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Posts Tagged ‘air travel’

Well, we are back, and as is always the case with travel, we wonder if we ever left at all.

That first dinner in the Argentinian restaurant? It was barely a week and a half ago, and seems as if it were months. Months.

So no, we didn’t die, and while this will be mostly a summary post with links to all of the trip entries, I want to address the general issue of safety.

For you know, even though we did see a lot of Americans in both Mexico City and Puebla, outside of the all-inclusive resorts on both coasts, Mexico doesn’t seem to factor very strongly as a potential travel destination these days. People are not really sure why they might want to go, and they’re concerned about safety.

I can’t speak to the first question, for my answer is not going to be the same as yours. I travel – and take my kids traveling – because my interest in history and culture takes me places, and also because I’m deeply interested in how people live – in my own community, across the state, the country and in other parts of the world. And – although this should be the subject of a separate blog post – I want to educate my kids on that score as well: the world is much, much bigger than the 8th or 11th grade corner of one particular school in Birmingham, Alabama, and so let’s not let that one tiny corner define or limit us.

But safety? Here you go.

People hear “Mexico” and they immediately fling up State Department warnings in your face. And I will confess that the first time I went to Mexico – to a small town west of Saltillo back in the summer of 2010 for a parish mission– I almost backed out because of safety concerns. I think I was skittish anyway – although that might have been mostly a factor of it being barely a year since Mike died – but then not long before one of the final commitment deadlines there was a major incident in Monterrey – I have no recollection what it was, but it was random and although Monterrey is huge and wasn’t close to General Cepada (the town where the mission was going), it struck me as vaguely threatening especially since the University of Texas pulled its study abroad students out of Monterrey in response.

But I didn’t back out, and we went, and as I walked around the town with my kids as they ate ice cream and played on the town playground, I wondered what in the world I had been so worried about.

 

So by the time 2014 rolled around and my kid had for some reason become obsessed with the Maya, I didn’t think twice about renting a car and driving us around the Yucatan (wary, though, of rip-offs and scams, both at gas stations and, unfortunately, by the police at traffic stops.)

"amy welborn"

That is not to downplay safety concerns. There are certain areas of Mexico I wouldn’t go – border towns, some other towns known for crime, most related to the drug trade. You do hear of tourists being victimized in resorts on both coasts, but most often there is some kind of explanation – it is, not, to say, totally unpredictable and random. So for example, just a week or so before we left, a US family of four was found dead in a condo in Akumal near Tulum, which in turn is near Cancun. As it turns out, the family’s tragedy wasn’t due to violent crime, but has been traced to carbon monoxide from a gas leak. Absolutely a reason for caution – that’s a real danger in substandard and unregulated construction – but it doesn’t go in the “violent Mexico” file, either.

I’m not making any comprehensive claims for safety in Mexico. There’s serious crime in Mexico City, and, I’d guess, in Puebla. But I can say that as we walked around most cities, both day and night, I felt absolutely safe.  Both cities were bustling with people, mostly in family groups. Shops and restaurants were open, street vendors were all over the place, and the feeling was just as it is in any similar community. Sure, you’re going to see a few more soldiers and police standing around with big guns than you are in the United States, but guess what? You see that in Europe, too now. As I said in my post going through my trip-planning process, when I initially honed in on Antigua, Guatemala as a Holy Week destination, I thought, “How odd that I feel safer planning to be at a big public event in Guatemala than I would in almost any European country.”  Consider that last spring break at the end of March, we went to London. The week before we went, a terrorist rammed a van into a crowd on the Westminster Bridge – where we would walk –  and a couple of months later, another attack occurred in the Borough Market – where we spent time. We’ve been to Barcelona and walked on La Rambla.  In August, 2017, a terrorist rammed a van into a crowd on that street killing thirteen. We’ve been to Christmas Markets in Germany – in 2016, a tractor-trailer barreled into a Berlin Christmas market, killing twelve. This carjacking, which made the national news just a little over a year ago, occurred three streets from my house.

I am not afraid of walking around in Mexico City.

