We just spent a week in jolly old England, London to be exact, and indulged ourselves thoroughly in all of the Anglo-Saxon experiences we could cram into six days. The great reason we were able to go was because Brett had the happy work responsibility of being in charge of the student field trip this year for VCU Qatar. Abbey and I got to tag along with faculty and students, so three for the price of two was a great deal for our budget. We couldn't pass up this once in a lifetime opportunity. Since Abbey was off school for a week because of Eid holiday, it was a good time to travel. (ASD is now closed this week by order of the over-reacting Qatari health minister who closed all the schools in Doha because of the H1N1 scare, so Abbey didn't even miss the three days we thought she would.)
There is so much to write about, so I will have to just give the highlights. I have selected only a few photos out of the hundreds we took! Lucky you!
One of the best parts of this trip was getting to know some of Brett's students and colleagues better. They were a fun group, and it was especially good to get to know some of the quiet Muslim students a little better. I don't normally get that opportunity, so I felt extra lucky. A few of them are not in any of the photos, because they don't allow anyone to take their pictures, but they are really beautiful, graceful, and sweet girls. Sadly, one of the students actually came down with H1N1 during our trip and had to stay with friends in London to recover before she could fly home.
We stayed at the K West Hotel & Spa in Shepherd's Bush London. Because we were with a group of interior design students, this hotel was chosen for its unique design (inside and out). It was nice, but not the traditional London hotel you would expect to stay in. It was comfortable and the service was great, but we did learn that modern design isn't always the most practical or homey.
We tasted more than our fair share of fish and chips in our search for the traditional favorite of the Brits, but I have to say I was disappointed and we never found them. The fish was saturated in grease and the chips were just wide French fries. I was expecting what I know as English chips and gloriously fresh fish in yummy batter. Sadly disappointing. The best meal we had was at the Victoria and Albert Museum the last day we were there. I had a chicken/leek pot pie, and it tasted like what I had imagined English food to taste like. Another great meal we had was at a place called Belgo Central in Covent Gardens. Brett had a bucket of mussels that he thought were amazing. The British know how to do pastries and cookies for sure - anything that goes with tea I guess. Also, coming from Doha where restaurant service is almost too helpful, it was quite a surprise to find London's servers to be so unresponsive and SLOW. The night we went to the Globe to see Love's Labour's Lost we waited about an hour before giving up and leaving to make the play on time. The sausage biscuits we had instead at the play were good though.
On the first day we were in London Brett had beautiful flowers delivered to our room. My birthday was kind of rushed the day before with packing and getting to the airport on time, so the flowers made up for not getting a birthday cake. I woke up every morning to the glorious smell of these lilies that kept blooming all week. Thanks, Honey!
As we walked the streets of London the hundreds of statues and monuments almost become ho hum - there are so many! My favorites: Winston Churchill (he said he didn't want England to honor him with a statue because he didn't want his image as a place for pigeons to land), one of Abraham Lincoln and one of George Washington, and the lions at Trafalgar Square are quite impressive and a nice American man helped Abbey jump up onto the pedestal to get her picture taken. There is a beautiful arch near Hyde Park that was built for Queen Victoria. When it was finished she tried to go through the arch with her carriage and horses and the arch wasn't wide enough. She quickly told the architect what he could do with his Marble Arch! One place that we failed to take a picture of was Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park. It was great to look at that spot and imagine a young Elder Hinckley standing on a soap box and bearing his testimony of the restored Gospel. We also got to attend the Hyde Park 1st Ward on Sunday morning. We were expecting to hear a lot of British accents from the pulpit, but instead we heard American, Filipino, and Indian accents. I guess the expats have taken over.
The bridges in London are like nothing I have ever seen. The tower bridge is probably the most iconic. It is painted turquoise because that was Queen Victoria's favorite color. It happened to be opening just as we went underneath as we were boating on the Thames (never thought I would write that phrase!). We visited Westminster Abbey but could not go inside because of renovations taking place. We did have Abbey pose in front of the many signs with her name and got to explained why we spell her name the CORRECT way. Now she has more of an idea what an abbey is and can somehow think more about the quiet, secluded spot of worship and not always ask us why we spell her name wrong. The last picture in this section hardly needs explanation, but I've included it for our own Big Ben in Utah. We thought of you, big guy, whenever we heard the toll of the hour, and we want you to know that you are much more impressive than this clock.
