Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring is here

I took this photo today. The azaleas are starting to bloom in the front yard. These plants have bunches of very small blossoms -- each flower is about an inch across.

Spring flowers, March 27, 2010, Pensacola, Florida
Click on image to enlarge

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

London Links for Visitors

Union flagFirst, a few words about where we stayed in London this time.
For many years and many holiday trips to London, Nick Price and his son Warren, of Price Aparments, have helped us find self-catering apartments in wonderful parts of London. This time they suggested 202 Apartments, 202 Kensington Church Street at Notting Hill Gate, and put us touch with the manager there, Susie Fraser.

The studio apartment was comfortable and was nice and warm during some chilly weather. There was a well-equipped kitchen, a large bathroom, lots of closet space, two beds, a dining table, chairs, a great TV and a patio. The double glazed windows in the sleeping area kept out all the street noise. Heavy draperies kept out the morning light. Susie couldn't have been more helpful. And the location was fabulous.

Second, a page of London links
Click here to see a page of London links we put together before the trip -- theatre guides, restaurants, London information and much more. You might find some of these helpful when you visit London. In no way is this a complete list of things to see and do in London. It reflects only our interests and contains some of the links we wanted to have handy while we were there.

Monday, March 15, 2010

London Trip March 2010 -- Day 12, Fly home

Union flagThe flights home were smooth and on time. We were exhausted. Too much to carry. In Dallas we had to rest and get wheeled around. At last we found all the luggage, and the hotel at the New Orleans' airport and the car. All was fine. We were home by mid-afternoon on Tuesday.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

London Trip March 2010 -- Day 11

Union flagIt's time to go home. We packed up this afternoon and headed for Heathrow to spend the night at an airport hotel. We have an early flight Monday morning and we would have to get up around 4:30 AM if we stayed in town. This way we have no wories in the morning about traffic congestion and late trains. And we get to sleep a couple hours longer.

We saw six shows while we were here and liked them all.

Some of the shows we saw in London
(Click on the image to enlarge it)

We also saw and enjoyed Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi at the Union Theatre, but you don't get a ticket stub. Their tickets are little laminated plastic cards that they recycle.

The hotel at Heathrow was comfortable and quiet and there was a McDonald's next door.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

London Trip March 2010 -- Day 10

Union flagWe enjoyed the short train trip to Kingston upon Thames via Wimbledon. The city's official name is The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. Kingston is where the Saxon kings were crowned and one of its historic attractions is the Coronation Stone.

Kingston is a charming city with lots of historic sites along with plenty of shops and restaurants. You can sit and watch the Thames as it flows behind the theatre but it is tiny compared to the width of the river in London proper. Because the river narrows here it was, until 1729, the first place a bridge could cross the Thames upstream of the London Bridge. There is still a bridge on that site. The day was chilly and gray but Kingston must be lovely on a warm summer afternoon.

We had lunch at a Gourmet Burger Kitchen half a block from the Rose Theatre where we were about to see Judi Dench as Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Program book cover
Dame Judi Dench at the Rose Theatre

Titania with Bottom

Think it's worth a transatlantic trip to see Dame Judi Dench, live and in person, and speaking Shakespeare's verse? I'd say yes.

Last fall, I read on one of the London theatre blogs that Dame Judi would be playing Titania in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Rose Theatre in Kingston on Thames, suburban London. Lo and behold, that meshed perfectly with the trip we were planning. After some emails to the most-friendly Rose box office, we found that tickets would go on sale to the public (they have a big subscription base) on line on a Monday morning -- middle of the night Pensacola time. We did what was required and ordered the tickets. Less than a week later, we had them in hand.

Titania is, of course, not the largest role in the "Dream." But Dame Judi makes you think it is. We had seen her before live in contemporary drama but never in Shakespeare. What a privilege. She speaks the verse like no other actor I have ever seen. Unforgettable.

She and her director, Sir Peter Hall, agreed to this limited engagement at the two-year old Rose in Kingston to help the theatre survive -- bless them. It was a sell-out engagement and, according to our London friends, the hottest ticket in town.

A memorable theatrical finale to our trip. We won't soon forget any part of our afternoon in Kingston.

Top: Sir Peter Hall, Dame Judi Dench
Bottom: Rose Theatre Kingston

Friday, March 12, 2010

London Trip March 2010 -- Day 9

Union flagWe had a quiet day of reading and relaxing. Early in the evening David picked us up and drove over the river to the Union Theatre where we were to see Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi. At the tiny theatre we met his friend Chris who had already seen the show and, a good sign, wanted to see it again.

Poster Art: Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi
Direct from Liverpool -- Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi

The show was a big hit in Liverpool when that city was European Capital of Culture in 2008. It came to London in 2010 to a much smaller venue, staged by its original director.

Photo from Time Out The book is slight, but charming enough. The action deals with a grand old Liverpool hotel, The Adelphi, in the glamorous 1930's and today.

