Monday, February 29, 2016

King's Cross Station and Lumiere London

King's Crossing/St Pancras train station

First up, happy leap year day!

Each time that I visit Europe, I see too many cathedrals and I start to miss the details when I visit them. However, I have never been able to get enough of the giant train stations. I'm not sure if I love the architecture or the idea that you see these places when you are about to go on an adventure, but I love them. Feel the hustle and bustle at New York's Grand Central station. Soak up the atmosphere at Denver's recently remodeled Union Station or just take a look at London's King's Crossing/St Pancras stations in the photos here.

The actual Harry Potter scene for boarding the Hogwarts Express was filmed somewhere along this King's Cross station wall.

Inside King's Cross station.

Fancy decorations or an architectural feat at King's Cross station.

After leaving Cambridge via King's Cross Station, KLS and I came back for Lumiere London, a 4 night light festival and a crowd control disaster. There were 30-40 light installations across the city for people to explore.  We had planned to walk along a route that would allow us take in at least 75% of them. Due to the volume of people in the streets, I think we only made it to 25% of the exhibits.

An exhibit setup like an old video gaming.

Watch the little men climb the building.

Some of the exhibits took up the entire side of a building while others were only in a single shop window. It was inspiring to see what some of the artists were able to create. It really seemed to get the city excited because SO many people were out in the overcrowded streets - adults, families, teenagers . . . everyone.

A classic British phone booth repurposed as an aquarium (photo stolen from the Internet).

The stereotype goes that the British love to form orderly lines and I saw nothing to dispute this until this night to refute that. Unfortunately, the breakdown of this stereotype led to our one big miss of the evening. In the previous photo, you'll see an aquarium inside a phone booth that was the single exhibit that I wanted to make sure to we saw. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the impatient crowds were partaking in some very not British behavior and they refused to form a proper queue (line). The safety and security personnel were overwhelmed and closed the entire exhibit. They found plywood and covered the phone booth so that not even a single beam of light was shining through, doubled security, and sent anyone looking to make a call on their way. Tear.

The very busy streets of London.

A close up of the exhibit over the intersection.

Changing colors.

Neon cartoon dogs!

The other exhibits we saw throughout the city were a treat and almost made up for the hunger in KLS' belly that needed to be satiated before she tried to eat my face off. The best part about this hunger is that even though KLS was crazy hungry, we still waited 30 minutes to get into Bibimbap for Korean food. It was on a list of best cheap eats that KLS found in London. While I waited in line, she went to get ice cream. When we got inside, it was like so many other of the cheap eat places we had been to that force themselves into smaller, less expensive spaces - maybe 15 feet across and 90 feet long. The kitchen was in full view to enhance the eating experience, but also to maximize seating room. Most of the seating was on bar stools facing the kitchen or the opposite wall without enough room to walk between the two without bumping jackets and purses. Maybe, there'd be a table at the front window or back of the restaurant. It was cheap and delicious.

The Corinthia Hotel in London near one of my favorite lunch parks, the Whitehall Gardens.

The London Eye at night.

Big Ben, the House of Commons, and the Palace of Westminster.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Cambridge



An inner quad of Christ College at Cambridge University.

Once again, KLS and I were out the door and on a train before the sun came to go to Cambridge for a day trip. Before arriving, Cambridge evoked images of a storied history, outstanding architecture, and a university steeped in tradition. It did not fail to deliver and is probably my favorite city in England. I love the college town feel.

KLS gleefully remembers her days as a young girl in Academia.

Another quad in Christ College.

Bikes parked along the River Cam walk.

Before we arrived, KLS had booked us a punting tour. When I found out how much they were, I balked. That reaction is exactly why KLS booked it in advance and it might have been the best thing we did in Cambridge. We had a guide who was finishing his studies up at the university that year. Along the way, he talked about the Cambridge-Oxford rivalry and why Cambridge is better no less than 45 times. I agree with our guide. While they both have the beautiful architecture, Cambridge seemed like a more tranquil spot for a nap, which is exactly what everyone student needs in a university. 

Houses across the River Cam.

Me.

KLS strolls through Jesus Green.

Back along the River Cam.

The back of a college.

For undergraduates, Cambridge is a three year university. When you apply, you apply to a single college. No matter what college you are accepted to, you pay the same tuition. Some colleges have larger individual endowments so they have nicer living facilities or have more prestige in certain areas. You take classes independent of what college you belong to - think of the the houses at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter world. Athletic competitions are also like Hogwarts where the inter-college competitions are more important than anything between universities, with the exception of when they compete against Oxford (in anything). 

Bridge of Sighs at St. John's College.

St. John's College.

A couple of my favorite moments of the day were when KLS showed a complete inability to understand the English accent. First, we were at a restaurant trying to find out if we could order food quickly before our punting tour. I'm still not quite sure what happened, but we ended up getting up to leave without any food and without a clear answer. Then, we went back to our punting tour. It had already left . . .  for the second time. Both times, we had arrived 'on time.' KLS had talked to the guy twice and had the time wrong.

The Wooden Bridge in Queens' College, also known as the Mathematical Bridge.

Queens' College dormitories.

King's College Chapel.

A willow tree hangs over the River Thames.

I think this is Queens' College again.

The Corpus Clock at Corpus Christi College was built in 2008 by Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking. On top of the clock sits the Chronophage, eater of time.

Bikes dominated the town.

