Tags: trips: london 2014

wood cat

Dublin: Newgrange, Tara, Merrion Park, and the National Gallery

Today Chad & I went with some friends on a bus tour to Newgrange and the Hill of Tara. The advantage of taking a bus tour (or possibly just this particular tour, I'm not sure) is that (a) you don't have to drive there yourself—major advantage, twisty narrow narrow roads; and (b) reserved time for a tour of Newgrange (again, I don't know if all buses get this).

Newgrange is really fascinating. It's a passage tomb that's over 5,000 years old and that's aligned so that the burial chamber in the center is lit by the winter solstice. The passage in is very narrow and low (we had at least one person decide that they were that claustrophobic after all), but being inside this vaulted chamber, that has stood water-tight for all this time, that was decorated by the builders (and then, alas, defaced by vandals over decades before the site was properly excavated and controlled), well, it's kind of hard to describe how amazing it is. The art of the interior and also the exterior kerbstones that circle the base is also mesmerizing.

Here are a few pictures of the exterior:

Chad outside the heavily-carved entrance stone

the reconstructed front wall—this is controversial, because fairly early in the tomb's history it stopped being used and the stones and earth on the top slid down and covered everything, and so while the big dark stones on the bottom were in place when it was excavated, the white quartz stones were on the ground. Wikipedia says that critics think the technology to put a retaining wall at that angle wasn't available at that time and that a plaza/path is more likely (Chad heard someone describe it today as kind of a classic 1970s over-reconstruction). The reconstruction is very visually striking, from a long ways away, and I'm sure a plaza would have been likewise.

Carved kerbstone roughly a third of the way around to the back.

Then we had basic sandwiches & soup, and rather good pie (there's a caramel and banana pie which is apparently very good if one likes banana) at a farm just down the hill, and then we piled back in the bus and went to the exhibition center that's been built to control visitors to Newgrange, which is 1/2 mile directly but our bus had to go the long way. This did a nice job of context, though its reconstruction of the passage is way too wide and its reconstruction of the chamber leaves out the left-side chamber that opens off the main one, which was the biggest and apparently most-important (two basins instead of one). I also bought some art from a local artist who was part of a craft fair that's held there for a few weeks in high tourist season.

Then we went to the Hill of Tara. Considering it's relatively low, the view is amazing; I can absolutely believe you can see 20% of the island on a clear day (which we did NOT have) and that it would be hugely symbolically important.

We had a tour guide meet us there and heard about the church & the Rath of the Synods, which is a very lumpy area that was a ringfort, a circular fort surrounded by walls or embankments, which was dug up by a bunch of unscientific types hoping to find proof of some religious theory I can't remember the details of now, and it took about three years (?) to rally public opinion enough to get the means to stop them. We peeked into another Neolithic passage tomb, this one much smaller, called the Mound of the Hostages, and heard about the full skeleton of a teenage boy that, unusually, had been buried there (cremation was the norm) with grave goods suggesting high status; the guide said that he was believed to have been a visitor who was being accorded an honor?

And then we went over to the Forradh (Royal Seat) which is the current location of the purported Lia Fáil, or Stone of Destiny, where the High Kings were crowned. (At this point the rain, which started over at the Mound, was blowing sideways and we got pretty soaked, but it didn't last long.) What particularly fascinated me about this is that the stone was moved in the early 1800s allegedly to mark graves of Irish fighters in the Battle of Tara in 1798, but our guide said that that part hadn't been excavated so it wasn't clear whether those burials did take place. That was not that long ago! Anyway, we were able to admire the view with clouds but at least without rain before we squelched back to the bus.

We went back to the tapas place from last night for dinner because it was only 5:00 and we knew they'd be open and would be good for a group, and shared round many dishes and enjoyed it very much. Then Chad & I came back to the hotel so I could drop off my art and change into dry socks, and we walked around some more.

First we went to Merrion Park, which is near-ish and which has some very nice public art, some colorful and some quiet. There's also a great Jester's Chair that's a genuinely fun tribute to Dermot Morgan, an Irish comedian and actor (Chad will be uploading pics of both of us in it, I think) and a monument to Oscar Wilde that shows him lounging on a big rock, with choices quotes hand-written (etched) into two columns that have statues on top.

Then we discovered that the National Gallery of Ireland is open late on Thursday nights and went in for a half-hour wander. I took a bunch of pictures which I briefly put up on G+, but I was able to find them all on the Gallery's website, so I will just link directly:

"Banks of a Canal, near Naples," Gustave Caillebotte, c.1872. I find this weirdly compelling.

