Cardiff: St David’s Day Parade

St David is the patron saint of Wales, and every year on 1 March is his feast day. In the 18th century, it was declared a Welsh national day of celebration, and it’s kind of like Welsh Canada Day. (I realize that is an unbelievably touristy statement that completely ignores the religious and traditional significance of the day, as well as the sense of national identity in Wales that is distinct from its role in the UK, but when people are running about in dragon onesies, it’s the closest parallell I can draw.)

It really happened! Her friend had a daffodil bonnet and a dragon shirt, too.

It really happened! Her friend had a daffodil bonnet and a dragon shirt, too.

In 2014, 1 March fell on a Saturday, and I had tickets to the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales concert. It was broadcast live on BBC Radio Three, and was the world premiere of a specially commissioned piece featuring Celtic prayers. The performace was absolutely stunning, and worth every pound and pence I spent. The concert gave me the incentive to hop the train to Cardiff, and I had a really great weekend. I kicked off Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant (that’s St David’s Day in Welsh, which is a beautiful language) by heading to Cardiff City Hall to watch (and follow!) the parade.

All the big names in Wales, just waiting to begin.

All the big names in Wales, just waiting to begin.

The staging area for the parade participants was charmingly disorganized, and about half of the people milling about were neither performers nor family of, but just people like me who wanted to take a few snaps of the people and props up close before things kicked off.

The burlesque ladies get ready for the parade.

The burlesque ladies get ready for the parade.

And things did kick off – about 10 minutes late, mostly delayed by the fellow who was meant to rally the troops droning on a bit and getting rather confused about his role. Lots of the performers in the parade were really quite fantastic, and the pride and excitement in both the participants and the crowd got me all swept up in the excitement, and I wound up buying a Cymru (Wales) scarf and joining in the chanting and singing.

Love that scarf. CYMRU!

Love that scarf. CYMRU!

It turns out if you put a Canadian girl down in Oxford she’ll listen to Radio Four and lurk around in the Bodleian Libraries, and if you then pick her up and put her down in Wales, she’ll drink Brains beer (it’s a real thing) and shout at the rugby on telly. Anyhow, back to the parade.

Welsh flag red dragon

The Welsh flag is bloody fantastic – green and white with a big red dragon on it, it lends itself wonderfully to costumes and facepaint, which was taken advantage of with great effect by both performers and spectators.

St David's cross

St David’s cross

The flag of St David, however, is a yellow cross on a black field, and was used rather sparingly in the celebrations. The two national emblems of Wales were well-represented, though: the daffodil was by far and away the most popular (being in season in March helps), though there were plenty of leeks (St David’s personal symbol) pinned to lapels.

Dancers dressed as daffodils. Fun fact: in Welsh, leeks are called “Cenhinen” and daffodils are “Cenhinen Pedr”, which means “Peter's leek”. Now you know!

Dancers dressed as daffodils. Fun fact: in Welsh, leeks are called “Cenhinen” and daffodils are “Cenhinen Pedr”, which means “Peter’s leek”. Now you know!

A jumping dragon on bouncy stilts. Way cooler than it sounds (or looks.)

A jumping dragon on bouncy stilts. Way cooler than it sounds (or looks.)

Pipers...piping.

Pipers…piping.

All kitted out in traditional Welsh dress for the St David's Day parade.

All kitted out in traditional Welsh dress for the St David’s Day parade.

What's new, pussy cat? Famous Welsh singer Sir Thomas John Woodward, OBE (better known as Tom Jones) joins the Cardiff St David's Day parade.

What’s new, pussy cat? Famous Welsh singer Sir Thomas John Woodward, OBE (better known as Tom Jones) joins the Cardiff St David’s Day parade.

St David himself!

St David himself!

The saint gets a bit of a hand.

The saint gets a bit of a hand.

Some people joined up to the end of the parade and followed it all the way around to Cardiff Castle, and I originally planned to do this, but changed my mind when I spotted the cobbled streets on the route. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t get the hang of walking on cobbles. Even in running shoes I’m apt to turn an ankle, to say nothing of heels or even my cute black flats. I don’t know how the horses did it when cobbles were common – if I’d been drawing a cart back then, it would have been all over the road before you could say “go home horse, you’re drunk.”

Waiting for the St David's Day parade to arrive at Cardiff Castle.

Waiting for the parade to arrive at Cardiff Castle.

