Tuesday, September 02, 2014

St. Giles Cathedral,
September 2, 2014 -- Today is our last day in Europe and we were up early. Today is also our only "full day" in Edinburgh, Scotland, so we have to make the best of it. We started out exploring the "old city" of Edinburgh. The "only thing old" about the Old City are the buildings. Otherwise, they are filled with modern and up-to-date shops of all kinds. Restaurants are everywhere along the narrow cobble-stoned streets and the sidewalks are filled with people. Even though it was a Tuesday, tourists and shoppers were out in great numbers.

A prominent building is the St. Giles Cathedral which dates back to the 15th Century. It's been the focal point of religious life in Edinburgh for more than 900 -years. It is, without question, a beautiful and imposing structure. As we continued to explore the area we found the University of Edinburgh along one of the narrow streets. As is the case with so many institutions in Europe, and especially this part of the world, the university has a long history -- having been founded in 1583. It is the sixth oldest university in the English-speaking world!

Edinburgh has its fair share of "Whisky World's"
6 p.m. -- The evening is upon us and we'll be attending a filming and discussion on the subject of an "independent Scotland".. It should prove interesting and invigorating!

Tomorrow we're off to the airport at 8 a.m. for a 9:50 flight home. We're sorry to be leaving,  but we're glad to be going home.  After a month of exploring Ireland, England and Scotland, it'll be good to get home to our friends and routine.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Waverly Railway Station,
September 1, 2014 -- We've bid farewell to Roger and Helen this morning. They were wonderful hosts and we enjoyed our stay with them more than I can express. Helen dropped us at the Gloucester Railway Station on her way to work this morning and we boarded the 9:50 a.m. train to Birmingham. Changing trains for Edinburgh was a "snap" as we simply had to walk across the platform. A couple of minutes later the train arrived and we were on our way.

Linda and Sir Walter Scott
Linda and I have completed a good amount of travel during this trip, and we've been on lots of busses and trains. As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, all through Ireland the "inter-city" busses and trains were comfortable and provided us with a free high-speed wifi service.  This isn't the case with our experience in England. Not only does the train have a "pay as you go" wifi service, it very VERY slow. So, most of the time, one is waiting for the page to load and appear on the screen. Add to that the train (I am writing this on our way to Edinburgh) is most uncomfortable. The seats are cramped and rigid with no leg or foot room.  There is no "food service" and some of the restrooms are "out of order"! Add the fact that it is a 5-hour train ride to Edinburgh and it means we're in for a long day. But -- we're healthy, happy to be on our way to Scotland and to have had such a wonderful time on this trip.
Starbuck's?? In Edinburgh, Scotland.

11 p.m. -- We arrived in Edinburgh at 4 p.m. and checked into our lodgings. They are just a few minutes away from the railway station and easy to find. After checking in, we got a tourist map from the receptionist and found our way to nice Italian restaurant on "Rose Street" in "New Town". After, we continued to explore the area, met some folks, drank some beer and enjoyed learning about Edinburgh.

Tomorrow will be our last day in Europe and we have the full day here in this beautiful city. So, I'll be sure to fill you in on our adventures for the day.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Quiet Last Day . . .

The Back-Yard Garden of
Bob Crick's 300-year-old home.
August 31, 2014 -- Today was a quiet last day in England. After an early-morning get-together for coffee and making some plans for the day, we made our way to visit Roger's good friend Bob Crick. Bob is an 85-year-old retired "school master" who lives in Minchinhampton. His home is two-homes joined together, and are 300-years-old. There is a basement as well. Originally, the home was a "brewery". The construction is stone, wood and plaster -- and is "s-o-l-i-d"! After a tour of his home, we enjoyed coffee and snacks in his back-yard garden. We talked of language, bird-watching, flowers and gardening. Bob is an interesting and intelligent individual who is very much "English"! We enjoyed every minute.

More of Bob's Garden.
Helen, Linda and I walked the village of Minchinhampton as Helen pointed out various points-of-interest. The narrow streets were quiet as it was Sunday  We saw the beautiful church, primary school and library. The "market square" is the site of a World War I War Memorial and lists those who gave their lives in the conflict.

Bob Crick, the Ole' Schoolmaster!
Later, and early in the afternoon, Roger took us on a car tour of Gloucester and the surrounding villages. As we drove over the ridges of the nearby hills, one could see "Wales" in the distance. The rolling hills, villages, and churches were beautiful. It was a sunny and warm day which added to the pleasure of the drive.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

In and around Stroud, U.K.