"The Castle of Bentheim," Jacob Isaacksz. van Ruisdael, 1653. I'm fairly sure I've seen this cover art before, and I mean that in a good way.

Things that need to be captioned by the Toast: "Bathers Surprised," William Mulready, 1852-1853; and "Saint Mary Magdalen," Felice Ficherelli, c.1640 (which made me want to bust out laughing).

"The Artist's Studio : Lady Hazel Lavery with her Daughter Alice and Stepdaughter Eileen, 1909-1913," John Lavery. It's a huge work and the photo can't convey how creepy the looming dark space over the actual people is.

"The Cottage Girl," Thomas Gainsborough, 1785. Chad says this is the face of "They gave me this puppy but I really wanted a cat."

"Ophelia", Margaret Clarke. An extremely good Ophelia from Hamlet.

"The Taking of Christ," , Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1602. It's stunning.

And tomorrow we'll do another museum or two here and then fly back to London, and then Saturday morning I head back to the States (and SteelyKid and the Pip! I miss them so much. No delays for weather, volcanos, or other disasters, universe, please.).

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wood cat

Dublin: lots of old buildings and other old things

What, I answered comments instead of starting this report right away, I'm losing steam now. (The sangria's probably worn off, though.)

So today we tramped around Dublin and saw All the Old Things. We started at Trinity College, to see the Book of Kells and the Long Room.

Now, I have been to see these things before, in 1997 with rysmiel and possibly also papersky. And it might be just my terrible memory (I have a journal from this era, but it's in a format and possibly a location I can't read right now), but what I remember is looking at a couple gospels from the Book of Kells, open to whatever page they decided for that time period, and then looking down the Long Room and saying "yup. Long."

Things have become considerably more informative since then. There is a couple rooms worth of displays before the Book of Kells about the history, what materials were used to make it and what the illustrations meant, the scholarly theories on how many people worked on it, what they did about errors, all kinds of things. My favorite tidbits were two: (1) there's a whole page that was copied twice, which in a remarkable show of restraint is merely marked with red crosses in the margins; and (2) the illustrations sometimes went out of their way to emphasize the Latin meaning "he (Jesus) said", including once drawing a lion, which formed the first two letters, with its paws held to its mouth, which was surprisingly adorable.

Also, because the exhibit blows up all the illustrations so you can see the detail, it's all the more impressive to see the actual thing, which is bigger than a standard hardcover these days but not that much bigger, and all the exquisite artwork is tiny.

The Long Room had a display about Brian Boru which was told with text banners on one side and the most amazing art banners on the other: you can see all of them at the exhibit's webpage, and I highly recommend looking (they're by Cartoon Saloon, a local animation studio). It also had relevant original documents and artifacts as well as other pop-culture things about Brian, like a Mexican comic book.

And, of course, it's a really long room filled with books. And the very narrow ladders needed to reach the top shelves.

(It was very crowded even pretty much first thing on a week-day morning, but with some patience and willingness to maneuver, you can read and see everything. And they send you through the gift shop on the way back out too, not just on the way in, though weirdly I was prepared to buy a big pack of postcards with images from the Book of Kells (I was going to rotate through them with the diptychs from Bath), but the gift shop would only sell me individual ones, and only 7 different ones at that.)

Before we left, we saw workers restoring the cobblestones, which involved re-laying the stones themselves and then pouring asphalt or suchlike around them with what looked all the world like gravy boats.

Then we walked over to Dublin Castle, which I was also at in 1997—I went to the Eurocon, which was held in the convention-center part of the complex. Have some pictures:

On the way: stained glass over the Olympia Theatre

An example of the conglomeration that is Dublin Castle: a medieval tower joined to a more modern building, electricity included.

Two bits of the Royal Chapel (which dates from about 1814): how you did ventilation back then, and child(-like?) faces judging you from the ceiling.

One of a set of cool sand sculptures.

Did I mention, conglomeration?

The accompanying gardens are not very interesting in the center (flat grass laid out in a circle with spiraling brick paths to look nice from above), but in each of the four corners around the circle was something hidden: a memorial, a glass snake, another sculpture, and an overlook with garden and more statuary. It was pretty great.

There was also a free exhibit on the Ulysses Cylinders, which doubtless would have been more meaningful to me if I'd read Ulysses, but the process of making the glass cylinders themselves was pretty neat: a painter sketched designs, glassworkers recreated them in very thin rods of glass, and that glass design was then impressed on the hot unblown glass that would become the cylinders. (This involved a big team of people, none of whom are credited at the opening of the exhibit, but which are mentioned in the second room, which has the details on how it was done.)

