Monday, June 30, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 7

Tower of London, Spring in a Small Town, Jamie Oliver

It's so interesting to see how much of our imagery of royalty, from Lewis Carroll to Disney and more, comes straight from the British Monarchy. The Tower of London is there to underscore that fact. From the yeoman warders to the crown jewels, we see the actual roots of our childhood fantasies take shape. (Doesn't the crowd of people at the base of the White Tower even remind you a little of Disneyland?)

So much history here: Henry VIII, Ann Boleyn, Mary Queen of Scots, Richard III and his tragic nephews), Robert Walpole, and Sir Walter Raleigh, to name just a few. Then of course there are the ravens, the Roman wall, and the world's largest, most opulent punch bowl!

Clearly the Tudors were in power here at some point inside the tower. Love the turquoise doors!
I came away in awe of the ancientness and vastness of the British Empire. And also with a chilling realization of how dangerous a monarchy can be if the wrong person gets into power, or misuses that power.

This afternoon we saw a screening of a 1942 Chinese film at the BFI, "Spring in a Small Town." Amazing themes of love and romance, loyalty and betrayal, and a fascinating look at mental illness.

After the matinee, we walked back to Covent Garden to indulge in something that had been tempting our palates for days now: Jamie Oliver's "Union Jacks" restaurant. Jamie has taken traditional English fare (you know, the boring food with the terrible reputation for being bland and overcooked?), and retooled it with the freshest artisanal ingredients and his trademark touch. The results? WOW. My compliments to the chef! We had traditional beer-battered fish and chips (cooked to perfection), with mushy peas (his were fresh, barely blanched, and minted just right). We started out ordering a single plate to share, with a small beetroot and goat cheese salad, but it was all so good (and we inhaled it so fast) we ordered another one right on its heels.  For the perfect ending, we each had just a scoop of his homemade ice cream...the best ice cream bargain in the city, and utterly delectable.

P.S. Jamie Oliver is HUGE here! We have a Jamie Oliver cookbook in our flat.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 6

Church and more church! 

This morning we attended our regular church services at the Hyde Park Chapel, which is right next to the Victoria & Albert Museum, on Exhibition Road. Church here is a truly international experience. We heard not only from a black Londoner, but also from a speaker from Spain who was half-Japanese. (He talked about feeling very at-home in multi-cultural London). And the closing prayer was in Spanish.

The talks, by the way, were outstanding. The first woman spoke about prayer. She told amazing stories from her childhood, about being taught to pray by her mother. She recited the entire 23rd Psalm with such power and conviction. She then described her own seeking for guidance in adulthood. She said that one morning she was rushing off to work and didn't have time to pray or read her scriptures. She heard a voice tell her to read her scriptures, more than once, so somewhat reluctantly made the time. Then the voice instructed her to pray. Again, she felt she didn't have time, but the prompting was repeated. While she was on her knees she heard someone open her front door, and assumed it was her mother. She heard the footsteps on the stairs and continued to pray, feeling total peace. She then heard someone turn the knob on her bedroom door. She opened her eyes briefly and saw a rough-looking criminal there trying to enter her room. But he was unable to budge her bedroom door more than a crack. Still surrounded in total peace, she continued to pray. The thief left, and her apartment was undisturbed. She said she learned that day how scripture study and prayer give us very real protection and she has never skipped those two steps each morning before leaving home.

 Westminster Abbey

This afternoon we attended Evensong at Westminster Abbey. On our way in we saw the graves of Elgar and Wordsworth. As we sat waiting for the services to begin, it was wonderful to look down the nave and imagine so many royal weddings  and coronations taking place there.

The choir and the organ were amazing. Truly glorious sounds resonating in that great hall! We also enjoyed participating in the liturgy. All that sitting and standing definitely keeps you from nodding off during the service. The sermon, which was honoring the apostle Peter (today was St Peter's day) talked about the impetuosity of Peter, and how in seeing him rise above his faults and become a great leader in the church is an example for us as we uncover and rise above our own weaknesses.

