Helpful ReplyHot!Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland

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mlm
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/27 00:33:58 (permalink)
Ralph Melton

Tuesday in London began with a trip to the Tower of London. One of my misconceptions was already dispelled by seeing it on Sunday: I had thought that the Tower of London would be much taller in proportion to its width.

 

One of the particularly fascinating bits of the Tower of London was the Beefeaters themselves. They are members of the armed forces, only eligible to become Beefeaters after twenty-two years of distinguished service. (There’s a lot of competition for the positions, also - our guide mentioned that there were 80 candidates applying for the most recent position.) So this guy who gave us our tour probably served in Afghanistan or Iraq in Bosnia (presumably in a different uniform). And if his service was more than usually distinguished, there’s a good chance that he saw combat then. It must be quite a transition to go from a life of combat-readiness to a life of guiding tours.


We took the extra tour to see the Crown Jewels, and it was well worth it. The United States really has nothing like them (which might be a virtue). They are well-presented, with a lot of historical context - and a moving walkway to keep people from gawking too long. Since they didn’t allow pictures, we ended up buying a book about the Crown Jewels.
 

As we were preparing to leave, we happened across an interactive drama happening in one corner of the Tower Grounds. A counterfeiter was being investigated, and eventually convicted and hanged. I’ve forgotten the name of the counterfeiter, but the Warden of the Mint who was investigating the crime was someone I’d heard of: Isaac Newton. Apparently he was given the job as a sinecure after his advances in physics - but he took the job very seriously and did an excellent job, including the Great Recoinage of 1696.


In retrospect, it should have been obvious: the Tower Bridge is so named because it’s close to the Tower of London.
 

Our other goal for the day was to get a nice English tea. I had formed a notion that the place to go for an excellent English tea was Fortnum & Mason. We got there and asked about tea - and we got horribly snubbed. The hostess at Fortnum & Mason made it very clear that we were not smartly dressed enough to be allowed into any but the least fancy of Fortnum & Mason’s tearooms, named the Parlour. (I looked for a t-shirt that said, “I got snubbed at Fortnum & Mason”, but did not find one.)

Tea at the Parlour was fairly nice, but the circumstances made it very easy to find fault. Service was really extremely slow and indifferent. And the only option for an afternoon tea came with mini ice cream cakes - which meant that you couldn’t linger without the ice cream cakes getting melty. The whole experience made us extremely cranky.
 

When we made it back to the inn, we were tired and grumpy - and, we realized, hungry, because scones and ice cream cake was all we’d had between breakfast and dinner. Julian the innkeeper recommended his favorite Indian restaurant, The Empress. (Although we thought that “just a few blocks” meant two or three, and our feet were hurting after six or seven.)

The Empress was a lovely dining experience. Our first sign that this was something special came when we were ordering. Lori ordered a korma (because she is very spice-averse) and the waiter murmured “that’s not very authentic”. Some diners might find this annoying. I can well believe that I would find it annoying sometimes. But for us then, it was a lovely thing to have a waiter who would make strong recommendations about the food. We got into a lengthy conversation with the waiter, and we followed his recommendations, and we had a great time. 

After some discussion about whether the “exotic spices” mentioned in the description would be too fierce for Lori, she settled on the Murgh Banarashi, a dish that I’ve never heard of in the USA. The most recognizable taste was pineapple, but there were a bunch of spices that I couldn’t identify. It was really tasty, though, with clear bright flavors - one of Lori’s favorite Indian restaurant experiences.
 

I ordered the Indian Shepherd’s Pie. The waiter didn’t say anything about it being inauthentic. I hope that he didn’t think I was too irredeemable to discuss authenticity with. But what I was really looking for was authenticity of a different sort: I wanted food from a British-Indian tradition. I’ve read British authors talk about Indian food as a normal part of their life (for example, Terry Pratchett’s Death says “I could murder a curry” in one of his first appearances, and Lister in Red Dwarf is a fan of vindaloo), and I wanted to taste Indian food that would be familiar to a Briton
I haven’t read a reference to an Indian shepherd’s pie, but I think I achieved my goal. It was a shepherd’s pie, with sauced ground lamb and peas topped with mashed potatoes and cheese, but it was all seasoned with Indian flavors and it was really tasty.
 

Between dinner and dessert, they brought us plastic tubes that were warm to the touch. We asked what they were: they contained heated moist towels for our hands. How refreshing!

We had a good conversation with the waiter about where he was from and what foods he missed from home. Sadly, although I remember that he was from Bangladesh, I don’t remember what foods he missed. I do remember that we chose our dessert because he said that it was a particular favorite of his. The dessert was shemai, another dish I’ve never encountered in the USA; the description said “Traditional Bengali dessert made with vermicelli, ghee, raisins, milk, sugar, and nuts”. My best analogy is that it was like a rice pudding thinned with milk and cream - it was very tasty.


The menu of after-dinner drinks includes Chili Naga Vodka. “Drink at your own risk; very very hot.” I didn’t try it.
 

We had a splendid time at The Empress. It was one of the best meals we had in London, and one of the best Indian meals we’ve had.

