Rome, Switzerland, Paris, London
Friday, June 29, 2007
Orlando to London
For Dani’s 16th birthday she asked to take her friend Christina, to Europe. This is the journal of that trip.
The only time Christina has been out of the country was on Dani’s 13th birthday cruise to Nassau, so this will be an adventure for her. We picked her up Friday evening and headed for the airport to catch our nonstop Virgin Atlantic flight to Gatwick airport south of London, connecting on British Air to Rome.
The Virgin flight is one of the few nonstops from Orlando to Europe, and they offer premium economy, which has better seats than coach but is much less expensive than business class. The food is still English, though.
Saturday, June 30, 2007
London to Rome
The girls didn’t get much sleep to speak of on the plane and I got none (my own fault since we were all wearing our ipods, and I was listening to the lyrics).
The plane got into Gatwick a little late but we had a five our layover. Good thing! What a mess it was! At first the immigration line simply wasn’t moving, and there were hundreds of people in front of us from several large planes. But finally, after they processed all the EU people, they must have put more people on the non-EU line. Still, it rook more than an hour to clear immigration, Another hour to get our bags and get checked in at British Air, and then more time to clear security back to the gates. We had to run a gauntlet of eight guys with assault rifles (they must have had some inside intelligence since there was a problem later at Glasgow airport), do the normal X-ray, and then X-ray our shoes separately in a small, shoe-sized X-Ray machine. Gatwick really is broken. The flow and policies make no sense. I don’t know if I’d try to connect through there again or not.
For lunch number 2 (or was it 3?) the girls picked a revolving sushi place that was excellent. That’s where there is a conveyor belt and you take what you want, and then pay according to the stack of empty color coded plates.
Then the plane for Rome was delayed an hour getting into Gatwick. We were dragging by this time, But we had hot chocolate and got our second wind.
The main problem was that the entire population of Western Europe was at the airport. I suspect that’s because it was the first Saturday of summer and everyone was headed for the Mediterranean. Given the cold, rainy weather in London I can see why.
By contrast the Rome airport was a breeze. First time I’ve seen someone stamp passports without looking at them at all!
Our driver was waiting for us and the trip into Rome was quick. We rode with another threesome embarking on a different Globus tour from a different hotel. They are from San Francisco and just spent two weeks in Spain.
The hotel is in a great location, just a half block from St. Peter’s. It’s fairly newly refurbished with nice wood flooring and trim and new furniture.
It was so late the girls didn’t want to nap, they just wanted dinner and bed, so we walked the half block to the edge of the Vatican and had pizza in a local hangout – located literally within the thickness of an ancient wall — that sold it by weight from a deli case. Then we crossed the street and had the best chocolate gelato I’ve had since the last time I was in Rome. The weather was great. 77 degrees.
Now I need to answer a pile of ed2go postings and get to bed.
Sunday, July 1, 2007
I was awakened by the phone this morning. It was Dani informing me it was 11 AM! Admittedly, I was up until midnight doing email, but I was surprised how late I slept.
The weather was beautiful today, mid 80s and a slight breeze. We slathered ourselves in sunscreen and set out to walk across the city.
We passed St. Peter’s square at noon and saw (a teeny dot in the distance) and heard the Pope speaking to the multitudes. Then we crossed the Tiber, bought some postcards in an antique book shop (Dani’s postcard torrent begins) and made our way to the Pantheon.
In the square there we had lunch at the same outdoor cafe as on our last visit, then ventured into the immense coolness of the Pantheon.
I didn’t bring a guidebook on this trip, so I had to wing it, but I think I got most everything right except possibly the part about it having been built by Haliburton.
Next stop was the Trevi fountain, where we all threw coins in to guarantee our return to Rome on a future visit.
On our way back we spotted the Roman ruins (pictured on many of the local postcards) where there are hundreds of cats fed by local cat ladies. Then we meowed for a taxi and caught a ride back to the hotel. A very successful day.
