England Summer Trip 2013 – London (part 1)

This is the continuation of my summer 2013 trip to England that I started writing about in this post. Here are all of the posts. [update: I started writing this post months ago but I keep procrastinating. My goal is to complete this series of posts before the anniversary of the trip.]

London

When we last saw our intrepid traveler is was relaxing comfortably in the Park Lane hotel in London while a summer rainstorm thundered outside. OK, enough attempting to make this post novelized this. I am sincerely sorry that it has taken my lazy butt this long to get back to writing about my trip last August.

The first night

After my afternoon nap during the rainstorm I decided to chill in my hotel room for a while. There was no air conditioner in the suite which I thought was odd but maybe that is common in English hotels. The room was a bit stuff so I started to open the  windows hoping to get a nice breeze and fresh air. I then took some time to reorganize my luggage and photography gear. I also relaxed and surfed through the TV channels. I believe there were about 100 channels where the majority of them represented individual countries around the world. Around eight or so I started to get hungry and I figured I would just try the restaurant attached to the hotel named Citrus. I took a quick shower in the enormous bathroom (I should have taken a picture) and got dressed. When I arrived at what I thought was the entrance to Citrus it looked fairly busy but I was ignored for a good five minutes as I stood there. I caught the waitress’ attention and asked to be seated outside as the weather had cleared up and there looked to be prime people watching from the outdoor seating. The rain had cleared out but the temperature had dropped but I really wanted to enjoy the night air. I was again left alone for a while which I found quite odd. When the waitress finally addressed me I ordered an appetizer and dinner and enjoyed watching all of the people walking along the side-walk. The people seemed to come from all walks of life and culture. Many clusters of people who were probably heading out to a club or pub in the area. I would smile at anyone that made eye contact and most would smile back. I finally got my entrée around 9:30pm and it was good. After I finished eating I again had to wait quite a while for the waitress to bring my check. The temperature had either dropped more or the breeze had become more brisk as I started to get chilled and wanted to go inside. But as I waited a couple of women, I think of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern descent stopped and chatted with me. I had seen them earlier and smiled getting a smile in return. They asked if I wanted to go to a pub with them. I thought for a second and declined as I was tired. I failed to represent the WWGCD (What Would George Clooney Do?) philosophy. I should have taken them up on the offer and seen what the night had in store but I chickened out.

After paying I went back up to my room and was a bit stir crazy and a bit kicking myself for declining the offer to go out. I threw on a fleece and went for a walk along Park Lane. Not that I hadn’t done a ton of walking that day already. Anyway, I made my way all of the way to Piccadilly Circus at which point it was getting pretty late and I decided that the week was going to be long enough and I needed to get some rest. So back to the hotel I went and right to bed just after midnight.

Day #1

I woke up the next morning, after sleeping in a bit, and got my stuff together for a long day of sightseeing. My first stop was a chain named Pret A Manger which to me seems like a cross between Starbucks and Panera Bread. I had a Diet Coke and a chocolate croissant. The Breakfast of Champions! I had researched ahead of time but I consulted my handy-dandy guide-book and determined at least my first stop of the day which was the changing of the cavalry guards at the Horse Guards Parade. It was very difficult to get any “clean” shots of the guards without other tourists and their cameras getting in the way. It was amazing to watch the ceremony that happens twice daily and even more amazing how many people show up to watch the ceremony.

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I then started to meander through St. James Park. An asian girl who seemed very frantic was going to various people asking for help but it was apparent that she didn’t know English and had somehow lost her group. When she came to me I did my good deed for the day and I helped her to the best of my ability. She needed to go to Buckingham Palace and although it was very close I didn’t know exactly how to explain it to her so I pulled out my phone and showed her where we were and where the palace was on the map. She then frantically ran in the general direction of Buckingham Palace. I continued in that general direction taking my time to enjoy this amazing park with its abundance of birds and flowers.

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Buckingham Palace is a rather austere building on its own but with the large sculptures and the famous guards it stands out. There were a ton of tourists loitering around the statues and near the fence keeping the commoners away from the palace. As I was arriving so was the Calvary Guards on their horses. I didn’t realize that I would beat them to the palace but here’s the proof.

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And here are some other photos from the palace.

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After watching the guards march and stomp my stomach told me it was time to leave and grab lunch. I lucked upon a neat little pub that was set below street level called The Old Monk Exchange. I thought it was named The Old Monk but either the name changed or more likely I’m mis-remembering. Anyway, I sat in this small vaulted area which had skylights and it was pretty neat. The food was ok.

After lunch I considered hitting Churchill’s War Room but there was a long line. I then just decided to explore the area. Here’s Westminster Cathedral which is not the same as the Westminster Abbey, the former being Catholic while the latter being Anglican.

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I continued to explore and passed through many little parks such as Grosvenor Gardens where there were many interesting statues including “Alien” by David Breuer-Weil.

