October 26, 2010

Catching up, sort of

Sorry for the long delay in posting. We’ve been very busy during the days, and Larry has been working hard in the evenings to keep up with his school assignments, all of which require the use of the computer. I have been watching a very odd assortment of TV shows each night.

So what have we been up to? Lots of stuff. For the last few days we’ve been staying in Hemel Hempstead, a nice enough town situated between a lot of interesting places. Today we went to 78 Durngate, a house renovated by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (no photography allowed); yesterday we explored Cambridge; and the day before that we visited the Roald Dahl Museum, mastered the Marlborough Maze at Blenheim, and saw a bit of Oxford.

Before we arrived here we were at a great B&B in Cullingworth, which is Brontë country (pity I don’t care about the Brontës).

Tomorrow we head to London for the last few days of the trip. We won’t have internet access at the hotel, but we will try to check in from a coffee shop or something. Until then, Larry needs the computer back, so here are a few photos:

Butterfly in the Blenheim Butterfly House

Me in the Marlborough Maze

Triumphant maze masters

Some building in Oxford

Market in Cambridge

Fountain, Great Court, Trinity College, Cambridge

Saint John's College, Cambridge

River Cam running through Cambridge University

More Cambridge

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October 22, 2010

A piece of Manchester history

I didn’t have a chance to blog about this the other day, but Larry and I visited the coolest place in Manchester: the Victoria Baths. The baths were built in the early 1900s and are currently in the process of being restored, or at least as much as they can be with the money available. I found the Victoria Baths while searching for “fun places to photograph in the UK.” It wasn’t until later that I realized I’d read about the baths before because they are used for location shooting on lots of random British shows, including one of my favorites: Life on Mars. In fact, the day we visited there was a commercial being shot in one of the main rooms for some sort of Coke beverage.

If you want to read up on the history of the Victoria Baths go here. If you are ever in Manchester and enjoy history or architecture or both, make sure to take the tour. And if you are wealthy please give them lots of money so they can continue the restoration work. It really is a fantastic building. Here are some photos:

Front exterior of the Victoria Baths, Manchester

Interior tile wall, detail

Bannister detail, staircase in First Class Men's Entrance

Windows in one of the upstairs rooms

An upstairs hallway

Glass ceiling over one of the three pools

The Aeratone in the former women's waiting room

Stained glass

Stained glass windows

Fireplace in an upstairs room

Larry in a familiar room

The "morgue" from Life on Mars

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October 22, 2010

The play’s the thing

Last night we drove to Sheffield to see Hamlet. We were almost late because we hit some rush hour traffic and then poor Larry kept missing his turns and ending up farther and farther from the theater. I did my best to stay calm, but the whole time I was worried there would be trouble picking the tickets up from the box office. But we got there eventually and there was no trouble with the tickets and we had plenty of time to get settled in our seats before the play started.

This production of Hamlet was being put on at the Sheffield Crucible, which I’d just like to stop and say is a really lovely theater. I know a lot of people were skeptical about us going to see a play in Sheffield, but we were both very impressed with the theater. I quite liked the set as well. And our seats were very good–third row, a bit off to one side. But the Crucible really doesn’t have “bad” seats.

So, the play. The cast was all excellent. Larry and I both particularly enjoyed Hugh Ross who played Polonius, a part I admit I’d never really given much thought to. I don’t even remember who played him in the last production I saw. But Ross was great! He made Polonius very funny and oddly endearing. But really the whole cast was just terrific. And this Ophelia was waaaaay better than the last one I saw.