I cut the route short and headed over to Cardiff Castle, which was offering free admission on St David’s Day. It was also the endpoint of the parade, as well, and rumour had it that there would be a short open-air concert. Sure enough, once the tail end of the parade made it inside the walls, there was a national anthem singlaong (which I could not, of course, participate in as I have no idea how the Welsh national anthem runs (I can do “God Save the Queen”, though)), and then some performances from some of the groups in the parade.

Singing the national anthem in front of the castle.

Singing the national anthem in front of the castle.

The old castle up on the hill, surrounded by moat.

The old castle up on the hill, surrounded by moat.

I wandered around the castle a bit, but I had seriously underestimated the numbers of people who would take advantage of the free admission, and after getting lost in a WW2 bunker and caught in a tour group from Japan, I bid farewell to Cardiff Castle and got on with my day.

A quick update

Oxford has been fun and busy and scary lately, and there are a few things to mention.

The Museum of Natural History. More on this soon.

The Museum of Natural History. More on this soon.

I have been a terrible blogger, but things will get better soon! I have promised that before, but you should definitely believe me this time. This is the same reason I continue to buy Proactiv.

  1. I quit my job! It wasn’t working out well for anyone, so I gave 5 weeks of notice to help them transition, and to help me transition, too. I had a week of unemployment, then landed a job with an immediate start date.
  2. I cat-sat for one of my old co-workers and it reminded me of how much I love animals. That combined with stumbling across a riding school in my area makes me think that you might be hearing about me taking a few riding lessons in the near future (or me getting evicted for having a cat.)
  3. I signed up for a 10km run in mid-May, and have been running 3 times a week with one or both of my housemates (who have also signed up for the race). I am the slowest by far.

In non-Leslie news, Benedict Cumberbatch played Rumpole in two radio plays on BBC Radio Four. I literally have nothing more to say.

5 Days in London: Day Five

Planned Itinerary:
Morning Victoria and Albert Museum, Albert Memorial, Royal Albert Hall
Lunch at Harrods
Afternoon Tate Gallery

Reality:
It rained on Day Five, which made it a good day to descend to the Underground. We hopped the Tube to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which was fantastic – you don’t even have to leave the corridors of the station to get into the museum! The walkways were crowded with small children, and I had a moment of fear with flashbacks to the horrible schoolkid crush in the Egyptian mummy room at the British Museum, but all was well – they were headed to the Science Museum. When you emerge from the underground tunnels and into the V&A you surface at the back of the gift shop (I know, the number of gift shops in this series has been staggering), so you don’t immediately see the stunning curlicues of the Dale Chihuly chandelier in the entrance rotunda. My parents love Chihuly’s work (even my father, who apparently independently went to a Chihuly show with one of his friends…colour my family surprised), so my mom hung out there for a while.

The Dale Chihuly chandelier in the V&A entrance rotunda. I can't help thinking it would be a real pain to clean.

The Dale Chihuly chandelier in the V&A entrance rotunda. I can’t help thinking it would be a real pain to clean.

The Victoria & Albert Museum is an interesting and odd mix of things. There was an 80s “catwalk to club” exhibition on, but we stuck to the less neon-coloured area, where there were stone carvings and other bits and bobs from all different times and places. The Beckett Casket is at the V&A, but you wouldn’t know it was a major attraction from how difficult it is to find. In general I found the layout of the museum a bit tough to navigate, mostly due to the linked arrangement of the rooms and less-than-abundant signage. We did eventually locate the Beckett Casket, but I had to ask a staff member (whose directions were less than accurate, to boot.)

The Beckett Casket. It is not a coffin, as I was expecting, but a little box just slightly larger than a bread box. Go figure.

The Beckett Casket. It is not a coffin, as I was expecting, but a little box just slightly larger than a bread box. Go figure.

I have a particular fondness for busts (the sculptural kind, not the anatomical sort), and the V&A has a fantastic collection. I took photos of far too many to list here, but they ranged from the superb and famous to the obscure.

Lady Catherine Stepney carved as Cleopatra with the asp around her right arm. Lady Stepney was a writer and socialite, but I have no idea why she was depicted as Cleopatra. That seems like a detail someone should have added to the plaque.

Lady Catherine Stepney carved as Cleopatra with the asp around her right arm. Lady Stepney was a writer and socialite, but I have no idea why she was depicted as Cleopatra. That seems like a detail someone should have added to the plaque.

