Sunday, January 29, 2012

Two Tourists Tour London - the V&A and Science Museum

January 2012, and the countdown is on! Now that the new year is upon us, David and I are really feeling how quickly our time in London is coming to a close. I am finishing up the last couple of months of the maternity leave I am covering at my work placement. David is getting organised after completing his master's work, and catching up on some client work while tying up lose ends. Most importantly, we are in major planning mode for our trip in Europe which we will take during March and April! I am SO excited and can't wait to share our adventures on this blog.

We have already given notice on our apartment and will be moving out in the last weeks of February - it feels like we just got here! As we contemplate yet another move, I have pointed out that we really need to make the effort to see a few more sights here in London before we go. We've done pretty well on the tourist front since we've been here - the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, the National Portrait Gallery, Buckingham Palace, the Tate and Tate Modern, and more - but there's always more to take in in London!

So, this past weekend we made a point of heading to South Kensington - which is becoming one of my favourite areas of London - to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum ("V&A") and the Science Museum.

Before going to the museums we stopped in for a coffee and one of my now-favourite places, near South Ken tube, a cafe/coffee stop with very adorable nostalgic decor and delicious food. It has lunchy things like curries and soups, and nice coffees and cakes. I went there with my parents over my birthday weekend and blogged about it, and took David there on this day - but I haven't made a point of noting what it is called! I recommend it though if you find yourself at South Kensington tube - I'll try to figure out the name before I leave London. ;)

We walked along Thurloe Place to get to the V&A. This was my first time to go to this museum but David's second - he had gone with class.

The V&A collection consists of textiles, sculpture works, ceramics and garments. It is a wonderful display of craftsmanship from different eras. I really enjoyed the museum, particularly a display of hand-carved altar-pieces from various countries. There is also an amazing blown glass sculpture hanging over the main reception desk. David liked a display of a chapel that was transplanted and preserved in the museum, which was built in the style of Italian architect Brunelleschi - a style which he recognised immediately!

After that we enjoyed a visit to the nearby Science Museum, which boasts some pretty impressive items including the actual Apollo 10 command module (called "Charlie Brown"!) This thing had actually been to space and back, and you could see all the charring from when it had fallen back into the atmosphere. Amazing! We also saw a replica of both Sputnik and the lunar landing module, and a really neat installation about the atmosphere and global warming. Oh and also this really neat hands-on display about various building materials (this is carpet. this is linoleum. this is cork. feel them!)

It was fun to have a date day and a chance to be tourists amid the rhythms of "regular" life. I hope we'll be able to cram in a couple more things like this before we have to leave!

New Year's in Cawston

After a brief foray back into the real world post-Christmas, it was time to do some more relaxing. My parents spend a few days visiting my Uncle Terry and Auntie Lois in Cambridge, where Uncle Terry is doing a Sabbatical. I spent the time going in for one day of work, and feverishly working on two papers whose deadlines were looming. Not to mention digesting all that turkey and coffee cake.

Our friends Sue and Mark, returned from Canada, invited us to spend New Year's with them in their country home in Cawston, outside of Norwich in the Norfolk countryside. We took a bus up into to Norwich - hence the cathedral photo-op - and they picked us up along with my parents. After a quick look at the post-Christmas sales at John Lewis, we drove out to Cawston and saw their cottage for the first time.

Sue welcomed us with an unbelievable meal of roast chicken and chili green beans - she is a star cook! I also enjoyed my first-ever Christmas pudding (I say this with some shame, as my Aunt Jill has been sending us Christmas puddings made from scratch every year since I can remember, and I've never put myself out there and tried them. Well, this one was from Sainsburys, and was tasty.)

We spent a lovely couple of days relaxing, eating (more of that!) and catching up. There was of course a fair amount of singing. Sue's daughter Meghan was still in Canada, so we missed her, but David and I slept on an air mattress in her room (thanks for sharing, Meg!) My Dad had his guitar and worked away at Mark's greatest hits.

No Donaldson holiday weekend would be complete without descending on someone's church and inserting ourselves into the music programme. We put together a few songs to sing at the church Sue and Mark have been attending, St. Agnes Church of Cawston. Unfortunately (or amusingly), though they have a lovely and historic church building, they meet in the local school house during the winter because it's too costly to heat the church building. So, it was off to school we went. 

They have a very nice and articulate man who is the vicar there, and a willing and capable band of mixed adults and youth who seem to do a great job. We sang Canticle of the Turning, All Beautiful the March of Days and Kwake Jesu nasimama, with Ding Dong Merrily on High as a postlude. It was lovely to meet the members of the congregation.

After that, we wandered over to the actual church building to have a look at it.