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I made my way back to the hotel and cleaned up a little and went to dinner at an Italian place called Spaghetti House which I couldn’t tell if it was a chain restaurant or not but seemed to be staffed by Italians. The food was good but a little expensive. After dinner I walked around a bit more but my feet were killing me so I made my way back to the hotel and to sleep.

day #2

I woke up refreshed and knew that today I was going to hit more sights. First stop was a little convenience store across from the British Museum where I bought a pastry and some water for the day. I ate my breakfast on the lawn in front of the British Museum and then I proceeded inside. All of my humanities classes came flooding back to me as I walked through history.

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This bird caught my attention as it’s the same type of bird that I saw in Kathmandu in 2011.

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Game of Thrones has nothing on this iron throne!

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I think I could easily spend days at this museum. If I was a London resident I would definitely have a membership. It is an amazing museum and I spent way too long in it including lunch which I purchased from the cafe in the atrium.

After a couple of more hours in this wonderful museum I struck out to hit the National Gallery. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. When I got to the National Gallery I had very little time (I think less than an hour) so I flew through the halls trying to absorb as many works as I could. My body was fighting me as my legs and feet were done walking for the day so I had to stop often to rest. Luckily, in galleries there are typically places to sit. I was gently urged to move on as they closed each gallery hall. This is definitely worth another visit. Here are some photos I took after exiting the gallery.

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My feet and legs were killing me so I decided that I might as well get dinner before continuing back to the hotel. I saw a neat Thai place that seemed to be set up with seating meant for people watching which seemed very cool to me. Once I entered Busaba Eathai I realized that I was probably under-dressed for this trendy place but at that point I didn’t care. The food was really good and I found a plug to charge my phone :-) while I ate.

After dinner I choose to walk back to the hotel so that I could explore more but that was probably a bad choice because my feet and legs were already on fire. I had to stop in many squares and parks including Leichester Square, Chinatown, Soho Square, Golden Square, and Neal’s Yard (my mom asked me to visit this one). Finally, I made a hurried dash through Green Park after dark which was a little bit scary as I didn’t know if I was going to be mugged or not (it reminds me of Central Park in Manhattan). It seems like this park is used by couples to have some “time alone” in the big city.

And that ends my second whole day in London. Watch out for part 2 (hopefully sooner than later).

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England Summer Trip 2013 – Liverpool

It is August 2013 and I have just returned from a long week across the pond. So here is my quick summary of what I did and saw while I was in England. The impetus for me flying over to the United Kingdom was part photography workshops run by Chris Marquardt and part my desire to explore more of what Europe has to offer. I’m approaching 37 and my world traveling has not met the quota I thought it would have hit by now. I didn’t intend this to be a series of posts but it seems that I haven’t given myself enough time to write as much as I wanted to convey in a single post. So, continue to watch my blog for the rest of the posts.

Liverpool

I landed at London Heathrow on August 2nd and proceeded to navigate my various choices of mass transit to transport myself to Liverpool where my first photo workshop was to be held. Heathrow Express to Paddington Station and then on to Euston Station in order to board a Virgin Train to Liverpool’s Lime St. Station. England was quite a bit warmer and sunnier than I expected and it took about an hour on the train before I was done sweating. Anyway, after a couple of hours of train travel I arrived in Liverpool and since the weather was still relatively nice I decided to walk to the Elegant House B&B that I was reserved at. John, the owner/operator, is an extremely friendly man and allowed me to take my room a little earlier than typical. After resting for a bit and taking a shower (which felt wonderful after what felt like a week of traveling) I went to meet others that were part of the workshop at a popular pub at Albert Dock called The Pump House. There I met up with Chris and John Arnold, the host of this workshop, as well as Matt “Ravsitar” Armstead, Mark Carline, Terry Maltman with his wife Linda, and Bob Griffus (I probably misspelled his last name, Sorry Bob). We had a wonderful discussion and I had fish and chips with mushy peas. I was excusably tired and so I called it an early night and walked back to my lodging.

workshop day #1

The first Liverpool workshop day began with me heading downstairs to partake in the second “B” of B&B. John baked a fresh loaf of bread, made a fresh pot of hot tea, and had laid out a nice spread of food stuffs. It was definitely different from what I would expect for a breakfast but I ate it and it was delicious and filling. I was then introduced to Mr. Wendy (the cat) who decided to come down to visit and to watch the birds in the garden. At one point Mr. Wendy sauntered over to where I was sitting and stretched and kneaded his paws against my leg. John told me of a previous tenant that used to feed Mr. Wendy scraps of ham and thus Mr. Wendy tries to receive the same from just about all other guests.

After breakfast I packed up my gear and walked to the Camp & Furnace to begin the workshop. Our room was in the basement and was antechamber to the gallery. It seemed like a dressing room or some such as there was a full wall mirror surrounded in lights. Chris began with the agenda and then gave us our first assignment and kicked us out of the room (basically). When we returned we reviewed the assignment and then Chris proceeded to lecture us on lighting and street photography. I had heard some of this before on my previous Chris Marquardt photo workshop but a refresher is always welcome and there was some content that I either forgot or was brand new. I tried to take notes as I knew that a lot of this knowledge would slip in and out of my head as soon as the workshop was over. Here are some photos around the Camp & Furnace.

