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Posts Tagged ‘British history’

The British Museum sat on my London bucket list for a long time. Luckily, it was on Sarah and Temi’s list too when they came to visit from Texas.

Walking up to the front doors I felt a tingle of excitement. Once inside I was blown away by the Great Court.

The Great Court

Other highlights included the section on ancient Greece, complete with opulent drinking cups depicting engagement in naughty lustful activities, Hokusai’s colour woodblock print, The Great Wave, which is on display until 8 January, and the Rosetta Stone.

The Rosetta Stone

This is one tourist attraction I won’t mind returning to, unlike the Changing of the Guard which I refuse to accompany any more visitors too. I’ll give you guys a map to that one and you can go on your own. 😉

The British Museum

The British Museum is free and open daily 10.00–17.30, Friday until 20.30.

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War does not determine who is right – only who is left.

– Bertrand Russell

Women selling poppies outside of Westminster Abbey.

You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.

– Jeannette Rankin

War memorial outside of Westminster Abbey.

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.

– Albert Einstein

Waiting for the veteran's parade at Parliament Square.

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Since I had scoped out the Mall and Buckingham Palace the night before, I knew there was no way I was going to get a glimpse of anything royal. Nonetheless, my plan was to descend into the crowd with a good spirit and a bottle of cava. In the morning I called my friend, Vanessa, and we decided to meet up at Hyde Park. St James Park was already full and Hyde Park promised jumbo screens of the events and port-a-loos.

Whether or not you agree with the monarchy and the royal family, it’s great to see everyone get together and celebrate. It’s nice to have a community vibe for at least a day in a big city where we are most often in each other’s way.

Hyde Park during the Royal Wedding

Straight off the plane with suitcase in tow.

There were people dressed in bridal gowns and tons of Will and Kate look a likes. Vanessa’s flatmates were well prepared with Will and Kate masks, the ring, and matching outfits. They were a huge hit with the rest of the crowd and you can see why.

The Kates

Re-enactment

Showing off the ring while Will lurks behind

I didn’t see much of the royal kiss from my position in Hyde Park. In fact, I bent down to fix my shoe and I missed the first kiss entirely. The jet flyover that accompanied the kiss was visible from Hyde Park and made everyone feel like part of the experience.

Jet flyover

Best of all, it didn’t even rain like the forecast predicted. I can’t wait to do it again for Harry’s wedding. I’m considering Will’s wedding a great practice run.

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The night before the Royal Wedding, the Mall and Buckingham Palace were already packed with people who had flown across the world to sleep in a tent in a foreign country’s public park along side strangers. Their dedication made me envious. I knew it was impossible to sleep in a comfortable bed AND get a glimpse of the royal couple on their wedding day. You can guess which option I chose.

The dedicated hailed from many backgrounds with the Americans making a big showing. Also making a big showing were flags and pajamas.

Pajama Party along the Mall

These ladies were making it a Girl's Night Out

Home sweet home

Having a kip. (That means nap.)

This guy offered to trade me a cupcake for a kiss. Thanks, but I'm not hungry.

Country of Georgia, represent!

Texas girls, represent!

We all know why the souvenir shop owners are smiling.

Prepared for the big day.

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After my post about bluebonnets and daffodils, I was pointed to this Guardian article on bluebells in Southwest Britain. Seems like the UK has it’s own spring time sea of blue. In the past few weeks I have started to notice blue flowers in small and large patches of green around town. For an excursion, a friend recommend I check out Abbey Wood.

A walk through the ancient south east London woods did not disappoint.

Bluebells at Abbey Wood

Bluebells in Abbey Woods

As we wandered through the woods, we eventually came up on Lesnes Abbey. The abbey, now in ruins, was founded by Richard de Luci in 1178 as penance for his involvement in the murder of Thomas Becket. In 1524, Lesnes was closed by Henry VIII along with scores of other monasteries in England and Wales. The ruins make an interesting backdrop for picnics and the like. The proximity of the woods and abbey to London makes it an easy place to visit.

Lesnes Abbey

Lesnes Abbey

Lesnes Abbey

After our outing, we stopped by the Old Mill, a converted 18th century mill with a large beer garden. The locals were on good form and so was the owner, so we ended our day in Southwest London with a few real ales. I am embarrassed to admit that  real ale tastes like flat warm beer to me. Perhaps I need to spend more time at the pub to develop a true appreciation.

