Friday, July 31, 2015

Final London Day & 1 Day in Amsterdam

Moved from London to Amsterdam on Thursday. In the morning, I spent a couple of hours in the nearby town of Chiswick - just one tube stop away.

Wasn't planning on tipping any flies! There were some recycling bins nearby in the grocery store parking lot right below, so I'm guessing the sign has something to do with that...

Went to the Chiswick House gardens - lovely!

A plane getting to land at Heathrow. My AirBnB house was relatively close to the airport.

Very helpful for deciding which security line to go through...

Easy trip to Amsterdam; staying in a cheap but nice hotel right by the airport. Took it pretty easy last night and today. My big expedition was a Hop On Hop Off tour of the city, both boat and bus. I started with the canal tour.

Houseboats - some smashingly beautiful ones and some that are pretty ratty. You can't move them and you can't add new ones. Moorings are at high premium.

New and old mix throughout the city.

A bicycle parking lot.

The main train station - wow!

They told us it's pretty rare anymore for the canals to freeze so most ice skating is on rinks, but when there's a cold snap, everyone hopes for a freeze so they can skate on some of the canals that get closed. At the other end of the scale, there's a big swimming event once a year where people swim in the canals.

Venice has twice as many bridges as Amsterdam; 400ish compared to 200ish.

Super ritzy hotel.

THE local beer though I doubt you could call it a microbrew...

At the top of many, many homes are pulley systems which allow homeowners (who move on an average of every 8 years) to raise and lower big pieces of furniture since they would not fit up the stairs. Also, many are designated as historic, so every change (even paint color) has to be approved.

I always knew that Amsterdam was full of bicyclists, but hadn't realized how many special "roadways" there are for them, complete with traffic signals. Motorbikes can ride on those paths too. At first I thought people weren't even locking them up, but on closer inspection, they are. Over 60,000 are stolen each year.

I meet the rest of the Kizimani team at the Amsterdam airport tomorrow and fly with them to Nairobi. The next phase of the adventure begins...

Thursday, July 30, 2015

London Walking Tour #2 - Hampstead

Since both my first cab driver and my AirBnB host recommended Hampstead, I figured I'd better check it out!

(As a sidebar, I have to note that as a first-time user of AirBnB, I'm now a huge fan. Stewart and Sinead and daughter Ishbel (plus Stewart's parents for one night) were easy to be with and fun to talk to. Very helpful with suggestions, and my room was clean, comfortable and lovely.

My second walk on Wednesday was led by Peter - highly informative and entertaining. First stop, the graveyard where famous people like Alice (inspiration for Alice in Wonderland) and Constable (painter) and others are buried. The church graveyard is just like a Hollywood movie set with leaning tombstones and ivy crawling over everything...

The Admiral's house, which of course looks like a ship.

Our guide Peter.

Hampstead Heath - HUGE area of land that King Henry VIII took from the Catholic Church. Eventually there were big land disputes over it that dragged through the courts for decades, with the happy result that no one built on it, and it was eventually deeded to the city of London.

And yes that is a cannon being used as a road barrier - quite near to where a house just sold for 37 million pounds.

Peter said that the nostalgic telephone booths are now historically registered and saved.

Not sure the reason behind this...

Back in London, though this seems to be a scene enacted everywhere - Brits stopping by the local pub for a pint and chat with their mates. Lots of smoking going on too. I feel like I'm seeing lots more of it here than at home but maybe it's because they have to smoke outside now. I'm guessing they don't have regulations like the U.S about needing to be 50 feet from a doorway, because every doorway is so close to every other doorway, you might have to walk miles to find the acceptable spot.

I took that photo on my way to another play - this one a thriller; The Woman in Black. A couple of scary bits, to be sure, and another play which allows actors to inhabit several parts. A good evening of theatre.

London Walking Tour #1 - Inns of the Court

I'm a huge fan of London Walking Tours ever since we went on a great "Jack the Ripper" tour many years ago. Today I indulged in two of them, and for some reason am not as tired as I was yesterday...

The first was "The Inns of the Court" and learned much about the legal system here. At one point I told the guide that all I knew about the London legal system was from watching "Rumpole of the Bailey" and she laughed and confessed that she was a huge fan too.

The Inns began centuries ago when the legal system was in chaos. The king (one of the Edwards, in the 1400s) decreed there must be a system for training people (all men, of course). They were called Inns because the students were boarding students. Even today, every barrister must belong to one of the four remaining Inns. Inns and many law offices are within easy walking distance from each other and several of the courts.

Each Inn has its symbol.

 Our guide Molly.

Benchers are officials of the Inn.

There's London (spread out over miles and miles and miles) and then there's the City of London - the core.

Very old cobblestones.

The building on the left isn't a church, as I would suspect. It's the dining hall for students - quite grand!

THE place to buy your wig and gown when you are called to the bar. Long ago, judges traveled to different locations and held court in whatever large space they could find. Everyone crowded around with their petitions. Eventually they put up a bar to give some space for the judge, and he would "call up to the bar" the friend or colleague who would speak for you.

Just the tip of the Royal Courts of Justice iceberg, so to speak. It's absolutely GINORMOUS!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

London Day, part 3

Much better internet now!

The Shard - a woman on my walking tour today said there are incredible views from up there...

MILES of apartments (i.e. "flats") all along the river; some amazing designs.

Looks like a spaceship ready to take off; can't remember the name of it. Used for big rock concerts.

 I chose this particular river cruise because it took us to the Thames Barrier, built at a cost of about $.5 billion in 1982, which protects London from flooding.

Quite odd-looking but evidently they work quite well. If you're as curious as I was as to how the things work, here's a YouTube video on how the Thames Barrier works.

I then spent some time in Greenwich, home of the famous Greenwich Meridian and "Mean Time." This is the newly restored, refurbished Cutty Sark.

I then wandered through the National Maritime Museum

The kids are using iPads  borrowed from the desk at the far left for some mapping activity.

I didn't stand in line for the location of the more more dramatic Prime Meridian photo, but the line continues below the courtyard above and so I borrowed a concept from all the PDX airport carpet pix...

And then some nice young man offered to take my photo there as well :-)

Saw the play The 39 Steps that night -  a fun frothy thing. Browsed a mega London kitsch store beforehand and found this amidst all the "Mind the Gap" and Union Jack-themed stuff. Not sure why it's there....