Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Warships, Palaces and Guards

After scoping out London from atop the Cathedral I meandered past the Tower of London, over Tower Bridge, and onto the HMS Belfast. The Belfast is one of the few vessels from World War II that have avoided being turned into scrap.

Preserved as a museum ship along the Thames, the ship offers visitors a glimpse of what life on a heavy cruiser in the midst of a global war was like. For a history nut like myself, this sort of thing is irresistible. I had actually visited the Belfast before, back in 2002 when I visited London with Matt, but that was years ago and I wanted to go back again.

The thing I like about the Belfast, versus other museum ships I have visited, is the freedom to explore. Often times museum ships restrict where you can go, but here you can traipse through engine rooms, turrets, magazines, the bridge, and much more. So basically, the whole experience is right up my alley.

I did have to be careful of the time though, as the group had a walking tour scheduled for one o'clock, and I had to make it back to the hotel and have lunch on the way. I made it, but between the hike up St. Paul's Dome, the stroll around the ship, and the hoofing it around London in general, my feet hurt quite a bit before the walking tour even started!

We had been scheduled to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, but that is a morning event and the postponement of the tour required a change in plans. We got to see the Changing of the Horse Guard instead, and I have to say it was probably the better deal. Far fewer tourists, and seeing the expert way the Horse Guards could maneuver their beasts was quite impressive. Especially considering that militarily, knowing how to ride a horse is a dead art. Still and all, there is something just a bit intimidating by cavalry, I can certainly see how they were the elite units in the days before tanks.

From there we walked past Trafalgar square again, and then Big Ben, Parliament, and on to Buckingham Palace, another spot that I hadn't dropped by in my previous excursion. The tour group loved it, but I was less enthused, I like my royal residences with towers, moats and arrow slits!

This is actually a look back across London towards the building where we saw the Horse Guards, our walking tour compressed by the use of a the long end of my zoom lens. (135 mm for those who are curious.)

One of the impassive guards that litter London. A lot of people got a photo with him, but I (sensibly) try and stay away from heavily armed men.

And that was it for London, Dinner, a drink or two, and bed where all that was left for me and the British Capital. The next day would take us far to the north, through Oxford, Stratford, past Shrewsbury (Home to Brother Cadfael) and to our next stop, the town of Llangollen in North Wales.

Monday, July 28, 2008

London in the Morning: St. Paul's Cathedral

The next morning I jumped out of bed ready to explore. This was to be our only full day in London, and I wanted to make the most of it. My primary target was St. Paul's Cathedral. I had missed going to it during my last trip to the city and was determined to get a glimpse of its famous dome. I was also inspired by my reading of Brunelleschi's Dome to see as many of the great dome's as I could on my trip.

Since we had a guided sightseeing that afternoon, I made sure to get to the cathedral right as it opened. What I didn't know is that the entrance to the dome opened an hour after the cathedral proper, but killing time in a cathedral as large and historically significant as St. Paul's is no problem at all!

I really enjoyed meandering around the nooks and crannies of the nave and the crypt as there were many tombs and memorials to historical figures that I am quite familiar with. Everybody knows Aurthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson, both of whom are buried in the crypt, but who knows the name Cuthbert Collingwood, Nelson's second in command at the Battle of Trafalgar? There were also a host of Majors and Generals from the Napoleonic wars that I recognized from my reading of the Sharpe series of historical novels.

When the viewing gallery finally opened, I started the long, long climb to the very top. While it was a great many stairs indeed, the views of London were more than worth it. The Thames, the Tate, Tower Bridge, The London Eye, every landmark of the city and then some was laid out before me. The vista really took my breath away, as cliche as that sounds. I kinda kicked myself for not coming the last time I'd been in London, but better late than never.

This is the only picture I could sneak of the inside of the cathedral and dome, they didn't allow photography inside, to my dismay.

While this is a pretty nice panorama, as always it just doesn't fully capture the reality, but then what photograph does?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Day One: London and Jet Lag

I was ready as ever to start my first trip in a long while. I was so ready that I got to the airport WAY ahead of time, and got to kill a couple of hours in Denver International Airport. We pulled out of the gate on time, only to spend an hour on the tarmac! The wind shifted right as our flight was lined up to take off, and we had to taxi all the way to the other side of the airport, and wait in line to take off. Luckily, I made my connection in Munich, though it was by a whisker.

