London, England

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Some things are universal...

Today, I was out and about and stumbled upon the M&M London store.  The store was so crowded that it was hard to get to the merchandise. It was filled with all the things that I had seen in other M&M stores in the USA, but it also had a lot of items that were specific to London -- M&Ms dressed at palace guards, knights, and princesses.  The store has many picture opportunities with large M&M figures, M&M portrait paintings, and even a live, costumed M&M.  So cute!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

London Transportation

Mass transit in London is incredible.  It runs on-time, goes everywhere, and offers a variety of ways to get to most places.  In London, you can travel by bus, tube (aka subway), rail, taxi, water taxi, or rent a bicycle.  If you are going far, there are three airports (London City, Heathrow, and Gatwick) and the Eurostar.  Also, down by Oxford Circus there are rickshaws.  The government runs the tube and bus, while all other forms of transportation are overseen by private entities.  (Barclay's bank rents the bicycles.) 

Here is how I used mass transit today.  Today, I went to Windsor Castle, which is in Windsor, near Eton, about 35 minutes from London by train.  I boarded the Central line tube at Holborn station and took it to Oxford Circus;  there, I switched lines to the Bakerloo line and took it to Paddington Station.  At Paddington, I bought a train ticket and took the rail to Windsor, with a change at Slough.  Coming back, I did the rail (change at Slough), to Paddington station, then took the Bakerloo line on the tube to Oxford Circus, at which point I got on the Central line and went to the Marble Arch stop to do some window shopping. 

The beauty of this was that the maps are SO good, that it was EASY.

London has the oldest underground system in the world and it seems to constantly be being maintained.  With the upcoming 2012 Olympics being held in London, the event planners are looking to increasing the bus service and tube trips, and will be using the river as a major route to and from the Olympic grounds.    Several water taxi companies already accept the Oyster card.

Oyster card?  What's that? you ask.  The Oyster card is a prepaid card that riders simply swipe when they get on the tube, bus, or specific water taxis.  Its a smart system.  First of all, Oyster card users get discounted fairs.  Second, the computers track how much you've used it in a day and there is a cap.  For example, on Saturdays, no matter how much you use the tube, you will not be charged more than $6.60 on your Oyster card.  Finally, you can forgo waiting in long ticket lines, and you can top off using an automated machine.

Mass transit is important in London.  London has 7.5 million residents, making emissions a big issue.  To encourage people to use mass transit and try to curtail the ever looming problem of emissions and pollution, London has a congestion charge.  The congestion charge is an emissions-based fee that is charged to people who drive into London on weekdays.  The fee is 10 pounds per day for travel within the congestion zone between the hours of 7 am and 6 pm.  That money is earmarked for improvements to the mass transit system.  That is a hefty sum.  Fifty pounds per week times 52 weeks in a year equals 2600 pounds in a year.  People are finding that they need to use public transportation.

This system is an amazing engineering feat and while here, and carless, I have learned to use it and love it.

Paris in day!

It's rather surreal.  I woke up in London, spent the day in Paris, and am going to bed in London.  All in about 20 hours of time plus and minus the time change between the two cities.    Our professor warned that parts of the day would be like National Lampoon's European Vacation and it certainly felt like it. 

We had two hours to spend at the Louvre.  Yes, only two hours.  When we arrived, after making our way through bag check and security, I got a map in English.  Museum maps were available in at least six languages and the English version was very popular.  The map was extremely useful, because not only are the rooms labelled so I knew if a room was French painting or Egyptian statuary, but also the most popular works were pictured and labelled on the map.  Therefore, I immediately knew that Hammurabi's Code was on the Ground Floor and the Mona Lisa was on the first floor, but not in the same gallery as Winged Victory.  (The musuem has four floors and each floor is divided into about 50 rooms or galleries.)

So, how to make the best use of two hours in this enormous, world-renowned museum?

Quickly, I developed a plan.  I looked at the major works and figured out which were priorities for me, being sure to include the three works that my Uncle suggested (Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and Venus).  Then, I looked at the names of the other galleries and decided which I was most interested in and plotted a route, starting upstairs, since ground floor was packed with large tour groups.

