Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bath, Tea with Mr. Darcy and Shutting Down the Tower of London

It's Sunday and after another lovely breakfast, (did I mention that the hotel makes lattes and mochas for us and we can have them or hot chocolate or wine delivered to our room whenever we like?) It's a great hotel, Twenty Nevern Square. I will stay here again when I come back to London. It's Posh.

Today we're going to Bath, so we head for the train station and buy our tickets. Now we are a bit confused. There are many, many lines for the trains and the big boards don't tell us which track is for our train. I ask at the Information Desk, and they tell us to just go in where all the tracks are and look for the destination on the train. This is not correct information, because when we do that and start searching -- a purser takes pity on us and tells us to go to track 32.

Apparently if you do this all the time, you just know these things. We're Americans - we don't understand public transportation.
The train is comfortable and not too crowded, so we settle in to watch London slip by and then we begin to see farms, lots of sheep and the wonderful types of small towns you see on BBC specials. Yes, it really does look like that. Really.
We have to change trains and there isn't a warm place to wait, so we're grateful we wore our wool coats, scarves, hats and gloves. Finally we arrive in Bath -- and we are in Austenland.

This is the Bath Abbey, not to be confused with the Bath Cathedral.

Bath is very crowded as there is a Christmas Fair in the streets around the cathedral and it's so picturesque there, I think people just visit to enjoy the ambience. We can certainly understand.

We see a familiar landmark from home and this begins our quest to "Find Starbucks" as we travel. Kinda like "Find Waldo" but there's coffee involved. And you KNOW how people from Seattle are about coffee.

The buildings are all made of this lovely white stone.

We find the "Circus" which is where all the parties and balls were held during the Regency period. We can imagine the Bennett sisters walking these very streets. Except they're imaginary characters in a book. But we are willing to suspend disbelief.

Sheryl is really the Jane Austen fan, although I will say I enjoyed "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" very much. One of her best books, I think.

We both want to see the Fashion Museum and I'm delighted to say we are not disappointed. Again, for me -- this is the fashion tour of Europe.

These dresses could have been worn by Jane and her sisters.

And the Victorian gowns are lovely.

But this is my favorite. When I'm invited to the Academy Awards -- I'll wear this dress. (Johnny Depp will be my date - Hey, it's my fantasy).

There are gloves, hats and purses too. I love accessories!

After the museum and we head to the Jane Austen Centre for tea. Sheryl is now thrilled beyond belief because there's a portrait of her favorite hero on the wall. "Hello Mr. Darcy".

We enjoy a lovely tea party, buy some things in the gift shop and head back to the train. We have to take the 4pm train, because we have tickets to see the "Ceremony of the Keys" at the Tower of London tonight. Since it took so long for us to get here today, we don't want to take any chances we'll get back to London too late.

We're back in plenty of time to get to the Tower and we walk along the Thames.

This is not the "London Bridge" because we are informed that's in Arizona. This is the "Tower Bridge" and I know, it looks like that other one, but it's not. Take my word for it.

Sheryl tells me this is where the Queen shops. That would finally explain why she needs a purse, because really people... what does she carry in it? Apparently her credit card so she can buy stuff here.

It reminds me of a casino in Las Vegas.

We stop by the gate and ask about the "Ceremony of the Keys" and the guard actually makes fun of me, in a kind of good-natured way. Then he hugs me, which I think is not very official kind of behavior, but maybe he's the friendly, greeting guard. And where do we wait for the guide to the ceremony?

In the "Tower of London Starbucks" of course!

We don't really know what to expect, but to attend the "Ceremony of the Keys" you have to get tickets in the mail. We are very impressed. This ceremony has been held continuously for 700 years. It was even held during WWII when the area was bombed, (one night it was late but it happened). That folks is HISTORY!

I thought the guards would have antique weapons, but they have machine guns. Very serious looking machine guns. And they are all spit and polish, "who goes there?" official.

We are not allowed to take photos or even talk during the ceremony. But it was so fabulous, we don't care. After it's all over we have our photo taken with the Yeoman Warden (Beefeater) who led the tour.

Tomorrow we visit the Vic and Al (Victoria and Albert Museum) and go to the theater again. It will our last day in London, and we're sad. Except not too sad, because on Tuesday we're going to Paris!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Scrooge, Panto and Ruby Slippers.... OH MY!

We have a bit of time to explore the "West End Theater District" after we enjoy our tea.

It's crazy busy there as the shopping crowd mixes with the folks waiting for the matinee performances.

We enjoy all the activity for a while, then we duck into this Bookshop. I love that they call it a "shop" and not a "store". It just seems more friendly.

Then it's time to head back to the theater for A Christmas Carol -- the musical not the Jim Carey movie.

We discover this is going to be a "panto" which is a special kind of play they offer during the holiday season. It's a musical, and usually features famous Television (Telly) stars. It's always a comedy and there will be men playing women's roles, women playing men's roles and a LOT of audience interaction.

I'd read about them, but the young woman who works at the theater, (you can see her peeking around the corner of this picture) tells us, "Americans don't understand Panto". But, I'm a library type and im my research I've read about these so I'm delighted to discover we are now going to see one.

We sit down early, so this makes the theater look empty but nearly every seat is filled, mostly with families and children. Sheryl and I are very in touch with our "inner child".

