Hey – no more numbers!
I have had many of my fans just dying to know what is happening here in France. I apologize for my slow catch up speed ,but here, in August, it is all me, all the time, with no school or camp. I am sure the first few weeks of school will consist of me catching up on all these blogs since lots has happened. I have one particularly funny story involving nudity – but I must focus, people!
Well, we couldn’t just go straight home from the US, could we? No way!
We stopped for 3 days in London, England. I had been there once before (for one day) when I worked for IOP, saw Tate Modern, Trafalgar square, The National Gallery, Westminster Abbey, had some fish and chips and took a walk along the Thames, but no one else in our family had ever been. Since the pound is particularly weak right now and I found out an old high school friend of mine was now living in London, the stars seemed aligned for a short stay.
Of course, first we had to get there – we took a van (thanks Mom and Dad!) to the airport Wednesday right after lunch (tears all around) and had an uneventful red-eye flight over, during which we gave everyone melatonin and the kids actually slept. We had an absolutely obscene amount of luggage with us but somehow made it past the really interesting jumping fountain (pictured left) at Heathrow to arrive at Katrina’s by about 8:30am Thursday morning. It was amazing to see her after so many years.
We chatted for a few minutes and then headed out to conquer London with a London walks tour. It was to be of Greenwich and, although we almost missed it and I nearly had a nervous breakdown at that time (mea culpa), it turned out to be very fun. We took a river cruise along the Thames which was relaxing and allowed us to see lots of historical stuff like the Tower Bridge and also tons of interesting buildings. The kids loved the cruise, of course, and I’d have to say that London is by far the most architecturally interesting city I have ever been exposed to. It just has so many different kinds of neat-o buildings. I’m sure if I knew more about architecture, I could be more eloquent than ‘neat-o’ but it is what it is. I kept the picture, right, as an example – these three buildings are supposed to be looking like something French – berets perhaps?
Then we wandered around Greenwich for about 2 hours. It was fun to be on a tour and our guide was funny, personable and very, very knowledgeable. Zander, as usual, was fascinated by everything and stuck to the guide like a shadow. Callie went along well and Griffin, as you can see, had enough of the tour and simply passed out in my arms. We visited a former royal palace that had a beautiful cathedral – all the plaster and relief looking stuff was actually painted – it was breathtaking. The guide told us that England, always in competition with France, had made this place in some sort of reaction to Versailles, even using the same architect. I must say it was really cool to hear him making the comparisons to Versailles, and be able to totally understand, since, like, I was just at Versailles in April! I am such a world traveler.
I am having major problems remembering details here, and my internet is down so I’ll just say that Greenwich is where some famous person Sir??? lived and died (as a traitor) and, earlier in his non traitorous days, he laid his cloak down over a puddle for some queen – marking him down forever as a great gentleman. We reenacted this in our group and then, for the next reenactment, Zander was chosen to participate. He was thrilled and acted the part of the kings wife's cousin (who accused the king of not being able to get it up!). Unfortunately, he was executed in the end. Also here, we had the absolute thrill (and I’m not even being sarcastic) of setting our watches by the ultimate, world wide arbiter of all time, Greenwich Mean Time! When the ball at the astronomy tower drops at 1pm – that’s it folks. I learned all about the evolution of time keeping and why it was important. Unfortunately, I forget everything.
The group broke up after this and we headed up the hill to go to the Astronomy Tower. We wandered around looking at the view and making the vital discovery that my foot is exactly the same length as the original king’s foot that started it all. This must mean something, folks, something significant! We wandered around some more and everyone who hadn’t rested earlier (except me) ended up asleep on a bench. We took the kids to their first planetarium show, which was a bit of a disappointment and then just had to check out the Prime Meridian of the World – right, you can see Callie and Zander with one foot in each HEMISPHERE! How awesome is that? We finished our day over at the Naval Museum. This was really fun. Zander got to do a barge simulator computer game and Griffin and Callie had a blast lifting cargo with a crane. Then it was back for dinner with Katrina, Pierre Luc and their son Zane. Not only had they thoughtfully provided some stuff (including gluten free stuff) to make lunch with, they also made us a delicious dinner of cottage pie. I was so proud of all my kids who actually ate the strange but good food (except for Griffin who was asleep and slept right through to the next morning! We’ll see if they eat it when I try to make it….