Mexico was great, and I fully intend to return – hopefully at some point to the Oaxaca area (for me)  and (not on the same trip) to Palenque for my son. At least. As a beginning. I’m fascinated by the layers of culture in Mexico and the complexities of the Mexican identity. I’m not a romantic about Mexico – it has a fraught past and present, but what country doesn’t? And although I believe that US immigration is broken (who doesn’t?), Mexico’s approach to both immigration (from its south) and emigration (to its north) is characterized by cynicism, hypocrisy and opportunism. But you know what? Justin Trudeau is a tool and supports wretched public policy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to go back to Canada some day.

So. Here are the posts from the trip, in order. Oh, let me offer a few more practicalities for those interested.

We stayed in:

This apartment in Mexico City. Very well located, right next to the Four Seasons Hotel, one block of La Reforma, two blocks from the Chapultapec Park.

This hotel in Puebla. It was good for us because the room was very large – it was a family room, which meant there were four beds in two sections. The hotel was an old building with lovely tile floors and enormously high ceilings and a balcony. It might not be for everyone though – if you want a newer, shinier type of hotel experience, or at the very least, you want a good shower – stay somewhere else. Not having ever been to Puebla, I just wasn’t sure if I went for a higher priced hotel, what I would be paying for – I didn’t know what the centro was like – if it was clean, super-noisy or what. Now having been there I can say that any hotel you pick in the centro will be just fine.

Last night: Marriott Courtyard Mexico City. It’s more expensive than many hotels you would find, but you absolutely cannot beat the convenience – it is attached to Terminal 1 , from which all international flights (except for Delta) leave.  As we were trudging to check our bags Monday morning at 5:30 AM, I was so glad we hadn’t stayed anywhere else..

We didn’t take public transportation in Mexico City – we either walked or did Uber, which worked great for us. Same in Puebla. I was open to riding the subway in Mexico City – even though it’s kind of notorious to the point that they’ve instituted “Women and Children Only” cars – but we never needed it.

Mexico is a very inexpensive destination. Your dollars will go a long way…

 

Background – why we went to Mexico during Holy Week.

Sunday 3/25 – the trip down and the first evening in Mexico City.

Monday 3/26 – Teotihuacan and going to the movies in Mexico City.

Tuesday 3/27 – The National Museum of Anthropology, other parts of Chapultepec Park, and Lucha Libre

Wednesday 3/28 – The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Thursday 3/29 – Bus from Mexico City to Puebla;  Holy Thursday in Puebla

Friday 3/30 –  Good Friday in Puebla 

Saturday 3/31 – Holy Saturday I – Cholula Pyramids and astonishing churches

Saturday 3/31 – Holy Saturday 2 – Vigil-hopping and street food

Sunday 4/1 -2 – Easter Sunday – Mass in the Cathedral, museums and dance – and the bus back to Mexico City, and then the trip back on Monday. 

And this post!

For more photos and videos, see Instagram. 

 

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Christmas in New York City….what to say?

How about…been there, done that. 

Or…There. That’s done. 

I’d always thought Christmastime in the City would be fun to experience, and now that my oldest lives there, we had a good excuse. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve got the gist of the trip: we left Christmas night from Atlanta, spent Tuesday-Thursday there, left at the crack of dawn on Friday for other parts of the country. I was glad to do it, glad to spend time with my son and see friends, but heavens, it was cold and wow, it was crowded. As I said: been there, done that was what I thought as we flew away for points south!  Highlights:

  • First highlight was in getting there in the first place. The boys were scheduled to serve Christmas Day Mass at the convent, and when I made the reservations, did so assuming that Mass was at the usual Sunday morning time – 11am. Only to find out a few weeks later that no, Mass was at 12:30. Flights were at 6:19. From Atlanta. 2 hours from Birmingham.  A time zone ahead. So essentially, we would be leaving for a 6:19 flight a little more than four hours before it took off from two hours away, with perfect traffic.
  • Well, we obviously made it. The most tension-inducing aspect of the situation was that I had purchased United’s most recent low-level fare – the Basic Economy, which comes with a lot of restrictions, most of which – only being able to take a personal carry-on like a backpack, no guaranteed seating together – didn’t bother me (we each took a backpack, which was fine for three days, even in winter weather – we are not fashionistas), but there’s one more restriction: you can’t check in ahead of time online unless you are checking a bag (which costs extra, natch). This is to enable them to enforce the no-carry-on rule on site, so it’s understandable, but still. You know how it is when you’re racing to the airport. You can think: Well, at least I’m already checked in. Nope.
  • But, we made it, with time to spare. Go me. I mean…go. 
  • We flew into Newark, which was a first. Arrived, then took the very crowded train into Manhattan. Why was it so packed on Christmas night? It seemed to me, since it was crowded when we boarded at the airport, that the riders were folks who’d done their Christmas elsewhere and were returning home. We had to stand for most of the trip, but that’s fine.
  • Got to Penn Station, then walked the seven blocks in the cold to our hotel – the Leo House.
  • Now, this was a new discovery for me. I am not sure how it had never crossed my radar before. The Leo House is a Catholic guesthouse that’s been around for decades, named after Leo XIII and originally founded to be a safe haven for German immigrants. You can read its history here. It certainly showed its age – particularly in the bathrooms – but it was very clean and the breakfast was substantial and varied every day. I prepaid, and so we had a double room – two rooms connected by a bathroom, with three beds – for under $200/night. With breakfast. In Manhattan. In a good location, a block down from a subway, with the Empire State Building in view. It worked. It would be just about perfect if the bathrooms were updated, but that would be a multi-million dollar, probably unaffordable project. I’d stay there again – and probably will!
  • Day one (summarized on Instagram here). Yes, we went to the Central Park Zoo. We’d never been, and online commentary indicated that it wasn’t a bad winter activity – there were animals that flourish outside in the cold, and there was enough indoors to make it bearable. Walked through the park by the skating rink (we heard them introduce a skating session with about 5 minutes of announced warnings and disclaimers – #ModernTimes) – then to the subway to take it up to the Natural History Museum, which was…packed. As was everything over those three days. It made sense: Christmastime in the City has its appeal, plus it was so bloody cold, any attraction that was indoors was…attractive.
  • I stood line to get tickets – me and many Russians. We paid extra to see the Mummy exhibit, and probably shouldn’t have. It is part of this museum trend to just bring in extra $$$ with special exhibits that have a particular appeal – you think, “Oh, we want to see mummies!” and so you can…but for a price! Anyway, we’d seen many mummy displays all over the world, so I’m not sure why I gave into the pressure on this one (from the sales clerk, not my kids), but I did and was irritated. There wasn’t a lot to it that we had not seen elsewhere.
  • But I did see Mammoths and mastadons, which interested me because I’d just read this book. I find these early mammals much more interesting than dinosaurs, perhaps because they are closer to us in time, and in fact inhabited the planet with us.
  • We’d been here before, but it was several years and a couple of trips ago, but it was worth a revisit. I like the Field Museum in Chicago better, though….
  • Then dinner with my son and my friends Ann and Paul Engelhart at this very good French restaurant..and then Hansel and Gretel at the Metropolitan Opera.
  • I need to think a bit more about this production, but I’d say that it was interesting, worth the time and money, and captured an aspect of the thematic essence of the piece while missing another part of it. Let’s put it this way: it’s not a light holiday confection, but honestly, who thinks of Hansel and Gretel this way? It’s a dark tale of suffering, temptation, exploitation and revenge or justice – or both. The German Expressionistic tone of much of the production brings out this darkness effectively, but what was muted was the spirituality of the piece, which is pretty strong: Hansel and Gretel are protected by angels, and in a sense, their journey to the witches’ house is a journey they’re led on for the salvation of others – the children the witch has turned into gingerbread who are freed by Hansel and Gretel, brought to that place by their own suffering.
  • The weird thing about the evening was this: a friend of mine from Alabama was in NYC at the same time. We’d said we’d meet on Wednesday or Thursday, but we came very close, without knowing it, on Tuesday night: she and her group ate at a restaurant on the same block as ours at the same time…and then they went to The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center…as we were at Hansel and Gretel. 
  • Small world, again.

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"amy welborn"

 

First, here are the links to all my London 2017 posts.

A general link.

Preparation

Day 1 – arrival, wandering and learning the city

Day 2 – Tower of London and the British Museum

Day 3 – Churchill War Rooms and more British Museum

Day 4 – National Gallery, the Globe, Lego-ish things, Southwark Cathedral, Borough Market

Day 5 – Greenwich, St. Paul’s and Harrods

Day 6- Wandering the city and then the Warner Brothers/Harry Potter Studio Tour

Day 7 – Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, London Oratory, Tyburn Convent

Where we stayed and what we ate. 