Who is that man supposed to be? That's not a type of beefeater, is he?
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/27 01:01:17 (permalink)
I can understand the Experience at the F & M.
Proper Brits are desperately trying to hang on to some of the old customs, values and attitudes that prevailed at the height of The Rule of the British Empire.
Britain, like The USA and other countries are losing some of the customs and VALUES that made them great. Britain once Ruled the World, just like Rome, Greece and now the United States. WHO's NEXT?
IMHO Civilization is in decline. Morals, ethics and values are diminishing and I'm not sure if it's reversible.
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Ralph Melton
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/27 11:31:06 (permalink)
mlm
Who is that man supposed to be? That's not a type of beefeater, is he?

 
I'm not quite sure which picture you're referring to, so I'll try to cover them all.
 
This man is a Beefeater. At least, he said he was a Beefeater and I have no reason to doubt him.
Ralph Melton 
 

 
This man guarding the Jewel House is a member of the Welsh Guards:
Welsh Guards by Ralph Melton, on Flickr
 
This man was portraying Isaac Newton. I presume that he is not a soldier, but I didn't ask.

 

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mlm
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/27 11:51:27 (permalink)
Thanks for letting me know. I meant the guy playing Isaac Newton. I couldn't figure how to quote just his photo.
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/27 15:41:32 (permalink)
I'm sure the man playing Issac Newton was an actor, and quite a gifted one. Or, perhaps all the actors in the show are talented ex-military and their spouses. It could happen! 
 
The show they put on was a street theater-style reenactment of a trial of...umm...a counterfeiter of...something Sir Issac was to protect! I forget the details, because it was the point of the day we were getting into the "unholy trinity" of hot, hungry and tired. Hindsight is always 20/20 -- we wished we'd visited the Tower's fine snack bar and continued enjoying the Tower, instead of our lousy experience at Fortnum & Mason's.  However, their reenactment was fantastic, and very engaging. Engaging enough that we stayed until it was over, despite being overdue for lunch! :-)
 
MLM, as to your question about spirits, umm, yes and no. It was a bright September day and there were many people around. I did feel some shivers at the place where several noble ladies were executed. There's a small memorial to them all there. There are stories that Anne Boleyn's ghost haunts the Tower, and more stories that another lady, who was innocent of any crime save being mother to a traitor, haunts the green on some nights. It's hard to say. I do believe ghosts and spirits exist, I didn't notice anything in particular that day. 
post edited by icecreamchick - 2014/06/27 15:43:13
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Ralph Melton
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/27 16:10:46 (permalink)
The counterfeiter was forging coins, and Isaac Newton was was taking his job as Warden of the Mint very seriously.
 
The detail I regret forgetting: I wish I could remember the counterfeiter's name.
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Ralph Melton
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/28 16:54:45 (permalink)
On Wednesday, September 25, we took a day trip with London Walks to the Cotswolds and Oxford and it was lovely.

Joining the trip was a little bit worrisome. We were moving slowly because of Lori’s hurting feet, and the Underground was packed so tightly with morning commuters that once or twice we had to wait for the next train because we couldn’t see a way to fit into the train in front of us. We arrived at the tour group late enough for the guide to chide us for being late, but not so late that we couldn’t dash to an ATM to get cash for the trip, nor so late that no others joined the tour, even after we returned from the ATM.

We took the train out to Oxford, then took a bus to the cute little town of Minster Lovell. Even the Old Swan pub (and boutique hotel) where the bus parked was ridiculously photogenic.
  

It’s actually something of a problem for these towns to be so charming. Because they have so much quaint-English-countryside charm, many of the houses are purchased as vacation homes by rich Londoners - and that means that the owners aren’t sending their kids to school or getting their cars fixed in town or otherwise participating in the local community. Minster Lovell, for example, no longer has a school of its own.


Of course, we weren’t really engaging with the community ourselves as tourists. We were going gaga over the fact that there are actually houses with real thatched roofs. It’s gotten very hard to find folks with the skills to do thatched roofs well, but it’s well-made and covered in chicken wire to keep out birds, a thatched roof can last for fifty years.
 


Some more random pictures of pretty houses:
 

We walked a block or two and looked at St. Kenelm’s Church. (I don’t remember the legend of St. Kenelm as the tour guide told it, but the Wikipedia article is fascinating reading, though Kenelm didn’t do much in life before being killed by his sister and her lover.) The church was originally founded in 1183, but it was rebuilt in the 15th century.


Just beyond the church was the ruins of Lovell Hall, which dates from the 15th century.
 

This was our first encounter with the fact that England (and Ireland) has so many ruins that they are not all restricted. Lovell Hall dates from the 15th century… but there are no fences or guards or guides, and the posted hours are “Any reasonable time”. I can’t think of anything half as old in the US that isn’t restricted.


We tend not to take many pictures of ourselves; we take more pictures of the things we see. But Lori’s mother oohs and aahs most about the pictures of us. So we’ve been trying to take more pictures that include us. So consider this our token proof that it was really us at Lovell Hall:


I know I’m getting spammy with the pictures of Lovell Hall, but we really found it fascinating and beautiful to have these old ruins so open to the public.
 