A typical side street on a typical day.

Even though this entry is short, I can't recommend a visit to Cambridge enough. There is a ton of great stuff to see that we did not get to, including the Polar museum which has some great Antarctic exhibits. I told KLS she should go back to school there for a fifth degree so we can tryout living there.

The Grand Arcade market


A pub or care along the River Cam.


Thursday, February 18, 2016

London Pass - Day 2 - Windsor Castle, Globe Theater, HMS Belfast, and the Cutty Sark

KLS wasn't able to uproot this bear to take with her at Paddington Station. I think it was holding out for the Browns to come along.

Day 2 of the London Pass extravaganza had KLS and I out the door before the sun was up and riding the DLR train to Paddington Station so we could catch the first train out to Windsor Castle. Even though it is expensive and takes 30-45 minutes for us to get anywhere in London, I love the public transportation. The public transit options are second to none. The only negative part might be that the underground map isn't representative of the real world. It makes for an easier to read map, but it also might have a tourist taking 25 minutes of trains to some place they could have walked to in 5 minutes. Those of you with smart phones are probably saved from this fate.

King Henry III Tower at Windsor Castle

St. George's Gate and Kind Edward III Tower

The moat room entrance, King Edward III Tower, and Lancaster Tower in the back.

Windsor Castle is another official residence of the royal family that has been in use since the 11th century. It is longest occupied palace in Europe. It still is the preferred weekend home of Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning monarch. We didn't see her, but her presence might have explained why most of the castle was closed on this particular Sunday. We were only able to see the exterior and Queen Mary's Dolls' House.

The moat garden in front of King Edward III Tower

The Upper Ward quadrangle surrounded by Augusta Tower, York Tower, King George IV Gate, and Lancaster Tower.


St. George's Chapel

St. George's Chapel and Round Tower from the Lower Ward

One curious thing about the town of Windsor was the hundreds of road cyclists. It seemed like they took the train out from London, did a bit of biking, and then biked or took the train back to London. From the castle, you could see miles around and it was a beautiful area with numerous parks and green spaces, including the Eton school campus.

700 covered seats are available inside the current Globe Theater. There are also 700 standing room only seats on the ground, which are supposed to be some of the best seats in the house.

After napping on our train ride back into London, KLS and I set off for Shakespeare's Globe Theater on the south bank of the River Thames. It was originally built in 1599, but burned down in 1613. It was rebuilt again in 1614, but closed in 1642 when the government banned all theaters. The actor and director Sam Wanamaker visited London in 1949 and was astonished that there was no major monument to the Globe Theater. That propelled him to help launch the Shakespeare Globe Trust in 1970 which built a new Globe Theater and museum 750 feet from the original location. Sam Wanamaker died in 1993, but the theater was not completed until 1997. The current theater is used through out the warmer months to put on plays. Just like the original theater, you can sit in seats or be a groundling (stand).

The Globe Theater stage

The Tower Bridge again. KLS passed it every day on her way to work.

The 6 inch guns of the HMS Belfast fired shells weighing 112 lbs.

Our next stop was a visit to the HMS Belfast. This warship is permanently moored in the River Thames. The ship was used for active military service from 1939 (WWII) until 1963. It served as a bombardment vessel during D-Day.

The HMS Belfast's mannequins were so lifelike that they were a little creepy.

The HMS Belfast's mannequins were so lifelike that they were a little creepy.

The museum recreates life on the HMS Belfast while at sea with storyboards and mannequins. You get to see the working areas of the ship as well as the private quarters. You can move at your own speed through the ship, but only on their restricted pathways through the maze of the nine lower decks. KLS and I tried to make our own way at some point, but quickly ended up somewhere we had been earlier. While the ship was huge, the individual spaces were all very small. It was definitely worth a visit for military or ship buffs.

Machine shop photos for W. Tinus who worked in the machine shop in the US Navy

Machine shop photos for W. Tinus

Machine shop photos for W. Tinus

Our final stop on the London Pass would be the tea clipper Cutty Sark, the second vessel in the National Historic Fleet that we would be visiting that day. The Cutty Sark was one of the fastest ships built during its time (1869). Unfortunately, it was built just as steam ships were coming into use. After being used for 25 years to haul tea, mail, and then wool to/from Australia, the ship was sold to a Portuguese company. After 27 more years, a retired sea captain recognized the ship while it was in Falmouth, where KLS and I had visited during our New Year's trip. Captain Wilfred Dowman bought the ship and started to restore it to use it as a training ship. By 1954, the Cutty Sark was moved to dry dock in Greenwich, where it remains today. During its dry dock, the hull which made the ship so fast was slowly getting crushed so they remounted the ship in a custom dry dock that elevated the ship 3m in the area. At the time, this was a controversial conservation decision, but it does make for a unique museum.
The Cutty Sark

Inside the Cutty Sark museum

Tea boxes inside the Cutty Sark

A wooden and metal bicycle.

The metal rim of this bicycle could not have provided a very smooth ride.

The upper deck of the Cutty Sark

The cafe under the hull of the Cutty Sark

A lighted walkway marks the area there the first part of the hull will hit if it were to fall straight down.

The Cutty Sark dry dock museum

The Gipsy Moth pub, just astern of the Cutty Sark, is where KLS took me for my first London meal when I arrived.

A view from the Cutty Sark toward our flat (in the building just to the left of the most lit window)