Sunday, July 15, 2012

London - May

The Tower Bridge as seen from the Tower of London
May is the month of holidays for Holland.  We start the month with Queen's Day.  In the middle we celebrate Ascension Day.  And at the end we get two days off for Pentecost.  It's a great month.  Unfortunately, we don't have another holiday until Christmas.  None.  Now you know why the Dutch get 4 weeks vacation beginning their first day of work -- that's how they survive from June until December.

We took advantage of the long Pentecost weekend to fly to London.  There is commuter jet service from Amsterdam to London City Airport, which is located very close to downtown.  With the time change we left Amsterdam at 8:00 am and arrived at London City at 8:00 am.  We took a short train, then the tube and were at our hotel by 9:15, just in time for breakfast.

The primary objective of the trip was theater.  We saw three shows, with each of us picking one.  Grant chose Phantom of the Opera, I chose Billy Elliot and Lori's choice was Rock of Ages.  All three were great.

We also managed to fit in some culture.  Our hotel was next door to the British Museum, where you can (and we have) spend most of a day.  Since we'd been before, we took the one-hour highlights tour.  After doing that tour, I'd call it a best practice.  You see all the things you've heard about, Rosetta Stone, Egyptian mummies, etc. but the pace is not so grueling.
Chess pieces from the 1100's that were found in Scotland in the 1830's.  They are made of walrus ivory and whale tooth. 
The Royal Game of Ur.  Maybe not as popular as Monopoly, but still interesting.  It is from  what is now Iraq and was played in 2500 BC.  

We use this picture to threaten Goldie and Tai Tai
Kind of a scary looking cat
We also took a repeat visit to the Tower of London, where the crowds were too big to see the Crown Jewels.  But we did manage to find a fantastic hamburger place afterwards.  Our new stop for the visit was the Imperial War Museum, across the Thames.  It gave the WWII history from the British perspective which was interesting.  As point of interest, the museum is housed in a building that was formerly the Bethlehem Hospital for the Insane, better known as Bedlam.

Part of the Tower of London
A raven from the tower.
The Imperial War Museum
Formerly known as Bedlam
We had hoped to go to Windsor Castle, but that was the weekend the Queen hosted all the other monarchs of the world for tea.  This was in preparation for her upcoming Diamond Jubilee to celebrate her 60 years on the throne.

Buckingham Palace

Lori and Grant in front of Buckingham Palace.  They were building the stage for the Queen's Jubilee.  
In addition to all the world's royalty, London seemed to be popular place for commoners as well.  At Phantom, we saw a former Exxon colleague that now lives in France.  He and his family were also traveling on the long weekend. And at the Tower of London we saw one of Grant's classmates and his family.

For the true British experience we had tea at our hotel.  The timers monitor how long to steep your tea.  The different sands represent black tea, green tea and flavored tea.

Grant found a donut stand.

St. Pauls Cathedral sits at the highest point in London.  It normally cost around 15 pounds to visit, but we "accidentally" discovered that if you go during services it is free.  

Kate's boyfriend, Doug, had recommended a visit to Borough Market, an outdoor food market described by the guide book as a "foodie's paradise".  It was a great recommendation.  

Trip to the US

Grant and I went to the US in June to see Kate in New Jersey and my family in Illinois.  My brothers and sisters were nice enough to come home as well, so it was almost a full-scale reunion.  Luckily we were there before the hot weather.  In May a strong wind had damaged several buildings on the family farm.  No one was around at the time or hurt.  Most, if not all, will be torn down producing a pretty significant change to the landscape of the farm.

We played a lot of pool and darts in the basement.  

This is what the outside looks like. 

And this is the inside.  

My niece, Margaret, in front of a huge John Deere tractor owned by the folks that farm our land.  

Those are 2x4's that speared the roof.  

We made ice cream.  Grant was thrilled about turning the crank.  

Grant spent a lot of time climbing trees. 

Some undated concrete signatures from my parents

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Springtime - Middle School Musical and Graduations

Grant and his friend David.   Grant played the son with a teenage attitude towards his father.  

Grant had one of the leads in this year's Middle School Musical, The Lamp of Undredal.  You may not have heard of the musical, probably because it was written by the school's drama teacher.  And the music was written by one of the music teachers.  We didn't know what to expect from a "homemade" production, but it turned out very well.  Grant was involved in several on-stage skirmishes so he seemed to spend more time on the floor than standing.  His class has quite a few talented performers; they will be missed in the middle school productions next year.  

Spring brought two graduations this year.  Grant graduated from 8th grade and like most international schools, ASH held a ceremony to mark the event.  He moves to high school next year, which is in the same building complex but a different location.  