After that we had an undistinguished lunch at the first place that appeared to be open (though it was serving drinks but not food for another fifteen minutes), and then we went Christ Church and St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Christ Church was not as interesting to me, and I can't put my finger on why? I mean, both of them have needed heavy repairs over time, and Christ Church has actual crypts, but St. Patrick's must play on some prejudice of mine regarding what "old" looks like. Also, it has better stained glass and is well-supplied with anecdotes about Jonathan Swift, who was Dean there for over thirty years.

I don't have a lot of pictures, because they're dark inside and the cameraphone can't cope with stained glass, alas, but here's a few:

Flying buttresses at Christ Church—I can't remember if this is the side that's 18 inches off plumb? It's incredibly disorienting.

A well-loved cat outside Christ Church.

A rare face on the exterior of St. Patrick's: no gargoyles, no statues, just this little face and, on the window below, two looking inward at the end of the surrounding direction, which are not nearly as prominent (and not in this picture). If anyone knows more, please chime in.

Anyway, we stomped around those, and then we stomped around by the river, and then we came back to the hotel and took a short nap before dinner, being thoroughly stomped-out.

We had tapas at Zaragoza for dinner, which was very tasty and a great value—we were there just before 6:30 and thus got their early bird special, which was a plate of 6 dishes for €17 and which would have been more than enough for just me. Chad & I split one of those and also had a single extra dish, and it was all delicious. (It was often difficult to get a server's attention, but when we did, they were pretty prompt.) Recommended if you're in the area.

Tomorrow, Newgrange and Tara.

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wood cat

London: afternoon tea; Dublin: getting in

I have two more panel reports to do, but I am so, so tired and I have promised myself that I will go to bed before 10 tonight. So have some tourism instead.

Monday we blew off all panels in favor of conversation with people and wandering around the dealers' room & exhibits (more on that later). And that was excellent and restorative. Then we had a reservation for the extremely touristy event of afternoon tea at a fancy hotel.

Specifically, The Wolseley, which one of our guidebooks said was good and fancy and also about half the price of afternoon tea at most other places. And indeed it was: here's our two-person tier of sandwiches, desserts, and scones (under the dome). It was all great: the sandwiches were not flavors I want a lot of, but they were a nice base for the scones, which are (a) ballast and (b) a delivery vehicle for copious quantities of clotted cream (mmm) and strawberry preserves. And then there were the desserts; turns out I hate marzipan with an unholy passion, which is what the checkered cake is flavored with, but everything else was excellent. (I had green tea because I don't much like tea and I rarely drink caffeine. It was hot.)

So that was delightful, which was good because we had a not-very-fun adventure getting there. [profile] mari_ness came with, and though the TFL website assured me we could be step-free all the way, it specified that to go to Green Park you had to get on a particular car number on the Jubilee Line. Well, we didn't see any numbers, but it seemed like a high number so we went toward the back and hoped for the best. Turns out that access at Green Park is in the form of a "hump" in the platform, and the door we initially tried to use had a several-inches step down. We could have managed it—Chad could have helped Mari lower her chair out backwards, or she could have walked the couple steps necessary—but we had no notice of why we needed a specific car and we kind of froze for a moment, while the train was all the while getting ready to leave. Fortunately Chad, who'd gotten out first, saw that the next door down from us was at the platform hump and we made it out, but it was an unpleasant jolt. And then to get to the lifts involves this endless set of sloping hallways, and getting out of Green Park itself is extremely steep, and I was feeling pretty terrible by the end of it for suggesting that we take the DLR/Tube just because it was half as long as the bus.

tl;dr: accessibility on the Tube sucks.

After our tea, we waved Mari into a cab (they all have ramps built-in and capacious interiors) and wandered around to work off some of the food. We headed down to Trafalgar Square and past Westminster, and I took some pictures along the way:

The current art on the Fourth Plinth at Trafalgar Square, which is a giant blue rooster ("Hahn/Cock," 2013, by Katharina Fritsch).

A somewhat odd memorial to the women of WWII.

Sunlight glinting off gilt with ominous background clouds.

"Big Ben! Parliament!"

Then we picked up laundry and found people at the tail end of the con and drank and talked, and then I packed, fretting all the while that I was missing something because I had so much space—even though I knew that I'd vacuum-bagged some stuff and put it in a different suitcase—and had a hard time getting to sleep because I was all anxiety-ish.

Unfortunately the—not brain weasels, that's too serious, what's a smaller critter in the same family?—were still running around this morning, even though objectively everything went very well until we hit Dublin: no significant delays, no hassles, luggage came through.