Leo, Helen (in white) and Linda
on the "Common"
August 30, 2014 -- We awoke to another overcast day this morning -- but not too cold. Roger and Helen are wonderful hosts and we've enjoyed our first evening with them. After a bit of coffee and talk about the day, Roger was off to complete a couple of chores. Linda, Helen and I took their dog "Leo" to the Common for a walk. The Common is a series of large open-spaces used by and for the residents of the villages nearby. Each year, local farmers bring their cattle to graze from May thru October. Walking along the Common, one has an expansive view of the surrounding country-side. It is serene and beautiful.

L-R: Bill, Roger and John
at the "club" in Minchinhampton, U.K.
Later in the morning, Linda was off to Gloucester with Helen for a visit and tour of the Cathedral. Helen is the "Music Department Manager" for the Cathedral Choir.  Additionally, she is "Musical Director" for the Choir in a village called Minchinhampton.

Meanwhile, Roger and I went to the "CLUB" in Minchinhampton. We drank a couple of beers and met Bill and John. We enjoyed a lively conversation about travel in Ireland, England and the United States. After about an hour, or so, we left for Helen's "mum's house" nearby. First, Roger and I explored 2 or 3 of the many villages nearby. He was driving his "MG F" and took the roads with some speed and skill! It was great fun. As an aside, Roger is a retired Lieutenant Commander from the British Royal Navy. Since he was the "Radio Officer", he and I have a lot of interesting stories to tell each-other (I was a Radioman in the U.S. Navy).

Gerry, Helen and Linda
at Helen's"mum's" house.
Helen's mom lives at the end of a country road in Minchinhampton. The "cottage" sits on a little "rise" among the beautiful rolling hills of the English countryside. There are 5 or 6 other cottages nearby, but there is a sense of open space and quiet. Because the cottage is at the end of the road, there is little traffic, and while we were there for an hour or so, no other vehicles passed. Helen's mom, Sheila and her step-dad Gerry, are delightful people living in this most of tranquil of spaces. While there, we enjoyed a taste of "proper English tee, coffee and biscuits".

The evening ended with a wonderful dinner prepared by Helen. Since Roger was a career naval officer, and was in the service during final years of the "British Empire", we talked about his many travel experiences and the gradual withdrawal of Britain from many of its "colonies". Helen, an ex-British navy lieutenant herself, had had training in celestial navigation. We talk about the sky and observing the stars. Finally at 1 a.m., or so, we called it "a day". I can't imagine having a more delightful day in and around the countryside of this beautiful country.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Goodbye to London . . .

Entertainment Center on the train.
August 29, 2014 -- We checked out of our lodgings at about 8 a.m. and made our way to the Paddington Station in Central London. Today, we'll "hook up" with our friends Roger and Helen. They live outside of London and about 15 miles from Swindon U.K. We'll be spending the weekend with them before our transit to Edinburgh, Scotland on Monday.

Our train didn't depart until 10:30, so after buying our tickets, we enjoyed a cup of coffee at the Starbuck's in the station. The train ride to Swindon was just over an hour and was enjoyable. Even though there is no wifi on-board, a video screen offered a variety of entertainment options. It made the journey quick and pleasant.
Helen, Roger and Linda enjoy a
cuppa of "Proper English Tea".

Roger picked us up at at the Swindon Station around noon and we made our way to his home. Along the way, we stopped a local "pub" for lunch and a drink -- and a good amount of good laughter and conversation! The food in these little "out of the way" pubs is always enjoyable -- and ample. We arrived at Roger and Helen's home at around 3:30 and "got re-acquainted" with Helen. It had been almost two years ago since we hosted Roger and Helen at my house in Palm Desert.

From L to R:  Self, Linda Robert and Rick.
Sue, Helen and Roger at the Hunter's Hall Inn
in King's Coate, U.K.
This evening, is an 8 p.m. dinner with Roger, Helen and some of their friends. Tomorrow?? Well, we'll see what the weekend will bring.