Authentic Real Ale at the Old Mill

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I keep swearing that I’m not obsessed with Kate Middleton and the Royal Wedding but I’m starting to think that may not be true. As a foreigner, I find the pomp and circumstance and the entire concept of a monarchy utterly fascinating. But most of all, it’s downright impossible to ignore all the preparations going on around London for the big event. Here’s some photographic evidence of the massive effort to make it the perfect day for Kate and Will.

Flags hung over Regency Street near Piccadilly Circus.

It must be weird to have your face showing in every other window all over town.

Suspiciously nice looking flowers suddenly appear at Buckingham Palace. Accompanied by flags and supervisors.

Walking route through Green Park disrupted by massive tent structure.

Still a week and 4 days to go. I’ll do my best to post on something else during the next few weeks, but I can’t make too many promises!

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Leroy and Mariah were both in town visiting. We were at a pub looking through our travel guides  and trying to decide what exactly it was we wanted to do with our week. The contrasts were stark.  Husband was completely embarrassed by our public display of tourism. Mariah, ever the planner, had her wheels spinning. Laid-back Leroy was agreeing to every suggestion without too much enthusiasm. That is, until we mentioned visiting a few monoliths. The Discovery Channel buff in him suddenly perked up and Mariah and I knew we had to make it happen.

Since Stonehenge is a little cliche and Mariah and I had already been there, we decided to visit Avebury. Word was that it was better and the oldest stone circle in Europe. The stone circles are multiple in number, more accessible and integrated into the town. In fact, the town is built inside these massive stone circles.

Luck was with us as the sun was shining for our drive out to Avebury. We parked the car and quickly found the main attraction: strategically placed large stones. Although Avebury does not carry the iconic image that Stonehenge has blazed in our collective consciousness, the sheer number of stones and organization was much greater than that of Stonehenge.

Avebury

After a bit of walking around the stones we headed into the museum. I needed context for what we were viewing. The staff at the museum was a breathe of fresh air. Tourist sites have a tendency to make one feel like cattle. The people at Avebury seemed generally excited to have our company. It was a bit like dating the sister of the prom queen.

A walk through the stones.

Let’s consult Wikipedia for historical background.

Constructed around 2600 BCE, during the Neolithic, or ‘New Stone Age’, the monument comprises of a large henge, surrounded by a bank and a ditch. Inside this henge is a large outer stone circle, with two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the centre of the monument. Its original purpose is not known, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremonial usage. The Avebury monument was a part of a larger prehistoric landscape containing several older monuments nearby, including West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.

In the Late Mediaeval and Early Modern periods, locals destroyed many of the standing stones in the monument, and a village was built in the centre of it. The antiquarians John Aubrey and William Stukeley however took an interest in Avebury, and recorded much of the site before its destruction. Archaeologists proceeded to excavate at the site in the 20th century.

It’s wild to think about someone chopping down this ancient stone arrangement to build onto their house. I guess it felt silly to go in search of new raw materials when these had been delivered right to your doorstep. Plus, the historical nature of the stones may not have been widely understood or respected in the Late Medieval and Early Modern times.

Stone Marked Road

One thing about Avebury that I absolutely can not recommend is the Red Lion Pub in the village. The service was more than atrocious, it was comical.  The food was just plain bad. They were out of half the menu. I don’t know how you mess up fried food that badly but the chips were terrible. We were treated like an annoyance by the kid behind the bar. They forgot to bring our dessert. They were out of coffee cups. Not out of coffee, just out of vessels (for there or to go) to hold it in because they had a rush of visitors a few days earlier. Not that morning. Not yesterday. A few DAYS earlier. Yeah, it didn’t make sense to me either.

Do not eat here.

Constructed around 2600 BCE,[1] during the Neolithic, or ‘New Stone Age’, the monument comprises of a large henge, surrounded by a bank and a ditch. Inside this henge is a large outer stone circle, with two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the centre of the monument. Its original purpose is not known, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremonial usage. The Avebury monument was a part of a larger prehistoric landscape containing several older monuments nearby, including West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.

