Our trip downtown yielded more fun surprises. Newell hoping to add to his tartan tie collection wanted to stop at a Scottish thrift store; we found one on our way to the museum. There were no tartan ties but we did run across several Calvin and Hobbs comic books and 2 sets of tartan-themed Christmas cards with trees and shaggy Scottish cattle. Since the McMurtrys raised cattle, he thought that would be fun for his family. We walked on to the National Museum of Scotland.
One of the things we loved about Europe was the frequency we experienced of walking through a neighborhood or museum and stumbling across something really cool from history. It happened again when we came face-to-face with a taxidermied sheep in a plexiglass case.
A “peace bowl” for the king and his company to share a drink from.
Fascinating exhibit cases for ancient pieces of jewelry and other small items.
Early art of the Picts and Scots. The Picts made more art, tattooed themselves and were more into mark-making as historical reference.
A crest of the United Kingdom.
After lunch in a tartan plaid-upholstered cafe we made it through the rain to the Museum of Art.
Die-hard Harry Potter fans will recognize this coffee house as the location author J.K. Rowling penned her famous Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the book that launched the series.
There is a tower downtown that the guys decided to explore. With my foot still healing I decided to pass and headed over to explore TKMaxx instead.
But oh that view…
The following day we moved to a different Airbnb and watched LDS General Conference. Our hosts suggested we walk along the Waters of Leith trail and visit the Gallery of Modern Art.
And this is the capitol city – gorgeous. On to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
And my family complains about my stacks of stuff.
With this we leave the art and culture of Scotland and prepare to discover Ireland.
Inside Edinburgh castle are well-designed exhibits showing the history of the monarchy and nation. The coronation of Robert the Bruce in 1306 and a timeline showing the kings of the Scots and national military history are prominently displayed.
A timeline chronicling Scotland’s kings from ancient times.
Bagpipers provided passion and inspiration for the warriors preparing for battle.
Warriors did not always wear kilts, sometimes plaid slacks.
A flag from 1800
I could not get enough plaid.
As evening falls, the castle is awash in red spotlights causing an eerie glow. And we are off in search of haggis. A pub just off the Royal Mile had authentic Scottish haggis served with neeps and tatties. I had decided to forgo this local dish but it was served so beautifully, I gave in and tried it. Cooked in a baking dish like a small souffle and topped in mashes potatoes, I was pleasantly surprised.
From my childhood I have had a fascination with the stories of Peter Rabbit by artist and author Beatrix Potter. As an adult I realize how difficult it must have been for her to overcome the social mores of Victorian England to create and publish the best-selling children’s books of all time.
I felt it was important to go to the area that inspired and nurtured her creative genius: the Lake District in Northwestern England. The Peter Rabbit tales seem so quintessentially English – gardens, traditions, friendships, mischievousness and redemption. When I saw the movie based on her life I felt I had found my calling – art and storytelling.
The charming villages of Windermere and Bowness with their rock walls and abundant foliage look like pages out of a Beatrix Potter storybook, or should I say, the storybooks look like they were inspired by the adorable villages?
Her lifelong love of nature and the beauty of the Lake District started when Potter was a child vacationing during summers with her family in this “fashionable” part of the country. Like the Potters, we took the train to Windermere then traveled to Bowness.
Beatrix Potter ‘s farm was across the lake.
She began her stories while writing letters to her favorite nanny’s children. Her books and illustrations became wildly popular.
As you can imagine there are a number of stores that sell Peter Rabbit merchandise. I believe Santa will be bringing me a Peter Rabbit calendar and tin filled with colored pencils.
We had the most charming picnic of local cheeses, breads, fruit and greens imaginable at, of all places, the train station. There’s a little grocery store/cafe called Booths that sells locally produced artisan foods. If heaven has a market, I hope it looks like this one. Imagine radish sprouts grown in sawdust and placed in folded paper cartons. I loved how everything was so handmade.