11:30 p.m. -- We ended the evening at a delightful dinner with Roger, his wife and son and friends. The food was very good, the company was even better. We met Rick and his Sue and enjoyed an evening of good fun and humorous discussions. These British "pubs" are wonderful places to join friends and family in food, drink and friendship.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Linda and the Tower of London
(taken on the Tower Bridge)
August 28, 2014 -- Today is our last day in London so we decided to take care of some housekeeping chores. We located a "wash and fold" laundry a couple of stops away on the DLR (Dockside Light Rail) and dropped our laundry off for a 5 p.m. pickup. We ventured across the street for breakfast and walked back to the DLR station. We weren't really sure what we were going to do for the day, but along the way we found a very neat little coffee joint called "Husk -- Coffee and Creative Space". We stopped in to have our morning coffee and enjoy a bit of "on-line" time.

Tower Bridge with the
draw bridge in use.
As it happens, and we found ourselves in these spontaneous moments from time to time, Husk is more than just a coffee bar.  It's an "artist led" gallery space hosted within Husk Coffee in Limehouse London. In a partnership with "Morphe Arts" it is is a network of artists, writers, designers and performers who offer free mentoring to "students of the arts" as well as hosting monthly events. While there, one of the hosts, an ex-pat from Kentucky now living in London for 3 years, suggested we try the "Tower of London" and the "Borough Market".  We found that both would be easy to reach by train, so after our coffee we took off for the Tower of London.

Borough Market, London.
The Tower of London is an historic castle on the north bank of the Thames. The current "tower" was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 and durings its history, it has been a residence, a prison, a place of execution, an armory and a treasury. As we walked around the walls, we found loads of activities to entertain us. The "Tower Bridge" was in front of us. Its beautiful architecture of blue and white painted steel and grey stone date back to 1886.  While we were taking some photos, the bridge opened to allow the a ship to sail up the Thames. Of course, we stopped at a Starbuck's to enjoy a coffee and sit by the river, enjoying the warm sun and people watching for 30 minutes or so. It was another most enjoyable part of the afternoon. We decided, however, to forego the 22-pound fee each to enter the Tower!
Borough Market, Foods Everywhere!

We made our way back to the DLR and found the Borough Market a couple of stops away. As we left the "London Bridge" Underground station and were greeted by the Borough Market across the street. It simply looked like two buildings -- one obviously old and one made primarily of glass. We were pleasantly surprised as we entereed the "Market". It was packed with hundreds of vendors selling foods of all kinds. The aisles were packed with shoppers from all over Europe (in evidence by the many languages were heard). The Borough Market is one of the oldest in Europe -- and indeed is the largest and
Cash from a Phone Booth. Neat!
oldest in London. There is some confusion about the founding date of the Market. Some say 1014 while others say 1246 -- but in any case, it's been there for a while.  We explored the market and tasted many of the "samples" made available by the vendors. I bought some peaches and a "shrimp cocktail". I can't exaggerate how plentiful and exotic the variety of foods were available. It was quite an experience. Before leaving, we enjoyed a Guinness at a "Market Pub" just across a narrow street.

So, tomorrow we're off to Swindon for a visit with our friends Roger and Helen -- so be sure to check back!!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bath, U.K. Telescopes, Work and "Other Stuff"...

At Paddington Station, London.
August 27, 2014 -- Today we were off to Bath, about 115 miles west of London. We took the Underground the Paddington Railway Station and boarded the train for Bath at 10:30. The journey took 1 1/2-hours and we arrived at noon right on schedule. As a note -- trains in the U.K are fast and modern -- and electric. But, so far as we've seen, they have no wifi!! It's an interesting contrast to our experience in Ireland where all of the inter-city busses and trains had high-speed wifi for its passengers! Go figure..

As has been the case with 99% of the cities we've visited on this trip, Bath is a beautiful. All of the buildings are the same color and it turns out that, in this part of the country, buildings (stores, homes, government buildings -- everything) are built with "local stone" only. It's a neat architectural style and is quite beautiful. Bath is an ancient city, having become a Roman Spa in 60 C.E.  The city became a " U.N. World Heritage Site" in 1987 and has all the modern amenities, including a McDonald's and several Starbuck's, so it's certainly joined the 21st Century.
One of the many cute cafe's in Bath.

