Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Towerful Tuesday

By Tuesday we figured we'd be out of jet lag enough that we could see the Tower of London, so we marched down there first thing in the morning. It was cool and overcast and we were grateful. We walked right up to the jewel house first and saw the crown jewels first off. They were pretty spectacular. There were lots of Disneyland-style lines with ropes and movies playing, but they weren't necessary because we walked right up to the good stuff. The choicest pieces (the crowns) are set up now with moving walkways on both sides of them to keep people from crowding those and never moving. Rob thinks it's precisely what you need at church buffets -- grab that iceberg salad and that roll as you slide by or it's gone!
We went down the backs of the crowns, then we stood up higher to walk at our own pace, and then slid by the fronts one last time, oohing and aahing at some of the world's largest diamonds. Aside from the crowns the family favorite was a punch bowl the size of a small bathtub with a ladle shaped like a shell.
Aren't they cute?! We came out of the jewel house and the line got longer and longer. That was a Rick Steves tip (to jewel first) and it was a good one.
They have an exhibit up right now about the menagerie and sculptures of former inhabitants that are made out of chicken wire. Very cool.
There were also many, many school groups visiting in their v-neck sweaters or their neon vests, but none were as cute as these French kids in their two straight lines. Lots of us were sneaking pictures of them in their ginghams and short pants and boaters.
We ran into this obliging gentleman who let the boys try on his helmet. Here is Will in the liner. I think it looks like a hotpad.
And Sebastian too. We thought it looked rather like a dustbin. He told us it was late-12th century/early 13th century inside the helmet.
Just love those chicken wire animals! At this point we split up and Rob took Joss through the animal exhibit where Joss claims he heard a "cockaroody" (I'd guess a rooster except that he says it roars). Rob learned about the guest who got her arm bitten off by a lion and the beefeater who was almost lost to a boa constrictor. Yeah. Just two reasons they decided to move the animals up to Regents park and make a zoo.
The kids and I went on the beefeater tour. We'd learned all about them from a video we checked out. They recite 900 years of history in 53 minutes and they have to do it all loudly and wittily. It usually takes them a few months before they try to pass it off to the head yeoman dude and as the trainee was told before he began "By the end of this you're going to hate this stuff. You're going to hate me. You're going to hate everyone". Our guy here was crackin' good -- Maddie has been quoting him ever since.
These were the only ravens we saw. Legend has it that if they leave, the Tower won't be protected and as I recall, they were walking around the green last time I was here. They tried clipping their wings, but then they couldn't mate, so they had to build them ramps to help with takeoff.
We saw our first guard
And we went through the White Tower (the one that started it all, built by William the Conquerer).
They had armor, but it was not as extensive a collection as Vienna's. However they do excel at the interactive. Here Will and Sebi are trying to shoot a crossbow.
This was an exhibit to explain the weapons: grab a weapon and it tells you how to wield it to inflict maximum damage (we stayed in this room for quite a while, as you can imagine)
Rob took the kids through more of the towers and part of the wall walk.
I stayed downstairs with that napping stylemeister Joss.
Then there was a typical London deluge for half an hour or so. When I was here for a summer in 1992, I always seemed to get caught in a cloudburst as I'd walk from my office to the tube. I never did remember to put on a raincoat or pack an umbrella and I'd always be the sopping wet American riding home. This time I did pack the four umbrellas, but I still could have done better -- It was raining hard enough we could have used the stroller's rain guard and the kids' jackets.
Thankfully it didn't last long. After the Tower, we went home for a siesta. We knew after Monday's schlep that we needed some down time. In the evening we took the students out to a brilliant fish n' chips restaurant. Or rather, we took two because the other seven got lost and didn't show up.
We've heard from other directors about how much time they spend waiting for students who are perpetually late. Rob and I have never had a group with this problem. I think it's because we've left the late ones behind in the first week of the trip and never missed them! It is a shame though because it was a great meal. Our kids polished off their plates, scarfed down ketchup, tartar sauce and vinegar with everything and we tried four desserts afterward: bread and butter pudding, chocolate sponge, raspberry sponge, and spotted dick (a steamed pudding).
This is the point where the sane people pat their tummies and turn in for bed.
Not us.
We rode back across town to the Tower where we were greeted by the yeoman warder to watch the Ceremony of the Keys. This is the locking up of the fortress each night complete with lantern, guns, trumpet and lots of regimental bellowing. It was a more intimate and abbreviated beefeater tour, too. Joss and Sebi were certainly the youngest kids there and Rob and I spent a lot of energy trying to keep him from singing "Fish and chips and vineguuuuuuuuur!" at the top of his lungs during the whole event. He didn't and we made it through to the end, but we found we weren't finished yet.
I thought that once it was over you'd go out some freight elevator or service entrance, but no, you walk out through the entrances except that they're all locked. You slip out the cat flap as it were. Except that this is a seriously medieval cat flap -- really skinny. We got Joss out of the inner door by shimmying his stroller around one wheel at a time, but the outer door? Even narrower. There was no way his Phil & Ted's was fitting through that slit. So we popped him out and I took off both back wheels and collapsed it. I was tossing wheels through and when I walked out, there was a very surprised maintenance guy waiting there. I looked at him and said "Bet you don't see that every night!"
It was nearly eleven, but we stopped and bought the kids ice cream to reward them for a long day, then made our way back to apartment to crash.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A London Monday