 

A panorama of Lovell Hall:


The weather in Minster Lovell was a soft mist that made all the greens of fields and trees look even greener.
 

This was the tenting field, where cloth was once stretched on tenterhooks. I’d previously gone decades without using the word ‘tenterhooks’ literally.


As we walked along the fields, I spotted other folks eating blackberries off the bushes. I took one for myself, but when I offered Lori one, she declined because it was too natural for her and she feared they might make us sick. Her loss, I said - mine was so ripe and so sweet and so good.


We took the bus from Minster Lovell to the slightly larger town of Burford, where we were given some time to split up for sightseeing, shopping, and lunch. We really meant to see the recommended sights, but our actions gave priority to the other two of those three. We stopped for a pub lunch at the Cotswold Arms, a pretty pub with an indoor courtyard.
 

There was one thing on the specials board that seemed particularly traditionally English to me.


My steak and kidney suet pudding was the second time in my life that I have encountered food that was recognizably delicious but not to my taste. It was very rich and tasty… but I don’t eat many organ meats, and halfway through the pudding it quite suddenly became too, well, organ-ic for me to continue.


Lori took a safer tack with fish and chips. It also was a very generous portion.


Even though we didn’t finish our entrees, Lori was eager to try the bread and butter pudding with custard. This was very good and very rich.


We lingered over our lunch long enough that we missed the sights of Burford and had only a little time to see a few shops that Lori considered absolutely essential.

We boarded the bus again to go off to Oxford. I took pictures from the window because it looked so much like my stereotype of rural English countryside. There were even old hedgerows.
 


I wish I had taken more notes on what we saw in Oxford, because I have so many of these photos for which I remember little bits at best, but the pictures look so Oxonian:
 
 
 
 


I don’t remember the identity of this monument in Oxford, but I remember the joke: apparently local students tell tourists that this is the steeple of a submerged church.


Oxford’s Bridge of Sighs:


The Bodleian Library is one of the places I’ve read about in books.


The Radcliffe Camera. Sadly, we didn’t get to go inside.
 

We got to tour one of the colleges of Oxford, Brasenose College (because the students and faculty weren’t present at the moment). It’s semi-modern, founded in 1509.
 


The dining hall was gorgeous; it reminded me of Harry Potter.


The chapel was also stunning.
 

Brasenose also has a portrait and a handprint of The Childe of Hale, a 9-foot tall giant who made a living as a bodyguard and exhibiting himself for money. 


There was some free time in Oxford after the tour; we got tea in The White Horse, a pub in a building that dates back to the 16th century. Better than many of the pubs we’ve dined at in London, really.
  

One last picture from our walk back to the bus:


We paused in the train station long enough to get a picture of Paddington Bear, the most famous character named after Paddington Station.


We were cutting it a bit close, though, because we had theatre tickets that evening to see The Light Princess at the National Theatre. (I am yielding to local spelling there.)


London’s West End is as famous for theatre as Broadway is in New York. (It was fascinating to see so many posters for theatre productions in the subways.) And Lori was keen to see a show while we were there. I figured that if we were going to see a show in London, we might as well see a distinctively London show, something that would be the London equivalent of 42nd Street or Guys and Dolls. But we couldn’t identify any show that was so distinctively London that was playing while we were there. So we took a different approach for a distinctively London musical: we decided to see a musical that was opening in London and had not yet made its way to the US. And that led us to try on another hat in our grand experimentation with our roles as travelers, and find out whether we wanted to be the sort of people who would enjoy seeing a theatrical premiere.

The down side: we scrambled to get to the theatre to be sure that we would be on time. And we were tired from a day of walking, and didn’t see anything to eat on our walk to the theatre. So this night’s dinner came from the snack bar at the theatre, demonstrating that (a) egg and cress sandwiches are indeed to be found in England, and (b) an egg and cress sandwich from a theatre snack bar is a pretty sad dining experience.

The Light Princess was pretty good, but not as stunning as I had hoped. The special effects of the gravity-less princess were well done. The songs were pretty good but not good enough to make me crave the soundtrack album - though they did get better in the second act. The biggest disappointment was that all week, we had been seeing these stunningly gorgeous posters for The Light Princess in the Underground (and felt a thrill of “we’re going to see that!” every time), and the show itself had no moment as dazzling as the poster.


Afterwards, we wandered through the Embankment looking for more food, and came across a crowd dancing on the bank of the Thames. We thought that it might be a flash mob of some sort, but when we talked to them, it turned out that they were just theatre students partying. (These snippets of video are very short, and well worth a glance.)

https://www.flickr.com/ph.../set-72157637684525525
https://www.flickr.com/ph...set-72157637684525525/

They weren't all students, though; the guys in the foreground of this snippet were just blokes who had walked past on the way from the pub and decided to join in. This was definitely a better class of drunken revelry than we are used to.
https://www.flickr.com/ph...set-72157637684525525/
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icecreamchick
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/28 17:19:29 (permalink)
That was a great day and night! I enjoyed "The Light Princess," but I also was waiting for the moment on the poster...and that turned out to just be a conceptual thing. I also think that "TLP" will be biggest with adolescents, as that was a big theme in the show. I wasn't totally in love with this show, but it had its moments, especially the gorgeous lake scenes and the animated sequences. 