American stores often try to recreate the charm of a village market, but this was the real deal. It seems that Euro markets are more concerned with quality than quantity and the ingredients and products they make are, well, inspirational. Take note American retailers.
Re-energized, it was time to catch the evening train to Edinburgh.
There is a severe shortage of drinking fountains in Europe – imagine Tim’s delight when he found these in a market! Be sure to carry water or be on the lookout for water to purchase.
As much as we enjoyed exploring London, it was time to move on to visit the homes of 2 favorite literary superstars; William Shakespeare and Beatrix Potter (author and illustrator of Peter Rabbit) with a stop at Oxford University.
Oxford is conveniently located about halfway between London and Stratford; we chose to take the train. And here I err, Oxford was the home of 2 more of our favorite literary superstars: C.S. Lewis (Christian apologist and author of The Chronicles of Narnia) and and J.R.R. Tolkein (The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy.) Both men were professors at Oxford; friends and rivals. Because of Tolkein’s influence, Lewis converted to Christianity; Anglican, not Catholicism, disappointing Tolkein. Here is a wonderful blog post by Ethan Gilsdorf that shares more depth and information about their relationship and experiences: http://www.literarytraveler.com/articles/tolkien_lewis_england/
We saw enough of the town and campus to get a taste of the local flavor.
Oxford is, not surprisingly, a college town. Despite its illustrious reputation and history, it is a very-daily sort of place with lots of bicycles, fast food and college gear shops.
Oxford University is made up of a town-wide collection of colleges, unlike most U.S. universities that have large sprawling campuses.
After visiting an art and craft store to pick up needle and thread for a wardrobe repair and a tiny wooden stamp for baked goodie labels, we dashed back to the train heading for Stratford-upon-Avon.
It was raining when we arrived; it looked like the Tudor-era town we were expecting to see. Except for paved streets, I imagine this is not too different from the neighborhoods young William Shakespeare passed on his way to school around 1575.
After walking about a mile through the rain to get to our Airbnb, we found out that a roof problem would force us to go to another location (we had to pay the taxi) which turned out ok. We were housed in an old (really old) inn that served the traditional English breakfast we were looking forward to.
The animated owner Pascal, showed us the map and marked the most popular tourist sites. He recommended a couple of pubs that served dinner and we took off to find the Holy Trinity Church were Shakespeare was baptized and buried.
I love old places, including houses, castles, churches and graveyards. The oldest English graveyard in America that I’ve seen was in Jamestown ca. early 1600s. Here was a church built in the 1200s with tombstones so old the names and dates were worn away.
The land was granted for building a town of 20 families in 714 A.D. by the Saxon king. About a century and a half later a church was erected by the river. The chapel has a long and tumultuous history, here is a chronology from the church’s website: http://www.stratford-upon-avon.org/history-overview
This was originally Roman Catholic but when King Henry VIII left the church and started the Anglican Church, all church properties in England were confiscated and given to the Church of England.
The tomb of the Bard. His wife Anne is buried nearby, as is his daughter Susanna.
A side view of the Royal Shakespeare theater in Stratford where Shakespeare’s plays are performed.
In America we have food trucks, on the river in Stratford, food barges.
After a walking tour of the town, we found an old pub that claims to be the oldest building in town, The Garrick, open for dinner. It is thought to have been built in 1596 with parts of the building dating back to the 1300s. In America this might have been the oldest English building in the country, but here, just another old pub.
I tried another round of fish and chips with a salad garnish and mushy peas ( the f&c in London were better), but the atmosphere of a really old building is quaint and a little eerie. An outbreak of the plague is said to have started here in 1564 with the death of Oliver Gunn. Supposedly haunted, we didn’t see any ghosts and we did wash our hands.
After a short walk we returned to the Bed and Breakfast, it was dark and eerie but still no ghosts. And when the sun rose we were treated to the classic traditional English breakfast in a communal dining room with tables set with real dishes and white linen tablecloths.
Now we catch the train to take us to Peter Rabbit’s birthplace.
