Saturday, July 21, 2007

Final Pictures from Europe

A poster for the Museum of Communism

The Rosetta Stone at The British Museum

The cool ceiling at The British Museum

Natasha is happy with her Book 7!
(Saturday, July 21, 2007 12:02am London, England time)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Prague pictures

The Old-New Synagogue in The Jewish Quarter

Prague, from the Castle grounds

St Vitus Cathedral, inside view

The Charles Bridge and Prague,
from the tower of St Vitus Cathedral

Looking down on the Castle grounds,
from the top of the tower in the Cathedral

Some beautifully decorated eggs in Golden Lane

Us being tourist-y on The Charles Bridge

A subway station in Prague

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Really Big Castle (and Ultimate, too!)

Today we woke up early (7:30) and headed off to the Prague Castle. Unfortunately, we didn't get there early enough, and had to deal with large crowds of tourists. One of the things we didn't realize was how flippin' huge the castle actually is. There are about 40 million buildings and 80 million things to see. We decided to go for the "short" tour so we only saw St Vitus Cathedral, The Old Palace, St George's Church and the Golden Lane. That took us about four and a half hours. One of the best investments we've made in Prague was to pay for the audio guide. Being ... practical... we got one (at the student rate) and shared it.

In St Vitus Cathedral alone, there are about 20 different chapels. Each one is dedicated to a Czech saint with an unpronounceable name. We found it interesting that the main part of the cathedral was only finished in the early 1900s (according to our guidebook, just in time for the 1000-year anniversary of the death of St. Wenceslas), although it was started in the 1400's. We assumed the entire cathedral was much older. Natasha found the stained glass windows very beautiful and we took many pictures of them. There was also a chapel with one of the 770 cannonballs the church was bombarded with in the 1700s (?), which was kind of strange.

The most interesting saint was St John of Nepomuk, who was thrown off the Charles Bridge and drowned. The only part of him they found was his tongue, which is now perserved in effigy on his really big silver tomb.

Another interesting feature of the Cathedral was when we climbed 287 stairs up one of the towers. We had good views of Prague, and we were also able to see the church's flying buttresses from above. It was a long, hot climb, but well worth it.

We also learned a lot about Czech's eternal ruler, Wenceslas. Officially he will rule the Czech Republic forever and the current ruler is just standing in for him. His chapel has 1300 semi-precious stones embedded in the walls and the door to his crown has seven locks. The keys to these locks are held by seven different government and church officials.

Then we went to the Old Palace. The Vladimir Hall is the largest unsupported gothic hall in Central Europe. We tried to waltz there, since it is huge and there was tons of space, but some guy kept yelling at us in Czech. We weren't sure if he was trying to tell us that a) there should be music or b) we were being disrespectful so we decided to play it safe and stop waltzing.

The main highlight of the Old Palace was that we kept being in the wrong room so the audio guide wasn't making a lot of sense. Finally, with the help of some staircases, we did eventually discover the right rooms but, after this happened two or three times, we decided that the palace really was a bit of a maze and needed clearer marking.

The Golden Lane was actually kind of cool with little houses that have now been turned into shops. It was fun to poke our heads in and out of them, especially the oldest house on the street (which dates back to the 16th century) which now sells antique instruments. Dave also appreciated the "smallest house in Prague", which was about the size of a large closet.

Then it was off to the Charles Bridge which, because of the throngs of tourists, we basically just walked across. Although some picture taking did occur!

After Charles Bridge we made our way to the Chocolate Museum. Although it was interesting to see different works of art, all painted with chocolate, the highlight was painting our own chocolate pictures. Dave did a realistic portrait of the Charles Bridge with an abstract Prague Castle in the background and Natasha painted a six-year-old's interpretation of a grand piano! (Note to readers: Natasha is the main author of this post, so she is allowed to write that!)

Then, after doing some shopping, we headed off to the north side of the river to the giant metronome. The base on which the metronome is built used to support a statue of Lenin but after that was pulled down, the metronome was built in its place. It has been going continuously since 1991 and is supposed to symbolize that all political reigns must eventually end. Being into music, and especially having played piano, we both found this sculpture highly intriguing.

On our walk through the park to get to our supper destination, we happened upon a group of Czech Ultimate Frisbee players. Seeing our envying looks, and outright stares as we stopped to watch, they asked if we wanted to join them. Of course, we said yes. They were just learning the basics of the game and it was fun to play with them, despite the hazards of Natasha wearing sandals and guarding men in cleats. Ow! But she was more than willing to sacrifice a few toes for the chance to play Ulti in Prague :) And Dave even hammered successfully so he was thrilled. (Note to readers: Although Natasha is the prime author of this post, the above sentence came straight from Dave, so she is not maligning his Ultimate ability!)

For supper we headed off to Fraktal, at Dave's mathematically-insipred request. Natasha had an excellent Greek Salad and it was an atmospheric place to be.