The next morning we headed out for our big day in London. On the way to downtown we found that, yes, in England too they torture their trees. All along the street the sycamores were being ruthlessly stripped off all their green leaves as well as many many branches. It was fun to watch the tree surgeons and chipper-shredder at work but I still feel so bad for these trees. Also, I can’t help but wonder, how do they survive with no leaves???
We hopped on the Big Bus and got off at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was a wonderful site. We weren’t allowed to take pictures but I got a few before I knew it was forbidden. Of course, we had to walk all the way to the top of the thing and passed a ‘whispering’ dome along the way (very cool) and also some amazing views of London. This was quite a climb, in fact, it may be the highest dome we’ve climbed. It even had benches several places along the way for resting. At one point they had a hole in the floor so you could see how far you had climbed and the people below were like ants (and this wasn’t yet the top, either!). Turns out it was 512 steps total, one way – that makes 1024 steps for the round trip – and yes, all three kids climbed the entire way. See London, below…
We then spent a few hours in the Tower of London, which, strange as it may seem, I shall compare to the good ole’ Besancon Citadelle for the simple reason that there are about 20 museums in one at this place! You could spend hours and never see half. The major highlight for all of us was The Crown Jewels. These really were quite beautiful and impressive and, although they were in cases, were very, very accessible. They had these slow moving walkways going past and we took 2 turns since we were so interested in these giant jewels – I really wanted a postcard of them or something but couldn’t find anything worth purchasing. We went into the oldest part of the castle where I was impressed by how plain the kings’ chamber was so long ago, hardly any art or gold or jewels. We passed the famous White Tower (where Anne Boleyn died) but had to check out the display on torture (besides the rack they had a few other devices I’d never seen before including one in which you are put into a crouching position with a ring of iron around you that is twisted tighter and tighter and tighter… yikes!). Of course we also passed members of the Beefeaters and the famous ravens. Legend has it if the ravens ever leave the Tower, it will be destroyed. Not taking any chances, they raise the birds on the grounds and clip their wings. Seems like cheating, huh?
We were basically out of time so we headed back to the double decker bus and saw and learned lots of cool stuff as we rode along. Westminster Abbey is pictured left and Trafalgar Square is right. So, when we passed the Tyburn tree (where they hung everyone) I learned the origin for the sayings ‘one for the road’ and ‘off the wagon’. My most favorite information tidbit, though, was about the nursery rhyme, The Noble Duke of York. I sang this to all 3 of my kids and never knew from whence it came! It turns out to be inspired by a true story of an absolutely moronic duke who was part of a moronic family that was highly unpopular and wanted to do all sorts of things that I (of course) forget about. But, at one particularly stupid moment, this guy led his soldiers into battle at the wrong place and the wrong time, twice in a row – hence the nursery rhyme (which was fresh in my mind since I had just been playing with AlliPat – it includes awesome moves as well if you ever want to learn, just ask). It goes like this:
The Noble Duke of York
He had 10,000 men,
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again,
And when you’re up, you’re up!
And when you’re down, you’re down.
And when, you’re only halfway up, you’re neither up, nor down.
He marched them to the right.
He marched them to the left.
He marched them over upside down!
Oh, what a crazy sight.
Another crazy sight was all the shoppers swarming all over one section of London I can’t remember the name of. Buying retail? Why, whatever for when London is coated with second hand shops galore? I saw several but held back, in the interests of time and already seriously overflowing luggage problems. I wished we had time to stop in at Hamley’s though (kind of like the original FAO Schwartz). The kids would have really enjoyed going there. Finally we passed, from several vantage points, Parliament – which is just an amazingly beautiful building and also houses Big Ben. Is anyone besides me cursed with the memory of that awful scene in National Lampoons European Vacation where they drive endlessly around Big Ben? “Look kids, Big Ben!” I looked for a You Tube Video and failed to find one but I can still imagine the scene.
We headed back to Katrina’s house where she treated us to barbeque chicken, burgers and a wonderful tomato and cheese salad – plus this incredible organic ice cream. We fell into our beds, excited for our final day of adventure in England, a visit to Stonehenge!