The London Adventures: Part III

After a horribly busy week, especially these past couple of days, I am finally ready to regale the third part of our London Adventure.

As those of you who have been reading know, I had knee surgery just a couple of weeks before we left for London. I applaud the Underground system; I would even go so far as to say that I love it. Once you get the hang of it, there is a line to get you anywhere, and it saves you A LOT of walking. However, that being said, I was still running head first towards a brick wall when it came to knee. Day Four of the trip is where this happened.

Today was going to be Green Lantern’s and my big museum day. Our first stop: The Natural History Museum of London. However, because we set the alarm on my phone, which was set to home time, we got up and rolling and ready and arrived at the Natural History Museum an hour before it actually open…. oops. I convinced Green Lantern to walk with me a little ways down the street so I could see Royal Albert Hall.

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Royal Albert Hall is a famous Music and Concert Venue which was built by Queen Victoria after the death of her Husband Prince Albert. Plans for it were initially started by Albert himself, however when he suddenly died it was the queen who raised the funds that built both the hall and the titan-like monument across the street. Though I was already tired, I was so glad we took that trip. The hall is absolutely beautiful, and the monument, which I didn’t have any prior knowledge of was a sight to be seen. It would have taken a whole hour to really appreciate all of the detail that went into the building of this structure.

We hiked back to the Natural History Museum and got back just in time to wander in. The massive building reads almost like an enormous church until you get inside. The contents can boggle your mind almost as soon as you enter the building. We walked through halls of animals from mammals and marsupials to rodents and reptiles. A highlight for me was the Oceans room, which encased a full size replica of a blue whale, the largest animal on earth. It also held a narwhal tusk which I found particularly interesting, as well as a number of fish and other ocean mammals.

However, the real reason we wanted to spend time at the Natural History Museum was all for Green Lantern. They have on display one of the largest collection of real Dinosaur bones, as well as an interactive exhibit, and even an animatronics T-Rex that is programmed to act like the people it sees are prey (basically meaning it moves around and roars at you Jurassic Park style). It was easily the most popular attraction in the museum, and we had to cut through a lot of people to look at the exhibits. However, it was both educational and fun in an environment that made you feel like you were wandering at dusk through a prehistoric era jungle.

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We took in lunch in a little Italian cafe on Baker Street, which is home to both the Sherlock Holmes Museum and Madame Tussaud’s, a famous and extensive wax museum chain. However, by the time we got finished eating, we were in the middle of that rainy cold weather that London is famous for. We took a jaunt down the street and took pictures outside of the Sherlock Holmes Museum, and walked down to Madame Tussaud’s. There we discovered the longest line of our trip: a 3 HOUR WAIT just to get TICKETS! Then you have to wait in line to get in? We opted out of that and moved on to the next major landmark on our list: The British Museum.

This museum is right up my alley. I sometimes think that my true calling was for me to be more of an “Evelyn O’Connell” from The Mummy Series. I could totally see myself working in a library, studying ancient texts, or digging up artifacts, but not just Egypt. I have a deep and undying love for Greek and Roman culture that probably outweighs Egypt… but just slightly. What I was most anxious to see was the Rosetta Stone, that cultural heavyweight that finally gave archaeologists the key to being able to decipher Egyptian Hieroglyphics.

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The major dork in me allows me to admit that it was huge for me. To most people it might just be a hunk of rock, but to me as I looked at I could just feel the history pulsing through my veins. I couldn’t even feel that pain in my knee as I looked at, or the rest of the ancient Egyptian statues and artifacts. I also loved the actual, real mummies that have been preserved in the museum, and one of the scrolls containing the Book of Dead, the rites that told us how the Egyptians believed the afterlife would go for them.

The next section was naturally Greek and Roman artifacts. I swooned over the pieces of the pediment from the Parthenon, as well as the other Elgin Marbles which at one point lined the walls of various buildings on the Acropolis in Athens. I literally don’t think I could have been any happier. However, after the happiness started to wear off, and we moved out of my adrenaline based excitement in the most ancient forms of human history, the pain in my knee came back, and to a point that was worse than any other point in the trip. Most of the rest of the visit to the museum I remember more from the pictures as my functioning capacities went way down.

