out to be played by three guys, two playing electric violins and one an electric upright bass. They were playing what sounded like jazz-influenced classical music or classically-influenced jazz music and was quite good so I bought one of their CDs.

I did find a place to sit on a small wall in the shade over by the National Gallery.

The Café in the Crypt apparently is always quite busy, and not just with people there for concerts but in its own right. It's a very cool place and not expensive. I had some pork schnitzle which also came with very good red cabbage and broccoli. The creme brulee was excellent as well.

When I went into the church for the concert and found my seat I thought "Crap, how could I have mixed up the seating chart again?". What I at first thought was my seat was along one of the side aisles, directly behind the great big huge wooden lectern where I'd have no view of the performers, but then I saw the seat number. Mine was actually right off the center aisle. And the pews there also had much more leg room than anywhere I'd sat in the Royal Albert Hall.

The church was filled with lots of lit candles, mostly along the aisles where the lights had been turned down low, and back at the altar behind the performers. All the lights down the center except for the two chandeliers nearest the performers had also been turned low.

The concert was lovely and was beautifully performed. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that once again it didn't occur to me to check the program for the concert on the church's website on my iPhone until the intermission. Tonight's ensemble was the Festive Orchestra of London, whose conductor was also the violin soloist.

The program was: Bach: Concerto for two violins Mozart: Divertimento #3 in F Pachelbel: Canon & gigue in D Vivaldi: Concerto for two violins in A minor and, after the break, Vivaldi's Four seasons.

I have to admit that part of the reason I enjoyed the concert so much was that both the conductor/violin soloist and the bassist were lovely, tall women (What can I say? I admitted a long time ago that I seem to be incapable of not noticing any beautiful or attractive women in my visual field, or even women whose face, hair, something they're wearing, or even just the color of something they're wearing catches my eye). The violin soloist/director had her long hair back in a pony tail and she swayed as she played as if she was conducting with her body or just really into the music, so she was a lot of fun to watch.

I walked back to the Leicester Square Tube station for my trip back to Gloucester Road with no problem, but I did have a moment of panic when I at first only saw the sign for the bus station and not the Tube station hidden a little bit around the corner.

I remember the Leicester Square Tube station very well. It has one of the longest, steepest escalators I've ever been on, almost as long and steep as one I'd been on in a Paris Metro station. I can't look up or down when I'm on something that steep, but have to just look straight ahead to not get dizzy.

The trip back to Gloucester Road wasn't busy. It was about 10 when I got back to the station, so instead of stopping for something at Garfunkel's I grabbed a pre-made sandwich, a yogurt, and a small milk at the small Tesco Express across the street from the Tube station.


Sunday, August 23

Slideshow

Today was delightful, with some wonderful, unexpected surprises.

I had only one set plan for today, tonight's Proms concert, a recital on the huge organ at the Royal Albert Hall at 7:30 PM, and I also wanted to find somewhere I could have dinner before the concert. I decided I would check out more of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park this afternoon. There were a few places I specifically wanted to find–the statue of Peter Pan, and the Serpentine Gallery and this year's summer pavilion–as well as just generally wandering around and seeing what I could see. Since I figured this all would only take a few hours, and I had until about 6 at the latest to find somewhere to eat before the concert, I was hoping it would be an easy, pleasant day.

I did my exercise walking on the treadmill downstairs reasonably early (my foot felt much better than it had yesterday) then went across the street to Garfunkel's for breakfast–I had one of their breakfast club cards, buy three get the fourth one free. I had an eggs benedict with smoked salmon, which was very nice. The eggs benedicts I'm used to back home usually come on English muffins, but the two I've had at Garfunkel's both came on toast and were still very tasty.

It was only about noon after I finished breakfast, and it had started drizzling a bit so I went back to my room for a couple of hours. I figured that if I went back out about 2 PM, that should give me more than enough time for generally wandering around the parks and still find somewhere to have dinner. I'd eaten only a couple of hours before hand, so I didn't have one of my Slimfasts before setting out.

Earlier today, when it was raining, I had taken a couple of pictures out the window of my hotel room up on the 4th floor (5th floor for us Americans). The next nearest building out that way is about a block away. When I looked straight down, I saw the balconies for the more expensive rooms on the ground floor over the garden out back. It occurred to me that I'd never gone around the block that way instead of heading on up Cromwell Road to Gloucester Road on the other corner, so that's the first place I went when I left for the day.

It's rather pretty out that way, and I went around the corner to see if the street back there met up with Gloucester Road since that's how I was going to go up to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. When I got to the intersection of that road with Gloucester Road I had my first delightful surprise of the day.

Around the corner from the hotel, a block up Gloucester Road from Cromwell Road, is the parish church of St Stephen's, which I'd thought was a very pretty church every time I walked past it. Since it was Sunday afternoon, I thought I'd see if St Stephen's was open and if I could pop in for a look and maybe take some pictures if a service wasn't going on when I got there. Not only was the church open and the congregation was having some beverages after the service but it turned out to be a very lovely church indeed. It was also bright enough inside so I wouldn't have to use my flash and would be less of a nuisance when taking pictures.

A member of the congregation greeted me while I was wandering around, let me know I was welcome to take pictures, and told me a little about the history of the church. He also told me that the current pastor there had been born in Las Vegas.

The second pleasant surprise came after I'd resumed walking up Gloucester Road to Kensington Gardens. While walking through an intersection I'd been through several times before, I looked over to the left and saw another church spire I'd somehow never noticed before. I walked the couple of blocks in that direction down Kynance Mews, a small cobbled street, and found Christ Church Kensington. I didn't see if the church was open–it looked quite closed then–but it was a pretty church with a lovely little garden.

Charming surprise #3 came as I entered Kensington Gardens. When I'd gone there before, I'd always gone down Kensington Road to enter the park at Queen's Gate by the Royal Albert Hall and the Albert Memorial. This time I went in the Palace Gate (which should have given me a clue), the gate right across Kensington Road from Gloucester Road.

By this time, I was getting a bit hungry and thought it would be a good idea to find somewhere to have a snack since I hadn't had anything since breakfast and wouldn't be having dinner for a few more hours. The pleasant surprise was that right inside the park entrance was a small stand selling coffee, tea, juices, ice cream (both soft serve and what they call "ice lollies" there, which are known to us Yanks as popsicles), and a sausage, bacon, or combination roll. I had the combo roll, which had thick slices of bacon and a grilled sliced sausage served on a sliced soft roll, and it was very tasty.

When I went further into the Gardens, I noticed I was right near the lovely Kensington Palace (remember I mentioned which gate I went in?). I had no desire to see the inside of the Palace.

Even though Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are very well signed, and have lots of maps scattered around the parks, if you have as little sense of direction as I sometimes have, you can still go a bit astray. I had been following the signs for the Round Pond (which turns out to not be quite round, but I guess calling it the "Mostly Round Pond" doesn't quite do it), got distracted by Kensington Palace, and didn't notice the Pond was right next to the Palace. I had a lot of fun watching people feeding the ducks and swans and trying to not feed the pigeons–apparently it's illegal to feed the pigeons but OK to feed the other birds.

According to the park's maps, the Serpentine Gallery is between the Round Pond and the statue of Peter Pan. On the way I passed a small bandstand, where some event seemed to have finished up shortly before I passed by since it looked like the people up on the bandstand were packing up and saying their goodbyes.

When I got to the Serpentine Gallery I really enjoyed the building and the art outside a lot more than I did the current exhibition. I also really liked this year's summer Serpentine Pavilion quite a bit as well.

By now it was pretty sunny again. I got a bit lost going from the Serpentine Gallery to the statue of Peter Pan. I had crossed a bridge somewhere and wound up on the other side of the Serpentine/Long Water and was now in Hyde Park instead of having turned to walk along the Kensington Gardens side of the water. Between the signs and maps there in the parks and the map app on my iPhone I got my directions straightened out.

Surprise #4 was when I came across a group of people who were trying to get some birds to eat out of their hands–and the birds they were trying to attract turned out to be some very pretty little green guys who looked a lot like parakeets. What the hell are they doing flying around loose in London? Do they live there all year? If so, how do they survive the winter?