Now about John Simm, because I am sure you are curious. John Simm was a fantastic Hamlet. Seriously. FAN-TASTIC. This actually shouldn’t be much of a shock because if there are two things Simm does really well, it is anguished and crazy. He also managed to inject some humor into the role, which was nice. Larry will back me up on this (see quote below), so you can’t just say it is because I like John Simm: The man did a great job. And one of the things I always enjoy about Simm is that I never feel like I am watching a play with John Simm in it–he really disappears into the role, and I will go for long periods watching before I remember that, Oh! Right! That’s John Simm on stage a few feet away from me! I really appreciate that because I feel like sometimes you see someone famous in a play and all you can think the whole time is: Look, it’s that famous guy as Hamlet. When really you should just be thinking: There’s Hamlet. (And for my fellow Simm-fanciers, yes, the fencing scene was as awesome as we’d hoped. Even when crazy and anguished the man is still attractive.) Now some comments from Larry:

“I agree the play was fabulous, and I’m not one who usually enjoys Shakespeare. John Simm and cast somehow managed to incorporate humor into what is otherwise a pretty depressing story. I can see why Sonja likes John Simm, as he is a very good actor.” –Larry

After the play we stayed for a brief talk-back thing with most of the cast, which was fun and also very kind of them to stick around for since it was quite late. They were all very charming and funny.

So there you have it. An excellent play experience. I am so glad we went!

Of course if Stacey asks I will say the play was terrible.

John looking tortured because he can't have me.

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October 21, 2010

Glory Glory Man United!

Last night we attended a Manchester United game at Old Trafford, thanks to our lovely benefactress Jen. Jen is the same one who got she and I the play tickets a few years back where we were essentially sitting on the actors’ laps, so it should have come as no surprise that our Man United seats were similarly impressive. We were about seven rows back, which really makes a huge difference when you are watching sports (although I had a vague fear I’d be hit in the face with the ball at some point–I was not).

Though I am not the sportiest person in the world I have to say that seeing a Manchester United football game at Old Trafford is like seeing a Red Sox baseball game at Fenway–the absolute best way to do it. Lovely stadium, enthusiastic crowd, lots of history, just fantastic!

Contrary to some people’s fears, we were able to watch the game without being crushed to death by crazed football fans. In fact, the Man United fans were all very well behaved. The fans of the opposing team, Bursa, were extremely enthusiastic but not in a scary way. The only bad behavior we saw involved a few banged shins, one bloodied nose, and a bit of handbagging–all on the field, between players.

Nani, king of awesome, continues to play despite a bloody nose.

On a side note, for the past few days Man United has been all over the news here due to one of its star players, Wayne Rooney (boooooh!), announcing plans to leave the team. Think Johnny Damon leaving the Red Sox. So that has been a major topic of conversation all over the city. The fans are feeling very wounded. Rooney, of course, did not play last night due to “an injury,” which seems awfully coincidental if you ask me. Whatever, Rooney. Shut your face.

Anyway, Man United won: 1-0.

We have another full day planned today, so the next update may be delayed a bit. Plus we seem to be suffering from some sort of Internet-connection curse. I suspect sorcery.

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October 17, 2010

The Edge of the Known Universe

Larry and I arrived at our B&B this evening only to find out that it has no internet access. None. At all. And we’re staying there for three nights.

So we spent half an hour driving around the area in the dark, enjoying music of the 1930s on our radio, looking for an unsecured wireless connection so Larry could download his homework assignments. I’m sure this in no way looked sketchy. Or at least no more sketchy than the stakeout we’re currently doing outside a hotel in a nearby town. Thanks, White Lion! Actually, I think at least part of the thanks should go to Julia Ward Howe, a Unitarian and author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” who died October 17, 1910. They’d just been discussing her on the radio and had started playing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” when, Glory Glory, Hallelujah! we found a wireless connection! Thanks, Julia! I owe you a column in the magazine.

So anyways, don’t expect to hear much from us for the next few days. We aren’t dead; we’re just in Northern Wales.

No time for a complete photo account of the day, but for now here is this morning’s Epic Battle at Caerphilly Castle–this time a fencing battle for Stacey, who thinks we aren’t classy.