Then we walked along the north side of the river to the nearest metro stop. It was interesting to see Prague as a modern city, rather than as a tourist site. Plus we even got a Czech grocery shopping experience.

We rode the metro about twenty extra stops so we could visit the Chodov station. Dave had his reasons for wanting to go there, and enjoyed the chance to get some fun photos.

Tomorrow we are looking forward to seeing a few last places in Prague before we catch our flight to London in the evening. Fortunately the weather was less hot and humid today, so sightseeing was more enjoyable and we are looking forward to a good night's sleep, despite the train roaring past every few minutes.

Good night,
Natasha and Dave

*To read about our last few days in Europe, go here.
*To see our final pictures of Europe, go here

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Czech Judaica and a hidden chocolate museum

We woke up bright and early this morning with the intention of visiting a chocolate art museum Natasha had heard about and visiting the centuries-old synagogues in Josefov, the Jewish Quarter. So, armed with a map, we wandered around winding, cobblestone streets in search of the museum. We eventually gave up and asked for directions; upon doing so, we discovered that our map (which we got for free from the hostel) was wrong, and that we were some distance away from the museum. We were, however, quite close to the synagogues of the Jewish quarter, so we decided to leave the museum for later.

The Jewish Quarter contains five synagogues, a graveyard and a Holocaust exhibit which, collectively, are referred to as the "Jewish Museum". Indeed, the syngagogues have been converted into museums, each with a different focus. One had displays about Jewish holidays and rituals; another focused on lifecycle events (birth, marriage, etc.) in Judaism, while a third focused on the Holocaust. In this one, the walls of the sanctuary were completely covered with the names of Jews from Prague (and surrounding towns) who had died in the Holocaust, while the upper level contained an exhibit of art by children at Terezin, a concentration camp near Prague.

One thing that Dave found interesting about the Holocaust exhibit was that it focused on the history of Prague and surrounding towns during the Holocaust, and the stories of Jews who lived there. Finally, the graveyard was *very* old (dating back to the mid-15th century) and, due to the number of people buried there, many of the gravestones were slanted sharply and others were hardly visible at all.

Another interesting aspect of the Jewish Quarter was its "tourist-y" feel. The Jewish museum occupies perhaps five square blocks, and the streets in this area were packed with souvenir shops and booths selling menorahs, mezuzot, kippot and various other items of Judaica. This was particularly strange for Dave, who had not thought of these items as "souvenirs". It was, more generally, strange to see Jewish religion, history and culture "on display", but since the Jewish community in the Czech Republic is dwindling rapidly (a few thousand people with an average age of 75) it seems that this is the form in which a Jewish presence in Prague will survive.

During our exploration of the Jewish Quarter, we had lunch (appropriately enough) at the Franz Kafka Cafe. After finishing the Jewish Quarter, we set off once more to find the chocolate museum. We eventually found the right twisty side-street, and even found the right place, but they were closed for some reason. Temporarily stuck, but undefeated, we resolved to try again tomorrow.

We then swung by the clock tower (which we visited yesterday) for a second look, and thanks to a fellow tourist, we looked at the right part of the tower, and saw twelve apostles parade past, each one turning as he passed to face the town square. Our difficulty yesterday was that we assumed they paraded around *outside* the clock, but they actually stay inside the clock and windows open so you can see them. From our vantage point yesterday, we couldn't see the windows.

Our curiosity about the clock satisfied, we headed over to the Charles Bridge for a view of the Vltava River (which runs through Prague) before catching a classical music concert at the St. Nicholas Church. The concert was made up of a smattering of Baroque and Classical music (Purcell, Handel, Bach, Mozart, etc.) for organ, french horn and an alto singer. The music was quite enjoyable, but the combination of the audience (made up of seemingly non-musically-inclined tourists) and the venue (we were seated facing away from the musicians, who played in the organ loft) created a less-than-ideal atmosphere.

We finished our day out in Prague with dinner at a restaurant that served both traditional Czech food (goulash for Dave) and not-so-traditional fare (pizza for Natasha). We got another chance to practice our Czech, and both enjoyed our meals.

Tomorrow we are looking forward to seeing the castle, the chocolate museum, and a giant metronome. Stay tuned for further details!

Dave and Natasha

*To read about Day 18, go here 
*To see pictures of Prague, go here.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Czech-ing out the sights

As you probably guessed from the oh-so-clever title, we have arrived in Prague, and have begun to see a bit of the city. We found our way by bus, subway and foot to the hostel earlier this afternoon, and after a bit of a breather, headed to the Old City to start to get our bearings. We ended up going up to the top of the Powder Tower (so named because it once stored gunpowder), thus getting a nice view of the Old City and a bit of a history lesson along the way -- not to mention some exercise!