When I was a teenager, during the summers, I worked as a tart seller in the Green Show at the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City. I fell in love with Shakespeare, the theater, English history, and the boys from Louisiana attending football camp at SUSC weren't bad either. Anyway, visiting Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London and attending a play there was a dream come true. We saw Love's Labour's Lost and thoroughly enjoyed the very interactive style that Shakespeare's plays promote. At one point the princess in the play and her ladies went around feeding grapes and finger sandwiches to the groundlings (the people standing right in front of the stage who only paid 5 pounds for entrance - the modern equivalent of what was charged in Elizabethan times). The food fight that followed was pretty entertaining as well. Abbey loved it and Brett said she understood the dialogue better than he did.
Another highlight was being able to see Wicked in London's West End. It was fabulous. The understudy played the role of Elphaba but she was so, so amazing we didn't know the difference. Before the play we ate at a restaurant named "Shakespeare's". I wish I could say the food was as legendary as its namesake, but at least we were in good company. Two of Brett's students came with us to the play and we enjoyed their young energy. They were polite enough to keep saying, "We just can't believe you guys are grandparents!"
The queen wasn't in town while we were in London, so we got to check out her digs - tour Buckingham Palace. We just happened to get off the tour bus just before the changing of the guard, so that was a happy accident. The crush of people wasn't so wonderful, because they were all pushing to see the same thing. Some nice Italian folks let Abbey push up to the front where she could see the marching band and the horsemen, so she had a better view than all of us. After touring the magnificent palace we "lunched" in the queen's garden out behind the palace, and as you can see, Brett and Abbey were on their best behavior - la de da! The strawbrerries (spelled that way because that's how Londoners say it) and cream were yummy, and even the chocolate tart had a crown on it!
The culture that we immersed ourselves in was thick and tangible. We went to three different art galleries: The Tate Modern, The Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Gallery. Brett had tears in his eyes as he stood before Rembrandt's self-portrait, and Abbey recognized Van Gogh's Sunflowers from one of her art classes last year. We saw Monet's beautiful colors and DaVinci's perfect lines. There is nothing like viewing great works of art in person.
I totally picked this shot at random, but it happens to be of the Roman Goddess Diana, the huntress!
This shot is for all you Princess Diana fans - her pearl evening gown she wore when she went to Hong Kong. This was in the fashion exhibit in the V&A museum.
My favorite site in London is the Tower of London. Listening to the guides tell about the rich history of that place gave me goose bumps. We stood on the tower walls where William the Conqueror and his men defended their new fortress in 1066. We gazed at Traitor's gate where many a rebel had entered, including William Wallace of Braveheart fame, and then either escaped or lost their lives in horrible ways - like William Wallace. We saw the place where Henry VIII had two of his wives beheaded, and there was an exhibit in the White Tower showing many artifacts from Henry's time, including his much enhanced armour that highlighted his most famous body part, I suppose. Queen Elizabeth walked the grounds we walked. The crown jewels are also there, but once you've seen one 317 carat diamond you've seen them all!
The day we walked all over the Tower of London site and went to the Globe Theater I asked Abbey if I could help her by carrying her bag for awhile. She said, "No, Mom. I'm practicing to be a woman." And boy was she right - a woman has to carry her life with her wherever she goes, especially when visiting historic sites!
We are so grateful for this experience and feel blessed to have had this opportunity. The last night in London we rode on the London Eye and got to see all of London at a bird's eye view. One of the pictures we took from high atop the ride captured this kind of spooky brilliant green color in the gardens next to Buckingham Palace. We think it is the fairies having their own celebrations on the royal grounds. As we got off the ride the sun was setting, and we snapped the colorful images of Big Ben and Parliament. It was the perfect end to the perfect trip. Thanks for indulging my long descriptions and slide show. We wish we could have had all of you with us!