After I finally successfully found the Peter Pan statue, having went by several of the other statues in Kensington Gardens, I continued walking a bit further along the water to the very lovely fountains and pavilion at the Italian gardens. From there I followed the signs back to the Albert Memorial, which wasn't far away. By this time it was almost 5:30, so I didn't have too much longer to find somewhere to have dinner before the concert. The café at the Royal Albert Hall which is open to everyone and not just for people with tickets for that night's concert was quite busy and seemed to have lots of people who were just hanging out there and occupying tables.

Since I couldn't eat there and hadn't made a reservation for that night at any of the other restaurants, I headed on over to the intersection with Gloucester Road and walked down it a couple of blocks towards Cromwell Road. I had just about decided to go back into the park to find somewhere to sit until the RAH opened for the concert, since I was pretty sure there wasn't anywhere to eat for another couple of blocks. I was almost to the park when I actually read a small sign I'd noticed before without really looking at it. It was for Bistro One Ninety, a small bar/restaurant attached to a small, apparently expensive boutique hotel. The price for their two and three course set meals weren't outrageously expensive–only about 30 Lbs for the full three course meal. By this time, that seemed quite reasonable.

Surprise #5 (I think) was that when I told the maitre d' that I was going to a concert at the Royal Albert Hall and needed to be out of there not much after 7 PM they managed to serve me a lovely dinner with a terrine of some kind, poached salmon, and a mango parfait in time for me to leave when I needed to. The hotel/restaurant is about a block from Kensington Road and the Gardens, and two blocks down from the RAH, so I was actually in my seat by 7:15 even after stopping by the men's room on the way in.

As usual I had mixed feelings about my seat for tonight's performance. I'd booked a seat in one of the boxes near to a men's room and one of the exits with a bar. The boxes are along the sides of the oval on the stage level. Each box seemed to have eight seats in two rows of four with enough room to get from one row to another. My box was near the stage but of course at a bit of an angle to it because of the oval, so that I had to turn to see the organist at the console at the back of the stage. My seat was in the first row of the box and had even less leg room than anywhere else I'd been so far. This of course meant I was a bit more fidgety than usual, trying to stretch my legs as best I could when I needed to, but it mattered less tonight because the seat next to me was empty and there was extra room between my seat and the next two over.

Tonight's performance was the worst attended of any I've been to. The seats on the stage level were only about 75% full, and the further up you looked the worse it got. The uppermost balcony seating was about 75% empty. The standing area in front was so much less crowded that most of the people there decided to just sit on the floor and about half of them actually stretched out as well.

Probably the reason the concert was so poorly attended was that it was a recital by one organist on the magnificent Royal Albert Hall organ. A lot of people think they're not interested in organ recitals–they're not as sexy as a performance by someone like Nicola Benedetti, or Eric Whitacre, or about Sherlock Holmes–but what an organ, what music, and what a performance.

Tonight's soloist was Thierry Escaich whom I'd never heard of before. He played pieces by well known classical composers, sometimes followed by improvisations of his own based on what he had just played that were usually also excellent, quite fun, and often put the organ through its paces.

It was about 10 PM when I got back here to my hotel room, just about the earliest I've been back after I've been somewhere. I took a bit of a break before writing up my notes from today, and it's now 12:45 AM and I'm still pretty awake. I'm going to take another small break before trying to decide where I want to go and what I want to do tomorrow.


Monday, August 24

Slideshow

It's going to take less time than usual to write up my notes from today because I wasn't able to do that much before it started raining very heavily in mid-afternoon.

I did have some plans for today–drop off another load of laundry downstairs at the reception desk before 9 AM to have it cleaned, then go to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge before going to the Walkie Talkie building for my free visit to the Sky Garden on the very top level there at 3:45.

I dropped my laundry off, then popped across the street for breakfast at Garfunkel's again. The restaurant right next door, on the other side of Garfunkel's from the Italian place, looks like it's almost ready to open up. Until now, it's been behind construction barricades blocking the view. They're down now, and the restaurant inside looks quite pretty and the items and prices on the menu outside also look good as well.

It was still early in the day, and since I knew I'd be coming back to the hotel fairly early later I decided to wait and use the treadmill before dinner after I got back. I spent a very pleasant hour and a half or so just hanging out here in my room and reading. I had already figured out how to get to the Tower and how to get from Tower Bridge over to the Walkie Talkie building and from there back to Gloucester Road and my hotel.

Although the Yeoman Warders at the Tower usually do most of their tours outside, only popping into a couple of buildings along the way, today, since it was already drizzly and was forecast to begin raining heavily about an hour after I got there, they all did their half-hour introductions to the Tower in the Queen's Chapel which is quite lovely and to which you can only get access while on one of the tours.

Afterwards I wandered around on my own. I really didn't want to go in most of the other buildings and had no interest in seeing the Crown Jewels and especially not in standing around in the long line to get in to see them. I saw some of the costumed performers wandering around the grounds but didn't manage to get any good pictures of them because there always seemed to be people between us blocking the shots.

While I was wandering around I asked one of the Yeoman Warders why William the Conqueror had built the White Tower, the first of the buildings there, there in the first place since it didn't seem like a location that defended much of anything. He said I was right, but the purpose dating back to the Romans' first fortifications there as well as William's Tower hadn't been to defend anything but to control traffic on the Thames and it certainly is an excellent location for that.

Even though I never found a sign for Traitors Gate, which I'd seen every time I passed the Tower while on the Thames or walking past it on the other bank, after a while I felt I'd seen enough of the Tower and had as usual enjoyed what I'd seen. I was getting pretty hungry by this time, so I stopped for a tasty lunch of chicken stew over rice in the Armouries, one of the two restaurants there in the Tower. The place was very busy and it was extremely difficult to find an empty seat, especially carrying a loaded tray and a cane.

Like the Tower itself, the Tower Bridge Experience is free with a London Pass. I thought it was quite fun and very well done. I especially enjoyed other peoples' reactions to the newish glass floor in the walkway between the piers high above the river and road surface. Yes, I do have problems with heights and vertigo but not when I'm in or on structures I trust. And the view straight down from the walkway is incredible. I'd read and heard that the best time to be there is when the Bridge is opening so you can see the Thames and the boats passing through but I didn't time it that way.

When I left the Tower Bridge it was still raining. Although I had plenty of time to walk from there over to the Walkie Talkie building I thought I probably wouldn't be able to see much of London from the top due to the heavy clouds and rain, kind of like when Michael, Tim, Jill and the kids had gone to the Eiffel Tower while we were in Paris, so I decided to skip it.

As I was walking back to the Tower Hill Tube station to take the Tube back to Gloucester Road it began really pouring. I was eventually able to find somewhere I could get a cab to stop for me, and had a very pleasant visit with the driver on the way back here to my hotel.

It was still before 5 PM so I decided to take a couple of ibuprofens for my knees and wait until after 6 to use the treadmill downstairs before dinner, which I did. In the 50 minutes between when I took the elevator downstairs to the floor with the exercise room and when I got in it to come back up to my room, the hotel staff had posted a notice in the elevator that the threatened Tube strike for this week, which I hadn't heard about before, had been cancelled. (I usually don't read or watch the news online or otherwise while on vacation, figuring that if something really major happens I'll hear about it.) In fact, when I checked online after getting back to my room I found a very recent news story and learned that the strike had been called off only an hour or so before.

I decided I'd check out the pan-Asian restaurant a couple of doors down from my hotel for dinner. My laundry still hadn't come up to my room before I left and I was going to ask about it at the front desk on my way out but had to laugh when I saw my shirts hanging up behind the desk–the laundry hadn't been delivered yet, but was in my room when I got back after dinner, of course.

The Asian place turned out to be a very nice, fancy but not too expensive restaurant that is part of the fancy and rather expensive Crowne Plaza hotel right next door to mine. Although dinner itself was quite good, especially the dessert, there are two reasons I probably won't be going back while I'm here. I felt the dining chairs there were unusually and uncomfortably low, and I found the menu to be not that interesting, with not that many dishes I'd want to have. Even the small Italian place across the street and Garfunkel's of course both have menus with lots of different dishes I'd order.


Tuesday, August 25

Slideshow

Sometimes it's the little stuff that reminds you that you're not at home at the moment–and I don't mean in the sense that my hotel room here in London, as it was in Paris, is about the size of my downstairs guest bedroom at home, or that the small walk in shower here is only about half the size of the shower in the tub in my downstairs bathroom, or that the shower here has lower water pressure.

