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For Christmas, I wanted to go on a day trip to London to see some favorite sites and a play that was starring some actors I’d had a longtime interest in.

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That’s the nice thing about living on the train line to London—one hour and you’re in the heart of things

We poked around the British Museum for a while, particularly my favorite Assyrian exhibits.

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I really like the detail and emotion in the lion's face

I really like the detail and emotion in the lion’s face

I booked a reservation at the newly renovated Court Restaurant to have lunch which was great as always.

bread and artichokes to start

bread and artichokes to start

We went by Harrods which was absolutely mobbed but fun as an anthropological insight on humans and marketing. I had an unfortunate moment as the thing I’d been waiting to get myself for Christmas had gone out of stock while I was waiting so I need to make another expedition later on with different goals. (Definitely a First World problem, but I’d been looking forward to it a lot and spent some extensive time picking the present out online because I never got myself a birthday gift before and this was going to be it finally.)

We walked around Covent Garden after that and wound up at Wagamama, an Asian noodle bar (I think that’s how you’d describe it) for dinner before the play.

vegetarian pad thai

vegetarian pad thai

"Ginny...did you leave your bok choy lying out?"

“Ginny…did you leave your bok choy lying out?”

The day before my employee had asked me very casually which theater our play was going to be in (the Gielgud) because there had been a huge accident at the Apollo the night before in which the ceiling collapsed in the middle of a performance and lots of people were injured (though no deaths).

Gielgud ceiling completely intact

Gielgud ceiling completely intact

Fortunately that wasn’t the Gielgud though so our tickets didn’t go to waste, thank God. I’d gotten third row seats on the aisle for Bear because he gets very cramped and uncomfortable in theater seats especially without enough leg room. Aisle was definitely the right call!

From the third row -- you could practically count pores on actors

From the third row — you could practically count pores on actors

The show was really good although, hard to believe, even darker than the original Patricia Highsmith novel. We’ve seen several different kinds of shows (a mystery and two musicals) but this was the first straight up drama and the acting was really excellent:

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Laurence Fox (of the acting Fox family, Inspector Lewis), Jack Huston (descended from John, Walter and Anjelica, Boardwalk Empire),

Laurence Fox (of the acting Fox family, Inspector Lewis) and Jack Huston (descended from John, Walter and Anjelica, Boardwalk Empire),

Miranda Raison (MI-5/Spooks) with Laurence Fox

Miranda Raison (MI-5/Spooks) with Laurence Fox

MyAnna Buring (The Descent, Ripper Street, Downton Abbey)

MyAnna Buring (The Descent, Ripper Street, Downton Abbey)

Imogen Stubbs (something of an obsession of mine since 1995—Anna Lee, A Summer Story, 12th Night, Jack and Sarah, on stage as Desdemona in Othello with Ian McKellan as Iago and eight zillion other productions)

Imogen Stubbs (something of an obsession of mine since 1995—Anna Lee, A Summer Story, 12th Night, Jack and Sarah, on stage as Desdemona in Othello with Ian McKellan as Iago and eight zillion other productions)

(l-r) Jack Huston, Imogen Stubbs, , Miranda Raison, Laurence Fox, MyAnna Buring

(l-r) Jack Huston, Imogen Stubbs, Christian McKay, Miranda Raison, Laurence Fox, MyAnna Buring

So I’m still on the question for my Christmas present, which is actually my birthday present from August that I never got, but I’ll find it in the end and maybe it’ll mean another trip to London. 🙂

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At this point we’re starting to have seen pretty much all reasonable sites of historical interest, so we’re having to research to find new weekend expedition destinations. We’d been over near Oxford in the summer and spotted Blenheim Palace but also spotted the ticket price which suggested it was more than a 30 minute stopover, so we went back this weekend.

We had hoped to go with our friend Elaine to see the place and all the Christmas decorations but there was a last minute change as she had to play hostess, and if I were one of Joe’s mates coming over for the party, I would definitely appreciate her presence and help in dishing up pizza and working the video projector in the shed. (I still want a shed…)

Not a butcher's shop

Not a butcher’s shop

Bear had gotten the impression that Winston Churchhill was the son of a shopkeeper who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and was completely working class. This, apparently, is not the case. The Palace, the only residence with that designation which isn’t occupied by royalty in the country, was built in the early 1700s by Churchill’s ancestors, the Dukes of Marlborough (and in particular the first Duchess, Sarah, who is described as “cantankerous but capable of great charm”).

Nor a bakery

Nor a bakery

The style is English Baroque which was only around for a very brief time. I can’t say I’m much on architectural history but there was a lot of drama and conflict and at one point Capability Brown was brought in to help with damming up a river to create a lake.

That's' maybe a third of the original bridge

That’s’ maybe a third of the original bridge

There’s a subplot here about how you can exchange your day ticket for an annual pass at no charge once you get inside and they take your picture for the photo ID. My theory is that at 21 pounds for a single day they have to give you something so you don’t feel yourself being scalped. Instead you think, “Ooo, I’ve got a whole year and if I just come back two more times, this will be really cheap!”