I loved the Cotswolds. The villages were everything I thought they'd be, and I now fantasize about staying in one of them for a few days or longer. The lunch we had was fabulous overall, which somewhat made up for dinner being a true non-event.

The dancing revelers were a lot of fun. I remember being a theater student who did those sorts of things with friends. 

This was probably my favorite day we spent in England.
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/28 17:25:55 (permalink)
icecreamchick

I loved the Cotswolds. The villages were everything I thought they'd be, and I now fantasize about staying in one of them for a few days or longer.
A fixer-upper like Lovell Hall probably wouldn't set you back too much...
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/28 17:28:24 (permalink)
Wow...I love the Cotswolds!! Gorgeous, and I too have my share of thatch roof cottage pictures. You have to be a tourist and take a lot of pictures. I understand. In Oxford, I went crazy with the camera. Love the English Bridge of sighs. I wish you could have visited Stratford-on-Avon. It's so photogenic, even if you hate Shakespeare. I've taken dozens of students there,and I'm sure many weren't enamored of Will, but didn't want to leave that small town. You've got to get there some time.I'll recommend some great places to eat! Thanks for helping me relive the memories of my favorite area of my favorite country to visit!!!
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/28 17:32:58 (permalink)
Ralph:  Great pics and all reminds me of many years ago, Judi, Paula and myself rented a Mercedes and toured Germany, England, Belgium, France and Switzerland.  We spent a couple of days in London staying at a hotel that I could not afford then or now.  I got so tired trying to find a hotel in London and when I finally found one, it was next to Windsor palace.  Twenty years ago it was $350 nightly.  I was so tired driving the narrow London streets that I took it.  They brought all kinds of treats to the room.  I bought a jug and wife and daughter took a cab to shop.  Surprise surprise..  Next day I rented a cab for a tour of London.  best way to do it.  Those black cabs were clean and the driver was double outstanding.  After we left London, I drove south and caught a ferry to France.  Very relaxing.
 
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/28 17:46:08 (permalink)
Great Pics of Oxfordshire, Minster Lovell, and Burford. I've been there and done all that and now, I get to do it all again thanks to your terrific report.
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/28 22:00:58 (permalink)
leethebard

Wow...I love the Cotswolds!! Gorgeous, and I too have my share of thatch roof cottage pictures. You have to be a tourist and take a lot of pictures. I understand. In Oxford, I went crazy with the camera. Love the English Bridge of sighs. I wish you could have visited Stratford-on-Avon. It's so photogenic, even if you hate Shakespeare. I've taken dozens of students there,and I'm sure many weren't enamored of Will, but didn't want to leave that small town. You've got to get there some time.I'll recommend some great places to eat! Thanks for helping me relive the memories of my favorite area of my favorite country to visit!!!

 
I'm sure we would love Stratford-on-Avon; it was one of the things we really wanted to see, but we didn't have time to visit all our must-sees, much less the really-want-to-sees.
 
But it appears that we'll be returning to England with a tour group this year, and the tour will go through Stratford-on-Avon. So we'll have another chance.
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/28 22:01:02 (permalink)
Was the counterfitter William Chaloner?
 
Newton twice convicted him, and after the second conviction Chaloner was Hanged, Drawn and Quartered at Tyburn Gallows.
 
You trip has brought back many wonderful memories.  I spent a week in London, and a week in Ireland.  I would love to get back to visit both again and also Wales and Scotland.
 
What got me at Westminster is the number of Monarchs buried there. (17) Heck just the who's who buried there is impressive.
 
The only space in the tower I "felt" anything was "IN" the tower where the two princes were held and murdered there by their uncle.
 
Ralph I am glad you posted and explained the difference between the "Beefeaters" and the Welsh Guard aka "Palace Guards"
 
The beefeaters you can talk to and get needed info, talk to a palace guard until you are blue in the face and he won't answer you.
 
We did a day long bus/walk/boat trip on one of our days in London.  It had the "WOW" factor you were looking for.  That day we did Westminster, buckingham (for the changing of the guards), Big Ben, The eye, Tower Bridge, and hour cruise down the thames to see many of the bridges up close and to see the "traitor's gate" into the tower of london.  We also went to 10 Downing, and many other places around London.
 
We saw "Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Globe which was WAY cool, because I played "Snug" in a College production of MSND. 
Interesting note about the Globe Theatre it is THE ONLY building in London allowed to have a thatch roof.  The great fire of 1666 destroying most of "Old" London which was made of wood and thatch.
 
One of the days we stayed in London we took a trip through the chunnel to France and visited Normandy.  Another day I hired a private car and we went to Parham and visited the area ans museum where my grandfather's airbase was located.
 
Another one of the days we did the Touristy thing again and went to Madam Tussauds and several places like that.
 
We originally were scheduled to stay in a small hotel in the Hyde Park area, but when we got there the "hotel" was NOT what i had imagined.  The bed room was 7 foot long by 5 foot wide, the bathroom was shared by the whole floor, it was 35 degrees outside and their "air conditioning" was a paper hand fan.
 
