Friday, 26 February 2016

Christmastime in London

My apologies.  I’ve gotten behind on the blogging.  Believe it or not, I’ve been busy.  Now everything is settling back down again, at least for a little while, and next week I will share the rest of our southern France adventure with you. 

But today, I’m keeping it simple and sharing some photos of London at Christmastime - a photo diary if you will of the two days we spent in London the weekend before Christmas.  We were heading back to the states to spend Christmas with the family and would be flying out of Heathrow.  Since this may very well be the only time we would be that close to London at Christmastime, we just had to see it.  Well, we are so very glad we did.  

It started with a train ride from a station just a few miles from our house in England, and 1 ½ hours later, we were getting off the train at the beautiful St. Pancras Station where no sooner had we disembarked when we spotted one of the biggest Christmas trees we've ever laid eyes on - and it was made entirely out of stuffed animals.

Now if that didn't get us off to a great start in London.  And just a little ways away from this wonderful Christmas tree that Leah couldn't take her eyes off of we spotted a brass band, pumping out Christmas carols of course.  

We hadn't even been in London for five minutes and the Christmas spirit was just oozing all around us.

This was my second time in St. Pancras, the first being several years ago, back in 2001, and truth be told, I was a little ashamed that I didn't remember what a magnificent building this is.  

Should a train station really be this amazingly beautiful?

We stashed our luggage at the hotel we would be staying at for the next two nights and we were off to the underground because we had a show to see.

Please listen carefully - if you every have the chance to see the musical Wicked, I beg you - do NOT pass it up.  Wicked is simply magical - a magnificent story, amazing music and singing, indescribable costumes, the set was just crazy - it is all just so over-the-top wonderful!  And let me tell you that I feel so blessed to have been able to see it with my family in London at the Apollo Victoria Theatre where it has been playing non-stop since 2006.  Crazy!

What a Christmas present!  

We had attended the afternoon performance of Wicked, and by 5:30 when we exited the theatre, it was already dark out.  The Apollo Victoria Theatre happens to sit just a few blocks from Buckingham Palace...

And not very far from Big Ben...

And the London Eye!

We walked past the towering ferris wheel...

And strolled for a little ways along the Thames.

The lights were just incredible, and we kept looking at the view...

because behind us we could see both the London Eye and Big Ben, together in the same frame.  

The next morning we headed back to the train station, but not to actually catch a train.  

Right across the street from St. Pancras is Kings Cross station and as any Harry Potter fan can tell you, this is the home of Platform 9 3/4 - and Ellie and I REALLY wanted to see it.  We strolled through the stations for awhile, searching for it's location.  I didn't mind that it took us some time to spot it, because these train stations in London are really quite amazing...

The architecture, the statues, the people watching...

They are fun places to hang out.

And then, we spotted it - Platform 9 3/4...

But I am sad to say our search for Platform 9 3/4 was very anti-climatic - a word that Ellie happened to have on her vocabulary list this past week, and our search for Platform 9 3/4 was the very definition of anti-climatic.  Basically, there is a sign reading "Platform 9 3/4" tacked to a brick wall above a trolley that is half disappearing into said brick wall that is no where near an actual train platform, and not where they filmed the scenes for the movie either.  In fact, you can't even see a train, or hear a train, or even see any train tracks from it's location.  None the less, this sign and cart draws quite a crowd.  

There must have been 50 people standing in line that morning waiting to have their photo taken in a Gryffindor scarf, posing as if they are running towards the brick wall while one of the photo-taking employees stretches the scarf out behind you as your photo is snapped to make it appear as if you are leaping through this generic brick wall.  And then you go inside the little shop and pay for your photo.  I just didn't get it.  I didn't see the attraction.  Neither did the girls.  Despite being excited during our search for Platform 9 3/4, they did not even ask to stand in line and have their photos taken.  

Anyway, in better news, Leah finally got to see the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum.  

If you remember way back to last February, we had taken a trip to London over the half term break from school, mainly to visit the great museums of London.  We soon discovered on that trip that everyone in England goes to London during the February school break to visit the museums and we were not prepared to stand in line for more than two hours to see some dinosaur bones.  Leah was very disappointed. 

But on this trip, the museum crowd was vastly different.  This was the lobby of the Museum when we arrived that day. 

Back in February, it had been shoulder-to-shoulder people.  This time, it seemed empty in comparison.  Who knew - the weekend before Christmas is the perfect time to visit the museums in London because no one else does.  We walked right in to the dinosaur exhibit, no line at all.  

We didn't stay long since we had already visited the rest of this Museum back in February.  And, I had another destination in mind on that day too - Harrods, that most famous of London department stores, where we would see a nearly $7000 baby buggy among other things.  And Harrods, incidentally, is exactly where everyone in London goes the weekend before Christmas.  We had to fight our way around the first floor candy department which is the size of about eight normal candy stores put together.  Despite it's huge size, there were so many people jammed in there that Eric and I had to keep a hand on the girls the entire time for fear of them getting separated from us and lost in the crowd.  It was a madhouse!  Now we know - the weekend before Christmas:
Museums = good
Harrods = bad

Our stay in London was short this time, but we enjoyed seeing sights we hadn't seen on our first trip to London.  And even though it was crowded in places, the Christmas lights and Christmas spirit were wonderful.  The weather was a bit warm for December, and rainy, but that didn't stop those hardy Londoners from ice skating on the rink outside of the Natural History Museum, even though there was an inch of water standing on top of the ice.  

Today, I leave you with some photos from the Victoria and Albert Museum, which sits just down the street from the Natural History Museum.  

It's the largest museum in the world dedicated to decorative arts and design, and I was a little surprised when we walked into the cavernous lobby, looked up and saw a display of Chihuly glass hanging from the ceiling.  We are familiar with Dale Chihuly's work.  We've seen his glass displays around the US and one of the many places he studied was at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  Back in Indianapolis, we've made many visits to The Children's Museum where we've been greeted by a piece of his work that is four stories high.  I was surprised that one of the very first pieces of art I saw in this museum was one I recognized.  

We breezed through rather quickly as we arrived merely an hour or so before closing time.  

I wasn't really sure what to expect at this Museum.  Would it just be furniture and wallpaper?  

Well, I was more than pleasantly surprised.  It's humongous for one, and it's vast collection is extremely impressive, beautiful and interesting, as is befitting being the largest museum of it's kind in the world. 
And again, there was hardly anyone there on that particular Sunday.  It's amazing to have such a massive collection of art and design almost entirely to yourself.