There were some interesting things at the V&A, I can’t deny that. It is definitely another one of those museums where you find something new and odd each time you go. Perhaps the weirdest thing we found was a corner where you could try on replica priest’s robes from a variety of periods of the C of E. Fun fact: when I was in high school (and again in university, and again less than 6 days ago), every time I took one of those career aptitude tests, it would come out with ordained clergy, funeral director, and stunt person (though not always in that order.)

very clerical VIctoria and Albert Museum

I think I look quite…clerical. I was quite disappointed that there was no Pope hat. I would have quite liked to try on a Pope hat (or a Bishop hat, or an Archbishop hat, I’m bi-hatisan.)

After the V&A we decided to stop off at London’s shrine to consumerism that is Harrod’s. Once a favourite shopping destination of Diana, Princess (ex-Princess?) of Wales, the store has decended into farce. We skipped the cosmetics, fragrance, and clothing departments and went straight to the Egyptian Escalator. It is…dimly lit so photos were difficult to take. It is also patently ridiculous. Now, I like dead people stuff as much as the next person (more – I like it more), but at the bottom of the escalator was a truly bizarre tribute to Diana and Dodi. Sure, I remember where I was when I heard the news that she was dead (my generation’s JFK? I think Millenials are too young for that – our JFK was 9/11), but this was some crazy weird s#&t.

I could not be persuaded to pose in front of it. Too weird, even for me. And yes, the photo of Diana is that weird one where she is laying on her hands.

I could not be persuaded to pose in front of it. Too weird, even for me. And yes, the photo of Diana is that weird one where she is laying on her hands.

We cruised through the toy department, but unlike Hamley’s I found it quite crass and a bit overwhelming. I mean, you can buy your kid a Range Rover to drive around in for just £38,000! What child wouldn’t be thrilled? Absolutely ridiculous, and gross to be perfectly honest.

The Lego doorman was pretty cool, though.

The Lego doorman was pretty cool, though.

The food hall is immense, and just about everything was well out of our price range. A £5 donut? Sure, the frosting reads “Harrod’s”, but a fiver for a donut?! I had originally suggested that we have lunch at Harrod’s, but as we read the menus of the various restaurant areas (the seafood shack, the steakhouse, the sushi bar), it looked like we were going to have to find somewhere else. Suddenly I remembered spotting a pizza joint outside one of the (many!) Harrod’s gift shops (yes, gift shops inside the store where everything was Harrod’s branded). Surely we could afford pizza! So we sat in the prosecco bar and ate pizza from Harrod’s.

Yup, Harrod's has a whole bar of prosecco. My mom was in heaven!

Yup, Harrod’s has a whole bar of prosecco. My mom was in heaven!

 

That might be the most expensive bottle of Diet Coke in the world at £4.75!

That might be the most expensive bottle of Diet Coke in the world at £4.75!

I never made it to the Tate. I was London-ed out. I hopped the Oxford Tube bus back home, and my mom headed back to the hotel to get ready for a few more days in London.

5 Days in London: Day Four

Planned Itinerary:
8:00am Queue for National Theatre tickets (opens at 9:30, line up as early as possible)
Morning Oxford Street and Covent Garden
Afternoon at the British Museum
7:00pm King Lear at the National Theatre if we’re very lucky!

Reality:
Day Four started with a wake-up call from my mother. She hasn’t woken me up since I was a child, and I felt quite childish grumbling “5 more minutes” and burying my head further under the duvet. (Never mind that I do the same routine with “snooze” every morning – that is private!) I eventually emerged from the covers, though, because we had some serious business to attend to – purchasing day tickets for the National Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s “King Lear”. I took a book with me, Mom entertained herself with her phone. I was, admittedly, far more excited about this than her – I have a real soft spot for Shakespeare, and every time I go to a production I’ve never seen before, I buy the play to commemorate it. I am slowly working my way through his body of work (I have read them all, via libraries, but have seen only about 2/3, and thus only own 2/3.) King Lear was a first for me, so I now own a copy of the play purchased at the National Theatre bookstore (I also bought a book about death because I am cool like that.)

We managed to get tickets and found a nice warm place to eat a big breakfast. That nice warm place just happened to be in Covent Garden. Now, we were there before the market opened, so we dawdled around a bit, and maybe it is better on the weekends, with lots of people, but it was distinctly underwhelming. Overpriced tourist tat, trendy “locavore”-type fancy organic food far out of my grocery budget, luxury brand storefronts, and stalls with ridiculously over-priced craft fair stuff. There was, however, an odd little toy shop there that I fully plan to return to, so all was not lost.

Me in a hat. Blimey it was cold!

Me in a hat. Blimey it was cold!