Ugh, I can't even bear to rehash all the details. Suffice it to say that we walked with our luggage for way longer than we should have trying to find our hotel, at least half of which was my fault, so, awesome; and our smartphones are completely useless as phone-and-data devices for the duration of this part of the trip [*], so we had to buy the cheapest call-and-text-only phone possible just to give us a way to be reached here in Ireland.

[*] We're on pay-as-you-go, somehow got out of Heathrow without "topping up", i.e., paying to add credit to our phones, and (1) Vodafone IE can't add credit to Vodafone UK phones and (2) Vodafone UK won't accept credit cards with zip codes rather than post codes. So we have no way to pay for roaming here.

But then we had good food and drinks at the Porterhouse [*], which also established that I am now spoiled for easily-available cider in the U.S., because I like the darker, richer stuff from Ireland (and one of the kinds I had in Bristol) much better, and then we stomped around looking at St. Stephen's Green (very pretty), and noticing Captain America's Cookhouse and Bar and Writers' Tears Whisky, and now we have something like a plan for the next days of tourism, so all is well.

[*] Its Oyster Stout is literally made with oysters, which Chad did not know before he tried it. He said it was very good.

(Apologies to Dublin for the entry tag; I created it before I knew we were coming to Dublin, and to change it now would break links elsewhere.)

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wood cat

Bath, Bristol, and London (Apsley House, Hyde Park)

Yesterday Chad was giving a talk in Bristol (his post-mortem, with a link to the host's writeup in comments), so we stopped in Bath along the way for some tourism, and I also stomped around Bristol a bit.

We had an extremely nice time in Bath. The Abbey right next to the Roman baths is very beautiful: St. Paul's is more impressive, but this was more lovely. The ceiling has this beautiful fan-shaped vaulting, which is carried through in the rest of the design, such as the altar. Also, there was lots and lots of stained glass, which I missed at St. Paul's.

The Abbey also hosts an amazing set of diptychs by Sue Symons that pair calligraphy with needlework to tell the life of Christ. I noticed the needlework first, of course, and here are some pictures: needlework portion of one diptych, needlework portion of another diptych. I also tried to get a picture of a full diptych, calligraphy plus needlework. I ended up buying a set of postcards of all 35 diptychs, on the ground that while a print was bigger and easier to see, I didn't really have anywhere to put it, but I could rotate through the postcards at work.

Then we went to the Roman baths, which are mostly pretty nicely done. They rely more heavily than I would like on audio tours, which I find annoying because I can read so much faster than I can listen. (Also, there is a Bill Bryson portion of the audio tour that is not nearly as funny as I was hoping, though Chad enjoyed it, so YMMV.) But the signs were generally sufficient and did a good job of putting things in context. Chad's post for the day has more pictures, but here a few I took: Gorgon's face, temple of Minerva; Julius Caesar, on the left, looks down at the (untreated) swimming pool in the rain; and The Pump Room, of Regency novel fame.

After lunch, I continued my not-very-serious quest to do research for the Strange & Norrell re-read / generally amuse myself by doing things I'd read about in books by sticking my head in at the Bath Assembly Rooms, where you can see the Tea Room and the Grand Octagon for free. I also indulged myself by taking a picture of the fancy mirrors in the Grand Octagon, which are exactly opposite each other.

Then we went to the Museum of East Asian Art, which is small and has very little explanatory text, but has some nice things and is worth a look. I took a lot of pictures, and these were just the ones that were lit well enough to come out reasonably on my phone: jades: pig and carp turning into dragon; ceramics: crab and horse; ivory: cheerful Immortals and
ocean life card case; other: dragon and fox and drum netsuke (I forgot to write the material down, but it looks like clay?). (Full titles and time periods are in the links.)

Then we went to Bristol, and while Chad gave an interview and prepped for his talk, I took a little walk around. In Castle Park, I found a Bristol space egg at St. Peter's Church, which for reasons you can see in the last picture is dedicated to those who died in the Blitz. I walked down to Queen's Square, which has many elegant buildings around it, and then got slightly off-track and stumbled upon a very tiny but lovely park behind the building where the talk was being held, which turns out to be Temple Church and Gardens. If it had been earlier I could have visited the ruins of the church and seen the former Templar church revealed by the WWII bombing and admired the leaning tower, but instead I was delighted by the tree-lined path and the gardening along the ruins.

After Chad's talk we went out for dinner at The Stable, where I discovered a cultural difference in the form of my instinctive "no, one does not put a soft-cooked egg in the middle of pizza!" Also, I had some very good cider, but unfortunately I can't recommend varieties because it was a tasting menu and we didn't get the number key—I mean, I'm never going to be back there, so it hardly mattered. Then we came back, getting to the hotel after 1:00 a.m., which is why there was no post yesterday.