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Now, some general observations about traveling to London, period, and specifically with kids – older kids, albeit, but still kids.

  • We can’t claim to be world travelers, at all, but we have done our share: Mexico (Yucatan Mayan sites as well as  a small town for mission work); Italy, both large cities and smaller towns, and Sicily; Barcelona and Madrid, Spain, France, both Paris and several small towns and some rural areas, and Germany – a small resort town in Bavaria.
  • I’d say that if you can deal with the size of it – if you are not intimidated by cities – London is one of the more comfortable experiences an American can have traveling overseas. The habits and expectations of living everyday life seem very close to what we know as regular life in the United States. There is, of course, the English language factor, but even aside from that, there just seem to be far fewer Secret Handshakes of Polite Living that the American tourist would be clueless about and be sniffed at for neglecting.
  • But London is ….big. Yes, it’s spread out, but it’s larger than New York City, and just as popular a tourist destination – if not more. There are areas of London that, in the last week of March, were chaotically crowded. I can’t imagine what it’s like in the summer.
  • London is a huge, metropolitan busy city, but really…the people I encountered here, both just in daily encounters and people working in shops, restaurants and attractions – were very, very nice. The level of politeness was extraordinary.
  • One of the reasons I had never put London on the top of my travel list is that I was under the impression that it was comically expensive. I didn’t experience that. Even doing the pound-to-dollar translations in my head, I didn’t feel I was paying even New York City prices for things. We stayed in an apartment, but I did look at a lot of hotels in my planning, and it seemed that there were very good values available, even for family groups. There is a lot of relatively inexpensive food available. Many of the big attractions are free admission, and there are deals (like 2-for 1) available for the others, and many have family admission rates, which helps.
  • Don’t be intimidated by the public transportation system – it’s easy to learn, and structured just like any other in any city – as long as you know the destination that’s at the end of the line you need to be on, you’re fine. Don’t be intimidated by the Oyster Card system either. It seems confusing, but once you get it – it makes a lot of sense, and is so much more convenient than all those stupid little slips of Paris Metro tickets. Just don’t forget to turn in your Oyster Card at the end for a refund of remaining funds and the card deposit. Like some people. Argh.
  • Also, as is the case in any city, the subways are best avoided during rush hour. Prices are higher, and crowds are insane. I for sure wouldn’t take a small child on the Tube at rush hour, if I could help it.
  • What should you do? It’s up to you and your family’s interests. My kids are experienced, patient and sometimes even interested museum-goers, so we do a lot of that, but London presents a good opportunity to do some relaxed museum touring, even if your kids aren’t keen on them– the major museums don’t charge admission and although they are not all right next to each other, as would be the case in Washington DC, it is easy to get around – so there’s no reason to declare a day British Museum Day! And spend five hours there…unless you want to. Do take advantage of the considerable online guides and offerings that all the museums have, decide what you want to see and don’t feel an obligation to meaningfully ponder every single object that is in front of you.
  • My blog posts outline what we saw – what do I regret that we didn’t see? We didn’t tour Parliament. We didn’t get to either the Tate London or the Tate Modern. We didn’t see any of the free concerts at St. Martin’s in the Fields. We didn’t see a play at the Globe, but that’s because I wasn’t thrilled with what I heard about the production of Othello then playing. Those are my major regrets, but I don’t regret anything we did do, so I don’t know how we could have fit all the rest of that in.
  • We enjoyed our time in London. We actually do prefer time in smaller cities – one of our best experiences was in Padova, Italy – but London is important, varied, interesting and is a great opportunity to experience a truly global, multicultural environment.
  • Just…..Mind the Gap!

"amy welborn"

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Where was I, now?

Friday morning, I wanted to get serious about souvenir and gift shopping. We had a planned afternoon activity, so the morning provided a decent window to knock some shopping off and assuage my anxiety about that.  That’s what we did, in the process seeing a few new things: The Royal Court of Justice (from the outside); the Temple Church (exterior, since they charged to enter and we didn’t have much time, so it really wouldn’t have been worth it); and the Twining’s Tea Shop and “Museum” – the latter of which is three glass cases of photographs and old packaging, so maybe don’t go out of your way. On the way back, we hit the British Museum gift shop, and contemplated seeing a couple of as-yet-unseen rooms, but decided we didn’t have *quite* enough time to do so in a thorough manner. So we just said hello to the Rosetta Stone again,  bought some things, and went on our way.