We met our tour group this evening in the lobby. They seem very nice. The demographics are interesting. It’s a much younger group than usual, with 8 of the 44 being teenage or recently teenage girls. This is nearly everyone’s first visit to Europe.
Out Tour Director is Lia, short for Cornelia. She is a middle aged Dutch woman with a great sense of humor.
Dinner was at “The Grotto of the Emperors,” a basement restaurant similar to all the other basement restaurants that cater to tourist groups. The six course dinner and free wine were tasty, and the entertainment by a trio of accordion/guitar/opera singers was. . . clearly audible.
By the end the group looked ready for bed, but we felt completely on schedule. Good thing, because our wakeup call tomorrow is 5:45 AM.
Monday, July 2, 2007
The early wakeup call wasn’t all that bad. After a traditional European hotel buffet breakfast we took our coach around to the other side of the Vatican to queue for the tour. We arrived about 40 minutes before the group opening at 8 AM, which was a good thing, because I’ve never seen the Vatican so crowded. This was because Friday through Sunday it was closed for a holiday.
Our local guide, Patricia, spoke exceptional English, but the microphone on her Whisper audio system wasn’t picking her up all that well. When she narrated on the bus it was great, though.
At the Vatican Museum we toured the Roman sculpture gallery, the tapestry gallery, and the map gallery. In other words, the usual hallway that leads to the Sistine Chapel. Patricia provided an excellent explanation of the history of the frescoes in the chapel before hand, since there is no talking (only mooing) allowed in the chapel. We found an uncrowded corner with only about 400 people in it and admired the art for 20 minutes.
Then it was next door to Saint Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world. The dome in Saint Peter’s Basilica is so high the 34-story Sun Bank building in Orlando would fit in it. Our exploration was somewhat cursory compared to the private tour Linda and I took a couple of years ago, but everyone’s feet were tired anyway.
We walked across St. Peter’s Square (it was hot!) to a (you’ll never guess) Vatican gift shop. For the past two days I’ve been trying to cash a 500 Euro bill, but the hotel never has enough cash. But guess who does? Yup.
The girls bought Vatican stamps to mail their first pile of postcards, we had a soft drink, and then entered a tunnel that led to an amazing parking garage designed for tour buses. Next stop: the Coliseum.
We got a nice break in the weather, as it began to cloud over and a breeze came up, and there were even a couple of sprinkles. By the time we reached the Coliseum. it had probably cooled off ten degrees.
Did you know that “Coliseum” is only a nickname, because it had a colossal statue in front? Unfortunately, like every other piece of metal in ancient Roman it has long since been melted down. But the name stuck. I guess “The Flavian Amphitheater” didn’t have much of a ring to it.
It was a lightning fast tour, but it worked (Linda would have been frustrated, though). Then we climbed the hill to overlook the forum.
There is an exhibition being put together, and they have erected stark white plastic(!) columns in the places where the original columns are missing from the temple that overlooked the Coliseum. That gave us an interesting impression of how big the thing was.
We arrived back at the hotel around 1 PM, freshened up, and strolled a block toward the Tiber, where we had lunch in an outdoor cafe down the street from St. Peter’s Square. As we walked back, it was beginning to sprinkle lightly.
Nearly all of our group went back out again at 3 PM for an optional $80 tour, to do what we did on Sunday, followed by another group dinner (but will there be another demon accordionist?) We, on the other hand, got to relax, do postcards, journals, and naps. At 8 PM we went out and wandered around the neighborhood until we found a trattoria that suited us and had a leisurely dinner. Then we walked back to our gelato place for desert.
I’m really glad we had the extra day. We got to touch on all the highlights of Rome without overdoing it.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Rome to Florence
We left Rome at 8 AM and had an easy drive to Florence, entertained along the way by Lia’s sense of humor, and arriving a bit after noon.
