Friday, March 27, 2015

My London Town

(Fair warning: This will be a long post with oodles of pictures!

When you think of going to London, what comes to mind?  Westminster?  The palace?  Big Ben?  This is true for most people.

As you know if you've been around here long, I'm not most people.

I had one day in London, with BB.  Did I see any of those normal touristy things?  Nope.  I did, however, ride a double-decker red bus.  And I stayed near King's Cross and visited the Harry Potter store at Platform 9 3/4.  So, where did I go?

Why, it's elementary, dear Diary.

When you exit the underground station at Baker Street, you see this:

Welcome to the lore of Baker Street's most famous resident...who never actually lived here.  Sherlock Holmes.

It's not a far walk from the station before you find yourself in front of 221B Baker Street.  The entrance is guarded by a bobby, who has a collection of hats you can wear to pose with him in front of the famous address.  Inside, you can your the apartments of Holmes and trusty Watson, as they would have looked during his time at Baker Street.  The museum shop is next door.

The building even boasts one of those blue plaques, denoting the years when Holmes would have lived there.

It might be important to note that this is not a "real" blue plaque...because Sherlock Holmes never really lived here...because he's not really real.  Except, of course, in the hearts of the devoted readers an followers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. People like me who will bypass common tourist traps to visit the home of someone who only lived in the pages of a book.

And I collected some of his business cards, while I was at it.  You know, just in case.

We made our way through the streets and fascinating architecture of London.  I looked down each side street, captivated by places like this, that sat behind the shops and hustle and bustle of London's busy main streets and sidewalks.

Keep in mind that for Brits, there is no holiday like Thanksgiving between November 5th and December 25th.  So, the Christmas decorations were out in force!  And soon, we found ourselves in front of this magnificent display of holiday cheer:

It's actually snowing "outside" that window.  We'd arrived at Playland.  Otherwise known as Hamley's, the world's oldest toy shop.
And might I add, HUGE toy shop.  Six stories of toy lover mecca.  They even had ice cream and candy counters in the store.  It was amazing!  Something for kids of all ages, including high end collectibles.  We explored it ALL.
Who can resist a Lego floor featuring life-size sculptures made from the little blocks?  Check it out:

The crown jewels

The Queen, with Corgi

Prince Charles

Prince Harry, and Kate and Prince William

All this royalty reminded me of a question I wanted to ask BB.  "In the US," I said.  "We get a lot of speculation about whether or not Charles will ever really be king.  Is that talked about here?"

He thought for a moment.  "We don't really get a lot of discussion," he said.  "But we do notice that the Queen and William ride in the bulletproof carriage, while Charles and Harry are out in the open."

And there you have it.

Hamley's also has an impressive section of collectibles.  Fans of about every franchise can get their nerd on here!  I was particularly drawn to the finely crafted wooden wands for each Harry Potter character, kept behind glass cabinets:

We found some friends in the massive stuffed animal section of the store:

My cuddly BB, cuddling a little tiger

Do you know this Teddy?  If you're a fan of Mr. Bean (like me!), you know him and are making the little voice right now!

For the umpteen millionth time during this trip, the song "Happy" came on while we were in the toy store.  It seemed a most appropriate place to groove to it.  So, we did.  Because we truly were so "Happyyyyyyyy!"  

(I know...cheesy.  But oh so true!)

After rounding up our purchases in Playland, we made our way to another London landmark, Piccadilly Circus:

The famous fountain at Piccadilly

And we soon came across another monument to impeccable British literature - the statue honoring Agatha Christie

 This was an accidental find, but one that I found thrilling!  Her books and mysteries enthralled me as much as Holmes did.  Her real life was just as intriguing as her fiction, too.  This was a good find, on our way to the big destination of the day.

Covent Garden and the London Film Museum's "Bond in Motion" exhibit.  You got it!  We were on the hunt for...

Bond. James Bond.

Or rather...his vehicles. The largest assembly of them in the world.  

We were aquiver with antici.....pation.  Here we would find the relics of Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan, to name just a few.  The excitement was palpable!

We wandered the displays, BB photographing them in order of appearance in the films.  Is he a fan?  I do believe so!  He does a lovely Sean Connery voice, I must say!

Here we were as Bond was, with the lovely creations of Q....

