Travel Reporter? Probably Not.

As I get older, I have started admitting to myself that there are things I will probably never do or be. Thin, for example. Or walk the Great Wall of China.

Great Wall of China near Jinshanling; photo from Wikipedia.

Great Wall of China near Jinshanling; photo from Wikipedia.

I have some hopes for more travel, of course (we’ve already made reservations for a long weekend in October—stay tuned—and we’ll be traveling to Texas next May for a wedding celebration), even some “big” trips. I’ll keep blogging about them—and other aspects of my fortunate life—because I enjoy it.

But I will probably never become a for-real travel reporter. (And that’s OK.) I’ll never be in the New York Times Travel section. But I will keep pointing out some great NYT articles. Here’s one called “Seven Places in Europe We Call Home.” (It’s appropriate because I’m working, again, on getting some of my older trips posted. Like the six days we called an apartment in Paris … “home.”)

Here are the seven locales:

  • Lunigiana (Italy)
  • Paris
  • Sarajevo
  • Istanbul
  • Madrid
  • London
  • Copenhagen

Enjoy these wonderful articles!

Black Chronicles II — Through 29 November 2014

I came across this article (“The black Victorians: astonishing portraits unseen for 120 years”) in the Guardian, about a photographic exhibit at Rivington Place* in London, and I wanted to bring it to your attention while there’s still time for you to see it if you find yourself in London.

The newspaper comments the photos “show colonialism in all its contradictions”—but notes also that these photos (they’re beautiful) “challenge the received narrative of the history of black people in Britain.”

“Black Chronicles II is part of a wider ongoing project called The Missing Chapter,” says Mussai, “which uses the history of photography to illuminate the missing chapters in British history and culture, especially black history and culture. There is a widespread misconception that black experience in Britain begins with the arrival of the Empire Windrush and the first Jamaican immigrants in 1948, but, as this exhibition shows, there is an incredible archive of images of black people in Britain that goes right back to the invention of photography in the 1830s.”

All of the images featured in the article are copyrighted and reproduced with permission, which I don’t have, so you’ll just have to visit the links (here’s another) to have a look at these gorgeous antique photos.

And if you’re anywhere near London, this is just one more good excuse to make a trip into town.

* With a tagline that reads “Art, debate & diversity,” Rivington Place deserves a post all on its own. It’s a free public gallery and the home of Iniva (the Institute of International Visual Art) and Autograph ABP. It also houses the Stuart Hall Library, meeting rooms, and education facilities.

What’s Goin’ On*

It’s the hundred-year anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1. Not particularly something one wants to celebrate but certainly should be meditated upon … not only because it was a terrible thing (nine million men died fighting it, and that’s only the beginning of the death and destruction) but because it’s a hundred years later and not much has changed.

The next weeks and months will be full of commemorations of one sort or another, but I wanted to bring your attention to one: The Tower of London Remembers.

The evolving installation by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, with setting by stage designer Tom Piper, will be unveiled on 5 August 2014; one hundred years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the First World War.

Entitled ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’, the installation is being created in the Tower’s famous dry moat. It will continue to grow throughout the summer until the moat is filled with 888,246 ceramic poppies, each poppy representing a British or Colonial military fatality during the war. (Emphasis mine.)

I’ve seen photos, and they’re spectacular and moving. Here’s one set of photos at Colossal: Art, Design, and Visual Culture.

Photo © Historic Royal Palaces 2014

Photo © Historic Royal Palaces 2014

Here is another collection of photos—completely different—at Buzzfeed.

It’s beautiful and sobering. If you’re in the area, you should definitely make an effort to see this exhibit.

* Father, father / We don’t need to escalate / You see, war is not the answer / For only love can conquer hate … (Marvin Gaye, All Cleveland, Renaldo Benson)

I Want to Take This Trip!

I’ve just finished reading Ben Hatch’s Are We Nearly There Yet?: A Family’s 8,000-Mile Car Journey Around Britain, which I bought because it was a travelogue and (as you’ve probably guessed) I’m a fan of those. Hatch is a humorist, too, so he made this five-month trip with two “under-fours” (that is, children under the age of four) hilarious, though at times I was squirming. (It should be noted there is also a moving subplot about his father’s final illness and death.)

