Tag Archives: Impromptu London

Final Adventures of Impromptu London

A bittersweet day. 

Today was my last full day in London and while I will miss this amazing city, I am looking forward to being back with my family, friends, and co-workers (yes, I do actually miss my co-workers). 

Despite wanting to catch some last minute sights before leaving tomorrow, I still had a bit of a late start to my day. But once I got going, I didn’t stop until now to write this blog. 

The Barbican Centre was established in 1982 by HM Queen Elizabeth to support and promote the arts of all mediums and also provide a space for conferences and meetings. 


The entire building feels very eclectic, from public art works in large spaces to a hidden conservatory (like a greenhouse) in the center of the complex. I spent over an hour going from floor to floor, exploring all this building had to offer. 


There were a lot of students in the cafe and lounge areas, because the Barbican works closely with (it seems) the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I didn’t get to explore the school, but it seems that this is yet another of the top performing arts schools in London. 


This city is so wonderful for the arts!

For a change of pace, I hopped onto the tube and headed to one of the most famous addresses in history–221B Baker Street. 

The Sherlock Holmes Museum is an interesting combination of fascinating and disturbing. 


Even though Holmes was never a real person, one could be made to believe that he did exist from the way this many leveled house was set up. Period appropriate decorations and doodads that were mentioned in the books of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle such as Sherlock’s violin, Watson’s writing table, and, of course, the hats. There were some people in period costume as well who helped encourage the atmosphere of the home/museum.


What made it disturbing, at least for me, were all the life-size figures of  Holmes, Watson, Moriarty, and several other characters from various books. 



I don’t like dolls, or anything that resembles humans too closely but aren’t actually alive. Something about them creeps me out, and being in a house full of them was rather challenging. However, I was able to set my “fear” aside and still enjoy being in the “very place where Sherlock Holmes lived.”

Speaking of, is anyone out there a fan of the BBC rendition with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman? I missed seeing the first episode of the fourth season on New Year’s Day, so please don’t tell me anything. I’m looking forward to seeing that soon. 

After inspecting the home of the sleuth, I hopped on the tube once again to head to the Tate Britain Museum, a museum that features British artists from across time. A new acquaitance I had made during my visit here suggested that I go to see a painting called Hope by George Frederic Watts because of how emotional and touching it was. 


It truly was an amazing painting to behold. The blindfolded figure clinging to a lyre that only has one single golden strand remaining. It is dark and sad, yet does inspire hope-there is still another chance.  Very inspirational. 


I loved it so much a bought a postcard with it. 

There were many other wonderful and famous paintings in the museum which I will show below. 


Finally, as my last wish for my stay in London, I actually treated my AirBnb host, Pandora, to dinner. 

She has been such an amazing host. Lovely, through and through. We didn’t always get a chance to talk because our schedules didn’t always match, but it was so nice to get to just sit and chat with her tonight about all sorts of things. I hope that from my time staying here, she can consider me more than just a guest, but now a new friend. 


I have made so many new friends and acquatainces during my time here in London. People met through current connections and others just via happenstance, I truly believe God was at work and will continue to work in my life. 

Coming to London had been impromptu, but it turned out to be an amazing blessing. 

Thanks, London, for being so wonderful. Here’s to the next time we shall meet. 

-Wandering Minstrelette

Golden Tours Excursion

Today I had the great privilege of participating on one of Golden Tour UK’s day trips to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath. 

It sounds like a lot, and it was, but what an enjoyable and amazing day!

I had to meet the tour bus on Buckingham Palace Road by 8:30am, meaning I had to leave my AirBnb before the sunrise to make it in time. Yes, it was early, but I finally had the chance to see my London sunrise.


There were so many people interested in this particular trip, that we were actually divided into two groups. I ended up on the bus with Alton, the bus driver, and Eddie, the guide. They both proved to be absolutely wonderful people and made our day trip everything we could have asked it to be. 

Our first stop for the day was in Windsor Castle. It wasn’t until we arrived at the foot of the castle that I remembered that I had actually been here before with the New England Youth Ensemble when I was in college. Memories flooded back, but I also had the chance to experience tons of things for the first time. 


Sadly, as was the case with the Parliament building and Westminster Abbey, pictures were not allowed to be taken in many parts of the castle. But while I cannot show them to you, what I can saw is that this one of five homes of the current queen is utterly exquisite and ornate. Nothing was left unthought of when it came to materials used and decorations displayed. 

