The itch is returning.

No, not that kind of itch. Ew. I got an email yesterday that told me I could get a roundtrip flight to London these days for $3 – 400. Immediately I’m thinking in my head, ‘That’s practically cheap enough to justify making an extended weekend hop across the pond!’ And then I felt that itch – the one I get sometimes when I look at the interstate a certain way. The itch to go

Now, London I’ve done already but I haven’t done Italy…or Spain…or Ireland…or the Czech Republic….or…you get the picture.  I haven’t been anywhere since October. It’s time to break out the suitcase again soon. I can feel it. 

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So I just realized I haven’t said much about this new thing I love. 

Oh sweet, sweet Kindle! It was my present to myself for Christmas this year and oh how I love it so!

So here’s a dirty little secret…I’m one of those dorks who uses a purse to carry my books. (Not only books, but they’re in there.)  I’m talking two or more at a time. It goes without saying, my back and shoulder are weeping with joy.

Not only am I 5 – 7 pounds lighter these days, but I am also reading more!  Since Christmas I’ve already completed 3 1/2 books. One of which was Little Women which is epically long. And at the moment John Grisham has my attention and my heart with the return to his law drama roots via The Confession.

Anyway, if you’re a reader and don’t already have one I would highly recommend heading over to Amazon immediately. Most highly deserving of the hype surrounding it.  Amazing!

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Another thing I’m loving right now is VideoJug. Not familiar? Pure awesomeness! Is there something you’ve wanted to know how to do but never learned? Draw? Speed read? Roast a chestnut? Stop procrastinating?  Well, this site has it!  There are tons of videos about virtually any subject you can think of.  I personally, have drawn a cartoon castle, frog, and dog already. Next up is how to knit! Seriously, check it out!

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And lastly, I read a post this morning giving the proper grammatical etiquette of spaces after periods. I click on it with this high and mighty air as I have pretty much convinced myself I am the end all and be all of grammatical perfection. Wrong!!! It’s one space, not two! 

This has put a serious cramp in my typing flow. I’ll be typing and two paragraphs later realize I’ve been two-spacing again. Drat! Back to the top I go to check all my sentence breaks.  Of course I have to remove a space in all of them. Couple of minutes spent and now I’ve gotta read everything I’ve already written to catch back up with where I am. I just needed to vent. Darn you, Knowledge!

Guess where I was last weekend!!

Yes, Yes sah!!!!  I went up to Washington for the Rally to Restore Sanity! 

It was a whim I had and thankfully two friends were game for a loooooong road trip so off we went.  I’ve never been to a rally as I’m not particularly passionate about politics, and I do realize that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are not your typical rally, but it was AMAZING fun!! 

I’m pretty short so of course I couldn’t see anything but despite all that, I’m so glad I went.  It was just awesome.  The environment, the excitement, the laughter.  Just to see there are people out there who feel the same way you do.  I really did feel quite free standing in that gigantic mass of people.

To me, it wasn’t about Democrat or Republican.  It was just a light-hearted wake-up call of sorts.  I don’t know, I just loved it.  It made me smile.  🙂

High Altitudes

Does anyone else get a little stir-crazy when on a plane?  It can sometimes drive me insane when I’m really bored.  I mean, you’re trapped there so it’s natural, right?  It doesn’t happen on every flight, but on the way over to San Francisco we had one connection.  It was that second flight…that’s what brought it out of me.  Sure, I brought a book.  As a matter of fact, I think I had two in my purse.  I also brought an MP3 player.  But I was exhausted, I was fidgety, and I was slowly losing my mind. 

Look, I was in the worst spot to be in a plane.  You know where I’m talking about!  That dreaded center seat.  And it was night time so it was dark outside.  I cringe now just thinking about it. 

I did it to myself though.  The three people with me all had seats on a row to themselves and I was the odd man out.  When booking I chose an available seat in the row behind them but the only seat available was the center.  I’ve never had a center seat without someone I know on one side of me, and I can assure you I will never do that to myself again.  That flight was like my own personal hell. 