When writing for more than a few minutes at a time, I really prefer a thicker pen to keep my hand from hurting, usually a ballpoint or the occasional roller ball and always with blue ink. I brought two nice, fattish pens to London with me, one of which I seem to have lost somewhere and the other of which ran out of ink last night. I also wanted to get some more lined paper like I've been using to write up these notes since it seems like I might actually run out of the paper I brought with me.

At home, I know I can go to Staples or Office Depot and find several suitable pens and the kind of lined single sheet paper which is usually known as school paper, and I also know where at least two of each are and which is my nearest store. Last night before I went to bed, I tried to find the nearest office supply/stationery store and found one, John Lewis at Sloane Square which is only a couple of Tube stops from Gloucester Road, so going by there was going to be my first priority for the day.

When I got to Sloane Square, I found that the address listed on the store's website online was useless for actually finding it–just Sloane Square with no street number. Sloane Square is in fact a small rather attractive little park. I walked all around the perimeter taking pictures, but not of what seemed to be a homeless person asleep on one of the benches at around 11 AM (I have to say that overall I think I saw fewer homeless people on the streets in London than I did while in Paris) and didn't see any signs on any of the buildings nearby advertising John Lewis. It was only when I brought up the store's website again on my iPhone so I could ask someone where it was that I noticed the store is actually part of a much larger department store called Peter Jones and the website actually had a picture of the building where that store was inside. After that it was easy to find the right place.

For an outlet of what is supposed to be a major office supply/stationery store in a large, major department store this place had only a very small selection of pens, and only one roller ball in the size range I like (I'm using it right now, and it's pretty good to hold but there is considerable bleed through of the ink to the other side of the paper). They also didn't sell any packages of single sheet lined paper but suggested I try a different store about a ten minute walk away. I couldn't find any paper or pens at the Waitrose across the street from my hotel when I tried yesterday but hoped I'd be able to do so at the larger Sainsbury's down the street from the hotel when I got back later today.

Because I've done a lot of research and looked at lots of web sites of places here in London I'm interested in seeing, as well as taking two different sightseeing bus loops early in my stay here and a couple of cab rides since then, a lot of places I get to are familiar to me without my actually knowing where they (or I) are in relation to other places. When I was wandering around Sloane Square this morning looking for the store, for instance, I spotted Cadogan Hall, which I knew of because it is also a major venue for classical music events and is where some of the other BBC Proms concerts take place.

There were only two main places I wanted to go to today, and only one of them had any kind of time constraint–Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral. The Abbey's open all day for visiting but the Cathedral is only open between masses and services which seems to be between 2 and 5 PM daily. I'd decided I'd go to the Abbey first.

I've been to the Westminster Tube station and the Pier there twice, and you can see the Parliament buildings and the Elizabeth tower with Big Ben inside very well from the Pier side of the station but I'd never gone to the other side of the building before.

I started by looking for the monument to the Celtic Queen Boudica and her rebellion, when she and her forces temporarily beat the Romans quite badly. The monument is across Bridge Street from the Tube station and the Pier, and then it took some wandering around to where I could get a good picture of it. I had to go down the block a little, then cross one side of the street to the center, back a bit the other way to cross to the far side and so on.

The fastest, most direct route from the Westminster Tube station to the Abbey is to go down the back side of Parliament which I hadn't done before. That takes you past Parliament Square with its statues of famous politicians and statesmen including Churchill, Robert Peel (known among other things for having founded London's modern police force which are sometimes still known as bobbies but not peelers so much anymore), Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

I loved Westminster Abbey very much in spite of the crowds. I kept getting caught behind idiots listening to the audio guide while standing in doorways or other constricted areas. The Abbey also has a strict no photography rule which I followed. I decided not to get the audio tour because as usual I wasn't that interested in the details, many of which I'd already learned from the books I'd read, web sites I'd looked at, and videos I'd watched about the Abbey. I also decided not to go on one of the verger guided tours but to just wander around on my own. I knew I wouldn't see or notice everything and all the fine details but as usual that was fine with me. By using the small free pamphlet with the Abey's plan they provide there I was confident I'd be able to find the most important highlights such as the monuments to Elizabeth I, Mary Stuart and Mary Queen of Scots and Poet's Corner with its monument to Shakespeare and other English authors.

I have to admit that I got my churches mixed up for a moment while in the Abbey and asked a verger where the monument to Christopher Wren was, and even before he gently reminded me I remembered it's at St Paul's Cathedral rather than the Abbey, which is where I plan on going tomorrow.

Another question I thought of asking while there is one that I've frequently thought while wandering around places like the Pantheon, Sacre Coeur, and Pere Lachaise in Paris and old, venerable cemeteries elsewhere–do the people who work there ever really get used to walking around on people's tombs and graves or do they still kind of mentally say "Hello, everyone, and I'm sorry to be walking over you" to the memory of those buried there no matter how long they work there? I think that's sort of what I'd be doing, since that's usually how I feel in such circumstances.

The Abbey has two very nice gift shops, one smaller than the other located inside near the restaurant, and a larger one inside the West Tower around the corner. I went to both and bought several CDs of music recorded there in London and in the Abbey specifically.

It's an easy walk from the Abbey to Westminster Cathedral. I had, as usual, written down detailed directions from one place to another but instead decided to use the maps app on my iPhone because it had started raining again and my directions would quickly have become even more unreadable than usual.

Along the way I stopped for lunch at the Albert which is part of the Taylor Walker chain of pubs. It was quite busy but I did find a small table. I had a ploughman's tart which I confused with a ploughman's lunch (cheeses, some meats, and pickles) which turned out to have a very nice bottom crust and a baked, crunchy top crust and was very nice.

On the way over to the Cathedral I thought had seen its distinctive tower on the skyline but lost it when the road went around a corner. I had to stop and recalibrate the map app on my iPhone a couple of times because for some reason it kept redirecting me back to the Abbey instead.

Right near Westminster Abbey, on the corner near the West Tower, is the Methodist Great Hall, which is a really large building indeed and houses a church as well as a conference center and office building with an art gallery, all owned by the Methodist Church. I didn't go in but only took pictures from the outside because I'd just been in one church and was on my way to another.

I loved the Cathedral very much as well. It's quite distinctive and gorgeous on the outside in sort of a modern style. It's a working Roman Catholic church and from their schedule listed online as I said earlier the only time with no service or mass going on seems to be between 2 and 5 PM. I decided I really didn't need or want to climb up to the top of the tower for the view. The stonework on most of the ceiling is black from soot and smoke from candles but the rest of the interior is kept beautifully clean.

Along one side of the Cathedral are small chapels dedicated to the patron saints of each of the countries which are part of the United Kingdom–St Gregory and St Augustine for England, St Patrick and other Irish saints, St Andrew and other Scottish saints. (I just checked online again while typing these notes up, and there isn't a chapel for any Welsh saints.) Along the other side are chapels dedicated to St Peter, St Michael, St Paul, St Thomas of Canterbury, St Joseph, and St George and English martyrs.

Perhaps what I loved the most about Westminster Cathedral is the beautiful and extensive use of absolutely gorgeous marbles–every place you look you see another piece of gorgeously patterned, beautifully polished marble. The little booklet they provide says that there are only 120 different kinds of marbles used there, and I'm sure that some blessed detail-oriented person (rather like myself) made a thorough survey of where each of the different pieces were from, but I'd swear that it really looks like there may be more than that number actually used. (It has occurred to me that pieces with different colors or slightly different patterns from the same quarry may all be counted as one type.)

I also bought a few more CDs of music recorded in London and specifically there in the Cathedral from their gift shop as well.

It was still raining when I left the Cathedral so although it was still early in the day I headed on over to the Victoria Tube station to get back to Gloucester Road. I had to ask a street cleaner where the Tube station was when I got to the train station because I got to that first and didn't see a sign for the Tube one.

When I came out of the Gloucester Road station I noticed that Richoux, the new restaurnant there, is a branch of a chain of restaurants that opened in 1909. I also noticed they are actually opening in two days, on Thursday, August 27. I looked at the menu posted outside again and decided I might have to go there at least twice—once for dinner, and maybe afternoon tea if I'm around that time of day.