So, what is a "Panto" or Pantomine? Not just actors being mimes. It means the audience participates. The actors ask questions and we yell back the answers, we sing along and in the middle of the show... we all dance. It's during "Christmas past" when Scrooge worked for Fezziwig and they had a Christmas Ball. The entire audience stands up, we grab our neighbors hand and dance. I wish they had "Pantos" in Seattle! It's so much fun.

When we get out of the show it's dark and Sheryl wants to see "Harrods" one of the biggest and most exclusive department stores in the world. It isn't far so we head in that direction on the Metro.

Everyone in the city of London is at Harrods. The crowds so immense, we can barely get in the door. We quickly scan the first floor and find the stairs. It's much less crowded on the other floors.

There aren't any Christmas decorations, but they're celebrating the 60th Anniversary of "The Wizard of Oz" with a special fashion emphasis.

Dorothy is bit more stylish...

Glinda is high fashion.

Even the Wicked Witch and the Scarecrow have had a make-over.

And Toto Too!

We wander through the "women's clothing" section looking at designers like Halston, Chanel and Dolce and Gabbana. Note to self: if they don't put the prices on the clothes, I can't afford them.

Of course we need to look at the shoes, for me -- it's all about the shoes. And what do we discover? Ruby Slippers! The prettiest ruby slippers in the world.
Warning - if you have low tolerance for those who swoon over shoes just skip this part. Because as part of the store's focus on The Wizard of Oz -- they had designers from all over the world create their version of Ruby Slippers. And here they are!

And these are my favorites, although apparently they were so top heavy -- they couldn't stay standing. Betsey Johnson is one of my favorite designers.

We hear singing and discover in the middle of the store they have an opera performance.

Then we find the memorial to Princess Di and Dodie. (His father is the owner of Harrods).

We've seen enough stuff and we're getting hungry. We haven't eaten since breakfast and decide it's too busy to eat in this area, so we find a bus and head back to "Earl's Court" which is the neighborhood our hotel is in.

After some delicious Indian Food we have a nightcap at our hotel, gloat over our treasures from Portabello Road and fall into bed after another exhausting but fun day in London.

Coming next: Bath, Tea with Mr. Darcy and Shutting Down the Tower of London.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

To Market, To Market

For those of you anxiously waiting to hear what other calamities befell Sheryl and I on our first day in London -- we did eventually find our way about. We wandered for what seemed like hours, kept asking people where the "Underground" was, and were directed all around one area.

Then Sheryl decided we should duck into a Borders store that was in the midst of of a giant clearance sale. Apparently all the Borders bookstores in London will be closed soon.

She had a brilliant plan. We'd find a local map or guidebook and figure out where we were, and how to escape. It took a while. The crowded store had NO employees. Or they just decided to have their staff Christmas party early. Whatever.

After searching we finally located a map book, flipped through it and found our last destination, and figured out the direction we'd need to travel to find the subway stop we'd been searching so frantically for in the neighborhood. NOTE: I am a planner, but cannot navigate my way to places I've been before much less a major city I've never visited. Sheryl reads maps.
This is the thing - that area was in the midst of major construction and that's why the "Picadilly Line" had a detour. The "Underground" was indeed nearby, behind massive walls blocking folks from the construction area. It was NOT our fault that we got lost. We found the entrance, located the correct train, a were greatly relieved to finally tumble into bed after an exhausting and very long day.
The next day, we discover our hotel, Twenty Nevern Square, offers a breakfast... with complimentary lattes and mochas. We feast upon fresh fruit, croissants (with or without chocolate), yogurt, cheese, meats and various lovely things. We don't miss bacon and eggs at all, because this is a high energy breakfast for two high energy babes. And lovely parakeets singing in the back ground.

Since I'd realized we would be in London on the weekend, I researched "Flea Markets" and discovered that Portabello Road is actually one of the biggest in the world. Our goal for Saturday morning was to find the market, and shop -- shop--shop. So we hopped a bus and headed through the lovely Kensington area.

Finally we arrived at Portabello Road... and walked through the shops area on the way to the market.

We were intrigued by this display of sewing machines.

And we cooed and fussed over all these dollhouse miniatures.

The shop windows were enticing, with special things piled on tables outside the stores.

My husband refers to any store that looks like this as "Mermaid Fairies" and knows I will be in the door instantly.

But if he was here this would be a place he'd stop.

There are friendly Bobbies walking around.

In addition to Antiques, Collectibles, Crafts and Food... they have plants and flowers. Sheryl said I acted like I'd never seen an Evergreen tree before, but these are English Evergreen Trees!

Sheryl has an uncanny way of finding things I will love and she found this fabulous store called Punkyfish. I bought a great top there, something like this... and you can see how just being in London for one day has changed me!

I even discovered a woman making jewelry and she has a Steampunk piece I can't resist.

But all the shopping must come to an end and we head back to our hotel.

There are choirs singing holiday carols along the way.

And apparently... George Orwell slept here.

So we return to our hotel, drop off all our treasures and head for the "West End Theatre District" to pick our tickets and see "A Christmas Carol"

We discover that this weekend is the busiest shopping weekend of the year. It's like "Black Friday" in the states.

We pick up our tickets and even have time for tea.

Coming tomorrow -- Scrooge, Panto and Ruby Slippers -- OH MY!