I quickly found the yellow pages and found a marriott close by and away we went.  Ahhhhh Cold Air Conditioning, indoor swimming pool, excellent room service, and a concierge that WAS AWESOME.
 
On the ride in from Heathrow we got a wonderful cabbie and since I owned a taxi service we talked quite a bit, he gave me his card and told me to call any time he and his brother shared the cab and would be available 24/7.
I was impressed with "The Knowledge" and the amount of time that went into obtaining their license, but he said it was all worth it.  I know I tipped him well, and he helped get us ALL over the place.
 
I look forward to seeing the rest of your report
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Ralph Melton
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/28 22:09:30 (permalink)
It's been long enough that the name William Chaloner gives me no flicker of recognition, but it's certainly plausible that it was he. 
 
We got our own visit to Shakespeare's Globe on the Thursday of our stay.
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/28 22:59:58 (permalink)
I am a Shakespeare lover...no surprise, considering I was an English major with a minor in theater in college. I am very much looking forward to visiting Stratford-on-Avon this summer!
 
I have some "Midsummer Night's Dream" history too. In college, I played Titania in a children's version of the play called "Robin Goodfellow." It focused on the plot between Oberon, Puck, Titania and the mechanicals were also present. It was a great show and we had a fantastic time doing it. A few years ago, I auditioned for a community "Shakespeare in the Park" production of Midsummer, and...it turned out I was the second-oldest actor to audition at the ripe old age of 35. I played a small part (Egeus, made "Egeia" for this play), and it was kind of like being a chaperone at a high school dance in all sorts of ways. :-/  Eh, you can't win them all!
 
We'll tell all about our wonderful evening at the Globe seeing "Macbeth" in another entry. It was fantastic! 
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/29 03:22:02 (permalink)
This would have been something to see & hear;
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6u6o7Z2auoc
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/29 08:20:37 (permalink)
icecreamchick

I am a Shakespeare lover...no surprise, considering I was an English major with a minor in theater in college. I am very much looking forward to visiting Stratford-on-Avon this summer!

I have some "Midsummer Night's Dream" history too. In college, I played Titania in a children's version of the play called "Robin Goodfellow." It focused on the plot between Oberon, Puck, Titania and the mechanicals were also present. It was a great show and we had a fantastic time doing it. A few years ago, I auditioned for a community "Shakespeare in the Park" production of Midsummer, and...it turned out I was the second-oldest actor to audition at the ripe old age of 35. I played a small part (Egeus, made "Egeia" for this play), and it was kind of like being a chaperone at a high school dance in all sorts of ways. :-/  Eh, you can't win them all!

We'll tell all about our wonderful evening at the Globe seeing "Macbeth" in another entry. It was fantastic! 

When in Stratford, try to visit The Dirty Duck pub. Great atmpsphere...and many actors from The Royal Shakespeare hang out there after performances.
http://www.yelp.com/biz/d...ck-stratford-upon-avon
post edited by leethebard - 2014/06/29 08:24:40
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/29 11:49:00 (permalink)
Great trip report. Beautiful pictures and wonderfully written. I plan to visit someday after kids are raised. Love the trip. Thank You Both.
#79
mamaduck43
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/29 12:46:18 (permalink)
Found this on YouTube - - and there are a couple more sections of the performance....  It has been since 1983 that the London accent was something that I could ingest with no problems, but the "William" name was part of this performance.... 
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MQ3eFm3Ld4
 
Edited to add the link.....
post edited by mamaduck43 - 2014/06/29 12:47:23
#80
kaszeta
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/29 23:06:58 (permalink)
I like the Cotswold Arms.  My brother's FIL has taken us there twice.  So finally your list of places and mine overlap!
#81
EdSails
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/30 03:17:22 (permalink)
This truly is a fascinating report. 
#82
Foodbme
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/30 05:19:53 (permalink)
EdSails
This truly is a fascinating report. 

Precisely! Hip, Hip, Hooray!!!!
#83
Ralph Melton
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/30 12:39:14 (permalink)
On our last full day in England, we decided to take the hop-on-hop-off bus tour that we had meant to take on the day we arrived. Perhaps we hadn’t planned well enough, but things just didn’t gel that well this day; it took us longer than we expected to get to the tour, longer than expected for the tour to begin, and longer than expected to get from place to place on the bus.

We did get off at Buckingham Palace, but there was a long line and we were running late. We did not tour the palace, but only visited the gift shop.


After that, we decided to try another attempt to find a lovely tea. Since Fortnum & Mason had been such a disappointment, for this try we went to Harrod’s.

Harrod’s actually looked really nifty inside - I wish we had had more time to spend there.
 

A Harrod’s staff member recommended Ladurée, a French tearoom in a back corner of Harrod’s. (I do not know what the difference is between an English tearoom and a French tearoom.) It was an outstanding experience, and everything we had hoped a luxurious English tea would be.

