Tuesday, October 02, 2001

And the Beat Goes On

And the Beat Goes On
Breakfast is getting boring. We both agree on this. Chocolate croissants are wonderful for a couple of days, but day in and day out, the novelty wears off. There is always the same number available regardless of how many of us are available for breakfast. We are wondering what will happen when more people come for breakfast. We still have not had a conversation with our “host”. He doesn’t even try to continue a conversation when we attempt one, but it has not dampened our stay in London. Most people we have stopped for directions or had reason to speak with have been extremely friendly and helpful.
There are problems with the transport system. We have caught some headlines in the papers about slowdowns and work stoppages. Many of the tube lines have signs that display all of the stations that are having problems for that day. It has not been too disturbing on our routes, but the tubes are getting farther and farther apart, so our commute to work each day gets longer. It took us an hour and a half to get to Kensington Palace, our mornings work sight as tourists.
Kensington Palace is where Princess Diana lived and so do many other Royals including the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret. The Queen uses this palace from time to time also, depending on her needs. From what we understand, she is moved about for security reasons. Each of the Royals has their own apartment on the grounds of the Palace. Our pass gave us free entry and it included an audiophone. We usually shun these, but we were delighted that we had it to tour us from room to room. Kensington, like Buckingham is not an architecturally wonderful looking building, but it has charm. This was one of Queen Anne’s favorite palaces, but more on her later.
The tour is a bit different from what one would expect. Each room shows something of the life of the Royals from more of a sociological perspective. One room was the sewing room that had authentic materials used in gowns sown for Royals from the 18th century. The conditions were deplorable by today’s standards and it was said that many lost their sight from working on miniscule lacing or sowing on beads in very poor lighting conditions. Also displayed were some of the wardrobes that both men and women were expected to wear in the royal court. Men had to wear as many layers of clothes as women did. They also had to wear two pairs of leggings. One pair is to cover the hair on their legs and the other white pair that fit their uniform.
Each of the rooms had specific purposes for the monarch’s use. There have not been many decorating changes for years, according to the tour program. One of the long halls included painted portraits of many of the royalty that have lived there. Poor Queen Anne had 19 children and not one of them survived past eleven years old. Her husband predeceased her and she was said to have had some disease that crippled her and she lost her sight. She did not produce an heir to the throne. One room holds the gowns the Queen has worn for different official occasions and the tour spoke about why the design was chosen. For an official visit to the United States when Reagan was president, her gown included beaded California poppies. After someone explained it to Ronnie, he is said to have appreciated the gesture.
Kensington is a beautiful palace inside and the tour was well worth the time. It was very educational without being redundant from what we had heard already. The grounds are wonderful, but the sunken garden was not planted. It looks like it is between seasons of plants, since the earth is turned up. There is grass and other shrubs that are permanent greens surrounding the fountain, so one can imagine what a wonderful sight it must be with flowers in bloom.
On the bus on our way to the Royal Mews, our next work assignment, we overhead the woman ahead of us ask her husband what one of the landmarks was. He said he did not know, so Ron offered the information. She told us that this was their first day in London. She was originally from Austria, but had been living in Virginia for the past forty years since her marriage. This was there first trip to Europe and they were on a tour. They had two days in London, five days in Paris, and four in Rome. When I started thinking about the amount of time that it took them to finally make this trip, I was not sure if I should be sad for them or ecstatic that they finally made it. We all prioritize differently, so my hope for them is that they have had other things in their life until now that is as life renewing as travel is for me. Shortly, after we made it to our bus stop, we had two American women stop us and ask for directions. They were from Utah and decided to try Priceline.com and flew to London. They too were only going to be here for a couple of days and then on to France where one of them lived for a year. They had hopes of touring Buckingham, but we regretted to tell them that the tours ended on September 30th. We did encourage them to see the Tower of London and Kensington. How is it possible to cram so much in such a short amount of time? There is too much to see and do and the question that is always in the back of my mind is wondering if I will ever get to return? What will never survive in the event of terrorism or war? We have to experience it all or as much as our pocketbooks will allow while we can.
Our job at the Royal Mews was to tour the museum and see all of the Royal carriages used to carry the Queen and other Royals in parades, processions, jubilees, and other official occasions. It is a tough job, but someone needs to justify the salary of the guards. Our afternoon was spent keenly observing the differences in each carriage, their purpose, how many horses it takes to draw that carriage and whether or not the horses are ridden or if there is a driver. It is amazing how beautiful these carriages can be. We went with a sense of curiosity, but were soon filled with wonder. The most beautiful was the 24-karat coach that the Queen rode in for her coronation. Queen Victoria also rode in it for her coronation, then her Silver Jubilee, but refused to ride in it after that since her beloved husband Albert had passed away. She shunned much of the pageantry after that. Queen Elizabeth had a second spin in this coach on her 25th year Silver Jubilee and next year will once again ride for her Golden Jubilee. Doesn’t time fly. The Queen has been on the throne for close to fifty years already.