From there we went to the National Gallery. There were…a lot of paintings. I quite enjoyed the Van Gogh “Sunflowers” exhibit. My mother rolled her eyes so far back in her head when I told her about the Doctor Who episode that I genuinely believed they might stick like that. I did love the paintings, though. I usually don’t like paintings (or pictures, or clothes) with a lot of yellow and orange in them, but you can just feel the sun that grew those plants warming you through the canvas. I realize that sounds completely ridiculous, but I don’t know how else to explain it. Mom followed Rick Steves’ quickie tour, hitting most of the highlights, until we both got mind-numbingly bored and decided some fresh air and a wander back to the hotel was in order.

I can only take so much art before my brain shuts off and I find myself shuffling from one room to the next like a shackled chain-ganger. Fortunately, my mom is the same, so I didn;t have to suffer long past my boredom point. I wish I could stare at art for hours, devour the whole gallery in one go, but NOPE. Not for me. Fortunately, 2 years is enough time for a few repeat visits to churn through the place in total.

After the National Gallery we meandered about, pointing out buildings and window-shopping tacky tourist shops. Later that afternoon we took the Tube under the Thames River (!) and had dinner at a tiny hole-in-the-wall Italian place just up the road from the National Theatre. The serving staff were oddly clustered in a line staring at the door when we came in (the place was empty at the time), and it was rather bizarre and intimidating, but the food was decent and not too expensive, and we got to the play on time. The performance itself was great. The mid-50s costumes were fantastic, and my mom quite enjoyed the fact that snacking throughout the performance is not limited to mass-appeal musicals, but is also very much a thing with the “highbrow” crowd. I personally delighted in the thought that the people just two rows in front of us had paid much, much more for their tickets and purchased them far in advance (the show was sold out), while we had braved a chill and gotten in for a third of the price.

The next day would be my last, though only Mom’s third-to-last. I have to say, we didn’t argue much, but the charm of sleeping in the same tiny room and walking around all day with my mom was starting to wear a bit thin, so the timing was about right.

5 Days in London: Day Three

Itinerary:
2:30pm: “Wicked” matinee at Apollo Victoria Theatre (there were rumblings about a Tube strike, so I left the day as empty as possible)

Reality:
We got up early (well, early-ish…sometime around 9am – vacations rule) and walked over to Buckingham Palace. I hope people who live in London realize how freaking awesome it is that they can just GO LOOK AT THE QUEEN’S HOUSE. Sorry about the all-caps, that’s just how strongly I feel about it. So yes, we walked to Buck House and scouted out some possible places to watch the changing of the guard from. The original plan had been to watch it from the steps of the statue, but we were there early enough that I suggested we get right up against the fence. Anyone who knows me will tell you I panic in crowds, so this might not have been the best idea I’ve ever had.

The changing of the guards itself was…underwhelming. After watching the Horseguards do it with plumed helmets, swords, and horses on Monday, a bunch of blokes stomping about with guns accompanied by 2 duelling marching bands wasn’t quite what I expected. (I made a “Battle of the Bands” joke, if you’re curious. There were either no English-speaking tourists near me, or nobody with a sense of humour, because I didn’t even get a smirk.) It just seemed really touristy and a bit over-the-top. The basics of the procedure were similar to the changing I saw in Oslo, Norway, but the bands obscured the practical bit of it, and the resulting experience just seemed too pageant-y for my liking. I love touristy stuff, but hate feeling like a tourist. Life is hard, y’all.

I got bored of the bands after a while, and we ended up leaving before the whole song and dance was over. Mom didn’t mind – she saw the changing of the guards back in the days before the guards marched about with alarmingly large guns and such (I promised not to reveal the actual date, lest a mathematically-minded reader suss out her true age.) I took no photos of the guards, because I keep doing this weird thing where I experience live through my eyes and not on a screen, then come home and curse my stupidity when I realize I have no photos for the blog. Life is hard, y’all. We did take a photo of me with the Palace in the background, though, so all is not lost.

Buckingham Palace in the background

Having passed the Queen’s Mews previously (and immediately looked up the hours of opening, of course), we returned to take a peek around the barns. There was a free audio tour, which we both took, and which resulted in the following ridiculous photograph.

at the Queen's Mews audio tour

There were beautiful carriages (with all of the back story on each), lovely cars, and (most importantly) horses! My mother enjoyed the carriages, I enjoyed the horses, and we both learned that the royal chauffeurs never get out of the car to open the doors for their passenger(s). Instead, someone outside the car must open the door, as the chauffeur’s job is to remain invisible. Weird and true. There was just so much horse-related awesomeness that I am not sure where to start.