Epic Fencing Battle at Caerphilly

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October 16, 2010

Cardiff, One Night Only

Today we traveled to Cardiff, which wasn’t a bad drive. We had some Fabulous Welshcakes (Jen, Noel, sorry guys–tried to buy you some but they would all have expired before we could have gotten them shipped to you) and took some photos around Mermaid Quay, the Pierhead Building, and the Millennium Centre. We staged an epic battle in front of the Millennium Centre, to the bewilderment of our fellow tourists, so that we could get an interesting picture for our friend Noel who asked for a photo of us in Cardiff. Then we checked into our B&B (a nice place on the other side of town) and walked around the City Centre, Bute Park, and the Alexandra Gardens, which for no reason we could discern was full of goth/punk teens. We spent ages trying to figure out if there was some sort of concert on tonight, but the only one we could find listed was a John Barrowman concert. Now, no offense to Barrowman, who I’m sure has his share of punk teen fans, but I wouldn’t have pegged them as his primary audience. I mean, “Copacabana” and “Rain on My Parade”? Oh well, the park full of punks will forever remain a mystery…

In a touristy shop across from Cardiff Castle we saw the World’s Largest Hand-Carved Wooden Love Spoon. It was pretty awesome. In another shop, specializing in gourmet foods and foreign snacks, we saw a box of Pop Tarts for £4.25. Yes. Almost $7 for an ordinary box of Pop Tarts.

For dinner we stopped in at a pub down the street where they forgot our order. But when the food finally arrived it was very good–some sort of mushroom pasta thing–and they were very sorry about the long wait, so we got free sodas. At this point we were exhausted because we are ancient, so we retired to our room to spend the rest of the evening lounging.

Tomorrow we head up into Northern Wales!

Today’s photo highlights:

View from the drive to Cardiff

Crossing the bridge into Wales


Pierhead Building


View of Cardiff Bay from Pierhead Building

Wall detail, Pierhead Building

Stairwell, Pierhead Building

The Water Tower, Roald Dahl Plass

Epic Battle 1: Shooting Invisible Fireballs

Epic Battle 2: Kicking

Bute Park

Red Dragon

Cardiff City Hall Tower

Enormous love spoon

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October 15, 2010

Cheddar, Wells, and Longleat

We started our day bright and early (and still jet-lagged) with a drive out to the town of Cheddar. The radio, which has been refusing to play much in the way of music, decided to send us into the day with Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Combined with the overcast weather it made it feel like we were back in the Pacific Northwest.

The Cheddar Gorge was as lovely as I remembered it from my last trip to the UK, but I confess the town was a lot (sorry, no other way to say it) cheesier than I recalled. In one shop you could buy a number of hideous fairy statues, Hannah Montana posters, and T-shirts with Bigfoot, that one with three wolves howling at the moon, and, inexplicably, one with an American Eagle with stars and stripes behind it. But we bought ourselves some cheddar at the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Co. and that made up for the silly shops.

After Cheddar we drove to Wells to see the cathedral. We arrived just as a school orchestra was beginning a concert. They started off with that song “Also sprach Zarathustra” from 2001: A Space Odyssey and continued on with a whole series of very dramatic pieces, including Gustav Holst’s “Mars: Bringer of War” (Stacey, this made me laugh because I kept thinking of the scene in Sherlock episode three with the fight at the planetarium.) Later Larry and I were sorry we hadn’t thought to have some sort of epic battle in the cathedral, possibly one that would have ended with me chasing Larry up the aisle of the concert audience and then tackling him into the woodwinds section. Ah well, missed opportunities…

After Wells we raced off to Longleat House to see if we could get into the hedge maze before it closed for the day. The woman at the booth said we had exactly 30 minutes to do the maze (they advise you leave two hours). In the end, we got to the center in about 5 or 10 minutes–no joke. We literally just stood there for a minute in shock. Bit of a letdown really. Oh well, this is what happens when you put two super-mega-geniuses like us in the world’s longest hedge maze. We crush it with our massive intellect.

After the maze we drove back to Mere, trying to avoid hitting any of the 10,000 pheasants that kept appearing in the road. Then we had a quick nap at the B&B and, deciding we were too full still to eat dinner, we ate some cheddar with crackers and apples for dinner while watching QI on the Dave channel. (Jen! QI! Dave! Why aren’t you here???)

Today’s photos:

Larry in the Cheddar Gorge

The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Co.

