Sunday, June 25, 2017


The mini-grocery across the street turns out to have a pretty decent patisserie.  We haven't really had a pastry update so here is what  I purchased today, a pain au chocolate and a pain au raisens.
Both are pretty good doughnut substitutes, especially considering this is most definitely not France.

England has a couple of ways of constantly reminding me that it is England.  These reminders are painted on many of the crosswalks.
After a life time of looking left to survey oncoming traffic it actually required for me a fairly significant effort to start looking right before stepping off the curb.  You HAVE to look right, traffic traveling on the left side of the road is coming from that direction.  The English think it important enough that they have painted the instruction right there on the pavement.

Jimi coulda, woulda, shoulda been here but he is not.  We still headed out to one of the places that he would have wanted to see.  Here are FT and Santini and the Wimbledon Underground Station.
We followed Wimbledon Hill Road and quickly discovered how that road got its name.  There is a really big hill.  Up the hill, walk along through the town at the top of the hill, finally start to descend, turn a corner and here is our first glimpse of the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
The grounds are officially closed but we were allowed into the Shop and out the back door of the shop into a limited area fronting on this, the new Centre Court.
And off to the right towards the old Centre Court, now known as Court 1.
We went through the museum,  The John McEnroe hologram presentation was our favorite.  This was one of the most poignant.
It appears in the section of the museum devoted to equipment.  The metal racket on the left is a Wilson T-2000, the first really successful metal racket.  That particular one was used by Billie Jean King.  It was also for most of his career the racket of choice for Jimmy Connors.  It was also for quite a long span of years the racket of choice of my brother Jim.

I have posted photos of my FT and myself with Lord Stanley's Cup. Today we came into the presence of a couple more really well known and important sport trophies.  Here is the Lady's Singles Plate:
 And the Gentleman's Singles Trophy:
A view from outside the gate:
The new one is for my brother.
I have found myself looking at the stuff in the sidewalk.  I think this is probably the water turn on-off switch.
This one is really odd.  The fire hydrants are embedded.
Santini discovered this place, the Chelsea Potter Pub on King's Road.  The intertubes indicate that this was at one time a favorite watering hole of Jimi Hendrix and one or more members of the Rolling Stones.
Regardless of whether that is true or not it was a fun experience.  Here is a look at the food.
The top two are both Sunday roast with chicken featuring potatoes roasted in goose fat and Yorkshire pudding, lower left is Steak and ale pie with mashed potatoes and a jug of gravy, and lower right Lamb shank shepherd's pie with minted mash potatoes and a jug of gravy.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Tower of London

This post is going to be a little light on the photography.  The reason for that is that the absolute best things we saw were in an area where ABSOLUTELY NO PHOTOGRAPHY was allowed.

And where there were 3 to 5 staff members in each small room enforcing the ban.

Further, some of these photos were actually taken late afternoon on Friday.  Due to user error (a Galleries Lafayette map level user error) we arrived at the Tower too late to consider paying the tariff and going inside.  We did get some nice photos though.  And when we returned this morning to see what was inside we did not have to pause to get the set up photos.

This is the Tower Bridge, adjacent to the Tower of London.
Pretty famous bridge, everyone in the world has already seen that scene.

When you get up close to the wall you come across this, the Traitor's Gate.  This was the boat entrance from the Thames.
Some prisoners were carried to the prison by barge along the river.  Both Elizabeth, who was a prisoner here before she became Queen, and Anne Boleyn entered the prison through this gate.

This is the middle drawbridge entrance to the Tower from the river side.
The White Tower in the background.

Here's the White Tower from inside the first ring.  The White Tower was constructed by William the Conqueror.  It features 15 foot thick walls to help protect the new ruler from his potentially hostile new subjects.
The White Tower was a castle, a keep designed for defense.  Eventually a wall was built around the keep, then a moat was added, then another wall and another moat.

Here is a remnant of the City Wall outside the Tower.  It was once an important military structure.  Now it serves mostly to separate that playground on the right from the Underground station that is just frame left of this photo.
So what was it that we saw that I couldn't photgraph?