Richard the Lion-heart, king of England and Crusader whose statue stands outside of the British Parliament. Our ancestors were his cousins; we shared the same grandfather, Henry 1 (Beauclerc).
After our exquisite tea at the Swan, we crossed the Thames, found Parliament, missed Westminster Abbey by one minute and headed up to the British Museum. I know that Great Britain colonized and “acquired” many treasures from around the world. I’m not going to open a discussion about the morality of these actions but will point out that the areas they were in prospered highly compared to the rest of the region; think Hong Cong, India, even the U.S.; another topic for another day.
The British Museum is a formidable structure housing many antiquities, including a few surprises we found inside. Walk with us and see history unfold through this amazing collection of artifacts.
Early Babylonian art; these statues are over 4,00 years old. Nimrod was a “mighty hunter” and great-grandson of Noah who decided that a very tall tower would be protective in case God once again decided to flood the earth. Apparently he was unaware that Noah had covenanted with the Lord who had promised not to send another great flood (2234 B.C.) and set the rainbow in the sky as a symbol of the covenant.
According to scripture, it was during the construction of the Tower of Babel that God became angry because of the people’s rebelliousness and caused the “confusion of tongues” the multiplicity of languages we now have. Thanks Babylon.
Now comes the exhibit I have been waiting to see for years, the Elgin Marbles. Since I studied the history of design and interior design starting in 1983, I have been a fan of great art and architecture. Also known as the Parthenon Marbles, these sculptures were (legally) removed from the Parthenon in Greece and have been displayed in British Museum since 1817. Others are in the Louvre in Paris.
As we continued through the museum, I noticed a case containing a black stone. Sensing that it could be significant, closer inspection disclosed that it was THE ROSETTA STONE; the key to the unlocking of and the translation of ancient languages. The stone was discovered in Egypt in 1799 and has been displayed in the British Museum since 1802.
The symbol of the bull was common in pagan cultures: from Encyclopedia Britannica, “According to myth, Mithra was born, bearing a torch and armed with a knife, beside a sacred stream and under a sacred tree, a child of the earth itself. He soon rode, and later killed, the life-giving cosmic bull, whose blood fertilizes all vegetation. Mithra’s slaying of the bull was a popular subject of Hellenic art and became the prototype for a bull-slaying ritual of fertility in the Mithraic cult.
As god of light, Mithra was associated with the Greek sun god, Helios, and the Roman Sol Invictus. He is often paired with Anahita, goddess of the fertilizing waters.” The cultures that worshipped a sun god would be called pagan or as described in scripture “the church of the devil.” Warfare, fertility rituals and human sacrifice were prominent in these cultures – think Aztecs, Mayans, Egyptians, Rome, Hinduism, etc.
The Brits are very punctual, the museum closed and it was everybody out! As we walked down the street we glanced up at this plaque on a nondescript building; the Caldecott Award is one of the highest honors in children’s literature. Ahh the creativity that is fostered by this intense amount of cultural enrichment.
We came across a treasure that is worth a stop if you are shopping in London. Liberty London is a five-story building filled with unique and wonderful shops with all kinds of fun souvenir possibilities.
This window features a scene including Winnie-the-Pooh characters; a new movie to be released soon, Goodbye Christopher Robin, was heavily advertised in the train stations across London.
We headed downtown to see Trafalgar Square and have dinner at Piccadilly Circus. I’ll share a secret we learned; eat in pubs. The food is reasonably priced and very delicious. If you don’t drink, like we don’t, you’ll have to get used to the irritation and rudeness of the servers (I’m guessing their main profits come from the sale of alcohol) but for authentic local food, it can’t be matched.
Goodbye London, I wish we had more time to discover your treasures, but we will return again.
The double-decker bus, another iconic London sight.
It was finally time to discover the (rebuilt) hangout of the Bard himself. William Shakespeare’s mother Mary was the sister of my 12th great-grandmother Margaret, we respectfully call him “Cousin Will.”