Camp & Furnace entrance

Yarn bomb

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarn_bombing

The furnace with a caravan

Furnace room

Bar/Lounge/Cafe/Eatery

Around 11 we left the Camp & Furnace to journey to a location along the Liverpool Pride march. We took tons of pictures and here are some of my favorites of the ones I took.

John & Chris seem lost

The streets are calm…for now

He is here to protect

And the parade begins

Putin looks

The colors

Pride!

The march continues

I think we have hit bizarro world

Jesus returns

Not mild mannered at all

There's a storm a brewing

Flamboyance!

Make your own caption

I think you're right!

Dancing while marching must be hard

Percussion time!

Now the whistles

Thumbs up for equality!

What's the crop for?

Right in beat

Lego superman?

Lego Captain America (in Liverpool)

No phone booths nearby

Laura Croft under water!

Even the Riddler takes calls!

We returned after 1 in the afternoon and decided that since almost no one ate while we were out, as we were expected to do, then we grabbed lunch at the Camp & Furnace. I had some sort of burger with beef brisket and ham on it. It was satisfactory. After concluding lunch, we went back into our cave and continued the exercises and lessons including learning how to use grey cards. I was paired up with Jon for some of the exercises and with Matt for the rest. Here are some pictures from the grey card exercises.

Whatcha scratchin'?

OK, look unimpressed!

That is whack!

Be one with the camera!

Natural lighting is good!

We ran over the allotted time a little but everyone was fine with that. I believe that if Chris allowed it we would stay there all day and night absorbing Chris’s photography knowledge. We closed the session for the day by recording an episode of Tips From the Top Floor (this is the episode). I usually hate the sound of my recorded voice but this didn’t sound too bad.

I ended the evening by walking back to the Elegant House and crashing pretty quickly. I skipped dinner but I made sure that I plugged in everything so that it could be charged for the next day. I then fell asleep to the sounds of the occasional auto on the street.

workshop day #2

The next morning I had to be at the workshop an hour earlier therefore I had to get up earlier. This wasn’t a big problem because I went to sleep around 10pm which is way earlier than my typical bedtime. I woke, showered, and went downstairs to the breakfast area. John was his usual charming and friendly self but there was another guest waiting in the entertainment room. We were introduced but for the life of me I can’t remember her name. She was a friend of John’s who was in town for some sort of event. As breakfast was being served a third guest arrived who was a charming lad of twenty something that was in a college choir that was slated to perform at the local cathedral. The three Brits chatted away and I just sat, ate, and listened. I didn’t feel the need to inject myself in their various conversations. Anyway, I realized that I had to get a move on so I excused myself and finished packing. I returned the key to John and said goodbye and then I lugged my bag to the Camp & Furnace.

We continued our lessons in the Camp & Furnace’s gallery room which mostly dealt with portraiture, lighting and “the strobist” setup. I learned some really interesting techniques. We then packed up and walked up to Albert Dock to do some street photography and grab lunch. I was partnered up with Mark and we had a good time walking around the docks taking pictures. Here are some of the pictures that I deemed worthy of sharing.

John relaxing with his tea

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Mark through stairs

Me being artistic

Mark being goofy

Bob and Terry in my frame

ground level

Bee in flight

Billy Fury

Self portrait

Mark and I ate lunch at a decent enough restaurant called Pan Am. I don’t recall being overly impressed with the food but the company was good. Mark and I then continued our journey around Albert Dock and the surrounding buildings (including a stop for ice cream) and then made our way back to the regrouping area. Here are some more photos from the excursion.

The Oh Face

Cleaning up the Pride

Under the Rainbow

Science and Tolerance

cloning Mark

handprints

The wheel

As a group we ventured back to the Camp & Furnace where Chris and John finished with a couple of more lessons. We all said our goodbyes and I helped to clean up a bit before I packed up and trekked to the train station. It had actually rained a bit while we were inside but I was lucky enough to not get rained on until right before I got to the station and then it was only a bit of a sprinkle.

I went to one of the little convenience stores and bought a couple of sodas and some snacks for my trip back and then I hopped on the next train for London. By this point I was pretty tired but I really tried to stay awake for the train ride. The English countryside is pretty nice and I enjoyed seeing it all and how it changed as we got closer to London. When I finally reached Euston Station I had to figure out how to navigate the London Underground (The Tube) in order to get me as close to my hotel as possible. It didn’t help that I was tired from all of the travel and a bunch of walking. But I figured it out as well as figuring out the Oyster Card system. It’s fantastic!

I made my way to the Green Park Station and then I proceeded to my hotel which took me a bit to find as I had no real sense of direction. But luckily with my trusty iPhone I was able to get in the general area and lucked into finding my hotel, The Park Lane. After I checked in I went directly up to my room and fell asleep. It was about 3pm. When I woke up around 6pm or so it was raining pretty hard outside so I decided to just relax in my room for a while.

And that concludes the Liverpool segment of my England trip. One last thing, Chris created a video for the Liverpool event which is here. Stay tuned for my continuing adventure in England as I set out to explore London.

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