I cannot even begin to describe to you how badly I felt about experiencing the rest of the museum that way. Green Lantern says that you could literally walk in the British Museum for days and still not see everything. I recommend this to anyone going to London, but I also suggest that you be more prepared than I was.

We finished and sat in an English Pub, deciding what to do with the rest of our night. We wanted to do something fun and memorable, but remembering our experience with Hard Rock, were leery about just showing up anywhere. We ended up taking a trip to the court of King Henry VIII.

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We decided to go and make reservations for Medieval Banquet London, which provides a four course meal with period entertainment. When we arrived we were ushered into a cellar of sorts, and we could not have been more impressed. The singing by the cast was impeccable and strong. The mini-acts, which took place during portions of the meal, included contortionists, ring dancers, ballet dancers, minstrels, and jugglers. The final act included a sword fight which was well rehearsed and technically correct for both period and actual form of fighting. The food included a first course of a thick and creamy vegetable and potato soup that was soaked up into incredible fresh bread. The next course boosted of whole plates of cheese and smoked or roasted meats, which was delicious but light enough to leave you hungry for the main course: Roasted Chicken and vegetables grilled and glazed in honey. Even me, though I am not a big meat eater, thought that the chicken was incredibly cooked. Dessert came in the form of Compote, which is fruit, cooked in a sugary sauce and topped with cream. I am hungry just thinking about it! We decided after it that we could not have chosen a better place to spend the night and let me sit for a good long time before heading back to the hotel.

There is only one post about London left, and I promise you don’t want to miss out! Keep an eye out for the last night we spent on our Adventure in a few days.

BG

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The London Adventures: Part II

Welcome back! When I left off our London tale a few days ago, I was just finishing up Tuesday with our trip to the aquarium. Review if you need too, but if not, let’s start the next part of our wondrous London story.

Green Lantern and I got up in anticipation on the next day. Well…maybe more me than him. Our first stop for the day was the London Dungeons, and one of my most highly anticipated stops on the trip for me. I was so excited that I was standing in line, holding Green Lantern and singing him songs from “Sweeney Todd.”

Let me take a minute to explain the Dungeons. This a chain attraction that is currently spreading slowly through the northern part of Europe into cities that have a particularly extensive and graphically gory history. The London Dungeon is the first, and outlines some of the “worst” parts of London history. The attraction runs on this concoction: It’s two parts real history, two parts haunted house, one part special effects, One part live theatre show, and one part theme park. The layout in London follows this order:   You start by wandering into a crypt, below one of the famous churches in London. You then find yourself in the Labyrinth, a dizzying hallway of mirrors similar to the torture chamber described in the Phantom of Opera book. Here we are met face to face with two of the most “mass murdering” events in London History: The Black Plague, and the Great Fire of 1666. After the fire, you are ushered into an operation theatre where you watch the performance of primitive surgery, and then into the torture chamber where you see and learn all about the devices famously used in the Tower of London. The Courtroom comes next, with a judge condemning your soul to one of two routes (both of which you experience) Bedlam Insane Asylum  or the Beheading of the Traitors in the Tower of London. Those of us “lucky” enough to survive our beheadings come face to face with the real and non-musical version of Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Ghost Hunting comes next in the laser ride “Vengeance,” followed by streets of Whitechapel, which belonged to one of the most famous serial killer in England (and quite possibly the world) Jack the Ripper. After that, we see the reality behind the reign of “Bloody” Mary, daughter of Henry VIII. The attraction finishes out with the remaining judgement, and the experience of being hanged.