There are many snappy character roles and lots of songs, most of which are quite good. The songs are sung and danced beautifully. The Union Theatre is very small and the surprisingly big production numbers have those of us sitting in the front row ready to duck during some of the full-out choreography. It's intimate musical theatre, sometimes in your face -- some times (almost) in your lap.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

London Trip March 2010 -- Day 8

Union flagIt was very cold today and we are both coughing and sneezing. A bit of luck with the weather though, so far there has been no rain to speak of. A light shower now and then but only for a few minutes. None of those English all-day rainy days.

Cote Restaurant, Kensington CourtLunch was at Côte at Kensington Court. About a mile away from the flat. We had a good time there. The whole experience was nice -- the food, the atmosphere and the service.

At about 6:00 we took the tube to St. Pancras. David drove over from Fife Terrace and picked us up. Shortly after we got to his house our friend Hugh arrived. And we all had a wonderful visit.

David cooked a tasty meal and I don't know he does it. He got back from Bali yesterday (after 20-something hours of flying time) and he went in to his office and worked today. Then he shopped for groceries and cooked dinner for us. Possibly the jet lag hadn't quite hit him yet!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

London Trip March 2010 -- Day 7

Union flagDavid called us today. He's back home from Bali and the celebration of Martin's 70th birthday over there. Martin returns to London later in the month.

Old Swan Pub
Old Swan Pub, Kensington Church Street

We had a pub lunch in the Old Swan. It's downstairs from our flat. We both had fish and chips, very nicely done. Then it was a quiet afternoon of reading and napping. Sandwiches in the room pre-theatre. At 6:30 we headed to the New London Theatre by tube to see War Horse.

Critically acclaimed when it premiered at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre in 2008, War Horse was then brought back for a second season. In 2009, it transferred to the New London Theatre in Drury Lane (longtime home of Cats) where it continues to attract sell-out business.

From War Horse at the New London Theatre
Scene from War Horse at the New London Theatre

The play tells the story of a boy and his horse during World War I. But it's much more than that. The full-sized horses are created with astonishing puppetry. After ten minutes or so, you forget they aren't real. The amazing figures were created by the South Africa-based Handspring Puppet Company.

It is quite a wonderful evening. New York City will see it in early 2011 at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre. Stephen Spielberg recently acquired the rights for a motion picture version.

Yet another home run for the National, the English-speaking world's premier theatrical company.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

London Trip March 2010 -- Day 6

Union flagWe had breakfast in the room -- coffee, croisants, scrambled eggs with ham. I took the dirty clothes to a laundry up the street to pick up later today or in the morning tomorrow. Then we went to town to get more theatre tickets at Leicester Square.

Her Majesty's Theatre, London, Home to Phantom of the OperaWith the help of our apartment manager, Susie, we found that one bus could take us from Notting Hill Gate to the north side of Her Majesty's Theatre, just off Haymarket. This was a much easier trip than the tube and there were no route changes on the way. When we got there we walked to the tkts booth and got tickets for Phantom of the Opera for today's matinee, at Her Majesty's Theatre, and tickets to War Horse for tomorrow evening.

We had lunch just off Leicester Square at West End Kitchen. Lunch there was ok but I wished I had ordered the Chicken Kiev.

Phantom's New Yamaha Sound Board

Phantom opened 24 years ago on October 9th 1986. We had seen it before but figured that any show that can last 24 years was worth a revisit. The new sound system is wonderful and the whole production looked fresh and new. We had a good time.

Bus back to the apartment. Dinner was Subway sandwiches and soup from EAT. -- both shops near the apartment on Notting Hill Gate.

Monday, March 08, 2010

London Trip March 2010 -- Day 5

Union flagToday is a day off! No theatres, no freezing walks, no tube stations with the required climbing of endless stairs, no buses and no expensive, hard to get in and out of, taxis. We are on holiday.

We are both sore from all the stair climbing in theatres and the tube and lame from the cold. Today started at 28 degrees F (-2C) and the high temperature was 43 degrees (6C). This is a day to be lazy. To read, watch British TV and nap.

Logo: Pret a MangerBreakfast was late with coffee and croisants in the flat. Lunch was sandwiches from the local Pret a Manger just half a block away. There was no other reason to leave the flat until dinner time.

Dinner was at Black & Blue, located across the street from the flat. The meal at Black & Blue was wonderful and we hoped to return there at least one more time.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

London Trip March 2010 -- Day 4

Union flagWe had another long sleep and in the morning lots of fresh hot coffee in the apartment.

Mid-morning I ventured out and got supplies at Marks and Spencer's Simply Food. Back at the flat we had a hot breakfast of scrambled eggs, ham, crisp bacon and croisants. M&S were out of black pepper so I stopped at Le Pain Quotidien and bought a pepper mill full of Malabar peppercorns. It's now a souvenir of the London trip.

One of the best features of a self-catering apartment is being able to cook up a nice breakfast at home and not have to sit in a restaurant first thing in the day.

Sign: Jersey Boys, London
Jersey Boys marquee

Prince Edward TheatreAt 3:00 we were at the Prince Edward Theatre to see Jersey Boys. I had read it was not just another "jukebox musical." And it was true, it was more like a documentary. There was a strong book with an unflinching look at the grittier side of the Four Seasons' off-stage troubles.

