Sunday, April 20, 2014

Spring Break, London: Day THREE

Our last day in London was (surprise!) a busy one!  We got up, had another awesome breakfast at the hotel, then headed to the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square. 

The museum had an exhibit of two of Van Gogh's sunflower paintings.  They were almost identical, except for a few small variations, and there were placards that explained the significance of each...very cool.  We saw Matisse, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Picasso, Pisarro, and the works of many other master painters and sculptors.

After a few hours in the museum, we walked around Trafalgar Square for a little while.  It was very crowded, but very cool...the lions around the tower...the busts of famous Britains...and a big blue chicken.  OF COURSE, I liked the chicken best!!!!

After taking all we could stand of endless groups of high school students on tours, we headed toward the Thames to walk through the embankment area...lots of green space, flowers, shops, and void of high schoolers, in general.

We walked across the Thames on the Jubilee Bridge...

...had lunch at the Embankment Cafe...

...and spent some time looking at Cleopatra's Needle.

After the embankment, we took the tube to High Street for some shopping.  On our last trip, we discovered TK Maxx (the UK version of TJ Maxx), and found a really great H&M.  We visited both again, as well as taking a quick walk in the park next to Kensington Palace (Will and Kate's current residence).

After putting a bit of a dent in my credit, we went back to the hotel, had dinner in the Italian restaurant in the hotel, and headed back to Picadilly for "The 39 Steps".

What a fun show!  Very farcical, and crazy!  The four actors in the show played about 129 different characters.  I can't imagine the amount of chaos that must have taken place backstage!  The show had something for everyone...mystery, suspense, beautiful women (actually woman...the actress in the show played them all), comedy, tragedy, and shadow puppets.

I watched the show as an actor, and found parts of it hysterical...especially the scenes in which "technical stuff" went wrong (which was part of the show).  My favorite...when one of the actors was on stage and said something about sitting down.  There was no chair as he started sitting, but, just as he got to full "sit position", a big overstuffed chair was shoved onto the stage, right underneath him.

I also liked the bit near the end where the "bad guy" was in the balcony beside the stage.  All of the actors were on stage, but he got shot by an arm reaching out from behind the curtain.  The actor looked out at the audience, and said something like "Well...I've been a fifth a four man show."  He then BEGRUDGINGLY did his death scene.  Really funny.  Really creative.  Another great evening of West End theater.

After the show, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the trip home.  We THOUGHT we were leaving on a 2:30 p.m. flight the next day, giving us the chance to sleep in, eat one last breakfast at the hotel, then head to the airport.  When we got back, however, Duane looked at the flight, and discovered that all of the available seats had been taken.

We spent the next hour and a half trying to figure out another route home.  He found a flight to Boston, with a connecting flight to Minneapolis, and we decided to try it.  The down side...the flight was at 9:30 a.m.  So...we quickly packed, and organized, and set the alarm for 4:15.  At that point it was 11:30 p.m., so it was short night.

A few hours later, we got up, showered, finished packing, and headed to the tube...which wasn't running yet.  We waited about 30 minutes, caught the first train to the airport, got checked in, trudged through customs, and arrived at our gate to do the "waiting thing" again.

It all worked out...we got business class to Boston, AND, made it out of Boston on the first try (our last experience in Boston was dreadful...spent the entire day at the airport...missing every flight we tried to get on...ended up checking back into our hotel to try again the next day...couldn't get on any flights that headed to La Guardia in New York to try to get home from there....ugh!).

Another AWESOME trip!  London is one of my FAVORITE places to go, and flights are often booked solid, so it's difficult to get there.  We made it with less than the usual hassle, and got to enjoy spring...and British culture...and the chaos and bustle that is London.

Here's hoping YOU were able to revisit a favorite spot recently too!!!!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Spring Break, London: Day TWO

 After a MUCH NEEDED full night's sleep in a really comfortable bed, and a great breakfast at the hotel, we headed to Picadilly Circus to buy theater tickets at the TKTS kiosk.  We got there early enough that we didn't have to wait long in line, and scored good seats for "Other Desert Cities", starring Martha Plimpton (of "Goonies" and "Raising Hope" fame), and "The 39 Steps", a comedy with four actors playing 126 characters, loosely based on the Alfred Hitchcock thriller of the same name.

It was a beautiful sunny day, so we walked around Picadilly Circus for awhile...

...then headed back to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard.  We weren't sure where to stand to get the best view (over the heads of the other tourists that had already crowded in).  We ended up by the Queen Victoria statue in the middle of the roundabout, and it turned out to be a perfect spot.  The horses, band, Beef Eaters, and others paraded right in front of us.

We moved several times (to avoid crowds, and to get out before everyone else left the area), and, each time we moved, ended up being in the right spot to see various troupes and guards leave the palace grounds, and head back to their respective barracks.  Very cool!!!

After that, we walked through a park near the palace grounds. nice to see green grass and flowers!!!

After the park, we took the tube to Westminster Abbey to tour the church and grounds.  Westminster Abbey is such a beautiful, historic place.  Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married there (as well as Kate and William).  Diana and the Queen Mother also lay "in state" at Westminster when they died.  Mary, Queen of Scots, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling...the list of royalty, nobility, heads of state, poets, playwrights, and authors goes on and on!

No photos are allowed inside Westminster Abbey, but the bust of my ancestor, William Makepeace Thackeray is there (next to Handel's tomb!).  It's only a "commemorative" bust, as he's buried elsewhere in England, but it's extremely cool to see!  Duane asked one of the docents if it would be possible to take a picture.  The docent was very nice, and let us snap a quick photo.   People nearby were very curious as to what we were doing!!

An added bonus...the gardens were open, so we were able to walk around them for the first time on any of our trips there...delightful!

After the Abbey, we headed across the Thames, took a spin on the London Eye...

...had a REALLY late lunch at an Italian Place called Locale...

...then went back to the hotel to get ready for the show.

We got off the tube a stop early to walk across London Bridge (which has an AMAZING view of Tower Bridge)...

...and still got to the theater too early.  We decided to explore the area, so walked around for awhile.  We found the "Stage Door" of the theater, so OF COURSE I had to have a couple of photos taken.  As we were walking away from the door, we noticed a woman, off to the side, talking on her cell phone. 

 Martha Plimpton

Duane said "I think that's Martha Plimpton", so we crossed the street, circled back, and, sure enough, it was!  We chatted briefly (she was very nice!), and then went in to find our seats.

"Other Desert Cities" is about a family in Arizona.  The parents are conservative Republicans, and the daughter (and son) are liberal Democrats.  The plot revolves around another son, who died years before, after committing suicide.  He had joined a cult, and was involved in an "incident" in which a place was bombed, and someone was killed.  The daughter is writing a book about it, and is home to prepare her parents for it's release.  It's very intense.  It's very emotional.  It's definitely not produced by Disney!

Martha Plimpton was AMAZING as the daughter!  She did really well with a big, emotional serious role.  All of the actors, in fact, were very good.  The mother was played by Sinead Cusack, who is married to Jeremy Irons (interesting coincidence...the "audio tour" that you take through Westminister Abbey is narrated by Jeremy Irons).  I'm always fascinated with accents.  Martha was the only native speaker of American English, but the entire cast did an EXCELLENT job not sounding Irish, British, etc.  On the flip side, I remember doing a show in which I had to have a British was dreadful, and SO DIFFICULT!!

After the show, we took the tube back to Victoria Station...

...I drank my strawberry lime Kopparberg cider, we figured out what we were doing to do the following day, and went to bed.

A busy (normal for us) first full day of "vacation"!!!!