Tales from the Butcher Shop

Sunday, October 13, 2013 Road Junkies 0 Comments

No doubt you've heard the sad tale about the butcher who backed into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work.  Well, dear reader, that's exactly what's happened to us with this blog.  Sightseeing and socializing and just generally enjoying ourselves take up so much of our time day to day that we just run out of steam before we can get any blogging done.

So in an effort to play a bit of catch up, we're going to throw up a few photos for each day with a general summary of what we did that day.  After we return home and the dust settles, we'll try to flesh out the whole story.

Day 6 - Wednesday, October 9 (London)
We slept in bit after going to the theater the night before.  Then we hopped the train to Westminster and visited the Churchill War Rooms museum, which preserves the wartime underground bunker that sheltered Winston Churchill and his cabinet during the Blitz and other crises of World War II. 

Everything is authentic except the men-equins.
Near Trafalgar Square we found a pretty good lunch at a local pub.  Then we walked to the National Gallery, a repository for more than 2,000 works of art from the mid 13th century to 1900.  Jeanne was pleased to see a number of paintings by Van Gogh and Monet in the collection.

National Gallery
Near the museum in Trafalgar Square, there was a bit of live art on exhibit with a human statue and a bagpiper.  By the time we left the National Gallery, the bagpiper had been joined by a drummer.

And a couple of shots of Trafalgar Square round out the day.  When we left there after the museum closed at 6 p.m., we headed back to the apartment by way of the grocery store, where we picked up provisions for dinner.

 


Day 7 - Thursday, October 10 (London)
This morning we took a commuter train from Waterloo station and traveled 12 miles southwest of London to visit Hampton Court Palace, thanks to a recommendation from our brilliant cousin Pamela.  Originally built in 1514, the palace underwent numerous major expansion and improvement programs, the first begun by King Henry VIII in 1529.  The palace has not been inhabited by the British royal family since the 18th century.

Hampton Court Palace
This is one of only two surviving palaces of the many owned by Henry VIII.  His presence is very much in evidence.  In a fine example of how powerful kings could rewrite history to suit themselves, the portrait below includes Henry, his son Edward, and Edward's mother Jane Seymour, who died less than two weeks after Edward was born.

One of numerous portraits of Henry VIII
Numerous interpreters in period costume wandered the halls of the palace, acting out scenarios of everyday palace life in the days of Queen Elizabeth I in the late 1500s.

Queen Elizabeth I interacts with some of her subjects
Sir Walter Raleigh pleads with his paramour to keep their child's existence secret.
After spending most of the day exploring the palace, we finally left around 4:00, but not before trying our luck at the famous Hampton Court Maze.  Planted in the mid 1600s, the maze covers a third of an acre and includes a half a mile of paths.  With Ken as our leader, we made it to the center in no time.
 
Even the light rain that had begun to fall couldn't keep us from trying the maze.
Before leaving the grounds, we located a letterbox, Jeanne's first box outside the U.S.  Unfortunately, none of us had brought our boxing gear so we just winged it with drawings of our stamps.  As we were walking back to the train station, we noticed the sidewalk was littered with what we later learned were horse chestnuts, also known as buckeyes.  We picked up a couple for good luck.
 
English buckeye
Near the train station we finally had "lunch" at Mada Deli before our return trip to London and our apartment.
 
Stained glass window in the Great Watching Chamber at Hampton Court

Day 8 - Friday, October 11 (London)
Our last full day in London began with a visit to the Tower of London, a historic castle compound on the banks of the Thames River in central London.  The original construction was completed in 1066 as part of the Norman conquest of England.  Though it rained much of the day, we kept calm and carried on in the British spirit.

What's a little rain when you have a colorful umbrella?
Our visit began with a guided tour led by Patrick, one of the yeoman warders, ceremonial guards of the Tower and its greatest treasure, the Royal Crown Jewels.  A very animated storyteller, he spared no humor in telling us a wild assortment of tales from the Tower's history.


By contrast, the guy posted to guard the Crown Jewels had quite a different demeanor.  Standing ramrod straight and still in his little guardhouse, the soldier never showed any facial expression, but we never doubted that he was alert and would use his weapon if someone came running out with some of the jewels.

Imperial State Crown (photo from royalcollection.org)
Unlike our last visit to the Tower in 2011 when there were hundreds of people in line to see the jewels, today we were able to walk right in and be promptly gobsmacked by the enormity of some of these stones.  Most impressive was the Imperial State Crown, made in 1937 for King George VI, and still used by his daughter Queen Elizabeth II on state occasions.  This humble chapeau incorporates 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and five rubies, some of which are quite large.

A $6,000 pair of Christian Louboutin shoes—extravagant consumption at its worst
After seeing the jewels, we split up for the rest of the afternoon, with Ken remaining at the Tower and visiting a couple of historic churches nearby, while Jeanne and I rode the Tube over to Knightsbridge to visit the famous Harrod's department store.  Occupying a five-acre site in a building with more than one million square feet, the store is the biggest in Europe.  Having visited Macy's flagship store in New York, which is twice the size of Harrod's, we were a little underwhelmed but still befuddled at the outrageous prices for mere consumer goods.


Day 9 - Saturday, October 12 (London to Venice)
Though we thoroughly enjoyed our time in London, we were all amazed that the week had passed so quickly.  This morning we packed up and took a few photos of the apartment so we would remember this little spot that was our home for a week.


Our little living room (photo from onefinestay.com)
Then we left the keys and the iPhone we were lent as part of the rental and walked to the neighborhood Tube station headed for Victoria Station, where we caught a fast train for London's Gatwick Airport.  Along the way, we began studying up on materials we had about Venice, something we'd had no time to do in London.

Jeanne preps for Italy
At the airport, we had a couple of misadventures as Jeanne's e-ticket disappeared from her phone and an agent of British Airport Security couldn't convince herself that I was a safe risk and kept searching me for some unknown danger.  When we finally cleared security, we waited, and waited, and waited for our gate to be posted, which happened less than 30 minutes before our scheduled 1:40 p.m. departure. 

After an uneventful flight, we arrived in Venice only a few minutes late and encountered a couple of surly Italians—the ticket agent for the water transportation service and the bus driver who would take us to the city from the airport, neither of whom seemed to want to deal with tourists.  (Uh, not a good career choice, guys!)  When we arrived at Piazzale Roma from the airport and Jeanne got her first look at this beautiful city, all unpleasantness was forgotten.  By the time we checked in to our apartment, it was almost dark.  We walked to a nearby bancomat (ATM) for some Euros and to the local Billa grocery store for supplies, and we began the second part of our trip marveling at the scenic wonders of the magical city of Venice.

Arrived in Venice and can't believe my eyes
Ms. Magnolia's Final Manners Tip from England: 
(picked up from rules of Henry VIII's time posted at Hampton Court Palace)  
"Don't shift your buttocks left and right as if to let off some blast. Sit neatly and still."