Tuesday, February 27, 2007

LONDON: How it all began ...

It all goes back to the beginning of November. I left for work a half an hour earlier than normal. I was at the light directly in front of my building. Two more minutes and I would be out of my car and on my way into work. I was flipping through the radio stations and I hear them talking about a London trip. I then hear, "Sara of McLean has 60 seconds to call in to win her free trip to London." I couldn't believe what I heard-I knew Sara -she was my good friend. Really~how many Sara are there in the world?  A lot, I know, but this Sara has a very unique last name - so I knew it was her!
So I called her up and relayed the message, she quickly hung up and not even 20 seconds later her voice was on the radio. It was the weirdest thing I have ever heard. The radio station people were giving her a hard time for confessing to not hearing them call her name. She, of course, redeemed herself when she could tell them everything that was discussed earlier in the show. You see, Sara had also left for work earlier than normal that day, so she wasn't in her car at the usual "radio listening" time.
By this time I am in the parking garage in my building, just sitting there, listening to the radio--listening to Sara on the radio. The radio people ask her who she is going to take with her on her trip and I hear her say over the radio, "I think I will take my friend Tiana who called and told me to call in." I was shocked! No way! This does not happen to anyone I know.
But ... it is true and I am counting myself lucky ... a "Trip of a Lifetime." Flying first class, staying in two 5 star Marriott hotels. Life is Good.


Flying first class is so superior. I mean I am 5'2 and the seats were about 4 feet apart--I couldn't reach the back of the seat in front of me. I could recline, put my feet up. They served us dinner (a three course dinner that is), and they even passed around chocolates!
I didn't have such a great experience with the dinner, or maybe it was the cheese selection, anyway, something did not sit too well with me and I was sick upon arrival at the Stansted airport. There is a five hour time difference between London and DC; they are five hours ahead. But we boarded a bus drove out to the country, checked into our posh hotel and then promptly drove out to Windsor Castle. It was a wonderful way to start out the London trip.

Windsor Castle is an official residence of The Queen and the largest occupied castle in the world. A Royal home and fortress for over 900 years, the Castle remains a working palace today.
As I was walking through one of royal portrait halls, it was as if I had stepped into the movie, Pride & Prejudice. Specifically the scene where Elizabeth is walking through the portrait hallway in Mr. Darcy's estate. It was similar to that, so much grander and so much gold. Everything was very expensive and old and original.


A two-hour bus ride into the city landed us at the Tower of London. Mix 107.3 and The Jack Diamond Morning Show were broadcasting live back in DC. We stayed for an hour and made noise at the appropriate moments, and then ... we escaped!
It was a little boring to be truthful. We took the Tube, London's underground subway, to St. Paul's Cathedral. It dates back to 1697.

St Paul’s, with its world-famous Dome, is an iconic feature of the London skyline, but there is so much more to Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece than its impressive facade. The interior, with it’s glittering mosaics, intricate stone carving, and breathtaking vantage points, are just a few of the reasons why a visit to St Paul’s is a must. Important services have included the funerals of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill.

St. Paul's was truly magnificent. 259 spiral skinny steps will get you to the Whispering Gallery. Inside the dome, you can hear people whispering on the other side of the wall. It was strange to hear someone to your left when there was no one there. It was also a beautiful view looking down into the bottom. An additional 153 spiral skinny steps will get you to the top of the dome. Just when you are breathing hard and you wonder if it was worth it, you step outside to a glorious view of the city. It was absolutely breathtaking and very much worth it.

After St. Paul's we took the Tube back to the Tower of London. We did a tour, well part of a tour with the Beefeaters. They also provide security and are also called Yeomen Warders.

Founded nearly a millennium ago and expanded upon over the centuries since, the Tower's primary function was a fortress, a royal palace and a prison (particularly for high status and royal prisoners, such as the Princes in the Tower and the future Queen Elizabeth I). This last use has led to the phrase "sent to the Tower" (meaning "imprisoned"). It has also served as a place of execution and torture, an armoury, a treasury, a zoo, a mint, a public records office, an observatory, and since 1303, the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.

We did see the crown jewels, and they were expensive and fit for a queen--quite literally. A lot of purple and of course the lighting was very nice to enhance their beauty. The other pictures were taken in the White Tower within the Tower of London. There was a great view of the Tower Bridge from the Tower of London as well.

Back to Hanbury Manor we had a banquet of food with the theme of Salmon. It was very good and the conversation was even more interesting. Of course we ended the evening with a dip in the hot tub while most everyone else was at the Pub.


