The Sweet Smell of Blossom’s at Sunset

Tonight I will deviate from my last trip to Europe to share my evening in Washington DC. My friend Gretchen and I were on our way home from a long day of teaching a class of PA students Advanced Cardiac Life Support. We decided to take a detour to see the Cherry Blossoms. Check out the history of the cherry trees; a gift from Japan.
https://www.nps.gov/subjects/cherryblossom/index.htm

15th St NW nearly at a standstill. Food trucks lined the street with owners hoping hungry tourists would pick up a quick snack. I jumped out of the car to get us hotdogs and a soft pretzel as Gretchen continued to inch along in the traffic.

Kites could be seen flying in the air, as was the President’s helicopter, landing at the White House.

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The scene of the sunset behind the Washington Monument with the American flags encircling it, was spectacular. The Cherry blossoms were in full bloom. The night was warm and the sweet smell of the blossoms filled the air.
The water in the tidal basin shimmered as paddle boats with happy families paddled across it.

The sun peeking over the horizon shed its last bit of light through the Jefferson monument; the statue of the man himself stood as if he was looking proudly down on the cherry trees that lined the basin.

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As we entered Virginia the Pentagon and the Air Force memorial were catching the last rays of light. We added extra time to our commute home tonight, but we had so much fun laughing and singing, people watching, and taking in the views of the beautiful trees around the memorials. Our hearts and minds were full of happiness and contentment.

A Day at Windsor

I boarded the Great Western Railway https://www.gwr.com/ at Paddington station, destination to Windsor Castle, and in just about an hour I was there. Before walking up to the castle, I walked over the river Thames to Eton. After a short walk up High Street, I noticed what appeared to be a gothic cathedral but was in fact the Eton chapel built nearly 600 years ago. Boys dressed in traditional black suits with white shirts and ties, looking as though they were going to play in an orchestra more so than attending church, filed out of the chapel. It was nice to see some of the students with their families. I walked in for a look, but didn’t take a photo, as I wasn’t entirely sure I was allowed to be in there.

As I walked up the hill to the castle in Windsor in search of food, I felt as though I had been transported back in time. I found Prince Harry’s Pub http://princeharrywindsor.com/ My lunch was the perfect example of English cuisine; roast beef, potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding. It was delicious. Pub food in England, is reasonably priced as well as quite good.

You can buy your ticket online prior to arrival to the castle, or purchase there at the ticket counter. https://www.windsor.gov.uk/ There was not a long line to get it, as it usually is during the spring and summer months. The lack of a crowd made the visit more intimate and allowed more time to take in all there. Windsor castle was originally one of many fortresses built by William the Conqueror, who after triumph at the Battle of Hastings, ruled Britain from 1066, to 1087. Monarchs over the years have added their own tastes to the castle, representing medieval, baroque, Georgian and Victorian influences.

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In 1992 the castle suffered a destructive fire. After more than 15 hours of firefighting, with the help of 200 firefighters, the fire was suppressed. Fortunately the castle was being rewired, and most of the priceless works of art and furnishings were out of where the destruction took place. They were awaiting an inspection before moving the pieces back into place, with the exception of one work of art brought in early. The fire was started by a halogen bulb behind a curtain. What wasn’t destroyed by fire was destroyed by water. Extensive restoration took place, overseen by Prince Philip, with the help of Prince Charles, with funding from the visitors.

The ticket inside the castle includes a visit inside St George’s Chapel, with the exception of Sundays. It is another example of fine gothic architecture, with construction starting in 1475, by King Edward IV, and finished in 1528 by Henry VIII. https://www.stgeorges-windsor.org Many have been buried there, Henry VIII being one, and many have wedded there; most recently Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

While awaiting evensong in St. George’s Chapel I walked across the street for a cream tea and scone at a quaint bakery and tea shop.