Fortunately on the way back I flew alone and I was intelligent enough to choose window seats.  Some people prefer aisle…no, no, no.  The window seats are where it’s at!!  I did all kinds of things to entertain myself.  There was a little TV for me to watch so I did that of course while I made two mini-silent films with my camera, and whenever I got bored doing that, I just took some shots out the window!  It’s beautiful but it’s also fascinating to see all the different landscapes across our beautiful land.  Here’s a few I took:

The clouds dazzle me every single time I fly.

It’s all so beautiful isn’t it?  One of my favorite things to do when I fly is take pictures of things down below.  Not everyone gets to see the world like that, even other people on the flight don’t usually pay any attention to what’s passing below them.  Engrossed in books or laptops or napping….  So I feel kind of special when I fly.  Like the world is putting on a little picture show just for me.

San Francisco – Day Three

So our third and final day in San Francisco of course began with breakfast at Pergamino’s.  Yum!  I finally found my pic of the restaurant…

Sorry about it being so dark.  This is actually taken on a little solo stroll I took on the last night. 

Anyway, breakfast at Pergamino’s then we headed up to the Golden Gate Park looking for the De Young museum.  They’re currently having a Van Gogh exhibition and since he’s my favorite artist, I wanted to check it out.  Walking through the park you pass the arboretum where we saw some lovely flowers.

Unfortunately for me, you can only view De Young exhibitions while on a scheduled tour and the next available ticket was for 3:30 which was about 5 or 6 hours off.  I couldn’t make it.  Disappointing, but I got to see some Van Gogh in London so it wasn’t that big a deal.

We all ate clam chowder in the area across the street, bought from Sam’s Chowder Mobile and it was delicious.  After brunchy-lunch our party split into 2’s and my group went to visit Haight & Ashbury.

I wasn’t aware but this is apparently a popular sign to photograph.  I personally did not get the draw.

Haight and Ashbury is quite an interesting and eclectic mix of stores and people.  We stopped for a coffee and crepe at one of the little shops there, then walked along Haight on our way to the Castro District.  While walking I got really excited when I saw a used book store until I walked just a few steps further to where the sign was no longer partially covered by tree limbs and saw it was actually an anarchist collective store.  Did a quick U-Turn on that one.  Like I said, lots of interesting shops.  I actually enjoyed the whole atmosphere of it.

We then planned to do a little walking tour of the Castro District hoping to see some of the remodeled homes along the streets.  Unfortunately day three was a foggy, windy, chilly day and after a block or two we decided to go ahead and grab a cab to meet up with the other party.

Straight to Pier 39!!  Cold weather aside, I had a great time at the pier.  This is one of the big ones with lots of shops to peruse and also a nice collection of sea lions. 

These guys were loud and they smell bad, but they’re just so darn cute!  Who can resist?

So we ate dinner at the Sea Lion Cafe on the pier, then we kind of wandered around the different shops buying a few souvenirs here and there.  We had an early morning the next day so after that little bit of retail therapy we all headed back to the hotel for rest and relaxation. 

I ended up taking a little stroll (mentioned earlier) down the street and took a few night time pics.

We’d actually stopped at the little ice cream shop there on the first day and had ice cream sundaes.  They were fantastic!

San Francisco was an absolute blast, Yosemite was beautiful, and I had the best people with me to enjoy it with.  I may not have everything I want yet in life, but I do have some amazing friends that I wouldn’t trade the world for.

San Francisco – Day Two

So day two was an exciting day for me.  We’d decided to rent a car and drive to Yosemite National Park for the day on a self-guided tour.  Everyone who’d asked about our plans and heard ‘We’re going to Yosemite…’ would immediately interrupt to say, ‘I hope y’all aren’t driving!  It’s a different world over there.  They drive like maniacs!’ 

Well, it just so happens that I fancy myself the Greatest Driver on the Planet so needless to say, I was looking forward to the challenge.  I will admit though, the cab ride I mention in my previous post made me the teensiest bit nervous but I was determined to soldier through.

Early that morning we get ready and of course head over to Pergamino’s to begin the day right.  I had the French Toast that morning and Oh. My. Yum.  We also get our daily pointers from our unofficial tour guide (who, btw, thinks we’re borderline insane for making such a trek in one day), and finally go pick up the rental car.

