Saturday, January 5, 2013

What a Drag

We see two shows while we're in London. One is Matilda, on the West End, which is fabulous. And the other is a lot less expensive -- a real British tradition: the Christmas pantomime. Not pantomime like the French guy in white face who can't get out of the imaginary box, but rather a goofy, bastardized musical version of an old classic tale, always starring a man in drag. As if there weren't too few parts for women anyway. Sigh. Completely by coincidence, the despised school matron in Matilda, Miss Trunch Bull, is also played by a man in drag.
Somehow, Gigi ends up onstage for a small audience-participation portion of the show, which of course she loves. The rather laaaarge woman in the bonnet to her left is the star of the show in drag. That might be pretty self-evident.
We enjoy both shows to some extent: Matilda is excellent, and the girls and I love it. Anthony doesn't love it because he doesn't see it, since his general opinion of musicals is that he'd rather have his toe-nails removed one by one (although he did get dragged to and admit really liking the musical "Wicked", so there are exceptions). The girls thoroughly enjoy the pantomime, but both Anthony and I suffer through it to some extent. I think that's one of those traditions that's really fun for children, and really nostalgic if you've grown up with it, but otherwise, it's just a pretty low-brow slapstick musical. Glad to have done it once, I suppose.

But even the pantomime shines in comparison with what we consider the biggest drag of the trip: watching the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. I knew going in it wouldn't be my favorite, having suffered through it once before, about 15 years ago. But I did not say anything negative to cloud the opinion of the rest of my family; they just came to the same conclusion themselves. A whole lot of waiting around, jostling with crowds (and we even had a fine view in the front), and -- in our case -- stomping to keep warm, for a bit of pomp and circumstance. I think we would have prefered more pomp, and less circumstance. 

But the good news is that now we can all say we've been there, done that, and we don't ever need to do it again. As for the rest of London, we feel like there is still quite a lot here we haven't covered. Luckily, we have many friends here and feel sure we'll be back. Until then, ta-ta!



Friday, January 4, 2013

Hamleying it Up

It's the FAO Schwarz of London, and it's Christmas, so what the heck. We visit Hamley's toy store and end up discovering just how much you can do with Legos. There's a classic English phone booth...

...and Prince William and Princess Kate....
After we see the store's masters at work, our big purchase turns out to be that paste stuff you put at the end of a straw and blow up into a balloon, a balloon which deflates and plastifies almost immediately. The ball/balloons we make are not nearly this big, and I have this fear that we're single-handedly destroying the environment, but the kids love them nonetheless.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Towers and Bridges

A day at the Tower of London, and the Tower Bridge, which is not to be confused with the London Bridge, whose pre-1967 version has been sold and transported to Laka Havasu City, Arizona. And no, I'm not joking.

The tower itself is interesting, and not nearly as tower shaped as one would expect. Still the historic significance is impressive, as is the 1078 construction under our good old friend, William the Conquerer. One of my only disappointments is not that I can't get the guard to laugh, but that I can't the girls to do silly dances in public to try to make him laugh. I myself go for the worst possible version of the robot, with not so much as a smirk from the guard. However, I have succeeded in mortifying my children.

The exhibits are very knight-in-shining-armor, and there's even an artistic dragon to drive home the point.

There's no question it's a very boy-centric spot, though the girls and I certainly do find it interesting. We do not see the crown jewels, because the line is just way too long. But we do see some "crown jewels" if you get my not-so-subtle drift. I take these two photos, one inside the museum and one at a snack shop just outside, for my nephews and brothers-in-law, because if there's one thing I know about boys, it's that they never outgrow potty humor.



Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Double Decker Treats

Riding on the double decker buses turns out to be one of the girls' very favorite things to do. It's certainly their favorite mode of transportation. There is only one place to sit on a double decker: top, front!

And another of our favorite double decker treats -- well, triple-decker, if you look carefully -- would be afternoon tea. Crustless cucumber sandwiches, anyone? Best part for me, hands down, is the scones and clotted cream. I am in utter heaven. There are many fancy, famous places to take tea in London, but we opt for the Dean Street Townhouse Hotel, which is a cozy, candle-lit, more traditional and more casual spot. I highly recommend it, especially since it's about a quarter the price of the fancy spots and, frankly, we prefer the ambiance.

The thing that baffles us is a trio of Japanese women at the next table who are there when we arrive, still there when we leave, yet have three layers of uneaten treats at their table the whole time. A part of me wants to reach over and steal their scones. But upon reflection, it just doesn't seem like something the Queen would do at high tea.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Jolly Old Friends

Suffering through an extreme cold, we watch some of London's New Year's Parade -- which turns out to be very much like an American parade, including many bands, cheerleaders, and baton majorettes visiting from the US. Still, it has a little English flair every once in a while.

We aren't there long before I suddenly hear my name called out, and since the only people I know who live in London are out of town for the break, and the only other people I know in London are the husband and two children I'm with, at first I can't imagine who's doing the calling. Then I look up and see some neighborhood friends from San Francisco, whom we first met when Gigi and their oldest boy were two year olds toddling around the playground equipment together. And now they're sitting there, eating sushi together in London. Crazy.  

And just in case you're wondering, accidentally running into people halfway around the world is, indeed, quite normal. For me. I have accidentally run into American friends in Taiwan, Japan, India, France, and probably several other countries I can't remember right now. For example, I've run into more than 5% of my high school class overseas; physically bumped into one of my best junior high school friends from Minneapolis in Tokyo; seen two different university friends within 24 hours of arriving in Paris on two separate trips; and run into the same acquaintance in two different countries. So when I hear my named called out in foreign countries, I should think it's par for the course, but for some reason it actually never seems anything less that a mind-blowing coincidence!

Looks Right


One of the things that strikes us most about London is that it appears to be a more living, changing city than Paris. Paris' charm seems to lie largely in how little it changes -- a classic beauty. London, on the other hand, is a combination of the old and the shockingly new. This skyscraper won't even be open for another month or so, for example.

Some of the best views of this are from the upper, outer galleries of St. Paul's cathedral dome.

The skyline is on fire, and I'm in love with the view and the photos.


Then there are the classic looks: the iconic (and rather obsolete) red phonebooth, the tube, and Big Ben.


I just have to remember to look the right way when I'm trying to cross the streets to get that perfect photo.