The Crown Jewels.

It is worth noting that most of the original crown jewels from medieval time were lost during Oliver Cromwell's 1648 revolution.

Doesn't matter, they got some new stuff which may not be as old but the old stuff could not possibly have been much better.

You pass through a couple of rooms full of stuff made of gold, ceremonial swords and maces and the like.  Then, boom.

The Sovereign's Scepter.  You know, a long stick held at one end with some decoration at the other end..  In this case the decoration is the world's largest cut diamond, the 530 carat Star of Africa.  This massive bauble is about twice the size of a golf ball.  It is one of nine stones cut from the original 3,106 carat (1.37 pound) Cullinan Diamond.  I think it is safe to say that they took the best part for the Star of Africa but had plenty enough left from the rubble to produce eight more gemstones.  It is breathtakingly large.  For comparison, the very, very large Hope Diamond is 45.52 carats and was last reported to be insured for $250 million.  This sorta renders the value of the Star of Africa as incalculable.

The Sovereign's Ring. In the center of the gold ring is an octagonal sapphire, 1.5 centimeters in diameter, overlaid with a square ruby and four long, narrow rubies to form a cross. Around the sapphire is a circle of 14 brilliant diamonds. The general design is intended to represent the red Cross of Saint George on the blue background of Saint Andrew's Cross

A small copy of the ring was made for Victoria, who wrote in a letter, "The Archbishop had (most awkwardly) put the ring on the wrong finger, and the consequence was that I had the greatest difficulty to take it off again, which I at last did with great pain". In fact, the ring had been sized to fit the queen's little finger instead of her ring finger due to a misunderstanding by the jewellers.

The Crown of the Queen Mother.  This crown has the 106 carat Koh-I-Noor diamond.  This diamond seems huge until you circle around and take another look at the Star of South Africa.  The diamond is considered unlucky for male rulers and only adorns the crown of the King's wife.  Many Brits await the day when the stone reappears on a crown made for Queen Kate.

There are some other pretty astonishing odds and ends, the most extraordinary of which to me was an elaborately decorated coffee table sized gold punch bowl.  The bowl requires 144 bottles of wine to be filled.  That's about 36 gallons.  A giant piece of gold.

Later on in the day we intended to enter the National Museum of Natural History.
It is a great building but this is a very tourist rich environment.  A half block long line to a free admission which was when we were there only being granted to people wishing to enter as others came out and our first instance of rain dissuaded us.

Perhaps we will go on Monday.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Saint Paul's Cathedral

We were walking into the side entrance to the church yard at Saint Paul's Cathedral, hoping to find an easy way around to the main entrance in front.

Whatya know?  Old John Wesley shows up again, this time in bronze.
With his brother Charles and others, founder of Methodism.

Christopher Wren had already been selected to refurbish the Old Saint Paul's Cathedral when the Great Fire of 1666 burned the old church down (the Great Plague had occurred just one year earlier in 1655).  An eyewitness to the fire said it was like a hideous storm, stones of Saint Paul's flew from the building and the lead melted down the streets in a stream.

There has been a church dedicated to Saint Paul on this site for over 1,400 years, since 604.  Charles and Diana were married here.  Churchill and Thatcher had their funerals here.  The church with a 365 foot high dome still rises majestically above the neighborhood.
The story of Saint Paul's conversion is told in the stone pediment.

Queen Anne was on the throne when the new church was finished in 1710, the statue in front portrays her.
Inside the building is magnificent, a great stone edifice with lavish decoration.  This is the view from the nave forward towards the dome and the choir.
From underneath the dome, looking forward towards the choir and the high altar.
The pulpit on the right is the spot from which nearly all of the preaching is done here.  Martin Luther King spoke here.  After his assassination his widow, Coretta Scott King spoke from the same pulpit.

From under the dome looking straight up.
The FT took the 257 steps up to the first gallery.  This time I did not join her.