Today, again on the vaguely research-ish theme mentioned above, we went to Apsely House, which besides never looking correctly-spelled no matter how many times I check it, was Wellington's house after he was created the first Duke. No pictures, because a lot of it was very dimly lit—not good for art viewing, unfortunately, especially since the explanatory text was minimal and many of the painting labels were on the paintings themselves and angled in a way that I had trouble seeing. But it definitely gave me a sense of the aesthetic of the era and the massive gratitude toward Wellington—literally, in, e.g., the form of two huge porphyry candelabra from Russia and the centerpiece of a Portuguese plate service that is literally eight meters long. (Not all the plates and dishes and stuff laid out end-to-end. Just the centerpiece.) Though to my mind the most boggling was the porcelain Egyptian-themed china service than Napoleon commissioned as a divorce gift for Josephine: yes, I want to display seven meters of replica Egyptian buildings and statues at formal dinner parties and say "hey, my emperor husband divorced me, but at least I got this nifty porcelain service out of it!" (She refused it, which is why Wellington got it; the King of France gave it to him after Waterloo, IIRC.)

Anyway, I wouldn't recommend it as a general matter, but for my purposes it served well enough. But I realized I should read a decent—short!—bio of Wellington (Napoleon too, but that can wait); any recommendations?

(Oh, and there was a fox rolling and stretching in the private garden, which was pretty great; I've never seen a wild fox at such length before.)

On the way to Wellington Arch, I was amused to note that equestrians have to push for the light like anyone else.. On the way out, we walked through Hyde Park, which is very nice. We were at the end with the Rose Garden, which is very lovely but this statue is a bit of an odd introduction, since it looks like the kid is forcing water out of the fish's nostrils by kneeling on it and squeezing. (Here's another bit of the Rose Garden.) We also came across this fabulous tree with branches that grew down to the ground; as I said on G+ when I posted it, imagine growing up with this to play hide-and-seek and tree house with?

Then we had very good pub food at The Victoria near Lancaster Gate, and came back for the con, about which more in a moment.

Oh, and here's Chad's pictures for today.

Now let's see if the WiFi is back . . .

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wood cat

London: Tate Modern, Julius Caesar at the Globe

Today, after some frustration trying to buy rail tickets to go to Bath and Bristol tomorrow (which as I start this post may not be over, as we discover further convolutions of the British rail system), we made a quick pass through the Tate Modern, mostly because it's very close to the Globe Theater.

Modern art is mostly not our thing, but it was free and I found some things I liked. I put pictures on G+, along with links to the museum's information in the comments, which in some cases include better pictures. G+ won't let me create new albums at the moment, so I'll link the posts individually.

"Seated Nude" by Pablo Picasso (cubist mother of future robot armies)

"Before the Storm," by Zao Wou-ki (photo doesn't do it justice but maybe hints at the quality of the small amount of light that's in it)

"The Invisibles" by Yves Tanguy (visually-appealing surrealism)

"Ships in the Dark," Paul Klee (the tiny bright dots are, unfortunately, the ceiling lights)

"Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams 1," by Ibrahim El-Salahi (large striking modernist figures)

Chad has more pictures in his album for the day, including one toward the end of "Eluhim" by Leonora Carrington which I also quite liked (oh, and me on a very large couch that was a public art installation on the way to the Tate, I think).

Then we went over to the Globe, picked up our tickets, and met up with [personal profile] thette ([personal profile] filkerdave, I didn't get any email from you and we figured that Chad would be spottable even among the crowd; if we miscalculated, sorry). Chad and I hadn't had lunch, so we tried the pork pies. I didn't like them, I thought they needed more spice or flavor, and gave my uneaten portion to Chad and had one of the anachronistic energy bars I'd brought for emergencies.

The play was great. There had been some tomfoolery with actors in costume in the ticket area and outside the seats, such as someone telling us not to go in because it was all lies and *shudder* actors in there [*] , and people in costume had been finishing setting up the stage when we got in, so when the play actually started, it was very subtle and natural: Act I, Scene 1 opens with Flavius asking commoners why they weren't at work and why they were out in the streets, so the commoners were down in the yard with us, and it took me, at least, a little while before I realized that no, this is the Chorus-equivalent, the play's started, this isn't more crowd warmup.

[*] And, to my great delight, an actor making a puppet deliver Aragorn's "a day may come" speech from the movie Return of the King, while another actor commented sarcastically. It was amazing.

