Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day 7 - Stonehenge and Salisbury

Today we visited the lovely little town of Salisbury, England, to see the Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge. Think valleys, meadows, and rivers. It is a quaint town of about 50,000 people, located on the River Avon. In the 1800's it was a center for music. Some of the most famous musicians have lived there, were born there, or have performed there. We visited the market where we purchased various delicious cheeses. The market has been held regularly on Tuesdays and Saturdays since 1227. We popped into a Chocolate Shop for a warm "Pot of Chocolate". Yummy! It was like eating a melted chocolate bar.

The architecture in any cathedral always amazes me, but this cathedral seemed particularly breathtaking. Established in 1220, it has the tallest spire of an English cathedral and contains the best preserved of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, which is the basis for constitutional rule. It appeared to be in better shape than some of my fifth graders' work!

We also visited Stonehenge, which is just a few miles away. I didn't think looking at a bunch of rocks would thrill me (sorry history buffs), but I must tell you how totally amazed I was at the site as it appeared on the horizon when we were arriving. The purpose of the formation remains a mystery, as well as how men were able to get these 25 ton rocks into position.

Play the slide show to see my favorite photos from today.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Salisbury & Stonehenge
Create your own slideshow - Powered by Smilebox
Make a Smilebox slideshow

Monday, June 29, 2009

Day 6 - Westminster Abbey, The London Eye, The Apollo Victoria Theatre

Today was a whirlwind of adventure! We first toured Westminster Abbey, which is to die for! I had no idea so many historical figures were buried or commemorated there...Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Chaucer, Elizabeth I, Tennyson, and Kipling!

We then ventured to a popular tourist attraction, the London Eye, a very slow ferris wheel that provided our class with an amazing 360 degree view of the city. We had approximately 40 minutes to take all the pictures we wanted.
As if that weren't enough, we topped the evening off at the Apollo Victoria Theatre where we saw Wicked!, which was absolutely...well...wicked! The singing was fantastic and the visual effects were amazing!

I made two great connections today! First, I was able to visit only for a few minutes with The Kenya Boys Choir. I just happened to see them getting out of their taxi and thought I'd take advantage of the opportunity to speak with them. They were here promoting their new album, and were very excited to be in London. They were amazed at how much their lives have changed since singing at President Obama's Inaguration. They were getting ready for an interview with a local television news channel, so they were not available for a longer conversation. Click here to read more about them and listen to their music.

The other connection was with a couple of young men who were sitting behind us at the play as we were awaiting the beginning of the performance. We heard singing from behind us and as we slowly turned to watch them sing they got embarrassed and began to laugh. It seems they were with a group of theatre arts students from the Liverpool Theatre School. They sheepishly, but good naturedly, agreed to sing for us. See if they did...

We were to focus our photography on buildings throughout the day. My favorites, along with some others, are posted below.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day 5 - London Street Pianos - Uniting the City in Song

While exploring Soho Square Park, we ran across a performer who was playing a colorful piano right in the middle of the park. He was surrounded by people who were not only listening to the entertainment, but also joining in. It seems that Sing London, which is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is "to use collective singing to connect people to each other and to the spaces around them", is placing decorated second-hand pianos in squares and courtyards all over London. Marked ‘Play me, I’m Yours’, the pianos are there to encourage people to play, sing around and enjoy. All pianos will be donated to community groups when the project is finished. This lady joined in with a little ditty of her choice. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to speak with these people, but DID connect with them through the music. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Day 4 - Tower of London, Hyde Park, Trafalger Square, Marlborough Arms

Since we're only in London for two weeks, I'm trying to see as much as I possibly can while I'm here. Most of us are of the same feeling, so it was easy to get a group together to take the tube over to Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, otherwise known as the Tower of London, which is located on the River Thames. It was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. We walked up lots of spiral staircases and through a chapel and a maze of towers where we saw actual suits of armour, jousting lances, ravens, torture chambers, artillary, the Queen's Guard, Yeoman Warder (a.k.a. Beefeaters), and the Crown Jewels (I'm so jealous!). Evidently, the Tower of London is the most haunted building in England. Thank goodness we didn't see an apparition! What I found most interesting was the contrast between the old and the new, whether it be the buildings, the grounds, or some other oddity. Oh my goodness! I almost forgot to mention the Tower Bridge over the River Thames. How could I have forgotten that?

We were close to Hyde Park, so we just HAD to go there. It was absolutely gorgeous with large beautiful shade trees, a rose garden, horses, and people everywhere from all walks of life. The Serpentine River runs through the park and actually separates it from Kensington Gardens. I suspect it was busier than usual because of the big rock concert going on this weekend. Bruce Springstein is playing there Sunday night, while other bands are playing through the weekend. Unfortunately, we did not have time to see the famous Speakers' Corner, which is where people actually "get on their soapbox" and say exactly what they are thinking. That would have been entertaining!