I have previously on this blog featured Napoleon's Tomb at Les Invalides in Paris.  This completes a set of a Waterloo sort.  This is the tomb of Wellington in the crypt at Saint Paul's.
It was VERY dark down there.  This photo is yet another tribute to the light gathering capabilities of a good, modern digital camera.  This photo would be nearly impossible with film.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Oxford Town

One last look, from the kitchen into the garden.
And a look over to the side of the garden at a couple of ancient storage sheds.
They are storage sheds now but as originally constructed the one on the right with the ceramic pig was a pig house.  The other was the outhouse.

We headed into Oxford Town.  Oxford was first settled in Saxon times (before the Norman conquerors arrived).  It began about AD900 as a place where oxen could ford the river.

The Normans built a castle shortly after the conquest (about 1070).  In its earliest years it was an important military outpost but by about 1327 the castle was in poor repair.  The castle was allowed to deteriorate.  Eventually it found use as a prison.

Only a few bits remain, this is part of the outer wall and Saint George's Tower, FT for scale.
We headed on over to the academic part of town.  This is Radcliffe Camera, built between 1737 and 1749 to house a science library.
 The Radcliffe also served as a reading room for the Bodleian Library.
The Bodleian is the main research library of the University, one of the oldest libraries in Europe and the second largest library in Britain behind the only the British Library.

Down the walk from the Bodleian is Brasenose College, founded 1509.
David Cameron went there.  So did Michael Palin.

Nearby is the University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin.
A church was established on this site, at the center of the old walled city in Anglo-Saxon times. In the early days of Oxford University, the church was adopted as the first building of the university, congregation met there from at least 1252 and by the early 13th century it was the seat of university government and was used for lectures and the awarding of degrees

An exterior view with the Radcliffe Camera on the right.
So this next part is kind of fun.  You can't really find this place if you don't know at least a little bit.  You have to know about the alley and where is leads.  This is the very narrow alleyway known as St. Helen's Passage.  Not everyone will know that there is a famous tavern down there.
Definitely not a street, probably only about 4 feet wide.  Pedestrians only.  But after a couple of turns you come to the Turf Tavern.  It is an ancient old pub, claiming only to be ONE of the oldest in Oxford.  We had lunch there at the back side of the garden.  Here is the view from our table back towards the main establishment.
It is widely believed and the establishment even advertises that this is pretty much without doubt the spot where Bill Clinton did not inhale.

I know there is a subset of readers who like at least once in a while to see what the food looked like.
Pub food, two orders of fish and chips with peas, and a meat pie with gravy.

Out on Broad Street we came upon Christopher Wren's second work, the Sheldonian Theatre.
Built beginning in 1664, the Theatre was meant to provide the University with a separate building whose sole use would be graduation and degree ceremonies.Those occasions had become increasingly rowdy (we saw some evidence of that today) and the University wished to move those events away from where they had been previously held, the University's Church of St Mary the Virgin.

The roof of the building was a remarkable accomplishment for its time. The span of the D-shaped roof was over 70 feet. However, no timbers existed that were long enough to cross that distance. Wren decided to use a "geometrical flat floor" grid developed twenty years before by Oxford professor John Wallis. It involved creating a series of trusses which were built up from shorter sections and held in place by their own weight, with help from judiciously placed iron bolts and plates. For many years it was the largest unsupported floor in existence.

This cross in the pavement was just outside the city when its use was so notorious that the spot is commemorated today on Broad Street by a plaque in a nearby building wall in addition to the cross of bricks.
In 1555, the Oxford Martyrs were tried at Saint Mary's Church for heresy.  Found guilty, they were burned at the stake at approximately this spot.  The martyrs were the Bishop of Worcester, the Bishop of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The two bishops were burned on the same day in October 1555, the archbishop five months later in March 1556.

This is the interior of Saint Michael at the North Gate Church, the oldest building in Oxford.
The church was built between 1000 and 1060.  The particular bit of the church pictured above is not the really old part.

This is:
Also known as the Saxon Tower, this was put up in 1040 and was also part of the north gate of the city and the city wall.  The Martyrs were imprisoned nearby and the door to their cell is preserved inside the tower.