Just out practicing the whole horse and carriage thing, cool as you please.

Just out practicing the whole horse and carriage thing, cool as you please.

The audio info was fantastic, and included a lot of information about how the horses are trained, why the Queen’s carriages use postillion driving (where there is a rider on one of the horses in the team – it makes driving a large team much easier), and how they identify which horses will be best for the duty.

This is the actual Gold State Coach that took Queen Elizabeth the Second to the Coronation. It is massive and incredibly beautiful in person. It is done up with models of horses and drivers, which is a bit weird, but nothing can take away from those amazing carvings.

This is the actual Gold State Coach that took Queen Elizabeth the Second to the Coronation. It is massive and incredibly beautiful in person. It is done up with models of horses and drivers, which is a bit weird, but nothing can take away from those amazing carvings.

Because I cannot get enough of horses (and because my mother is endlessly patient), we then visited the Horseguards Museum. We learned about a very interesting group of soldiers (they’re not called a group, they’re actually the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment), and I immediately decided on a career change. This is what I would look like if I chose to join the army:

leslie in the army

I can make that joke now because there is no hope of me ever being recruited to the Household Cavalry – they only take men. I would also need a minimum of indefinite leave to remain in the UK, though they claim to recruit “throughout the Commonwealth.” Given the extreme difficulty of obtaining such a visa status these days, they might want to update that sign.

This is what is referred to as a "farrier's axe." When horses carried soldiers into war, they died along with their riders. The spike could be used to end the life of a suffering horse, and the axe side was used to chop off a hoof, as the cavalry registered horses with numbers on their hooves, so they needed the hooves of the dead ones to update their register. So...a very practical tool.

This is what is referred to as a “farrier’s axe.” When horses carried soldiers into war, they died along with their riders. The spike could be used to end the life of a suffering horse, and the axe side was used to chop off a hoof, as the cavalry registered horses with numbers on their hooves, so they needed the hooves of the dead ones to update their register. So…a very practical tool.

I’d bought tickets for “Wicked” at the Apollo Victoria Theatre on 12 February well in advance, because I wanted to take Mom to a West End musical. The theatre isn’t in the West End, but the price was right, and it was a show that I really wanted to see. If you haven’t seen it, BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW. Without giving too much away, we really need more big musicals where the two leads are women. What a fabulous curtain call – two women, front and center, and one was green. (It’s a great show. I have more than one of the songs on my iPod in heavy rotation.)

how Wicked

By the time the show was over, it was time for dinner and then back to our lovely pink hotel for some Olympics and early to bed – Day Four involved some early rising!

5 Days in London: Day Two

Planned Itinerary:
Morning: National Gallery
Lunch at the National Gallery
Afternoon: Piccadilly Circus/Soho
3:30pm: Surprise event!

Reality:
Let’s start at the British Museum…a very good place to start! The entryway is absolutely stunning. I can’t recall what they call that central rotunda, but wow. Of course, on a weekday it is full of children in school uniforms, but we set off in the opposite direction and figured that would be good. I don’t want to bore you with hundreds of pictures (I have 212 from the British Museum alone!) because I am trying to provide a general overview of what we did in 5 days, but I can’t resist putting in a few.

The central atrium area.

The central atrium area.

That's me with the Rosetta Stone! Yeah, okay, it is a replica that they have precisely for photos like this. But me! And the Stone!

That’s me with the Rosetta Stone! Yeah, okay, it is a replica that they have precisely for photos like this. But me! And the Stone!

This is a cat. With an earring. And a nose ring, and she wants you to respect her alternative lifestyle choices. It's the Gayer-Anderson cat, and a bronze from a temple that probably represents the goddess Bastet. Apparently cas were not just pets, but could be the earthly form of Egyptian gods. Yup, the gods came to hang out as cats. Those gods knew exactly what was going on. This also explains the attitudes of most cats.

This is a cat. With an earring. And a nose ring, and she wants you to respect her alternative lifestyle choices. It’s the Gayer-Anderson cat, and a bronze from a temple that probably represents the goddess Bastet. Apparently cas were not just pets, but could be the earthly form of Egyptian gods. Yup, the gods came to hang out as cats. Those gods knew exactly what was going on. This also explains the attitudes of most cats.

Yup, it's a casket/coffin. I really will do a death compilation post one day.

Yup, it’s a casket/coffin. I really will do a death compilation post one day. 