We had a fairly poor lunch at the Grande Café at San Marcos Square and then queued for the Uffizi Gallery. It takes a month to get reservations, so I had never seen it. Our local guide was fine, but took us only to a room of religious icons and to see Michelangelo’s David. I explored an extensive and ornate musical instrument exhibit and quickly walked through a sculpture hall while she prattled on the headset.
David looked just like the exact replica of him in Piazza Signoria. I really don’t see what all the fuss is about David. His head’s too big for his body and his hands are too big for even his head.
We then walked to the cathedral to view Brunelleschi’s Dome (only from street level, although some brave soles had climbed 34 stories) and the brass doors of the baptistery (which are copies of the originals).
Next we walked to the Piazza Signoria where we saw the Rape of the Sabine Women (not the actual event, a sculpture). We had seen the plaster model for this at the Uffizi, and it looked just the same only cleaner.
Finally we walked to the Piazza San Croce, where we met up with Lia, who ushered us into a gold and leather shop. Expecting one of the normal hard sells, I was pleasantly surprised by the brief and entertaining presentation about Florence gold. But what was really good was the leather presentation, which was very funny and informative. A number of the people on the tour got to model the coats for us, most amusingly, and Dani actually ended up buying a very nice (i. e. expensive) leather coat that looks great on her. Since she spent her schoolbook refund money on it, I like to think she’s wearing everything she learned this year.
By the time we walked to the bus (did I mention they’re not allowed anywhere in the old city?) we were ready to sit down. Florence is cute, and has some nice art, leather and gold, but for me, five hours was just the right stay. It’s not a place that excites me, the way Rome does.
Our hotel, the Cosmopolitan, is a bit west of the city. It’s very new and European chic, with proximity switches at the door. The group dinner on the third floor was okay, and the Montipulciano was excellent. .
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Florence to Venice
We left Florence at 8 AM and header over and through the Apennines on the fours hour drive to Venice. The scenery along the way was initially green mountains with a sprinkling of houses and olive groves, but near Venice it changed to pastureland. The weather in Florence looked threatening, but in Venice is was mostly clear and about 90 degrees.
A water bus took us from the end of the bridge to Saint Mark’s square. With a little time to ourselves, we strolled along some of the smaller passages and had some delicious sandwiches and calzones at a snack counter. Then we met our local guide back at Saint Mark’s for some information about the history of Venice.
While we waited to enter the cathedral we noticed water coming up from the drains as the tide came in, driven by a strong wind. Before we could enter they had to change to a door at a higher elevation. Inside, the cathedral is fairly ugly, although it is admittedly almost 1000 years old. The tiled floor rolled like the sea due to settling.
The local guide dropped us off at the Murano Glass shop — not the real one on the island, but a huge shop a block or two from Saint Mark’s Square, with many floors and many rooms on each floor. We saw a demonstration of glass blowing, where the craftsman mad a fairly elaborate vase in about three minutes. It was really impressive and fun to watch as always. Afterwards we shopped for glass thingamabobs and wandered the narrow passageways until it was time for our gondola ride.
Unfortunately, it was also time for a storm, and it got cool and began to pour. On the bright side, we weren’t already in the gondola.
Instead, we went to one of the cafes off of the square where we paid extortionist prices for espressos and listened to live jazz.
After about thirty minutes the rain stopped and the girls ventured out to feed the pigeons. One of the decided to go for a ride on Dani’s head, and was content to sit there as we strolled about a block. It must have been migrating.
A few people did stick around and got a gondola ride, including a couple celebrating their twentieth wedding anniversary. Last year she lost the stone from her wedding ring and has been wearing a cheap replacement. On the ride he took her ring, threw it overboard, and gave her a nice new one.
Then we caught the water bus back to the land bus to our hotel. The Hotel Anthony is not far from the bridge to the island. It’s an older hotel in fairly good shape, but it’s the kind of place where the shampoo comes in a Taco Bell hot sauce packet. Definitely not four star. My first stop was the front desk, to pay three Euros for the “free” wireless Internet service.
