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Heading to London


Darren H
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Nineteen years ago, my parents took my sister and me on one of those all-inclusive, see-London-and-Paris-in-a-week trips. Other than that, I've never been to Europe. Joanna and I have decided to celebrate our up-coming 10th anniversary by spending two weeks in London. She spent a summer there when we were undergrads and knows the city pretty well, but I'm looking for other suggestions.

We'll be there from April 14-26. For the first eight nights we'll be staying in a hotel in Bloomsbury, directly across the street from the British Museum. For the rest of the trip, we'll be in Maida Vale, three or four miles northwest of the center of London (but still close to a Tube stop).

I live in the wilds of East Tennessee and, so, like to vacation in great cities, places where I can suck up all of the culture that my region lacks. I'm especially interested in ideas for:

- Day trips. We've done most of touristy stuff already, so, like, I don't need to see Stonehenge again. Where else should we visit, though, and what is the best way to get there?

- Films. Where are the repertory theaters or museums where I can see hard-to-find films?

- Websites. What are the good sites for finding reliable information about theater, food, live music, entertainment, etc.?

- Shopping. What are the must-browse book and music stores?

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We ventured to London twice within a year, so I have a strong memory of our most memorable excursions:

For daytrips, go to Liverpool (by train) and take a Beatles tour (do the personalized one). You'll never forget it. Also there: the Liverpool aquarium and a burdgeoning arts scene.

Go to Bath; enjoy the ancient villa and shops (we went by bus).

Go to Oxford; and take the C.S.Lewis tour (ran by a cabbie who was good friends of Doug Gresham as a child). England doesn't seem to think much of C.S.Lewis, there are no plaques, no landmarks, he's simply much bigger in the US. But you can go to the major places in his life in Oxford, including where he first met Joy Gresham, his home, and his church (you can kneel in his pew, and admire the simple Narnia stained glass window). **Book this online in advance; it's not a well-known tour once you get there, and many people stopped the cabbie while he was giving his schpiel as to when they could take it, and he had to decline them).

Stratford-on-Avon: anything you want to know about Shakespeare.

In England, my wife and I enjoyed most:

1) the walking tours (there are two re: the Beatles).

2) Madame Toussaud's--goofy fun

3) Buckingham Palace

4) The reconstructed Globe theater (and the cute walkway to get there)

5) Westminster Abbey

6) West End Theater shows; we caught "We Will Rock You" and "Saturday Night Fever".

Biggest let-downs:

Notting Hill (it's one long ugly flea market)

Kensington Park (when we went, it was dried up from a drought)

St. Paul's Cathedral (it was under construction then)

Missing _The Triplets of Belleville_ three months before it came to the US.

Picadilly Circus: The Virgin Megastores and Tower Records were lame compared to the ones in NY's Times Square, with tons of smut besides.

Discovering that _Delirious_ and _Matt Redman_, or any of the major players of the British worship scene, were not particularly well-known up there; you have to hunt down for Christian bookstores.

Peace!

Nick

Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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If you're a fan of C.S. Lewis, go to Oxford and take the C.S. Lewis tour, which is a one-man operation from a cabbie who was great friends with Doug Gresham as kids. You won't find it advertised well there--best to book it on the Internet weeks in advance. If you go to Oxford with the intention of seeing the CS Lewis landmarks without this tour guide, you will be hopelessly lost, as there are no plaques of CS Lewis anywhere there.

If you're a fan of The Beatles, head to Liverpool and take one of the Beatles' tours. The less well-known, the better. Wifey and myself were treated to a personal tour of all the major landmarks of The Beatles' early existence. Liverpool has become very trendy, btw, thanks to the tourism industry. They also boast a fine aquarium, boat rides, and the ugliest Catholic cathedral next to LA's.

Also, do a walking tour with Richard Porter. He has two. We did them both, on separate trips.

We particularly enjoyed Madame Tussaud's, the rebuilt Globe theater, Stratford-on-Avon (more Shakespeare), Bath, quoting Spinal Tap while at Stonehenge ("nobody knows who they were... or, what they were doin'"), Harrod's, Westminster Abbey, and West End shows (we liked "We Will Rock You" starring former CCM'er Tony Vincent).

