Sunday, January 20, 2008

England, January 2008

I just came back from a 10-day holiday to England with my father.  Dad is originally from Glasgow and London and we went to London to visit family and celebrate my aunt’s 60th birthday.

My father grew up in the East end of London which is typically the starting point for most immigrants. When my father was living there it was mostly Jewish but with each new generation came a new wave of immigrants.

All of my dad’s London cousins grew up within blocks of each other. Many of the buildings have been knocked down but there a few that are still standing:

Hessel Street:

My great grandparents lived on Hessel street.  The loo (toilet / outhouse) was on the roof but we hear it now has indoor plumbing.

Unfortunately I was having battery issues with my good camera. These photos were taken with my phone.

This is the synagogue that my great grandparents attended:

And now my good camera starts working!!

Brune Street Soup Kitchen:
This soup kitchen started in 1902 and served the East end poor for 90 years. The building was converted into flats in 1993.

January 11:We decided to do the Old Jewish Quarter tour with London Walks. This is a walking tour of the East end and starts with the Romans and goes all the way to present day. As part of the tour we stopped at Bevis Marks synagogue which is the oldest standing synagogue in Britain. It was opened in 1701 and originally served the Spanish and Portugese Jewish community. My father used to sing in the choir there (although we have our doubts as he is currently tone deaf). He also ran into an old schoolmate while we were visiting.

January 12:In the morning we treated ourselves to a full English breakfast which includes blood sausage, bacon, beans, toast and eggs and hash browns. I had to try the blood sausage but was unimpressed. Why waste calories on something that is not only disturbing but doesn't really taste great?

We then proceeded to do some posh London shopping by stopping at the Harrods January sale. People fly in just for this sale. If you can justify 400 pound then the half price Burberry bag seems like a steal. Can you sense the sarcasm - or maybe just jealousy?

The best part of Harrods is the food hall. It's full of gourmet items that you didn't know existed or maybe didn't want to know. Pigeon anyone? They also had the opera singing pizza maker.

After Harrods it was off to Fortnum and Mason for some crazy expensive tea and tomato chutney. This gourmet food store has been around since the 1700's and has been the preferred food store of the royals. The food hall is not as big as Harrods but it is even more posh.

Have I mentioned how much I love my new digital SLR camera? I was still learning to use it on this trip but so far so good.

We also had a chance to see a couple of shows. Since it was off-season there were plenty of tickets available at the Leicester Square Half Price Ticket Booth. To find the official booth, go to the green in Leicester Square (opposite the movie theater). Leicester Square has a subway / tube stop on the Piccadilly line. The line (or queue as the Brits say) starts at 10am and you can purchase matinee or regular tickets for shows that day. We went to see "Swimming With Sharks" as well as "Shadowlands".

"Swimming With Sharks" stars Christian Slater and the play was about a ruthless movie executive and his new assistant. The new assistant has a love for movies but is drawn to the dark side of the industry as the play goes on. Christian Slater did an excellent job but I kept thinking that the play seemed better suited to a movie. Turns out it was a movie with Kevin Spacey.

In between the plays we had dinner at Papageno Restaurant in the West End. I can't decide if the decor is tacky or magnificent but it was a lot of fun. The food was mostly mediteranean and it was good. I would like to go to their sister restaurant Sarastro for either their Opera Sunday Matinee or Monday evening meal. They have live opera performances featuring up and coming stars.

Here is a photo of Papageno:

Yes the decor is a little overwhelming but there is always something to talk about if the conversation runs dry...

The other play we saw was "Shadowlands". I highly recommend this play and there was not a dry eye in the theater. Shadowlands is the tragic love story of C.S. Lewis and an American fan. The play stars Charles Dance as C.S. Lewis. Turns out this was a movie as well but it translated well as a play.

January 14:Today we left to visit some family in Leeds. We rented a car and made a quick stop at Stratford-Upon-Avon on the way.

Shakespeare's Birthplace:

Shakespeare's Grave at the Holy Trinity Church:
Many important people were buried inside churches to prevent grave robbers from disturbing the graves.
On his grave it says:
"Good friend, for Jesus' sake forebeare
To digg the dust enclosed heare;
 Bleste be the man that spares thes stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones"

January 15:

Today we took a day trip to York (from Leeds). As it was pouring rain we went to the Jorvik Viking Center first. This museum is a ride/educational exhibition that takes you from through the villages of York during Viking times. The exhibit is based on archaeological evidence found in excavations between 1979–81 by the York Archaeological Trust. The damp conditions in York (did I mention it was raining?) helped to preserve many items including a Viking toilet and its contents. The ride / exhibit takes through the villages and workshops and yes, it stops by at Viking toilet complete with a animatronic man sitting there doing his business. Did I mention that they also pump in smells on this ride? Jokes aside the exhibit was very informative as well as fun for all ages.

One of the old shopping streets:

Cliffords Tower:
This infamous site was built as one of two castles in the city of York by William the Conqueror and is best known for a masacre in 1190. Jews had sought refuge in this tower to escape an angry mob. Many ended up taking their own lives, some died by fire and many died at the hands of the mob.

I wish it would stop raining. My photos are so gray...

January 16:On the way back to London we stopped in Nottingham and then Oxford. Nottingham Castle doesn't really exist as most of it has burned down. Some of the walls and gate still stand. There are also some statues of Robin Hood outside the walls. The oldest Inn and Pub is also built right into the wall.
Castle Gate:

Robin Hood:

The Trip to Jerusalem Inn:
Founded in 1189 this is the oldest inn in England. It is connected with the caves at the foot of Nottingham Castle.

We also made a quick stop in Oxford with a walk through the city and Christ Church College. This is one of the most well known colleges at Oxford.

Dining Room at Christ Church:
Recognize it from the Harry Potter movies?
Look closely at the bottom of the windows. Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, was a professor at Oxford. Alice in Wonderland character are portrayed in the stained glass windows.

January 17:
Quick try to get on the Hogwarts Express otherwise known as Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Rail Station. Guess I am not as magical as I thought....

I had to do a little work so I stopped by No. 1 the Mansions for a tour. These flats are perfect for families, groups and couples traveling together and are well priced and located within a 3-minute walk of the Earl’s Court tube station on the Piccadilly line. Th Piccadilly line has stops for Knightsbridge (Harrods), Leicester Square (West End theaters) and Covent Garden. The flats are very large, well decorated and clean. The three bedroom and three bath flat is enormous with a large kitchen, separate dining room and separate kitchen.

Time to go home... By the way, Heathrow has a large selection of duty free shopping. Make sure you leave some time. If you have any spare change left be sure to buy a european Kit Kat. The chocolate tastes so much better than our version.