We had a group dinner at the hotel that was fine, and shared our Ferrari Spumante (fairly dry, like off-dry Champagne) with the anniversary couple.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
Venice to Lucerne
We spent Thursday on the bus from Venice to Lucerne. Leaving the hotel at 7:30, we took a wrong turn at Milano and so had lunch in a truck stop. It was delicious! Unfortunately, this cost us an hour or two of extra driving time.
Our morning drive paralleled the Dolomite Mountains. After lunch we turned north and began to climb up into the Alps.
The buses here record the driver’s hours on a paper disk (to become electronic next year), and the drivers have lots of restrictions, including a 45 minute break every four hours. (In fact, tomorrow our driver isn’t allowed to drive at all, hence our two-day stay in Lucerne. )
We stopped in Lugano for one of these breaks. It’s where the home office of Globus is. Lugano is a beautiful and pricey shopping area and resort just past the Italian/Swiss border.
It seemed strange to have to stop at the border at all, but of course Switzerland isn’t part of the EU (which means we’ll need some Swiss Francs, too).
After Lugano the road climbed steeply, and we entered the most picturesque scenery I’ve encountered. Sharp, snow rimmed peaks towered above us, their bases blanketed by emerald grass. Cows with placid brown eyes and real cowbells around their necks grazed on the steep slopes, well above the treeline.
We stopped at 6000 foot Gotthard Pass to take photos and discovered the temperature had dropped from 90 degrees to 50 degrees during our half hour ascent.
On the other side of the pass, rivulets collected in a small pond, flowing out in a gradually increasing stream — the headwaters of the Rhine. It twisted between grass-carpeted shoulders and rocky outcroppings.
Passing through the narrowest gorges, the scenery resembled a model train layout, with its exaggerated topography, crisscrossing railroad and foot bridges, and cascading waterfalls. In many spots the road was covered to prevent avalanches or rock slides from scraping the cars off. Occasional outposts or solitary cottages appeared unexpectedly around each bend.
As we descended we passed from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland to the Swiss-Deutsch part, which represents 70% of the country. The road curved through many tunnels, the longest of which was 9 kilometer. There is a far longer tunnel that bypasses the pass, but we didn’t take that one because we would have missed the scenery.
We arrived in Lucerne at 7pm, after almost 12 hours on the bus. Good thing it’s a comfortable bus and Lia is so entertaining! The temperature was back up to 80 degrees .
Our hotel, the Astoria, is in the center of downtown. It has many restaurants, and there is a lot of shopping nearby, and it’s a short walk to the lake. The hotel is the poorest of the trip so far, but is, frankly, more like what I was expecting. The soap is literally less than a square inch, and comes in its own hot sauce packet.
The hotel’s atmosphere isn’t helped by major construction of a meeting hall. The view outside my window is of a twenty foot square concrete room, and their is scaffolding inches from the glass. On the other hand, the street noise we were warned about won’t be a problem in this room!
Anyway, it’s nice to be off the bus. Most of the group was going to a folklore dinner, but we weren’t really in the mood for something so touristy, so we strolled across the historic wooden bridge to the other side of the river and had fondue and dinner in an outdoor cafe at the Hotel des Alpes.
I stayed up until midnight doing my journal, responding to students and trying to upload files through the lame Internet service at the hotel. I was sitting in the temporary lobby when our well-oiled group returned from the folklore dinner. Reports were enthusiastic, but I’m not really into events that include a beer drinking contest, so I’m glad we skipped it.
Friday, July 6, 2007
Another 6 AM wakeup call, for an early breakfast and ride on a coach borrowed from another group. We were the first ones to to board the cog wheel railway that ascends Mount Pilatus. The weather at the base was mixed sun and overcast, so we weren’t sure what it would be like on top.