And, it worked!  Or at least, I saw those highlights that I chose at the beginning and I don't know what I did not see, so I am not complaining about missing anything specific.  Highlights of Louvre for me included Winged Victory, the Italian sculpture, Hammurabi's Code, and the Egyptian gallery.    Of these, I was awestruck by Winged Victory and it made the single biggest impression on me.

Hammurabi's Code

Why Winged Victory?  Winged Victory is colossal.  So much larger than I had envisioned.  It's a powerful statue depicting the Greek goddess Nike.  The detail on her wings is amazing and her clothing seems to blow in the wind.  You can see movement, even though it is a marble statue.  The statue is approximately 2200 years old and incredibly well-preserved.

Winged Victory

Unfortunately, the statue is known worldwide and it seemed like a third of the people in the Louvre were crowded on the steps surrounding the statue.  (Another third was surrounding the Mona Lisa, leaving one-third to populate the rest of the building.) 

Our class also took a bus tour, a boat trip, stopped at the Eiffel Tower, saw Notre Dame (from the outside), picked up lunch at a Patisserie, browsed a little during our 45 minutes of free time, and had a wonderful dinner together at a restaurant that specializes in serving groups.

Paris is certainly a city like no other that I had ever visited before.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Not a lending library...

The British Library is not a lending library.  So, out of the 14 million books, 920,000 journal and newspaper titles, and 3 million sound recordings, a Reader Pass Card holder can check out none of them.

"Wait a minute," you think, "What good is that?"  In the United States, library patrons regularly complain when they cannot check out a specific volume because it is classified as reference.  This policy would be astounding to them and it would cause librarians and patrons alike to reconsider policies regarding library patronage.

Let's look at a few advantages to the system at the British Library:
1. Rarely do books just disappear from the shelves, so less money is spent on purchasing replacements.
2. Since books and resources are under the watchful eyes of librarians, the collections do not end up as damaged as they would if checked out and taken home.
3. Books and materials are easy to locate and time is not lost searching for a volume that was reshelved incorrectly by well-meaning patrons.
4. Materials are nearly always available a short time after they are requested;  no waiting around for three or six weeks for books to be returned.
5. Librarians have more time to spend aiding patrons, since they are not sorting through piles of returned books and tracking late notices.

The system must work for research libraries, both the British Library and the Bodlien Library have used it for years (centuries in the case of the Bodlien).  That does not mean there are no libraries to borrow books from in England.  On the contrary, there are and, as illustrated by a classmate, Londoners are readers.  Check out her story for more info...

Some other interesting policies...
1. No pen or ink can be used in the reading rooms;  only pencils and laptops are permitted for note-taking.
2. Cameras and cell phones are strictly prohibited.
3. Backpacks cannot be brought into a reading room.  There are lockers on site for storage.
4. Coats and umbrellas must be checked into the coat room.
5. All other belongings go into a clear bag.

When you consider that the British Library collection includes original works by Bronte, da Vinci, Beethoven, Lewis Carroll, AA Milne, a Gutenberg bible, and a plethora of first editions, the rules to protect these priceless works make sense, but the patron must go prepared.  

Anne Boleyn at the Globe

Last night, I went to Shakespeare's Globe Theater to see the play Anne Boleyn.  What a treat!  The play itself was interesting, funny, and and paced well.  I was amazed at how easily I could hear the actors and actresses without an speaker system.  The stage was a "T" shape and the players used every inch of it well. 

A few things that struck me as unexpected.  Keep in mind that my only prior experience has been with American theater.
1. The theater is a copy of the original Globe that burned down in the 1600s, therefore, the roof is largely uncovered.  This left me wondering what happens when it rains or is very, very cold.
2. The audience has two choices -- sit on wooden benches or stand.  Those on the benches can opt to rent a cushion.
3. The theater is 180 degrees.  We were sitting at approximately 175 degrees, so we had a side profile of the show.
4. There were a ton of concessions and you could bring them into the theater.  For sale between the acts were sandwiches, chips, ice cream, a variety of beverages -- alcoholic and not, and other snacks.
5. The Globe shop was not open after the show, only durning the intermission.