I think it was a chapel...

I think it was a chapel…

The house/palace was in full Christmas decor as a Dickensian Christmas and they had a group of a capella carolers in the main area which, except for the large number of featured children, were really nice. I have a violent aversion to children’s choirs. There’s something about the pitch of their voices that’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me, although obviously that’s a personal issue as the Vienna Boys’ Choir is internationally renowned and technically proficient. I had been hoping to listen more to the carols but after four that opened with two verses of kids piping along I had to flee.

No sugar plum fairies in sight

No sugar plum fairies in sight

Slap a wreath on

Slap a wreath on

The house itself was as ornate in some ways as Versailles and you could even see the room where Churchill had been born. Thankfully no one saw a need for a mannequin diorama of the event.

The long library room designed by Christopher Wren with a pipe organ at one end

The long library room designed by Christopher Wren with a pipe organ at one end

“…a Welte automatic player was added in 1931 … This remained in use for some time: the Duke of the time is said to have frequently sat at the organ bench and pretended to play the organ to his guests and they would applaud at the end. This practice is said to have been halted abruptly when the player started before the Duke had reached the organ.” — Blenheim Palace article

Yep, it's a palace

Yep, it’s a palace

There was an exhibition about Churchill’s life also which I wasn’t completely sure about. Some of it was interesting and new to me, but overall it didn’t feel as though it had been recently curated. I know that’s tacky of me but I can’t help noticing these things when I go to exhibitions and the captions on photos are obviously printed on paper, cut out and sort of glued in place it seems and you wonder if anyone has met a decent graphic designer recently.

The one stunning thing I discovered was a connection between Churchill and the founder of Hallmark greeting cards. Apparently he was a painter on the side and they used some of his designs for cards. I guess if politics don’t work out, you just do what you can to get by.

Waterfront Cafe in the white tents

Waterfront Cafe in the white tents

We had lunch overlooking some gardens at the Waterfront (very original) cafe where Bear had a chicken curry and I had a vegetarian risotto…with chicken and chorizo. Awesome. I love this country. We walked around the gardens after lunch and spent some time photographing the grounds.

Italian Garden

Italian Garden

Pretty tree. I miss pretty trees.

Pretty tree. I miss pretty trees.

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Still Not Dead

Just exhausted. Ever since Bear went back to America in March, I’ve been pretty overwhelmed with work and other details and didn’t get out and travel much. He’s back safely now and we’ve had some adventures since but I haven’t had the time to write them up, nor the energy I’m afraid. But never fear, we’re still alive and well!

Recent trips:

  • Shropshire
  • a week in the Vezere Valley in the Dordogne region of France
  • Pink in concert at the O2
  • a week in Bucharest, Romania (work conference)
  • Oxfordshire/Glouchestershire
  • The Lake District
  • a week in the Peak District (holiday cottage and hiking)

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A Word from Our Sponsor

We are not dead. I promise.

Bear is in America at the moment, roaming around like the free creature he is, and I’m working and on foot after hours which means no exotic travels. I do have some backlog to post, but for some reason it’s not as much fun to do it without Bear here.

Upcoming adventures will be amazing though! We have a week in France at a converted monastery, visiting caves with prehistoric paintings and exploring along rivers, then I’m off to Romania for a conference, plus a major concert at the O2 in London so stay tuned.

Munk

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(Posting all of this a month after we went is giving me a weird sense of deja vu, but that’s only fitting I suppose.)

Bear had his heart set on seeing Saint Chapelle, which I ignorantly knew nothing of, so I tagged along faithfully after him to grab an authentic pain au chocolat and hit the Metro.

Ready to go for the first full day (please note glazed eyes...this only gets worse from here)

Ready to go for the first full day (please note glazed eyes…this only gets worse from here)

The stained glass is so extensive in the upper level of the chapel that it's structurally integral. According to Bear.

The stained glass is so extensive in the upper level of the chapel that it’s structurally integral. According to Bear.

Rosette window (at least that's what I would call it)

Rosette window (at least that’s what I would call it)

I love how medieval churches were often very brightly painted inside

I love how medieval churches were often very brightly painted inside

The deal had been that, in the interests of not exhausting myself, that I would stay in cafes for a portion of the museum hopping Bear wanted to do, and I nearly started that now, but we literally stumbled over the Conciergerie right next to Saint Chapelle and it looked interesting, so I tagged along and was very, very glad that I did.

The main exhibit area seemed to be devoted to representations of the Gothic and neo-Gothic in art, literature and film.

Check out the bridge represented as a sword.

Check out the bridge represented as a sword.

A huge layout of the entire Hogwarts campus done in Legos. I guess that qualifies as Gothic.

A huge layout of the entire Hogwarts campus done in Legos. I guess that qualifies as Gothic.