On Monday we began by having breakfast in the hostel with the students. It's a swank place and everyone got filled up.
Sunday and Monday were those rare days in London with a clear sky and lots of sun. Everyone donned their holiday wear and were out celebrating. I was treated to my honey's "A Rant On The Maxidress" because of it, but I just love peoplewatching and wardrobewatching in big cities. Some people have got such great style, and some others are walking fashion catastrophes (like the woman my age and my size in an ill-fitting strapless sundress that shows off the "Woo" tattoo on her arm -- how drunk does one have to be before that seems like a good idea? I think I'd pass out first!).
First off we were headed to the Imperial War Museum. We had to get our bearings at Elephant and Castle and found that neither of our maps were big enough. Luckily there was a playground for the kids while we figured our stuff out. Luckily too, I had brought the iPad and loaded an offline map onto it. We think our walk there was the best way.
The Imperial War Museum was great. We were not. We were pretty dazed and hot and thirsty and wandered between exhibits. In spite of that, we each found something we loved. Joss liked this hands-on submarine exhibit.
Maddie and I loved the Children During War exhibit that talked about the evacuation and rationing and recreated the bomb shelters and a whole two-story house from Kent inside. They also had interactive exhibits and I chose my war wardrobe for the allotted 48 coupons: a dress, a skirt, a shirt, trousers, a coat, two pairs of shoes, one pair of socks/stockings and three pairs of underwear (so I splurged on the underwear. Can you blame me?). Will and Sebi and Rob loved the Trench Warfare exhibit that had you actually walking through a trench. It reaffirmed our belief that no one does museums better than London.
Then we had another break at another playground and we tried some ginger beer. It was too spicy for the kids. In their defense, it had as much kick as most hot sauces.
Next we made our way up to Trafalgar Square where we had lunch in the Cafe in the Crypt under St. Martin in the Fields.
Then the kids each tried their hands at brass rubbing. Here is Sebastian hard at work on his dog. It was lovely and cool and quiet and empty in the afternoon down there and a great break for us. I was impressed that the kids really worked on their rubbings -- I thought they might just scribble a little and want to take off, but we were there for nearly an hour. Once Joss got tired of his crayon drawings, I got out the iPad for him and he read some books and played alphabet matching, neon drawing and Fruit Ninja. Rob doubted me when I brought that thing along, but it kept Joss QUIET. It was a raging success.
From Trafalgar Square we took a bus up to Regent's Park.
Maddie and Rob did some scouting for our meal with the students the next day and got so lost that we almost never saw them again. Good thing there was a playground for the boys to play in.
And while Joss took a nap, the other four rented a boat and paddled around the lake in the park.
We were so tired when we got home that we barely needed the melatonin and benadryl I'd brought for jet lag. Phew!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Amazing Thing, Amazing Thing, Amazing Thing, Amazing Thing

I can't believe our good luck, but we're here! Flights were good, food was bad, Detroit airport gets five stars from the McFarlands (fountain, express trains, charging stations, shopping -- Joss was ready to move in), and one poor, poor little girl on our flight screamed herself hoarse. I think she may be the Worst Child On A Flight in my experience. Our kids were so good. They played Bookworm and Bejeweled and watched Dawn Treader and Yogi Bear and Charlie Brown and Elmo and barely needed us. Only downside was that with their own personal screens for eight hours, they didn't sleep either . . .
. . . so that when we walked off in Heathrow everyone was trashed. Joss couldn't walk and kept flopping on the floor. The kids treated each other like human Socker Boppers. We took three hours from landing to our apartment that were excruciating and made us all question this layover, the study abroad, or the feasibility of travel at all. When we arrived, our apartment was being cleaned, but the housekeeper graciously let us stay in another apartment. We all zonked out in chairs, couches and the floor. Once it was clean, we made our way up four flights of stairs and zonked out some more while Rob took all our bags up the teeny tiny staircase and launched the students.
At around 7:00pm we were all ready to get out of the hot hot top floor apartment and stop fighting. We're right next to King's Cross station as displayed by Maddie, and truly, no one with capes or wands or rats or owls would arouse suspicion here.
We rode the tube a lot on Sunday, the Piccadilly, the Circle and the Northern lines.
And we were so happy to be off the plane and without baggage. Whoo! But everyone was still beating up on each other whenever they were within arm's length. At one point Joss sat up in his stroller and pointed indignantly shouting "Lolo?! Sebi?! I am so tired of you two are fighting!!" We were all surprised, and not just Will and Sebi were feeling sheepish when they heard that.
Unfortunately we didn't know the code to take us to the Ministry of Magic.
But we went by and saw where Wills and Kate were married. In explaining royal things to the kids, Rob taught them Charles' title. Sebastian's response: "The Prince of Wales. That has a nice ring to it."
It was an absolutely beautiful evening. It had cooled off and the sun was still setting.
Joss wanted to see the river Thames.
We had a great talk here. I'm not sure why, but the kids are more excited about this Study Abroad than they have ever been before. Maybe it's because they're older. Maybe it's because they have friends doing the same thing right now. Maybe it's because they've read books and seen movies about London and Berlin. From Westminster Bridge we pointed out points of interest from Mary Poppins, Nanny McPhee Returns, and Sherlock Holmes. It is a party when the kids are interested in something. And Joss liked the boats and the birds. Also gratifying.
A nice Italian lady took this for us. The bell was tolling 9:00pm as it was taken and I pointed it out. One of the kids said "That's not a clock, that's a doorbell!"
Joss's nose injury is fading, but awfully slowly.
We walked along the Thames and past the London Eye where we found a playground that was just right for running around and working off some noise and energy.
Then we walked back along the Jubilee (Millenium?) pedestrian bridge, through Charing Cross station and since we were already there, visited Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square. The kids' fondest wish was to climb up on one of the lions, and so we obliged.
Rob has this theory that when you visit someplace new, you should go immediately to the center of the place to feel like you've seen it first and get a feel for what that city is like. I don't know if Trafalgar square is the heart of London, but all distances are measured from one of these lions, so it is some sort of a center point.
So having walked around for almost four hours, we schlepped home on the tube and went to bed. It was a great first day for London.
And the title? It's just the way that I feel, wandering around London again. It comes from a Strong Bad email on love poems if you haven't seen it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I Was Sigfried! I Was Roy! I Was Sigfried! I Was Roy!