All in all, it was a relaxed atmosphere and a wonderful show.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Adventures of Alice in Oxford

I am a reader.  I love delving into a good book, letting my imagination go, and getting lost in the story.   Throughout my childhood, I read many of the classics, like the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island, and A Christmas Carol.   But, as a young girl, one of my favorites was The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland.
I thought that *I* wouldn’t be silly enough to eat something just because it was labeled “eat me” and that it would be fantastic to have tea with the Mad Hatter.  I also wondered if the poor flamingos had headaches after being used as croquet mallets and why the caterpillar was so unfriendly.
As you can tell, even into adulthood, I adore the story, so much so, that I have shared it with my own children.  So when we went to Oxford, much to my delight, we visited Christ Church and saw the place where Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll, author of The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass) knew the real child Alice, given name Alice Liddell.
View my digital story to see Alice Liddell's Wonderland.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Visit to Salisbury

Ah, the British countryside.  Gorgeous green fields.  Flowers in full-bloom.  Grazing sheep.  Mysterious Stonehenge. The historic and beautiful Salisbury Cathedral.   An outdoor market.  A pub lunch.

My five picture story depicts DC having a jacket potato with chili, a salad, and a coke for lunch at the Clough in Salisbury.

The main feature of our visit was the Salisbuury Cathedral.  The Salisbury Cathedral houses a copy of the Magna Carta.  The Magna Carta was signed in 1215 by King John of England.  The landowners forced King John to sign it in order to protect their rights and privileges. It was the first document to grant liberties to the people and ensure that the king's rule would be consistent and not arbitrary.

Displayed around the Magna Carta were quotes about freedom.  I was particularly struck by a quote from Desmond Tutu and felt that it sums up the sentiments of the advocates of the Magna Carta, "I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master.  I want the full menu of human rights."

Monday, July 25, 2011

528 steps!

(Again, two posts in one day!  But, I felt it would be remiss to not mention my visit to St. Pauls Cathedral today and to show off the pictures of the amazing view from the top of the dome.)

528.  That's the number of steps it takes to to climb to the top of the Golden Gallery at St. Paul's Cathedral.  After a visit to the Museum of London and a tour of St. Paul's Cathedral, I climbed the dome.  What a view!

St. Pauls was traditionally a center for activity in London, for both religious activities and as a meeting place.   The cathedral itself is the fifth cathedral on the site. It was built after its predecessor was destroyed it the fire of 1666.  The cathedral was designed by the architect Christopher Wren.  He was inspired by St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, however, the Anglicans did not want a Cathedral that looked like a Roman Catholic church.  It was only slowly and over time that the ornmentnation, mosaics, and statuary were added to the interior of St. Pauls. 

Wren's masterpiece is amazing in design and execution and truly an integral part of London's history.

A foot in each hemisphere...

You know what that means... that's right!  I went to the Prime Meridian!

Greenwich Mean Time is the base time for the world.  Universal time was established by the astronomers at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England.  Greenwich is essentially the center for time and place for the rest of the world.  In otherwords, the minutes and seconds are the same at every location in the world, only the hour differs.  The hour is determined by a place's distrance from the Prime Meridian.  Since Greenwich is located at zero degrees longitude, each 15 degrees movement away from Greenwich equals 1 hour.

The Royal Observatory was originally located at the Tower of London, but due to its limited viewing area, a new observatory was built in Greenwich.  King Charles II recognized the need for a more accurate means of determining location, particularly for the safety of English ships.  He ordered the Observatory to be built.  The budget was limited, so bricks and materials were scavenged from other sites, unfortunately, when it was finished, there were not funds for the purchase of telescopes.  Flamsteed, the Royal Astronomer, was expected to figure it out on his own.  To raise money, he taught.  It was said that he resented every minute with pupils, because those were minutes that he could not be observing the sky and studying the stars and star charts.

As a geography teacher, I was excited to visit Greenwich and stand straddling the Prime Meridian with one foot in each hemisphere. 
To see more of the Royal Observatory, watch my video below.

All video and pictures are original. 

Dukas, Paul. (1922). Fanfare Pour Preceder "La Peri" [Recorded by Drexel University]. On Spring Concert '08: Folk Wisdom [MP3]. Jamendo. (2008). Retrieved from

Sunday, July 24, 2011

To the Tower!