The main reason we went to Bath is because it is the home of William Herschel, an amateur astronomer and telescope maker. Earlier in life, Herschel was a musician and initially moved to Bath because of that city's influence in the medium.  His "music" led him to an interest in the stars and optics. At first his observations were with a small "refracting" telescope. He soon became disenchanted with the quality and abilities of the telescope and went about building his own Newtonian reflector. His first telescope was a 6.2" he fashioned in his own shops. Finally, his largest endeavor was a 49 1/2" 40-foot long telescope constructed between 1785-89. THAT is a big telescope!! As mentioned in a previous post, and among his many observations, was credited with the discovery of the planet Uranus in March of 1781.
A Replica of Herschel's
6.2" Reflector

We enjoyed a wonderful visit at the Herschel home and museum highlighted by meeting Patrick and Debbie, the museum curator. We toured the shops, the residence, the rear yard and watched a short film about his life and efforts. It was a most enjoyable visit -- and I have to thank Linda for putting up with my obsession with astronomy and telescopes. She's a good sport!!

Sun-Dial in Herschel's backyard.
We said our goodbye's to our hosts and made our way to the "Museum of Bath at Work". The museum was opened in 1978 and covers the subject of "Work in Bath" for the last 2000 years! Its 3 floors are jammed with interesting and instructional exhibits about the "common man" and his labors. We enjoyed a "cuppa" on the 3rd floor of the museum at their "honor system" cafe! Most interesting is that, when we entered the museum and paid our modest 4-pound fee to enter, the volunteer's name was "Margaret Thatcher"!

We continued on our way and explored much of the city center. During a delightful lunch break we met "Josh and Freddie" who were life-long residents of the city. We talked about the city, travel and living in the U.K. Another great day in London, its environs and the U.K.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

FDR, Churchill and yours truly!
August 26, 2014 -- We decided to take another "day in the city". It continued to rain, so we thought staying close to "home" was a good idea. Tomorrow, rain or shine, we've decided to go to Bath. But today, we boarded the Underground and made our way to the City Center again, this time looking for London't "Swiss Army mega-store. It took awhile, but we found it and accomplished our goal. We then continued to explore the city nearby.

Carnaby Street, SOHO, London.
To our surprise, we were adjacent to the SOHO district again -- this time we found Carnaby Street. It turns out that Carnaby Street is a "pedestrian only" shopping district inside SOHO. Here the streets are truly narrow and it's fun wandering up and down looking at the shops and shoppers. At one point we stopped for coffee and a chance to "log on"! We like to check into the Internet from time to time. It not only keeps us in-touch with friends and family -- but it gives us a bit of a rest. We enjoyed a cup of coffee in one of the cute little shops nearby.

At the British Museum.
We decided to return to our lodgings earlier than usual and saw a sign pointing to the "British Museum". Just a few blocks away, this majestic building presented itself. The museum is dedicated to "Human History and Culture". It was established in 1753 and first opened its doors to the public in 1759. As we entered the museum, the visitor is greet with the "Reading Room", a magnificent round structure "inside" the atrium and beautifully appointed. Around the perimeter of the atrium are rooms with exhibits that change from time to time. We spent an hour or so there -- certainly not enough time to do the museum, and its contents, justice.

Let the Cutting Begin!!
Walking back to the Underground, Linda spotted a "hair cutter" and chose to stop inside. Before we both new it, she was in the chair and getting "her ears lowered" in a neat "new do"! We made it back to to our lodgings by about 4 p.m. and decided to look around the local environment for awhile -- but not after a "bit of a break", and maybe a short nap.  It's been a long LONG couple of days.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Rain and London in August . . .

August 25, 2014 -- We awoke to a rainy day on Canary Wharf. As we made out way into the city, it became apparent that the rain covered all of London. It is wet, but not cold -- so we donned our rain gear and opened our umbrellas. Our goal today is to explore more of London.

Chinatown near SOHO, London.
We walked over to the Underground and took the train to the SOHO section. It took about 20 minutes with a train change at "Waterloo". As stated yesterday, the Underground is easy to use and get around. When one changes from one train line to another, the signage is everywhere and its easy to find where you're going. We started on the "Jubilee Line" and transferred to the "Northern Line" for Tottingham Court". Sounds all very british, doesn't it?? .

Once at the Tottingham Station, we rode the escalator up and onto the streets. It's Monday and the streets are full of people shopping or going to work. One can tell the tourists by the cameras around their necks or backpacks on their shoulders. SOHO is a fairly large area of the Westminster section of London.  It is known as the "entertainment" district. There are a good number of theaters and cinema houses everywhere.  In addition, there are "jazz"  and music clubs here and there. The entertainment available to the customer seems endless.
Linda, SOHO and Umbrellas.