It was about 4:30 PM when I got back to my hotel and was still raining so I hung out here and read until about 6, when I went downstairs to do my exercise walking on the treadmill. I also wanted to walk down the street to the Sainsbury's before dinner to see if I could find some other pens the thickness I like and some lined paper. When I went outside, it had stopped raining and was actually rather lovely. I did find some pens I liked, and switched to one of them a few pages ago. It's not quite as comfortable to hold as the one I bought at John Lewis but there's a lot less ink bleed through so each side of the page is easier to read.

I also found some lined paper, but a) it's not single sheets but is in a bound tablet so I'll have to tear out individual sheets as I use them, but they are easy to remove, and b) another thing that reminds me I'm not at home is that the standard sized paper here is larger than the 8.5X11 inch paper I'm used to.

I also bought some more snacks while at Sainsbury's, some of which I looked for specifically looked for because I'd seen them on the store's web site before I left home–a jar of pickled, peeled hard boiled eggs (which are pretty good–I had a couple of them a few minutes ago) which I figure should keep well without refrigeration, since they have of course been pickled. Now I have those as well as my Slimfasts if I skip breakfast downstairs or go out to eat.

I went across the street to Garfunkel's for dinner again after dropping my purchases off up in my hotel room.

As I was approaching my hotel after dinner, I saw a bus from Premier Tours had just pulled up to drop off some the passengers from that day's tour-which turned out to be the same "England in a day" tour I'd been on last week, and their guide was David, who had been our guide as well. I said "Hello" as he stepped off the bus.


Wednesday, August 26

Slideshow

Today was full of changes in plans due to the weather and to technical difficulties.

Instead of doing 45 minutes of exercise walking either on the treadmill or outside, today I went for total distance and time walked. I wouldn't do this at home, but sometimes when I'm on vacation if I'm gone all day and spent a lot of it walking around, often for long periods of time at a stretch, I'll allow it. For instance, today I left my hotel room before 9:30 this morning and didn't get back at all until after 10 PM.

I had planned on going to two of the tours of the City of London conducted by the official guides, as I mentioned last Wednesday, which take place other times during the week but both are offered Wednesdays--the tour of some of Sir Christopher Wren's churches in the morning and one called City Highlights in the afternoon. The first change of plans was due to the weather forecast for today, which was rain all day, sometimes heavily. Since both the tours of the City involved lots of walking outside, I gave up on the idea.

Instead I decided to go to St Paul's Cathedral first to take one of the verger guided tours which take you to parts of the Cathedral you can't get to wandering around on your own. I was then going to walk across the Thames on the Millenium Bridge to the Tate Modern, and after that take the Tate boat to Tate Britain, then take the Tube back to the South Kensington station in time for my 6:00 PM dinner reservation before my last Proms concert this evening.

I bought my ticket for the tour at St Paul's online, which saved a bit of money and the ticket was sent to my by email which I got on my iPhone. I was there in time to go on the 11 AM tour.

I loved St Paul's a great deal as well and really enjoyed the guided tour. St Paul's also has a strict no photography rule–there are very few places you are allowed to take pictures, mostly in the common area near the crypt where there are no church services like near the gift shop and restaurant. St Paul's is also a working church and the no photography rule is so the flash doesn't disrupt the people who come there to pray in the main sanctuary or other side chapels. If for instance you wanted to come to the day's mass at 12:30 PM you are allowed into that part of St Paul's without having to pay.

Due to my inner ear and balance problems I have to be a little careful when leaning back to look up at ceilings or architectural details high up on the walls. I have to hang on to or lean on something. Early on the tour we were at the base of the incredible geometric staircase, the only other place photography is allowed. I'd have to be lying flat on my back to take pictures there comfortably and then, due to my knee problems, I'd have problems getting down to floor level and then back up again.

The tour was excellent and took us on a full tour of the ground floor and ended up downstairs in the crypt in the tombs and monuments there. There was no way I was going to attempt the stairs up to any of the higher levels and views of the church and of the city. Fortunately down in the public areas on the crypt level there is a small room called the Oculus where they show a surround movie which includes a recent view of what you could see on each of the upper levels.

I of course bought some more CDs of music recorded there in the cathedral from the very nice gift shop on my way out.

When I left St Paul's it was pouring, but I wandered all the way around the outside of the Cathedral taking pictures, constantly having to wipe rain off the lens every time I wanted to do so, and was on my way over to the Millenium Bridge and Tate Modern until the change of plans due to technical difficulties occurred.

My Fujipix digital camera, which I'd had for about three years and had been using minutes before, suddenly stopped working. Usually when that happened it meant the AA batteries had died, so I always tried to have spares with me. I replaced the batteries in the camera with some newly purchased ones I had with me, hoping that would work as usual. I didn't try to take pictures on the Bridge because it was raining very hard again, but when I got to Tate Modern it had eased up a bit. When I tried to turn my camera on again, it still didn't work and so I replaced those batteries with a second, new set I had with me, still with no luck.

Even though at home I'm still working on all the digital pictures I'd taken on my vacation in July of last year, let alone all the ones I'd taken in Paris over Christmas & New Year's, I really didn't want to be without a camera my last days in London so I used my iPhone to look for the nearest place I could supposedly buy a camera. There was a place not far away just a few blocks away up the street. First I had an OK lunch at the Pret a Manger along the way. When I got to where my iPhone had sent me, it turned out to be a small photo & photo printing place. They didn't sell cameras but one of the girls at the counter told me where she thought the nearest place that did was, and how to get there from where we were. She even wrote the directions down for me–up the street to the nearest Tube station, which train to take in which direction, get off at Oxford Circus, then look for Jessops cameras on Oxford Street.

So instead of going to the Tates this afternoon I decided to go camera shopping and replace my now seemingly defective old one (which never came on again). I had no problem getting to Oxford Circus and finding Oxford Street which is one of the busiest and most crowded shopping areas in all of London. At first I couldn't find the store so I brought up their web page on my iPhone and started walking, looking for the street address. I have no idea how street numbers are assigned here in London. I'm used to addresses in the 100s being in the first block from somewhere along the street, the addresses in the 200s being in the second block, and so on. I walked up and down Oxford Street for several blocks fighting my way through crowds of shoppers with umbrellas and shopping bags and still couldn't find the store. I finally decided to hell with the street address–I should just look at the direction on the maps app on my iPhone and see what the nearest cross street was to the address I wanted and find it that way, which worked.

At Jessops I bought a similar digital camera which also has a viewfinder you can look through as well as a digital display on the back (this new camera's digital display pivots from the back of the camera so you can hold it above eye level to see what you're trying to take a picture of) and an excellent optical zoom. I also bought a large memory card and a spare rechargeable battery, which charges when you plug the camera into a micro USB port, so I should always have a working spare battery as well. On the way out I mentioned to the female employee by the door that I'd had trouble finding the store because I couldn't figure out how street addresses worked there in London, and with an American accent she said she knew what I meant.

By now it was after 4 PM and I thought about taking a cab back here to my hotel because I didn't want to be late for my dinner reservation at the Royal Albert Hall at 6:00 but I took the Tube instead. I couldn't get to Gloucester Road directly from Oxford Circus but one of the employees there told me I could transfer to a train that went to GR from the next stop.

I had a bit of time when I got back here so I stopped off at Boots to pick up some more Slimfasts in case I decided to skip breakfast elsewhere in the next couple of days. When the girl at the checkout desk asked me if I had a Boots card and I said I didn't because they didn't have any stores in South Florida she told me she had just got back from a short vacation in South Beach.

I got back to my room about 4:45, dropped off my cameras (the old, now non-working one and the new one) and left for the Royal Albert Hall at about 5:15. My reservation tonight was at Elgar, which calls itself a bar and grill and is a very lovely place indeed. I got there a bit early and the place wasn't very busy and still hadn't filled up very much before I left after I'd finished eating. Elgar is one of the RAH's restaurants that are only open to people who have a ticket to a performance there that day. I heard the maitre d' tell a couple that only about 25% of the tickets for tonight's performance had been sold, and they were thinking of moving the few people who had tickets for the higher sections down lower.

The house was open when I left Elgar so even though the concert wasn't until 7:30 PM I went downstairs to find my seat anyway. I've become a bit blase about my seating choices at the Royal Albert Hall. Tonight I was closer to the stage than I'd been before, in the first row right behind the orchestra, four seats from the center, but I couldn't see the topmost tier directly in front of me because of the waist-high partition which also somewhat restricted my leg room. Still, I could see the conductor perfectly as well as lots of the orchestra.