Then I discovered this article, in which Pamela Paul (editor of the New York Times Book Review) also discusses the trials and rewards of traveling with children.

The hope is that despite them, participants young and old manage to eke out some modicum of enjoyment, drawn into one another’s world by the sheer force of parental or filial appetite, tolerating or tantruming through the rest.

But when, I wondered, would my children want to do more of what I want to do, or vice versa, and when might those tendencies magically converge? At what age can a child truly appreciate the cultural value of an international journey, on mutually agreeable terms?

As spring break approached this year, I thought I might have finally hit that moment with my nearly 9-year-old daughter — especially if I left my two smaller children, boys whose predilections would confine us largely to playgrounds and ice cream parlors, behind. Perhaps I could take Beatrice to London, a city I lived in 15 years ago and have traveled to frequently since, as a test case: Would she be old enough to appreciate my London — a city of quirky bookshops, World War history and street scenery straight out of “Bleak House” — and also make it her own? By pursuing our shared passions for books and theater in a city that specializes in both, might we achieve that elusive family-travel synchronicity?

The answer is yes. Honestly, the trip looks like so much fun I’m saving this article in case I get a chance to go back to London. And I won’t need a kid to love it as much as Paul did. It just looks like an interesting itinerary.

I didn’t get to truly travel with my child until he was sixteen (interestingly, also a trip to England), so I missed the particular joys described by both Hatch and Paul. But it is, in fact, really delightful to introduce one’s offspring to something special like international travel when they are old enough to appreciate the privilege. Enjoy!

It was a fun trip! And a dream come true.

It was a fun trip! And a dream come true.

Boxing Day … And Home

December 26, 2000, Tuesday

Any American who’s had to return to work the day after Christmas because it fell on a weekday will agree it’s very civilized to turn the event into a two-day holiday. Thus December 26 is Boxing Day in England and elsewhere, though not in the United States. Wikipedia says:

In Britain, it was a custom for tradesmen to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for 19 December 1663. This custom is linked to an older English tradition: since they would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts and bonuses, and maybe sometimes leftover food.

For us, though, Boxing Day was literal: packing. We eased into the morning with breakfast and luggage. And after good-byes and photos, we loaded the car and set off for Heathrow, where we attempted to spend up all our leftover pounds in the gift shop before we boarded.

It was a fun trip! And a dream come true.

It was a fun trip! And a dream come true.

Thanks, Anna and Eoin, for such a personalized introduction to England!

Thanks, Anna and Eoin, for such a personalized introduction to England!

Our flight was packed with Brits coming to the States for a quick holiday before the new year—many of them to ski in the Northeast, it appeared. And this time I stayed awake, availing myself of Virgin’s movies on demand (Wonder Boys—with Michael Douglas, Robert Downey Jr., and Frances McDormand—was hilarious and fabulous; I still can’t understand why it failed at the box office).

We arrived in New York in the middle of winter, all of a sudden, after our mild English days. The temperature, we were told, was 28°F, but with the wind chill factor it was down below zero. We caught the shuttle to the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, ordered room-service hamburgers, and fell exhausted into bed.

The next morning we were up at the crack of dawn to catch a 6:35am flight into Nashville—groan—but it felt good to be home in spite of all that.

London Has an Eye, and We Poked It

December 24, 2000, Sunday – Christmas Eve

We went back into London—this time driving with Anna and Eoin. And for the first time since our arrival—rain! Really, not much more than a drizzle, though it was enough to get us wet. And cold. Once again, we drove by landmarks and sites that seemed like something out of a dream: Buckingham Palace, the houses of Parliament, the Tate and other museums, Big Ben … and we stopped at the London Eye.

It’s a Ferris wheel, actually.

It’s a Ferris wheel, actually.

A viewing pod up close.

A viewing pod up close.

Intended to become an icon of the city of London, this is, well, a giant Ferris wheel. It has thirty-three giant pods, which are observation areas; each one holds up to twenty-five passengers (though on this relatively slow tourism day, each capsule got just ten or so folks) who enjoy a completely unobstructed view of London from a fabulous perspective (450 feet up, at the highest point). There are some very nice photos on Wikipedia, including a panorama, so be sure to look.

Jesse and I were so lucky to have just a few people sharing our pod.