After that, we wandered into the Old Town Square, saw the clock tower ring 6 o'clock (which was surprisingly unimpressive -- maybe we didn't have the right view), and saw several other impressive buildings. We both appreciated the fact that one restaurant on the Town Square had a person with a hose, spraying water so people could cool off. Prague is *really* hot (in the 30's), and there are headlines in the news about the heat (from what we can figure out -- it is in Czech after all.)

We had a delicious supper at a pub which was in the oldest cellar in Prague, dating back to the mid-13th century. Natasha really enjoyed her mushroom ragout on potato pancakes, and Dave had sausages in a black beer sauce, with a mug of Czech beer to wash it all down. We think our waiter was amused by our attempts to speak Czech, although Dave seems to have a fairly good handle on some basics -- please, thank you, excuse me -- it's all very useful!

After supper, we headed back to the hostel, and will be heading off to bed shortly in order to be rested and ready for a full day of sightseeing tomorrow. The combination of heat and lack of sleep have left us pretty wiped.

The hostel we are staying at has free internet access via a handful of computer terminals, so we will likely be able to keep you all up-to-date on our travels. However, we won't be able to post pictures, which is too bad since Dave has been camera-happy :)

Dave and Natasha

*To read about Day 17, go here.

Hanging out at Heathrow

So it's 5:45am and we're checked in for our flight to Prague which doesn't leave until 7:30 so we have some time to spare. We're looking forward to navigating our way through the Czech language!

We had a long day of travel getting from the Canary Islands to London. We got bumped from our original flight which meant that we went from Tenerife to Manchester and, after a four-hour layover, finally flew to London. On the plus side, we got reimbursed handsomely, which made the time hanging around in the Manchester airport quite bearable.

Yesterday was a down day, and we spent much of the day sleeping.

Last night we had the privilige of sleeping on Firefly, Chris Allen's boat. Natasha had been there before but Dave hadn't. This meant that we got to sleep for about four hours before catching a bus to Heathrow at 3:30am. We are looking forward to spending another two nights on the boat when we return from Prague.

We enjoyed some Indian take-away last night, our first proper meal since a lovely Italian meal on Friday night in Buzanada.

A random ST:tNG coincidence:
On our flight from Tenerife to Manchester, we were shown a Simpsons episode (the one with the Stonecutters), which Dave discovered had Patrick Stewart as a guest voice. The next thing that was shown was a movie called "The Librarian", directed by none other than Jonathan Frakes... eerie!

That's all for now; we'll try to find an Internet cafe somewhere in Prague, but otherwise we'll try and update on Friday.

Dave and Natasha

*To read about Day 16, go here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pictures from Tenerife (July 9 - 12)

The deck chairs where we've hung out for the past week

The pool we've been swimming in

Dave playing pool

Leaving Tenerife

Tomorrow we are checking out of the time share where we have been staying for the past week. We will spend another day on Tenerife and head back to London for a day before flying to Prague on Monday morning.
These past few days have been filled with more watching movies, reading books, playing computer games, lying by the pool and playing in the ocean waves. It has been a very relaxing few days, to be sure!
We are looking forward to going to The British Museum on Sunday and heading off to Prague after that. It looks like Prague is going to be HOT HOT HOT so we are glad for shorts and t-shirts.
We aren't sure if we will have much access to internet between now and when we get back to Canada so we may not be updating regularly until we return.
But stayed tuned, just in case...

*To read about Days 14 and 15, go here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Another Lazy Day in Tenerife

Today has passed in much the same way as the past few days; we read for a while, swam for a bit, and hung out by the pool for a spell. The main activity for the day was playing in the ocean surf – we jumped into the waves, floated with them back towards the beach, and generally horsed around for a good forty-five minutes. Then it was back home so we could have supper, fit in a quick couple of games of pool, and then we finished the day with “Return of the Jedi”. Tomorrow, we aren't going to watch a movie in the evening, so we'll have to come up with something else to do... stay tuned to find out what that might be!

*To read about Days 11 through 13, go here.
*To see pictures from Days 9 through 12, go here.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Doing what we're expected to

Not much exciting happened yesterday (Sunday) but we should probably write something so here it is.
Today was a day of doing what almost everyone else here does. In other words, we spent some time at the pool swimming, reading, and lying in the sun, then we watched some episodes of Friends which were showing on the timeshare DVD channel. We spent some more time lying in the sun later on in the afternoon and I (Natasha) cooked supper. I even made garlic bread to go with the pasta!
After supper we ventured outside the timeshare to walk to the ocean. It was quite beautiful and exciting and we'll probably head there to do some swimming this afternoon. The beach is nice with sand but quite littered with garbage so I don't think we'll hang out there much, other than to go swimming. We also ran away from the waves which was quite fun!
Then we came back to our apartment and watched The Empire Strikes Back, again on the DVD channel. After such an energetic day (!) it was time to sleep so we did. Another beautiful, and lazy, day in the Canary Islands.

*To see pictures of Day 8, go here.
*To read about Day 10, go here.