To the Underground again and off to Trafalgar Square. We didn't have a lot of time here because we needed to rush to meet up with Dr.E. and her husband, Harry, but we did get to see the fountains and the statues (from a distance). Hey, we were there - on the square!

Off to the Marlborough Arms to meet up with Dr.E., Harry, and our classmates for a well-deserved Pimms, a light citrusy drink that is VERY refreshing. Yummy! We had a fabulous time...good food, good drinks, good friends. And here it is that, at the end of this long and hectic day, I was able to find a new connection. Dr. E. told us the story of a man who visited the pub every evening and he always sat at the very end of the bar in the corner, although he was not there at that time. This intrigued me, and I anxiously awaited his arrival. When he did arrive (and after a cocktail or two), Dillon, Connie, and I went over to "chat him up". His name is John. He is a 91 year old retiree and a very sweet man. What a honey! It seems he used to own his own bar and is a connoisseur of concoctions. His favorite drink? Beer! John has been coming to Marlborough's for fifty years and often comes three times a day. This might explain his age; it seems he is well preserved! He is so beloved in this bar, that when he leaves for the evening, he places his stool behind the bar. He pulls it out again when he returns. They even have a tribute to him that can be seen when he raises the counter flap. How cool is that?

I can't stop there because this is just too funny. Two connections in one night. After leaving the pub, Laura and I walked to an unfamiliar store to which Dr. E. referred us to get some Italian sausage for dinner tomorrow night.We got to this one road and were not sure what to do. Entering a nearby hotel to ask for directions was not helpful (even thought it was only like two blocks away). Upon leaving the hotel, Connie asked the first person she saw if she knew where Waitrose was and, lo and behold, she worked there! So, we not only learned how to get there, but what their hours were and that they indeed did have Italian sausage! LOL! It's one of those "had to be there" stories! I just love London!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Day 3 - Getting Oriented

The past couple of days have been busy with get-togethers for both business and pleasure.

I attended an orientation breakfast, a meeting about staying safe while in London, and took a practical walking tour around our immediate neighborhood which is, basically, the heart of the city.

I also have spent the past two days getting to know my "flat" mates and the other students in the class. Of course, pictures were involved! I have met some wonderful people and learned some new things, such as...

the FSU Study Center is in the heart of London.
the staff are wonderful.
don't go with the cabs that tout.
you need to top up.
mind the gap.
mind your head.
get your money from the cash point.
it isn't "take out", it's "take away".
give way.
look right.
stay left.
some of my classmates are on the fourth floor with no lift to get them there.
common law says it is OK to hit someone with a preimptive strike.
the ground floor is our first floor.
the first floor is our second floor.
you take an accident victim to the A&E (accident and emergency).
the A&E is also known as the "casualty".
pepper spray is illegal.
constables and bobbies don't carry guns....neither does Carolyn.
take time out to read Time Out.
queue up.
mass transit is cool.
trees look like horizontal green stripes when taking picures from the train.
the people in London are so courteous, quiet and helpful.
people who talk on cell phones while on the train are slightly annoying.
people travel around town on an Oyster.
we cook on the hob.
at least one Kentuckian prefers FSU (take that University of Kentucky!)
in Sri Lanka they have 52 vacation days per year.
Jeannie and Laura appreciate their hubbands' encouragement.
a line-up is called an identification parade....also, that I don't want to be in one.
Marmite tastes horrible.
the Urban Dictionary defines OAP as Old Age Pensioner.
Kat has a secret hiding place.
Jeannie "Skypes" with her husband every night.
be very clear when ordering tapas from a waitress who does not speak English.
if you do, you might end up with sardines!
which cheek not to slap if there is a bug on it.
that little black thing on the faucet keeps you from having to take a cold shower.
always carry a fire extinguisher on the train from Germany.
London is the safest big city in the world.
Connie's alter ego is named Angie.
Angie got locked between the buildings after she set off the security alarm.
apartments aren't for rent, they're to let.
William Shakespeare is not at home.
people in London LOVE Michael Jackson.
embrace the differences.
Dr. E. has a good sense of humor.
I have the best flatmates in the world!

AND....I get REALLY excited about some of my photos!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 2 - Stratford-upon-Avon

"What light through yonder window breaks?"

Up early and ready to experience the London Underground for the first time, Jeannie and I took a two and one half hour jaunt on “the Tube” over to Stratford-upon-Avon, a little market town in south Warwickshire, best known as the birthplace of playwright and poet William Shakespeare.