I could not come to London without a trip to the Tower of London.  The Tower was originally a residence; historically is best known for being a prison; and now, houses the Crown Jewels in a vault within the complex.  No photography is allowed in the vault, but I can tell you they were beautiful and, to borrow a word from another in my group, sparkly.   Also part of  the Tower of London complex is the White Tower, a tower walk, a chapel, private residences, a moat, and a museum.  Oddly enough, the Tower has been a royal residence, a mint, a prision, and once, a private zoo.

Pictured below is the White Tower and then Jackie and I in front of the museum.


Other things I learned today:
1. Lady Jane Grey was queen for only 9 days before being removed, de-throned, and eventually beheaded.  She was 17 when she died.
2. There are two strong suspects for the deaths of the Princes in the Tower, Richard III and Henry VII, although nothing has been proven against either.
3. To become a Beefeater, first, s/he had to have a full military career.
4. Beefeaters reside with the walls at the Tower of London.
5. A Catholic priest once escaped from the Tower.

Pictured is a Beefeater.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cars 2 Opens in London

In London, the buses are used for advertising.  But wait, you say, they are in the United States, too.  But, in London, the buses are double decker, providing that much larger advertising space.
On the day I arrived, I saw a bus plastered with a Cars 2 advertisement.  It featured Lightening McQueen.  A little later, I spotted one with Finn McMissile.   So, in honor of the Cars fan in my life, my mission is to see how many different Cars 2 ads I can spot on the double decker buses.  So far, in ten days, I have found four different Cars 2 bus ads --  featured characters include McQueen with Mater (and Luigi and Guido in the background), Finn McMissile, Francesco Bernoulli, and Holly Shiftwell.

I should add, Cars 2 just opened yesterday (July 22nd) here in London.  We’ll see if it opens as strong as it did in the United States.  Cars 2 won their opening weekend with ticket sales over $68 million across the United States. 

Also, Disney has developed a UK site for Cars 2 featuring British characters, as The Queen and Prince Wheeliam.  You can see them at 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Egypt in London

Two posts in one day!  I had to share a few pictures from my wanderings in the British Museum today (especially for my SIL who got me started reading the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters several years ago... for those who have never read that series, Amelia is an Egyptologist from England and when she is in London, she spends a good deal of time pestering the curator of the British Museum about the Egyptian rooms).

My favorite collections were the Egyptian collection and the Greek and Roman collections.

I even got to see the Rosetta stone!



Honoring Those Who Fight for their Nation

On a recent visit to Westminster Abbey, I stopped to see the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.  The tomb honors those soldiers who died fighting against the Central Powers during WWI.  I learned a lot about the tomb from our tour guide.  First, it was the first such tomb honoring soldiers who never made it home.  Second, the tomb is the only one in all of Westminster Abbey that you cannot walk on.  Even during the recent royal wedding, Prince William and Kate walked around the tomb.  Finally, Kate’s wedding bouquet was placed on the tomb, following the tradition established by Queen Elizabeth in 1923.

The other thing that struck me was that the tomb is wreathed in poppies, a very traditional WWI remembrance and the only tomb or memorial so adorned in the Abbey.  The poppies reminded me of the poem by John McCrae, “In Flanders Field.”
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Listen to my podcast for more information about this touching memorial.

Heidelberg Orchestral - Nikko-Impossible Piano. Creative Commons License. Retrieved from

I referred to the following resources in the development of this podcast and blog.

chericbaker (2011). Unknown Warrior.  Creative Commons License. Retried from

Fact check:
Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey (2011).  Unknown Warrior. Retrieved from
Poem (97 words):
McCrae, John (1915). In Flanders Field. Retrieved from

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Story Museum in Oxford

The Oxford outing was a day chock full of libraries, books, education, and stories.  Our last tour of the day was at the Story Museum.  Stop for a moment and think of your favorite childhood stories.  What are they?  Mine include the Paddington Bear books, Babar the Elephant, and the Frog and Toad series.  As a parent, my younger children and I get great joy out of sharing The Pout Pout Fish, Click Clack Moo, and the Daisy duck books, while my older girls will spend hours talking about the Percy Jackson books, the My Sister is a Vampire series, and books like, The Gollywhopper Games.