In the Late Mediaeval and Early Modern periods, locals destroyed many of the standing stones in the monument, and a village was built in the centre of it. The antiquarians John Aubrey and William Stukeley however took an interest in Avebury, and recorded much of the site before its destruction. Archaeologists proceeded to excavate at the site in the 20th century.

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Sometimes I get caught up in London life and forget to explore the rest of England and the UK. Of course there are the normal places that attract global tourists like Bath or Stonehenge, but the lesser known locales give you an opportunity to understand the region in a totally different way.

OK, I have to admit that if we hadn’t been out visiting Flora and Jam for the weekend, we wouldn’t have gone out of our way to go to Lyme Regis. But we were having ourselves a city break in that area anyway, so it seemed like a great place to explore.

The town is located on what is known as the Jurassic Coast and is famous for fossils. Some of the first dinosaur skeletons discovered in Britain were found here in the 1800s and today you can see people combing over the shores for a great archeological find. Or a lost contact lens. Whichever.

The town is a touch of kiss me quick with an arcade and sea side dining but interesting for a wander.

Seaside snacks

Colorful spaces for rent along the shore.

Docked boats

Lampposts advertise fossil heritage.

I watched several people head off to the waves with their wetsuits and surfboards from beneath my many layers of winter gear. Amazingly, surfing in the UK seems to be a well participated activity. I suppose the temperature is what creates a divide between the mild enthusiasts and the passionate. I love water sports, but there’s no way you are getting me into the UK seas in winter.

Crazy person enjoying water sports.

We shifted through rocks in a bit of our own fossil hunting. We came across loads of pieces of broken pottery, beautiful stones and a touch of asbestos, but nothing of which to make our millions by selling to museums.

Flora on the search

Hooray! I think we found a fossil?

Walking back through town, I seemed to be the only one interested in things like the door to the old lockup. It gave a very medieval and quintessentially British vibe to the experience. I’m always amazed at how small the doors are and hence how short the population was.

The door of the old lockup

Well Lyme Regis, it’s been fun. Perhaps one day we will meet again.

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Josh was in town for a few days on his way to Germany and was planning a day trip to Bath. I needed a break from dealing with the damage the movers inflicted on our possessions, so a trip to Bath sounded perfect. Plus, I was in the midst of reading Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and becoming increasingly curious about what exactly a Pump Room is.

We took the train in from London. We walked the short distance from the train station to the center of town and I was pleased to see that Bath was a very pretty place.

Beautiful Bath

The city hosts free walking tours daily and Josh wanted to catch one. I was along for the ride so I agreed. We purchased some snacks from one of the covered market stands and ate them in the courtyard while we waited the 30 minutes we had before the tour started. I chose a Jamaican style empanada treat that was not good at all. I immediately scolded myself for not knowing better.

The courtyards around Bath Abbey have a rotating team of street performers. They were mostly musicians, but I did see an acrobat as well. The performances and rotation schedule were extremely organized, which makes me think that the town holds some sort of audition and regulation for their street art.

Courtyard with Street Musician

The tour began in the area around the Roman Baths and courtyard. The tour guide took us to the Abbey with its flying buttresses and pinacles and went into a short description of its history. One interesting item he pointed out was the creepy looking angels climbing ladders to and from heaven. Why would angels need a ladder? Isn’t that why they have wings? Major fail.

Creepy Crawlers on Bath Abbey

Bath has several natural spring bathing centers. The oldest are the Roman baths. They fell into disrepair and were eventually lost due to silting up. The Georgian’s had their baths as well. It was believed at the time that a quick dip in the water would cure you of what ails you. At first the baths were only used by the poor. They would hang onto the edges while people would walk by and throw trash at them. Later the aristocracy caught on. New and more private baths were built and it became a social thing to hang out in the waters. This is how Bath became a playground for the rich.

Today there is a new and modern spa you can visit if you feel left out of the Georgian times. It’s very sleek and owned by the local government.

Roman Baths - Sorry, not very appealing for a swim

Finally, someone was going to explain to me what a Pump Room is. The characters in Northanger Abbey are forever parading around it flirting and gossiping and it’s hard to visualize all the galavanting when you are lost for the reference.