I am forced against my will to drive across the Bay Bridge (and by ‘forced’ I mean it was the only way to get where we were going…trust me, I checked.)  I guess I should preface that comment by saying that I believe bridges with metal tops (and especially TWO LEVEL bridges of metal) were created by an evil, demonically maniacal person whose only purpose was to torture me and throw me off my Greatest Driver on the Planet title.  I hate those bridges.  Hate them. 

But alas, my title remains firmly in place as I made it across the bridge without incident – despite my two hateful friends who thought it would be humorous to rock the car as we drove across the bridge.  Yeah. 

So now we’re on our way.  I have to say, once you get outside the city they still have beautiful scenery to enjoy while you drive.  Rolling hills and lots of golden grass.  Below is a picture of some of the wind turbines we saw pretty early on our trip.  We don’t have those ’round my parts.  🙂

And below you see some more of those rolling hills, this time with trees scattered.

The drive alone was a ball.  One of the other ladies with me was trying to figure out the GPS on her iPhone and asked how to spell ‘Yosemite’ enough times to make it hilarious.  Plus, our route took us on some back roads and we passed fields of grapevines and almond trees.  Of course we’re degenerates so we stopped and stole a few almonds off one tree.  They were fantastic

Here’s the thing though…the roads start winding up mountains and getting snake-y curvy so of course we’re thinking we’re getting pretty close.  Um, no.  It was another hour’s worth of a drive before we ever saw an entrance to the park.

The good news….We finally made it!!!  One person found a self-guided day tour online that we thought we might follow but it’s impossible to do so in one day with 8 hours of driving.  Also, the problem with visiting national parks like this is there are about 6,381 places to pull over along the road with gorgeous scenery and when you’re excited, it’s what you do.  So here’s a picture of the Half Dome.  (That’s it there in the center.)

We gave the tour the old college try though and our first ‘official’ stop was Bridal Veil Fall.

The walk to the base of the fall was a short one and paved so pretty much anyone can get up to see it.  We stopped along the way so I could play cheerleader and climb on a fallen tree to spell out ‘San Francisco’ with my body.  It was hilarious, but hilarious in a horrible, no-other-human-eyes-will-ever-view-these-photos kind of way.  It was quite a show for the other hikers though.

After leaving Bridal Veil Fall we got turned around in the park and it took us quite a while to find our next stop which ended up being Mariposa Grove so we could check out some of the giant redwoods.  This translates into ‘we basically skipped everything in the tour except three stops and one was dinner’.

Only two of us made the .8 mile hike to see the Grizzly Giant (pictured above).  Pictures just don’t do these trees justice.  This tree was probably a car length wide at the base, and it towered up above me.  Humongous!

And then we rounded off the night with a stop at the Wawona Hotel for a nice dinner.  Despite being in California, the hotel/restaurant gave me the feel of the Old South.  Wrap-around porch, a piano player, the whole look of the place.  I kind of felt like I needed to put on my Scarlett O’Hara costume and fan my face while I ran around looking for Rhett.

After dinner we headed on back to San Francisco.  It was another hour or hour and a half of windy, curvy roads and I’ll be honest with you, I was pretty sick of the gas, brake, gas, brake, gas, gas, brake!, gas those curves require you to drive.  It gets tiresome after a while.

Back to the rental car parking garage by 12:30, Greatest Driver on the Planet title waving proud, and then walked to our hotel to rest up for the third and final day.

San Francisco – Day One

All righty, so I’m a wee bit late….   I’ve had the pictures with me since Monday – in fact, I even arrived late at work so I could load them onto a flash drive – but I’ve been putting this post off ever since.  I’m a procrastinator – it’s what I do.

So yeah, myself and three friends flew to San Francisco for a long weekend just last week. 

We had a BLAST!!!  The flight arrived late in the evening and I was pretty sure I’d arrived in the wrong country after the cab ride to the hotel.  Seriously, I haven’t seen driving like that since I went to Mexico.  I’m fairly certain we hit two other cars, took out a fire hydrant or three, and ran over an old woman all on our way out of the airport parking lot alone.   

On the interstate the van didn’t get below 92 mph and once we finally hit the city, we took the hills like we were felons running from the law with a dead body in the trunk and glocks glued to our hands.  Those hills in San Francisco are no joke.  Some of them you don’t see the road ahead of you until you actually begin down them so shooting down them at 68 miles an hour was quite the adrenaline kick.  When we finally pulled to a stop at the hotel I think we all breathed a sigh of relief and did a few Hail Marys regardless of the fact none of us are Catholic.