The Jaguar XKR from "Die Another Day" 2002

The Aston Martin V12 Vanquish from "Die Another Day" 2002

Mercury Cougar XR7 from "In Her Majesty's Secret Service"1969

Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II from "A View To A Kill" 1985

Rolls Royce Phantom III from "Goldfinger" 1964

Screen used model from "Tomorrow Never Dies"

Alligator Submarine from "Octopussy"

3D Printed Model Aston Martin DB5 (AND the real one!) from "Skyfall"

Ford Mustang Mach 1 from "Diamonds Are Forever" 1971

That last one, the Ford Mustang, had the most impressive display.  Each vehicle had a clip playing on the wall above it of the actual screen time in its movie.  This Mustang is known for the scene in Las Vegas where it goes between buildings on two wheels.  So, it was posed in the museum for that scene, with the illusion of the lights of Vegas panning across it.  Like this:

When we left Bond in Motion, it was dark outside.  The plaza of Covent Garden was decked our in Christmas finery, including a giant reindeer of lights.  We made one more stop before dinner that evening, to a large Forbidden Planet nearby, where I purchased a Wonder Woman passport cover for my trip back home.  Then it was time for my last dinner in England.  My last evening with BB...for now. 

Saying goodbye at King's Cross the next day was excruciating.  I loved England, my time there...and BB.  He held me tight before I boarded the Piccadilly line for Heathrow.  Tears were in my eyes, and I didn't care who saw them.  My love for this man had deepened, and the thought of parting was horrendous.

We have made plans for more visits, both for me to go there again and for him to come here.  He wants to experience the American West with me.  We have many adventures ahead, dear Diary.  I pray each day that these dreams will be realized, and not dashed like so many before.

For now, we talk every day.  Thank goodness for Skype!  We share and we love.  What dreams may come!  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Feeling Thirsky?

If you're a fan of Downton Abbey, you've heard Thirsk mentioned often.  The setting for the show is near Thirsk and York...but the actual castle where they film is near London (much further south).  I love hearing them mention the Yorkshire names, now that I'm familiar with the actual places.

Thirsk has been near and dear to my heart for decades now.  When I was a teenager, I fell in love with Yorkshire and the fictional Darrowby through the books of James Herriot.  Later, the BBC series "All Creatures Great and Small" brought it all to life.  I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian...until I took high school Biology and figured out that wasn't exactly my cup of tea.

Leave it to me again to not do the typical tourist traps.  I go to England and tops on my list is the James Herriot Museum, in real-life Thirsk, where it all really happened.  Yes, Herriot was a real vet named Alf Wight, who lived and worked in a real town (Thirsk), with real colleagues and farmers and animals and real adventures.

Thirsk is a little town.  Here's a contrast.  First, one of the many train platforms at York:

And now, one of two platforms at Thirsk:

The train trip was wonderful, passing such picturesque Yorkshire farms along the way.  The fields were green and long.  As a Herriot reader, you could imagine all the stories taking place there, just as he described them.

Once we left the train depot, we had a long walk into town.  We passed fields where people were playing with their dogs.  We passed the race track, which you could tell was a big event on race day.  And we also passed this sight:

Sheep.  Amid the rows of houses, sheep in a field.  I found it so lovely and peaceful, and completely fitting for what I imagined from the stories.  Certainly, the town had changed vastly since the stories I'd heard (which began in pre-WWII Yorkshire), but here was this little holdout.

As we moved deeper into the center of town, the buildings got older and the street got narrower:

Many of the sidewalks were still made of cobblestones. As we followed the signs, I couldn't help but think, "This is where it all happened.  These are the streets he traveled, where he met those people we all came to love."  Then, we rounded a corner, and I saw the red door.


In the books, it was known as Skeldale House.  Where James arrived to begin work with Siegried Farnon.  Where he lived in the top floor apartment with his new bride, Helen.  Where his name was ceremoniously added to the front door, to show he had arrived as a partner in the little country practice.  

In real life, it was Alf Wight who came to work for Donald Sinclair.  And their names are still in place, at the front door.

You can also see the distinctive blue plaque now, given by the British government to denote a place of historical value.

(You can also see where I most unfortunately but off the picture!  The sign doesn't really say, "Please Leave."  It actually says, "Please Leave Clear."  Whoops!  I probably laughed harder than I should at that!)

