Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Canterbury Tales

In keeping with British theme songs, who remembers this one?

On Thursday morning, we caught the train for Victoria Station and picked up our rental car. The rental guy sent me upstairs to pick up the car. The test was to see if I could get it out of the parking garage. I followed the Exit arrows and it took about three circuits of the fourth floor to realize that I wasn't going anywhere. I decided to go against the arrows and finally arrived at the entrance. They wouldn't let me out but pointed me to the actual exit. Phew! By the time I pulled up on the street outside the rental agency I was all in a sweat.

Miraculously, we made it out of London without any adverse incidents. I had spent a lot of time in the bus on Wednesday studying the driving tactics on the streets, which kind of gave me a head start. London drivers must be accustomed to tourist drivers because they were very tolerant and helpful. I have to say that we found Londoners in general to be that way. 

We wended our way slowly to Canterbury, enjoying the picturesque villages but not so much the narrow country roads. Our first stop was Canterbury Cathedral, which was high on Jeff's list of places to see. After paying the exorbitant fee of one pound an hour for parking (forget free lunch, there is no such thing as free parking in England) we walked down charming narrow streets to the cathedral itself.

The cathedral is made of limestone from Caen, which deteriorates rather quickly and is in the process of being restored. Often, the blocks are replaced with new ones.

It is imposing from the outside. The first Archbishop of Canterbury was St. Augustine, who arrived as a missionary in England in 597AD. He was given the church by the local King Ethelbert, whose wife was already a Christian. Augustine's original building lies beneath the nave of the present building, which was extensively rebuilt and enlarged by the Saxons and completely rebuilt by the Normans in 1070 after it was destroyed by a fire. More about the Normans in a later post.

If you think you're going to get out of this without learning some British history, you are so deluded!

It was in this very cathedral that Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170. His tomb is prominently displayed inside the building.

The inside walls of this massive edifice are covered in stone memorials. This one was particularly poignant.

Whereupon, my camera ran out of battery.
Just as well, I can hear you thinking.
Evensong was at 5:30, so we dashed back to the parking lot and put another pound coin into the machine, then dashed back to the cathedral. I cannot describe the sublime sounds of the great organ and the angelic voices of the boys choir. The acoustics of these vaulted churches and cathedrals are like nothing I have ever experienced. The planets must have been lined up just right on this night, because we attempted to catch similar services in other cathedrals later in our travels and it never worked again. But I will forever hold that short time in my memory bank of great musical moments.
We had to leave a few minutes early to dash back to the parking lot before our hour ran out. It was a short drive to Ashford to our next bed-and-breakfast hosts. 

Space seems to be at a premium in this small island. The roads are so narrow that it seems as if the very fields resent the space they occupy. I freak out frequently when driving through villages or narrow lanes when I see cars or trucks heading towards me and I think that nevernevernever will there be enough room for us both. But, somehow, there always is, and on we go again.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

More traipsing the streets of London

Here's a cheery song.
I like it.

On Wednesday. we took a Big Bus Tour, in order to see the most amount of stuff in the least amount of time. 
And I was still suffering from a mysterious stomach disorder, so walking was not my best thing.
These images are the result. Only problem is, I've forgotten the significance of most of them.

This one, we were told, is the oldest clock in London, but I just Googled it and it is not. So the tour guide must have been lying.

There is lots of building and renovation going on in the city and the structures are always gift-wrapped. 

This was as close as we got to St. Paul's. Entrance fees and tourist overload took their toll.

Crossing Tower Bridge. This is often mistakenly called London Bridge, which is the next bridge upstream.

The Tower of London.
We passed on touring this too.
Believe me, you have to pick your poison when you're in this city.
We took a short river cruise instead, seeing as how it was included in the bus tour.

Then a stop at Harrods, to marvel at the prices and selection and not buy anything.
Twenty-five dollars for a pineapple?
I don't think so, Mr. Harrod!

I didn't see the sign on the chocolate display case until it was too late.
Please do not photograph these displays.
So sad, too bad.
Drool on, ladies.
Prices run around $80 to $100 a pound.

Harrods is famous for window dressings. They were almost impossible to photograph, because of the glare, but you can see this spooky one pretty well.
She had deer antlers on her head.

We were hurrying over to catch the river cruise a second time before it ended for the day when we got caught up in this.

And if you know us at all, you know that we never made it to the river cruise.
We stood with Israel for about an hour.
I tried to claim a flag when we left, but was denied.
Which is funny, when you think about it!

There was a similar group supporting Palestine on the next block, so the Bobbies were everywhere.
One of the Israelis got beat up after a similar demonstration a few weeks ago.

We had wondered why all the police vans were parked in the middle of the street, and then we understood.

This is the scariest thing we saw in London.
Even scarier than the Jack the Ripper tour.
This person (one day there were two of them, competing for tourist coins) stands on Westminster Bridge and dances to music from a boombox, enticing tourists to have their photo taken with her/him/it.
The mask is supposed to be Queen Elizabeth, I think, but it is icky.
I'm sparing you the enlarged version.

If only they knew!

Jeff had been looking forward to his Jack the Ripper tour at twilight. Me, not so enthused considering the state of my bowels, but I went along. We started by Victoria Station and this section of Roman wall, which is almost two thousand years old.

It started drizzling, so after completing the 90-minute walking tour I insisted on refreshment.
We settled on a lime milkshake from Gourmet Burger Kitchen, which, it turns out, is owned by three Kiwis.
Jeff declined to try the Kiwiburger, which had all his favourite things on one bun.
'Nuff said!
The milkshake?
It was incomparably delicious.
I want another one.

And then we caught the train and walked home in the drizzling rain.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Incidental images from the London archives

These photos were all taken on Tuesday.

This line of phone boxes is in Westminster. I think they are just there for tourists to use in their photos, because no one ever uses them to make phone calls! Note the line of double-deckers on the right, balancing nicely with the red booths on the left.

I cannot comment on this. This is a g-rated blog.
The Churchill War Rooms are enthralling. You get a small taste of what it must have been like to live underground in these halls and be so intimately involved with Churchill and his War Cabinet.
An actual chart that details the number of casualties from doodlebug bombs that were dropped by the Germans. My Mum hated these bombs.

I could easily subscribe to this way of thinking!
The squirrels at St. James Park are very friendly, especially when your husband fools them into thinking that pocket fuzz is food.
At first, we thought that this was Nelson's Column.
But when we got to Trafalgar Square, we realized we had been mistaken.
Trafalgar Square was a different animal than I remember.
No pigeons.
We were walking past this policeman and I said, jokingly, Smile!
And he did.

Walking around St. James Park. 
Poor wee thing. What's a squirrel without a big, bushy, tail? 
Buckingham Palace. Can't go to London without seeing it. But no, we did not pay the entrance fee.
Over 10,000 of these CCTV cameras are all over London, although they are of dubious efficacy in the solving of crime.
I just like this one.
At the end of the day, we went to see Faustus at the Globe Theatre. This was our seat, in the highest gallery.
Looking down on the student crush.
A small medieval band sat on the top level. I loved the layer of interest that it added to the plot of the play. They played sound effects as well as music for the several times that the cast broke out into a song and dance. 
The theatre was packed, but you could have heard a pin drop. The audience was spellbound for the entire length of the play. I even forgot how uncomfortable my seat was.
After the play, we walked over the Millennium Bridge to the railway station. It was raining a fine mist that turned into a steady drizzle by the time we reached East Finchley, but it was a perfect day.