Arriving in London from the Europe side was great, we flew right over the city on our final approach and peeking through the clouds I got to see such landmarks as the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament from the air. It was like Google Earth, only real and a lot more clear! Meeting up with one of the groups, we bussed into London and set about our activities for the first day.

Our hotel was in a very good location, right by Hyde Park, in the middle of a very pleasant residential neighborhood. Everbody was pretty sleepy, but still eager to explore the city.

After a dinner of fish and chips (of course) we cut through the park into central London and saw such sights as Trafalgar Square and a far off peek of Big Ben. By this point is was getting late and most of the people headed back to the hotel for a well earned snooze.

Being of the mind that one can sleep when one is home, I joined up with a teacher and his wife and we went walking all over London! It was a beautiful night, and the lights of the city and her landmarks reflected in the Thames really are glorious.

I was the only one who had visited London before, so I became the tour guide, which was fun. Checking out Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben, The London Eye, and more at night was a really great way to start the trip. I just wish I'd had a tripod so more of my pictures came out!

Around 11 pm it was finally time to pack it in, our feet were sore and our eyelids heavy, so we caught the tube and went back to the hotel, ready for another busy day!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Sunset over Wash Park, Part 2

As the sun sunk lower, the colors just got better and better. These pictures really must be seen larger than this to be appreciated. I'll admit, I love the sharpness and quality of the D-80!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sunset over Wash Park, Part 1

While strolling the park one fine June evening I happened upon a glorious sunset, and was lucky enough to have my camera with me. While my incessant snapping annoyed my companions, the results were more than worth it.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cherry Blossom Festival

Every year Denver has a street festival to commemorate the impact Japanese immigrants have had on the area, and to celebrate Japanese culture. The fair is held in late June, which is months after the last cherry tree has shed its blossoms. I went, ready to be disappointed, and while the scene couldn't hold a candle to an actual Japanese festival, it wasn't as bad as I feared, but it wasn't as good as I'd hoped.

The worst part was the food. I'm used to American street food being horrible, but when we transform the teriyaki beef bowl into a greasy bunch of slop, it really is pretty tragic. Festival food in Japan was a highlight, yakitori skewers, teriyaki beef skewers, okonomiyaki, taiyaki, grilled corn, all of it amazingly delicious. Added to that were the festival games, girls in kimono or yukata, and the occasional bout of joyous taiko or street dancing. While I don't expect Denver to be able to match Kanazawa in it's display of Japanese culture, I think a little more fidelity would go a long way towards making the whole thing a lot more fun!

I did find a nice wall clock that has all the numbers in Kanji, so the day wasn't a total wash.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The 4th of July

Nothing brings the term "National Holiday" Home quicker than being out of the nation on that day. Having Independence Day be a day of barbecues, fireworks, and (for some of us) birthday cake is just natural. Being in Japan cured me of that really quick. Having to work on July 4th just seemed wrong. Though of course my students would think the same thing about having to work during Golden Week or O-bon. Why, only savages have to work during those important holidays!

This year is even stranger, in addition to being the third year in a row that I am out of the United States on Independence Day, this time I'll be in London, in the seat of power of the very country we declared independence from!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Grand Tour

Tomorrow at 2:05 PM, weather permitting, I will be departing Denver International Airport for Europe. As mentioned previously, I haven't been to Europe for a very long time, so it seems that I should be utterly excited. I am... but. It honestly doesn't seem real. I know that within the space of 24 hours I'll be somewhere over the mid-Atlantic desperately trying to sleep, but I don't feel it. It seems strange to me that on the verge of an 18 day whirlwind tour I don't really feel much at all.

Though certainly I am looking forward to my trip, it will be great to see London and Dublin again, as well as to fill in a few gaps in my Irish sightseeing. The following 9 days in Italy is just icing on the cake, and a delicious, gelatto and pizza flavored icing it is!

For the blog, and myself, I have plenty of memory cards to go with the new camera, so I will come back with a great many wonderful photographs. I'll have things set up so that while I'm gone a few posts will be made, so this blog won't be a total wasteland.


I'm off!