They have a tooled chalice case from the 14th century among the belongings of the church. Incredible! It has the words Jhesus Naxarenus Rex Judeorum around the lid.

Detail of the rood screen.
Stadium seating, for the unwashed masses?
Interesting flint-stone outer wall.

After that, we were off on a drive to a nearby town where we had a delicious carvery lunch - roast pork AND roast beef, with wonderful yorkshire pudding, gravy, and perfectly roasted potatoes. Mm and apple crisp for dessert. Then we continued our drive to the coast to catch a glimpse of the sea.

The next day we enjoyed a great big breakfast and a quick walk before piling in the car to go back to London - and my parents to a hotel near the airport to fly back to Geneva. Christmas was wrapping up - but it was a wonderful celebration!

A shortcut to mushrooms.
Thank you, Mark and Sue, for your hospitality!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Norwich Cathedral

After a brief return to the real world in those nebulous days between Christmas and New Year's, David and I jumped on a bus to make the 3-hour trip to Norwich. Our final destination will be discussed in an upcoming post (ooh the suspense), but I asked if we could make a side trip so I could snap a few photos of Norwich Cathedral. This Norman-era building is made famous through its association with figures such as Julian of Norwich, nurse Edith Cavell, and St Fursey, an Irish monk credited with doing much to establish Christianity in England. As it happened, I was in the midst of writing an article which had bearing on Norwich Cathedral, in terms of the circumstances surrounding the commission of Fred Pratt Green's "It is God who holds the nations in the hollow of his hand." (Intrigued? You'll have to read the April-May edition of The Chorister to find out more!)

I couldn't resist the opportunity, since we were going to be just around the corner, to go see the cathedral and snap a few photos for my article. Oh baby, primary research at its finest. Luckily, my fellow-travelers were willing to humour me.

We happened to arrive right when the afternoon light was at its most golden (though I'm not sure my camera did this justice) and when the cathedral's bells were tolling.

Thanks for coming along, travel buddy!
The afternoon light was so beautiful
One of two striking figures on either side of the entrance.

Opposite the cathedral

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Nice Quiet Christmas in Dulwich

Christmas this year was another reminder for me of how we are blessed with such lovely and generous friends. You may remember that, when David and I first arrived in England, we stayed with our friends Sue and Mark at their house in Dulwich, south east London. Sue is a long-time friend of ours from Beaches church, and she and Mark got married one year before us! They have been living in London (along with Meghan, Sue's daughter, who is fourteen) for about two years now while Sue is on a work placement - Mark is a native Liverpudlian.

Their whole clan was headed back to Canada over Christmas, and so my clan - David, and my parents who came from Geneva to spend Christmas with us - descended on their now-empty house to enjoy Christmas together. Due to Sue and Mark's continuing hospitality towards us, I have taken to calling their house "The Canadian Embassy in Dulwich." I think Mark likes that.

After a very hectic month at work, I was so grateful to have a chance to slow things down and lay low, not to mention catch up with my family. David and I threw some clothes into our backpacks (mostly pyjama pants and sweatshirts for me!!), as well as a conglomeration of Christmas gifts and grocery items, and hopped on the train one stop to North Dulwich station.

My parents had arrived the day before and were making their classic spaghetti sauce recipe in the kitchen when we arrived. We started catching up on the news and toasted the arrival of Christmas. David and I hadn't even really had the chance to do a lot of our typical pre-Christmas gear-up; we had next to no decorations in our apartment and we hadn't watched any of our favourite Christmas specials. (Though I had sneaked in the Garfield one a few weeks back - I love that one! Who's with me?) We did know, however, that we'd get lots of nice Christmas singing in while we were together!

Sue and Mark had kindly decorated their house with festive Christmas festoonery for our enjoyment - even though there were going to be elsewhere! We had agreed with my family that it would be a low-key Christmas gift-wise - David and I are giving each other a trip around Europe in March and April, after all - but we put our humble offerings under the beautiful tree and agreed it was all coming together nicely. That evening after the spaghetti, we all curled up in the living room and watched the Muppet Family Christmas together. That's the one where Fozzie brings all the Muppets up to his Mom's farmhouse for Christmas, and everybody is falling on the icy patch, and the guy from Fraggle Rock is upset because he and his dog Sprocket were looking forward to "a nice quiet Christmas!" We all loved it - and Jim Henson's cameo at the end gets me every time.

We spent Christmas Eve day slowly getting ready for the next day's feasting. David and I went on a Christmas Eve shopping excursion to Sainsbury's, which we both thought would be holiday suicide, but was in fact not so hectic as we feared.  We both enjoyed the chance to stroll along Lordship Lane together, in the not-too chilly December air. We grabbed some little quick lunch things to munch on, as well as ingredients for the ubiquitous Chocolate-chip-banana-sour-cream-coffee cake (not to mention ingredients for a non-dairy non-chocolate non-banana alternative, a new addition this year!) Also brussels sprouts - YUM.