Enormous paintings covered the ceilings of several rooms, featuring individuals who had lived in the castle among the gods. The armory was breath-taking and the hall where royal dinners are often held was quite long. Apparently they have a single table that stretches across the whole expanse!

There was a special exhibit to honor the Queen’s 90th birthday that featured her outfits from across the decades. Riding costumes to theatrical garb to estate dinner gowns. Everything was so beautiful, but one thing I noticed was the height. The Queen does not seem to be, by the looks of her clothes, very tall at all. To me, that makes her all the more charming. 

I exited the exhibit just in time to catch some of the changing of the guard ceremony. Not quite as elaborate as that at Buckingham, and certainly not as crowded, but still quite fun to watch. The musicians accompanying the ceremony were a fife and drum corp, and the fife players were struggling a bit with playing in tune. It was entertaining, but I also felt I could sympathize with them since I play piccolo and know that the cold weather makes it difficult to stay in tune. 

Let’s be honest, the piccolo is just hard to keep in tune regardless. 



Just before we had to leave, I ducked into St. George’s Chapel, one of the oldest parts of the castle. It was ornate to the highest degree and also a fully functioning church. I wonder if it is open to the public every weekend and what exactly happens when the Queen is residing there. 

Our second stop was to something that had been on my list for a long time now – Stonehenge!


These ancient rocks, despite all the archaeology and study that has been done on them, still maintain an air of mystery and wonder. 

Visitors are dropped off in the parking lots and then must go through the visitor center before taking the mini-bus up to the path that leads to the rocks. There was also an option to walk a trail to the rocks. It was only a little over a mile, and I would have done it, but the cold was just too nippy. 


The mini-bus leaves visitors just within view of the stones, but as you walk closer, you can feel the whole aura of this ancient place. 

In fact, I made myself stop for just a moment. No pictures, bracing the cold, and took in the atmosphere. Sometimes I’m too “trigger happy” with my camera and forget to be present in the moment. Let me tell you, this was a moment to be present in. 

There are varying theories as to what the stones represent and how they were brought to the Salisbury plains. What is known is that the structure could be as old 5,000 years and that on the summer and winter solsitices, the structure is perfectly aligned with the early morning sun. It is believed that the Beaker people, named for the unique type of pottery they used and the builders of Stonehenge, could also use the formation to predict eclipses. 



Around Stonehenge were various ditches and mounds. The ditches helped outline the perimeter of the ancient memorial, placed there by ancient peoples for purposes not entirely clear today. The mounds are actually burial grounds, where the wealthy and influential Beakers were buried and prepared for the after life. 

There were also lots of birds that inhabited the rocks and the plain surrounding. Jackdaws and rooks were abundant and some of the rooks even were brave enough to land on a couple of the memorial’s wardens. I tried to convince one to come sit on my hand with peanuts, with the consent of the warden, but no luck. 



Our final destination of the tour was city of Bath, once an opulent city when Britain had a powerful Roman presence that fell into disarray when the empire crumbled. However, the rediscovery of the Roman baths in the 19th century brought people back to the city. Jane Austen, British author of the late 1700s/early 1800s, mentioned Bath in a couple of her novels. Her finally novel, Persuasian, took place entirely in Bath. 

It would have been nice to see more of this ancient city, but we were there to see what had started and revived the city-the Roman Baths. 


Wandering through the museum portion of the site and then standing by the large green pool was truly a memorable experience. Once again, I felt as if I had been placed in a time capsule. To think, hundreds of years ago, this was a place where the wealthiest came to worship and relax. 




What famous people must have entered these waters? What amount of people have these walls seen? 

There were pieces of the ancient altars and parts of statues that were revered, including a bust (more just a head, really) of Minerva, the Roman god of wisdom, to whom the baths were built in honor of. (I believe her Greek counterpart was Athena.)


After a quick glance through the gift shop (there always seems to be a gift shop, huh?), we were back in the bus for a two hour ride back to central London. 

I have been on several tours, day trips and otherwise, and I can honestly say that this is one of the best I have been on. The timing of our visits and the travel in between were perfectly calculated to allow us to see all we could want, have us leave wanting more, and still never feel rushed. Eddie, our tour guide, was pleasant, funny, and approachable, making our time together enjoyable. 