And here are pictures of them both, from the hallway of the house:

Donald Sinclair
Alf Wight

I cannot begin to describe how excited I was to be there.  To actually be THERE.  To be in his footsteps, among the stories, where it really happened.  After so many years of looking at pictures and imagining and dream, I was standing in the doorway of that red door.

"Are you a fan of the books?" said the little old woman who took our tickets.  I nodded enthusiastically.  BB explained that he hadn't read them, but that I was very much a fan of the books and the series.  She directed us where to start our tour, and I walked into the heart of it all.

The living room of the house.  The window looks out on a lovely garden, but my eye went immediately to the tankard on the mantel.  This was their informal till.  The place where monies were received and stashed, and petty cash was funded.  Much to the consternation of bookkeepers!

So much life happened here.  So much that would delight generations to come.

The tour continued....

The dispensary

The kitchen

 Mind you, these are only a few pictures from the home.  We went through several rooms and even a re-creation of a WWII bomb shelter in the basement.  They also had several displays related to the writing of the books and the production of the television show (which was not actually filmed here).

Including this treasure:

Alf Wight's typewriter, on which all the glorious stories were written.

To delight the television fans, they did have one artifact.  The car that was used in the series, and driven by the major characters (including Peter Davison, who went on to fame as the 5th Doctor in Doctor Who):

Once we had thoroughly explored the museum, we wandered the street to the center square of the town:

My head was in the clouds.  I was in "Darrowby."  I had seen the James Herriot Museum.  I hardly wanted to leave, but the time was coming for the train.  We needed to find our way back.  I expressed to BB how much I loved the little town and would like to get to know it better.

"Maybe someday," he said. "We could have a little summer home here."

I kissed him, and we held hands as we walked.  I couldn't have smiled more if I tried.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Old York! Old York!

It's a wonderful town!

Seriously, I fell for York with my whole heart.  I want to go back and walk the ancient wall, part of which still stands and you can literally walk the top of it.  I saw a bus for a ghost tour, and we know how I love ghost tours!  I've never done one in a place that's so very old.  I missed it this time, so I must go back! Good plan in my book.

After exiting the train terminal in York, we wandered not-too-far to the National Railway Museum.  If you have even the slightest interest in trains, this place is magical!

In the first part of the museum, you are introduces to the trains of the royals.  The photo to the left is Queen Victoria's steam engine.  It's nothing short of magnificent!  The cars are all furnished as they would have been when the train was in use.  The fixtures and finery are awe-inspiring.  I got that sense that I love of "this is where they were, where they conversed and ate and slept.  Decisions were made here.  Lives were lived here."  I adore historical things.

On the other side of this massive room are other trains that you can view and explore, to learn about all the operations of the trains of the time.  This included how they managed menus and shopping for supplies while en route.  You can see the tea services of first class, and the lack thereof in the other coaches.  And in the middle of it all is the quaintest little restaurant.  They serve tea (of course) and delights of many kinds.  We arrived too late to partake of most of it, but I found the seating delightful as well.  The booths all looked like passenger seating, with racks of luggage overhead.  Someone paid attention to all the details!

The other part of the museum housed several trains and engines, most of historical note.  The room is a massive roundhouse, with the table in the middle.  The favorite was the Mallard, the engine that broke the speed record in 1928.  It's been beautifully preserved.

"Hello there," I said, as she came into view. "Aren't you lovely?"

"I like how you talk to them," BB said.  I had, in fact, greeted most of them.  I think there's a part of me that still isn't entirely sure that inanimate objects are actually inanimate.

All of these engines were beautiful, too.  They seemed to command a certain respect from those viewing them.  This one had a quite intimidating air, in particular.  It was built by the Chinese, but was took big for their rail system.  So, it ended up in the UK.

That's BB standing beside the engine.  He's 5'10", so you can estimate how huge this engine is, towering over him. An imposing sight, for sure!  Can you imagine seeing this coming down the track?

As we wandered into the York evening, we encountered a little native of the area.

A Yorkshire rat.  Cute little bugger, isn't he?  He actually seemed to have a little problem with his leg, so he didn't run from us as we took our photos of him, but we left him in peace to do as rats do.