Legend has it that after Pontius Pilate committed suicide the area where he was buried was cursed. So the Romans moved him to the most remote spot they could think of. This was it. (Personally, if I’d been assigned to do that, I would have dumped him off a bridge and just claimed I buried him on top of a 7000 foot mountain, but hey. ) There was also something about a dragon guarding it, but I missed the connection somewhere.
Anyway, Globus gave us these really nice embroidered caps with the dragon on them, so our entire group looked like a coed baseball team.
The cog wheel train ascends the mountain at a steep angle, near 47 degrees in most spots, so the trip up was spectacular. Towering fir trees gradually gave way to grassy slopes broken by the occasional slide of gravel sliding down a sheer face, or rivulets splashing over jagged boulders. Halfway up we passed a farmhouse. The farmer had already taken his cows even higher on the hillside, and in another few minutes we heard their cow bells ringing, and then passed them as they grazed. (I’d love to have heard the conversation: “Hey, look at that really tall mountain. The top of that would be a great place to graze cows. “)
At the top we passed into the underside of the clouds, so except for occasional glimpses, visibility was near zero. It was about 40 degrees, with a stiff wind blowing. Stiff enough that we couldn’t take the gondolas down, which is too bad, I’m sure it would have been amazing. But we enjoyed the ride down on the cog wheel train, too.
Back downtown we visited the Lion sculpted from the rock face, the most famous site in Lucerne. It commemorates the Swiss Guards killed while unsuccessfully defending Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution. If you look carefully you can see that the sculptor played a joke on his patron, who he thought was a pig. Look at the outline of the opening.
Nearby we stopped at Bucherer’s department store to use some vouchers for free spoons and buy some chocolate. Nice jewelry and Rolex watches here. The prices aren’t as outrageous as the rest of Europe.
Near the lion sculpture is a restaurant Lia recommended called The Old Swiss House. Its traditional architecture in the midst of the modern city makes it look a bit like a tourist attraction, but the three of us decided to try it. Wow! What a fabulous meal. The gazpacho was the best I’ve ever tasted (sorry Linda) with fresh diced ingredients served on the side to dump in to your taste.
Weinershnitzel was prepared tableside. Let’s just say a serving for one involved two sticks of butter. And the creme brulee (called burned cream catalan here) was possibly the best I’ve ever had. Best of all, I discovered they were a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner with a very deep list of old Bordeaux at crazy prices. Would you believe 1961 Ch. Croizet-Bages for $130? I couldn’t resist. What a fantastic bottle of wine that was! On the way out the proprietor pointed out their Mouton vertical — every vintage back to the 19th century! Because every year’s label is unique, the worst years are the most expensive, since those bottle were not laid away. So the 1946, which I’m sure would be undrinkable, set them back $12,000! Anyway, it was an amazing experience, and all three of us really enjoyed it.
After lunch we did some tourist shopping. While the girls were in a bookstore I found an inexpensive digital camera as a gift for Christina. Her camera has been eating batteries like a demon, so I think she’ll have a lot more fun with this one.
We strolled back to the hotel and had a restful afternoon, then a group dinner (tasty sauteed fish with a lemon sauce) in the dining room.
Saturday, July 7, 2007
Lucerne to Paris
We spent most of Saturday on the bus. Almost as soon as we left Lucerne, the scenery changed to rolling hills and farmland. We skirted a few outlying vineyards in Burgundy, but the most memorable sights were the many vibrant colored fields of sunflowers. Several truck stops provided breaks and lunch, and we arrived at the Holiday Inn Republique around 5 pm. Dani and I stayed here once before, but it has been remodeled since then. It’s a large, older hotel with nice rooms. They serve a full complimentary breakfast and the worst (i. e. American) coffee in Paris.
After a couple of hours rest we headed back out for an evening sightseeing tour. We’ve only purchased two of the optional excursions on this trip because we know our way around these cities. This tour was particularly popular, with 100% enrollment by the group.