If I had the time, I would book another tour that they have down to Kent and Dover, but I believe I will have to wait until I return to the British Isles for that trip. 

I highly recommend Golden Tours for your visit to London, and no, I was not asked or paid to say this. I really just liked it that much. 🙂

Hard to believe I only have two days left before I return home! I’ll be sure to press in as much as possible within the next two days–and then share all about it! Look out for my next blog post. 

-Wandering Minstrelette

 

Bracknell

Short post today. 

London fog has finally made an appearance. It kind of set the mood for the day as soon as I walked out the door. 


Newbold College is located in Bracknell, about an hour out of London. My journey took much longer than it should have because of uncertainties and second guessing. A whole other hour was frustratingly added to my trip, meaning I wasn’t going to be able to participate in something I was hoping to do, but what matters is I made it. 

Pr. Vili, who I met last night, picked me up from the station and took me to the campus. The fog made it difficult to truly wander and take pictures, so I hung around the church while he packed up a video camera and other equipment he had been using. 





The afternoon was relaxed and honestly kind of slow. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I guess it was nice to have a change of pace. 

I was definitely given a glimpse of life in England outside the ever rushing London heartbeat. Quaint homes in small villages, big Walmart like one-stop-shops, people knowing all the other people in the stores. It was pleasant and refreshing. 

I wish they had this in the States!

The way back was probably what made my evening though. Two adorable little girls, aged 4 and 7, sat by me in the train and took a liking to me. The chatted with me, with smiling parents looking on, the entire way back to Waterloo Station. 

Earlier in the day, I was kind of feeling like today was a bit of a loss. There are so many other things I could have done. But then a phrase one of my teachers in college loved to say came to mind, “Not every measure has to be a masterpiece.”

Every moment of every day doesn’t have to be grand and amazing. It would be more tiring and less special if they were. So, I am thankful for today, and for the fact that I was able to come home early to enjoy the beginning of Sabbath and rest. 

And tomorrow is New Year’s Eve! I hope to have some good stories to share with you. 🙂

-Wandering Minstrelette

A Day for New Friends

What an interesting and exciting day!

A good friend of mine told me that a friend of his that he had met while studying abroad was going to be in London the same time as me and decided to connect us. 

Today I met Bruno, along with Barbara and Jennifer, for an amazing whirlwind of a day.We met at the National Gallery and got to know one another a bit as walked through the exhibits. 


There were fantastic paintings from well-know and not so well-known artists. Probably my favorites were Paolo Veronese’s “The Adoration of the Kings,” and Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.”



After seeing what we wanted at the Gallery, we decided to head towards the British Museum. Except… I lead us in the wrong direction, and with plans later in the day, we wouldn’t have had the time to do everything we wanted. Thankfully, we ended seeing things that some had not had a chance to see yet. 

We crossed the Waterloo Bridge and then around to the Eye, back across on the Westminster Bridge up into Leicester Square. It reminded me very much of New York City, with all the lights and enormous stores, including four stories of M&Ms! Such a ridiculous amount of chocolate. 


Our group began to dwindle a bit as we began a walking tour. Not even 10 minutes into the tour, the three of us left decided we would rather spend our time doing other things. So we headed to Piccadilly Circus. 

What a gorgeous, expensive, and very busy area of London! If I thought Leicester Square was like New York City, Piccadilly Circus was even more so. The tight, constantly shifting crowd, the bright lights (including Europe’s largest LED screen, smaller only than the one in Times Square), and the shopping were all so reminiscent of the Big Apple. 




It’s this kind of thing that I don’t mind experiencing once in a while, but also makes me never want to live in a large city. There is simply too much going on all the time, and I know I need to relax my senses once in a while. 

After helping another of our friends get home, Bruno and I were left together to meet with Pr. Vili, the director for media ministry of the Southern England Conference and a pastor at Newbold College. 


Pr. Vili absolutely spoiled us by taking us to the largest mall in Europe, a Westfield, no less, for dinner. The shopping center was stunning and the food was fantastic. After spending some time together getting to know each other, Pr. Vili left for home and Bruno and I were left to wander the halls of the mall. 

A macaw made from tiny Havaiana flip-flops!