We got dressed up for Christmas Eve night, and walked over to the Parish Church of St Barnabus for their creche service. This was the kind of low-impact Christmas Eve service I can imagine parents and clergy alike really love, where the kids just show up in whatever costume and as the service works its way through the Christmas story, the vicar says "Yes, and then the shepherds arrived, do we have any shepherd or sheep? Yes, you look like a shepherd, come up here now." Then we would sing "Away in a Manger." It was very sweet, and it was over in 35 minutes!  Ha ha. The music minister had a great ensemble put together - not sure if it was a crack team for that night or if they always play in worship - of school-aged young people and some older youth and parents. They sounded good! They had us until they played "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" as a postlude. Herrm. BUT, David got a second chance to sing "Once in Royal David's City," and I got to sing the descant on "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" (BCC Christmas concerts, anybody??), so everybody went home happy.

When we got home, we had a very nice roast pork joint with thyme, pre-stuffed by the good folks at Sainsburys, that we ate with roast vegetables and salad. Since we were in a new home environment for this year's celebrations, we discussed what the Christmas morning protocol would be for when people woke up at different times. Growing up at 14 Hambly, what we always did was, as we were waking up and getting ready to go downstairs (and our rooms surrounded the main landing on the second floor), each person would take their turn brushing their teeth in the washroom, and then sit on successive steps at the top of the wooden stairs, waiting to all go down. You weren't allowed to peek down into the living room before everyone was ready, but (you know how our stairs have that curve in them just before the top) I would sit riiiight at the closest step to the curve, as close as possible to the Christmas morning magic without actually breaking the rules. Then Dad would probably be next and sit down behind me, then Mom (she was always so slow!!) and then we'd all go.

So we determined that we'd all meet on the landing on the second floor (no pleasing curve in these stairs, but what can you do) unless there was some pressing need, like the preparation of coffee, for people to go down ahead.

Well, on Christmas morning that plan pretty much went out the window, and I went downstairs to find Dad and David chatting and having coffee in the kitchen. Which was fine with me because I wanted coffee. Then I got in trouble for wanting to perform a quick "Santa" mission over by the tree, and David made me let Dad to it for me. Then Mom came downstairs and we all got in trouble for breaking the Christmas morning rule. We were just getting along great on Christmas morning!

We spent a nice slow time opening our little presents. David gave me a Feist album and two awesome book finds he scored, to do with Benjamin Britten. My Mom gave me a great purse that she found for me in Geneva, and Santa had gone all the way to Switzerland to get me some chocolate! We gave Dad this great Tintin poster for his office from The Tintin Shop in Covent Garden - Anthousa went on a mission with me to get it while they were here! (And yes you read that right, there's an honest-to-goodness Tintin store.)

I gave David the new Steve Jobs biography, which he is now plowing through. Oof - it's heavy!

Later on it was time to start making the Christmas feast! I spent part of the day chopping cabbage, in between The Muppet Christmas Carol on TV (the Muppets play a large part of my Christmas rituals, okay?) and  spurts of the behind-the-scenes featurettes from The Lord of the Rings on my Dad's laptop. You may know that the Wyatt/Donaldson family recipe of cabbage salad is a key part of our Christmas spread - but the dang thing takes forever to make! And, a key aspect of the flavouring of the salad is to spend most of the time you're making it talking about how Grandma Wyatt always chopped the cabbage way finer than you ever could. This is how you get that special Christmas flavour in there.  Also dill.

As the bird got brown in the oven, we tuned in to the CBC via David's laptop, which was broadcasting the CBC Christmas Sing-In, recorded earlier in the month at St. Andrew and St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in downtown Montreal, where I attended and sang in the choir for a year. And worked door security - don't mess with me. They do a wonderful programme every year and the choir sounded fabulous. They broadcast it in Canada at noon, so the timing was perfect to accompany our Christmas dinner preparations. We sang along in harmony.

Boiling potatoes while the bird rests. Yummm...
Cabbage salad all ready to go - too bad it's not as fine as Hazel used to do it...
That's a fine looking bird!
Dad did the carving honours.
Mom making her wonderful gravy!
God bless us, every one!
How lucky were we to be together in Europe over Christmas! We also got the chance to Skype throughout the day with people we love who we couldn't be together with - notably David's parents. Happily, they were together with parts of the Eberlin family for their own Christmas celebrations, and they had enjoyed their Christmas (and birthday) gifts from us.

Merry Christmas!