It's a tomb. I'M SORRY MOM, I just like dead people stuff. It's a reconstruction of a tomb from the Middle Bronze Age, and was excavated in Jericho, and was used in the Early Bronze Age IV period to bury 7 people (only 6 of them died at the same time, the seventh body was a later addition.)

It’s a tomb. I’M SORRY MOM, I just like dead people stuff. It’s a reconstruction of a tomb from the Middle Bronze Age, and was excavated in Jericho, and was used in the Early Bronze Age IV period to bury 7 people (only 6 of them died at the same time, the seventh body was a later addition.)

British museum Elgin Marbles

A look down the Parthenon exhibit at the British Museum. The friezes along the walls are part of the infamous Elgin Marbles. If you’re not familiar with the term, or the recent resurgence of interest in their repatriation to Greece, the Encyclopedia Brittanica has a good overview of their original removal from Greece, the Telegraph explains one argument for keeping them in the British Museum, and Live Science offers a pretty decent chunk quoted from a statement from the Greek government. This random website has a pretty good essay on the whole thing, as well.

After the British Museum (don’t worry, we went to the gift shop, too – we just didn’t buy anything, though I was seriously tempted by the Rosetta Stone stress balls), we wandered in the direction of Piccadilly Circus via a giant toy store. Unconfirmed reports indicate that we bought a pink teddy bear while there. The subject of this report is NOT currently sitting next to me, and is NOT named “Cherry” after our hotel in London. I cannot stress enough how untrue this is.

Outside Hamley's toy store...it has something like 6 floors, and it is all just plastic and glitter and toys and madness.  This photo was taken by a guy dressed up as a nutcracker-style toy solider.

Outside Hamley’s toy store…it has something like 6 floors, and it is all just plastic and glitter and toys and madness. This photo was taken by a guy dressed up as a nutcracker-style toy solider.

Piccadilly Circus: The statue of Eros, surrounded by temporary fencing.

Piccadilly Circus: The statue of Eros, surrounded by temporary fencing.

Diet Coke ad Piccadilly Circus

The giant Diet Coke ad on the opposite corner was…overpowering, to say the least, to say nothing of the moving ads on the board as a whole. I would definitely get distracted and crash my car or hit a pedestrian. This is why I will never drive in London.

We stopped in at a bookstore before meandering on to the dizzying tea/fancy stuff emporium that is Fortnum & Mason. This was en route to our 3:30pm “surprise event” (a surprise only to my mother, as I hd arranged it). She got excited thinking that it was going to be tea at F&M, but alas, it was only…TEA AT THE RITZ. I would highly recommend it, lots of sandwiches (they even come by with refills!) and the scones are great. They really do shuffle people through quite efficiently, but I did not feel rushed one bit. Not pictured: the young woman at a table near us wearing a shirt with a sheer back, which left the back of her bra on display for all to see. I was more traumatized by this than my mother, which gives you an idea of how “get off my lawn” I am at the tender young age of 26 (going on 87).

It was ever so lovely.

It was ever so lovely.

After tea, we hopped a bus back to the hotel (I bought Oyster cards in advance, best idea ever), and that was more or less the end of the day.

5 Days in London: Day One

So my mother and I went to London. Other than Heathrow, Stansted, and a hockey rink, I had not spent any time in London. I was (and still am, though less so now) afraid of the city. So big! Public transport with hundreds of thousands of other people! All the rushing about! Getting lost!

Well, Mom and I got lost a bit (mostly her fault, but not helped by my grousing) and the world didn’t end. Without further ado, I give you…day one of a 5 day London tour.

Planned Itinerary:
Morning: Westminster Abbey and Parliament
Afternoon: Churchill War Rooms, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square

Reality:
Wandered over to Buckingham Palace (did I mention our hotel had a killer location?) and mused about how to find the Horseguards Arch. We even asked a policeman (wearing a “bobby” helmet–I love this country). Started walking in the direction he pointed, then heard hoofbeats. Turned around and realized the Horseguards were coming right alongside us. Guess we were headed in the right direction! I promptly took off to walk alongside them with that weird horse girl gait that looks like you’re just sauntering along but you are somehow hauling ass. I cannot replicate this stride when I am running late or chasing a bus, but put a horse beside me and watch me make tracks! My mom the veteran half-marathon walker was left behind, but caught up with us at the Horseguards’ Parade, where I was watching the changing of the guards.

Horseguards Parade helmets and plumes oh my

On horses! They change guards on horseback! Swords and helmet plumes ahoy!