We explored much of SOHO and found our way into Piccadilly Circus. More theaters and cinemas are here too. Even more pubs and cute little coffee houses and restaurants -- large and small -- are all around. It's as delightful an environment as we've seen anywhere. Two Underground stations serve the area -- Tottingham Court and Liecester Square, so it's very easy to get from place to place.

Black Umbrellas Everywhere!
As we ventured into Liecester Square, there were 4 cinemas on each side. One of the two Odeon Cinemas was showing "Sin City", so we decided to get out of the rain and "went to the movies"!  Earlier, during our explorations, we spotted a vegetarian restaurant called Govindas near the Tottingham Court Underground Station. We've decided to have lunch/dinner there before heading back to our lodgings.
The Palace Theater,
The Royal English Opera House.

Exploring London, even on a rainy day, is an enjoyable and exciting adventure. There are so many delightful districts to the city -- South Kensington, Greenwich, SOHO, Trafalgar Square -- that always finds something interesting to do. Each district seems to have a personality of its own.

Jim, as seen on my iPhone!!
Shortly after 6 p.m. in London, around 10 a.m. in Palm Desert, I gave my good friend Jim a call on Facetime. iPhone's have this neat app that allows the caller to use wifi to contact a telephone number with voice and picture. We had a fun visit for about 10 minutes. Linda joined in the fun. At the time, we were sitting in Costa Coffee in SOHO!! Very cool, I would say.....

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Train to Bletchley.
August 24, 2014 -- Today we decided to "get outa town". After a quick breakfast and a cupa coffee, we headed off in the direction of the Euston Railway Station in Central London. We used the underground and were in the station in about 15 minutes. I must say, the London underground (its subway) is one of the best. The trains are modern, comfortable, affordable, fast and keep to the schedule. The London Underground has 270 stations with 250 miles of track. Add to that the DLR (their light rail) system, and it's an amazing transportation system.

Linda and Yours Truly at the "Mansion".
We had decided to venture to "Bletchley Park" in Bletchley U.K. Normally it's 1 1/2-hours by train from Central London. Today, however, the rail system decided it would maintain the tracks, so we could only get as far as Watford -- about 1/2 way. From there we boarded a bus for the rest of the journey. So, instead of a 1 1/2-hour journey, it was a 3-hour journey! The bus was a "local" that stopped at EVERY little town along the way. Even though we left our lodgings at 8:30 this morning, we didn't arrive in Bletchley until 1:15 p.m.! It was a LONG ride.

Linda is "Breaking the Code".
Undaunted, we left the station and walked to Bletchley Park, about 10 minutes away. Bletchley Park was the central site of the U.K.'s "Code and Cypher" school during the Second World War.  Even though the British Government had been active in  "deciphering" activities for a number of years, it was in 1939 that it became active listening in on Germany. After England's entry in the war, its goal was to break the "Enigma" code. Even though it shouldn't have been possible -- the British were able to "break the code" and, through its efforts, affected the final outcome of the war.

With Anthony at the Ham Radio Station.
During our visit we toured a number of the "huts" used in the cypher effort and were helped by a "free audio guide" loaned to us by the Park. A dominant building is the "Mansion" which was the command center of the effort. All of the buildings, including the Mansion, are very well preserved. During our exploration of the Mansion and "the huts" we saw much of the original furniture and equipment used by the nearly 12,000 people employed during the effort. Old typewriters, teletype machines, radio receivers and other equipment were in evidence throughout the "museum".

I also noticed a "ham radio antenna" on the roof of one of the buildings. We found it was a "working ham radio station" licensed as GB3RS. We met "Anthony" who was using the ham radio station and acting as a docent for the many visitors who passed through. It was fun to talk with Anthony, send some morse code and talk about ham radio -- past and present. It is interesting to note that much of the decoding efforts were through the use of Morse Code. Thousands of professional and volunteer radio operators copied code on German frequencies and passed them on to Bletchley Park for deciphering.

We spent about 3 hours exploring Bletchley Park and decided to walk into town. It turns out that, because it was Sunday, just about every shop and pub were closed. The City, Bletchley, seems to be more of a "bedroom community" with a very limited city center. We did find an open "pub" and enjoyed a Guinness before leaving town. We met some local "folks" who were enjoying a social afternoon and had a chance to spend a few minutes talking about England and the U.S.