There are multiple bridges that will take you across the Thames to the South Bank, home of Globe Theater. Being Harry Potter fans, we opted for the Millennium Bridge that the Death Eaters destroyed in The Half Blood Prince.
A tour at the Globe Theater shared information about the genius of Shakespeare, the crustiness of the gallery and that most of what the actors produced was improv. With only a very short time to practice, much of what occurred onstage was created as the play progressed. Performances were held in the afternoon due to the absence of artificial lighting. The poorer people paid one coin and were allowed to stand in the pit near the stage. Wealthier patrons had boxes or were seated above the stage with the musicians.
Rebuilding the modern Globe was a project initiated by American director Sam Wannamaker. The theater is so popular that when I tried to order tickets 2 months in advance, every show was sold out. But we drowned our sorrows in a delicious (herb) tea at the Swan Restaurant next door, more on that in a minute.
An exhibit of stage props at the Globe. I think the head on the shelf was Macbeth.
A model of the Globe Theater. Because the Puritans of England circa 1600 A.D. were influential and didn’t like theater, especially that young boys played the roles of women (theater was not considered an appropriate occupation for women), it was outlawed in London. The venues were built across the river; it is ironic that both Queen Elizabeth and King James enjoyed the entertainment so much, they had Shakespeare’s troupe perform at their castles and friends’ manors.
The musicians were seated above the rear exit of the stage by the ladder. These were also high-priced seats for patrons that wanted to be seen by the crowds.
And now it was time for afternoon tea. The Swan restaurant is adjacent to the Globe. We were seated by a bank of windows that overlooked the Thames.
Anyone who knows Newell also knows that he is very careful with his money. I wanted to have an authentic English tea and talked him into taking us there for an early anniversary gift. The china and menu are decorated with characters from a Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The guys’ meals were served on wooden chopping blocks. Mine was on a tiered tray.
Did I mention clotted cream? Oh goodness, this is something we need in America. We all agreed that tea at the Swan was one of the most pleasant experiences we had in London, I highly recommend this restaurant. Be sure to make reservations in advance and request a table by the window.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM AFTERNOON TEA
Wild mushroom & leek quiche
Wiltshire ham, grain mustard, pea shoots
Oak smoked salmon, lemon pepper butter, dark rye
Clarence Court egg mayonnaise & watercress
Rose infused raspberry mousse & lemon cake
Elderflower & violet macaroons
Glazed white chocolate blondie, coco nibs
Blackberry compote & lavender cream
Mulberry scones & plain scones served with
clotted cream and seasonal berry jam
GENTLEMAN’S AFTERNOON TEA
Your choice of tea
4oz Shorthorn beef slider
Blue cheese & cider scones
Legbar Scotch egg
Fish finger sandwich
Potted smoked salmon
We selected 2 herb teas: Citrus Chamomile and Lemon Verbena, they were served with rustic lumps of brown and white sugar. Not being a tea aficionado it was all so new, charming and delicious. After this feast we will need to do some serious walking, the Tate Modern and the British Museum are our next destinations.
That and a quick trip to the Globe gift shop to pick up some gifts for the grandchildren. Warning: You can spend a lot of time and money is this quirky establishment. We jokingly say that we dropped a lot of pounds in London (and didn’t lose any weight…)
From Macbeth who killed one of my ancestors, Duncan, King of Scotland around 1000 A.D., not that I’m bitter at all…
The Tate Modern is adjacent to the Globe complex on Bankside south of the Thames.
Notice the Millennium Bridge, the Globe is to the left. As an artist I try to visit different styles and genres of art. Contemporary art is not my favorite, but I think it is important to see what is being made and discussed currently.
At the Tate there were “Black Power” exhibits; interestingly, one of the champions of the American Civil Rights movements was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., named by his father for the great German Reformer Martin Luther. The 500th anniversary of Luther’s translation of the Bible into German and act of defiance against the Catholic Church in posting 95 thesis identifying areas of conflict with the scriptures would be commemorated in Germany in a few days.