After Windsor Castle closes to the public, you can await to go back around 5 pm to wait in a line for the guards to take you back to the chapel for evensong. The choir sang with angelic voices resonating through the historic walls of the chapel. Evensong or one of the other two services offered there daily is worth a visit. I only wish I could have seen more of the chapel, but now I have a reason to go there again.

A statue of Queen Victoria overlooks the town of Windsor. Christmas lights adorn the main street closed to vehicles. During this Christmas season a light show flickered off of the castle wall. As I walked back to the train I imagined what it would be like to live in such a place. Many in fact do live within the walls. The fact the castle exists as it does today can be attributed to the hard work of all those who work and volunteer there, as well as the efforts of Prince Charles and his father.

A Bright Day and a Star at Night

The sun was bright and the air was cool, with a bit of a wind as I headed out for the day. I took a bus from Swiss Cottage to Camden. Camden, situated on Regents Canal, is known for its market, and bustling nightlife. That morning vendors were cooking food for the busy day. Shops were opening for the soon to come shoppers who wanted to get special gifts for Christmas, or maybe one for themselves. I boarded the waterbus with the London Waterbus Company https://www.londonwaterbus.com for the first ride of the day. The windows in the front had to stay open because of the crosswinds, but there were blankets on the seats to keep warm. It was a private ride which made it even more special. The attendant said coming from Little Venice is more poplar for the start of the day, and sure enough there were people waiting for the ride as we arrived. The waterbus meanders through the canal, low to the water, passing a still and a peaceful life along the way. You can stop at the London Zoo and pick up the next boat, or continue on to Little Venice near Paddington after a 55 min ride. Along the way boats were in hibernation for the winter, and some had smoke coming from their stacks with small Christmas trees on the bow.

After getting off the boat I walked to Paddington Station to pick up the Tube to Notting Hill. Notting Hill is a busy place, known for a market along Portobello Road, quaint shops, and the movie with the same name. I have a fond memory of this market from a trip to London in 2016. While walking around I heard a music vendor asking the crowd to name the singer of the song he was playing; her voice was distinctive. I heard someone shout out Doris Day. As I walked by I turned around and said Dinah Washington, smiled as the vendor pointed at me with a finger on his nose, and walked away as the crowd turned to look at me.

This day was a quick visit to Notting Hill because I had a ticket to see Parliament. https://www.parliament.uk/visiting/ The Houses of Parliament, also known as the Palace of Westminster, was originally built in 1016, and was the home of the Monarchy until a fire in 1512. The gothic building is an iconic part of the landscape of London, as it sits on the River Thames. The palace is a beautiful ornate place that is rich in history. It was be rebuilt again after another fire 1834. The tower that houses Big Ben has been under various stages of renovation since 2016. A guided tour takes you throughout the massive building, and you can even visit the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. I could just imagine Churchill speaking in the House encouraging them to take on Hitler. I pictured his famous words resonating on May 13,1940,having just become Prime Minister;”I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

A short walk away was a pub called the Red Lion Inn. You can get the traditional fish and chips, as I did in 2013, or a good burger as I did this day. The room upstairs was warm and a Christmas tree sat near my table. Conversation around me was low. I was in excited anticipation for the show I was about to see at the National Theatre.

As you walk through the tube there is advertising for shows around London. These shows are mainly in the West End; London’s equivalent of America’s Broadway in New York. The actor playing Antony caught my eye. Was it really Ralph Fiennes?? It was!! https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/antony-and-cleopatra For over three hours I had a front row middle seat to watch Ralph Fiennes in complete star struck awe. The theatre is modern unlike the historic theatres of the West End, but it was a good place to see a show.
As I made my way back to Swiss cottage, I could not help but have a grin on my face. I have seen a many great shows, some even better than this, but the actor made it even better,with his impeccable acting. His costars were some of the best I have seen on stage. What a perfect end to another great day!