We were disappointed in the lack of Soul Survivor/Matt Redman/Delirious events in the area. Sheesh, with all the publicity they get in the US, you'd think they'd be household names there. It was hard enough finding a Christian bookstore with their stuff. Also, Piccadilly Circus was also disappointing, filled with smut and two major record stores (Tower and Virgin) that are nowhere near as good as the ones in Manhattan.

Enjoy your trip!

Nick

Ack! I wrote the first message, and I thought it was lost forever. So I rewrote a second draft just now. And both drafts are up. Deep apologies.

Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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Holy crap! I just discovered that I'll have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Jacque Rivette's Out 1. What do you think my chances are of getting away with this: "Hi, Joanna. Yeah, I know this trip is to celebrate our anniversary and all, but would you mind if I spend the next two days in a movie theater? . . . Yeah, the movie is twelve-and-a-half hours long. . . . Yeah, I'm serious. . . ."

Thanks for the advice, guys. A trip to Oxford sounds great.

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nardis, I'm with you. Completely. This whole trip is spontaneous and last-minute, which is probably for the best because I'm a bit anal retentive about planning. Instead, I'm really looking forward to just exploring the city. That's one reason we decided to spend the whole time in London. I wanted to be there long enough so that we'd get over the rush of excitement and just experience a bit of the life there. I'm actually hoping to be bored from time to time.

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First things first: buy a pocket A-Z. Not just any A-Z mind you, one of these. You can buy it in any magazine/book shop. They do mini pocket sized ones and are indispensable. Tubes are easy but the minute you step beyond their sphere, you will absolutely get lost. Get weekly passes, or get on buses (far more affordable).

The natural history museum & the British museum are a must. I would warn you, though, the British museum is enormous and you shouldn't bother trying to see it all as it is exhausting and there is no way you can absorb that much information anyway. Personally, I absolutely love the Mesopotamia displays (although these were being 'touched up' when I last went). They also have a great room at the back of the building dedicated to Islamic art. Check out current exhibitions and events before you visit as they have some fantastic talks on sometimes.

The natural history museum is a great building full of fascinating stuff like dinosaurs & a life size model of a whale and the recently opened Darwin centre which has millions upon millions of specimens in jars.

If you're going to the British Museum, you might as well go by St Pancras Train Station. Closed for refurbishment but by far one of the most stunning gothic structures in London. Besides it's next to Kings Cross and you can get anywhere from there. You're also within walking distance of St Pauls.

I always love the Greenwich Museum. If you're after something a bit quieter and need a break from the hubub of the city, head over there on a river boat trip (if you show your underground pass you can get a discount). And come on - any grown up kid wants to stand over a line with one foot in each half of the world!

Check out Londontown.com for music/theatre/art (and so on) listings. There will be plenty of smaller scale & affordable plays that will probably be more interesting than those in the West End. Similarly, check out the screen on the green & other smaller independent cinemas for affordable (cinema tickets are often around the

"There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic" - Vladimir Nabokov

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Ooh! Ooh! I've just remembered - the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit will still be on at the Natural History Museum until 23rd April. It's absolutely fantastic and definitely worth the entrance fee (the rest of the museum, like all museums in London, is free).

Edited by gigi

"There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic" - Vladimir Nabokov

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We were disappointed in the lack of Soul Survivor/Matt Redman/Delirious events in the area. Sheesh, with all the publicity they get in the US, you'd think they'd be household names there. It was hard enough finding a Christian bookstore with their stuff.
Hey we made those guys! Seriously though, the problem isn't that they are small over here, just that Christianity is small over here. Most Christians under 40-50 will have heard of them, probably worshipped with them ttoo at some stage, but it's just a small community.

There are a few places I'd add to the above.

1 - Buckingham Palace. Not sure if it's still open on occasion, but even just going is worth doing.

2 - York. I've never seen the attraction with Bath, but York is great, good city walls, the Shambles, Jorvik Viking museum.