The graduate and his father

No he wasn't sprinting across the stage.  The auditorium was dark and my photography skills weren't up to the task.  

Our goddaughter, Caroline Sechler, graduated from the International High School in Antwerp.  She'll attend the University of Missouri next year.  

Caroline received the PTO Award despite neither of her parents being active members. 

Each graduate had to stand on stage while the MC read a short bio.  

It's official.  Why does the principal look so happy to see Caroline go? 

Caroline with her parents

Caroline with her godparents (or more appropriately "in the shadow of her godparents").. You'll notice that I have on my official graduation sport coat and shirt. 

Lori and Caroline riding an elephant in Thailand several years ago.  He's hard to see but there's a guide behind Lori -- they don't let you ride the animals by yourself.  

Italy - The Vatican

At St. Peters Square

After a lengthy absence from blogging, we return to our ventures in Italy.  Following our three days in Tuscany we took the train south to Rome, where our cab ride from the train station to the hotel gave us an exhilarating introduction to the city.  While I've included photo's of our train journey, there are no photo's of the cab ride.  That's because we were all hanging on for dear life.  The driver was doing 80-90 kmh down busy city streets.  Most of the time we were in the correct lane, but that law was not consistently obeyed.  It was quite an adventure.

The central Italian countryside seen from the train.  

The nice thing about Rome is that the center of the city is compact so that you can walk everywhere (thereby avoiding additional cab rides).  Our hotel was in the Campo de Fiori district.  It was a sunny beautiful day on our arrival so we spent some time on the rooftop terrace.

The view of Monument d' Vittario Emanuele II from the hotel terrace.  

Another view from the terrace.  
The next morning it was up bright and early for a tour of the Vatican.  Total population of this city-state is less than 1000 people.  Wealth per capita is probably close to infinity.  Visitors per capita is probably close to that value as well.  We were there after Easter and there were lots of people. I can not imagine what it must be like in the summer.  We hired a guide for several reasons.  First, you can bypass the tremendous lines to enter the Vatican museums and Sistene Chapel.  Second, guides usually set a nice pace when going through museums, providing a compromise between Grant's sprint from entrance to exit and his parents "read every placard" pace.
Those waiting in line for the museum were never far from refreshments. 

Our visit began by touring the Vatican Museums.  We probably spent 90 minutes going through part of the museums, but there was at least that much that we didn't see.  From there it was on to the Sistine Chapel.  This building was designed to match the proportions of Solomon's Temple and is the home of papal conclaves.

A hall in the museum

Ornate ceilings

The hall of tapestries was amazing

The ceiling in the hall of tapestries
In the early 1500's a crack developed in the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel.  After some patching methods failed to work, the pope summoned Michelangelo to cover it with a fresco, 135' x 45'.  Per the guide, Michelangelo was a sculptor first and considered painting for sissies.  However, the pope strong armed him into painting the chapel ceiling, an effort that took four years and was accomplished by laying on his back on a scaffold he designed himself.  The nine panels tell the story of Genesis, beginning with the creation story, moving to Adam and Eve and finishing with Noah.   The frescos were restored in the 80's.  Several small areas were not touched -- the difference between restored and unrestored is remarkable.  The untouched frescos are very dark and grimy.  Since the restoration, photography is not allowed in the Chapel so my photos are courtesy of the internet.

Part of the Sistene Chapel ceiling, with the center panel showing Adam receiving life from God.  

The Last Judgement Altar

The Sistene Chapel without people in it.  

St. Peter's Basilica is the largest Christian church in the world.  The original structure was built over the supposed tomb of St. Peter in 319 AD.  It lasted over a thousand years before essentially collapsing.  The pope commissioned the new St. Peters in 1506, but it wasn't completed until 1626.  Sounds like one of my construction projects.

The dome of St. Peters Basilica

Lines to get into St. Peters

St. Peters Square can hold 400,000 people.  

Inside St. Peters Basilica

Michelangelo's Pieta' -- Mary holding her son, Jesus, after his death -- was done when the artist was 24 years old 

There are several preserved popes on display in St. Peters. 

Michelangelo was also an architect.  He designed the dome of St. Peters.  

The Swiss Guard

We had a late lunch at an outdoor cafe

Lori ordered a fried artichoke

On the walk back to the hotel we stopped at the Pantheon.  It's over 2000 years old and remains the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.  

The entrance to the Pantheon

A common Roman site...a pigeon on top of a statue

Castel Sant' Angelo, originally built as a tomb for Hadrian in 135 A.D.  It is linked to the Vatican by a  passageway which is used in Dan Brown's Angels and Demons

Everywhere there are squares, fountains and, on sunny days, people.