On the way out the organ was even louder and more glorious than before. It was the perfect wrapping-up of our sabbath day. 

Since we were in the neighborhood, we took a closer look at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. I am amazed at the way Parliament rises up out of the water. There is literally no shoreline. The water comes right up to the wall of the building. How does it not flood?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 5

Camden Market

Camden Market is right there as you step out of the tube station...a big, noisy, crowded outdoor marketplace. A lot of it is very flea-marketish with loads of vendors hawking cheap British souvenirs and designer knock-offs. But if you walk a little farther down the street, toward the bridge and the locks, you can take a little cobblestone path down to hundreds of food vendors offering delectable samples. I especially loved the Italian flatbread sandwiches and fresh-squeezed juices. There are booksellers, toy shops, and so many other artisans selling clothing, jewelry and wares.

We were grateful for this overhead covering when the rain started pouring down on us.

Even farther down the road is another, slightly less crowded outdoor market called The Stables. This one seems to be where more of the locals shop. We were a little bit shopped out at this point, but couldn't resist taking a peek inside.


On our way back to the tube, Jeremiah posed for a photo op with John Lennon (sporting a fresh new haircut). Beatlemania is alive and well. Which reminds me, on the flight over I saw an interesting documentary on the woman who was the secretary to the Beatles for 10-plus years. She was the one who kept their schedules, gave them their paychecks, and answered their fan mail. Check it out, if you get a chance: Good Ol' Freda.

King Lear

This afternoon we saw a fantastic production of King Lear at the National Theater. It made full use of the Olivier's circular, rotating stage. The colors were sparse, but rich. The production design was gorgeous. The performances were powerful. There was some pretty graphic violence, and the setting was more contemporary--a World War II backdrop. But what stands out most is the sweeping themes of greed and power, and betrayal and infidelity, and the rolling out of consequences connected to them. It was fascinating to see this play right after seeing Les Mis the night before, and compare the effects of two very different courses of life.

Friday, June 27, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 4

British Museum, Covent Garden, Les Miserables

The British Museum houses so much history from around the world...Egypt, Greece, Africa, Asia, and on up to the present day. The Rosetta Stone is not to be missed. (A friend of mine reached out and touched it once, and set off all kinds of sirens and alarms. It is now enclosed in glass.)

I am not someone who ordinarily swoons over anquities, but I have to say the Brits have amassed the rockstar collection of all time! All the best stuff is here. We had planned to spend only an hour, catching the highlights, but instead ended up happily staying much longer.

My favorite was the Enlightenment Room. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases always make me feel right at home (and here they are multiple stories tall). But what really intrigued me here was the intense quest for knowledge during the 18th century, wrapping up in 1820. It was a time of searching and discovery like no other, a renaissance of knowledge and information. It became quite evident that this quest for knowledge was an important precursor to the Restoration. (Joseph Smith's First Vision took place in 1820, in my mind a literal culmination of that intense period of searching.)

The Age of Enlightenment covered seven major areas/themes: Trade and Discovery, Religion and Ritual, Ancient Scripts (including a fascinating section on translation), Classifying the World, Art and Civilization, Archaeology, and the Natural World. It was a very clear and systematic search for Truth with a capital T.

Covent Garden

From there we walked over to Covent Garden (one of my favorite London spots). It's a centuries-old marketplace straight out of Oliver Twist and My Fair Lady.

It's always loaded with street performers. Jeff got called out of the crowd, chosen to assist a magician, and he was a pretty fun foil to the performer's tricks.

Les Miserables

Later this evening we saw a fabulous production of Les Miserables. We had sky-high seats, but it didn't matter at all. I am always SO moved by Victor Hugo's incredible story of repentance and commitment to Christ. When Jean Valjean came out for his curtain call I tried to shout "Bravo!" but was so choked up the words barely came out. I am always amazed at this character's goodness, and wish I could live a life that selfless and pure. Then when I remember how initially flawed he was I am even more in awe of the Savior, both for the perfect life He led, and for the way He transforms our lives.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 3

Harrods and the BFI (British Film Institute)

First item of business was ensuring that the last few students made it here safely and were checked into their flats.  Next item of business? Harrods.