The part on the right is the Christ Church Cathedral, on the left and foreground are buildings associated with Christ Church College.
Christ Church is one of the wealthiest colleges of the Oxford Community with an endowment equivalent to more than $600 million.  It also boasts among its alumni thirteen English prime ministers but apparently no Pythons.

We got back into the city on the afternoon train.  Walking back from dinner we again passed the Michelin Building.
Required bicycle content.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Hanging around a small town in England

Here is a view from the relatively modern kitchen back into the 300+ year old portion of the house.  That wall would have been an exterior wall when it was constructed and it surely is about four feet thick.
Our plan for the day was the Blenhim Palace, a World Heritage site.  The Palace is the home of the 12th Duke of Marlborough, sitting on the 12,000 acre estate of the Duke.  The plan was to walk over there and get a bus back.

So along the way we again passed through parts of the village. Notably we passed near the old church and this time we went inside. Officially it is Saint Laurence's Church

A church at Combe existed by about 1141. Parts of the current building are 12th century, including the inner doorway of the north porch. The nave was rebuilt near the end of the 14th century, about 1395, and is notable for its 14th- or 15th-century stone and a set of wall paintings dating from about 1440. The church has remnants of a set of 15th-century stained glass windows. The most complete survivor is one on the southeast corner of the nave depicting Saint James the Great.
Our guide noted that this part of England was a significant early hotbed of what eventually boiled out as Methodism. The story says that John Wesley preached from the pulpit of this church at least several times.

We wandered across the village playing fields.  The fields were donated to the village in 1948 by the Duke of Marlborough.  There was a ceremony and the Duke of Edinburgh attended and planted the tree here in the foreground. In 1948 the Duke was not yet Prince, his wife Elizabeth did not become Queen until 1953.
That's the cricket ground in the background with the football pitch just a bit further along,  The old church is visible pretty much frame center beneath the branches of the tree and beyond the playing fields.

On to the Palace.  The Duke has had 12,000 acres since about 1705.  The grounds are quite a bit less than a formal garden, 12,000 is huge number of acres, about 19 square miles, too much for a formal garden.  But it all seems pretty obviously planned, complete with an artificial lake and lots of spots where things were planted.

Have a plan for planting and then wait 300 years and you get a really gorgeous landscape.  Here is a look up one of the valleys.
Eventually we came out to the Disney lake and got this view of the bridge over the lake to the main entrance of the palace.
A bit later and up to the main entrance of the house.
John Churchill was a capable military commander who won several significant military engagements during the War of Spanish Succession.  Following a victory over the French at Blenheim, Austria,  in 1702, the grateful Queen Anne decided to reward him.  He was elevated from Earl to Duke and granted tenancy of the royal manor that is now the home of the current Duke.

Along the way the Palace just happens to have been the birthplace of Winston Churchill.

This is a statue of Queen Anne located in the library of the Palace.
This is a flattering rendition, she was said to be as wide as she was tall as a result of enduring 17 pregnancies in an attempt to produce a royal heir, a result that ultimately she was not able to achieve.

Queen Anne provided much of the funding necessary for construction of the Palace but as years went along the estate was subject, as are all things, to the vagaries of the world financial scene.  By the late 19th century the 9th Duke had fallen into debt.  It was the Gilded Age in America and Alva Vanderbilt, wife of a Vanderbilt railroad millionaire, was seeking a socially advantageous match for her only daughter and eldest child.  Consuela Vanderbilt thus became the 9th Duchess of Marlborough and the Vanderbilt fortune saved the Duke from financial ruin.  It seems likely to me that at some point Anderson Cooper will be doing a CNN special.

This is the family chapel, but no, the wedding occurred at Saint Thomas Episcopal Church in New York City.
We left the Palace and walked across the lawn to the town of Woodstock.

Woodstock had been there even before the Palace was built.  Here is one of the oldest coaching inns in England, dating from the 13th century.
Famous guests over the years include Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.