We popped into some stores and watched people skate in the indoor ice rink, but probably the most memorable moment was at the Sky TV kiosk. They have a machine that showed some well-known characters from children’s films (all of which I know, of course) in different poses that you had to match. It was too adorable not to try, and they had pictures from Zootopia (known as Zootropolis here), so I had to do it. 

On my first round, I had 100% success at matching the poses and the salespeople running the kiosk were so impressed that they decided to buy Bruno and I tea. We were so taken aback, but completely appreciative. 

We ended up hanging out at the kiosk for several minutes just chatting and left feeling like we had made new friends. What a blessing!


Getting home late several nights in a row is starting to get to me, but I am just so thankful for all the wonderful things God has blessed me with and used me to be a blessing to others. I pray that the rest of my time here in London will continue to be the same. 

-Wandering Minstrelette

Into the City!

It was a bit hard to get out of bed this morning, the warmth of the electric blanket just kept making me doze off. I should buy one for myself at home. 

But I was excited to spend my first full day in the city, and felt doubly blessed that I was able to spend the day with my friend Brianna, who happened to be in the area visiting family for the holidays.


The day started with one of the things I had been dying to do since I came in 2009 – ride the London Eye. 


Let me tell you, it is so not worth buying a ticket and then waiting in line for a printed version. Being one of the most popular attractions in town, it really makes sense to ask for the ticket to be electronic to just get into the queue for the Eye itself. Thankfully, I thought to take a screen shot, because not having constant service or wifi can make downloading things online rather difficult. 

The view was wonderful. The late morning sun shone a golden touch across the Thames and the buildings, including the iconic Big Ben, stood proudly in its light. 


Thankfully, the wheel turns slow enough that everyone in the glass enclosed pod can walk around and have a 360 degree view of the city with fighting for window space to snap a photo. 




I’m so glad to now be able to tick that off my bucket list. 🙂

Lunch was spent in Box Park at East Croyden where I had the chance to meet with Richard Daly, director of Hope Channel UK. What a pleasant gentleman with a true heart for ministry through media! It a pleasure to hear about his plans for the channel and its programming here in the UK and discuss ideas of how to make it happen. I pray that the Lord will bless his efforts and those of his team as the move forward in this amazing and important project. 

Box Park is like a covered, but open air food court with all sorts of delicious options. They even had heat lamps to keep the cold away! Very cool find!

If you are interested in seeing any of Hope Channel UK’s programming, you can find them on Roku or on Sky 581, Revelation TV.

By the time Brianna and I were back on the train to Central London, the sun was already setting. But 4pm was simply too early to call things a day, so we decided to continue our adventure. 

And what an adventure we had! We passed well known and lesser known landmarks of London. We, of course, had to stop by Buckingham Palace, where I attempted to recreate a photo from when I had come before. 

My friend Michael and I in 2009


Then we came across two war memorials. The first was fairly new, unveiled in 2012 at HM the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee to honor the British and other Allies bombers who served during World War II. The detail in the statues was simply remarkable – they almost looked alive!

This memorial touched me because my uncle served as a tail gunner in a bomber during WWII. I’ll have to be sure to show this picture to him once I return to the States. 

The second was for those who had served and died in World War 1, and had become a place to honor British soldiers across the years who had lost their lives serving their country. It became especially sobering when we came across a wreath laid on the steps of the memorial for a Tom Sawyer. His young face in the photo made it all the more poignant. War is so awful…



Not wanting to end our evening on a sad note, we walked past Wellington Arch to Hyde Park that had been completely bedazzled in order to become: WINTER WONDERLAND!


I truly have never seen a fair of such enormous proportions. There were lights everywhere, with more food and rides than anyone could ever know what to do with. 




There were sections of this pop-up theme park: Santa Land, Bavarian Village, Ice Mountain, etc. Everything was so absolutely extra, it was nearly overwhelming. 

Brianna and I decided simply to walk around and take in the sights (as there were so many to take in), stopping periodically to eat or take a closer look at the craft stands. We got into the park at 5pm and didn’t exit until nearly 8:30pm. And we might still have not seen everything, although I’m pretty sure we saw a good 98 percent or something. 

We would have stayed longer, but by 8:30pm, the cold was starting to settle in, encouraging us to say that now was a good time to call it a night. 

Truly a fun and blessing-filled day. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for tomorrow!

-Wandering Minstrelette