Because Miguela couldn’t drive any more that day, we borrowed a bus from another group, a Trafalgar tour. This bus had 52 seats compared to our 44, and would have been very uncomfortable for daily use.
We began by passing through one of the seediest parts of Paris, an unlikely combination of wedding shops and sex shops. We disembarked in front of the Moulin Rouge, which I hadn’t realized was in the midst of this detritus. A tourist tram took us up the hill that is Montmartre. The district turned first trendy, then touristy as we reached the top, where Sacre Coeur overlooks the city.
Searching for a non-touristy restaurant we walked away from the square and tried a restaurant called La Bonne Franquette. Unfortunately it turned out to be just as touristy as the rest, and they tried to pull a bait and switch on the wine I tried to order. The food was mediocre by French standards, but certainly adequate.
After dinner we purchased chocolate and Nutella crepes from a take out window and strolled back to the tram stop.
It was now past 10 pm and the lights of the city began to come on. We drove around the city admiring the lights along the Champs Elysee and then stopped at the Eiffel Tower, where Lia convinced everyone someone was going to jump off. Of course what we were really waiting for was the strobe light illumination that occurs for ten minutes at 10 pm, 11 pm and midnight. This is part of the system installed for the Millennium, and recently put back into use.
On the way back to the hotel we drove past Notre Dame and through the Marais district, with its bustling gay bars.
By the time we returned to the hotel and I did some email it was nearly 1 am, not leaving much sleeping time before our 6 am wakeup call.
Sunday, July 8, 2007
The streets were nearly deserted Sunday morning, a big contrast to Saturday night. Our local guide, Isabella, took us, past Notre Dame and the Sorbonne, then to the Eiffel Tower to get into line early, before its 9 am opening. We had tickets to the second floor, but considered leaving the tour and going to the top. In the end we opted for convenience and stayed with the group, getting dropped off on the Rue de Rivoli outside the Louvre. We had a late breakfast or early lunch at Angelina, a tea room similar to our favorite, La Duree. Ahh! at last! French food. Baguettes, cheeses and super rich hot chocolate.
We walked to the pyramid and entered the Louvre, which was perhaps a bit less crowded than on our last couple of visits.
We spent about two hours doing the highlights, including the medieval castle they unearthed when digging the new basement, the Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa and Winged Victory of Samathrace.
We probably spent the most time in the 17th century Flanders galleries. All told I estimate we walked though about five percent of the Louvre.
Back on the Rue Rivoli we had drinks in a sidewalk cafe and the girl went to the nearby fun fair and rode one of those rides with the swings around the edge.
Henry, the director of Alcorn McBride sarl, picked us up a bit before 5 pm and took us to the Champs Elysee for dinner. His son Zacharie came along tool. Zacharie is now fours years old, a handsome little boy.
Originally we had intended to hang out for a while and then go to dinner later, but we were all tired and Zacharie was feeling a bit under the weather, so we decided to have an early dinner at Fouquet’s, a famous restaurant across from Louis Vuitton on the Champs Elysee.
The food was surprisingly good for a touristy place, and we enjoyed having a chance to relax and chat with Henry. We were back at out hotel before 8 pm, and enjoyed a good night’s sleep.
Monday, July 9, 2007
Paris to London
After breakfast we took a short bus ride to the Gare de Nord, where we said goodbye to our driver, Miguela, and caught the TGV train. Once on the outskirts of Paris, the train accelerated to over 200 miles per hour, and the French countryside raced past.
It goes slower in the chunnel, because of the amount of air is displaces as it moves through the relatively constrained space. The chunnel transit took about 20 minutes. When we emerged in England we traveled slower, because the track is not as good. We arrived at Waterloo Station shortly before 1pm, with a one our time change.
A bus ride across London brought us to the Hilton Metropole, a large convention hotel that is quite comfortable. We said goodbye to our tour director, Lia, and were handed over to the Globus representative who work in the office at the Hilton. We didn’t sign up for any of the optional London tours, so we’ll be mostly on our own, now.