Jesse and I were so lucky to have just a few people sharing our pod.

“Because it is situated on the banks of the River Thames, in the center of the City,” the official guidebook says, “it overlooks many of the city’s most famous and impressive landmarks … on a clear day you can see for 25 miles—as far as Heathrow Airport and Windsor Castle.”

On a rainy day we couldn’t see Windsor Castle, but I was delighted with this view of Big Ben and the red doubledecker buses.

On a rainy day we couldn’t see Windsor Castle, but I was delighted with this view of Big Ben and the red doubledecker buses.

It wasn’t a clear day for us, though. As mentioned, it was rainy (and cold, once you got out in it); Anna and Eoin decamped to a coffee shop to stay warm and dry while Jesse and I stood in line for the Eye.

The London Eye is situated on the banks of the Thames, just across and about 700 feet north of Westminster and Big Ben.

Here we’re looking south past Westminster now (in the lower right corner here); the rain’s really come up.

Here we’re looking south past Westminster now (in the lower right corner here); the rain’s really come up.

This massive building just across the river from the London Eye is the Royal Horseguards Hotel.

This massive building just across the river from the London Eye is the Royal Horseguards Hotel.

This is London County Hall from an interesting angle.

This is London County Hall from an interesting angle.

It was built to celebrate the new millennium (in fact, it was first known as the Millennium Wheel), so when we were visiting, it was not quite a year old yet (it had opened on 31 December 1999). The Eye has since become the most popular paid tourist attraction in the UK; when we were there in 2000, we’d heard stories of people waiting in line for three hours … but because it was Christmas Eve and raining, the lines were short and we were on board in less than fifteen minutes. Timing, as they say, is everything.

After our trip aloft, it finally stopped raining. These photos were made with a 1970s-era Canon F-1. If you wanted to zoom you had to change lenses, and I didn’t have the will to carry around more than one lens (the camera, with its all-brass fittings, was heavy enough). So I’m pleased with what I got, all things considered.

After our trip aloft, it finally stopped raining. These photos were made with a 1970s-era Canon F-1. If you wanted to zoom you had to change lenses, and I didn’t have the will to carry around more than one lens (the camera, with its all-brass fittings, was heavy enough). So I’m pleased with what I got, all things considered.

With the light dwindling, Eoin gave us a final pass through the city’s various districts: the West End (a social and cultural center, as well as the London home of the royal family); Westminster (the center of political and religious power); Kensington (an exclusive area of parks, museums, and hotels); Regent’s Park (an area of upscale, mostly Georgian, homes); Southwark (the riverfront area); and “the city” (the financial district). “The largest city in Europe”—I’m quoting the guidebook here, though Anna claimed England was not in Europe!—“London is home to about seven million people and covers 625 square miles. Founded by the Romans in the first century AD, it has been the principal home of British monarchs for a thousand years, as well as the center of business and government … in addition to its diverse range of museums, galleries, and churches, London is an exciting contemporary city.” Typical British understatement. 🙂

During this farewell tour, we made our last stop at a pub, to raise a glass to this part of our visit. To London! Eoin took us to Prospect of Whitby—the oldest continuously operating pub on the river. Here’s some history: the famous riverside public house ‘the Prospect of Whitby’ on Wapping Wall dates back to 1520 and was once notorious for being a den of thieves and smugglers. (It’s even mentioned in the diaries of Samuel Pepys.) Originally it was known as the Devil’s Tavern, probably for good reason.

Anna and I each had a shandy, which is a beer/lemonade combination, and while you may wrinkle your nose at the thought, I am here to tell you it was delicious. (My friends will know I have a great margarita recipe that calls for a can of beer, so in fact this notion of beer and citrus juices is not so farfetched.)

After this we drove home to Berkshire, where we changed clothes and went off to the carol service and midnight mass at the Corpus Christi Church in Wokingham. We sang carols and pinched ourselves—Christmas in England!

Upon our return home, we observed traditions from both Eoin’s and Anna’s families: we ate mincemeat pies (which Eoin had made earlier in the day) and sipped ginger wine—the former tradition from Eoin’s side, the latter from Anna’s. And with this glow in our stomachs, we toddled off to bed.