Pictures from July 8

Dave reading at the pool

Hibiscus flower at the resort

Us at the ocean!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A Thoroughly Lazy Day

Since Natasha and I have been (more or less) taking turns writing, it is up to me to write about yesterday, our first full day at the timeshare. However, since our posts have, up to this point, been concerned with exciting, interesting or otherwise news-worthy events, this particular post will be quite short. We woke up late, read for a while, did some laundry, and generally hung around for much of the afternoon. Natasha finished a book, which may have been the most productive thing either of us did all day. Excitement for the day came in the form of venturing down the street for a few groceries and some beach towels. In the evening, I made supper (which was also quite productive) and we watched Star Wars before heading off to bed. To sum up, I'll quote from “Office Space”: We did absolutely nothing, and it was everything that we thought it could be. Today has been more of the same, but Natasha will fill you in on that when she writes her next post.

Pictures, with captions, have now been added throughout. Go back to July 1 to see pictures of our time in London, along with a few pictures from here. More will be posted as we take them :)

*To see pictures of Day 7, go here.
*To read about Days 8 and 9, go here.

Pictures from July 7

Eating supper on our balcony

Natasha reading in the apartment

Saturday, July 07, 2007


Just a quick note to say that we have now added some pictures to our blog. We haven't quite figured out how to add captions or do layout but we will work on that. For now, the pictures are there -- at least for the first few days of our trip. We will work more on this later.

A little slice of heaven – aaahhhhh :)

Written on July 6, 2007:

I, Natasha, am writing this from our timeshare which is a one bedroom apartment with a terrace and a view of the ocean from our front door. We just finished a wonderful supper of pizza and Dave is filling out some U of A form (see, we're not really on vacation!) so I'm writing about today.
We woke up at Pensione Cassandra in Buzanada and through miscommunication realized that we needed to leave immediately, as opposed to at 2:00, as I thought I had arranged last night. I guess my “Spanish” didn't get us as far as I hoped :) But no worries, we'd already showered and packed up so all we had to do was lug all our stuff with us until we found a supermarket, where we could purchase some breakfast/lunch type food, and get a taxi to take us to the timeshare.
Dave made the ultimate sacrifice and ate the smallest breakfast ever, for him – we shared a small loaf of bread, plain, and drank some orange juice. We also bought some yogurt but we had no spoons so the eating of it was much hindered.
After about an hour, we eventually got to a place where we were told we could hail a taxi, only to discover that the next bus was 1) coming in fifteen minutes and 2) heading to exactly where we needed to go. And it was cheaper than a taxi. So we jumped on the bus. With one transfer, and thanks to a Irish or possibly Scottish expatriate, we got off the bus and headed left, hopefully in the direction of our timeshare. Fortunately we spotted a major hotel which the timeshare used as a landmark on their directions, and after heading up some stairs, down some other stairs, across a street and back again, we found out we were on the same street as the timeshare. Yay us!
Check in at the timeshare was fairly smooth. We got to our apartment and crashed. It is a wonderful place to be for the next week. We are both quite happy. We took Dave's laptop to the reception area, connected to the free wireless (and Dave wondered why I was so insistent about bringing the laptop!) and wrote some blog entries, found out how we can do laundry tomorrow (also free), did some shopping for meals at the timeshare supermarket (especially breakfast for Dave), and got some take away (sorry – we've been in England for too long!) pizza for supper.
Tomorrow we will post this to our blog but for now the balcony door is open, the noise of the restaurant below is coming through the windows and I have an excellent book to finish reading, The Charmed Sphere by Catherine Asaro. My friend, Alissa, gave it to me a few years ago and I am just now getting around to reading it. I'm over halfway through and, for all you fantasy buffs out there, I highly recommend it.
So that's it for tonight from Club Med Sunterra – yes, that's the timeshare. A Club Med. Who'da thought we'd be at a Club Med??? Tomorrow the plan is to hang out by the pool and relax. Maybe the next day we'll head to the ocean which isn't far but we've declared tomorrow to be a lazy day!

Until then,

*To see pictures of Day 6, go here.
*To read about Day 7, go here.