Tonight's concert was the worst attended of all eight of the Proms concerts I've been to, even worse than the organ recital a few nights ago. I'd chosen the concert because I'd recognized the names of two of the composers although I didn't recognize the name of the orchestra or the conductor or know anything about the specific pieces played, even by the composers I was sort of familiar with. I wound up enjoying the whole program very much and the final piece might have been my favorite of everything I've heard at my Proms concerts.

Tonight's ensemble was the Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg. The only piece in the first half of the program, which lasted about 35 minutes, was Pierre Boulez's "explosive-fixee" (fixed explosion). I'd of course heard of Boulez but really didn't know very much about him or any of his work. The piece was enjoyable but perhaps a bit more interesting than enjoyable. It was written in 1991 and uses computer-modulated flutes with a soloist, two other flutists, a small orchestra and live electronic music, and was occasionally dissonant. It wasn't bad, but as I said I found it a bit more interesting than enjoyable.

The first piece after the intermission was "Lantano" by Gyorgy Ligeti (whom I'd never heard of before) and was written in 1967. This piece used a much larger orchestra and I could see most of the players. I really liked this piece quite a bit, much more than the Boulez piece.

The final, formal piece of the evening was Bartok's "Concerto for orchestra" which I'd never heard before. It turned out to be my favorite of the evening, and as I've mentioned perhaps my favorite of all the pieces I've heard in all eight of my Proms concerts–and not just because I could see the two harpists and their concert harps very well from where I was sitting.

Just before the orchestra played a very lovely encore, the conductor (who spoke without a microphone so I didn't catch everything he said) said that this was the orchestra's final tour as an independent, stand alone orchestra because they'd be merging with another ensemble so tonight's concert, their last Proms concert in their current formation, was even more special for them.

While I'd been having dinner in Elgar before the concert I could see the sun breaking through the clouds. When I left the Royal Albert Hall after the concert it was only partly cloudy and I could see the moon on the way back here to my hotel.

I got back to my room about 10 PM and played around with the new camera for a bit after looking through the small instruction booklet and have been writing up my notes from today since then. It's now about 1:30 AM and I think I should probably go to bed soon even though although I feel pretty tired I'm still rather awake.


Thursday, August 27

Slideshow

At the moment I'm a bit worried that I might not be able to fly home to Miami on Sunday, since the newspapers back home are all freaking out about a possible tropical storm that might be moving through South Florida then. Of course I wouldn't mind having to spend a couple more days here in London, but I have no idea if I could even stay here in my hotel another night or how or when I'd be able to fly all the way home. I guess I'll just keep checking the online news and weather from home tomorrow and call the airlines and talk to the people at the reception desk here at the hotel on Saturday if necessary.

I had a very good day today, and only did three major things. I'd made a reservation to go on one of the tours of the British Library at 3 PM this afternoon, so I decided I'd also go to two other places more or less in the same neighborhood, Sir John Soane's Museum and the British Museum.

SJSM is in Holborn, right across the street from Lincoln's Inn Fields, and is in the center of London's historic legal district. I left the hotel early enough to be at the museum before they opened at 10:00. It's a small museum, so they're quite careful about how many people they let in at one time.

I enjoyed the museum a great deal and thought it was very entertaining and amusing. Soane was a quite talented artist and architect as well as a collector. He basically built up his collection so that art and architecture students wouldn't have to travel to Europe to see materials and drawings from there. I also heard a guide tell a couple of other people in the amazing paintings gallery that when the museum opened it had far more paintings than did the entire National Gallery. The museum also has a large collection of works by Hogarth, displayed in a lovely little room with walls that fold out to reveal more paintings behind them. The tour ranges through all levels of the house, including the basement which seems to be where Soane kept some of his overflow collection. Unfortunately this museum also has a strict no photography policy.

Afterwards I went across the street to wander around Lincoln's Inn Fields, and it is a lovely little park. I then walked around the periphery taking pictures of some of the legal buildings in the area and was amused to discover that the park sits on the border of two of London's boroughs–you go around a corner and parking there is policed by a different borough than from where you just were moments ago.

Things got a little confusing when I tried leaving the park to walk over to the British Museum. For some reason, the maps app on my iPhone kept directing me back to Lincoln's Inn Fields. I finally had to just turn off the phone and walk a few blocks away from the park before turning it back on and having the app recalculate where I was and how to get to where I wanted to go.

As usual, I know I didn't see everything there is to see at the British Museum. I didn't take the time to thoroughly examine all the artifacts on display there, or read all the very well done informational signage about the displays. Still, by wandering around as usual I did see a lot of the most famous items like the Sutton Hoo hoard and the Rosetta Stone. Unfortunately the Reading Room of the old British Library seemed to be closed. I had lunch at the Museum's very nice restaurant which was quite affordable. For some reason, today's special set course meal was Australian, with kangaroo carpaccio, swordfish, and a dessert with some sort of berries, mango, and custard, all of which was very good.

By the time I left the Museum, it was about 2:30. Supposedly it's only a 20 minute walk from the British Museum to the British Library but I didn't want to take any chance I'd get lost along the way and would be late for my 3:00 tour so I took a cab.

I'd probably been by the Library at least once on the bus tour because it's right next to St Pancras Station, which I know I'd been past.

Our guide and the tour of the British Library were excellent. He was a young black man, who'd grown up in the neighborhood where the Library now is. He told us about the history of the Library and its present location and said that before it opened there the neighborhood was quite rough and a bit unsafe, known for drugs and prostitution, but the area had improved a great deal since the opening.

The tour takes you all over the Library, including into staff and other areas not usually available to the public, and included a couple of the Reading Rooms and one of the rooms on the ground floor where the materials ordered by patrons in the various Reading Rooms come up in small bins on a conveyor belt from storage down below.

I did introduce myself to our guide as a fellow librarian, from a public library system in Florida.

The tour ended up in the Library's Treasures room which is where the Gutenberg Bible, a copy of Shakespeare's First Folio, Jane Austen's small writing desk and reading glasses, and all kinds of wonderful stuff are on display.

Right across the street from the Library is O'Neill's, an Irish pub (of course) where I had a pint of Guinness before walking up the street to the Tube station. The pub was very busy, and a lot of the people there had luggage with them.

The Tube train wasn't busy when I got on but a couple of stops later it got quite busy and crowded, and a lot of those folks had luggage with them as well. I had to get up and start moving towards the exit well before we got to the Gloucester Road station to make sure I'd be able to leave.

It was about 5:00 PM when I got back here to my room, so I took a bit of a rest before going back downstairs to use the treadmill to do my exercise walking. Afterwards I went across the street to have dinner at Richoux, the new restaurant that just opened; they were still getting things organized and used to the new place, and had a bit of trouble adjusting the brightness of the lights in the section where I was sitting. I liked Richoux quite a bit. It's a bit more upscale and expensive than Garfunkel's but not too much more so, and does have a menu with lots of things I'd order. I had some of the best calamari there I've had anywhere and a delicious fisherman's pie and a lovely dessert.

And now it's 12:15 and I'm done writing up my notes from today and have already planned what I want to do tomorrow and Saturday, my last two full days here in London. I want to get up a bit earlier tomorrow so I'm off to bed.


Friday, August 28

Slideshow

Once again I skipped doing my exercise walking on the treadmill, substituting total distance and time walked instead. I woke up and left early enough this morning to be at Westminster Pier to catch City Cruise's first trip of the day to Greenwich at 9:30 this morning. I didn't get back here to my hotel room until around 10:45 PM and didn't even have dinner until after 10.

When I stopped in at the Discover Greenwich centre shortly after I got there to use the restroom and to pick up a map, I saw they were having a tour at 12:15 PM which was then only about 45 minutes away. I bought a ticket for that tour and a combined ticket for the Cutty Sark and the Greenwich Observatory. The Observatory is up on top of the hill, of course, and is where the tour would wind up.

There was a bit of a small street market on the river front plaza down by the water, which was part of the Tall Ships festival which is later this weekend (Monday's the big August bank holiday before kids go back to school). I bought a breakfast galette with eggs, bacon, and cheese which was as good as the ones I had at the Alsatian place I went to around the corner from my hotel in Paris.