Bacon sandwich being tried and enjoyed in that last photo. 

There’s a McDonald’s near our apartment, and it utilizes the kiosk system of ordering – that was tempting to the gadget-minded, and I always think it’s interesting to try American fast food in other countries. So the guys ordered what they wanted – you just jab the touch screen, pay with a card, if that’s your plan, and wait for the order to be ready. There’s a screen above the surface counter which tells which orders are being prepared and which are ready for pickup. The place was packed, but the process went very smoothly and was quick. I’m for it. #IntrovertLife

We went back to the apartment for just a bit before we headed to the Euston station, where we’d catch an overland train to Watford Junction. What’s in Watford Junction, you ask? This.

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If you’d asked me six months ago – “If you go to London, will you do the Harry Potter set tour?” I’d have probably sniffed and said, “Of course not! What the hours for the Tate Modern again?” But in reading reviews, I began to change my mind a bit, and when I asked the boys, they were very interested, so I went over to that almost-dark side. It was the only attraction for which I bought a ticket in advance – you have to, since they don’t sell tickets at the door, and word is that it’s best to plan ahead for this one.

I’ll have to say – I have no regrets on this one. If I were going to London for less than a week I wouldn’t do it unless I was a Harry Potter fanatic, but for more than a week – if you like Harry Potter or are even just generally interest in filmmaking – it’s worth it, and very much so.

It’s about a twenty minute train ride out of London – if you take the right train (which we did). If you ever go, make sure you ask which train is the shorter journey, or there is one train  whicIMG_20170331_134422h has “Watford Junction” as an end point, but has many stops before that and takes an hour. The one we went on had only two stops, and took, as I said, twenty minutes. The train going out wasn’t crowded, but coming back was packed, and we had to stand the entire time. You can use the Oyster Card for these fares, although I never could figure out exactly how much it was. All I knew is that I had enough to pay for it.

So, you arrive in Watford Junction, and go out to the bus stop. There’s a designated
shuttle for the studios – it is not free and you must pay cash – 2.50/person. It’s another ten minute ride on the bus until you actually get to the studio. Your ticket is for a specific time – ours was 2:30, which I’m glad for. I don’t think I would have wanted to be trying to get out there first thing in the morning. To jump ahead – we left the place at about 5:20, although someone who was very, very super interested, could probably spend longer.

This studio is where most of the filming happened, and all the props and sets they have on display are authentic. The craftsmanship and thought is astounding. There are some interactive components – riding a Quidditch broom against a green screen and so on.  (We didn’t do any of that) There are docents all over the place pointing out interesting facts and answering questions.  There are various videos playing giving additional information about specific sets or filming components (the animals, special effects, visual effects and so on).  There are blueprints and models, and lots of samples of graphic design.

 

How is it different from what’s at Universal? I’ll probably write an entire post comparing the two, but obviously, they have different intents – the studio tour is just that – so there are no rides or role-players. It’s far more interesting than Universal, I’d say – even though the Diagon Alley of Universal does have quite a bit to offer. There’s a Diagon Alley at the studio, of course, but it is small and it’s just an exterior set, not actual shops, as is the case at Universal.

 

harry potter studio tour

Everyone enjoyed the afternoon very much – even me.  Because what interests me are, P1010874first the whole aspect of contemplating a cultural phenomenon in all of its dimensions, and this is one I’ve watched for a long time, every since my now-25 year old daughter became entranced at the age of 7. There’s also the factor of  seeing creativity at work – hard at work. I don’t care what the subject matter is, or even if that subject matter engages me personally – if people are inspired and work hard to bring their vision to life, I’m interested in that process.

The train ride back wasn’t loads of fun because, as I said, we all ended up standing the entire way, but it was short.

As we walked back to the apartment from the station, we noticed activity. We had seen IMG_20170331_123421“Quiet please, Filming in Progress” signs in the square, and in the morning had seen a couple of vintage cars parked there. Well now, here was the filming, evidently. Big lights were set up, and people in yellow vests with walkie-talkies were milling about. What was it?