Pictures from July 6

Natasha at the top of a hill, while we were trying to find the timeshare

Dave checking his e-mail, after we finally found the timeshare

The view from our balcony

The sunset, seen from our front door

Friday, July 06, 2007

From the home of Canary Wharf to the Canary Islands

As part of the “catching up on our blog now that we've caught our breath” series, we will write a bit about our travels yesterday.
As you probably gathered from our previous post, Wednesday involved a lot of walking. We figured we'd even this out by taking other available modes of transportation on Thursday. We started the day by meeting Natasha's friend, Chris Allen, for a “proper” (i.e., fried) English breakfast in Crouch End, which is just down the hill from LMC.
We then took the Tube west to Notting Hill, which is the setting of a Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts movie of the same name, and is also home to the Portobello Road Market. Thursday was not market day, unfortunately, so we wandered around some less-than-bustling, but still quite charming, streets until we arrived at “The Travel Bookshop” which was where Hugh's character worked in the movie. We found a few good books, and then made our way back to Dora's place. We had a bite to eat, spent some time re-arranging our worldly belongings for the next part of our trip, and then headed off for our flight. We took the Tube to London Bridge, where we got on a commuter train to Gatwick Airport. We then hopped on a shuttle to get to the right terminal, and finally, at around 5:30, we got on our flight to Tenerife.
The flight itself was fairly uneventful – we watched an entertaining, mindless Will Ferrell movie (is there any other kind?), and dinner was actually pretty tasty – and we arrived in Tenerife shortly after 10:00. Yay for another stamp in our passports! We then caught a taxi and, after some wandering and halting conversation with our Spanish-speaking cabbie, arrived at Pensione Cassandra in the town of Buzanada, where we were staying for the night (our week at the time share in Costa Adeje didn't begin until the next day).
We were very relieved to finally be at our destination, until we realized that there was nobody at the pensione, and it was getting fairly late, past 11:00pm. So, we wandered around the streets of Buzanada, trying to find (ideally) the proprietor of the pensione or (more realistically) a payphone to call her from. Eventually, after more conversations with some friendly locals in our very basic Spanish, we found a phone at a bar a little ways up a hill, managed to reach someone (Cassandra herself, perhaps?), and were told that she'd be there in half an hour. So, we headed back down the hill and, after some more waiting outside the pensione, eventually got in and to our room shortly before midnight. Then it was time for some much anticipated, and needed, sleep.

*To read about Day 6, go here.
*To see pictures from Day 5, go here.

Pictures from July 5

London Mennonite Centre, where we stayed with Dora

Check out the multi-coloured hydrangeas, all on one plant.

Some brightly-coloured houses in Notting Hill

Walking, walking and oh, did I mention walking?

We have gotten a bit behind in our blogging, so in this post we're writing about Wednesday, July 4.

Today we walked. Everywhere. We started out at The British Library where we walked through their gallery of famous pieces of paper. We saw letters written by Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll's diary where he wrote about finishing writing down Alice in Wonderland, the libretto used at the first ever performance of Handel's “Messiah”, which was inscribed with the soloists' names, music written by Beethoeven and Bach, lyrics to Beatles songs written down on Lufthansa napkins and other random pieces of paper. We also saw the log book from the HMS Victory, opened to the report of Admiral Nelson's death. And that wasn't all... There was also an exhibit on the Magna Carta, which included four surviving copies of the document, one highly burned but with the original seal (Did you know they were written down on different sizes of parchment by different people with different wording???). Other highlights included Leonardo Da Vinci's notebook, letters from Newton and Darwin, and many ancient Bibles, Torahs, haggadot, and other religious texts.
There was also an special exhibition, which we are hoping to get back to, of ancient texts from Islam, Judiasdm, and Christianity. We were really wishing that Dave's dad, Bob, could have been there to see this exhibition. Among the texts on display were pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a Koran from the 8th century, and Walton's Polyglot Bible – open to 2nd Samuel – which was written in Hebrew, Latin, Greek and several other languages, besides. Dave was also excited to see a Torah from the 10th century; since it was open to the Ten Commandments, he was actually able to read some of it (“Thou shalt not... hmmm... I'm sure that next word isn't that important...”) The exhibition itself mixed the ancient texts with a very modern presentation, which included flat-screen monitors, scrolling LCD displays, and coloured mist.
Then we walked to King's Cross Station so that Natasha could get a picture at Platform 9 ¾ (which is where Harry Potter takes the train to Hogwarts, for all the non-Harry Potter readers out there). She was quite excited about that! Then we walked south to the Strand and Temple Bar so that we could see The Temple Church. This church was mentioned in The DaVinci Code, and features a circular chamber with stone effigies of nine knights templar, and several beautiful stained glass windows.
Then we walked (are you getting the picture of a lot of walking?!) along the north side of the Thames to the monument to the Great Fire of London. We climbed its 311 steps, walked around the perimeter, took some pictures, and walked down the stairs again. It was quite neat to see London from such a height (about 160m).
Then we walked over London Bridge, and along the south side of the Thames to the Tate Modern art gallery. Here we saw a bunch of different art. Dave saw an exhibition on Global Cities, which was a mix of geography, environmentalism, statistics and art, while Natasha wandered around the States of Flux collection. She saw art entitled “Self-Portrait as a Pile of Dog Dirt” and other unique pieces!
Then we walked back across the river to Picadilly Square and found a neat pub called The Round Table where we had a supper of fish and chips, with Guinness to drink. Natasha even had mushy peas – Dave opted for “garden” (a.k.a. “not-so-mushy”) peas, which he eventually traded for part of Natasha's fish.
Then we went to see Spamalot. It was a good mix of familiar – scenes from “The Holy Grail” put on stage, a performance of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” -- and original material – such as “This is the Song That Goes Like This” and a very extravagant version of the “Camelot” song. The highlight, however, came at the end, where the knights found a carving saying “DONE”, and tried to figure out what this meant. They finally decided that it must be a code, D-1, and brought the person in that seat (unfortunately, it wasn't us – we were waaaay at the back) up on stage for a moment. On the whole, the show was a lot of fun, and done in a very Python-ish way.

