Chloe is still having an amazing time in London. The trip has been so amazing, in fact, that when her iPod Touch went permanently missing last evening (we think it might have been kidnapped), she managed to stay astonishingly calm despite the huge disappointment of losing her electronic link to the outside world. I attribute her level-headedness to the fact that we have seen so many wonderful things over the last three days that the loss of her gadget has not been as traumatic as it would have otherwise been. What are those wonderful things, you ask? Read on.
(1) Chloe thought we were simply going to visit an exhibition of props from the “Harry Potter” movies. But when we arrived at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London-The Making of Harry Potter, it slowly dawned on her that this was much more than just a display of props. It was the actual sets. The actual vehicles (like the Night Bus, below), the animatronic puppets and faces (including the robotic mask worn by the actor who played Hagrid), the actual living owls, including Hedwig. And best of all, the complete scale model of Hogwarts. Needless to say, after reading the series several times and watching the movies just as many times, if not more, Chloe was in heaven.
(2) After stuffing her brain with all sorts of Harry Potter movie trivia, it was time to get serious. I convinced her that the National Portrait Gallery would be right up her alley, as she’s recently shown an interest in portraiture. She was skeptical at first, but quickly realized that the museum was one of a kind. We both agreed that the portraits of the 15th-16th century Tudor period were our favorites. But the great thing about traveling with a teenager who has one leg in adulthood and the other still in toddlerhood is that she has no hesitation posing for photos like the one below.
(3) Some of the most enjoyable sightseeing we’ve experienced so far has taken place on walking tours with London Walks. We have had the great fortune to go on three visits since Sunday, led by three terrific guides (all female and spectacular, mind you): Delianne, Kim and Chris. “Jack the Ripper Haunts” was a disturbingly graphic (i.e., not for the faint of heart) and fascinating stroll around London’s East End. The crimes came back to life as we retraced the steps of his first five official victims and learned how difficult life was for destitute women who lived during the Victorian era. Our second walk, “Darkest Victorian London,” also took us back in time to the 19th century. Our guide told a vivid tale of the stark contrast between rich and poor during that era. Among other stories, she introduced us to “mudlarks,” the poorest of the poor children who tried to find anything of value in the mud along the Thames’ banks to bring back to their starving and sickly families.
She also introduced us to Octavia Hill, a social reformer who built public housing for the poor and community centers where children could do schoolwork and stay out of the streets, and women could learn new skill. Octavia also played a huge role in the creation of the British pubic library system.
Our third walking tour was actually a day trip to Salisbury and Stonehenge in the Wiltshire countryside. Salisbury is home to an exquisite Gothic cathedral built in the 13th century (think “Pillars of the Earth”). The cathedral is also the proud home of one of the four original versions of the Magna Carta.
Stonehenge was on Chloe’s must-do list. We visited the neolithic site this afternoon. The sky was threatening, the wind was blowing – in other words, the weather was perfectly atmospheric. After visiting Machu Picchu and the other Incan ruins last year, Stonehenge was, frankly, a bit of a letdown for me. Granted, Stonehenge was erected around 3000 BC. The builders used antlers to carve the stone. On the other hand, the Inca Empire lasted only 100 years during the 15th century and some of their monuments arguably don’t seem much different from what Stonehenge must have looked like when it was first built. Considered under that lens, Stonehenge comes off looking quite a bit better, I suppose. Chloe, however, was not disappointed. She came up with all sorts of theories about what Stonehenge represented, including one involving time travel that I don’t understand. One semi-serious theory that’s floated around is that it was some kind of healing spa. I like that theory because I like spas.
(4) Thanks to Chloe’s pre-trip research, we visited a terrific little museum yesterday called the Herb Garret and Old Operating Theatre. Located in the attic of a church, the museum consists of displays of surgical tools, an old apothecary with exhibits of herbs used to treat disease and injuries and, most surprising of all, an operating room dating from 1822 that was used to treat female patients before anesthesia and the concept of sterilization existed.
Chloe and I spent a good 20 minutes trying to successfully capture her hands encircling the clock face of Big Ben. The result was good but not great. After much arguing and laughing, it occurred to us that it’d be a lot easier for her to tip Big Ben over with her strong hands. The photo below only took us two minutes to get right and it’s one of our favorite pictures so far. It may look Photoshopped, but it’s the real deal.
(6) Last night we saw Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” in the West End. It’s the longest-running show in the world. It was terrifically entertaining and a lot of fun to see such a classic. We are bound to secrecy, however, when it comes to divulging the ending. You’ll have to go see it yourselves.
(7) One last note about the food. Chloe and have had nothing but great meals since we’ve arrived. The city has certainly changed a lot on that score in the last decade or two. We’ve eaten Italian, Malaysian, French, Punjabi, and of course, traditional British fish ‘n chips. The food scene is exciting and incredibly varied. I’m glad we’re doing so much walking to compensate for our gluttony.