On the day we attended the dungeons, Vengeance was closed, but to be perfectly honest, the Dungeons didn’t need it. The actors were phenomenal and really believed in their characters. They reached a level of full immersion that made you believe they truly were who they said they were.The Labyrinth was beautifully made and deliciously confusing to no end. You truly had to keep track of where the group was, or you could easily be lost. The Plague was complete with the man pulling the cart and calling “Bring our your dead!” and the doctor in the frightening bird-looking mask that supposedly protected them from getting the disease. the Surgery was awfully grotesque, and kept just in line with the history of  surgery and the  grave-robbing of the time in order to get bodies for experiments. The Judge and the courtroom combined humor with fear, sentencing us all to horrible fates. The Beheading scene, which came in the form of a log flume ride, took us through the infamous Traitor’s Gate at the Tower of London, and we met our executioner. The force and angle of the water that was sprayed at us right at the time the knife fell truly felt like the blood of the people behind you in the boat, and the fall (backwards) made me feel as if we were falling into oblivion. Mrs. Lovett stole the show for me. Whether it be my innate love for Sondheim’s version of Sweeney Todd or the fabulous acting of the girl playing her, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. The barber room itself sent shivers up my spine, and I was sure that the actor was going to pop out at any time right behind me and try to slit my throat. This moves us into the Jack the Ripper scenes, which Green Lantern and I both agree was the best made portion of the Dungeons. You are first moved through two of the Ripper’s crime scenes. The attention to detail was immaculate. I have seen the crime scene photos for the Ripper murders, and these props of the deceased women were dead on. It was realistic, gruesome, and impossible to look away from. We are then ushered into a bar, supposedly on the 10 year anniversary of the killing of the first girl, Mary Ann Nichols. The bartender, who tells you all of this, with a vicious thunderstorm brewing overhead, recounts that the Ripper has never been caught. Then, when the power goes out, He attacks. I don’t want to give too much away about how it happens, in case anyone is going there, but I assure you, it will get your heart hammering and the screams caught in your throat. In Bloody Mary’s domain you see the results of what a true burning looked like, and the Hanging, which is a rapid drop ride, kind of like the Tower of Terror in Walt Disney World, was timed perfectly. The only room that left anything to be desired for me was the Bedlam Asylum, and that was just because there weren’t any crazies really wandering around. This attraction was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

We next ventured away from the blood and gore and crossed over into Green Lantern’s domain. The next stop on the trip was the Imperial War Museum, a gorgeous building bursting to the seams with wonder aircraft, sea-craft, and memorabilia from every era of war. I could tell he had so much fun, wandering amongst the possessions of those who were once just like him: a soldier for good. He took pictures everywhere, and seemed genuinely impressed with their collection.

A particular strength of the museum was their impressive Holocaust exhibit and memorial. They spared no detail, and no expense and it truly showed. It was a wonder collaboration of video, testimonial, artifacts, and models that truly made your heart hurt for all of the awful things that were endured during the war. Overall, the entire museum was beautifully laid out, and a joy to experience.

After that, our underground journey dumped us out at a station right in the middle of a shopping mall. We took in lunch, and I experienced what I am sure was the best pizza in the entire city. We found a dress for the Opera for me, which I will detail in a later post. And after a lot of running in circles, we finally located the right underground we wanted to be on to continue our journey. That journey was to the Cutty Sark.

The Cutty Sark is the one of the last Surviving Tea Clippers in the world. It was built in 1869 as a merchant ship, and stayed in operation until it went on display in London the 1950s. Again, we had a stroke of bad luck. The second ship that Green Lantern was excited to go on was again closed to the public. It is undergoing a restoration now after a fire in 2007 that damaged part of the ship and will reopen later this month.

In our explorations of Greenwich, the portion of London were the Cutty Sark is located, we discovered a handful of things. One was the National Maritime Museum, that Green Lantern wants to visit the next time we go to London. We also found, of all things, the set and filming location of a new and current movie. We aren’t sure was it was, but it was kind of exciting to see all of the extras in costumes and the big video cameras rolling as they filmed. This was also the night we crossed the path of Buckingham Palace, and the only time we would do so on this trip. It was quite beautiful and ornate, with luscious gardens and ponds surrounding it, and also the gorgeous iron gates inlaid with gold. We meant to have dinner in the Hard Rock Cafe, which is kind of a tradition in all of the trips that we make, however I was WAY too hungry to wait like 3 hours to even sit down. We found a charming little English pub around the corner, and which Green Lantern ordered a meat pie, and I went back to singing songs from “Sweeney Todd” for the rest of the night.

Keep an eye out the next blog about London! Hope you are all enjoying!

BG

The London Adventures: Part I

Well, after my short disappearance from the blog, I can now say that Green Lantern and I were busy taking on London. After reviewing back through everything that had happened, I decided to split this blog up into portions, probably 4 all together, that talk about everything that has gone on since we have been gone. Let’s take on the first part, shall we?