It was tons of fun to be in the Yard and to have the actors move through you and be among you. (And though standing for 2:45 is not ideal, the seats did not look comfortable, though I don't know if the reconstruction kept the dimensions of the benches or maybe quietly added a few inches to allow for modern heights somewhat more. Happily it only rained a smidge at the very end, and I'd brought a raincoat.)

The acting was excellent, though I wonder how well the highest and furthest seats heard Caesar's lines, as they were notably more quiet than the other actors; it worked for me, because I could hear them and they gained power from that contrast, but I did wonder. I don't know if casting two of the main Citizens in Act III as women is ahistoric, but I appreciated it, because it gave the excellent women playing Portia and Calpurnia more to do. (Sometimes the doubling of actors was confusing to me; I didn't always catch names, so late in the play I would find myself thinking, "Is this one of the conspirators / Brutus' servant taken up arms / etc. or a different person?") And I never fail to be impressed by actors who can deliver incredibly famous lines as natural speech.

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The close of the performance was also not what I expected: after the last lines, everyone came out and lined up . . . and then did a big stompy group dance around the stage. I think I saw some Charlie's Angels poses in there. It was very lively! But a bit jarring. I don't know if that tradition is historically-based either.

Then we met up with kjn and child and went to Tas Pide, where we had excellent Turkish food. It's not great if you don't like bell peppers or eggplant/aubergine, as I do not, but I had one of the variants on the dough-based dish that gives the restaurant its name with potatoes, goat cheese, parsley, and red pepper flakes, and it was delicious. Chad had a similar one, and Thette and KJ had an assortment of small dishes, and then we had wonderfully sticky desserts and I had a very small glass of dessert wine that was smooth and sweetly honeyed and potent, whoosh, if I held it in my mouth too long my tongue started going numb. Anyway, good stuff, recommended if that's the kind of thing you like.

Then we walked across the Millennium Bridge so we could say we'd done it, and I got a shot of St. Paul's that emphasized just how many stairs we'd climbed yesterday. And that was Tuesday.

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wood cat

London: Tower of; St. Paul's; British Museum

Today we started our tourism with a walk around the Tower of London (we decided not to go inside when we saw that adult admissions were over £20 and that there was a big line. I would have liked Chad to see the ravens, because they are really much bigger than I personally expected, when I saw them in 1997, but that was about it). The still-in-progress ceramic poppies installation is really beautiful and moving; here's a picture I took of poppies mounting in a wave, or maybe an incomplete arc, and Chad has a nice one of the shadow over the moat in the start of his picture set for the day.

We also amused ourselves by noting the two space eggs visible from the Tower: one, two. As I said when I posted those, Chad noted that if they hatch at the same time, London's in trouble . . .

Then we walked over to St. Paul's Cathedral, which isn't super-close but which was a perfectly fine stroll. I particularly noted the Bank of England, which is even more fortress-like than the Tower, honestly: that is just one monolithic lump of a building saying "No."

St. Paul's is of course very big and very impressive. We did go inside for that, and admired the architecture and the ornamentation. We also climbed a whole lot of stairs to get better views.

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We also looked at the chapel at the back of the ground floor, dedicated to the American dead of the Second World War, and a striking video art installation called "Martyrs" (information).

After St. Paul's we had a very pleasant lunch at Cote Brasserie, and then stopped by the British publisher of Chad's first book and had a nice chat (and admired the cover art on the wall). After that, the British Museum.

The British Museum and I did not get off to a good start with the first exhibit we went into, on the Enlightenment. It was in a long room with floor-to-ceiling specimen/book cases and for some reason I just found it oppressive and unwelcoming, all those looming cases that were only minimally labeled. (The actual thematic bits about the Enlightenment were in cases out on the floor.) And after that I may have somehow led us in the wrong chronological order or something, so I felt disoriented.

But things got better! The Assyrian lion hunt reliefs are very excellent (though my enjoyment of the realism of the lions was tempered by the fact that they were being led out of cages to the slaughter; really, they should be "lion 'hunt' reliefs"); the Nereid Monument had three statues of sea-nymphs (not placed in the reconstructed temple) whose dramatically-billowing draperies made them look like fashion models; and there were the Parthenon Sculptures, known to readers of Regency novels as the Elgin Marbles.

Really, that's why I wanted to see them, because they're in so many books I've read (e.g., one of Kate's early letters to Cecilia: "The second day, we were taken to see the Elgin Marbles, which was interesting, and to listen to other people see the Elgin Marbles, which would make the eyes roll right back in your head with boredom."). Unfortunately, the gallery they're in now is modern, donated in 1939 if we did the Roman numerals right, so the experience isn't the same.