Remember what I mentioned before, about the mixture of the old with the new?  In York, I saw several examples of just that.  As we strolled along the narrow road of shops, still busy with shoppers, a beautiful old arch appeared in the middle of the block (right). Seeing something like this gives me pause.  I wonder about who has passed through that arch through the ages and what has surrounded it in the time before all the shops. I'll revisit this idea later, as I was trying to explain it to BB as we walked back to the train depot. I definitely need to see this town in the daylight!  I feel I missed so much, having been there so late in the day.
The streets narrowed as we walked and soon, we rounded the corner to the ultimate row of quaint shops.  The Shambles:

Does it remind you of anything?  If you're a Harry Potter fan, it certainly does.  It looks remarkably like Diagon Alley.  This area has been serving shoppers for hundreds of years, and I was intrigued by the wares I saw in the windows.  Oh how I must go back!  The shop doors were closed tight for the evening.

Wandering further down the street, to the more modern shops, I started to see glimpses of something truly wondrous at the end of the row.  It towered over the shops, but I couldn't quite see all of it.  Then, we came to the end of the street, and it opened upon this:

Yorkminster Cathedral.

This is a truly awesome sight.  I can't begin to do justice to how huge it is.  And gothic.  And gorgeous!  The picture above is the back, where I first saw it.

I had to go down the block to be able to get all of the front in one frame, along with the cars and trees in the way :o/

I really need to go back and see this in the daylight.

We happened upon a rather inebriated old man, as we walked away from the cathedral.  He was quite taken with how in love we seemed to be.  "Give him a kiss!" he said.

So, I obliged, quite happily, and to his delight.

As we headed across the bridge that spans the river, I was talking to BB about why I'm so fascinated with the ancient structures.

"Think of all the bits of life and living they've seen," I said.  "The conversations, the emotions...they're all held in these walls."  Then something occurred to me.  I held his hand tight and pulled him close.

"Kiss me," I said.  The British in BB was a little sheepish, but he kissed me.  With all the passersby in the street, I didn't care whose way we were in or who was watching.

"There," I said. "Now these walls hold that memory, too.  Forever."

Monday, March 16, 2015

Barbecue in England?

Yes, there sure is!  But we'll get to that later....

This post is about our visit to Leeds.  Or rather, visits.  Leeds has enough to do that we actually went there on two separate days, at the beginning and the end of my trip.

We'd stayed up most of the night before, laughing.  Laughing so hard my sides ached!  Have you ever watched Bane Cat on YouTube?  If not, and if you're a Batman fan, I highly recommend it.  After rolling over those videos, BB discovered that a glass in my room had the perfect resonance to do a Bane voice.  I couldn't do it, but he's brilliant at voice acting, so it was all kinds of awesome.  We had each other in stitches doing our own version of Bane lines into that glass.  It was one of those things that when you look back on it, you think...yeah, we're that geeky....  And you smile.  A lot!

The day of the first visit to Leeds started with a trip to the comic book store in Bradford. BB was texting with his friends to see if we could get together in Leeds.  One friend met us at the comic book store, and the other when we actually got to Leeds.

I have to say that I was quite happy that BB wanted to share his time with me with his friends.  That meant a lot to me, that he wanted me to get to know them, and them to get to know me.  He asked if it was all right, thinking I might object to having to spend some of our dedicated time together with others.  Quite the opposite!  To have him want to show off our relationship to others tickled me!

Our first stop in Leeds was to feed my book obsession: The Leeds Library.  I found some nice books in their shop (a library with a shop in it!  It was made for me!), but I was blown away by the architecture.  The photo to the left is of the staircases.  So medieval and beautiful, and surrounded by books.  I could have stared at it forever.  Loveliness everywhere I looked!  It's enough to make you wish for a library card, so you can linger and run your hands over all the shelves and make people wonder if you have a book fetish.

Of course you do.

As you know, dear Diary, I love interesting architecture.  Everywhere we went in England had the most beautiful old buildings.  The aura of history was in each town.  I longed to know more about the places I passed and shopped, but to explore each one would have been a massive  undertaking.  It's ALL like that!  I suppose, living there, you'd get used to it.  But this American is just not from places that are so old.  Hell, I lived in a house that was built in 1900.  That's new construction to these folks. I'm sure my gawking and picture-taking gave me away.  Blogget the Tourist.  Sorry, that makes me cringe a little!

The streets and shops of Leeds were no exception.  I particularly liked the mixture of the old with the new.  Leeds has a big, modern mall, but it's constructed around the historic buildings.  For instance:

This is Trinity Church.  To the immediate left of it and in the background, you see the mall.  It wraps around the old church.  The contrast of the old and the new is fascinating, and I'm overjoyed to see the preservation of the new.  I worry that those who live among history become accustomed to it and no longer value it.  But that is not the case here, thank goodness!

