Monday, November 05, 2012

Europe 2012 - Episode II

Wednesday, August 29th
We retrieved our luggage at the Koln train stations and boarded the high-speed train to London. The train passes under the Channel and speeds through Kent, under the Thames and comes in at the new international section of King’s Cross station on the north side of London. We bought tube/bus passes at the station and went off to find our hotel. Had we realized where we were, we would have gone to see the King’s Cross Platform 9 ¾ in Harry Potter.
Rooms for three adults are expensive in Europe, and it’s interesting to see what you get after you book a budget room online. Our room was not actually in the hotel. It was under the sidewalk entrance to the hotel. We walked down the outside steps to the basement, opened our door with an old-1800’s-style metal key, and there was our little room. I paced it out, and I think the end of the bedroom was actually extended a foot out under the street.  Normal hotels have windows, but a window would have opened into dirt or looked up through the sidewalk.  I’m not sure it met occupancy code, but it was clean, the internet worked, and it had a nice shower. Street noise was constant, but we got used to it. It was close to the Marble Arch tube stop, and buses were available on our street.
Cozy nest for three
Thursday, August 30th
We began the tour with another cathedral – Westminster Abbey. 

Westminster Abbey
We paid the rather steep entrance fee and walked through the cathedral, taking advantage of the informative audio tour where you see a number displayed near something interesting, punch numbers into a largish cell-phone-looking thing, and listen to a British person telling you all about it. Not all audio tours are worthwhile; sometimes they belabor the obvious, but I liked this one. We visited the tombs of famous scientists. Alex put his hand on the tomb of James Prescott Joule to see what temperature it was. (A little thermodynamics humor.) We looked around for the tomb of Isaac Newton but didn’t find it right away. That’s because there was a brief service going on in the nave, and Newton’s tomb makes up the left side of the rood screen, which in the temple of Jerusalem would have been the veil.
Rood Screen
We visited Poet’s Corner; the side chapels; the various shrines; the tombs of Kings and Queens; and we saw the Coronation Chair, missing the Stone of Scone, which has been returned to Scotland. I said, “Hi! The game's afoot.” to Henry V. It was a great tour.
Then we went to the British Museum to see the treasures of the world. 
Alex demonstrating Olympic spirit
It’s hard to even scratch the surface, so we let Alex decide where to go and what to see. He wanted to see the sculptures from the Parthenon, and from there we wandered through the Babylonian treasures, the Rosetta Stone, and the Egyptian collections. 
Bidding farewell to Babylon
Rosetta Stone - Stolen from the French as they were stealing it from the Egyptians
Alexander the Great (left) - Alex the Great (right)
It would be nice to have a whole day there, but our day was about up. We decided to eat fish and chips at a restaurant near the entrance to the museum. Warning: Don’t do that. It was horrible: weird breading, over baked, non-traditional— yuck.
I’ve heard about Harrods department store in London, but I had never been there, so it was time to make up that deficiency in my life. It’s where wealthy people shop, with a great many of those wealthy people being rich Arabs. The purse section would cover a basketball court. But I’m not particularly interested in purses. The chocolate section would also cover a basketball court, and it was amazing. 
Brief preview of heaven

A second look at heaven
Alex & Lisa asked how much one bonbon cost, and the sales lady just gave them one. Being rich shoppers ourselves, we split it.

Friday, August 31st – My birthday.
We took the train to Hampton Court, the palace that Cardinal Wolsey built and then gave as a gift to Henry VIII after it became clear that his days were numbered, primarily because Henry was the one numbering them. It’s a splendid place to visit. I recommend it to all who visit London. Trains leave from Waterloo Station every thirty minutes, and it’s a short walk from the Hampton Court train Station to the palace. There are three audio tours. The first one dealing with the youth of Henry is not great, but the one that describes the palace, the kitchens, artwork, dining, and history is wonderful. 
Alex makes friends easily.
There is a fountain in the main courtyard where wine was pumped during gala events. 
Tourists (center) - Wine Fountain (right)
The kitchen had a good fire going. 
Food fit for a king . . .
. . . or for us
It was fun. We didn’t have time to tour the William and Mary part of the palace. Next time.
The highlight of the visit was when actors in period costume appeared in the courtyard and began a reenactment. The men and boys were summoned inside to the King’s Council where Alex, I, and several others were selected to be the court ministers. Henry VIII proceeded to tell us his intent to divorce Catherine of Aragon, defy the authority of the Pope, become supreme head of the church in England, and marry Anne Boleyn. 
Painting commissioned by Henry VIII depicting
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John stoning the Pope
We had to vote as to whether or not we agreed. I’ve occasionally taken opportunities in public to be a wise-guy, but this Henry was such a good actor that all of us voted to support him. I was feeling what I suspect some of his actual counselors were, “Some of these actions might not be the wisest and will get us all excommunicated.” It looked like a choice between physical and spiritual death with the physical the sure thing and the spiritual maybe something that could be negotiated later.
Lisa and the women, who had been in Anne Boleyn’s chambers, joined us and we returned to the courtyard where Henry and Anne addressed us. It was great.
In the presence of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
We discovered that the famous Hampton Court maze was about to close for the evening, so Alex and I sprinted out to find our way through it. Lisa joined us by coming in the back way though the center, which shortened our wanderings a little.
Inside the Maze - Mentioned in Three Men in a Boat
Lisa loved the gardens, which were vast and spectacular.
Rose Garden

English Garden
We returned to Waterloo and walked to the London Eye,that giant Ferris wheel on the bank of the Thames. We paid our fare and enjoyed the view during our one revolution. I’m not sure it’s really worth the fee, but it’s probably worth the fee to learn that.
Top of the Eye

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