The next day we were up bright and early to do a little exploring.  We headed across the street to this adorable little cafe – Pergamino – for breakfast. 

We all loved it so much this became our 1st stop of each morning.  The cafe was precious, the food was fantastic, and the staff was amazing.  One particular employee even became our unofficial tour guide and we didn’t begin a day without running our plans by him to make sure we were getting the best of the best.

Day One began with the obligatory ride to Union Square on the rail car. 

I rode with one friend standing on the side where I could hang off and take pictures of the city.  I’m a wild and crazy daredevil like that.  The ride was so much fun!  Some beautiful views of the streets and some adorable townhomes. 

Union Square was pretty busy.  Lots of shopping down there though the only thing we shopped for was alcohol.  Ended up at Lefty O’Douls where I wondered over the connection between him and Marilyn Monroe because she was plastered all over the restaurant/bar.  Here’s what I found out…Lefty served as Best Man in her wedding to Joe DiMaggio.  Ta daaaa!  So I enjoyed a little liquor and we even got a corned beef sandwich to split.  Thing was AMAZING!!!

Next we moseyed on over to Chinatown.  There were quite a few shops along the street that had these fantastical blown glass chandeliers and ivory carvings.  After a while we decided to stop for lunch at one of the restaurants.  By this time it’s mid-day or early afternoon.  The sun’s out and it’s actually pretty warm.  I’ll go ahead and warn you – no air conditioners, at least in Chinatown.  Every shop and restaurant was stifling hot.  It took a few tries before we found a place with at least a fan set up to rotate air.

Talk about high pressure sales!  There was a lady on the street who was trying to herd people into the restaurant we were headed to.  She handed us all a menu brochure and then personally escorted us to the front door.  On the 25 yard trek to the door another restaurant lady came up trying to divert us in another direction.  Fortunately we did end up making it safely to our destination.  Food was good and then we were off to the next location.

I’ve always thought of myself as having a good sense of direction.  Let me not be shy, I’ve often wondered if I didn’t have an innate psychic-like sense of direction…a built in compass, if you will.  I have even considered telling the authorities about my gift so they could study me, because surely it’s only selfish to keep such a gift to myself.  However, I am slowly beginning to doubt my abilities – not in direction directly, mind you – but in map reading.  I spent a good 2 minutes on the street corner looking at a small map, turning it this way and that, trying to figure out which rail car we needed to get on in order to get back to Fisherman’s Wharf.  I won’t make excuses about how I had a friend squawking in my ear the whole time with her own ideas.  I’ll just say we ended up on the completely wrong car, going the completely wrong direction. 

So after rerouting and finally heading in the direction we needed, we finally made it back to Fisherman’s Wharf in one piece.  Or four, depending.  Finally we ended up at the Blue Mermaid for dinner.

The food was amazing!  After dinner we all waddled ourselves back to the hotel.  It was bed time and we were up for an early morning the next day. 

Coming up next:  Day trip to Yosemite!!

London – Day Five

Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four

I wore different shoes on day five and they started off rather comfortably.  Unfortunately, by the end of the day my feet hurt again only on a different part.  By this point I’m convinced my feet are irreparably disfigured and will never be the same again.

The day begins with a river cruise to Greenwich.  It’s Sunday and the market is supposed to be in full swing.  The morning was pretty overcast but no rain, fortunately.

Cruising the Thames under London Bridge.

The H.M.S. Belfast with the Tower Bridge in the background.

This river cruise was much, much, much better than the one I took offered by the London Eye.  Much.  The tour guide was very knowledgeable which was great, but he was also hilarious which was even better.  Loved him!

Upon arriving in Greenwich, I headed straight to the market.  This market was heralded as one of the best but it was actually quite small and didn’t have what I was looking for – old books – so I left a touch disappointed.  It has lots of crafts though and Oh, the food!!  It was the highlight of the market for me.  Food from every ethnicity you can think of.  I had some authentic pierogis and also tried some Nigerian potato stew.  Yum!!!!!!  Oh yes, and of course I got a crepe with nutella and bananas.  Almost forgot that one.