This picture is of William Shakespeare's home. I won't bore you with the details of the literary history of Shakespeare, but I will share how surprised I was at the commercialism in the area. Though many of the shops housed his works and directly pertained to William himself (my favorite was an ice cream shop which specialized in William's Shakes), there were also those places that seemed so out of place...KFC, Burger King, Poundland (our Dollar General), and several gift shops that were filled with books, quill pens, postcards, Shakespearean bears, and erasers imprinted with "Out, damned spot...!", (another favorite). Nearby was the River Avon where we spent a good portion of our time walking around the basin, and relaxing while doing some bird watching and people watching. This is a picture of the brige over the canal that connects the basin to the River Avon.

Enough about Shakespeare. What about his other half? We continued our journey with a long and leisurely walk to the small village of Shottery to tour Anne Hathaway's Cottage.
The tour of the cottage was enlightening and enjoyable, but did not hold a candle to the luscious gardens. It was like walking into another world. The grounds were filled with flower gardens of all shapes, sizes, and colors, as well as spices and vegetable gardens. I wonder if there will ever be a day when we will be able to record aromas and post them virtually. It is difficult to express the beauty of the scents from the day.

"Parting is such sweet sorrow..."

As I had hoped, I was able to make a connection with a perfect stranger, and in this case, two perfect strangers. At the end of our visit when it was time for us to return to the train station, we were contemplating the long walk and thinking about calling a taxi. A very kind woman and her daughter graciously offered to give us a lift to the train station. We had a very pleasant conversation and I found myself wishing the drive had been a little longer. I thanked them profusely and said goodbye to them, the Shakespeares, the ducks, and this beautiful little town that touched my heart and my senses. (Check back soon to view a slideshow of the garden.)

Click to play this Smilebox photobook: Anne's Garden
Create your own photobook - Powered by Smilebox
Make a Smilebox photobook

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Day 1 - London

I don't know which made me happier...knowing that the long flight to London was over or knowing that I was actually in London, well Gatwick anyway. I was glad that we flew at night so I was able to get some cat naps in between the typical noises you hear on a plane. We took a train from Gatwick to London and I was so glad we did.

I had not wanted my blog to be a minute by minute run down of my day, which would certainy become boring after awhile; rather I envisioned it to be for sharing some interesting sites and people that I run across each day in my journey. For example,I could tell you about how difficult it was to lift our heavy bags up onto the train (thank you to the perfect gentleman who assisted us) and how challenging it was to maneuvre the bags through the aisle to the back of the car to find a much needed seat, only to be sweetly ushered by the porter to keep moving five cars back because we had an orange ticket, which meant we needed to go to the red seats (second class), not the blue seats (first class). I wish I had counted how many empty blue seats there were on our way to the red seats. No worries. This little adventure lead me to share a table with a couple who is the focus of this post on my first day in London. The unlikely couple, a red haired Irish man with a gentle voice who wore a claddagh on his left ring finger (not that I was looking), and a petite woman from Singapore who had long raven black hair, were here from Chicago. After some general small talk about travel, our conversation turned to submarines, particularly one he had recently visited in New Orleans. He was fascinated with the bravery of the men who have historically volunteered to spend some time in their lives on submarines. When I shared that I had recently watched an interesting documentary on the CSS H.L.Hunley, his face became filled with excitement and he immediately began telling me about the book he is writing. It seems Dr. Pete Millar is writing a biography about the legendary men and women of the underwater world, and that the man who discovered the Hunley, Ralph Wilbanks, is one of the legends in his book (and is currently in London at the time of this post). When I asked for his name, telling him that I would be blogging about our conversation, he eagerly provided me with his website. It sounds like a very interesting book and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with Dr. Millar. When I have my own media center, I will contact him to come for an author visit, or at least a virtual visit via Skype. Please visit www.divingwithlegends.com to learn more about his work.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

There are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror. ~Orson Welles

Well, after a farewell dinner with family at Joe's Crab Shack last night, and a farewell dinner with friends at The Cheesecake Factory, I'm ready to get on board. I'm not sure if boredom and terror are the ONLY two emotions, but I am well prepared to experience both of these, among many others. I am one of those people who begin and end a flight with a reverent prayer and my hands gripped tightly to the armrests. Well, maybe terror is too strong of a word, but definitely a feeling of anxiety. Once I'm in the air, I'm fine, and I'm sure many of you can relate to that. We will be flying nonstop on British Airways. This will be my first time on a plane that has more than one aisle. I hope an additional aisle correlates to additional leg room. :D It's an eight hour flight, so I'm sure my emotions will run the gamut. Well, we're preparing to board. The next time I post I will be in London!