Friday, June 25, 2010

Totally at sea

Somewhere in the middle of the North Sea. Happy because we're here, sad because I left the frakkin' power cord to the netbook in the hotel. Plugged into the wall. Never packed it.  [palm -> forehead | whack!]

So I'm in the shipboard Internet cafe dealing with firewalls and time limits and I'm not going to be able to update the blog in loving detail as I'd planned. Instead there will be short, furtive posts with no pictures and I'll wait until we return to narrate the whole circus. *sigh*

A quick catch-up.

The next day after the British Museum we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which turned out to be the favorite of London, aside from the city itself. The V&A is every bit as huge as the British, but much more varied. We spent most of the day there seeing everything from the expected statues and paintings to the unexpected massive collection of jewels, gold and silver work, tapestries, lace work, theatre costumes (including ones worn by the likes of Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton), and even gowns and accessories of Grace Kelly.

The next day was the train ride through the rolling hills of Kent down to the white cliffs of Dover and onto the Disney Magic. Our second vacation begins!

The North Sea has been smooth as silk, which is unusual if not exactly rare. The crew said the previous sailing had had rough seas. We've been out of sight of land all day and will be until we cruise into the Skaggerak this evening around 9pm (site of the Battle of Jutland in WWI). We enter the long waterway leading to Oslo around 3am and so won't get to view the islands there, arriving dockside about 6:30. Perhaps we'll get to see the islands on the cruise out the following day.

There is no way to upload pictures to the blog from here, as they provide only a terminal. I'll probably not update here for a couple of days, maybe three. Tomorrow is Oslo, the next day is Copenhagen, then comes Warnemunde / Rostock. At latest I'll update after Rostock, as we'll be crossing the Baltic after that. Meanwhile I'm writing it all down in my physical journal (thanks Rachel!) and will type up all when we return.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

British Museum

I've got like ten minutes left on my Internet access.

Today was the British Museum. It's every bit as extraordinary as you've heard. Most striking: how complete are the artifacts. Where in most museums you get sections of Greek vases, here you get entire halls filled with Greek vases and every one of them whole. The same goes for all the areas. Half the famous statues from the ancient world you've seen in picture books are likely here: the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon, the Rosetta Stone, busts of Augustus and Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, even artifacts from the Mausoleum of Halikarnassus. It's endless. There's no way to see everything in a day, and there's no way a visitor can walk in without wanting to try anyway.

Back in the hotel, footsore and content. This really is the last post until we get shipboard on the 24th, so probably I won't update until the 25th, somewhere on the North Sea. !!!

Will do a better picture update then, too.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday, June 21

Today was the Original Tour Bus, about a two hour drive around London with some narration. The weather was perfect, neither too hot nor too cold and we had a merrie olde time.
Next we went to the Tower of London, which occupied is for much of the afternoon. I took pictures only at the Tower, since taking photos from a moving bus is pretty much an exercise in frustration. The Tower shots are all outside and are somewhat random, as if I want good pictures I'll buy the tour book (which I did not). But I do think I got enough material to add to an online essay somewhere along the line. Maybe my Late Middle Ages one.
It is now afternoon. I'm updating the blog and uploading pictures, then we get dressed and go out for our big evening: we'll be seeing "Love Never Dies".

Sunday, June 20

We went to a variety of places today, the first of which was Harrads. I don't know if it was because today was Sunday or what, but the place was packed. The interior space is designed oddly, as if it were a great many small shops. Each had its own theme or central product.
We never got off the main floor, except to go into one lower level that had wine and spirits. The main floor was nothing but food and a number of perfume sections. All in all it was crowded and we ate a bit and got out of there.
The main attraction was the National Gallery but we got there well before it opened, so we walked down to Big Ben and the Parliament buildings and 10 Downing Street. Just around the block is the War Room Museum, which was British headquarters during WWII. It's been preserved or restored to very accurate conditions. Several of the various rooms not only have the original furnishings but also have wax figures of officers. The rooms include the sleeping quarters for Churchill and for his wife, as well as the Churchills' kitchen. All in all one comes away with at least a vague sense of what it must have been like, especially when one comes back out, into the fresh air directly across from St James park.
We then walked back to the National Gallery. It's a good museum with some notable works and is laid out well. It left me a little cold but that's perhaps unfair as we spent only 1.5 hours there. Perhaps, too, I've seen one too many Great Art museums. We walked back to the hotel after that, which was quite a long walk, by way of Hyde Park. We saw Speakers Corner which was, as the guidebooks say, much fallen from its glory days. All that were there were six or seven advocates of this or that religion.
The walk back, though long, was pleasant as we got to see a goodly portion of the city. I was struck again by how much of the buildings look to be 18th or 19thc. Along the way we saw a very nice BBC building that looked mid-20thc. Ate in a local restaurant; decent food, nothing memorable. It's 9:30 now and everyone is falling asleep.

Saturday, June 19

First day in London. A long drive from Heathrow to the Waldorf Hilton right in the heart of the old city, just off the Strand. We unpacked and went out for a stroll.
The first thing that strikes one is that London is goofy for statues. They're everywhere, not only as free-standing statues but also as decorative elements on buildings. One literally can't walk a single block without seeing them (remember, though, we're in the old town; things are probably different further out). They even have statues (dragons) that mark the boundaries of the City of London proper. Most of the statues seem to have been erected between 1800 and 1950 so it must have been something of a public fad. Indeed, much of the city here dates to that era, giving a certain architectural unity to London. The main exception isn't buildings that are older but buildings that are much newer--I'd say 1970 and later. We don't see really old buildings in old London because the whole thing burned down in 1665 and also was heavily bombed during the Blitz.
Which brings up a second striking visual feature, the impact of the two world wars, seen mainly in the form of war memorials. We saw several on our walk, including ones for marines, for soldiers of various types, and for the navy. Most striking, though, was a church sitting on a little block, heavy downtown traffic all around it, like a little island. On it were some statues, of course. At the head, very prominent and grandiose, a statue of Gladstone. At the stern, more modest and human, one of Samuel Johnson. The chief element on this island is the church, St Dunstan's. It got our attention at first because its bells were ringing incessantly and elaborately. We walked across to see the statues, for at the Gladstone end were two modern military statues, clearly of WWII vintage. I don't recall the names, but both were fliers and one of them was the chief of bomber command during the war. The plaque recorded that 55,000 aviators lost their lives in bomber command, a truly terrifying statistic. The statue caused me to look more closely at the church itself, which had various other references to fliers on it, including at least two wreaths of flowers recently placed.
A plaque on the stern explained the place. On this site, it said, the Danes built a church in the 9th century. The church was later rebuilt by William the Conqueror. It was rebuilt again by Christopher Wren (probably the medieval version was destroyed in the Great Fire). Destroyed by German bombs in WWII, the church was rebuilt yet again in the 1950s when it became the official church of the R.A.F.
That's but a taste of the density of historical references around here. We literally crossed the street from the church and I noticed a Twinings tea shop. Look closer and no, it's not *a* Twinings shop it's *the* Twinings shop. The original, built in 1705.
It's like that for block after block.
We walked from the Strand to Fleet Street, then down to the river, and back again. Found a place to eat which was nothing special. Now back in the hotel again and updating this journal.

Slight Technical Glitch

Somewhat to my surprise, there's no free wifi in this hotel. So I'm paying once for an Internet connection, will post updates through today, then I'll wait until we're on the cruise ship. We should be daily thereafter.