I didn’t take many pictures at the market, but here’s one as I was walking in.

After the market I hopped on the river cruise back to town.  I switched up my little itinerary yet again and decided to get off at their stop in front of the Tower of London for a tour.  The top picture on this entry is of the White Tower, located inside Tower of London.

It’s hard to be in a place or look at something and wrap your head around the fact that it’s literally almost 1,000 years old.  Not a remake…original.  It’s hard to grasp that when you read about Anne Boelyn being beheaded in history books, it was through those very grounds that she walked.  It’s not a fairy tale.  1,000 years worth of other people walked on the same stones I was walking on that day.  It’s mind-blowing when you really think about it.

This monument now stands where thousands of people were beheaded.  Including Anne Boelyn.

Inside the tower they do free tours about every 30 minutes led by Yeoman Warders or Beefeaters.  I followed one around but I didn’t get much from it.  They give you some history but it’s difficult to hear at times and me being only 5’1″ it’s also difficult to see most times.  Neither is the fault of the beefeater and it’s free so what can ya do?

This was the Beefeater who led my tour.

The Crown Jewels are also housed inside the Tower of London.  I went through but *yawn*.  I mean, how interesting can you make crowns and gold platters and such?  Just not my cup of tea, I guess.

After the Tower of London I had thought about trying to find the British Museum but it was Sunday and I knew it was probably too late being in the afternoon so I put it off once again and decided to head out to Harrod’s instead.

This was originally on my list for day one, but it just didn’t happen.  So off I go to the shopping mecca that is Harrod’s.  The place is huge, just like they say.  Any place that offers maps when you enter…yeah, it’s big.

A few things…the owner (sorry, can’t remember his name) Al-Fayed has a wax figure of himself (a la Madame Toussad’s) at one of the entrances.  Creepy.  And of course there’s the bronze statue of Diana and Dodi with a dove in another part.  Sweet but also somewhat creepy.

I went through the souvenir shop which has anything you could possibly want with Harrod’s printed on it.  Here I bought some small gifts for my girlfriends.

Next it was on to the food halls.  When you mention Harrod’s or see it mentioned, the food halls shortly follow.  Oh my.  It’s somewhat like a grocery store, somewhat like a department store, and somewhat like a gift shop with two or three small restaurant spaces in it as well.  Chocolates, vegetables, seafood, meats, sandwiches….it’s all there.

The only way to navigate Harrod’s is to develop a mission.  Decide what it is you want to shop for, find it on the map, and go.  I ended up visiting the book section and the pet section.  The store was about to close as I checked out at my last stop so it was time to head on back to the hotel and of course, make my usual stop by Sainsbury’s for dinner.

Highlight for today was the river cruise to Greenwich for the commentator, and on the way back for the sun finally making an appearance.

London – Day Four

Day One
Day Two
Day Three

By Day Four I started venturing from my itinerary.  I never have been much for schedules anyway so it was inevitable, really.  I was originally slated to go to Trafalgar Square (above), then Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, then to the British Museum, and finally to a show that night.  I’ve mentioned my uncomfortable tennis shoes before….so yeah, British Museum got cut from Day Four.  However, someone on the day tour of my second day insisted I must see Borough Market, so I added that in the morning.

Borough Market is a food/flowers market on Borough High Street open Thursdays – Saturdays.  If you are in search of a vegetable, a cheese, or a meat and are in London, this is the place to start.  Stalls packed in as tight as they can possibly get while still leaving a little walking room for customers.  Oh this is a foodie’s paradise!  My best friend would have loved it.  Vendor tables stacked with 20 different (probably homemade) cheeses, or mushrooms, or bread…  Then there are the food vendors.  Fresh falafel, vegan, vegetarian, quiches, burgers…and it’s all amazing!

One of the bread vendors.

Isn’t this place adorable?  The brick wall, the sign, the flowers…perfect.

I ate a falafel wrap which was fantastic, and I had some organic juice.  I also bought a “world’s best” brownie for later.  The market was awesome.  Just strolling through looking at everything for sale was pretty entertaining.

Next I hopped back on the tube and headed on over to Trafalgar Square.  Lots of people mulling about, probably some excellent people-watching to be had.