I was amazed at the plans that the Story Museum has and the combination of creative design and educational purpose.  Children will go there and be inspired.  They will be excited to read.  They will dive into books, or as younger children might say, they will skidoo into books.

The Story Museum is the brain-child of a group educators, librarians, and authors who believe that children need to experience stories and the art of storytelling.  They also know that children learn best what they experience and the Story Museum seeks to give them those experiences.  Oxford’s history is rich with writers and storytellers, such as Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkien, and those works hold a special place in the heart of the Story Museum.

Currently, the Story Museum is conducting trainings for teachers and students, offering community activities, and doing classroom push-ins.  Their programs have met with great success in the school districts that they are working in; and by success, I don’t mean simply that the children enjoy it.  The board member who spoke to our group today stated that the children involved in their programs are seeing measurable improvements in their reading.

The plan is to open the doors at the facility I visited today in 2014.  They plan to have a theater for storytelling and puppet shows, a tower, a café, exploration areas, training rooms, areas for “writers in residence,” and a variety of programs that will be accessible to school groups and individuals alike. 

This loch ness monster looks out from an upper window.  Its arrival captured the attention of many children as it was carried through the streets of Oxford.

For more information, you can visit  You can even sign up to receive their newsletter.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

More from Regent's Park...

I have to share some of the panorama photographs that I took today.  Regent's Park is glorious!  Everything is in full bloom.  The gardeners must spend hours making sure that the grounds remains so meticulously manicured.

What are they playing?

While walking through Regent’s Park, I saw many locals using and enjoying this enormous park.  Regent’s Park, one of the Royal Parks and formerly a hunting ground for King Henry VIII, offers gardens, sporting fields, an open-air theater, a café, and foot paths.    On one of the sporting fields, I spotted teams practicing.  The players are all in white and appear to be carrying a bat?  What are they playing????

Cricket is one of the oldest bat and ball games in the world.  It was first played in southern England in the 16th century.  Although often compared to baseball, it is not British baseball.   Cricket is played on a field (often oval) with a rectangular pitch in the middle.  There are two teams.  At any given time there are two batters from one team on the pitch and eleven players from opposing team in the pitch.   The bowler (comparable to a pitcher in baseball) throws a ball from one end of the pitch to another and attempts to knock down a target, called a wicket, that is located behind the batsman while the batsman tries to protect it.   If one of the two batsman hit the ball, then the two can attempt to score runs by running from one end of the pitch to the other.   Like baseball, Cricket games are divided into innings.

Also like baseball, cricket is played professionally  and is one of the most popular sports in England.

Williams, David. (2011). Cricket Rules.  Retrieved from
    Cricket Field Parts. Retrieved from
(Freely licensed media)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Olympic stadium and recycling…

The 2012 Olympic Games will be hosted in London, England.   This will be the third Olympic Games hosted by London.  As we walked through the areas that encompass the Olympic Park, Three Mills and East London, we saw another side of London – the industrial one.
When the city of London was bidding for the 2012 Olympic Games, they chose an area in East London that is highly industrial, close to transportation, and in need of urban renewal.  

The key word in the design and build of the Olympic Park is “sustainability.”  Every aspect of the project has focused on reducing the carbon footprint, recycling materials, and building a park that will be a legacy to the city.   Part of sustainability includes using existing venues when possible, building new construction than can be used after the games, and, for those structures that will not have life after the games, designing them to be demountable.    For example, the Olympic Stadium will seat 80,000 people, however all of the white poles in the picture can be demounted and the stadium that remains will seat 25,000 people – a much more practical size for athletic events in London.

The city will be using the Olympic Games to rejuvenate East London, boost the economy, and clean up and protect the ecosystem.  Here are a few mid-point goals that have been set for the Olympic project and the progress thus far:
90% of all materials removed from the site would be reused or recycled … goal MET at 98%
350 Brits would be trained as apprentices for work on the site … goal MET at 408
50% of materials would be delivered by boat … goal MET at 51%
Additionally, the vast majority of the contracts for construction and services before and during the games were won by British companies, with over 50% being London-based.

The city of London has undertaken this massive construction program, planned meticulously, and thus far has met or exceeded each goal they set.  Perhaps this is an omen of other records that will be set during the 2012 Olympic Games!