The performances were excellent. The music and sound design were wonderful as were the sets and lights. The players were from all over the UK but each of them had perfect New Jersey accents. The leads --Ryan Molloy as Frankie Valli and Stephen Ashfield as Bob Gaudio -- were excellent and sounded like they grew up in Newark.

Who knew rock 'n' roll could be so theatrical?

Red Onion RestaurantAfter the theatre we met our friends Sian and Keith at their home in Hammersmith. They took us to eat at a wonderful Indian restaurant, the Red Onion and we had a great time catching up.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

London Trip March 2010 -- Day 3

Union flagThe flat is very comfortable and warm. Again we slept for twelve hours and woke to a cold gray day. Several cups of New Orleans Cajun coffee (which we brought with us) helped a lot. It wasn't raining but there was a damp icy wind that didn't let up.

Le Pain Quotidien BakeryWe had breakfast at a nearby cafe/bakery on Notting Hill Gate, Le Pain Quotidien. It's a Belgian chain and it looked good when I walked past it yesterday. Wonderful bread and atmosphere.

After breakfast we took the tube to Leicester Square to see what we could find at tkts, the discount ticket booth. Getting to the tube is a problem for me, and Jack too, because there's no down escalator at the Notting Hill Gate station. At least there's an up escalator there.

Get discounted tickets to West End shows at tkts
tkts, Leister Square

Jack got us tickets for Billy Elliot today and for Jersey Boys tomorrow. We were getting cold sitting in Leicester Square so we took a cab to the Victoria Palace Theatre where Billy Elliot is playing. It was chilly there too and we had more than an hour before the theatre opened so we went to the neighboring Garfunkel's for coffee and hot chocolate, and some apple pie. Lucky for us the place was packed and service was very slow so we easily killed all the time we needed to and stayed warm. The show was a treat. We loved Billy Elliot.

The pre-opening poster for Billy Elliott in London.
Pre-opening Billy Elliot poster

As it approaches its fifth birthday at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London, Billy Elliot is looking good. Maybe it's not the best British musical ever (as some have said). Still, it's a potent piece of musical theatre with a rousing score by Elton John and Lee Hall (who also wrote the book and the film on which the show is based).

We saw a fine Billy named Ollie Gardner. But from what I've heard, each and every Billy (four boys rotate) is outstanding. West End star Joanna Riding is splendid as Billy's dance teacher and the entire cast does the show proud. We left the Victoria Palace that Saturday afternoon with big smiles. Thanks, Billy.

The Victoria Palace Theatre

Friday, March 05, 2010

London Trip March 2010 -- Day 2, Landing

Union flagWe landed in London on time, around 7:30 AM, Friday. Then we walked miles to get the bags and go through customs. Along the way we found a great porter and he took us all the way from baggage claim to the Heathrow Express train. The website says it is easy to connect with the train from all the airline terminals. This is not so. Without that porter we would still be wandering around Heathrow. Limping.

Once we were aboard the Heathrow Express we were at Paddington Station in twenty minutes. Next we were in a taxi for the two-mile ride to the apartment at 202 Kensington Church Street.

The apartment is small but well equipped, and the location is wonderful. It's half a block from the Notting Hill Gate tube station (Central, Circle and District Lines) and even closer to major bus stops. When we got to the apartment Susie the manager gave us some tea bags and milk to get us started. After we unpacked I explored the neighborhood a bit and found a Tesco Metro grocery store nearby. It's a small but well stocked grocery with lots of staples and prepared foods. I got bread, soup, deli meats, mayo and mustard. Between naps we had sandwiches and hot soup.

The neighborhood also has loads of restaurants, fast food places, coffee shops and sandwich shops.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

London Trip March 2010 -- Day 1, Takeoff

Union flagThe day before our flight to London we took the cats to the pet hotel and drove from Pensacola to New Orleans to spend the night near the airport.

As usual on any visit to New Orleans the question of where to eat came up and it's always a difficult one to answer. So many of the city's restaurants are among the best in the country.

Sign: Crescent City Steak HouseOne of our favorites, Crescent City Steaks, was easy to reach on the way to our airport hotel so we ate there. The level of decor and ambiance were as plain as ever and the steaks were perfect. As were the au gratin potatoes. The Vojkovich family has owned the restaurant since it opened in 1934.

Thursday morning we had plenty of time to get to the airport by 11 AM for a 1 PM flight. It's good for me to be there early. The security screening takes a little longer these days with my new knee.

American Airlines seat controlsFrom New Orleans we went to Miami, an hour and 45 minute flight. Then on to London Heathrow Airport 8 hours and 40 minutes flying time.

The trans Atlantic flight was smooth and our biggest problem was figuring out the controls on American Airlines' power seats in business class. Everything in the photo that's light blue is a power button -- there are 15 of them. So there are a lot of possibilities for different seat positions. And lots of places to lose your personal items.