The three of us hung around for a few minutes, then one got restless and wanted to get back, so I accompanied him and let him into the apartment, and two of us returned. After a while, that one got tired of waiting, too, so I repeated the process, and then returned by myself. I mean…what else was I going to do? Blog? I hung out for about an hour and saw just a *tiny bit,” for most of the filming was taking place in space inside the block  – I think there were small crowd scenes happening in there, for as they finished, women in 1950’s period costume streamed out, but still the lights remained set up outside on the street near where I was watching, so I thought something would be happening out there.

Eventually it did – there was an alleyway right there, and the shot was being filmed from inside the block, looking out into the street. When filming began, two cars parked on the street drove by the alley, and then a red sports car raced out via the alley and fell behind them, and the red car stopped right in front of me. The shot, it was explained to me, was just establishing that the red car was driving out into a busy street, and the camera was in the alley.

And that was it. And it took forever. Which is what you always hear, but to see the painstakingly slow process is still illuminating. And what was so interesting to me was that right at the entrance to the alleyway was a pub, and as is usually the case with a pub, the sidewalk in front was crowded with drinkers. Probably thirty people standing around with their drinks, enjoying their Friday evening. They didn’t have to go away or even be quiet during the filming – the camera shot was such that they weren’t even a factor. People were stopped from walking across on  the sidewalk, of course, but everything to the sides wouldn’t be in the shot, and so life could just go on.

I had some interesting conversations standing there, including with an older fellow who wasn’t working on this film, but was just hanging around – I don’t know if he just tracked film productions in the area or if he just happened to be there, but there he was. He had worked as a driver on four of the Harry Potter films, driving the primary child actors to and from work. He’d recently finished driving Johnny Depp and others for the remake of Murder on the Orient Express and then Transformers Whatever.

So what was the movie?

This one – it’s out there on social and regular media now –  tentatively called The Phantom Threads, it’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, about the fashion scene in 1950’s London, starring Daniel Day-Lewis – and yes, he was driving the red car. I was talking to a couple of people working, and they had a disagreement about whether Lewis was driving. One said, “They wouldn’t have him do it – too much of a liability” – but the other insisted he’d seen Lewis being shown where to drive and so on. Then the car stopped in front of me, I peered inside, as did the person I was talking to, and I could see – and he confirmed, “Yup, that’s him.”

So….celebrity sighting…. Barely…for what it’s worth. Which is not much, but still. It was a fitting way to end a day of thinking about creativity, imagination and the tedium and hard work that goes into bringing it all to life….

So yes. If you see The Phantom Threads (or whatever it will be called) when it comes out (supposedly at Christmastime later this year), know that the London shots revolving around a home that’s on a square were shot on Fitzroy Square, and there’s a really sweet little vacation rental apartment just around the corner. And if and when you see a scene with Daniel Day-Lewis driving a  red car racing out into an street…I was there.

 

 

 

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In not too long, we’ll be in London, and as per usual, I’m engaging in intense trip prep. I have been for a while, actually, but am kicking it up into high, undoubtedly tedious gear right now.