Ladurée offered a selection of 17 different teas, which is much more variety than I am really qualified to handle. So we went with my usual fallback, which is to choose the specialty of the house: Thé Mélange Spécial Ladurée, "Delicate composition of black teas from China and Sri Lanka and rose petals, with aromas of orange, bergamot, blackcurrant, vanilla, cinnamon and caramel”.
Most of those subtleties were lost on me, but the tea was really excellent. 
(We were asked not to take pictures in Ladurée, and I almost complied. But I did take surreptitious pictures of the things at our table.)


I didn’t take notes on what we chose for food with our tea, but I’m able to reconstruct our selection: the menu is online, and because the menu involved a choice of two items out of four in each of three categories, we ordered two teas with one of everything. From top to bottom, we had these:
Finger sandwiches: smoked salmon; ham; cheese; and vegetables. I dimly remember that one of these was especially good, but I can’t recall which.
Viennoiseries: plain croissant; chocolate pistachio croissant; chocolate croissant; and sugar brioche. These were all really light and delicate and so good.
Pastries: the pastries were so special that they deserve to be broken out into a special list:
Ispahan: I had never heard of ispahan before. The menu description is “Smooth rose flavoured macaron biscuit, rose petal cream, fresh raspberries and lychees”. It was very intensely rose flavored, and simply exquisite.
Tarte passion framboises: I don’t know French, but I could figure out what this one was. This was probably my personal favorite: the flavors were incredibly intense.
Elysées: "Success cocoa biscuit, crispy praline, thin crispy chocolate from Madagascar leaves, smooth chocolate cream, zabaglione chocolate mousse, chocolate and cocoa biscuit moistened cocoa syrup"
Plaisir sucré: "Hazelnut meringue sandwich cake with crushed Piedmont hazelnuts, crusty praline, thin milk chocolate leaves, Chantilly cream and milk chocolate filling”
There were too many flavors of macarons for us to sample them all, but they were so so good.


Tea at Ladurée was so wonderful that we couldn’t help but linger to enjoy everything. We then planned to take the tour bus over to Shakespeare’s Globe, but the tour bus was slow and it didn’t come very close to the Globe; we had to get out at St. Paul’s Cathedral and walk across the Thames. We ended up being too late to see the exhibition at the Globe that we had prepaid to see. (The exhibition tickets were good for a month; we gave them to the proprietor of our inn with the hope that he could find someone else who would use them.)
 

Shakespeare’s Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre that William Shakespeare performed in for much of his career. (With accommodations: electric lights, flush toilets, modern fire safety codes. But it has the only thatched roof built in London since the Great Fire of 1666.)


We chose to watch our play in the manner of Elizabethan gentry: we paid for seats instead of standing in the center with the groundlings. I even splurged to rent cushions for the benches, and I rented a blanket after realizing it was a chill evening.
 


We saw Macbeth. (Lori’s dream had been to attend a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, because she had played Titania in college, but the performance schedule dictated Macbeth.) It was a really excellent performance, both as a historical recreation and as a modern staging. I’ve sometimes had trouble following all the action of Macbeth as it flips from scene to scene, but this production made things very clear to me.
Historicities I did not know about: It began with the whole cast drumming together, and it ended with the whole cast joining in a final dance.

Lori says:
The three witches were especially noteworthy: they started dressed as apparent villagers, but stripped down to undergarments in their first scene, and then progressed to seem even more wild and otherworldly later in the play. I think they might have been dancers as well as actresses - they used a lot of weird postures and movements. The only “witch makeup” they used was a powdery white makeup that was applied onstage at one point. 

Billy Boyd (who was in the “Lord of the Rings” movies) played Banquo, and he was excellent. It made us smile that they worked in a chance for him to sing, and he really was scary as his own ghost. Another interesting note: the only “ghost” additions to his appearance were stage blood, and maybe a paler base makeup. He provided the scary vibe with his facial expressions and movements. All of the actors and actresses were excellent, Boyd stood out to us because, well, we did recognize his name. 

The stagecraft was notable in its simplicity. The stage was lit with standard electric lighting, but there were no special lighting effects. They didn’t go out between scenes, and all this helped preserve the historical feel of the play. There were some striking effects, my favorite was at the end of Act I, when Macbeth becomes king. Unseen to most of the audience, the three witches climbed posts in the theater and scattered red rose petals on the stage. They managed to be both celebratory petals for the king, but against the simple, stark white walls of the set, they also resembled drops of blood. Well played, Globe Theater, well played.

I have to say, I expected the play at the Globe to be good, but it really was a notch above most theater I’ve seen in several ways, while keeping to a simplistic aesthetic. It was everything I’d hoped it would be and more…and it is the first time I’ve truly enjoyed “Macbeth.” 

We were very hungry after the show, because our tea had been our only food since breakfast. Proximity led us to eat at the Swan at the Globe. My roast pork and Lori’s roast chicken were both delicious.
 