Dani and Christina took advantage of the comfortable beds and had a long nap. For dinner we rode the elevator up to the 23rd floor and had a nice Japanese meal at Nippon Tuk (is that name a joke?)
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
We were extremely lucky with the weather today It has been raining in London for a month, but today was lovely, with scattered clouds and temperatures in the mid seventies. More importantly, it was a lovely evening for the open air theatre.
Our day began with the last Globus event, a city tour around London. We passed all the usual sites and then stopped at St. Paul’s where we left the tour and walked across the Millennium Bridge to Shakespeare’s Globe theater. Dani and I saw Coriolanus here on our last visit, but this time we just took the guided tour, which was quite interesting, and gave us a chance to experience to view from the yard and the lower seating. We discovered that the second tier seats have more legroom than the third tier seats we sat in last year.
A couple of performers in one of the current shows were rehearsing while we were there, and they seemed to be fairly mediocre.
After the tour we crossed back over the Thames and caught the underground to Embankment, where we had fish and chips and curried chick for lunch in the cafe in the park. There are many fewer pigeons in London than there used to be because it’s now prohibited to feed them. They seemed quite put out about this.
We walked to Trafalgar Square and spent an hour in the 18th century painting wing of the National Gallery. It was quite impressive to see rooms full of paintings by Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Van Gogh.
I think everyone’s favorite painting was “An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump,” in which artist Joseph Wright perfectly captured the varied emotions of each person present.
Our next stop was Harrods, which is more like an entire city inside one store. Dani wanted to proved to herself that you can even buy bridles for your horse in this department store. You can. But like almost everything else at Harrods, they’re expensive. Our purchase was sandwiches, bread and cheese for tonight’s picnic.
Back at the hotel the girls took a long nap and then we took the tube to Regent’s Park. Outside we picnicked under the tents, but the girls didn’t like the yellowjacket that was interested in our sandwiches. Ah, the joys of outdoor dining.
Macbeth was interesting. It was staged very similarly to Trinity Prep’s production, using a mixture of modern costumes and traditional plaid. The set was several large cargo containers.
All of the performers were either marginally or significantly better than their Trinity counterparts, with one glaring exception: Lady Macbeth. She played only one emotion — ruthlessness — throughout. And her sleepwalking scene was completely emotionless. I could feel Dani next to me, struggling not to jump up and show her how to do it.
After the show we walked back to the tube, and were back at the hotel by 11:30.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
We took advantage of a rare day with no wakeup call to sleep in, and nearly missed the 10:30 cutoff for breakfast. Then we took the tube across town to The British Museum, where we spent a couple of hours looking at all the stuff the British stole from Greece and Egypt.
Avoiding the mediocre Indian restaurant we tried last time, we found another a half block north, called Chambeli, and enjoyed a leisurely four course lunch before returning to the hotel for naps before the show.
Linda had arrived for her day and a half in London, and was napping, too.
In the evening we went to the West End to see Mary Poppins at the Prince Edward Theatre. The staging of the show was amazing, with an entire house moving up and down, the attic and roof top expanding as needed, and lots of ‘magic. ‘ It used the original songs from the movie to great advantage, but more closely followed the book. The performers were all terrific, and the audience loved it.
I like act 2 better than act 1, because it does a better job of finding the story, which is about the father. The new songs they added are formulaic, and don’t measure up to the originals, but there aren’t many of them. It builds to one of the best endings for a musical I’ve seen.
After the show we crossed the street and had an Excellent Thai meal at Patara. We got back to out hotel a bit after midnight, answering the question: “Do underground day passes really expire at midnight?” Not if you’re already inside the turnstiles.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
We slept in, then took a rather circuitous three segment underground ride to Marble Arch, a nearby place that’s hard to get to from our hotel. Today was the culinary highlight of our trip, a visit to Le Gavroche, London’s first 3-star Michelin restaurant (although now two start, since the original chef retired and his son has taken over.