Our trip back into Central London took just as long as our trip out to Bletchley. We arrived back in town tired and hungry. A late "bite" and a chance to sit down and answer some emails was a welcome respite to a busy day.  As always we enjoyed ourselves immensely!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Adventures, Exploration and Science . . .

The DLR train arrives
for Greenwich.
August 23, 2014 -- We were up again early and out for a day of exploration. After breakfast we headed out, by train, to Greenwich and the Royal Observatory. In was a 15 minute "free" ride on an elevated tram just outside and down the road from our lodgings. The "DLR" (Docklands Light Railway) opened in 1987 to serve the "docklands" around the Thames. We're staying in an area called "Canary Wharf" which has evolved into the financial center of the city. As an "elevated" system, it occurs to me that it was considerably less costly and easier to build. I read that, in 2013, more than 101-million passengers took the train along its route. By any measure, it's a great transportation system.

Linda "eyeballs" a neat find
at the Greenwich Flea Market.
We boarded at Canary Wharf and watched out the Greenwich station. It was just a few stops down the line. We came out of the station greeted by a beautiful suburb. Greenwich is in "southeast London" and is called a "Royal borough". Greenwich is also a "U.N. World Heritage Site" and is home to the "zero meridian". The population is about 255,000 residents. As we've seen all over Ireland and London, so far, the streets are full of pleasant shops and eateries. We stopped along the way at a delightful "flea market" where the local residents were selling some of their "treasures". Farther down the same road was an "open market" -- much like St. George's Market in Belfast. We decided to stop back for a snack after our visit to the observatory.

I'm on the West, Linda on the East
Hemisphere's of planet Earth.
We made our way along a long winding path through a beautiful park and up the hill to the Royal Observatory. The observatory sits on a hill overlooking Greenwich with a wider view of London in the distance. Our goal was to tour the observatory, see the telescopes and stand on the zero-meridian of the "planet Earth"! We managed to accomplish all three.  It was fun joining hands across the "western and eastern" hemispheres of the world, bring them together in a gesture of "friendship". It'd be nice if the nations of the world would follow suit!!

28" refractor at the Greenwich
Royal Observatory.
We visited the big 28" refracting telescope on the roof of the building. The telescope was completed in 1893 and "rededicated" in 1973 by the Queen. The 28" telescope is the 7th largest telescope (refractor) in the world. Interestingly, the United States has two of the largest refracting telescopes in the world -- with the 40" at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin and the 36" at the Lick Observatory in San Jose, California. These are all interesting and beautiful instruments.

We finished our visit by seeing the "meridian telescope" used to "define" the prime meridian of the world. The meridian was defined in 1851 and adopted by "international conference" in 1884. We continued to explore the grounds of the observatory for another hour or so and made our way down the hill. Our goal was to take a boat along the Thames.

72" Speculum mirror from the
Birr Castle Telescope
By chance, we decided to take a break in the National Maritime Museum not far from the observatory. As luck would have it, there was a conference underway called the "International Slavery Remembrance Day". We arrived in time to attend a lecture by "Onyeka: African's in Tudor England" for about an hour. There was an enthusiastic Queston and Answer period afterwards. Onyeka Nubia is a British writer, law lecturer and historian who has studied slavery in England for a number of years. He's the author of several books on this and other subjects.

Greenwich, and London as seen
from the Royal Obervatory.
Ultimately, we made our way to the dock and boarded a boat for the trip "up the Thames" to Westminster. Once there, we found our way by underground to the National Science Museum in the South Kensington District of the city. The museum is HUGE. Our primary goal was to see the 72" mirror from the Birr Castle telescope at Birr Castle in Ireland. The mirror has been in residence since just before World War II for safekeeping. It is big and it is beautiful! As we explored the ground and first floors of the museum, it was apparent that we'd need a lot more time to do the collection justice. But, we did see a good number of the exhibits and plan -- if time permits -- to come back for more.

It's been a busy day, so far, and we plan to make our way to our lodgings for a well deserved rest and some "television". We don't know what tomorrow will bring, as yet, so stay tuned and discover what we'll do to continue our explorations . . .

Friday, August 22, 2014

Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and more . . .