I was the only one who bought a ticket for the 12:15 tour, which meant I had the tour guide all to myself, and which also meant that when we went up the hill towards the Observatory later we could go at my pace and not hold anyone else back. The guide, Diane, was a very nice woman perhaps a few years older than I am.

We first went past the Old Royal Naval College down near the waterfront and the Visitor's Centre. We then looked in for a view at the famous Painted Hall before making our way up the hill. Diane, bless her, took us up a slightly less steep, gentler path to the top instead of the main one, which I walked down later with no problems.

I enjoyed the tour and Diane's company quite a bit, and I think she enjoyed my company as well. I think she could tell I was interested in, and had some knowledge of, the information she provided in her commentary along the way. For instance, right down by the water is a memorial to the lost Arctic expedition of Sir John Franklin which left Greenwich in 1845. I told Diane that the main reason I first knew about the expedition is that there is a lovely folk song about it, and I heard Pentangle's version of it many years ago. Diane hadn't heard of the song before, and I told her I thought she'd enjoy it as well.

Right on the Visitor's Centre are plaques commemorating famous explorers and seamen. One of them was John Mongtagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich and First Lord of the Admiralty whom I knew James Cook had originally named the Hawaiian islands after. I also told Diane that one of my personal favorite tidbits about Greenwich was that's where Elizabeth I and Grace O'Malley, the Irish pirate queen and probably the second most powerful woman in the world after Elizabeth, had met and that I knew that they had met but didn't know it was at Greenwich until I had seen a plaque commemorating it in the Visitor's Centre.

Diane's path up to the top also took us to where the Prime Meridian runs through it along the side of the building below where all the people who have paid to get in are standing in line to have their picture taken–down there on the path where we were there was even a sign saying "Prime Meridian" with no other people there.

I enjoyed the Observatory and its exhibits. I would have enjoyed visiting the Planetarium, poking around the Old Royal Naval College, and wandering around Greenwich itself more as well but I wanted to have time to visit the Cutty Sark before catching the 4:00 PM boat back to Westminster so I'd have time to walk over to St Martin in the Fields, pick up my ticket, and have dinner at the Café in the Crypt before tonight's concert.

The Cutty Sark is fun and beautifully laid out, although I found it kind of hard to figure out how to get the hell out of there. Like a lot of places, the only exit is through the gift shop. Down in the lower level of the exhibit space, where you're walking under the keel of the ship, is a small gallery of ship's figure heads. While I was there, a rather lovely young woman was pretending to be the Cutty Sark's figure head come to life, the witch from Robert Burns' poem "Tam O'Shanter" who is wearing a cutty sark (very short undergarment)–although when double-checking what a cutty sark was while typing my notes just now, I learned that in the poem the witch's cutty sark was apparently lot more revealing than that of the woman pretending to be her. It is a family museum after all.

The weather on the trip back up to Westminster Pier was still as lovely as it had been all day, if a bit more chilly out on the water. This trip was a lot more crowded since it was much later in the day, and there seemed to be lots of groups and families with loud, bored kids.

It was surprisingly easy to walk from Westminster Pier to St Martin in the Fields. I was actually there before I expected to be. Although I as usual had written down the directions from one place to another, I've found I really prefer to use the maps app on my iPhone. I think it makes me look a bit less like a tourist, having to frequently and obviously stop and look at a map or directions. Instead I look just like everyone else with their ear buds in listening to their tunes on their smart phone or player.

I had walked to the Charing Cross Tube station, which I wanted to find first because that's where I needed to go to catch the Tube back here to Gloucester Road and my hotel, when I looked up and realized I was looking right at the altar window in the back wall of St Martin in the Fields.

It was only about 5:30 PM when I got there, so I hung out for a bit on the plaza first, listening to a young woman playing violin and a young guy playing guitar (one of my favorite musical groups of all times is the guitar-violin duo of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli) for a bit. I then went downstairs to pick up my ticket for tonight's concert at the box office before heading into the Café for dinner. I might not have been very hungry for some reason, but I could only eat part of my chicken, broccoli, and potato main dish but my beer and dessert were quite good.

I had learned about tonight's concert when I was here for the candlelit concert last week. Tonight's was as lovely and enjoyable as last week's had been. Tonight I was in the 2nd row from the front, six seats in from the center aisle with no one sitting in front of me so I had lots of fun watching the conductor and musicians.

Tonight's ensemble was the Trafalgar Simphonia, a small group of about 12 or 13 musicians and a piano soloist–an upright bass, two violas, two cellos, and the rest violins. I hadn't picked up a program when I got there earlier tonight, because I had brought the one I picked up last week. Just in case, though, I checked the program for the evening online on my iPhone before the performance and I'm glad I did. They were playing all the same pieces as on the program I had from last week, but the order was a bit different. I kept the program up on my iPhone which I left on the small shelf on the back of the pew in front of me so I could refer to it between pieces. I was kind of amused when I noticed that the lovely young woman sitting next to me, who also didn't have a program with her, was frequently looking at the program on my phone as well.

Tonight's program, in the right order, were: Mozart's Eine kleine nachtmusik Handel: Air, from Water music Mozart: Piano concerto #14 and, after the intermission, Handel: Arrival of the Queen of Sheba Bach: Air, from the Goldberg variations Mozart: Divertimento #3 Bach: Siciliano from keyboard concerto in E Mozart: Serenata notturna

For an encore, they played a fun, snazzy, jazzy arrangement of "Fly me to the moon" by one of their members.

I thought I had written down how to get back to Gloucester Road from Charing Cross, but when I got there to take the Piccadilly line which I knew went to Gloucester Road I learned that it didn't leave from Charing Cross. Instead of trying to figure out what was the right train to take and where to transfer to what line to get back to Gloucester Road, I took a cab back. Part of my reasoning was that at the time I still had a lot more British pounds than I was likely to use tomorrow, my last day here.

It's still a beautiful evening, and London is really lovely at night. Tonight's ride back to this neighborhood was a bit more interesting than usual, though, because for quite a bit of the way we were behind an huge, organized group of people on bicycles until my driver found a place where he could safely go around them. When we were stopped at a red light along the way, he asked a couple of the riders nearest to his window what was going on. Apparently they were all part of a large multi-national organization that organizes a large, mass bike ride somewhere on the last Friday of every month to point out the need for safe cycling and awareness of cyclists.

It was just about 10:00 PM when the cab driver dropped me off at Gloucester Road, so instead of popping into the Tesco Express or Starbuck's for a snack I stopped at one of the local restaurants I still hadn't been to yet which was still open. It was the local outlet of Byron's, a small London chain of restaurants specializing in American-style hamburgers. The place was still quite busy, and my burger was pretty good although I do prefer buns that stay together better while you're eating them.

Tomorrow's my last full day here in London. I'm still hoping to get together with Alan, the London-based Irish music podcaster I've regularly listened to for so long, but I haven't heard from him since he and his wife left for Ireland shortly after I got here. I hope I'll hear from him tomorrow, since he was supposed to get home sometime today.

I'm still a bit worried about the weather in Miami on Sunday affecting my flight home, although right now the latest forecast is that the possible tropical storm is expected to hit the area long after I get home if at all. I think I'll pack a change of clean clothes in my book bag, which I'll carry on the plane with me, after I pick up my last load of laundry tomorrow just in case.


Saturday, August 29

Slideshow

I'm actually writing up my notes from the end of my stay in London on the evening of Tuesday, September 1 after work and after dinner, which is the first time since I came home on Sunday that I've felt alert and awake enough in the evening to do so.

While in London, I'd been hoping to be able to meet Alan O'Leary, the host of the Copperplate podcast, one of the Irish & Celtic music shows I regularly listen to, who plays music he sells in his own Internet/email store and who lives in London. We've often been in contact over the years, mostly about his latest episodes, since his show is one of the ones I keep track of in my playlists for the various Irish & Celtic music podcasts I listen to. Before I'd left home for London, Alan and I had been in contact via Facebook about possibly meeting while I was there. Although we at first had difficulties calling each other's cell phones, he did manage to call my hotel room the morning after I arrived. Unfortunately, Alan and his wife were themselves leaving for a trip to Ireland and he didn't expect to get back home to London until yesterday.