The lovely town of Cheddar

Another pretty shot of Cheddar

Keepin' it classy, Cheddar

We'll just pretend the tourist shops don't exist.

A cute critter spotted by the water in Wells

For some reason we are alarmed by the Bishop's Palace in Wells

Wells Cathedral

Chapter House stairs, Wells Cathedral

View of the Quire, Wells Cathedral

Cloisters (I think), Wells Cathedral

Longleat House

The Longleat Hedge Maze

FAIL, Hedge Maze! Consider yourself vanquished.

HA! We are AWESOME!

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October 14, 2010

Airlines, Bath water, and other yucky things

So, let me just start off by saying that Virgin Atlantic is both the best and worst airline ever. It’s the best because you have a huge selection of free entertainment to choose from. For example, I watched Hot Tub Time Machine, Kick Ass, and episode three of the BBC’s Sherlock. And those were just a few of the many options. However, I watched all of these from a seat the size of a sheet of notebook paper. I have short legs but even I was complaining about the intolerable lack of legroom (so imagine how poor Larry felt!), and the people in front of us immediately put their own seats all the way back. I never recline my own seat, so you know it was a desperate situation that Larry talked me into it. When I finally agreed and Larry offered to warn the guy behind me, that guy kicked up a big fuss about how squished he already was, so then I didn’t have the nerve to do it. Larry switched spots with me–MY HERO!–because no one was sitting behind him. So I put my seat back, but even then my knees were so smooshed up against the seat in front of me that I had to cram the little pillow they’d given me between my knees and the seat. I would have had more room to stretch out if they’d just stuffed me into the overhead bin. Needless to say, neither of us got any sleep on that flight.

Also, never eat airline curry.

Despite dire warnings from Virgin about the extreme delays we could expect at customs due to a strike, it actually wasn’t any worse than normal–plus, no vomiting Asian man! With that out of the way we picked up our rental car and promptly got lost for an hour. This is Larry’s first time driving in the UK, so that was stressful for both of us poor jet-lagged souls. But eventually we made our way to Avebury, which was nice. And from there we went to Stonehenge, which was mobbed by tourists, but still very cool. Then we drove to Mere to check into our B&B and have a little nap before dinner. When we finally woke up we wandered to the pub across the street to eat, came back to our room, and realized we couldn’t get online. Hence no updates from me last night.

This morning we were up for our 8:30 am breakfast, which was your basic English breakfast. We shared our table with a nice, older Australian couple who were several weeks into their own vacation. I always feel a little self-conscious about my flat accent when I travel in the UK, so prolonged conversation makes me feel very shy, but they were kind enough not to laugh and point (unlike some people I could mention *looks pointedly at Stacey*).

We decided to spend the day in Bath. It was chilly and overcast, which is a pity since it doesn’t photograph very well, but at least it wasn’t raining. We saw the Royal Crescent, the Circus, the Jane Austen Museum, the Roman Baths (full of British school children), the Pulteney Bridge, and a random maze. We also enjoyed some Cornish pasties, visited many stores looking for a UK plug converter that would accommodate our laptop’s grounded plug (or as they put it in Boots: “an earthed plug”) , and used a very sketchy public toilet–twice. Also, while at the Roman Baths we sampled the special spring water–free with admission!–and, yeah, that stuff is nasty.

After Bath we returned to the B&B for some down time and then went to a very nice Indian restaurant for dinner. (Laura, they were playing selections from the Om Shanti Om soundtrack!) On the way back from dinner Larry stopped to take a photo and an enormous spider tried to attack his face. I was traumatized.

Now, some photos:

Larry trying to be serious at Avebury.

Avebury

Me at Avebury

Stones at Avebury

Avebury

Stonehenge

Larry at Stonehenge

Dinner at the George Inn.

The Royal Crescent, Bath

Another shot of the Royal Crescent

Bath Abbey

At the Roman Baths

Statue at the Roman Baths

The Great Bath

Pulteney Bridge

Beazer Garden Maze

Center of the Beazer Garden Maze

Last shot of Bath

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