Two mounted Metropolitan Police officers accompanied the Horseguards – both women. Their horses were actually calmer and better behaved than the Horseguards' mounts.

Two mounted Metropolitan Police officers accompanied the Horseguards – both women. Their horses were actually calmer and better behaved than the Horseguards’ mounts.

After cruising through the Horseguards gift shop (be forewarned: there are a lot of gift shops on this trip), Mom and I cruised up towards Whitehall. We caught our first sight of London’s most iconic structure, Big Ben.

That is technically incorrect – Big Ben is the name of the bell in the tower. The tower was renamed “Elizabeth Tower” in 2012. Prior to that it was called “Clock Tower”. Have I mentioned I love the Brits?

Big Ben is actually the name of the bell in the tower. The tower itself was renamed “Elizabeth Tower” in 2012. Prior to that it was called “Clock Tower”. Have I mentioned I love the Brits?

So we saw the tower, and the banks of the Thames with the London Eye. We spent a ridiculous amount of time starting at the Eye, trying to work out if it was moving or not. (It was. Very, very slowly.) We discussed my great love of ferris wheels and the related complete inability to walk past one without riding it. We didn’t go! This is something I need to rectify in the future because GIANT FERRIS WHEEL. And, you know, unparallelled views of London. But mostly the ferris wheel thing.

The London Eye is really just a gigantic ferris wheel

We wound up in Trafalgar Square (the fourth plinth is still a big blue rooster, and I made the obligatory Boris Johnson joke), with Canada House on the one side. Being Canadian, we took photos outside (which are trapped in my mother’s phone on another continent, naturally), then walked around the corner to see where to go in. I didn’t expect a big lavish lobby with plaid chesterfields, moose taxidermy trophies, hockey stick chairs, and Newfie-accented blokes offering Molson Canadian bubba kegs around, but I did expect more than a closet-sized room with a British fellow sitting on a stool who looked quite annoyed to have visitors. Times are tight, but as a Canadian overseas, I had hoped that in case of disaster, I wouldn’t have to walk into a closet, tell a grumpy fellow I was in trouble, then wait standing on the other side of the metal detector while he disappeared. We were admitted to a small room for an art exhibition, but we weren’t offered the sheet with the information about each piece, and it was repeated several times in a rather unnecessarily dramatic fashion that we were not to leave that room (there was nowhere to go without breaking down a door or possessing a swipe card, so I suppose he was concerned that we were planning to disapparate Harry Potter-style [always a concern when dealing with people from Oxford]). Some old British fellow using an umbrella as a cane came in with 2 high-ranking Canadian Naval officers. Pretty nice posting, if you can get it. Old guy was there to give a speech – I took his photo with the intention of using my reference and Google ninja skills to find out who he was. I lost interest before ever starting. Looking at the photo now, I think he is definitely related to Mr Magoo. Look at the nose and cheeks!

Mr Magoo

We poked our noses into the National Gallery, sussing out the best entrance to use to get directly into the line to see Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”. Uh, we didn’t actually go in, just looked at the queue. We also…went to the gift shop. I KNOW. (We didn’t buy anything at either shop, which makes us either really weird, or really cheap. I can’t tell.) Then it was back out the door and down the road to…Clock Tower. (I die, for reals.) En route my mom looked pensively out over the river, and I discovered that you don’t even need to visit my beloved Oxford to buy a souvenir sweatshirt.

Mom looking out over the Thames

Bottom left...come SEE Oxford! You'll love it!

Bottom left…come SEE Oxford! You’ll love it!

Unfortunately, Westminster Palace, the seat of the House of Commons, is not open to mere mortals like Mom and I. Tours only run on Saturdays (what the…?), and you have to queue for insane lengths of time to get in at 2:30pm on sitting days to get into the public gallery. We decided we weren’t that excited about the whole thing, so that is something still on my list of things to do. (I can’t help it, I always need to poke my nose into the corridors of power (HAH!) everywhere I go – it’s a legacy of my geeky high school job working as a page at the Legislature of Alberta.)

This is me just before I nearly got run over by a car. Apparently I was standing in the middle of a road. Oops.

This is me just before I nearly got run over by a car. Apparently I was standing in the middle of a road. Oops. In my defense, it did not look like a road.

Next up was the nearby Westminster Abbey, site of the Wills and Kate Royal Wedding, and lots of other important stuff. The £18 entry fee was a bit steep, so we headed around the side to the Cloisters, which are totally free to enter, and still quite interesting. I could write about all the epitaphs on the stones for days (cemetery special series, anyone?), but I’ll save it for a rainy day.