Parliament and Big Ben.
August 22, 2014 -- Our first full day in London began at our lodgings with a delicious breakfast. As we left the front door, I noticed a cute little "falafel" joint across the street. We went to investigate and met Brian the owner. He promised us a delicious meal anytime we want!! We've decided to take him up on it later this week.

Today we decided to take the "underground" to the center of London around the Parliament Building. As opposed to our long and arduous bus ride yesterday, the train took only a few minutes before we climbed the stairs and came into view of "Big Ben". The sun was shining, the sky was mostly clear with a touch of puffy clouds and it was beautiful.  Even if you've seen it before, it's still a beautiful sight. We learned that, for a few pounds, we'd be able to tour the building. We've decided to do that later in the week to.
At Westminster Abby.

Next door is Westminster Abbey, the church that has catered to kings and queens and even Parliament itself. It has been on the same site, in one form or another, since 624 C.E. The current church was built in 1245 on orders from Henry III. The grounds and building are impressive. Because of the current state of affairs, there was a notable contingent of "security" in and around the site. Sight-seers were everywhere, walking the grounds and paying admission for entry into the building. We decided to forego going inside the Abby itself.

Self and 'Skip' Basiel.

Next door are the buildings to the Choir School. We were granted entry to the courtyard, which itself seems removed from the busy city. As we walked along, we noticed an assembly of people. At first we thought it might be a choir practice -- but in fact was it was a graduation photo session for the Hult International Business School in London. Hult has campuses in eight sites throughout the world, including Boston, San Francisco and New York. The graduates we saw had just earned their MBA degree and were in great spirits. As the photo shoot ended, I noticed a couple of gentlemen sitting with the graduates in attractive "robes". I introduced myself and met Dr. Anthony 'Skip' Basiel.  Skip, yours truly and one of his colleagues (himself an Oxford grad) enjoyed a few minutes talking about the "robes" and the graduation ceremony. Skip, as it turns out, is an American living in London. He had earned a degree from Hult some years ago and stayed on in a teaching position. He is now Associate Dean of the School.
The "suspicious" bag!!

Our next stop was Buckingham Palace. More than impressive, it is an "imposing" sight. It, too, was under guard but the tourists paid no-mind! Hundreds of visitors lined themselves along the fence around the front of the Castle. We chatted with a few tourists and one of the "bobbies" standing guard. Within a few minutes, the entire crowd was asked to "STAND BACK PLEASE"! by one of the bobbies. It seems that a "suspicious bag" had been seen unattended on the drive to. Once safely removed from the scene, and after a few minutes, a bobbie simply walked up to the bag, walked around it one or twice and then leaned down and picked it up. He held it in the air, showing there was no threat, and we all applauded. It was both tense and fun at the same time!!

Parliament in the evening.
Well, we've taken our "internet" break at a Starbuck's and we're ready to get underway again. So, to quote the "governator" I'll Be Back!!

7 p.m. -- After Buckingham Palace, we found our way to a cute "neighborhood" for a bit of lunch and coffee. We continued exploring the area around the Palace and set out in the general direction of Westminster Abby. The goal was to investigate the large "ferris wheel" on the Thames. Crossing Westminster Bridge was a challenge in itself. The sidewalks were teaming with tourists. We stopped along the way to take a photo or two before finding "The Queens Walk" along the south bank of the river. It too was busy with tourists and shoppers.

The Queens Walk is a promenade densely populated with shops and attractions of all kinds. Street performers are everywhere. The London Aquarium is along the way. As it continued to warm up, under the clear sunny sky, we stopped for a beer and chance to rest our feet! It was a delightful break and we enjoyed people-watching and talking about the events of the day. We continued our exploration of the area as far down as the Waterloo Bridge passing the huge ferris Wheel called the London-Eye on the way.

The London-Eye from
Westminster Bridge.
Once we ventured to the other side of the river, we started our way back to the Westminster Underground Station. By now it was getting late and we were getting tired. We found, along a street called Victoria's Embankment, a series of beautiful flower parks and walkways. Entering the walkways, it felt as though we were "removed from the city" even though the busy traffic was just outside. There were a number of statues to explore and benches to sit on. The flowers and lily ponds were beautiful. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I know I keep saying this -- but we won't soon forget our experiences of the day. Our first full day in London has been extraordinary. It is quite a city.