#84
Ralph Melton
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/30 12:42:01 (permalink)
I had not thought that I would be the the type of person who has strong opinions between Fortnum and Mason and Harrod's, but I now am. The world surprises us all.
#85
leethebard
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/06/30 14:08:31 (permalink)
Our tea was at Harrod's also. And it is a great service. Too bad you didn't get to explore Harrod's. You would have enjoyed it. Glad you loved the Globe. I was there before it was built, then later when it was being built (by American producer,Sam Wannamaker), and we went after it opened. Lord knows ,they do Shakespeare right. I taught Shakespeare, and it gives me goosebumps to be in the Globe.Enjoy Ireland!!!!!!!
#86
Ralph Melton
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/07/03 10:25:19 (permalink)
Our morning was spent in traveling to the airport and flying to Ireland. It was all uneventful, but we had to walk on and on through Heathrow.

The driver of our cab ride into Dublin was a white-haired man who was wonderfully chatty. He told us a lot about Dublin. He mentioned that we would see lots of Eastern European women holding babies and begging for money, and told us that was a scam.
He also told us about the hurling finals happening this weekend. Our plans for Dublin had not included hurling, because the finals had been scheduled for the previous weekend. But that match had ended in a tie, so they were playing it again our weekend. We resolved to try to watch the game from a pub.

We checked into our B&B in the early afternoon, and then walked towards downtown to find food and tourism.

We walked through St. Stephen’s Green, a lovely park.
  
  

We ate lunch at the Bewley’s on Grafton Street. Bewley’s is a large coffee company, but the Grafton Street location has been a renowned Dublin cafe since 1927. It’s a very pretty place, with beautiful stained glass windows.


I had a roast beef sandwich, and Lori had a ham and cheese toastie. (A toastie is a sandwich served on toast - but not heated in a way that would melt the cheese within.) The sandwiches were good, but the housemade crisps were really excellent.
 

Dessert was a beautiful tasty sticky toffee pudding. It was a tough choice, though, because there were lots of pretty desserts available.
 

We wandered around the Grafton Street area looking at the fancy shops (and buying a short-term SIM for my phone).

The buskers were worth watching. These sand sculptures were amazing.

We also saw a curious group of living sculptures. Unfortunately, Flickr is no longer letting me embed our video of what happened when I put a Euro in their cup: https://flic.kr/p/hWWyvf

The tourist information centre was in a historic former church, so it was a very impressive tourist information centre:
 

An entertaining but misleading sign:


I was interested in finding some sort of Irish dance event while we were in Ireland, and I thought that Dublin would have better chances for it than smaller towns. We found the Museum of Irish Dance, which was advertising a show called Jig the Story of Irish Dance - but the museum was closed by the time we found it, and there was no show that night. I regret missing it - it sounds like an interesting show.

But we had a flyer for a dance show at the Arlington Hotel, so we ambled over there.


The room was clearly set up as a dance-audience space, with tables raised so that every seat had a view of the stage. The decor was fairly minimal, with Celtic designs painted in fluorescent paint; we feared that it might be really cheesy tourist junk.


It was certainly very tourist-focused, but the food and the entertainment was really excellent. This exemplifies the good side of being touristy; tourist-oriented can mean a curated experience showcasing the best of a place.

My appetizer included fresh salmon mousse rolled in smoked salmon.


Lori’s potato-leek soup was very good.


My entree was Irish stew, and it was really splendid. I have not generally cared for lamb, but the lamb in this stew had a gentle, sumptuous lamb flavor that was much better than any lamb I’ve had before.


Lori ordered the beef and Guinness casserole. When we ordered, the waitress took care to explain that ‘casserole’ meant something different in Ireland than in the USA; in Ireland, a casserole was a piece of meat braised and then finished on the grill. So this was more similar to a pot roast than a hot dish - but it too was very tasty with deep mellow flavors.


I made sure to have a Guinness, of course. I would like to say that I noticed the difference in taste between Guinness in Dublin and Guinness in the USA, but my palate is coarse and I did not identify a difference.


The desserts were tasty but not the best part of the meal.


The meal was followed by the music and dancing. The music came from a band called Púca. Lori says “they played everything that I would hope to hear at Mullaney’s [an Irish bar in Pittsburgh] on a good night. It was clearly Irish music for Americans, but they played very well and very energetically.” And the dancers were super skilled and super energetic.
I recorded snippets of video to try to capture the spirit of the music and dance, but Flickr is not cooperating with my embedding.
https://flic.kr/p/hWWjv2
https://flic.kr/p/hWWmbM
One of the last dances was a broom dance, which I had never heard of: https://flic.kr/p/hWXhxk
 
#87
Ralph Melton
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/07/05 14:51:33 (permalink)
Saturday began with our first encounter with the full Irish breakfast. Clockwise from the top, there’s fried eggs, the British Isles sausage called ‘bangers’, sautéed mushrooms, Irish bacon, and white and black pudding, with tomato slices in the center. I wasn’t totally charmed by the Irish fry; the fried eggs were over-fried for my taste. The black pudding tasted very strongly of blood to me - in fact, it tasted more strongly of blood than a bleeding lip does. But the Irish bacon was very good - everywhere we went in Ireland, we had good bacon and good bread.