I'd tried contacting Alan via Facebook a couple of times while he was in Ireland, but apparently he only had sporadic access to the Internet. When I got back to my hotel room that Friday night, Alan had called and left a message that perhaps we could meet for a beer there in my hotel the following night, which had been my suggestion since I knew we could find a table, a place to sit down, and be able to hear each other better than we probably could have in either of the two pubs there in the hotel's neighborhood. Alan called me again Saturday morning, and we arranged to meet there in the hotel at 8:00 PM.

That day I wanted to use the express ticket for the London Eye I'd ordered earlier, then go to at least one of the Tate art museums and take the Tate Boat between them.

Although I knew very well that the London Eye is almost directly across the Thames from the Westminster Pier and the Tube station where I'd been several times, for some reason I'd written down that I needed to get off at a different Tube station a couple of stops further down the river. The slight mistake didn't bother me much, though, because all it meant was a slightly longer walk along the Thames on a lovely day, and the Tube stop where I got off was on the same side of the river as the London Eye and Tate Modern.

When I got to the London Eye, I hung Chris's cane on a small pillar while I got my iPhone out to take a look at the email confirming my purchase of the express pass. I showed the email to the guy on duty at the ticket line, and he told me I needed to go into the County Hall and pick up my ticket and then come back and get in the express line which I did and also paid a visit to the restroom.

It was only when I came back outside that I realized I didn't have Chris's cane with me, and thank God it was still hanging there on the small pillar where I'd left it.

The fast track tickets for the London Eye really do save quite a bit of time standing in line to get on. The view from the Eye on a clear day is really spectacular, especially since I'd missed my chance to go to the Skygarden and the Walkie Talkie building and hadn't gone to the Shard or up top in St Paul's either. On the way up, the best view from the Eye is down river and up river on the way down, not surprisingly since if you're on the other side of the carriage you're looking at the pods directly in front of you, but the view to either side would still be splendid. I shared the cabin with several families, including a couple of kids, but my fellow passengers were pretty well behaved so that didn't detract too much from my enjoyment of the ride.

I was getting pretty hungry by the time our turn around had ended. I'd seen several places to eat while walking from the Tube station where I got off to the Eye, but was most interested when I saw a small sign advertising what it said were the best meat pies in London so that's where I went. The sign was for a very small storefront in a lovely little plaza off the main walkway. I had a steak and ale pie, and either it wasn't quite as good as advertised or I just wasn't feeling that hungry for some reason because I didn't have much appetite for it.

By the time I got to the Tate Modern it was about 3:00 PM. I decided I didn't have time to see both museums, especially if I wanted to get back to my hotel in time to use the treadmill for my daily exercise walking before Alan came by at 8:00. I decided to skip the Tate Modern because I knew I'd probably enjoy the art at Tate Britain more anyway.

Yesterday, Monday August 31, was the big August bank holiday there in London, marking the end of summer and the resumption of school so this was a big holiday weekend for a lot of people. There were a lot of tourist information people out and about along the Thames so I asked one of them where the Tate Boat left from, and was able to catch the next one less than ten minutes later. I was also able to pay for the ticket by using some of the money on my prepaid Oyster card.

The Tate Boat is one of the routes serviced by the Thames Clipper service, which I'd often noticed while out and about on the Thames or even just going by it. They use boats whicha are newer, smaller and faster than any Thames passenger service other than the couple of jet boat tours. Thames Clipper also serves more pickup/drop off points than any other river service and more frequently. Their boats all have enclosed main cabins; I'd forgotten and didn't notice when we got on that the stern is roofed over but has open sides, so I sat in the main cabin which was quite comfortable.

I loved Tate Britain a great deal, and actually recognized quite a lot of paintings I'd seen before online, in videos, or in books and saw a great many others I'd never seen before that I also liked a lot. I especially liked seeing Dante Gabriel Rossetti's pictures of redheads.

When I left Tate Britain the weather was still lovely and I could have easily walked the ten or fifteen minutes to the nearest Tube station where I could take the first leg of my trip back to Gloucester Road and my hotel, but again I chose to take a cab for pretty much the same reason as yesterday–I still had far more British currency than I was likely to use for dinner that night or at the airport the following day and I'd prepaid for my private shuttle ride to the airport already. The cab ride turned out to be quite a bit of fun, since I'd never taken a cab from that area before and so saw places I still hadn't seen before getting back to more familiar territory.

When I got back to the hotel I noticed that the new Richoux restaurant was still serving their afternoon tea so I went in and it was quite delightful. I decided to do my exercise walking on the treadmill first before meeting Alan at 8:00. If I didn't have time to have dinner before Alan came, I knew I'd have no problem finding somewhere still open since it was the Saturday evening before a big holiday.

Alan's podcast, Copperplate, comes out monthly and I still hadn't listened to the latest one so that's what I did while using the treadmill. Alan's company and the great music he chose as usual really helped pass the time while exercising. At the start of each episode, Alan mentions which number show it is, and that one was #190. Since I was too busy walking on the treadmill and listening to Alan's show, I couldn't figure out at the time how long that meant he'd been doing a monthly show, and also wanted to find out how long I'd been listening to it, so when I got off the treadmill I popped upstairs to my room to use the computer. 190 monthly episodes works out to be almost 16 years. I'd only started listening to Copperplate, and keeping track of what Alan played, since January 2011 or only four and half years ago.

I'd dropped a final load of laundry off at the front desk this morning before Alan called. After I used the treadmill I stopped by the front desk. I wanted to check on my laundry, let them know Alan would be coming by to see me, and take care of any incidentals like the breakfasts I'd eaten there in the hotel and my laundry bill since I was leaving quite early the next morning. Once again, my laundry was still there in the front office because this time I'd forgotten to write down my room number on the laundry slip. I took it up to my room then because I still had a few minutes before Alan was due to arrive.

In addition to settling up my bill there at the front desk, I wanted to see if they'd be interested in having some of the free copies of books I'd picked up at the library where I work and brought along with me which I really didn't want to pack to take back with me, besides I could use that extra room for the CDs I bought there in London. I suggested they could perhaps put some of the books out there in the lobby/small bar, or in the breakfast room for guests and staff. Bettina, the woman on duty at the time, liked the idea and thought they might help her and some of the other staff with improving their English which I agreed might be more fun than reading language books. (That's actually the same sort of thing I recommend at the library where I work when someone who seems to speak pretty good English is looking for an audio to help with grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. I usually recommend they look for an audio of a book that looks interesting to them, find a print copy, then listen to the audio while reading the book.)

By the time Alan arrived, it had started raining again. I bought both of us a pint there in the lounge and we settled on a couch near the reception area for a chat. On the podcast, Alan has a very charming voice and Irish accent and comes across as a very genial host who's very knowledgeable about Irish music and personally knows quite a few of the musicians whose music he plays. In person, Alan is as genial and personable and is a bit older than I am, perhaps mid to late 60s or early 70s.

Before Alan had left for Ireland, I'd asked him to recommend about half a dozen CDs with a London connection he had in stock, which I'd ordered online and he brought with him. We enjoyed our pints and had a very pleasant chat for about an hour or so.

I asked Alan how he got into podcasting and started his own record company, and he told me that he had started out as a musician who toured and worked with a lot of very well known musicians and bands. He then was an executive for a long time with Green Linnet, whom I know to be one of the largest distributors of Irish music CDs before he started Copperplate.

When I told Alan that, so far, out of all the podcasters I listen to the only two of them I'd actually met were himself and Simon Thoumier of the Foot Stompin' Scottish music podcast whom I'd met while I was in Edinburgh four years ago, for some reason it didn't surprise me very much when Alan said he knew Simon. (Later that night I went on Facebook just long enough to tell Simon that Alan had said "Hi", and Simon confirmed they did in fact know each other.)

Before Alan left the hotel to head for his home across on the other side of the Thames, I asked him if he used the Tube. He said he himself tried not to, but his two daughters regularly did, so I offered to give him the prepaid Oyster travel cards that came with my London Passes since they still had some money on them and that for me they had just become pieces of plastic, and Alan said he'd pass them along to his daughters.

Alan left about 9:00 to head home, and I headed back up to my room to drop off Alan's CDs and to get a rain coat and hat before heading out to get some dinner. I went back across the street to Garfunkel's again for my last dinner there in London before going back up to my room to finish packing and try to get some sleep before getting up at 4:30 AM for my 6:00 shuttle to Heathrow and my trip back to Miami, South Florida, and home.