Basically it’s a room with a pump in it. You can drink from the warm spring that fills the Roman baths. I’ve been told the water tastes disgusting. Today you can also eat in their snazzy restaurant.

Pump Room

Bath owes a lot to Jane Austen for publicizing its history and atmosphere. As we walked along and through the streets, she was constantly being referenced and her house was pointed out to us. Another thing that was pointed out was the oddness of the windows around town. Very often the window frames existed without actually windows in them or the windows were placed suspiciously close to one another. This is because in Georgian times windows carried a special tax. The citizens of the day found every loop hole they could to not pay the tax. The consequences of these loop holes are still visible today.

Window Taxes are for Suckers!

We cut through a walkway that was used by the Georgians to avoid peasants and horses. I could envision walking through here in a large hoop dress speaking very politely yet long-winded  to the lords and generals about the latest betrothing.

Taking a stroll away from the horses and peasants

We were led to the Royal Crescent where local kids were playing soccer and lounging in the sun. The unique and interesting architecture makes me want to dance along the roof from chimney to chimney Mary Poppins style.

 

Royal Crescent

We were then taken into a building and shown this spectacular ballroom. Once again being in the midst of Northanger Abbey put everything in perspective. I imagined Catherine Morland twirling about in dance while trying her best to avoid John Thorpe.

The Ballroom

The tour concluded so Josh and I made a quick viewing of the Fashion museum on our own. They were showcasing Princess Diana’s gowns and the evolution of her style. Although it wasn’t as extensive, this exhibit was the perfect compliment to the Grace Kelly Fashion Icon exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

We were then off to explore some more of the Roman baths. When we arrived at the entrance, there was a swarm of grade schoolers there for the tour as well. We took one look at the chaos in front of us and decided to save it for the next time we were in Bath. We poked our head into Bath Abbey instead and then headed off to dinner.

Inside Bath Abbey

Post dinner Josh wanted to check out the Bizarre Bath comedy walk. I was skeptical, but game. My skepticism was warranted as the £8 walk turned out to be comparable to an hour and a half long street comic you might see in any touristy town center. Good on them for being organized. I doubt most street performers are that lucrative and the people around me seemed to be enjoy themselves.

I did enjoy views of the River Avon as the comic performed a stunt involving a locked up stuffed rabbit toy being thrown into the water. Bath really is picturesque.

Along the River Avon

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It was the day of the Queen’s birthday parade and Joanna and I had been up the night before drinking too many bottles of wine and playing music videos which quickly turned into singing and dancing along to music videos. Our respective significant others were out of town, her kids were at grandma’s house and it all seemed a little necessary.

She was up early the next day to get her hair did and I was off to see the Queen. Kitschy yes, but I had to do it.

I put myself on the tube and headed down towards St James Park. I spotted some slightly hungover American girls across from me, and in British tradition, did not strike up a conversation or make eye contact during the ride. As soon as we were back in the sunshine and off towards the parade, I asked them if they were headed to see the Queen and if I could join them.

None of us knew where we were going but we figured anywhere with crowds was a good bet. Unfortunately, there were more crowds than we bargained for. We tried to position ourselves for the parade but had a very difficult time finding a place where we could actually see anything. We finally wedged ourselves into a spot with a partial view and waited. Every once in a while a horse or official looking person would march by and we’d get excited, but alas it was just a teaser.

“I’d pay about 10 quid for a cup of coffee right now” I moaned to one of the American girls. “Me too” she agreed.

Finally, some action.

Pomp and Circumstance

As we balanced from one tiptoe to the next, guards on horses, foot and with instruments passed by. “There’s Camilla!” someone shouted and I looked just in time to see her and one of the princes pass by in a carriage. Finally, the moment arrived and the queen was in sight.

The moment arrives.

I couldn’t help but be disappointed that she didn’t bother to wave or smile. She just sat there like a big grump being forced to be in a parade on her birthday when all she wanted to do was sleep in and eat pancakes.

I guess I can’t blame her – except that the birthday parade isn’t actually for her birthday at all. It’s a ceremony of British infantry regiments that has been going on since the 17th century. It’s held the second Saturday in June in St James Park and celebrates the beginning of the monarchy in it’s entirety.

The Queen’s actual birthday is April 21, 1926, making her a Taurus.

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