Just to be clear, they do not sell stamps.

Just to be clear, they do not sell stamps.

The building was also used as a prison during the Revolution and Marie Antoinette was held there -- this is a restoration of her cell

The building was also used as a prison during the Revolution and Marie Antoinette was held there — this is a restoration of her cell.

It was a really fun little museum and I’m glad that I went even though I wasn’t sure at first what it would be about. In fact, I’m still not entirely sure.

River cruises on the Seine are very common (I think we'll do one next time)

River cruises on the Seine are very common (I think we’ll do one next time)

Exterior of the Conciergierie

Exterior of the Conciergierie

We went over to the Musee d’Orsay and the Paris Museum pass really paid for itself right there because it let us skip right past a pretty enormous line, and also there’s no need to stop to buy a ticket.

(Bear says he reads the blog but I don’t think he does. If he does, then he can show me this web page to redeem for a free trip to Nando’s.)

Lunch at the Musee d'Orsay -- little gnocchi with cheese and sage

Lunch at the Musee d’Orsay — little gnocchi with cheese and sage

Bear did most of that museum himself and I got to sit and write in the cafe, which is what I enjoy more than just about anything. I had to share a table with someone, but even that was fun.

After the museum, Bear decided he wanted to walk around the Seine for about 12 miles in the dark and the freezing cold while I was getting sick. It was beautiful, I’ll say that much!

Eiffel Tower at night

Eiffel Tower at night

The entire city was decorated for Christmas which means even more lights than usual

The entire city was decorated for Christmas which means even more lights than usual

A very confident Bear, striding down the street with his headband and my purse

A very confident Bear, striding down the street with his headband and my purse

We found a nice little spot and split some late night pizzas and a bruschetta

We found a nice little spot and split some late night pizzas and a bruschetta

Eiffel Tower at night

Eiffel Tower at night

Tomorrow — the Richielieu wing of the Louvre, Napoleon’s tomb, the Centre Pompidou

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Doing a little random cleaning up from pictures and events at the end of the year. I try to keep things thematic, but this is anything but…

We had the first snow dusting in the first week of December. Juliet was not too happy about it.

We had the first snow dusting in the first week of December. Juliet was not too happy about it.

The Cathedral Square in Peterborough is ready to be lit up for the Christmas Market Fair -- we'll be up to see it soon!

The Cathedral Square in Peterborough is ready to be lit up for the Christmas Market Fair — we’ll be up to see it soon!

Bear with another bear, Pudsey, the representative of the Children in Need charity.

Bear with another bear, Pudsey, the representative of the Children in Need charity.

The worst sushi I have ever, ever, ever tasted -- thanks so much Tesco. The stuff masquerading as nigiri? That's just a slice of red pepper lying on some stale rice.

The worst sushi I have ever, ever, ever tasted — thanks so much Tesco. The stuff masquerading as nigiri? That’s just a slice of red pepper lying on some stale rice.

This, on the other hand, is pure heaven -- pain au chocolat straight from the oven with a latte for breakfast in bed.

This, on the other hand, is pure heaven — pain au chocolat straight from the oven with a latte for breakfast in bed.

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My husband hates sports. I mean, he really, really, really hates sports. He gets uncomfortable when I so much as turn on the radio to catch the FSU football scores. One time we were on a weekend trip and got back to the hotel late, so I only turned on the second half of a major game. Bear didn’t sit down–it was like he was so insanely uncomfortable that he couldn’t let himself sit. I watched one set of downs and when the ball turned over, he said, “OK, what do you want to watch now?”

So flash forward and color me shocked when Bear said he wanted to go to a professional football match while we were in England. But not just any match would do, he said — it needed to be between two teams who really hated each other so he could see the whole 9 yards of the spectacle.

Enter Tottenham Hotspurs vs. West Ham Hammers.

Our friend Jon (Elaine’s husband) helped set this up with one of his friends so Bear had a little pub meetup first with his new buddies and then they drove over to take the train down into London for the Sunday matchup. (We had checked online first and made sure that Bear wasn’t wearing colors for either team, just in case.)

First stop, a pub filled with Tottenham supporters.

Then one of the guys suggested stopping at a different pub which was an Arsenal pub, but this was outvoted quickly and they made their way on to the stadium. When Bear got home, he told me that he had perfect seats, but I was skeptical at first because, honestly, what does my husband know about sports?

Then he showed me the video.

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When he came home, he was a converted man. I’m not saying that he’s going to be a season ticket holder and head down to the fixture every week (or even follow on the web), but he changed his computer desktop wallpaper to this:

"Flair, Style and Adventure!" (if that isn't a fitting slogan for my husband, then I don't know what is)

“Flair, Style and Adventure!” (if that isn’t a fitting slogan for my husband, then I don’t know what is)

He had such a fantastic time and I’m very grateful to our friends helping to set it up so he could have the experience which we really wouldn’t have known how to organize.

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