They also had the most brilliant Starbucks I've ever seen. Is this not beautiful, compared to the glass and wood modern construction we get?

Then there are the reminders that, no matter where you are, you never know what you're going to see:

You got it.  Someone piggy-backing a blowup doll.  I had to wonder, why not deflate it and carry her in a pocket?  But no...there she was, making her way down the street.  As I took this picture, I noticed that I was the only one looking at the blowup doll.  The rest of the passers-by were completely unfazed.

We had a spectacular day of shopping a seeing what's what, during both trips.  He's been telling me about Forbidden Planet for months, but I finally walked into one.

Nerdvana.  Absolute, unabashed nerdvana.  It was mecca for all randoms.  I combed through the store for my obsessions.  Star Wars, Doctor Who, Firefly, Pacific Rim, Deadpool.  I even bought a Big Bang Theory shirt.  SO MUCH WANT!  But only so much packing space, so I had to rein it in.  A bit.  And apparently not enough, from the way I tested the stitching on my suitcase, when it was time to go home!  We'd visit nerdvana...I mean, Forbidden London, as well, so I certainly wasn't done.

We found an incredible print store.  There, I picked up Doctor Who prints for Daughter. Those can be packed flat.  I found a wonderful print of a watercolor of the street where the shop is located.  It depicts the street at what I guess to be the 1920s or 1930s, in the rain.  Pretty cool, getting a print of the street where the print was bought, with the lovely old buildings.  I'm in love with it!

BB surprised me with a journal from that shop, with Wonder Woman on the cover.  You see, he calls me his Wonder Woman, and it makes me smile inside and out!  Who wouldn't want to be equated with a powerful, sexy superhero?

Before heading back to Bradford, we made a stop at the mall.  They have a Lego store! So much to see and play with!  BB visited the #1 item on his Lego wish list:

Yup, the Batman Tumbler.  In all its awesomeness!  He's obviously enamored of it!  My adorable partner in geekdom!

When we returned to Leeds a few days later, we headed out to see the Royal Armoury there.  It was late in the day, so we didn't get to shoot crossbows, which was disappointing.  We didn't have time to go see all of the exhibits, so I'm thinking a return trip is in order!  Blogget and crossbows is something that must happen.  Must.

Along the way there, we found this message on a building along the walkway by the river:

I'm in the UK, walking along a river, and there's Texas.  The place is awesomely all-encompassing.  Could someone have meant something else by the message?  Sure.  But that's what I'm going with.  Texans are everywhere.

The Armoury is a spectacular place.  All manner and history of weaponry, for sport and war.  This is a glimpse of what the inside of the central stairway looks like:

Medieval tenting and a peek inside at the suit of armor that awaits!

To my utter surprise, they also had an impressive display on the American Civil War.  Of all places to find this weaponry, I was intrigued that they had such an array of US historic firearms:

Leaving the cannons and the crossbows behind, we needed to feed our grumbling bellies.  BB had told me about a particular place, and I was anxious to try it.  The Texan in me was skeptical, but the foodie in me was curious.  It was a good ol' barbecue place, in the heart of Yorkshire.

Inside, it looked right.  It smelled right. Sauces on the table represented different barbecue regions...except Texas.  How could they forget Texas?  In the US, you have various styles, like dry or wet, hickory (Memphis) or mesquite (Texas).  Am I unfair to expect such nuances in the UK?  Well...most likely, I am!

We sat down and ordered drinks.  Sweet tea was on the menu!  Yee-Haw!  I couldn't wait for this meal.  Sweet tea and barbecue!

The barbecue was spot on.  Someone had done their homework before opening this temple to meat and sauce.  We stuffed ourselves on good ol' barbecue.  But the sweet tea....  It tasted like lemonade.  Back to the South for that one, my dears.

Heading back to Bradford, I got to experience a tad bit of a UK tradition: Bonfire Night.  It was the 5th of November.  

Going back, we saw bonfires and fireworks.  The air was hazy from all the smoke.  If you can make it out, this was the view from my room.  You can see a burst of fireworks and the smokiness, as I looked towards the City Centre:

"Remember, remember, the 5th of November...."