The day I was out there, these guys were preaching from the base of the statue.  They had the whole set-up, speakers and all.

Turn around and you’re standing right in front of the National Gallery.

Of course they don’t allow pictures to be taken inside the National Gallery.  I did my own version of a highlight tour.  I saw Rembrandt, da Vinci, and van Gogh.  As I walked from one painting legend to the next I would scan the other paintings, however, I found myself becoming quite the cynic as I strolled the rooms.  The people who sit on the provided benches and stare at paintings?  Yeah, I don’t get it.  I’m not an artist so that’s probably why but I don’t have the patience to sit and stare at a painting while I analyze it.

Fortunately you don’t have to be an artist to appreciate the greats.  Rembrandt had a portrait of an older woman that was so amazingly lifelike it literally looked like a woman sitting there with a frame around her head.  Truly fantastic.  Disappointingly they only had one piece of da Vinci’s and it wasn’t even a painting.  It was a sketch of two women.  As I am often impressed by the age of things, I put more attention on the yellowed paper and frayed edges of the sketch.

Though he was the first I saw I mention his last because he was my favorite – van Gogh.  In a building of smooth, perfect paintings his textured canvases really caught my attention.  I wasn’t a fan of the famed yellow flowers in a vase, but they also had two landscape/nature pictures of his that I absolutely adored.  The texture of the paint was so perfect I think even a blind person could run their fingers over the canvas and see what he portrayed.  I don’t know, the texture just added another element to the painting.  Almost like a 3D effect.  It was stunning and I will be buying prints soon of my favorite.

After I left National Gallery I did make an attempt to go to the British Museum.  Remember those achin’ feet and uncomfortable shoes I mentioned before?  Yeah, I did a circle of Trafalgar Square without finding the street I was looking for, so I decided to head on over to Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.

Not really much to see at Piccadilly Circus during the daytime.  At night it’s where most of the theatres are so it gets pretty busy.  There are those big billboards though (pictured above), and a little stroll down the street from the tube stop and you’ll find yourself at Leicester Square.

The famed TKTS booth of Leicester Square.

Leicester Square is basically a little park-like area with benches, surrounded by restaurants and a cinema.  I bought tickets to that night’s performance of The 39 Steps, a comedy based on a Hitchcock film and then got a little cup of ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s.  Though it was drizzling outside, I sat on one of the benches and ate my ice cream just kind of taking in the scenery.

The tkts booth (pictured above) they say is really the only trusted place to buy 1/2 price theatre tickets.  I didn’t have a problem at all and they got me pretty decent seats – that is if the man sitting in front of me hadn’t had a gigantic head.  I’m only 5’1″, people!!

I decided against trying to find the British Museum again and opted instead to go back to my hotel and rest before getting ready for that night’s show.

Those billboards are much more interesting at night.

I came back to Piccadilly Circus that night for the show.  It was at the Criterion Theatre which is small and old, but charming.  The show was great.  Four actors played all the roles and most of the comedy came from two characters switching back and forth, and also the improv of props.  Great show and I’m so glad I decided to see that one.

After the show I headed back to the hotel.  This was really the only night I ever felt the slightest bit unsafe during my entire week.  There was a guy on the tube that kind of freaked me out a bit, and then walking to the hotel there were three guys I was a little leery of.  However, nothing came of either situation and I made it to my hotel safe and sound!  🙂

Highlight of today was definitely van Gogh, and the show.

London – Day Three

Day One
Day Two

Day Three began my actual tour of London.  On this day I included Buckingham Palace (pictured above), Westminster Abbey, a walk by the House of Parliament and Big Ben’s clock tower, and then a “flight” on the London Eye.

My plan was to catch the Changing of the Guards but of course I didn’t arrive early enough.  I got there shortly before the first ceremony begins (where the troops start) and it was packed.  My own fault, the guide books warned me.  One said it’s usually best to get there by 10:30.  He was probably right.

Instead, I jogged over to the opening ceremony and snapped a few shots of that.

This was as they first started to march their way to Buckingham Palace.

I kind of tagged along behind the soldiers back over to the palace.  Of course I couldn’t see anything but I took a few pictures of me in front of the palace and such.

After the ceremony, I took a stroll through St. James Park.  It’s not quite spring yet so I’m sure not as beautiful as it could be, but it was lovely all the same.