In person it is absolutely stunning, and none of my photos do it justice.

In person it is absolutely stunning, and none of my photos do it justice.

The view along the cloisters.

The view along the cloisters.

After a day of walking and picture-taking we headed back to the hotel, and I fell into the deep sleep of the person who is not used to saying “oh! Look at that!” 20-30 times in one day. I think we might have watched some Sochi Olympics, but I was dead pretty fast.

Up next: Day Two!

Double Gold for Canada!

I confess that I fell asleep during the women’s gold medal final–no comment on the talent on the ice, but I was quite sick last week and was surprised I managed two periods before the cough medicine knocked me out! I watched the rest the next day and was so pleased to see my long-time hero Hayley Wickenheiser out there, still playing with the world’s best.

That's me with Hayley Wickenheiser in 2008, when I met her while working for the UBC Thunderbirds.

That’s me with Hayley Wickenheiser in 2008, when I met her while working for the UBC Thunderbirds. She’d just played a tough game, but still hung around for nearly 90 minutes signing autographs and taking photos with fans (and most of the T-Birds staff, too!)

For the men’s gold medal game, the Oxford Blues men’s ice hockey team booked the upper room in the St Aldates Tavern, complete with dedicated bartender, who did quite a brisk business pulling pints. The team did a great job of promoting the event through Facebook and word-of-mouth, and the room filled up pretty quickly. I wore my official Team Canada jersey (thanks Mom and Dad!), and I was far from alone in my sartorial choices.

The Team Canada Olympic mittens and scarves were popular picks, as were the old-style Hockey Canada jerseys.

The Team Canada Olympic mittens and scarves were popular picks, as were the old-style Hockey Canada jerseys.

As much fun as standing on my bed screaming at a laptop screen had been (ice hockey was not always covered on regular BBC TV channels, but was always available on their online streams), it was so much better to be shouting with a crowd. “Shoot, you blasted fool” just sounds so much better when drowned out by other people shouting similar things.

Watching the final bobsleigh runs during the first intermission.

Watching the final bobsleigh runs during the first intermission.

The third period begins! As well as something behind me, apparently.

The third period begins! That’s the Blues “team mom” Roderick Lubbock (don’t tell him I call him that) in the white jersey with the “A”. The amount of work the Blues put in off the ice to succeed in sport isn’t limited to conditioning–they sell tickets, design posters, promote events, manage the club budget, book travel for all of their away games, book rink time, and manage the non-profit foundation that will hopefully help continue the team in the future. Did I mention that they’re also smart enough to be students at the University of Oxford?

 

The gold medal, of course, was just the icing on the cake.

Two Ladies in London*

As I wrote last week, I was in London 9 to 14 February with my mom, who was visiting the UK (and me!) for 10 days. It was a very whirlwind tour of London, but a fantastic introduction to the capital for me, a chronically nervous person who vastly prefers the quiet hustle of Oxford to big–city excitement. Living in Prince George after Vancouver confirmed for me that I enjoy visiting the big cities, but wouldn’t want to live in one. London just might be a city that could change my mind!

Mom and I rode the Oxford Tube coach to Oxford, and I returned the same way (Mom left via Heathrow). I slept through the ride there, and worked on some stuff for the Oxford Blues ice hockey team on the way back, so I can mostly comment only that the internet worked! After some navigational confusion, we made it from the Victoria coach stop to the Cherry Court Hotel, which was both reasonably priced (for central London) and brilliantly located, right down the road from the Victoria Underground and rail stations. It was also…pink.

20140213_054900

The hotel also put us a hop and a skip away from St George’s Tavern, which we adopted as our temporary local. If I had a chance, I would happily relocate that pub to down the road from me, because they made decent food and had good beer. Not wild about their downstairs “dining room”, as you can’t get service worth a darn, but the tomato and cheddar soup was delicious.

I went to sleep pretty early on the Sunday, having been up all night on Saturday with hockey (love you, Oxford Blues!) and up early that morning for church. Monday came quickly, and we hit the ground running (walking). My mom tossed out my carefully planned itinerary immediately (stress!) and we went from there.

 

*Not to be confused with A Lady in London, who is a much better photographer and blogger than me, and who has just gotten her British citizenship—congratulations, Lady!

Leslie in London

My mother and I are in London this week, so next week will be full of posts with lovely pictures. I have no good excuse for why I did not plan ahead for this week, except laziness. More consistent posting in my future! Definitely. Maybe.

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