3 - Yorkshire Dales. Nothing like Tennesse I would imagine

(both those last places are probably an overnighter now I think of it though. Travel up one day and do Yok, stay somewhere over night and then head out to somewhere in the Dales - Burnsall is good)

4 - Tate Modern. Someone suggested it, but hadn't been. I have been and would definitely recommend it. I'd add don't try and take it all in. When I go I just spend a while with the few pieces that really interest me and walk past most of the rest. Only don't go if you hate art (in which case what are doing here?)

5 - Millennium Eye. NOt done it, and it's a bit pricey, but they say the views are fantastic

6 - Nottingham. An early start on the train - but there's some gtood Robin Hood stuff, and if you know another city with caves in the centre then you know more than me.

I'd also second the suggestions of Oxford and Cambridge. They are quite similar though, if you've not much experience with that type of city. My brother has lived in both.

Also the Museum's in London are good. AS well as the British, there are also the Science and the Natural History museum's which are next to each other, and the Victoria and Albert which was too boring to go to as kids, but might be good now.

My tip for the British museum, is to go having read up on stuff. If you don't have an appropriate book, such as one on OT arificats, then go into the museum on day 1 and just buy one of the quality guides to what's there, and then walk straight out, and come back a few days later when you know what you want to see. Otherwise you'll probably come away thinking "oh pants, I missed the Merentaph Steele" (.sp)

And here's my confession - I've never been to Stratford (at least not that I can remember).

You also might want to check out this thread ;)

Matt

Edited by MattPage
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Thanks for the recommendations. I've promised myself that I won't plan every minute, but I'm copying and pasting all of this stuff into a file that I'll print out before we leave. If I'm not mistaken, the place we're staying for the last three days is relatively close to Notting Hill, so I'll definitely hit the record stores.

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Had to enlist the memory of my wife to make this list of more off-the-beaten-track things to do:

1. Portobello St. Market - You just have to see it in full swing on the weekend.

2. See the Turners at the Tate Gallery - This I do religiously every time I am in town, even if you aren't a Turner kind of guy, there are a few Constables around the corner and it gives you a good synoptic view of English landscape painting (Rain, Steam, and Speed, can't miss it).

3. National Portrait Gallery - Loads of interesting stuff here, right next to the Natinal Gallery which is also worth a lengthy gander, great collection of late 19th century French stuff.

4. Go see the biblical manuscripts in the British Library. Check to see what they have out while you are there, but if you aren't a bibliophile now, that place may make you one. Beware though if you are using an old guide book because it is now up on Euston Rd., right next to King's X.

5. Grab a pub lunch in Mayfair - right off Picadilly is this absolutely posh, quiet neighborhood and there is a pub or two that always have about 8 different pies to choose from (Broccoli and Stilton is highly recommended). I am thinking it is either at the west end of Heretford St. for some reason, but it may be more towards the Market. Quiet, relaxing place for lunch. Afterwards amble about the Shepherd Market.

6. Go to Harrods and buy the groceries to make dinner for yourself. The bottom level there is this massive, absolutely upscale "grocery store." Best place to get true "British delicacies." Last time I was there I scored a few partridge, pheasant, and duck eggs. Had them for breakfast the next day. And, you can get daily imported fromage frais from France, can't go wrong there.

7. Tate Bankside is a definite. Rivals the old MOMA (haven't been to the new one, so I am not sure about that).

8. Tea at Fortnum and Mason. This is an absolute must. You don't even have to do the high tea, just sit there and sip at a cuppa.

9. If you are lucky, you can catch free evening concerts at St. Martin-in-the-Fields right off Trafalgar Square.

10. Central Market in Covent Garden is a bit cheesy, but it is the closest London gets to a European square. Street performers and the like. Fun area to wander.

11. If you are into impressionism, the Courtauld Gallery is worth the admission price.

12. Museum of the Moving Image - tried to make it there last time, but I hear it is a good one.

13. Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens - Haven't been there for a very long time, but their reviews are always interesting.

14. Take the train to Blackpool.

I just noticed you are going to be there in April...right when my wife is off school. Perhaps we could meet you for the day?

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Yes, but after seeing that BBC show last year ("Blackpool," the one where they all sang) we would like to go.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Dude! Blackpool is legendary! It even beats Great Yarmouth.