In the center there is Duck Island.  That’s of course the London Eye on the right side.

My stroll took a little longer than I planned because I must always stop and check out the animals.  The squirrels were mammoth and were tame enough to (still skittishly) come up and eat out of your hand.  And of course the pond had lots of birds.

I hear swans can be territorial and mean but aren’t they beautiful?

After St. James Park it was off to Westminster Abbey.  I was pretty proud of my sight-seeing plans on this day.  The palace and the church are actually quite close to each other.  Not a long walk at all.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey…what can you say?  The place is absolutely astounding.  A few notes, I think the audio tours here are free and I assure you, well worth stopping to get one.  Also, you are not allowed to take photos inside the church.

Walking in the main area (nave) I actually teared up.  I’m not overly religious or anything but it is amazing.  The amount of detail will blow your mind.  In the ceiling, in the woodwork of the choir area, on everything.  Then you walk around the different chapels with the audio guide giving a little description of whose tomb you are looking at, often including a short piece about who the person was and what significance they hold.  The history, the detail, the reverence of the place….it was breathtaking.

Before leaving I lit three candles in the provided area.  I really was at a loss for words so I just lit the candles and stared at them for a while.  I don’t know if that really serves its purpose, but I hope so.

Leaving Westminster Abbey I basically hopped across the street to the House of Parliament and the clock tower.

Massive.  And as you can see, they’re doing a little work on the Parliament building.

I skipped trying to go inside and watch Parliament at work, so I walked across Westminster Bridge to Bankside where London Eye is just to the left.

Before riding the London Eye I went on their little 45-minute river cruise.  It cost, I think, £9 or £10 with the purchase of your flight ticket.  Personally, not really worth it.  The commentary was rather lazy and pointless.  Especially when I took another river cruise down to Greenwich another day.  Much better.

The London Eye flight was excellent.  When you’re loading, the pods do not stop.  They line you up in 4 rows and let you go one row at a time.  Seriously, it never stops.

This was my pod approaching.  And not stopping.

The entire flight takes 30 minutes.  You don’t go fast at all and the views are pretty great.  I’m sure on a clearer day it’s even better.

As you can see, it was rainy when I was there.

After the flight I headed on back to my hotel.  About two blocks down from the Marble Arch tube stop is a little Sainbury’s.  It’s like a miniature grocery store.  It became my little nightly ritual to slip in here and grab one of the ready-made sandwiches, a little bag of crisps, and a soda.  So I made my usual stop and then headed on back to the hotel.

Highlights of the day had to be Westminster Abbey and the London Eye.  Both I would recommend people visit when in London.  They were both fantastic.

London – Day Two

Oh the woes of figuring out a cell phone alarm clock!  Day Two in London was actually an escorted day tour to Warwick Castle (pictured above), Stratford-Upon-Avon, and Oxford.  I set the alarm clock on my phone to go off at 6:45 AM because I had to be at Victoria coach station before 8:45 AM.  Plenty of time, right?  Not for the people who don’t know how to set their alarm clock!  Turns out, you have to actually Enable the alarm before it will activate.  Silly modern technology… 

The next morning I wake with a start.  Immediately check the time on the phone…8:02 AM.  Exactly 43 minutes before I’m supposed to be at the station.  So it’s going to be a repeat of Day One, huh?  It’s like that now?  My mind is racing.  It normally takes me an hour to make myself presentable.  The math doesn’t add up right there alone.  I’m screwed. 

If nothing else though, this girl is a fighter.  I’m not giving up that easy!  Fortunately.  I end up taking the shortest shower in history, spend about 8 seconds blow drying my hair, and call the front desk for a cab.  Make-up gets done in the cab on the way to Victoria station.  My hair isn’t as “finished” as I like it to be, but at least it’s clean. 

I make it to the station just as they’re walking out to the bus.  Hallelujah!  I fall in line like I’d been there the whole time and within 30 minutes or so we’re off to Warwick Castle.  The guide is quite knowledgeable and charming, telling us about our surroundings as we drive out of London.