Sunday, August 30

I didn't sleep very well Saturday night, and certainly not long enough. Taking a shower helped a bit, though, at least for a while.

After I got dressed, and packed my dirty clothes from the day before, some small toiletries, and my small plug in electric glow in the dark alarm clock I'd bought there in London (I'd checked what outlets they use in Ireland, and I'll be able to use that alarm clock and the power adapters I'd brought with me to London in Ireland as well), I turned on my iPhone and found an email message from the airlines that my flight back to Miami had been delayed from 9:45 AM to 11:00. Although I'd bought both my plane tickets through British Airways and had flown on that airline from Miami to London, my return flight was on American, one of their partner airlines. By then, of course, it was too late to call the shuttle company and ask them to come a bit later so I'd just have to hang out at the airport for a bit longer before my flight.

Since the hotel's elevator is kind of small, I took two trips to take all my luggage downstairs to the lobby. I was checked out and waiting there about 5:30 and was looking out the window when what looked like a shuttle arrived and parked outside. The driver still hadn't come in by 5:50, so I went outside to see if he was indeed my driver. He was, but hadn't wanted to be too early so he was going to wait outside until 6:00 exactly.

The trip back out to Heathrow that Sunday morning probably took a lot less time than it otherwise would. I was at the airport and through security very early, and through into terminal 3 a long time before my flight would be leaving at 11:00.

Terminal 3 at Heathrow is very nice, certainly nicer than the one in Miami I'd flown out of on British Airways. I also really liked being able to spend the time waiting in American's first class lounge, which was an even nicer place to hang around than the terminal itself with very comfortable places to sit and free food and drinks. There may be some drinks you have to pay for there, but all the food that was out and drinks including beer and wine were free. I hung out there until about 10:40, and when I got to my gate they still hadn't started boarding yet. I was one of the first people allowed through for priority boarding shortly afterwards.

This flight was on a Boeing 777/200 which had a very nice, very comfortable and roomy first class cabin. I don't know how it was on the rest of the plane, but our cabin was about half empty so the crew took even better care of us than usual. The only thing I didn't like about this flight on American is that there were fewer options available for in flight entertainment than there had been on my British Airways flight over. As usual because I'd had too little sleep the night before but was still wide awake, I was too tired to do much of anything but couldn't sleep so I watched two movies, neither of them particularly memorable but most of the time I just sat there in the darkened cabin with my glasses off.

As I said, the first class cabin crew treated us very well indeed. We had a nice lunch shortly after we left London, and another meal not too long before our arrival in Miami.

I had a bit of mild trauma and panic after we arrived in Miami. Going through Immigration was quick and easy, and two of my bags showed up on the baggage carousel quite quickly but I began getting quite worried when my hat box didn't show up after I'd been waiting there watching the carousel go around and around after pretty much everyone else had collected their luggage. When I finally asked at the information desk there, I was told that there was actually a separate place a little down the hall where they put bigger, longer or more fragile items and my hat box was there waiting for me.

I used one of my credit cards to rent one of the luggage carts there in the baggage terminal since I still had to go through Customs and out to where I'd meet my shuttle driver for my trip home. I didn't have any food or anything to declare so got through Customs quickly. Once again there was a bit of confusion about where I was supposed to meet my driver, since it turned out that the level where he could pick me up was actually a level below where we picked up our baggage. By the time we got to his car, it had been over an hour since my flight had arrived. We had a pleasant chat on the way home and I walked in my front door about 5:00 PM.

I sent a text message to both Michael and Tim checking in to let them know I was home again safely. I unpacked one of my bags, then went outside to do my daily exercise walking since it was a lovely day here. I then had to go out for dinner since I'd of course not been home for the last three weeks and didn't have a lot of food here in the house. After I got back from dinner, I unpacked my other bag, watched TV for about an hour–something I'd also not done for three weeks–and then crashed for the night.

I slept pretty well Sunday night, and felt mostly back to normal after I'd taken a shower and went Monday morning. I went back to work on Tuesday, since that week I was working Tuesday through Saturday. I did my exercise walking outside on Sunday & Monday, and along the river downtown near the library where I work. I still hadn't been to the grocery store yet, so I stopped for dinner somewhere on the way home. I was going to finish writing these notes from my trip up after watching TV for an hour or so but instead felt the need to go to bed fairly early.


Afterthoughts

Final thoughts & reflections on my trip?

I loved London. Although I spent three weeks there, I could easily have spent at least a lot more time there and still not seen every place I wanted to. It would have been fun to get out into the countryside more, and to make it to see the seaside at Brighton. If I had the time, I would have spent most of a day on another visit to Kew Gardens. I would have loved taking the boat all the way to Hampton Court Palace and spending the day there, and to take the boat the other way to the Thames Barrier.

I would also go over to the Sherlock Holmes Museum, even though it's not actually at 221B Baker Street even though that's what the address is. Conan Doyle used an address that didn't actually exist when he wrote his books and stories, kind of the way J K Rowling has the train to Hogwarts leave from platform 9 and 3/4 in London's King's Cross station. The creators of the Sherlock Holmes Museum successfully petitioned to have it assigned the number Conan Doyle used in the stories. I also wanted to go by and take a picture of the memorial statue to Agatha Christie in the West End.

I'd definitely go to more BBC Proms concerts, but I'd also like to go to some at the other venues and would try to do a better job reading the seating chart for the Royal Albert Hall.

Would I go to any musicals in the West End if I had more time? Probably not, since they were mostly the same as had made tours through South Florida. There was, however, at least one magic show I might have gone to.

Would I visit any of the other palaces in London, other than Hampton Court? Probably not, but I would have liked to go to the Queen's Gallery to see the art there.

And of course there were a whole lot of smaller but just as interesting museums I didn't get to, nor did I get to any of the famous cemeteries in the area like Highgate.

So of course I'd love to go back to London again sometime. Once is not enough.


After-afterthoughts

When I was preparing for the trip to Ireland Mom sent me on for my 50th birthday nine years ago, as part of my research I read a couple of books on Irish history. When I was preparing for my visit to Scotland four years ago, I read a couple of books about Scottish history. When I was preparing for our trip to Paris to scatter some of Mom's ashes in the Seine this past Christmas and New Year's I read a couple of books about the history of Paris. And of course as part of my research in preparing for my trip to Ireland for my 60th birthday next summer, I'm of course reading a couple more books about Irish history.

To be perfectly frank and honest, I have conflicting feelings about England and the United Kingdom.

On one hand, I really don't like what various English rulers and governments have tried to do to people I consider my own.

I was raised Roman Catholic, went to a Presbyterian church in Portland for a couple of years that some of my friends from high school went to, and which is still one of my very favorite places to be for a candle light Christmas Eve service. I went to a college founded by the United Methodist Church, and went to Methodist churches there with friends for a couple of years.

I am also proud of and deeply interested in my Celtic and Gaelic heritage, however tenuous the link might actually be, having been raised in a completely assimilated American family with my Dad's parents being the same, the little I knew them. I never grew up with stories of my Dad's ancestors and family. I'm actually not very interested in genealogy because of that lack of connection with Dad's roots which was strengthened by not having a lot of contact with his family for most of my life. But I still consider myself Irish-American and my most favorite music of all is Irish & Celtic traditional music or music based on those traditions (I'm even fond of Celtic punk, if I can listen to it on my own and control the volume, although I find an overuse of profanity boring and annoying).

Throughout the centuries, the rulers and governments of Great Britain have largely tried to wipe out the Dissenters, those Christians who belong to churches other than the Anglican Church of England or Ireland as well as trying to do the same to the Celts and Gaels. And there you have how I look at it–I don't blame the English or British people, just their rulers and governments.

England and Great Britain are large parts what I think of as my cultural and intellectual homelands. I've loved Shakespeare's plays ever since the first time I read one in school, and when I was home back in Oregon I'd go to the Shakespeare festival down in Ashland every chance I could get. I've been reading English and British mysteries for most of my life.

So being in London felt almost as much like being home again as actually being back in Portland or Seattle and seeing the familiar skylines with their hills and mountains does or being in Ireland or Scotland or Paris did.