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  • When I first bought these tickets back in November (there was a sale and we’re flying from ATL to LHR for an average of under $400/ticket – they have a slightly lower fare than I do), I went crazy with the guidebooks, but got over that soon enough. The guidebooks satisfy that initial thrill of knowing we’re going to London! but soon enough, I get lost in them – I know from experience that actually arriving some place and getting the lay of the land changes your sense of what you can and even want to do.  And with London in March, there will be weather considerations – although at this point, it doesn’t look like there’s much rain in the forecast.  And you never know how everyone is going to feel upon arrival, especially since our arrival time is 6.55 am as in IN THE MORNING, and..what? 
  • (Update: I’ve been looking at arrival times for those flights and they are consistently arriving around 6:30 AM.  Thank goodness, the owner of our apartment is amazingly generous and has agreed to a mid-morning check-in. If we were in a hotel, it would be no problem, since we could just leave luggage with the front desk until check-in time, but not with an apartment)
  • Anyway, I quickly got bored and despairing with the guide books. I knew that there were must-sees – the British Museum, the British Library, the National Gallery, the Tower of London, various outdoor sites, the Imperial War Museum, the Churchill Rooms, the Globe, churches, Tyburn Convent, and (I decided amongst the palaces) Hampton Court. I toyed with a day trip – Canterbury? York? Then decided that a week in London had plenty to occupy us.
  • So what should I read next? I have loved Morton’s books on Rome and Italy, and for some reason had a copy of In Search of London, which I happily read until I read a review of a biography of Morton which maintained that he fabricated a great deal of what he wrote about. And I just couldn’t read any more. (Update: Since I wrote that 2 weeks ago, I relented, and finished it – I’m glad I did.)
  • I had a couple of other old England-centric travel books that I had inherited along the way.
  • About three weeks ago, with the trip closer, I restocked from the library, and began studying in earnest. I still have no intention of having anything but the barest sort of plan, but I do need to sort out things like public transportation  (I think I finally understand the Oyster Card) and get opening and closing hours straight in my head (as in…several museums are open in the evenings during the week, but none, as far as I can tell, on Wednesdays, so that would be a good theater night.)
  • I have been mostly immersing myself in discussion boards: TripAdvisor, Fodors, Rick Steves & Chowhound, for the most part. All have different uses.
  • In terms of the boys, we have been focusing on general British history, of which they have only the barest understanding, and most of that from Horrible Histories. 
  • With them, I have been taking mostly the video route. We started with Schama’s History of Britain – the first episode which dealt with “pre-history,” the Romans and the beginnings of Anglo-Saxon Britain. We then watched the episodes on the Conquest and the English Reformation. I had wanted to see something on the Tudors, the Fire and Britain in World War II, but we are running out of time….Then I thought…why didn’t we watch A Man for All Seasons???  Well, maybe after….
  • I have books scattered about, and they pick them up and glance through them. We’ve looked at maps, so we have a good sense of where the apartment is in relationship to Tube stops and the major sites.
  • In terms of tickets: I have not purchased any theater tickets – I have a short list of shows I want to see, but I’m going to wait until we get there, see how everyone copes and recovers (including me) and just get a sense of what it feels like to be in London and get around before I commit.
  • I did purchase a Historic Royal Palaces family membership, which gets us entry into several places, including Hampton Court and the Tower of London. It saves a bit of money and gets us out of the regular line, and makes me feel posh whilst slipping into my wallet.
  • I also went ahead and got tickets for the Warner Brothers/Harry Potter thing. It seemed advisable to get those ahead of time.
  • An advantage of not getting to London until this point in our family’s development is that there is absolutely no noise about going to LegoLand. Thank. Goodness.
  • Bought travel insurance, most importantly with health and medical evacuation portions.
  • Went overboard, as I always do, about informing my adult children about the exact when and where of everything, including where my estate documents are, where the car will be parked and so on. Honestly, after you have been through a sudden death for which no one was prepared (how could you be), you see the wisdom of trying to account for the unexpected. It’s an act of mercy and love to leave as little of a mess behind as possible, if it comes to that. It’s not morbid, it’s just realistic.
  • I also rented a camera. I have a pretty old DLSR of some sort, but about three years ago, someone dropped it and just a couple of the teeth that hold the lens in were broken, but that was enough to render it almost useless – you can take photos with it, but you have to hold the lens in place. (The photo in the header, taken in Death Valley, was taken with that camera…me holding the lens…) I have a point and shoot, but it’s also older, and phone photos are okay, but not as good as actual camera shots, especially for display (maybe, if you have an IPhone? I don’t know. I don’t have one).  My son who just moved to NYC left me with some monstrous pro-level Nikon that he had purchased last summer, but when I got it home last week after helping him clean out his Atlanta place….it refused to power on. Even after charging the battery. It’s fine – it was a lot larger than I had expected, and not great for travel.
  • So I rented a Panasonic Lumix LX100, got it yesterday, found it a bit more complicated than I was ready for, but spent a couple of hours last night studying, so I think I’m good.
  • My hope is to blog here daily, and I’ll be posting regularly on Instagram – both in Stories and via regular posts, especially since they added this great feature of being able to put ten photos or videos in a single post. So check me out there. I don’t think you can see Stories unless you view it on a phone or tablet.
  • And yes, we are in an apartment. I did look at several bed-and-breakfasts fairly seriously – I sort of wanted that experience for us – but eventually admitted that I know full well  that I will crave space and privacy at the end of the day. I did look into, say, renting two rooms at a B & B, and came close on a couple, but then found a good apartment and again, my instincts told me we would all be much more content at the end of the day in that situation.
  • I forgot to mention that I find Pinterest valuable for things like this…I have the app downloaded to my phone, and it’s like having my own …er…curated …guidebook.