*To read about Day 5, go here.
*To see pictures from Day 4, go here.

Pictures from July 4

Natasha at "Platform 9 and 3/4" at King's Cross Station

A circular stained-glass window at the Temple Church

Stairs leading down from the top of the Great Fire Monument

View of the Tower Bridge from the top of the Great Fire Monument

An amusing sign we saw on our walk along the Thames River

Natasha at a park along the south bank of the Thames River

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Communion, Shakespeare, and soliders with music stands

We started the day off with the ultimate London tourist event, the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. With two milky, sugary teas in hand we staked out a spot on the fountain across from the main palace gates. And then we waited. Dave took a million pictures. Of everything. Of course by the time the guards actually started to change, the batteries had run out. But that was okay because we were too far away to get good pictures anyways.

One thing that was a bit surreal about the whole event was the mix of bobbies with guns, guards with guns, and the beefeaters playing live music. We left before the actual changeover was complete because it was really far away, it was long and boring, and mostly seemed to consist of a complicated series of various people walking back and forth.

We went from there to Westminster Abbey, and happened to get there just in time for the Communion service for the Feast of St. Thomas. Thus, we went for the service a) because it seemed more respectful to go to the church for a service instead of just as tourists and b) you can enter the abbey for free if you go for a service. The bulk of the service was various readings, with congregational responses. And then came communion.

Dave decided to receive a blessing, which was an option for people who did not want to receive communion. He took his booklet up as recommended in the order of service as a sign he was just there for a blessing. However, when the priest came to him, he ignored the booklet, Dave's closed hands -- not to mention closed mouth -- and fed him the wafer anyways! The next priest, coming by with the wine, asked Dave if he had received the blessing, and when Dave said no, held the cup of wine up to Dave's mouth so that he was forced to take a sip, or dribble wine down his front. Dave was pretty surprised by the whole experience, and was not mollified by a subsequent explanation that the priest must not have been paying attention.

In comparison, the rest of our time at Westminster Abbey was not all that exciting. At first, Dave was psyched about seeing the graves of the various famous people buried there (Darwin, Newton, Handel, many kings and queens, etc.), but it turns out that there are a *lot* of other people buried there, as well (over 3,000 in all), and thus finding people he had actually heard of became something of a "Where's Waldo" (Ralph Waldo Emerson, in this case) experience. To top it all off, it turned out that we had taken communion in front of Newton and not even realized it!

After Westminster Abbey, we grabbed some tasty sandwiches at Tesco (a major British grocery chain) and then returned to the National Gallery to see "the rest" of the paintings. We spent most of our time looking at artists from the last century or so -- Degas, Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, etc. We were glad to have split our time at the gallery into two trips, so that we could appreciate the newer paintings without suffering from too much art gallery fatigue. Neither of us is exactly a connosieur of fine art, so after a few hours the incredibly famous and beautiful paintings all start to run together (metaphorically, that is -- otherwise we would have been booted out of the gallery in a hurry!).

We walked along The Strand and Fleet Street for a while, and through Temple Bar, thus getting a sense of London's commercial and financial districts. It was interesting to see buildings which were many centuries old scattered among modern banking and legal offices.

One of the places we went to was the Twinings tea store which has been on that site, and run by the Twining family, since the 1670s. Natasha was quite excited about visiting one of the great homes of tea and did a good job of stocking up her tea cupboard.

The highlight of the day, for Natasha at least, was supposed to be Love's Labour's Lost seen live at the Globe Theatre. She was quite excited about this until we jumped onto the Tour Bus for a quick trip to Westminster and the guide pointed out a (very exclusive and staggeringly expensive school where Helena Bonham Carter had attended, and then mentioned, "You may be able to catch her tonight in Leicester Square where she will be attending the premiere to the new Harry Potter movie." AAAAAAHHHHH!!!! And we had tickets to Shakespeare. She was quite tempted to skive out on Shakespeare and head to Leicester Square to see if she could catch glimpses (and take bad, likely far away photos) of the movie's stars but she managed to restrain herself. Sorry Vanessa :(

However, we *did* manage to reserve copies of the new book at a store (Waterstone's) on Ludgate Circus, and even found out about a pre-release party involving dessert and wine -- much more civilized than the hours-long sidewalk camp-out experience that Dave had been imagining.