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Shakespeare and His Globe

After a day around Lambeth I headed to what would be the first of many plays this visit to London. I booked a reservation at The Refinery Restaurant. It was a good idea because there were office Christmas parties in abundance. Normally this restaurant is set up with individual tables for dining, but this night I sat amongst others at a long table set for a later reservation of a big party. The place was festive and the food was great! I had steak au poivre. https://www.drakeandmorgan.co.uk/the-refinery-bankside/

It was a short walk to Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. The Globe as it exists today, is situated in Bankside, in the Borough of Southwark, on the bank of the Thames. It existence today is due to the persistence of the American actor Sam Wanamaker, for which one of the two theatres inside the present day Globe is named. The original theatre was just a couple blocks away, found by archaeologist in 1989 during an excavation. The original Globe opened to all in 1599 for Shakespeare’s players to perform his plays, but would succumb to fire in 1613. It was rebuilt again a year later, only to be destroyed by the Puritans in 1642. The remake boasts a replica of the semi outdoor theatre, and a small intimate playhouse, named after Wanamaker, based on sketches found of it. I have seen two shows in the Wanamaker theatre. The seats are reasonable; with seats being used loosely, as at the top it’s standing only. The railings are high so leaning can be accomplished without much effort. There are regular seats below. The theatre is lit as it was back in Shakespeare’s day, with candles only. The acting is top notch there. For a couple of hours they transport you back to Shakespeare’s day, through the language, the costumes and the music. This form of entertainment was popular during the Elizabethan period of England, for the rich and poor alike. Shakespeare was famous during his lifetime.

The first play I saw there was in 2016 called, “The Inn at Lydia.” It was about Caesar who when dying hears about a man name Jesus who can heal the sick. He goes in search of Him, only to learn he died three days earlier on the cross. The wise men were there adding comedy.

The play for this December 2018 trip was “Macbeth.” Many of Shakespeare’s plays to include this one were based on material he found in Raphael Holinshed’s “Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland,” published in 1577. The real Macbeth reigned in Scotland in 1040 after defeating a young King Duncan in battle. Shakespeare took liberties with his plays of historical fiction, as seen in the killing of an old King Duncan as he slept in his bed. This play was first performed for King James I of Scotland, and King Christian IV of Demark, in 1606. As noted in Hugh Trevor-Roper’s, “The Invention of Scotland: Myth and History,” King James had a fascination of witches, and there were three in “Macbeth,” causing all kinds of havoc. Shakespeare may have kept this in mind for the King. Shakespeare had the play set in the 16th century, for little was known about style of dress and decorum.

The Globe Theatre is worth a visit. https://www.shakespearesglobe.com It was a short walk to the London Bridge Tube station for the ride back to Palmer’s lodge at Swiss Cottage that was my home for nine days.

Wars to Remember

The Borough of Lambeth is the site of one of five museums making up the Imperial War Museum. As the first of the Imperial War Museums, it was established in 1917 as a reminder of those who fought in World War I. Since then it has expanded to encompass wars fought thereafter. It’s current location has been used since 1936 in what was once a hospital. Relic’s from the wars can be seen throughout the building. It also hold an extensive archive, and with a pass obtained online, you can conduct research there in the reading room. https://www.iwm.org.uk/ There is a holocaust section on the top floor showing the atrocities of the Nazi’s during World War II. It is a somber place and all seem to walk in silence as they make their way through the exhibit.

In 2017 I visited the War Rooms of Winston Churchill. Thanks to the persistence of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980’s, the IWM took over the care of the War Rooms in hope to preserve them for all to see. Located in the basement of what is now the Treasury Building in London, the War Rooms were to be a safe place where Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and his Cabinet could have debates and make decisions on what to do about the ever growing tyranny of Hitler. A wonderful example of these rooms and Churchill’s plight can be see in the movie, “Darkest Hour,” but nothing really compares to seeing the rooms for yourself. Churchill made some of the toughest decisions a leader can make, all the while dealing with those who opposed him. He was unyielding in his desires to rid the world of such a man as Hitler, and his ideologies. Within these very rooms Churchill would be in secret correspondence with Franklin D. Roosevelt, in hope he could get the Isolationists of America to join in the fight. Britain and the United States along with the rest of the world owe much to his persistence. As you can see, I have a great like for the man, despite many of his shortcomings. If you are a history buff, it is a must see. https://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms

Upon the Thames

My major goal of the day was to start research for a book on women in the fire brigade during the blitz of London during World War II, at the National Archives in Kew. First I left Swiss Cottage for Richmond in search of fish and chips. After taking the train from Hampstead, I walked through the little town to meet up with the river Thames. Boats in hibernation for the winter dotted along the shore. Richmond is a borough of London situated on the Thames River; called Richmond Upon Thames. Its Green, a 2,000 acre park, is home to two cricket teams and dates back to medieval days when jousting was the sport of the day. A small theatre dating back to the end of the Victorian era in 1899,is along the Park.

The bus from the centre of Richmond to the National Archives took me past Kew Botanical Gardens. I have heard it is worth a see. Chambers’ Pagoda built in 1762 could be seen from the bus. https://www.kew.org/ The large building that houses the archives is situated in a quiet neighborhood not far from the gardens. The archives not only has reading rooms to see documents and books of interest, it also has free events throughout the year. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/

The train station back to the centre of London is a short walk from the Archives. There was also the option of riding the bus for an even cheaper fare. I opted for the bus to Waterloo Station where I took a short tube ride to Southwark Cathedral just up from the Thames for Evensong and an evening of Christmas carols. The Southwark Cathedral dates back to the 1100’s, but there has been a place of worship there since the 7th century. The architecture is of Norman influence as are most churches of that time period after the Norman Conquest of 1066. During Shakespeare’s day actors performed there. A stain glass window and a memorial commemorates this.Choral singers from all over London joined a local girls school and musicians to fill the church with beautiful sounds of the festive season. The audience joined in for several songs. After the carols there were refreshments of mulled wine, mince pies and shortbread. https://cathedral.southwark

The rest of my evening would consist of a movie and laundry back at my place.

Trafalgar Square

The London Underground is one of the best ways to get around the vast city. I have found if you are going to be there for more than a couple of days, it is best to get a pass. The tube as the London Underground is called, uses a card called an oyster card. https://www.londonpass.com/london-transport I purchased a weeks pass in two zones. Having the pass allowed me to move swiftly in and out of the station without worrying if I had enough money on the card. I frequently used the site https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/tube/ to plan my day prior to going out. Be sure to pay attention to the times of operation. Some stations close for a period of time at night. The bus is also a good way to get around the city. You can use the oyster card for a small fare and get see the sites as you go by, while riding with the locals. The taxi is more expensive but worth at least one trip.

Trafalgar square is home to the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery. They are free to the public, though they do ask for a small donation. The are some exhibits inside of the museums which require a ticket. We walked around looking at various works of art. My favorite are the Impressionists in the National Gallery. Seeing the portrait’s of famous musicians of my lifetime as well as portraits of famous Kings and Queens painted in their lifetime was also a treat. Admiral Horatio Nelson stands high on a column overlooking the square to remember his sacrifice at the Battle of Trafalgar in Spain against Napoleon in 1805.

My friend Karin and I would say goodbye after this visit to the museums. We saw so much during those first days of December 2018. She was to make her way back to Switzerland and I would continue with my trip. It was truly great to meet her sister, to see her again and spend part of my vacation with them in London.

I visited inside of St. Martin in the Field’s church during my October 2017 trip to London after walking by it during previous trips. I happened upon a rehearsal for a show that weekend with a performance of Mozart. Since I would miss the show, I made a mental note to see a show there in the future. In the main part of the church you can see shows featuring the music from all the classical greats. For this trip I decided to see a Jazz show in the Café in the Crypt below. T.J. Johnson and his band put on a wonderful show. There were many couples dancing. I nearly got up myself to join them. https://www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org/