 

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Taking a travelogue break to offer quick reviews of the movies I watched on the plane:

  • I didn’t watch any movies on the way over, only the two episodes of Mad Men they offered.  I didn’t want to get too committed to full-length films because I was all MUST SLEEP. GO TO SLEEP. NOW.
  • Of course, I didn’t sleep at all. I never do.  Even the time I flew to Europe by myself, with empty seats on either side of me….I didn’t sleep. I’m too anxious about sleeping to sleep, that’s all.
  • On the way back, I watched three movies, though, and part of two others.
  • I’d been looking forward to Foxcatcher since reading about it, probably a year ago.  It sounded complicated and layered and had Steve Carrell.  But I’m sorry to say…no.  About 45 minutes into it, I couldn’t believe it was only 45 minutes into it and there were 90 minutes left to go.  Carrell was fine, if a little mannered and caricatured (but perhaps that’s the way DuPont actually presented), and I thought Channing Tatum was just fine, but the whole thing was just a little too…careful. Money Quote: “Ornithologist, Philatelist, Philanthropist…”
  • I’d also been wanting to see Whiplash.  It was certainly more entertaining that Foxcatcher, albeit fairly crazy and over the top. J.K. Simmons, as an uber-intense, authoritarian, sadistic instructor of jazz band was fun to watch, but it was, as I said, just too much to take at times.  What interested me was to see what the film would do with the standard tough master v. student trope and to follow the various mind games being played. It certainly wasn’t predictable, that’s for sure, but there were points at which the unpredictability morphed into unbelievability – as in, a perfectionist musician would take an opportunity given to him to shine and use that moment to humiliate one guy? Nope.
  • But. The last fifteen minutes are, well…great. They are earned. It’s exhilarating to see the put-upon, even abused student "amy welborn"take charge and to observe the dynamic of master-student: taking what’s been learned and shooting it right back – played out in the context of Caravan. 
  • Fr. Robert Barron wrote about this film today in the context of spiritual mentoring.  It’s a reasonable jumping-off point, but I had a hard time connecting to the movie on that subject because the Simmons character was so ridiculous, really. Rather, what I was thinking about, especially during those last few minutes of the film, was art – and perhaps more so because I’d spent a week contemplating the likes of Bosch, El Greco, Velasquez, Picasso, Ribera, and Goya. My final takeaway of those final seconds, in particular, was that in order to make truly great art you probably have to be a little bit crazy, and you might just have to sell your soul.  Money Quote: “Mmmm….not my tempo.”
  • Enough Said was one of James Gandolfini’s last films, and he stars in this tale of love and courtship in middle age with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Catherine Keener and Toni Colette.  Loved it. I have to say that my 32-year old son had seen it some months ago and recommended it, so it’s not just a middle-aged thing.  It’s very real, funny and the acting is terrific. People have doubts about each other, get angry, and connect in unexpected ways with unexpected people and talk about the issues they have in ways pretty close that we do in real life, with enough of the elevated focus and wit of theater to make you both nod in recognition and laugh because they’re funnier than you are.  It’s also striking because one character really does mistreat another, and handle a situation very badly…and is called on it, and must bear the consequences..and eventually finds forgiveness, but it’s not easy.
  • I also watched part of The Skeleton Twins, mostly because I like Bill Hader – what I watched struck me as pretty formulaic, but I couldn’t finish it because the sound putzed out.
  • So I tried to give St Vincent  – the film about the irascible Bill Murray being impacted (I assume) by the Kid Next Doorbut we landed about 30 minutes in, and I wasn’t interested enough to pick it up later…should I?  It struck me as situational – as in, let’s create a Wacky Situation which leads characters to confront a Quirky Situation which leads to Understanding Despite the Odds.
  • And didn’t we see this in Kolya, and wasn’t it much better then?

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