Of course one can't talk about these sculptures or a good deal else of the art in the British Museum without talking about how it was acquired. The tone of the display's discussion is somewhat fascinating to me , such as the statement in bold letters that no, we can't put these back on the Parthenon, it's in too bad shape, even the Greeks are taking the remaining statues off . . . (You can get a sense by seeing the museum's online statement on the matter.) To me, whatever the merits of the preservation argument for removing them in the first place, the current arguments don't seem very strong, and it always seems a shame to me to split up works of art that were intended to be see as a single piece. But then, I'm probably influenced by rolling my eyes at a prior display, which noted that an ancient cylinder had become so important to the Iranian people that the British Museum gave Iran . . . a replica. Gosh, you shouldn't have.

(There was also a large totem-like carving from the Pacific Northwest, IIRC?, that the label made a point of saying was sold by the chief of the tribe after the tribe had already moved locations; things like that made me think the museum was aware that people would or should have those concerns.)

But the Parthenon exhibit is well-done and more interesting than I expected (art from the Greek & Roman eras often does not particularly speak to me). After that we popped into African art, but got shooed away before we saw more than a couple of great contemporary pieces (Chad has pictures at the end of his post). I'll never believe British museums' stating closing times again, as we were shooed out by 5:15, when the listed closing time is 5:30.

We had a bit of an unpleasant adventure after that, trying to find a Vodaphone store to buy international voice minutes (since our Internet is so bad that Skyping home won't work), during which we conclusively decided that Google Maps is no good for real-time walking, because it just doesn't update fast enough (and also showed us two stores that apparently don't exist any more). (I realize we don't walk faster than we drive, and so I can't explain why it works for driving and not walking. And yet, both after the museum and on a prior occasion during the day, it just didn't.) Also, it was raining.

After we threw in the metaphorical towel and came back to the hotel, we had restorative Indian food at a place right outside the convention center (Bollywood Brasserie or Bollywood Grill, depending on which sign of theirs you read), I lost the fight to buy international minutes online (it was trying to validate my credit card's zip code as a post code and, unsurprisingly, failing) and looked up a nearby store location for tomorrow morning, and now I've taken much too long writing this up. I think from now on I have to stop putting in links, because half the time I have to find them on my phone and then sync them in my text editor program over to the tablet, because the wireless is just that bad, which takes up lots of time.

Tomorrow, Shakespeare at the Globe in the afternoon, and maybe Wellington's house in the morning. Wednesday, Bath and Bristol for Chad's evening talk. Thursday, Worldcon starts (though there may still be tourism in the morning.) And no more spiral staircases if I can help it.

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wood cat

New York to London, Saturday August 9-Sunday August 10

The trip report commences!

Yesterday we drove down to Long Island, where Chad's grandmother lives: we were leaving the car at her house and she was driving us to JFK. The drive down was awful, it was like Zeno's paradox of traffic, the closer we got the slower traffic was (accident, construction, accident, accident . . . ). But we'd left ourselves plenty of time and were able to have a nice sustaining dinner at an Italian place near Chads grandmother's before making it to JFK with no traffic at all.

Of course, if we'd known what was in store for us, we might not have eaten outside the airport after all . . .

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We're staying down in the Docklands, near the convention center for WorldCon, which is a good ways from Heathrow. By the time we lugged our stuff in it was about 2:30 on a bright sunny warm afternoon, and we decided to go over to Greenwich.

Our timing was really not good on this. We took a cable car over the Thames, and as we crossed, it was like heading into Mordor, looking at the wall of thunderstorms heading our way and then overtaking us. To my very, very intense vexation, I don't seem to be able to link to individual photos within Chad's G+ photo album, I'm on my tablet so I can't right-click and get the image URL and direct link that way, and I'm too tired to decide which is more vexing, selectively re-sharing individual pictures so I can link to the post, or having you all page through the entire album, or some other more sensible solution. (The hotel wifi is AWFUL. The data plans on our phones is very variable speed-wise. So I'm not pulling the photos back off Chad's camera and uploading them into my own spaces.) Taking the path of least resistance, then, Chad's full photo gallery. The, uh, fifth and sixth pictures should be of the approaching storm.

(The cable car is nice enough once, I guess, but I wouldn't go out of your way for tourism purposes.)

The rain was literally horizontal when we arrived, and we decided to make a dash for the nearest Tube, which is pretty close, because otherwise we can't do anything—the cable cars stopped running right after we arrived because of the weather. We got thoroughly drenched, and squelched our way onto the Tube and then the DLR [*] to Greenwich.