We were delayed getting off because of a work issue that came up. I had planned our trip to be just after a big crunch at work, but the work schedule slipped a bit so that the big crunch happened while we were gone. My coworkers did a laudable job of shielding me from having to think about work while I was on vacation, but on this day an issue came up that really required my attention. I was able to do most of what I needed to do with a a work laptop that I had brought. I would have liked to do more, but the hotel’s WiFi kept dropping out in a way that prevented me from downloading what I needed. (Barely functional WiFi was the rule in our travels. Every hotel and B&B had WiFi, but it was rarely any good.) But I was able to send my co-workers enough information to guide them on the right path.

Very late in the morning, we sallied forth and got on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. After learning about Kilmainhaim Jail, the Jameson’s Distillery, and the the Guinness brewery, we got off near the Ha'penny Bridge for sightseeing and lunch.

We stopped for lunch at a little restaurant called Bakehouse because it looked cute. We got a really tasty meal.


I ordered the Dublin Coddle because I've enjoyed it in the US and because it had “Dublin” in the name. What I’ve had in the US has been a thick creamy stew, but this was a much thinner soup with bacon and vegetables - but it was delicious and the brown bread that accompanied it was wonderful.


Lori got a ham and cheese sandwich, which was really good. But the star of her meal was the house made chips with cheese and onion. All the crisps we had in Ireland were extraordinarily tasty, as good as any potato chips I’ve had in the US - but we only had them a few times, so I don’t think we have a large enough sample to claim that there’s a general Irish excellence with potato crisps.


The bakery case was full of beautiful baked goods, but the lemon muffin and Bakewell tart we chose for dessert was not nearly as special as our entrees.



Bakehouse was just a few yards from the Ha’penny Bridge.


We got back on the bus tour. The Post Office is pocked with shrapnel from the fighting in 1916.


The Millennium Spire is widely referred to as “The Stiffy on the Liffey”.


The bus was moving very slowly, though, because the streets were packed with hurling fans heading towards the stadium. There were apparently eighty thousand fans crowding Dublin for this hurling match. The red shirts identify these fans as supporting Cork.


I had been interested in hurling even before we came to Ireland, but we weren’t interested enough to pay hundreds of euros to attend a sport we’d never seen. I decided that the hurling experience I wanted was to watch the game at a sports bar, where the game was showing on TV and fans would tell us when to cheer. But we also had plans for a Musical Pub Crawl later, so we were looking for a place near the starting pub for that. We did not quite achieve our goals; we found a pub where the match was showing on TV, but there weren’t fans watching; the guys in front of the TV were playing poker instead of watching. Without fans in the bar to provide a team to root for, we chose to root for County Clare on the flimsy basis that we were spending more time on our trip in Clare than in Cork.


Hurling is an awesome sport. My summary of the rules based on watching one game without explanation:
- Each player has a hurling stick called a hurley. If you think of a flat spoon about the size of a man’s forearm, you’ll be in the ballpark for what a hurley looks like.
- The ball is a leather-wrapped wooden ball about the size of a baseball.
- A player can take only a few steps while holding the ball; going farther than that involves bouncing it on the hurley while running full speed.
- There’s a goal at either end of the field. Getting the ball through the goal at a low enough level that the goalie could conceivably block it scores three points. Getting the ball between the uprights above the bar scores one point.
- That’s most of the rules; have at it, lads.

It was a very fast, dynamic game. The ball travels at up to 90mph, and the players were running up and down the field all the time. And it was a very exciting game - as balanced as you would expect from two teams who had tied the previous weekend. Clare took an early lead, but Cork managed to tie the game twice before Clare eked out a narrow victory at the end.

I really liked hurling, and I would watch it in the US if I had an opportunity.

We ate dinner in Gogarty’s, the pub where the pub crawl would start. Lori’s chicken and ale pie was not very good, with a very tough crust. My fish cakes were pretty good.
  

The Musical Pub Crawl is certainly an experience for tourists, but it tries to go a bit deeper with some explanation of what it’s like for real musicians playing in a session for themselves, instead of playing hoary standards for tourists. Plus drinking in pubs. It was that last bit that marred the experience on this night. The pubs were all full of hurling fans and unwilling to reserve a room for the Musical Pub Crawl, so the Pub Crawl visited only two pubs, and they were separated by a very long walk that made us fear that we might fall so far behind the rest of the group that we lost track of them. But we liked the explanations and examples of the music; the main thing I remember is that reels are in 4/4 time (counted as “cat-er-pill-ar, cat-er-pill-ar” for young musicians) and jigs are in 6/8 (counted as “rashers and sausages, rashers and sausages”).
 

Eight seconds of video from the Musical Pub Crawl: https://flic.kr/p/hWWwxD

We got a cab ride to our hotel after the last pub on the crawl, with a cabbie who waxed profusely about the hurling match and his own experiences with hurling and boxing in his time in the army. He was the one who told us how fast the ball travels, and pointed out that all the team members were amateurs - in fact, school teachers are favored for hurling because summer vacations give them extra time to practice.
#88
Twinwillow
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/07/05 16:43:53 (permalink)
We always found Irish food in Ireland to be far superior to their English counterpart.
And, Ireland's Soda bread is amazing!
#89
Ralph Melton
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Re:Ralph and Lori go to London and Ireland 2014/07/05 19:41:49 (permalink)
We loved the Irish brown bread everywhere we went.
#90
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