We arrived early last week, in late afternoon. I had been planning out this trip for weeks. My guidebook was  coated in a layer of tags of all of the things I wanted to see, and I was finally walking well enough that I hoped to be able to do it without crutches. It was by pure exhilaration (and need for dinner) that I insisted I needed to see something that screamed “London” the first night we were there. Though, I couldn’t decide what that was. Green Lantern decided it was Piccadilly Circus. I was amazed when we stepped up from the Underground. It was like how I imagined Time Square to be. Loud, Crowded with people, including street performers, and a huge, screaming, scrolling advertisement system built into the side of the building. We also ventured to Trafalgar Square, with it’s beautiful column in the center dedicated to Horatio Nelson.

The night wasn’t complete, however, until in our wandering we came across Westminster Abbey and Parliament (and of course, by extension Big Ben), all lit up for night. This is when it hit me; we are truly here, on this beautiful Island, in this amazing and city which has been so alive for centuries. It’s almost overwhelming when you think about it. And this was just the first night. I had my mind blown many times after.

The next day we had our first expedition into history in this city. Our first stop was the Tower of London. This was highly anticipated for me. Even from the time I was a young girl, I had loved the history associated with the Tudor Dynasty in particular. Though the Tower of London brings together the strands of many portions of English history, and is even currently the house of the Crown Jewels, I had this association I can’t shake with it. To me, it conjures up images of Henry the Eighth and his wives, and his quest for a male heir. I see in my mind the reforming of the church, and  the imprisonment of Anne Boleyn, my favorite of his wives, and her eventual beheading along with her brother and others. I also think on the imprisonment and beheading of Queen Catherine Howard, and her practicing laying her head on the block, and her “lovers” Thomas Culpepper and  Francis Dereham, who was not beheaded, but drawn and quartered, and hung.

The Tower did not disappoint. It was gorgeous, it’s drafty hallways and towers, with the names and cravings of famous prisoners still on the walls, gave an eerie feeling that stirred my emotions. Traitor’s Gate, which was often the last sight incoming prisoners saw, gave me the chills.  The Crown Jewels looked like stars sparkling to no end. The Beefeaters and Royal Guard in the traditional dress gave a feeling of legacy. Also, the museum attached to it, which displayed the armor of many English Kings throughout history (including Henry VIII and his only surviving son Edward VI) was well constructed and a joy to walk through. Green Lantern especially enjoyed the Dragon, which was built out of a variety of English weapons.

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After lunch at a charming little port-side restaurant, which Green Lantern had his first truly English dish, Bangers and Mash, we ventured to the next half of our day. We took a walk across Tower Bridge, one of the most famous bridges in the world. This was something that Green Lantern wanted to do; He told me that when he visited London as a child, he didn’t get to walk across it. It is remarkably short when it comes to walking, but still quite beautiful, and I felt mimicked the tower that it was named for.

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Here our plans got funky. It was our initial plan to go to the London Dungeons, an attraction that I am going to describe in detail in my next post. However, The wait was well over two hours when we got there! So we learned our first lesson of London: If you are ever traveling here, make sure you buy tickets for anything you know you really want to see, buy tickets ahead of time. You will still have to wait in line, but it won’t be as long. Since this attraction was my pick, we moved onto on of Green Lantern’s: HMS Belfast. This ship was a battleship from World War II, and was supposedly one of the largest and most powerful ships to re-enter the war, after it caught a German mine early on. It was actually a headquarters ship during D-day, and also served in the Korean War. However, once we walked there, we discovered that it was actually closed. It is set to reopen in May, just in time for the Summer Olympics this year. After, this strike two, we were at a loss.

Our solution was the London Aquarium. We again ran into line problems, but the wait was shorter then the wait for London Dungeons. After what seemed like forever (from me being up all day on my knee), we wandered among the fish tanks. As a lover of aquariums, I will say that this wasn’t the best aquarium I have ever been in, but it’s not the worse either. It is very kid friendly, and is boasting currently about it’s increased number of sharks. it has a fun atmosphere, but like many aquariums, can get easily overcrowded. Overall, we were happy with our choice to spend the time.

This is where I’m going to leave you today! Look out for the future parts later this week.

BG