Love's Labour's Lost was the typical London experience. We had standing tickets so we managed to get good spots at the front right corner of the stage. Then we stood for the entire three hours of the play! And sometimes, it rained -- once again, the "emergency" rain ponchos from Tim and Janice saved the day, even though Dave felt like he was wearing a big blue garbage bag and, according to Natasha, looked a little like a smurf. But we were so close to the actors we could touch them, sometimes, one actress's dress got Natasha full in the face when she swirled by, and one of the actors cleared us out of his way as he jumped into the audience to escape from another actor. It was quite a different way of seeing the play, and felt very true to what we imagined the Elizabethan theatre experience to be.

Okay, it's off to bed for us, as we have another busy day ahead of us tomorrow. Good night!

Dave and Natasha

*To read about Day 4, go here.
*To see pictures from Day 3, go here.

Pictures from July 3

Crowd at Buckingham Palace, waiting for the Changing of the Guard

The Changing of the Guard (this is the most exciting picture we have)

Big Ben, taken from Westminster Abbey

Natasha in heaven... otherwise known as the Twinings tea store

St. Paul's Cathedral

Natasha and Dave at "Love's Labours Lost" at the Globe Theatre

Follow the orange lamppost road!

Natasha mentioned an update from me in her post yesterday, and I am finally getting around to writing it, late the next day. So, after a second action-packed day in London (which I'll get to in another post), I'll jump back and say a bit about our first day here.

We started the day off by taking the Tube downtown to see about getting tickets for Shakespeare and Spamalot. We felt pretty confident about the underground part of the trip, having gotten from the airport to Dora's place the day before, but I was feeling a bit less sure about navigating London's streets. As we were getting off the subway, I commented to Natasha that it would really be nice if they had brightly-coloured lines above ground as well as below. Lo and behold, as we left the station we saw a sign saying that we could follow a trail of orange lampposts to get to the Tate Museum, and that signs would direct us from there to the Globe theatre. And so we went, following the "orange lamppost road" to our destination.

On our way to the theatre (don't worry -- the whole post isn't going to be this detailed) we stopped in at a tiny "greasy spoon"-type restaurant (called "Pickles", for some reason) for breakfast, where Natasha got some tea, and I had a sausage and fried egg sandwich, which was very greasy, unhealthy, and above all British. The restaurant was a weird mix of cultures, with accents that reminded me of Eliza from "My Fair Lady" (before her lessons, that is) clashing with Frank Sinatra posters on every wall.

Most of the afternoon was spent, as Natasha mentioned, with a tour through London on an open air, double-decker bus. This was a bit of an adventure, as the weather kept changing from rainy to windy to sunny and then back again, resulting in a constant flurry of umbrellas, coats and emergency ponchos (which we had, thanks to Tim and Janice). Add to this an obstinate desire on my part to get a picture of every passing landmark, a bunch of screaming kids, and a very enthusiastic tour guide, and the whole experience was pretty intense.

We wrapped up the "seeing all the landmarks in London" part of the day by taking a tour boat down the Thames, from the Tower of London to the Tate Museum. This was a fair bit more sedate, as the boat went much slower, and the tour guide was significantly less enthusiastic.

We finished our day with the National Gallery, which is right off of Trafalgar Square, houses an incredible collection of artwork, and -- best of all -- is free! There are about 60 rooms in the gallery, with everything from Michaelangelo and Raphael to more modern artists like Picasso, Degas, or Monet (and Manet, for that matter). We only ended up having time for about two-thirds of the gallery, and ended up going back to see (some of) the rest of it today (that is, Tuesday).

*To read about Day 3, go here.
*To see pictures from Day 2, go here.
*To read about two other Day 2 adventures, go here (to hear about interesting facts we learned on our London city tour) and here, to hear about how I had a job interview (of sorts) while on vacation.

Pictures from July 2

Dave outside the Globe Theatre

Nelson's Column, with the National Gallery in the background

Big Ben and the Parliament Buildings, seen from across the Thames River

The Tower Bridge, seen from the boat tour

The modern (i.e., lopsided egg-shaped) City Hall building

Monday, July 02, 2007

Things we learned today

Today we took a London City Bus/Boat Tour. Here are a few interesting things we learned:

1) We drove by The Texas Embassy Restaurant and Grill which is where the former White Star Line offices were. The White Star Line office was where people bought tickets for the Titanic.

2) Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park has a soapbox off the ground so the speakers aren't technically on British soil. And there are three things they can't talk about: the Royal Family, treason against the state, or beg for money.

3) The only US Embassy not on US soil is in London. The area where the US Embassy in London is, is owned by the Grosvenor Family and they refused to sell land to the US to build an embassy. Supposedly when the US asked how much they would charge the family answered, "The State of Virginia."

4) The River Thames is a tidal river; it rises and falls 3 metres every day.

5) Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside the tower. The official name of the tower is St Stephen's Clock Tower.

6) Lord Nelson, Britain's greatest admiral, had only one eye, one leg, couldn't swim, and got seasick!