Another two hour bus ride--the only draw back to staying in the beautiful country Hotel. Our new hotel was on Park Lane in downtown London, equally as fancy. We were right next to Hyde Park. A popular place for people wishing to protest or make themselves heard. Several of the early church missionaries spoke from this area in Hyde Park known as Speaker's Corner. While we were there, groups were protesting the War in Iraq. In fact if you look in your February Ensign, the back cover page is a painting of President Hinckley teaching from Hyde Park.
The Tube took us to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Absolutely amazing architecture. The we crossed over the river and saw an amazing view and then as we were crossing back, the heavens opened and it down-poured on us.

It was quite the storm. Secretly, I was a little grateful because when it stopped (none of the rainstorms lasted very long--it did rain or sprinkle everyday) the skies were the most amazing shades of gray & blue. The lighting was everything a photographer can hope for. I was in heaven. We were not able to go inside the Houses of Parliament and so we worked our way over to Westminster Abbey. Upon arrival though, we found that Westminster was closed. Disappointing. They were having a special day for the Boy Scouts, so we weren't allowed in. In my imagination ... it was pretty amazing!

Westminster Abbey, is a mainly Gothic church, on the scale of a cathedral (and indeed often mistaken for one), in Westminster, London, just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English monarchs and other "important" people, including: Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, and the list goes on.

We took a long walk through the park to get to Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace is the official residence of the queen. She actually lives here and then travels to the other places such as Windsor Castle for weekends, etc. And yes--those are daffodils, they made me smile too. The queen's guards are dressed in long gray coats with big black hats, I didn't have any close-ups on my camera, but if you look closely you can see him off to the right of the door.

We walked to the British Museum. Outstanding architecture again, particularly the design of the ceiling. It was perfect for a museum. The natural light was pouring in everywhere. There was also a reading room that was breathtaking. We only had time for one exhibit and we were exhausted by this point. We had walked all over the city. We stopped in the Egyptian room where they had all of the mummies and artifacts. It was fabulous, and very crowded. The picture immediately below is used for ceremonies with horses. I didn't really read the posting, but I know it was definitely for horses! The two below that are the museum.

We got back to the hotel in time to pick up our rental car. This turned out to be a very lengthy and exhausting pick-up. We ended up driving off in our own little black Fiat Panda. I can tell you this much, it is really weird to sit in the left side of the car as a passenger and not have control of the wheel. I can't tell you how many times I tried to get in the wrong side of the car. Even when Sara was already in the car, I would think, what is she doing? Some things are programed deep into your brain ... everyone should drive on the same side of the road!

That evening we went to dinner (fish & chips) and the theatre. We saw Mamma Mia. We rode the double-decker bus back to our hotel. It was a great day.


We awoke at 5 something in the morning--it was early. We got in our Panda and started our drive on the left side of the road to Stonehenge. We wanted to be there for the sunrise, but we missed it by about 25 minutes. It was, however, an amazing sunrise as we drove in our car. The lighting was still very nice at Stonehenge. We couldn't get in the gate to walk around as it didn't open until 9:30. So we walked the perimeter, and Sara hoisted me up on her back so I could shoot over the fence. A true friend she is. It was smaller than I had imagined, still magnificent in size when you are up close, but the area is entirely farmland and compared to the rest of the space, it seemed small.

After Stonehenge, we drove to the city of Bath. And, it was my favorite stop of the trip. We drove in and you can look down and see the city. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. I wish I had a picture from the top of the road, but it would have been deadly to stop there.

Around Britain's only hot spring, the Romans built a magnificent temple and bathing complex that still flows with natural hot water. An exquisite Georgian city grew from Bath's ancient roots. The Royal Crescent, The Circus, Pump Room and Pulteney Bridge are among the finest architectural treasures in the world.

Bath has mostly Roman architecture and I found that I loved it. They have what is called the circus, which is the picture above. I should have posted the other picture that shows the whole circle, but I liked this one better. So you will have to imagine, but it is four buildings that are similiar to the one pictured above that are built in a circle shape. There is a park in the middle and a roundabout for the cars. A lot of the buildings are built with that curved shape, and most all of the buildings are the same color of granite, the pale yellow--it is the local stone.
Since we were already in the country we decided to make a few additional stops. The first was at Salisbury. This cathedral made it in the book for the top 1000 places to visit before you die. The courtyard was actually my favorite, you can see part of it below. It had these two massive trees in the middle of it, and it was very beautiful. They still have active church services every Sunday in the Cathedral.

Sara's great grandmother was born in England. In Hungerford, and her great, great grandma in Newport. We stopped in both places. We found this chapel with a graveyard around it, but we didn't have any luck finding any family names on the gravestones though. The country was beautiful to drive through. Everything was so green, even in February!

And so the trip ends, we got back on our flight direct to Dulles the next morning and MAXjet served us another 3-course meal. I managed to watch more movies on the flight there and back, than I have seen in the past three months. It really was a trip of a lifetime, and one I will not forget. I hope you enjoyed the pictures.