. . . where it is bright and sunny again, though windy, and stayed that way for the rest of the afternoon. The only five minutes it poured after we got to our hotel, and we were out in it. At one point we were in the park with all the Greenwich museums and it seriously looked like an oil painting, the light was so amazing.

[*] We managed to completely overlook the Oyster card touch-points for the DLR for, uh, rather a long time. I'm hoping the entirely unpaid rides are made up for by the trip from Paddington at which we entirely failed to touch out at all.

Anyway. We went to the Royal Observatory, which is pretty great. The actual observatory, up on the hill, is currently hosting a very fun steampunk exhibit re-imagining the quest to find a reliable method of determining latitude. Steampunk is not particularly my thing, but I was surprised how charming I found it. The wood-and-metal outdoor structure after the "Humped Pelican Crossing" picture (taken because, what??!!—don't explain it, it would spoil it) was part of that exhibit. The next picture is someone leaning over the meridian photo-op line; then there's a picture of part of the Octagon Room at the top that Christopher Wren designed (very pretty, hot as anything with all the windows and being at the top); then there's a series of pictures of a large drawing of a plan to lift elephants with balloons, which you all have to look at, because the adorable long-suffering elephants! Kept in a neatly-labeled Elephant Paddock! Also there is a squid under Yet Another Boat—don't worry, I'm sure the elephants will rescue their compatriot. There was lots of other things like that in the exhibit, plus some great outfits made by modern cosplayers, and an overall story about a Commodore who wants to solve the Longitude Competition with kiwi birds, and if you're even vaguely interested in steampunk, you should definitely check it out (and if, unfortunately, you can get up a steep hill and then steep narrow stairs).

We went over to the National Maritime Museum and saw the associated exhibit on the Longitude Competition ( Ships, Clocks, and Stars: The Quest for Longitude), which has John Harrison's original timekeepers as well as a bunch of other neat stuff. Unfortunately either I was too tired to get the upshot or the exhibit didn't quite make it clear that Harrison's timekeepers, though excellent, were too expensive and difficult to manufacture for a long time, so sailors used the lunar distance method (measure the angle between the moon and a star) instead for quite a while, because though it was incredibly difficult to develop (involving careful work by a pair of individuals known, deliciously, as the calculator and anti-calculator—the latter was a woman—whose work was checked against each other before being compiled), once it was done it could be mass-printed. But Chad tells me that the US Navy still teaches the lunar distance method today as a backup—not with sextants, but with computers, because it doesn't depend on GPS satellites which might be unavailable.

I'm entirely failing to do this justice! Maybe Chad will chime in if he has time. But it was pretty cool anyway.

After that we had a snack, because I'd seen signs everywhere saying the museum was open until 6 p.m., and I thought we had time. Well, no; the exhibits really all closed at 5, and they just gently shooed people out and into the gift shops then. So we missed the rest of the exhibits at the Maritime Museum; the only thing we managed was to peek into the Queen House, which had some interesting WWII illustrations on exhibit and a famous and indeed pretty spiral staircase called the Tulip Stair.

Then we wandered a bit, and had dinner at The Old Brewery which is just around the corner, and indeed part of the same building as, the "Discover Greenwich" tourist center, at which Chad had quite a good burger (with a surprisingly-large hunk of cheddar on top that goes to show that USians really do think of cheese as a condiment much of the time) and I had fried risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella and basil which is exactly what you want in such a dish.

We walked the tunnel under the Thames, which again has nothing to recommend it except that you've done it—no, wait, it also has, at least on the North end, a fabulous huge wood-paneled elevator complete with bench, and came back to the hotel. Where we fought with wifi and our new phones and then got the world's slowest drink in the bar downstairs, and holy cow but it is way too late for me to be up.

Anyway. Who's here already/always?

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wood cat

England, Ireland? in August

Hello, internets. Chad & I are planning to take a two-week vacation in August centered around the London WorldCon (Thursday August 14-Monday August 18). Tentatively we are planning to take the redeye out of JFK into London, getting in the Sunday morning before Worldcon, sight-see in and around London Sunday through Wednesday, go to the con, then go elsewhere for the following Tuesday through Friday (returning to London Friday night to fly back to JFK Saturday).

Two (edit: three) questions:

1) We're thinking about doing the last major leg of the trip based out of Dublin. Is mid-to-late August a good, bad, or indifferent time to be in Ireland?

2) Anyone planning to be those islands in August 2014 who won't be at WorldCon?

3) Is there such a thing as reputable mobile phone renters these days, or should we just buy really cheap pay-as-you-go phones when we arrive? And would they work in Ireland too?

And now, off to book our WorldCon hotel rooms.

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