Due to modernization, the Mews is also the home to the Royal Rolls Royce. The Queen owns five. Each car weighs 30 tons and is claret and black in color. One of the cars was on display since the Queen was in Scotland when we were at the Mews. The cars are sometimes lent out to other Royals, but generally they are all kept for the Queen’s use.
We were also able to see the Queen’s horses. These are the horses that are used for all of the pageantry associated with the royal duties. Each horse is bred for temperament and they are judged for their worthiness at an early age. Their training starts at four years old and takes about seven years for complete training. They have to become accustomed to the cheers of the crowd, the trumpets and other instruments, flashing photos, plus all other distractions. There is a training school on the property of the Mews. There are two kinds of horses used: Cleveland Chestnuts and Windsor Grays. The Grays were not available to see while we were there. They were on their vacation since the Queen was out of the country. They go to pasture when she is gone to rest and relax.
There is much information here about Queen Victoria as there is all over London. Since she was the longest reigning monarch in the history of Great Britain, she deserves the attention. She is said to have watched her nine children learn to ride in the Mews riding school. It is said also that Queen Elizabeth, who is a horse admirer visits the Mews often to see the horses.
With all of that walking it was time to sit, relax and have some afternoon tea. There are many places with outdoor spots to sip your drinks and watch the people go by. The weather was warm and breezy, but a coat was not really needed. When I sit down at times like this, with my feet aching and swollen, I think back to the time I was a hairdresser. We used to put a rubber hat that was filled with very tiny holes over a person’s head. Using a very tiny crochet needle, we would poke it through the hole in the cap hoping not to gouge the scalp in the process and pull out a wisp of hair. When this was done all over the head, the hair was bleached for a frosted look. At this time of day, by 3:00 pm, my feet feel like someone is taking a fine crochet hook, poking it into the bottoms of my feet and pulling out nerve endings one by one, then smacking the hell out of them.
After our tea break, we headed to Leichester Square to the ½ price theater ticket office. We had high hopes of getting tickets to The Lion King or Mama Mia, but we knew they were both sold out until February of next year. We were lucky to get two tickets to Starlight Express for less than the price of one ticket at home. The show is scheduled to close by the first of the year. It has had quite a long run thus far. The curtain was at 7:30 pm. There are strange curtain times here. I am used to theater having a standard curtain at 8:00 pm. Here, some shows are 7:15 and every 15 minute interval until 8:00 pm.
With time to waste until the theater, but not enough to visit another sight, we went to the Official Brass Rubbing Center at St. Martin of the Fields church. They have a number of designs in brass that look like large rubber stamps. You tape paper over the brass and use different colors of wax to rub the brass. Whatever is raised above the surface that the brass is on, will take the wax. All of the indentations of the design will remain the color of your paper. I could not find a design that appealed to me, so I watched why Ron rubbed. A couple of times he looked like an overgrown kid, trying to stay within the lines. He would pick up his wax stick, check out his picture, then the head would go down once more in deep concentration and he would rub some more. Finally, I had to rush him to the finale, as we needed to get to the cyber café for a bit before heading for the play.
Our new friend Nick e-mailed to say that he arranged a free Internet connection for us to use anywhere in Great Britain. I needed to check out phone plug and see if it will fit the ones here. I don’t have a phone adapter. It continues to amaze me that people are so generous with their time and energy. Then there was another e-mail from a friend of ours in California who shall remain nameless saying that she had been deleting my e-mails up to this point thinking they were offers from a pornography sight. It wasn’t until she had a conversation with another recipient that she realized what she was deleting. With little time to spare, we went to Pizza Hut for a quick, cheap, and surprisingly very good quality pizza before the play.
I am amazed at how seldom we hear English on the streets. We are almost craving hearing a British accent. This is such a cosmopolitan with immigrants from everywhere.
News headlines: 15 million pounds are expected to be lost until the end of the year from American tourists alone, due to the New York City incident. Later tonight, the news said that hotels are hurting and they are trying to encourage the English to travel more in their own country to make up the losses.
So now to review Starlight Express. There were no stars that are known in the States or here either that we could tell. For those of you who do not know the story, it is basically The Little Engine That Could retold. There is a little boy who is never seen, but heard from. He has different train engines and cars that he races against each other. The whole show is about these trains racing. The characters are the trains in very clever costumes and the whole show is done on roller skates. The costumes were very well done, the skating was phenomenal and the races were interesting. Whenever the characters were out of view, skating around the theater including the balcony, there were monitors that showed the action for those in sections that could not see where the trains happened to be at any given time. There were cutesy names for some of the characters like Dinah the Dining car, Ashley the Smoking car, and Dusty the Coal car. The sound system was off or it was the singing. We could not understand the lyrics to most of the songs and it was not due to the accents. When they spoke lines, it was with an American accent. The story was simple, but it was an enjoyable evening and night out, but neither of us were ready to encourage anyone to run out and see it before it closed.
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