Seriously though, the Americans I've known have loved the whole British seaside town thing. If you are planning on coming north at all, then Whitby is the place to be in terms of coastal towns. Not too far from York or the Dales (mentioned above). Also where Dracula is purportedly buried.

I 2nd the National Portrait Gallery. Personally I much prefer it to the National which is far too bombastic for my tastes (and a maze of a building that is truly exhausting), if you prefer the older stuff, I recomend the Tate over the National. You can walk there in 10 minutes from the Houses of Parliaments. Lovely walk along the river. You can also oggle the MI5 building across the river from the steps.

There are thousands of good old pubs in London. Some of the best and oldest (we're talking a few hundred years) are along the banks of the river. One large one on the Southbank that is unmissable as it has an old ship moored next to it. One of Dicken's favourites further down on the North Bank, appeared in a few of his books. Forget the name though.

You may wanna check out listings at the National Film Theatre. They often have interesting guest speakers & rare film screenings.

Ok. No more. I promise!

Edited by gigi

"There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic" - Vladimir Nabokov

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We have been to no less than five pubs which are "the oldest pub in Edinburgh." All charming of course, but that is such a crack-up.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Ride the London Eye. It's pricey but you won't find a better view of the city (it can be rather romantic if taken at night, or so I'm told lol). There's also an Imax cinema close by, if you are interested.

Westminister Abbey, St Paul's, the British museum, and the Tower of London should be high on your list of must-see's.

Don't bother with Madame Tussaud's. It's pricey, it's tacky, and the queues are always long. If you want tacky, do the London Dungeon instead (it's much more fun).

I also strongly recommend that you familiarize yourself with our money BEFORE you get here. Make sure you know what things cost! Too many tourists get ripped off by my countrymen.

One important thing, April 14th (Good Friday) and 17th (Easter Monday) are national holidays here. There will be some transport restrictions and some places may be closed. Check before you venture out.

Edited by The Invisible Man

We are part of the generation in which the image has triumphed over the word, when the visual is dominant over the verbal and where entertainment drowns out exposition. We may go so far as to claim that we live in an age of the image which is also the age of anti-word and potentially is the age of the lie. ~ Os Guiness

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)

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Oh, and bring a brolly lol.

We are part of the generation in which the image has triumphed over the word, when the visual is dominant over the verbal and where entertainment drowns out exposition. We may go so far as to claim that we live in an age of the image which is also the age of anti-word and potentially is the age of the lie. ~ Os Guiness

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)

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I just took a look at the in town What's On sections, and here are a few things that caught my eye:

The Royal Ballet are performing Giselle at the Royal Opera House. THIS WILL BE EXPENSIVE but spectacular. Runs from Sat 15th Apr until Sat 29th.

On Good Friday afternoon, there is the traditional performance of Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall.

The Queen's Birthday Gun Salutes takes place at noon in Hyde Park on Friday the 21st April. Admission is free.

There are several decent musical shows on at the moment. Mary Poppins would be my personal choice, but it's horses for courses.

The London marathon takes place on Sunday April 23rd. It begins at Greenwich Park and finishes at the Mall. The 23rd is also St George's Day so there will be a parade and such at Covent Garden.

The Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum is guaranteed to break your heart. It has won many international awards and is described as "Not fun, but definitely one of the most important war-related experiences in the world".

It's the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, so be sure to check out the special audio-visual exhibition if you go to the Tower of London.

The British Museum has Michelangelo's drawings until the 25th of May.

Edited by The Invisible Man

We are part of the generation in which the image has triumphed over the word, when the visual is dominant over the verbal and where entertainment drowns out exposition. We may go so far as to claim that we live in an age of the image which is also the age of anti-word and potentially is the age of the lie. ~ Os Guiness

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)

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Dude! Blackpool is legendary! It even beats Great Yarmouth.

Seriously though, the Americans I've known have loved the whole British seaside town thing. If you are planning on coming north at all, then Whitby is the place to be in terms of coastal towns.

What about Brid? Good old Bridlington. In fact, a tour of the North East would hold untold pleasures. Grimsby, Scunthorpe, Hull. Spurn Head.

Goole.

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