On Our Own in London Town

December 23, 2000, Saturday

Anna and Eoin had lots to do to get ready for Christmas (including some last-minute shopping), so once we were up and moving, Eoin drove Jesse and I in to Reading. He planned to do some shopping; we were going to catch the train to London.

London! The possibilities for tourists in this grand city are endless, but we’d already decided on the historic British Museum. We’d get off at London Paddington, then hop the underground—the tube—to the Picadilly Circus station in the heart of London.

Piccadilly Circus tube station subway entrance opposite the Trocadero and next to Eros, on the southern side of Piccadilly Circus (image is from Wikipedia). As you can see, not reeeeally a circus (ahem).

Piccadilly Circus tube station subway entrance opposite the Trocadero and next to Eros, on the southern side of Piccadilly Circus (image is from Wikipedia). As you can see, not reeeeally a circus (ahem).

Thank goodness I had Jesse with me. I can usually figure things out, given time to, you know, breathe deep and study. But you don’t really have time for that in a big city, especially during the Christmas rush. However, Jesse immediately divined the whole system: how to read the maps, how to change routes, which platform to stand on to catch which train … I truly believed he could easily exist in that big-city environment (in fact, Anna and Eoin had already decided he must be part British, so easily had he fit in with, well, everything), while I, left to my own devices, might still be lost in the bowels of London.

At one point, when we changed from one route to another, we found ourselves in what appeared to be one of the original London underground stations. The others had been very sleek and modern in appearance, while this one looked to be turn-of-the-last-century. Once again I was charmed by the most unexpected thing: a great, cavernous hall that looked like something out of Dickens. Or a late-night horror show. (Which in some ways isn’t that far from Dickens.)

A Hammersmith and City Line train for Barking arrives at one of Baker Street's two oldest platforms. (From Wikipedia.)

A Hammersmith and City Line train for Barking arrives at one of Baker Street’s two oldest platforms. (From Wikipedia.)

We made our way across town to the British Museum and spent the whole afternoon wandering from room to toom, marveling at hundreds of exhibits of antiquities from around the world. The museum’s collections are arranged by geography, culture, or theme; I love the antiquities so we spent much of our time in prehistory, Greece, Rome, and Egypt. The Rosetta Stone, mummies, Roman statues galore … we saw them all. To be honest, we didn’t have time to read every single card at every single glass case; we browsed, as our time was limited.

“The British Museum is one of the world’s greatest treasure houses, and one of its most respected academic institutions,” the offiucial guidebook says. “Founded in 1753, the Museum exists to illuminate the histories of cultures … Since its foundation, the British Museum has been guided by three important principles: that the collections are held in perpetuity in their entirety; that they are widely available to all who seek to enjoy and learn from them; and that they are curated by full-time specialists. … Its principal aims today are to be at the center of international scholarship and to disseminate knowledge for the education, in the widest sense of the word, of all.” To make good on this mission, the museum is open to the public free of charge. Ya gotta love that.

Later we walked through Harrods, a huge, upmarket department store. In fact, it’s seven floors of shopping in a building that encompasses 4.5 acres—the largest department store in Europe.

Harrods department store as viewed from the north-east along Brompton Road, in London, England. (From Wikipedia, this photo is by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0.)

Harrods department store as viewed from the north-east along Brompton Road, in London, England. (From Wikipedia, this photo is by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0.)

I’m not much of a shopper even when I’m in the mood, but to be frank, we were all shopped out. And the place was an utter madhouse, what with it being two days before Christmas and all. There is a world-famous food hall in the basement but we were innocent, inexperienced Yanks and had no idea where to even begin. And, again, it was shoulder-to-shoulder crowded. I’m sorry to say we didn’t linger. Here’s a little video that gives an idea of what the food hall was like. You can hear how loud it is—now just imagine it on the eve of Christmas Eve. 🙂

This day spent on our own in London was a great time for Jess and I to chat in a way we don’t often have time to do. What an adventure we were having! We dragged ourselves home in mid-evening, all walked out. (Those of you who know how much I have dieted this fall may wonder how I was able to eat so much clotted cream and such—things I have generally given up eating in my normal life (not, of course, that I come across clotted cream in the States, ever)—and yet managed to keep weight gain to zero. In a word: walk. Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk!

Just two more days to go, and our wonderful trip to England will be over.