Leaving the city there is gorgeous countryside.  Beautiful green, rolling hills.  Pastures of sheep grazing.  The farmhouses are those of storybooks.  Typically old stone homes sitting atop a sweeping hill with the green pastures rolling gently on every side.  I can’t keep the smile off my face as I gaze out the window.  This is part of the England I came to see.

I was aware that Warwick Castle had some form of reenactment programs they put on.  I was not aware it was so kid-oriented and was slightly disappointed when I discovered this.  It’s somewhat Castle Disney.  Regardless, it’s interesting and some beautiful scenery.

I finally found that knight in shining armor I’ve been looking for…

Has to be my favorite photo of the day.  This is some of that pretty scenery I was talking about.

After about an hour and a half self-touring the grounds of Warwick Castle, we begin on our 20 minute journey to Stratford-Upon-Avon, birthplace of the one and only William Shakespeare.

There’s a certain pedestal I guess I’ve placed Shakespeare on in my mind.  I’m a reader.  And in some small corner of my mind, I fancy myself a writer.  Books of older generations are my favorites.  Bronte, Austen…  I even collect old hardbacks.  There’s something in the language.  It’s like writing in those days was an art form of another level.  Take this for example: 

 ‘I’ve had some powerful dreams in my life.’
‘I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after.’

The latter is Emily Bronte.  It’s so much better, isn’t it?  Prettier.  It makes me want to dream myself, dreams that will stay with me ever after.

When I think of Shakespeare, I typically focus on the lyric of his words.  What a beautiful, ornate use of the English language he had.  I focus on the slight adoration I have when I think of the type of stories he wrote and how controversial they had to have been in his day.  Plays alone were considered morally corrupt.  Shakespeare wrote plays, but plays about interracial relationships (Othello), young love that defies family and social customs of the day in the name of love itself (Romeo & Juliet).  There are so many societal boundaries he overstepped.  I’m sure these things happened, it’s just no one talked about them.  At least in my mind.

And off on a tangent I’ve gone.  Sorry.  Ok, so Shakespeare’s somewhat on a pedestal in my mind.  You can imagine my dismay when our guide kind of drug him through the mud during our ride over.  He talked a lot about Shakespeare’s personal life.  Marrying an older woman, having three kids with her, and then running off to London for years when he did his writing.  I like Shakespeare on his pedestal in my mind.  I didn’t want to know he was human and could’ve been a deadbeat dad.  Come on!  ‘Done to death by slanderous tongue was the hero that here lies’.  (Much Ado About Nothing)  Thanks, tour guide.

Anyway, Stratford.  Shakespeare’s birthplace.

A view of the street Shakespeare’s house is on.  That would be it there, first on the left.

The house is small, naturally.  And once inside the first room, you find you are not allowed to take pictures.  *sigh*  So the only one I took was this…

I find some amazement in the idea that this is the same window William Shakespeare also looked out years ago.

Unfortunately, the tour involved a small space with lots of people in it.  Most were high school students.  Probably goes without saying, I quickly became jaded and hurried my way through the rest of the house.  The highlight for me was actually the actor in the garden after my tour of the house who I watched recite two Shakespeare pieces.

There’s magic in those words, I tell ya.

After the tour I had lunch in a little restaurant across the street.  An excellent panini with chips.  Bacon, cheese, and mushrooms.  Yes, it was worth mentioning.

And finally we’re off to Oxford.  A town known for its university (collection of individual colleges), and of course, Christ Church where part of Harry Potter was filmed.  Where the other towns were basically drop-off self-tours, in Oxford we were led on an escorted walking tour.  The same guide who dive bombed my Shakespeare pedestal just two hours before, took the group on a tour around the city pointing out buildings of interest and telling stories of the histories. 

Can’t remember which college this is.  It was where we unloaded from the bus. 

And this would be the “tour” we had of Christ Church.  A view of it from a mile off.  I’m not a Harry Potter fanatic, but if you’re going to bother mentioning it in the tour description, tour the damn thing.

After the disappointing 10 minute walk to that view of Christ Church, it was another 15 minute walk back to the bus where we then headed back to London.  They at least were nice enough to drop us off at tube stops that would take us back to our general area.  And this time, I didn’t get lost!!  Yay for paying attention!

All in all, it was a much better day than my first.  I did enjoy the tour.  Met a nice Canadian lady who I chatted with periodically during the tour.  It was a good day.