Lunch consisted of eight courses:
- Rare peppered tuna
- Asparagus tips with truffles
- Wild salmon with crispy skin
- Fois Gras and a duck pastry
- Rack of lamb
- Cheese cart with about 50 selections
- Chocolate Gateau and sorbet
- Floating Islands
Yes, there were two desserts. Plus petits fours! Oh, and an amuse bouche to start. Oh, and hors d’oeuvres upstairs before hand.
There were about as many employees as guests, and the service was orchestrated like a ballet. Linda and I had the wine pairings with the lunch, and shared a taste with the girls. All eight wines were top notch, and brilliant matches to the food. The standout was a 1928 Maury Solera. The wines:
- Liefmanns Kriek Cherry Beer (amazing!)
- Don Jose Sherry Olorosa (bone dry)
- Puligny Montrachet, “La Truffiere,” Morey, 1999
- Tokay Pinot Gris, Beyer, 1997
- Ch. de Villegeorge 1999 (Haut Medoc)
- Le Soula 2002 (Rhone)
- Maury Solera 1928
- Vin de Constance 2001 (muscat)
I particularly enjoyed the Boulette d’Avesnes, an orange pyramid of cheese that we also had at L’Arpege, the 3-star Michelin in Paris.
It was an amazing three hour lunch.
To complete our European spree we headed for The Victoria Theatre and London’s greatest musical, Billy Elliot. It’s a particular treat to see this show, because it will probably never play in the US, due to its apparent appeal to young people but its extremely salty language. Dani and I saw it last year, but Linda wasn’t with us. This show is the reason for her whirlwind trip.
The show was terrific, but not as good as when Dani and I saw it last year with the original cast. This Billy was perhaps a better actor, and had a more modern dance style, and his enthusiasm made us suspect it was one of his first shows. They made some staging and dialogue changes that sometimes worked better but other times didn’t. The final half hour was particularly good, though. The show has a unique way of dancing through the bows that it quite exciting.
All in all, a very fine last day to our trip.
Friday, July 13, 2007
London to Orlando
We took advantage of Globus’ transfer service to get to the airport. It’s a really easy and economical way to do it. Meanwhile Linda headed off separately with a driver to catch her Delta flight.
Gatwick airport wasn’t the madhouse it was two weeks ago, although security was very, very tight. The only complication was that our tickets were for the next day(!) I’m not sure how that happened, but an extraordinarily helpful Virgin Atlantic agent at the baggage counter took care of getting our tickets changed, and we were all set.
I dozed during the nine-hour nonstop to Orlando, and Dani read Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle, about her tenth book of the trip.
We cleared customs in record time, and despite a jam on I4 dropped Christina at home before 7pm. Linda arrived shortly after 9pm.
- Billy Elliot
- First Day in Rome
- Mary Poppins
- Mount Pilatus
- The Old Swiss House
Dani’s final postcard tally for the trip: 43.
Some Tips for Next Time
Globus buses seat 44, while Trafalgar buses seat 52. That would be a big difference in comfort over a week or more.
The little, laminated, folding map of London is great.
Chambeli is a good Indian restaurant on Southampton Row between the British Museum and the Russell Square underground station.
There also is a large Indian restaurant on the circular road around Regent’s park, a bit west of the south entrance.
When in Lucerne — even passing through at noon — eat at the Old Swiss House.
Consider avoiding connections in Gatwick. Orlando to Miami/Atlanta/JFK to Rome would be better.
Best seats for Billy Elliot would be front row of the balcony, because nearly all of the orchestra puts your eye level below the stage floor, so it’s hard to see the tap dancing.
Rome – Starhotels Michelangelo ****
Florence – Cosmopolitan Hotel *****
Venice – Alberghi Antony Hotel ***
Lucerne – Astoria Hotel **
Paris – Holiday Inn République ****
London – Hilton London Metropole ****