In the first year Rob and I were married, we attended two poetry slams in San Francisco. If you're not familiar with a slam, it's competitive performance of your own work: 1-2 dozen poets each performing a work of 3 minutes or less (sometimes there is a tiebreaking round -- Sudden Death by Haiku). We were young and unwrinkled and life was easy and we had no idea it wouldn't always be that way. We couldn't have forseen that we'd remember several of the poems 13 years later.

One of those was called "What I've Done Since High School Graduation" by Phil West. It was a poem-as-answer to that dread question at reunions, and he responded with a whimsical fantasy of the places he'd been and the things he'd done, but also the people and objects that he had been (501 jeans, flannel shirt, antibiotic, narcotic, prophylactic . . . ). The refrain was "I was Sigfried! I was Roy! I was Sigfried! I was Roy!"

It has become a part of our family lexicon. In Rob and MA parlance, this is what you say when you have had a crazybusy day or when you've mastered the to-do list that would choke a pig. It's an invitation to enumerate all of your legendary and random accomplishments. So in the preparation for our Study Abroad 2011, here's what we've been doing (instead of blogging):
Celebrated Father's Day with family. Roasted marshmallows and sang around the campfire.
Will got four teeth pulled, one cavity filled and two front teeth gussied up. Maddie had her bite realigned.
Sebastian attended Chinese and computer summer school.
Got three passports, 11 London transport cards, 9 London passes, 5 haircuts, and 6 backpacks.
Tried to relax after a long day of chores and unhappiness. 2 minutes into playtime at the park and Joss ran screaming to us with a huge bump right on the bridge of his nose. It has morphed into a great little superhero mask between the eyes.
Rob threw his back out. He was down for two days (and only two days because his brother-in-law came by and worked him over for an hour or two). It was nice to have a forced rest. Here he's watching Sendung mit der Maus with Joss.
Will participated in a Kodaly choir camp through BYU. They did some lovely pieces and I wish he could do it all year long.
We took down a third of our cherry tree. This is actually after we filled the truck to the brim once.
What. Don't you cut down trees before you leave on a trip?

The tree took down some of Rob with it.
Sebastian and Joss took a session of swim lessons and loved it. This was the huge breakthrough -- Sebastian can now breathe while he's swimming! YAY! Before he'd swim 10 feet then get up and tread water to catch his breath.
Joss had a blast. It was pretty much time to blow bubbles and impress the lady folk.

And on the last day you get to go down the slide. Oh joy!

We also replaced our trampoline; repaired two toilets, a kitchen light and a closet door; washed all the walls, the bathrooms and windows; saw Rio; went on a bike ride; hiked Battle Creek Falls; ate more restaurant food in the last week than we have in the last year; got a pedicure (me!); went to girls' camp (Maddie); had three doctor appts. and five prescriptions; did a million loads of laundry; enlarged and planted our garden; weeded and mulched the yard; ordered a ton of tickets for Study Abroad; downloaded books, TV shows, and games for iPod and iPads (including the much-touted app for public restrooms all over the world -- Will calls it "iPee"); were fed and pampered and helped in myriad ways by all our friends and family; and packed and sweated and weighed our bags.
We were Sigfried! We were Roy! We were Sigfried! We were Roy! Stay tuned to see what we are next!
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