7) The current mayor of London hates pigeons, so if you get caught feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, you will be fined £100. (Which is about $213CAN)

8) You are not allowed to lie down in Trafalgar Sqaure; you can't even look like you are about to lie down. (There is a lot of lawn so it wouldn't be the worst place in the world for a nap!)

9) Two years after he died, Oliver Cromwell was dug up, was beheaded and his head was placed on a pike on London Bridge. It didn't fall off for 23 years.

(Dave just discovered that one set of my earrings is in backwards. Dora noticed it first. Her comment upon Dave's discovery was, "Blindess, thy name is male." I'm not sure Dave has a leg to stand on in refuting this comment.)

As for the rest of our day, Dave will post an entry shortly about what we actually did!

A bizarre series of events

So yesterday when we were talking with Dora-Marie, we realized that Deanna, who is our new landlord in Edmonton, also happens to be at the London Mennonite Centre (LMC) right now! We saw her tonight at supper and enjoyed a good conversation, in which we also worked out some details for moving in August. We also met her friend Trevor. Who might be my new boss when I move to Edmonton. Let me explain...

Some of you have asked what I will be doing in Edmonton and my answer has been, "Working somewhere, I hope." Deanna sent me an e-mail at the end of April, mentioning that her friend Trevor, who owns his own company, was looking for someone to do bookkeeping. I told her I might be interested and Trevor called me and we talked for about half an hour. Trevor told me that he would get back to me at the end of July but things seemed positive.

Well, as I mentioned, not only does Deanna happen to be visiting LMC, but as we were going around introducing ourselves at supper, we also met Trevor. When we sat down to talk, Deanna mentioned, "Trevor, this is the Natasha you talked with in May, and Natasha, this is the Trevor who you might be working for." Oh. I definitely wasn't prepared to meet with my potential future boss at supper tonight. But we had a fairly good conversation, and Trevor was telling me how far a walk his business was from where we will be living so things seem rather positive. I also happened to mention that I was still intending to send him my resume and that since Dave's laptop was here I could potentially e-mail it to him tonight. Deanna said she had a USB key here so an hour ago I put my updated resume on her USB key and now Trevor has it.

So for those of you who think I am just gallivanting around London I just want to let you know that I have also handed out a resume, and had dinner with, my potential new boss!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Jet lagged -- woot!

So we have arrived safely and soundly in merry olde England after an uneventful overnight flight, during which we both managed to sleep about four hours. Upon arrival, we had a very long trip through the London Underground to get to our friend Dora's place in Highgate. We exited the Tube into a slight rain shower, which made us feel that we were truly in London!

We were met by Dora who served us food and tea, and then invited us to come to her church, Wood Green Mennonite Church in London. The congregation was quite small (about twenty people, including us), with only one 12 year old for children's time. The service was nice, Natasha enjoyed singing from The Hymnal, and people were welcoming.

After the service we hung out and chatted while drinking our second cup of tea, and then it was off to the pub with a bunch of church people. To get to the pub, we walked for about an hour through a park, a wooded trail, and some of London's lesser known streets.

Due to miscommunication we didn't end up eating supper there (unless a pint of Guiness counts as supper!), but we had a hearty meal of bread and aubergine (a.k.a. eggplant) soup at Dora's later on. We've spent the evening visiting with Dora and are looking forward to sleeping under a warm duvet -- it's about 16C here right now and today was a little cold, although mostly sunny.

Tomorrow we are heading out on the town and looking forward to seeing some sights. Stay tuned for further details...

Good night,
Dave and Natasha

*To see pictures from Day 1, go here.
*To read about Day 2, go here.

Pictures from July 1

The wooded trail we took to get from Wood Green Mennonite Church to the pub

The Victoria pub, where we hung out with Dora and some friends from her church

We're on our way...!

After a very hectic and detail-filled few days we are sitting at Pearson Airport counting down the minutes (135!) until we board our flight to London. Need I mention, we can't wait!?!?!

One of the major events of this past week was that Natasha passed her road test for her licence. She can now drive alone!!! Thanks for this accomplishment go to her patient driving instructor, Dave. And special mention to Angie for her help in the past. It's thanks to Ang that Natasha can drive a standard, in rush hour traffic and carry on a conversation, all without stalling :)

On Sunday, we enjoyed a trip to the Toronto Zoo with our nieces, Lily and Kaelin, and with assorted adults. The weather was quite hot which meant that the animals were mostly napping, but the Splash park was a really big hit. We will post pictures once Dave's computer can access the internet.

We would like to take a moment to thank everyone who has invited us to dinner these past few weeks. We've greatly enjoyed both the food and the company, so thanks again.

Well, London's calling so we'll send more from across the pond.

(We tried to post this entry last night from an internet kiosk at the airport but it wouldn't let us so we're posting it from our friend Dora's room in London. We will post about our first day in London shortly.)

Dave and Natasha