Everything was drastically overpriced (especially when you convert from pounds to dollars) but what a feast for the eyes! My favorite was the confectionery.

This is their shrine to chocolate. Impossible not to genuflect. :)

Of course, Mr. Cool could not be persuaded to spend time here (at all!) so we spent most of our time looking at teenager approved items, like technology and running shoes and other sportswear (plaid wool riding outfit, anyone?). I seriously thought he was going to gag when we approached the entrance to the fragrance department!  :)

I eventually dragged him back toward the food section.

Check out this produce manager...looks more like 1914 than 2014! But that's what we love about London, right?

Another highlight of the food section: My FIL had recommended the Beef Tongue Sandwiches at Harrods. Mr Cool's quick response: Can the cow tongue taste us while we're eating it?

Tonight we took the students on the same walk we took our first night here—to the BFI, over the Jubilee Bridge.


Here are a few more shots Jeff took of this famous view of London at dusk. I never tire of this vista!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 2

Michelin to the Albert Memorial. 

We spent the bulk of the day checking students into their flats. Nine of them were detained in Texas and won't arrive until tomorrow. Visions of sleeping in airport terminals danced through our heads, briefly. Poor lost souls.

In the afternoon we explored the neighborhood on foot again, this time widening our geographic circle. We took a walk from one of the cards in our box of London City Walks: Adventures on Foot. 

Our first stop was the Michelin Tire Building. Who knew the Michelin Man was immortalized in Stained Glass on this Art Deco architectural wonder?

Next up was the British Oratory, an old church used as a dead letter drop by the KGB, once upon a time.

We headed down a cobbled path through Ennismore Garden Mews. Another cool old church was on the right, with a grand stone gate at the entrance. The inscription reads: Thy Word Hath Quickened Me. Such a great reminder, just there at the end of the walkway.

Next Jeff took this cool panorama shot of apartments lining an alleyway. We loved the color palette.

A few more blocks and we were at the Royal Albert Hall (and yes, I did verify that Queen Alexandra's is still there, just as I remembered it!)

And right across the street was the entrance to Hyde Park. Excellent.

We strolled down one of the footpaths and wound up at the Albert Memorial. What a lovely symbol of strength and unity. Each corner represents a different segment of the world.

The sky looks like a Turner painting. So much drama in the color and the clouds!

And a perfectly suitable ending to our little 'adventure on foot.'

And back again.

When we got back to the flat we took the students to dinner at a fabulous, very authentic Italian restaurant called Rocca. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 1

Settling Into the Borough

The driver picked us up at Heathrow and dropped us off right at our apartment of the traditional white row houses in South Kensington.

We're in a 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment with hardwood floors and a bay window. LOVE. It has a fully equipped kitchen and adjacent sitting room, with streamlined, contemporary furniture.

The first thing Mr Cool noticed was the fancy cars...Bentleys, Rolls Royces, Mercedes Benz, BMWs, Porsches, Mini Coopers, and Maseratis line the streets. Welcome to the one of poshest neighborhoods in London! I'm not entirely sure how we managed to land here. But I'm not complaining.

Actually, I seem to have this kind of amazing luck every time I come to London. The first time I came (after Cambridge) I stayed at a private girls' school called Queen Alexandra's House, right next door to the Royal Albert Hall!

This evening we took a stroll through the French Quarter, and then were just steps away from the Natural History Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. On the way to the tube station I was also delighted to discover a Waitrose--The UK's answer to Trader Joe's. Joy!

(Tube station: South Kensington)

Since we're here with the film program (shout-out to BYU for flying the whole family over!) our final stop was the BFI (British Film Institute). Fortunately, it is best accessed via the Jubilee Footbridge, so we also got glorious views of the Thames, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben...a great introduction to the city! We're here. We're really here!

(Tube stop: Embankment)